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Is Psychology a Pseudo-Science?

  1. May 8, 2007 #1
    I remember someone telling me that they heard a physicist once say that psychology was a pseudo-science, but I don't remember who exactly it was that said this. Anyways, I was wondering if there's a consensus out there that supports this notion of psychology being a pseudo-science, and if so, why?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 8, 2007 #2
    are you sure it wasn't psychiatry?
  4. May 8, 2007 #3
    No, it was psychology as a whole.
  5. May 8, 2007 #4
    Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by pseudo-science. It shouldn't really need a consensus, it seems like a pretty straightforward question, is it scientific or is it some other form of academia?

    As far as my experience goes with psychology and science I think it's on about the same level as Biology, I think the general principles of observation are the same, especially in bio-psychology. I think if anything your physicist has an issue with how psychology extrapolates a lot more than most other sciences, but I think that's inevitable given that the discipline is so very new (didn't really exist a hundred years ago - was a branch of philosophy).

    Meh, I'm not a physicist, but I consider it just as legitimate as Physics, science or not.

    here's an interesting read
  6. May 8, 2007 #5
    It could be considered a pseudo-science unlike actual sciences that deal with material issues or things related to manipulation of material.

    When one is mentally deficient a psychologist can usually make diagnosis pending on their training and experience. I don't believe that through observation that a psychologist could ever truly diagnose chemical imbalances - for obvious reasons.
    Last edited: May 8, 2007
  7. May 8, 2007 #6


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    Umm yes, but the state of your mind pretty much affects "material issues", doesn't it? :biggrin:
  8. May 8, 2007 #7


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    If you're talking about "classical" psychology/psychiatry after Freud/Jung/Adler, yup, pseudo-science all right. If that. Freud, of course, had his weird obsessions with Oedipus and penis envy, but you should read some of the crap Jung came up with - synchronicity, archetypes, the collective unconscious. Mysticism, not science.

    Modern psychiatry, with an emphasis on pharmacy (drug treatment) and evidence based interventions (electroconvulsive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy), etc. - pretty scientific. A neurophysiologic basis is sought whenever possible and treatments are evaluated with randomised controlled trials.

    Some modern practices are still pseudoscientific - the Rorscharch test, hypnotic "regression" therapy, etc. - but self-respecting psychiatrists don't generally pander to this crap.
  9. May 8, 2007 #8
    Some parts of psychology do not necessarily use scientific methodology. Clinical psychiatry on the other hand, does.
  10. May 8, 2007 #9
    many parts of psychology use scientific means. Most dealing with some type of bio-psych relationship(cell recordings, neuro imaging,animal brain studies etc).

    Even VR-type cognitive studies are somewhat scientific(have some sort of methodology).

    The only pseudo science probably is the one listed in curious's post.

    Being a student of both psychology nad physics...the only difference i see in psychological studies vs physics experiments is that psychological studies have to account for more complex phenomenon(unless u studying astro/geo), more factors and produce more control studies to eliminate certain criterias. Granted some of the result interpretations of some of these studies are rather flaky.
  11. May 8, 2007 #10

    I wish I had the year of the quote so we could put a frame of reference around it. Maybe this occured during the Freud/Jung/Adler period, and if so, then yeah I agree those works are pseudo-science. I, however, wouldn't agree with it if he was referring to modern psychology. Yeah, I really wish I had remembered the name of the physicist and the year the quote was made.
  12. May 9, 2007 #11
    the common misconception of Jung's Collective Unconscious is probably more like mysticism- but the actual idea is more properly understood by the very real science of evolutionary biology- the Collective Unconscious [as well as synchonicity/ archetypes/ subtle correspondences] is merely mystical sounding description for a very physical idea: that many of a human's foundational conscious structures are NOT learned structures built uniquely for each individual during child development as was generally accepted during Jung's time- instead his colorful conjecture essentially shows that our most primitive fears and ways of thinking about basic survival are hard-wired adaptations that our species cultivated in it's genome over it's evolutionary history- so that each human would essentially have the same copy of these unconscious ways of thinking hard-wired into them at birth- the other part of Jung's idea is that this kludged black-box of hard-wired neural processes that we all share is responsible in part for the nature of human myths and metaphysics- this is because the 'collective unconscious black-box' has priority flight-or-fight brut survivability programs: be scared of the dark- be scared of snakes- embrace the light of the sun- look for pure water/food/resources- stay away from violent humans- trust calm humans- etc- all of these millions of little algorithms that are hard-wired for each of us and tell us how to react to very basic survival scenarios provided the basis for morality and ethics as well as all the creative mythical symbologies primitive humans developed to organize and implement these core concepts-

    so there is nothing mystical about the collective unconscious in these terms- it is the folk interpretation that instead of each human possessing his own 'black-box' of adapted wiring that our 'souls' are connected in some kind of spiritual hyperspace in which the myths are real- and that we sometimes tap into it-

