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Physics and psychology

  1. Feb 15, 2008 #1
    I'm starting a B Science this year. I'm an older student. I want to do a double major in physics and psychology and possibly a bit of computing if I can fit it in.

    I will do honors (4th year), probably in physics. Always I will bend towards physics.

    I don't think physics and psychology are mutually exclusive. I know there are "smarter" double majors to take.

    But if I do this, where will I end up? What special niche will I be good for?

    Teaching perhaps?

    Any comments welcome.

    (What do the "real" physicists out there think about psychologists?)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2008 #2
    I knew a guy when I was a freshman in high school, who did the same thing you did. He ended up going to graduate school doing Artificial Intelligence.
  4. Feb 15, 2008 #3
    If you do psychology, you're doing it because you like psychology. Nobody gets a job with a bachelor's in psychology (ask my sister-in-law).

    What special niche will you be good for? I don't know. You could do anything you want. But it's like doing English and Math. You might do one or the other, but you won't do both, since their intersection is the empty set. Physics and psychology might be a little bit closer, but you'll never get away from the fact that physics is hard, rigorous science, and psychology is anything but.

    I did French and Math, so this is coming from somebody who knows what a worthless degree looks like. I don't regret doing it, but I certainly will let you know that one does it for the love of the game, and nothing more.
  5. Feb 15, 2008 #4
    Psychology IS (or can be) rigorous science.

    Physics and psychology are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact many of the more quantitative branches of psychology are populated by many people with degrees in physics as well as people from math, electrical engineering and computer science.

    If you have a background in physics and think the brain is important for understanding the mind, look into theoretical neuroscience. If you have the same background but don't think the specific architecture of the brain is quite as important then look into cognitive science.
  6. Feb 15, 2008 #5
    Ok, in what percentage of cases does psychoanalysis work? Are there controlled experiements testing the efficacy of Freudian dream analysis? The quantitative/rigorous areas you mentioned are more physiological than psychological, and they certainly wouldn't be taught in an undergraduate psychology curriculum.
  7. Feb 15, 2008 #6
    I never mentioned Freud, and neither do the vast majority of psychologists except as a historical curiosity.

    Cognitive science is not physiological, that's the whole point of adopting a functionalist view. I don't want to conflate cognitive science with psychology though, they are distinct I mentioned it because it is a route to asking psychological-type questions that is more often followed by people with a more quantitative background.

    As for what is taught in an undergraduate psychology curriculum, that is highly school dependent. I wasn't a psychology major, but I took a lot of psychology classes and never did I encounter one that I felt wasn't sufficiently 'scientific'.
  8. Feb 15, 2008 #7

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    Psychoanalysis? You are talking about one tiny little branch of psychology, and not the field itself. Most psych majors study Freud and psychoanalysis from a historical perspective, but that's about it. Experimental psychology uses the scientific method just as other areas of scientific research do.

    Cognitive science is considered a psychology major at my university, and there is quite a bit of preparation for undergraduates. We are required to take classes in calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, statistics, and research methodology before we can even apply to the major. (Which was pretty funny, because I entered the university as a "precognitive science" major. Hello, Miss Cleo!) As Cincinnatus mentioned, the functionalist aspect tends to put the focus on computational modelling, but we spend a little time in neuroscience and physiological studies, too. And I'm sure it varies quite a bit by school and program.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2008
  9. Feb 15, 2008 #8


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    It does depend on what area of psychology you focus on, as MIH pointed out. We have some physics/engineering folks who crossover into the neuroscience discipline (sometimes via a biological psychology direction) to develop brain imaging techniques and the computational analysis of the images acquired using those techniques. A person doing that needs to understand the physics/engineering/computer science to know how to build the machine and understand how it works, as well as the neuroscience, psychology, to understand how to be sure it's working in clinically relevant ways, and to test its function. (In other words, they need to develop properly designed neuroscience/psychology experiments, know the parts of the brain they're looking at, and then get the machine to tell them something useful about how the brain is working.)
  10. Feb 16, 2008 #9
    Let's be fair here. Any discipline that uses retrospective studies and extrapolates results from animal studies to humans is going to be in hot water in the rigor department. Once again, to be clear, I consider neuroscience (and most of the "psychological" areas that scientists go into) to be science. As for mainstream clinical psychology, Feynmann said it much better than I can, so I refer those interested to Surely You're Joking.
  11. Feb 16, 2008 #10
    Sometimes a carbon nanotube is just a carbon nanotube.
  12. Feb 16, 2008 #11
    I've read Surely You're Joking... and I remember Feynman's thoughts now that you mention it.

