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Friday, May 11, 2007

Psychology goes Nova

Mark Twain once remarked that the United States is special because its people possess the one true faith, several hundred of them. Likewise, for the social sciences, the United States is special because its academics possess the one true explanation, numbering also in the hundreds.

Of course, practical people that we are, we have the one true answer to this babel of opinion. We ignore it, unless of course it proves useful. If the explanation proves vicariously useful, we have superstition, and give some credence to the predictive power of black cats, the astrological significance of the movement of planets, and of saying lots of prayers to St. Jude. If its practically useful, it becomes common sense, and has no author.

But for psychologists and their pet schools of thought, usefulness is neither practical or vicarious, it is precarious. In other words, if you are psychologist with a Freudian, behaviorist, or some other point of view, its predictions sound just swell, until of course they fail to test out. It is then that like a hot gaseous star that has burned off its fuel (or for a school of psychology, it's credibility), it will collapse upon itself and explode, leaving a white dwarf that represents a puny beacon signaling the star's former ethereal greatness. And this is exactly what we have for once influential (transactional analysis anyone?) psychological points of view that faintly glimmer in the minds of a few remnant true believers.

Evolutionary Psychology goes Boom!

This astronomical fact serves as a swell metaphor for psychology and the invariable schools of thought from time to time that swell up to give us 'the answer', describing human behavior in all its cantankerousness. From psychoanalysis to behaviorism and as of late, dubious schools of thought such as evolutionary psychology and relational frame theory, they are puffed up with hot gas that invariably blows up under the weight of its useless and contrary data.

Which brings us to pop psychology, which compared to hi-falutin concepts in psychology, quickly blazes into glory and fades away as rapidly. As a comet is a celestial low life, so too is pop psychology a philosophical low life. Nonetheless, for a bright brief second, it also lights up the sky, and gets into the newspapers and an appearance on Oprah. But just as quickly, the comet passes by. We realize then that it was just an overheated block of ice, and that we were blockheads to believe. But that's ok, as the author of the flash in the pan comes back a few years later with a new lexicon and reinvents the philosophical wheel, and for one brief moment, lights up the sky.

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