THE WAR OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL MAGISTERIA
By Tommy Cook
Why do I say Magisteria?
William James called psychology a bastard science, and ‘that nasty little subject’
When you read it, you soon find there is a distinct pattern not of individual discoveries being made as there are in the strict sciences, but collections of views with supporting evidence, but the pieces of evidence are not strictly separate from the views.
“The human soul is the only thing that one cannot properly study, because it is at once both the study and the student. We can analyze a beetle by looking through a microscope, but we cannot analyze a beetle by looking through a beetle.” -G. K. Chesterton
Since strict objectivity is impossible, psychology lives on the borderland of philosophy. A view of man is necessary as a starting point.
Man is a freakish thing. C. S. Lewis called man “that amphibian creature”. Both spirit and body combined.
Can you bear to look at yourself? Socrates’s ‘know thyself’ is easier said than done. Pascal remarked in his Pensees, can you bear to be alone with yourself in a room, totally unstimulated, doing nothing, for even an hour? If not, who are you, that you cannot spend even an hour with yourself? Are you that much of a scoundrel, that you wouldn’t want to spend even an hour with yourself? Then why do you assume that others will want to? We are all crazy.
Psychology has its Magisteria, and they are at war. The history of psychology is a history of schism, excommunications, factions, even faintings. Freud publically fainted several times, once when Jung first started bringing up the occult and paranormal events into his lectures. Soon, despite being Freud’s main disciple, was ejected from Freud’s Viennese circle. Similarly, in London in the 1940’s after Freud’s death, there was a heated controversy between two psychoanalytical schools, the classical Freudian, who believed that man’s basic instincts and drives are pleasure seeking, gratification seeking, whereas the object relations school, headed by Melanie Klein, thought that our instincts were primarily person seeking.
Similarly, the radical behaviorism of the 1950’s, which excludes the mind in favor of behavior, was a reaction to the excessively theoretical and mind-focused Freudian psychoanalytic culture of the 40’s. Again, in the 1960’s and 70’s, Piaget reacted against radical behaviorism with his own cognitive theory.
Psyche is only Greek for soul. But not even a vegetative soul was enough for Skinner.
For Skinner ‘Mind’ is an irrelevant epiphenomenon.
Even before Skinner, you could see some of this reductionism in views on artificial intelligence.
For instance, Alan Turing was a WWII English computer scientist and is the father of the artificial intelligence movement. He said that if you had three booths with curtains with teleprompters on the front, two with live persons behind and one with a computer answering all the questions, if a user could have a normal conversation and not tell the difference, then there was no ‘functional’ or ‘operational’ difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. For ‘practical purposes’ he didn’t have to believe in a mind. Man was a complex system of reflexes and habits all programmed by experience.
Thus Skinner not only rejected the Mind as irrelevant, and an epiphenomenon, but man was also totally determined by past learning. And has no free will.
A proof like St. Thomas’s (“man has free will. otherwise, ___ ___ ___ are all absurd.”) such a reductio ad absurdum proof would have no effect on him because he was willing to accept the fact that all those things were indeed absurd. Skinner’s motto was “No Praise! No blame!”
The basic vocabulary of behaviorism is stimulus, response. Poke a creature, and see what it does. The assumption is that since man is determined by his environment, he is in essence a passive responder to it, not an active shaper. If he shapes his environment, it is only because he was programmed to do so. And of course this goes back all the way to John Locke, and Rousseau’s disagreement.
e.g. exposure therapy for phobias, variable schedule positive reinforcement for addict recovery programs, and extinction for for crying babies.
You’d have to be Gnostic to deny the role of reflex and habit in man. For Aristotle, virtue was habitual, and a good habit was even better than a good action.
Freud’s thought was complex: He was a genius. There are two currents of thought in Freud. His metaphors to describe the psyche are either literary, e.g. censorship, meaning, interpretation. Or military and hydraulic: drives, stored energy, repressed energy, cathexis, etc.... like Descartes and Skinner he had ultimately a mechanical, hydraulic view of man. But he was willing to study the mind in its own right.