    I have started the kind of debate I pretty much expected.

    The mind is a non-substance that cannot be seen or measured so applying science to it will always be problematic. All we can measure is the result of the mind.

    My interest, as it develops, and as I learn more about quantum mechanics (from popular books at this stage), moves toward the idea that our perception of the area of measurement and our decision on what to measure seems to affect the results of the experiment.

    So my interest bends towards perception and cognition. We view the world though our biological and psychological frame.

    Cognitive science fits that envelop I guess. I want to stay away from philosophy and metaphysics as much as possible. And artificial intelligence really floats my boat. I am wondering what my faculty will say when I have to declare my majors in second year.

    Not one of you has slammed me or told me I am stupid so thank you. I am not ready to be challenged at this point. I really wanted to know if I was walking an untrodden path. But it seems not by the comments.
  13. May 2, 2008 #12
    Anything that can potentially have a causal relationship with something real and measurable must itself be real and measurable. Otherwise, it's not real (or at least, you have yet to show that it is) and your theory sucks. There's a nifty philosophical term for this, but I don't use it often enough to remember it right now.

    Either the mind is real and our inability to measure it is because no one has figured out how yet, or it is a convenient fiction. You can't really have it both ways. Psychology is off on the fringes and gets poked fun at because much of the stuff they try to study is not adequately measurable (yet). This doesn't mean it can't be fixed, in the same way that other sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, et al) were fixed. In fact, that would do pretty awesome things for our understanding of the questions it tries to pursue. We can already do some quite impressive stuff given modern instruments like FMRIs and so forth, so progress is definitely being made. And it's not like psychologists are unaware of this issue.

    Maybe I'm engaged in a little necro-posting here, but I can always plead sleep deprivation.

    Regarding quantum mechanics, read Feynman's Q.E.D. and it will all make much more sense without resorting to metaphysics. The "consciousness counts as measurement" stance is generally not taken very seriously, and philosophically is very silly since you can't possibly escape or test it thanks to the way it's defined.
  14. May 2, 2008 #13
    This is actually what I'm thinking about doing. Although not exactly the same route. I'm going to double major in Physics and Math. When I go to grad school I will take any classes I need psychology/neuroscience wise. I want to study Theoretical Neuroscience although at this point (end of freshman year) I'm not quite sure if It will just be a hobby or not. When I get closer to graduation I'll decide if I want to do pure math, theoretical physics, or The theoretical neuroscience. Since theoretical physics (M-theory namely) seems to be mostly mathematical in nature I'm leaning more towards Math. Either way I'm going to get a good enough grounding before graduation that I can self study any topics I'm interested in outside of which ever field I pick.

    I must disagree however with the sentiment that Consciousness is outside of the hold of physics. If you ask me that point of view is much more metaphysical then the idea that it can be studied using science. If you claim Consciousness is outside of physics then you are basically claiming that it's "supernatural" or "magic". Being as it seems to be tied somehow with the brain there is no reason to believe that it can't be studied. I agree that there is a limit to how much we can learn but people should not be dissuaded just because it seems outside of what we can understand now.

    Of course people should also be careful that they do not become crackpots and start making outrageous claims; But anything that we could possibly research should be studied even if research reaches a dead end somewhere down the line.
  15. Jun 19, 2011 #14
    Perhaps you would like this article. It seems to rely on the Cartesian dualism of res cogitans ("thinking thing") and res extensæ ("extended thing"), though. Quantum physics has shown this conception of the mind/body relation untenable, though. Another topic that might interest you is how freewill relates to physical determinism (as Einstein, e.g., advocated) or indeterminism (as Eddington, e.g., advocated); see this book.
    Despite not being a psychologist myself, let me speak outside my field and say that modern, mainstream psychology is off track for a few reasons, some of which are that (1) it has a false, purely materialistic conception of man and (2) it has not come to a consensus about how to define mental illnesses or diagnosis them empirically.

    "Psychology" etymologically means "the study of the soul," which for humans is an immaterial and immortal (because it can understand universals from sense-data of particulars the body supplies it—viz., it can do science like physics) intellectual soul with various faculties. For a very fascinating book which discusses the relationship between empirical science and traditional psychology (i.e., psychology that saw more to man than just his material aspect), see The Science of Mental Health, which you can find in a library here.

    This quote from the Catechism of the Summa gives a brief idea of what the soul is and how it relates to sensation and cognition:
  16. Jun 19, 2011 #15

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    First, this thread is three years old.

    Second, quantum mechanics says no such thing.

    Finally, Aquinas is as relevant to modern psychology as Aristotle is to modern physics.
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