Re: What Makes Psychology Different?

From: LIZ LEE (
Date: Tue Oct 24 1995 - 14:34:58 BST

sh> I asked what Psychology was, and a certain amount of uncertainty arose.
sh> It emerged that it had
sh> something to do with thinking and the mind, so I asked what kinds of
sh> questions are raised in psychology, what kinds of answers are given, and
sh> what, if anything, makes the kinds of answers given different from those
sh> in other fields, such as mathematics and physics.
sh> And there is no other field than mathematics in which you can prove
sh> things are true. (Well, philosophers and logicians also have proofs, but
sh> that is a long story -- we might touch on it later.) Other fields,
sh> especially sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology, don't PROVE
sh> that the answers they give you are true, they just give you a lot of
sh> evidence that makes it very LIKELY that it's true.

I don't think psychology is very different to any other field when it
comes to "proving" what is or isn't true, if in psychology the point
is to be able to predict an outcome (in this case behaviour) then by
observing, testing and reaching a conclusion we must be at least as
accurate as meteorologists predicting weather!

sh> To show what a transition you make from the world of things that are
sh> provably true (like 1 + 1 = 2, which is true on pain of contradiction)
sh> to the world of things that are true only on the weight of evidence,
sh> I introduced Hume's Problem of Induction: "Induction" is generalising to
sh> the future on the basis of past evidence (compared to "deduction," which
sh> is, basically, mathematical proof).

I'm a little confused by "induction", does the past become the past a
second (or less) after it's happened? If so, we'd have to disbelieve
any evidence placed in front of us wouldn't we? Nothing at all could
exist except this minute now - or have I got this hopelessly wrong?

sh> But back to psychology: Another candidate for what makes psychology
sh> different is that people, unlike objects and machines, are
sh> unpredictable. Not only can you not PROVE that they will do or think or
sh> feel this or that, you can't even PREDICT it on the basis of evidence.
sh>> Well, the first question is whether this is true only of people (and
sh> animals): The weather is only predictable up to a point; there's
sh> unpredictability there too. And there are some things, like turbulence
sh> and chaos and certain things in quantum physics, that are COMPLETELY
sh> unpredictable, much moreso than we are.
sh> Besides, to a great extent we ARE predictable.

Isn't being predictable part of being "normal"? Often we refer
to somebody as " unpredictable" if they behave in an unusual way.
If we lived unpredictable lives socialisation would be very

sh> You can't predict perfectly what I'm going to do, because, after all,
sh> I'm the one who decides whether or not to do it! And I could always change
sh> my mind if I feel like it.

How much free will do we really have? The choices laid in front of us
influence what we will do, we can only choose from a given set of
choices, so even our will to choose is constrained isn't it?

sh> Did you CHOOSE to feel like it? Can you really tell me a detailed,
sh> conscious story of what led up to your decision to pick the left pencil
sh> rather than the right one? IS there such a story?

I don't think these sort of conscious decisions are ever made, they
are impulses when the choice is an unimportant one, I guess I should
follow that by asking what gives us the impulse?

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