    [although from the computational neuroscience perspective replicated copies of neuro-structure are fundamentally equivalent to a 'connection' in a 'spiritual hyperspace'- when notions of classical space-time are put aside and the observable information of a quantum system is dealt with directly: take away these metaphors and you can replace both with one: separate human instances of 'software' running independently but accessing a common set of information from a 'database' stored in the 'shared hard drive' of the human genome- where the process of reproduction copies the same database into each new human- in the context of information it does not matter if separate agents are accessing a central file [spiritual hyperspace]- or if each agent has a copy of the file [evolutionary neuroscience]- these are equivalent! ]
    Last edited: May 9, 2007
  13. May 9, 2007 #12
    Are psychological results repeatedly verifiable?
  14. May 11, 2007 #13
    From what I've read on Jung his dream archetypes represent this mystic absolute of unconcious messages/insights which I think is a load of crap. But it seems like most of the psychological breakthroughs today in modern psychology seem a bit flaky, unless I'm not reading thoroughly through how the experiments were done.
  15. May 11, 2007 #14
    "Are psychological results repeatedly verifiable?"
    how do you think they discovered place cells and vision/audition specific cells in the brain? Ask all the researchers on this forum about their cell-recordings.

    Also alot of the VR experiments are verifiable...but sometimes with differetn interpretation. then again it depends on the group of people u use(skillset,class,culture etc,environment).
  16. May 11, 2007 #15
    well- Jung himself seemed to suffer from those misconceptions about his own idea- I think the central error is in not realizing that the collective is collective not from some mystical connection- but because we all have copies of the same 'BIOS'
  17. May 11, 2007 #16
    So are only the works of Freud-Jung etc. considered pseudo-science in the world of psychology, but modern day psychology isn't?
  18. May 11, 2007 #17


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    As a discipline, my impression of psychology is that it attempts to be scientific. They learn a scientific form of methodology and are experts in statistical analysis like it's nobody's business. What they study, though, is extremely difficult to model, and the real problem is that psychology as a whole field operates in the absence of a unifying theoretical framework, like evolution and cell theory in biology, relativity and quantum mechanics in physics, etc. This leads to inconsistent conclusions and a lot of reasoning that looks wish-washy from the outside. It's what Thomas Kuhn would have called a pre-paradigm science.
  19. May 11, 2007 #18
    So why don't they redo their methodology?
  20. May 13, 2007 #19


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    Why should they? What is wrong with a scientific methodology?

    A theory is just a way of interpreting some data. If there are multiple ways of interpreting the same data, and all are valid, useful, or meet whatever standards you have, what is the problem? :smile: Perhaps it should even be expected that, as the complexity of the data increases, so does the number of acceptable interpretations.
  21. May 13, 2007 #20
    I was referring to what loseyourname said about psychology using a scientific form of methodology. I'm assuming this means they don't use the actual scientific methodology, so that's why I asked the question about them redoing their methodology.
  22. May 16, 2007 #21


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    What would you consider to be examples of this sort of thing?
  23. May 16, 2007 #22


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    The question is hard to address, and it's equally hard to consider the responses it's gotten thus far, because "psychology" is a big umbrella term referring to many different things. It may be useful to think of things in terms of the subfields listed on the wikipedia entry on psychology. They have a distinction between research psychology, which includes fields like social, cognitive, biological, and abnormal psychology, and applied psychology including things like clinical and educational psych.

    The answer to how "scientific" or otherwise methodologically rigorous "psychology" is will depend on what subfield you're talking about. For instance, many methods in clinical psych have not been developed using scientific methods, whereas the research fields of psychology all employ scientific methodology but (at least by reputation) can differ on how rigorous they are. (e.g. among psychology practitioners, social psych has a reputation for not being as rigorous as cognitive psych)
  24. May 18, 2007 #23


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    I didn't actually state that correctly. The lack of a widely accepted paradigm of human cognition results in different conclusions drawn from similar sets of facts, and that can make it look like the work is unscientific to someone that only sees the disagreement, especially with the expectation that science produces definitive statements of agreement. I said "from the outside," because I feel that when you actually look at the research and lines of reasoning, it's easy to see both how it makes sense and how difficult it would to produce widespread agreement about certain things. I guess that's still vague because I keep using words like "things" rather than providing examples.

    The only type of psychology I would really consider "wishy-washy" is the transhuman stuff. Although, since Lacanian and sometimes even Freudian psychoanalysis is still so prevalent in critical theories, many people probably see that and think of it as psychology even though it isn't.
  25. May 19, 2007 #24
    my major problem is with the 'human' factor, a psychologist has to be analytical yet not let emotion interfere. i can tell you most all i've ever seen jump to conclusions and like to play a game 'let me see if i can outsmart you'. my responce has been 'damn, if i'm comming here don't patronize me and answer questions with questions, give me an honest answer not something you think i want hear from some book you read', that when the facial expression changes and the resentment kicks in like *thinking* 'i can't use any of my well learned tricks, s**t gotta be honest'. and of course they give me the politicaly correct response with just a hint of sarcasm lol. i usually get real answers and advice thats honest from everyday people, what a professional can't do some guy at the bus stop aces.
  26. May 19, 2007 #25


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    You seem to be referring to a specific talk therapy kind of clinical psychology. The term "psychology" on its own refers to much more than that.
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