For Freud behavior has meaning.
e.g. a mislaying:
a boy, the week before his birthday, accidentally loses his watch.
slip of the tongue:
“one half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say, but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours.” (woman in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice)
“it must be nice when one gets back to one’s ‘hause’. [panty-hose] (Viennese women hiking in mountains with Freud, discussing sweaty clothes.)
Leia in the morning “Daddy, I throw TC in toilet.” “Last night you threw TC in the toilet.” “Yes daddy, when I asleep.”
Leaving friend’s house with mom, Leia proffers “Leave TC here Mommy.”
Later TC starts saying “Mama”. Leia says he’s really saying “Haha” which “means Hanalei, mommy.”
On the one hand Freud taught that behavior had meaning, but on the other hand, that to understand it, one often had to retrace a path of arbitrary associations, memories, and traumas, that in themselves had no meaning and were based in experience.
Freud couldn’t think of the small country between France and Italy, and finally realized that since he had been in a feud with a colleague in Munich, had failed to remember Monaco because of the resemblance. The association between the words, and the emotions attached to one, caused the repression of the other.
“It is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that, in their appearance to the memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree of method and regularity. In our more serious thinking or discourse this is so observable that any particular thought, which breaks in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is immediately remarked and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imaginations ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other. Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would immediately be observed something which connected it in all its transitions.” -David Hume
I think we as Christians can agree that, since memories may be stored in the physical brain, it is natural that certain associations form. That many of them are irrational is no surprise. But we believe that God made the world, and that the world is unreasonable at times, yet intelligible. That we might dream up a small bird with the beak of a crocodile might be crazy, but that God would make a toucan, is real. So, our irrational associations between things can be thought of as derived form the imago dei in us.
Here’s an example of a dream interpretation by Freud:
“I wanted to give a supper-party, but I had nothing in the house but a little smoked salmon. I thought I would go out and buy something, but I remembered then that it was Sunday afternoon and all the shops would be shut. Next I tried ringing up some caterers, but the telephone was out of order. So I had to abandon my wish to have a supper party.”
[female friend is thin, but husband likes women a little bigger like herself. her husband had recently remarked on her friend’s beauty. had recently invited this friend to dinner.]
“He met his sister in the company of two women friends who were themselves sisters. He shook hands with both of them but not with his sister.”
[came across his sister changing as a boy: the contradiction: he touched his sister’s breasts, but did not touch them]
neurotic symptoms may also be analyzed like dreams. Kant said that the madman is a waking dreamer. Freud likewise said “The way normal people dream is the way crazy people think.”
Take obsessive compulsive disorder for instance.
e.g. A woman kissed a man at a cocktail party, and she was very attracted to him. he happened to have HIV and this was publically known. despite being a doctor, knowing you can’t get HIV by kissing, she was then tested repeatedly. [her unconscious wish associated the kiss with sex.]
e.g. a compulsion.
A Victorian woman had an irresistible compulsion to run into her drawing room, ring a bell for a maid, and then brusquely send the maid off on some pointless errand.
[Freud found that the drawing room table at which she stood had a conspicuous stain which anyone could hardly fail to notice, and that this woman was recently married, and that on her wedding night, her husband had been surprisingly impotent, and had repeatedly run into the bedroom to try to elicit an erection. After giving up he exclaimed “I should be ashamed if the housemaids see clean sheets.” and poured ink on the bed to cause a red stain. Furthermore, she had been living separately from her husband at the time of the dream, so the dream also justified her in not leaving her husband for that reason.]
What do you think of his method?
Shakespeare’s ‘Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.’ His hermeneutic of suspicion. Sneaky or fair? No means yes, yes means no.
Freud also thought that not only do we make logical errors, switch things around, contradict ourselves, etc., but we also confuse ourselves and others.
