Our Replacement for Experimental Psychology

The human things are spread out before us, and our involvement in the world presents us with an encounter with a certain slice, a part of the human things that we know first hand. To understand the soul and the health of the soul, we begin not from the “scientific” understanding of political and psychological things, but “from their ‘natural’ understanding, i.e., from the way in which they present themselves in political life,” and indeed in psychological life (NRH, p. 81).

Previously, we blogged about an experiment cited in the abnormal Psychology text, a study in which a dog was shocked to see if learned helplessness was a cause of depression. How much must such a study assume, beginning with the categories, how to identify examples that fit in each category, the kinds and their exemplars, of learned helplessness, cause and depression. It also assumes that studies on dogs can be applied to humans, without much study of how these are alike and how different, say, regarding depression. We have already criticized the idea that such a study is ethical and worthwhile. We think our psychology has a better method, with the added benefit that one need not make so scientific an assumption as that one can torture and get away with it, or that the harm one does oneself in this is worth the supposed knowledge added by a single study. Those pursuing wisdom, again, do not take much time for setting up experiments.

The human things are spread out before us. Consider for example how much more can be learned from considering the American prison system, the whole very strange scene. The gangs are divided by races, and the reasons for this can be pursued. We can also consider an hypothesis such as the prisons are the universities of the underworld, what the causes are of this and what the political implications. A science of this sort can be very useful in cultivating foresight. But one could not gain much from experimental studies, even the sorts that are ethical or observe rights. One experiment which we indeed admit was beneficial found that average people could easily be seduced into shocking their fellows quite painfully, and another that groups can be broken into factions based on almost any accidental difference, such as the blue eyed and the brown eyed children in a class where a teacher conducted a very famous, if slightly questionable experiment.

In one study, a good example of the sort that do receive press and funding, the experimenter set out like a myth-buster to test the hypothesis that women are attracted by the smell of male sweat due to a hormone. We have long joked about this, as in the locker room, but the complex comedy assumes that there is a repulsion, while some people wonder if there is not an unconscious chemical attraction. It is known that pheromes are involved in love. What the researchers seemed to learn is that indeed no, women are not attracted by the smell of male sweat, but what really gets them is the smell of other women! Now, womanizers may gain some knowledge from this that is useful to their purposes, but as for the question of whether it is good to be a womanizer- a perennial question among men on the street- we will not conduct experiments, say chopping stats on domestic violence or considering the fortunes and fates of these, but rather, will inquire with Shakespeare regarding his Athenian Duke Thesius. It is the logoi, rather than these silly experiments, that are central to genuine scientific psychology. In Plato’s allegory, in Book Seven of his Republic, outside the cave, what appears are not only the beings reflected in water, but the natural beings themselves, though in the cave, what appears of these is but a “copy and a shadow.” This is an allegory of true psychology, and we suggest that the whole assumption that we have known what a scientific psychology would be has been mistaken.

How much more can be learned about love from a study of music that from any of these modern pseudoscientific studies! Present to us the entire corpus of knowledge drawn from data about love for the past century. We challenge this with our study of common music lyrics, if not the common sense of every middle school student in America. Let the reader decide which has profited us more in the pursuit of the knowledge of the soul and man. Let a panel of experts decide! And if we win this challenge, join us in this new pursuit of philosophic psychology. The study of Love is shockingly absent from modern psychology, and even from Aristotle, leaving the highest writings of the ancient world at Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, and perhaps the Biblical Song of Songs. Not until Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream do we find an account of natural or “heterosexual” love to rival the Greeks. Does psychology know what love is? How then can it claim authority over these most common forms of depression? What is more likely is that we do not believe that it is possible to achieve such a study. For most, this may be true, and most cannot even see the surface to be attracted. Often the pained lover will take a genuine theoretical interest in the science or study of love, but for others the study will not even begin, while psychology will claim for itself authority over these matters, as the authority to drug patients.

Let us then replace this experimental research with genuine studies leading toward a genuine knowledge. Experiments are indeed a part, but as you might agree that we have demonstrated, a very small part in the comprehensive science of the human soul.


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