Psychology As Pseudoscience

Psychology is to neuroscience
as astrology is to astronomy
and alchemy is to chemistry

I’ve been referring to psychology as pseudoscience for years. I’ve even written about it. This evening, the leading pull quote came to me, so I Googled it and was not disappointed. Confirmation bias? Indeed.

I’m glad others have already broken ground here. It saves me from getting lost down another unpopular rabbit hole.

Neuropath book cover and passage by E. Scott Bakker, MacMillan, 2009

Why should I even care?

On one hand, it disturbs me that this discipline not only gets elevated well above its station, it also affects lives because, as astrology before it, but it also affects people’s lives whether they believe it or not. Psychology creates arbitrary categories, asserts specious definitions, and the weak-minded accept it as gospel. Sadly, intelligent people haven’t yet seen behind the curtain in a manner reminiscent of the countless hours Issac Newton wasted on alchemy or Descartes spent trying to prove God.

It feels that most people have finally abandoned alchemy, though I don’t dare look. But many people still believe in astrology, zodiac, and horoscopes.

The core of psychology is based on metaphysical claims of the mind. The physical aspects lie in the realm of neuroscience.

Not so fast

To be fair, neuroscience is still in its infancy, and there are still more things they don’t know than they do. Where astronomy is able to look at the universe through the James Webb Space Telescope, neurology is peering through binoculars—or perhaps only the hollow core of a paper towel roll.

Although fMRIs and such look to us as advanced as, say, the Janes Webb Space telescope as seen in the image below.

James Webb Space Telescope as metaphor for possibilities

The fidelity might be better conveyed by this star-gazing implement.

Peering through paper towel roll as analogue to available neuroscience implements

Moreover, the base understanding of processes and mechanisms is lacking.

Even so, it beats this analogy to psychology.

Reading Tea Leaves analogue to psychology

This image of Carina Nebula’s so-called Cosmic Cliffs demonstrated the resolution and clarity we might expect from neuroscience in future.

NASA

This image represents where neuroscience is today.

NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

So now I’ve said it. I feel better.

Cover Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI

4 thoughts on “Psychology As Pseudoscience

  1. I wouldn’t so far as to say that psychology is pseudoscience. A fairer position is that psychology is a semi-science (as expressed by philosopher Mario Bunge). That is, something that hasn’t “matured” into a science, but still commits to underlying principles of good science (e.g., using scientific methods and not just resting evidence on authority).

    For example, cognitive behavioral therapy has some pretty good results. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t better than an actual pseudoscience like psychoanalysis.

    Of course, psychology doesn’t have the rigor of physics, but that’s because it deals with a lot more layers. Serious psychologists aren’t just randomly assigning constructs and going off on nonsense. You just have to separate the wheat from the chaff

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  2. Semi-science is a good way to couch it. I’ve tried ‘para-science’. Although I agree on the constructs, I feel it rests on some weak ontological foundations. Even though some ontologies underlying physical are questionable, psychology doesn’t even have that. Where physics can get predictive precision nearing 100%, except in the vaguest of instances, psychology is lucky to get a correlation of about 50%, a coin toss.

    I joke about the predictive power of Tarot and tea leaves, but psychology is closer to these than to physics. I think neuroscience will continue to pick up psychology’s slack as it matures. I think it would be could if either psychology gets subsumed into philosophy or becomes a particular subset of it.

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