In your own dreams, don’t you sometimes think of yourself, but see yourself as another person? Or see yourself as another person?
Now, we all have separate souls, but there is great wisdom in this concept. We all start out symbiotically fused to our mothers as babies. Sinfully, at least, we all make excuses for our sins “They’re doing it, so I may.”
e.g. After a schizophrenic’s tyrannical father had died, the schizophrenic believed he was his father. This defended against not knowing where the threatening father is, and it also implied that if he was his father, then he had died instead of his father, which assuaged his guilt over having survived his father.
Man’s experience is cognitively driven. A Swiss man who einstein even said “this man is a genius.” His work took the 1960’s by storm.
In response to behaviorism, empiricism he satirically remarked, did the empiricists think that “there is no number so great that another cannot be added” was arrived at by experiment?
so for Piaget there are ways our mind just works, without the result of sense impressions building up habits, etc. There are precise points in development when kids can suddenly do a new cognitive task.
-e.g. perspective taking. show a child a scene of a room, where a boy walks in, puts a ball in a drawer. mother comes in, moves the ball to under the bed. ask the observing child, where will the boy look? if they are 4, they will say, under the bed, not realizing the boy did not see the mom enter the room. if they are 5, they will say, the drawer.
-e.g. conservation of fluid volume.
cognitive therapy for depression and anxiety today. ‘CBT’
“man is more troubled by his opinions of the things that happen, than he is by the things.” - Epictetus, Stoic philosopher. Again, a mind over matter orientation towards man.
the trouble in depression in anxiety is often that negative, self-condemning thoughts abound, but have become habitual, and the patient doesn’t realize the quantity of these thoughts is excessive, and how influential they are over their everyday interactions and experiences. The task in therapy is often to teach a depressed person how to first recognize these so-called automatic thoughts, and the profound emotional harm that follows each one of them, and then to capture them and alter them. To bring what is habitual, up to the level of free-will and conscious control, and so alter the emotions, which always follow thoughts, according to the cognitive theory. (Rather than the empirical theories, which hold that thoughts follow and justify pre-existing emotions.)
e.g. in a lot of automatic thinking, thought loses its linearity and becomes circular: a patient with social anxiety doesn’t go to a party because they think nobody wants them there anyways, and then, after not going, tells himself that they are right in not wanting him, because he’s such a wuss for not going!
e.g. other automatic thoughts commit common fallacies of inductive reasoning, like over-generalizing, “this elevator is 10% likely to drop.”, or mind reading, sound of laughter ---> “they’re laughing at me down the hall.”
For Frankl, who survived Auschwitz, a man can endure suffering if he has meaning. If he does not have meaning, even the slightest bit of suffering becomes intolerable to him.
e.g. I cannot tell you how many people in the ER I have seen, utterly suicidal and hopeless, because they have so much as lost a job, lost a girlfriend, etc.
Frankl noticed that as cultures become wealthier, suicide rates don’t go down. They go up. In America the suicide rate has more than tripled since the 1950’s.
For Frankl, suffering in the human psyche or soul is like gas in a closed container. With a lot of gas, the container is filled. But with only a little bit of gas, the container is still filled. The area taken up by the gas is no less with less gas, because in both cases, they fill the container. This sort of thing is reminiscent of Plato’s point about leaky vessels; pleasure, in us, always escapes us, doesn’t satisfy: we are leaky vessels. well, with regards to pain, we are closed vessels. there is not much qualitative difference between a little suffering and a lot.
