Some Radical Questions for Psychology
by Dr. Eric Dodson

In my Human Growth and Potential class last week, I sensed that a relatively large fraction of the class is new to our program. So, I created the following "provocation" as a way of loosening up our thinking about what psychology necessarily is, as well as what psychology (and our involvement in it) possibly could be.

My basic thesis is that humanistic psychology in its central import is not so much a school of psychology among other schools, but an entry point into a fundamental paradigm shift for all psychology. Why is a paradigm shift necessary? Most importantly because of the fact that the truths that psychologists reveal only rarely matter to people in a deep and abiding way. They mostly fail to touch people where they live and breathe. Psychology today is in an unhealthy state of imbalance; it's too often preoccupied with researching inconsequential minutiae at the expense of directly engaging the large, powerful issues of life. As a quick, empirical test, try looking through articles drawn from the broad range of psychological journals. Notice what proportion really move you powerfully at your core and center.
 

Instead of a psychology that...
Aims mostly at revealing factual truths about psychological reality,

Why not a psychology that...
Aims mostly at amplifying life itself (where the quest for factual verities is in the larger service of intensifying and deepening our lives)?

Comment:
Who cares how many factual truths we know if our lives are left small and dry?

Instead of a psychology that...
Values mostly thinking and knowing that progresses from point to point (a linear value-structure aimed at increasing the number of truths -- progress as the dominant model),

Why not a psychology that...
Values dwelling patiently and with what's most profound about being human (a circular value-structure aimed at deepening truth already present -- hence not progressive as such)?

Comment:
Why should good thinking necessarily be about producing more, more and more? Psychological thinking too often falls prey to an implicit ethic of productivity, and in the process truncates its own potential. "Circular thinking" (such as simply staying repetitively with what's profound) is usually automatically bad thinking (since it doesn't "get anywhere"). How so?

Instead of a psychology that...
Mostly values a mood of seriousness and sobriety (as in "serious psychological scholarship"),

Why not a psychology that...
Equally values celebration, laugher and play as valid modalities of psychological inquiry?

Comment:
Seriousness is seriously over-rated! Following Nietzsche, I would only believe in a Psychology that can dance, and that can invite me to dance, as well. Perhaps we need a "laughing psychology" as a vital, countervailing force to today's predominantly serious psychology.

Instead of a psychology that...
Tries to be mostly cool, dispassionate -- possibly even cold,

Why not a psychology that...
Aspires to be warm, passionate -- possibly even hot? 

Comment:
"Cool" and "Cold" are the temperatures of corpses; live human beings are warm or hot. Why shouldn't grappling with the core riddle of human existence excite us and fill us with passion? Passion and excitement are hallmarks of any psychology worthy of the name.

Instead of a psychology that...
Takes correspondence with reality as the primary measure of its truth,

Why not a psychology that...
Takes the qualities of psychologists' very lives and persons as the primary measure of its truth?

Comment:
How many jerky "psychologists" are there? What does this say about psychology?

Instead of a psychology that...
Seeks to understand the human condition,

Why not a psychology that...
Seeks to fathom the human condition?

Comment:
Understanding and fathoming aren't necessarily the same thing. I personally would rather fathom something than understand it. As Heidegger notes, it's all too easy to take the "merely correct" as the be-all-end-all of truth.

Instead of a psychology that...
Aims mostly at knowledge that seems small and highly detailed,

Why not a psychology that...
Aims mostly at the big picture -- thinking made large, not small?

Comment:
Is adopting an ethos of specialization really the best way for psychology to proceed? Isn't something vital passed-over in this?

Instead of a psychology that...
Increases complex knowledge (and hence mostly broadens knowledge),

Why not a psychology that...
Dwells with simple truth (and hence mostly deepens knowledge)?

Comment:
Again, broader knowledge is not necessarily deeper knowledge. Why disparage simple truth? When it comes to fathoming the human condition, complex rationalistic acrobatics are over-rated.

Instead of a psychology that...
Is mostly an act of the intellect,

Why not a psychology that...
Is mostly an act of the soul (or the "psyche" -- psychology's topic matter in the first place)?

Comment:
Isn't psychology also properly an act of the very "psyche" is seeks to study? Perhaps we've lost a sense for what an act of the soul really feels like.

Instead of a psychology that...
Seeks mostly to answer questions

Why not a psychology that...
Seeks mostly to pose questions?

Comment:
The project of answering questions probably has more "cash value" in our culture, but isn't posing and dwelling with a good question (which tends to open up inquiry) at least as powerful as answering a good question (which tends to shut down inquiry)?

Instead of a psychology that...
Implicitly tends to make its students feel guilty about not finding it terribly inspiring,

Why not a psychology that...
Speaks so powerfully and so directly to students' reality that students don't feel much need to flagellate themselves into the appearance of intrinsic interest?

Comment:
Psychology students often enter into psychology with the hope that they'll be mostly concerned with issues that can make profound differences in their lives. In my view, they're disappointed far too often. Perhaps those students' "naive" desire is really a marker of psychology's more noble, more powerful purpose. Sure, the academy as a whole is a great breeding ground for certain kinds of pathology, but why should psychology (which ought to know better) simply participate in it?

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