Chapter II Modern Psychology

The departments in the universities cultivate certain kinds of characters and studies to the exclusion of others. This became apparent when, studying at Grand Valley, we became acquainted with a study of Wittgenstein that had become a part of academic philosophy. Wittgenstein has to do with the narrowing of philosophy to the purpose of developing a clear and precise language for science, which is assumed to be the true pursuit of knowledge. Here philosophy is again a handmaid, and now fully an instrument! But then it occurred to us that these fields cultivate certain characters: a different sort of person takes up philosophy to question the hypotheses, pursue the mysteries of righteousness, or indeed to pursue wisdom. Different types of characters are attracted and thrive in the studies. Plato and Aristotle too, notoriously, attract different sorts of characters, as depicted in da Vince’s painting School of Athens, where Plato is pointing up and Aristotle down. The departments, though, fail to cultivate the pursuit of wisdom.

In psychology, the very type of character that is capable of pursuing the knowledge of man and the ability to heal may be excluded from the departments from the beginning. These are rather pursuing behaviorism and statistical studies, and even giving over their practice to neurology and pharmicology and what is called “social work.” Those who seek to pursue the knowledge of the soul in the modern university might better major in literature, law or criminology. It may be possible to pursue an entire graduate course of psychology without ever studying the human aspect of humans at all, and promptly take that six figure seat perhaps dealing with troublesome teens or suburban married couples, or working in the criminal justice system. Without saying much, one might do listening and having a medical doctor dispense pills after fifteen minute interviews. All the while, the consumer assumes that they are responsibly taking their patient to the authority regarding these matters, and even imagines for them the esoteria that would come with a genuine knower and healer of the soul. They may have never studied human beings at all.

The true scientific study of the soul is a very rare plant that grows at the pinnacle of inquiry. It is supported by an “innate” knowledge of man and perhaps a natural ability, rather than an art alone. The souls that are capable of even being drawn toward this study are rare. They are awake to the human questions in a way that does not allow much time for the trivialities that are the subjects of the funded studies or attempts to measure people. Strauss writes: “The proper starting point for studying the perfection of human nature is what is said about these subjects or the opinions about them (NRH, p.146). As with archaeology, we do sometimes gain insight from the conclusions and even enjoy the marvel of the scientific studies, but cannot ourselves spend all day digging, except on a leisured occasion.

The human study of man, excluded from the universities, is present in our age in two areas: Popular psychology and humanistic psychology. The better among the pop psychology writers have at least made acquaintance with the humanistic psychologists. These are Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May and Victor Frankl, and Jung is sometimes included. Rogers has a critique of psychology similar to ours on many points, and as we Maslow, again, attempts an hierarchical understanding of the purposes. These generally emphasize consciousness rather than the unconscious. Frankl sets meaning and purpose at the top of what matters for the health of the soul, and may have coined the term psychohygenic. One radical historian of Freud back at Grand Valley had a class called “Mental Hygene” The attempt to placate the measure of scientific psychology is clear, though the allusion by analogy to the health of the soul provides access to this question in a scientific manner. Again, modern psychology does not consider the health of the soul.

The psychology textbooks sometimes conclude their opening chapters with “eclecticism” This means that rather than adhere to any particular school of psychology, they take pieces from various approaches. It is this “eclecticism” that we seek to replace with the truly comprehensive science of the human things. We will argue that this is possible on the Socratic basis, though not possible on the basis of humanistic psychology.

II.2 Our Replacement for Experimental Psychology

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.