Friday, 9 January 2015

The Power of Psychology

I completed a Psychology degree almost 14 years ago now. I really enjoyed some of it, and could have happily ignored a lot of it. It taught me some things about myself, and left me woefully unprepared for some other things. I got a 2:2, which is to say I coasted through with the minimum of effort.

I am really grateful for my studies of Psychology however. It's a gratitude based upon one very simple thing though. It's a concept taught to me by accident that I often fail to apply, but that I've come to believe is the most fundamental concept of the human condition. The concept is "always be inconclusive".

It's probably not a concept actually, more a guiding principle. In fact I hesitate to suggest it should be the guiding principle taught to everyone as soon as they learn language. Why? Because I believe almost every issue in society could be solved by the clever use of inconclusive language and thought processes.

The principle itself was part of the technique for writing essays. In writing a Psychology essay, the writer is expected to only ever refer to themselves in the third person (ideally not at all), and is also expected to refer to their conclusions in a manner that cannot be interpreted as definitive.

To say "the evidence proves" is essentially unforgivable in a Psychology essay. To say "the evidence appears to suggest" is the expected form. It is also, from the point of view of a personal belief system (and its application), a great way to avoid the trap of dogma. How can one ever be completely right if the evidence only suggests a thing?

For me this is the true power of Psychology. It is also where it trumps Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and all of the organised religions (as I understand/interpret them at least). They may all be looking for, or claim to have found, universal truisms, but Psychology specifically doesn't allow one to assume success in such a search.  

If you can never assume success in finding universal truisms, you can never stop questioning, and you can never close you mind to new ideas and viewpoints. You are also inherently encouraged to see the multiple interpretations available to you in every situation. In this way you can never be fooled by the emotive conclusion.

Of course I'm sure many scientists would say the same of their chosen field on the grounds of objectivity. Objectivity though isn't a guarantee against coming to false truisms because, in my view, objectivity is simply a denial of the truth of subjectivity. That is to say that Psychology is, potentially, unique in accepting the universal truism of subjectivity.

The astute will perhaps accuse me of boxing myself into hypocrisy. How can one state that it's a bad idea to assume success in finding universal truisms, and then state that subjectivity is a universal truism? That though is the wonder of being inconclusive. I believe that everything is subjective, but I don't believe I have, or ever will, prove it consclusively.

Thus through the guiding principle of being inconclusive I can come to a conclusion safe in the knowledge that it is my conclusion alone and is open to both challenge and change. In this way I can always revise my conclusions based upon whatever evidence, arguments and moral imperatives most grab me. Most importantly I can do so knowing I'm probably wrong.

So the power of Psychology is in fact... knowing that no matter how right I think I am, I'm still wrong.



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