Freud thought that you are basically a bag of instincts with an ego as an artificial moderator, sitting on top, camping out on top of a volcano. conflicts and tensions must be minimized to be happy. A dream, or a neurotic symptom, is a compromise. Take the case of a dreaming person, who when asked by an awake person whether they are asleep, says “no”. When further asked “Can I borrow twenty bucks?” They say “I’m asleep.” The dreamer does not like to recognize that he is asleep because then his dreams will not seem real, will not be real hallucinatory satisfactions. But when it is advantageous to avoid some inconvenient reality, the dreamer will compromise. That is how the Id works. Willing to contradict itself for selfish gain. Whereas for Frankl, the tension and conflict are not simply opposing forces without any telos to organize them together; for Frankl we need conflict and tension to have a reason to suffer in life. But he means the tension of unrealized goals and purposes.
which brings us into our final discussion: which theory wins?
which one works to fix human beings? something tells me it doesn’t just take knowledge about ourselves; that’s half of the issue; it also takes a lot of suffering and effort.
HOW DOES A PERSON CHANGE?
knowledge of self and the will to change. Spock and Captain Kirk.
depression and anxiety are one thing, but deep rooted personality problems are another.
‘horse’s ass ---> analyzed horses ass’
Ours is an age in which the role of reason in solving big moral problems is discounted, while we are total rationalists over minor matters like categorizing libraries and telling one galaxy from another galaxy. In like manner many people are incredibly interested to ‘learn about themselves’ they way they learn about galaxies. They are less apt to consider the role their own hyper-observing approach has on their very self.
Self-knowledge does not necessarily lead to change. St. Paul’s quote in Romans 7 says as much. Plato fell into this fallacy by saying that all vice comes from ignorance, and that if the soul understood its own structure, and understood a priori moral objective truths, virtue would follow accordingly. Whereas Jews were more more skeptical. “The heart is deceitful, who can cure it?” Jeremiah tells us. So too, were those Reformers who believed in total depravity, the noetic effects of sin upon the mind.
While we might call the Greeks intellectualists, we might call the Jews voluntarists, since they are skeptical of pure reason and Rabbis tend to respond to questions with questions, as was Freud’s method. But they still believed in the freedom of the will and personal moral effort.
Whereas many Reformers like Luther were highly skeptical of reason, excluding it from faith, and saying “Reason is the devil’s whore.” But unlike the Jews, some Reformers questioned also the freedom of the will. There is an interesting parallel between Freud’s pessimism about human nature and certain Reformer’s. E.g. to lust after a woman and to think “it’s not me but my body doing it and I can’t help it” is characteristically Freudian. It turns lust into an accidental Slip.
The Orthodox and Catholic understanding of overcoming sin, would be that grace builds on nature, including natural reason, and while faith is a gift of grace, and our desiring holy things is a gift of grace, sanctification is nevertheless a cooperative effort between ourselves and God, and likewise, of the will with the intellect.
e.g. -Take the example of overcoming habitual lust. My intellect can inform a sinful will, by telling me, through psychotherapy, that when I fight with my wife, and am tempted most to turn to lust, it is because I want to crawl back to the breasts of an archaic, edited image of my mother. Whereas the will can substitute other ‘goods’ to desire and contemplate, such as our Blessed Mother, rather than the archaic air-brushed image and memory of my mother.
It is ironic that clinical psychology depends on the intellect, and has puffed itself up in its bold theorizing, while at the same time depreciating the value of reason in those very theories. I would say that their praxis does not match their doxis. Some psychologists are incredibly optimistic about the changes that can be made if psychoanalysis is carried out properly, whereas, there are old, bitter, angry analysts who don’t seem to have made strides.
Many analysts like Freud don’t believe in a telos for human nature. Unlike Plato in The Republic, they don’t believe that man’s tripartite soul can possibly exist in perfect harmony.
A sense of demoralization and powerlessness before your own instincts is common in psychologists. “I’m sensing some hostility in you right now.” Such statements are expected to be taken without retaliation. Revering the instincts as the wellsprings of the soul, halts progress. There was a sort of pinnacle of this in the 1970’s with nude psychotherapy groups. The idea of ‘total honesty’ is, I think, an absurdity. And typical of the kind of rationalism in psychological communities.
So to repeat, change is an act of will together with the intellect, by no means automatic even after a good analysis.
Again, the integration of the intellect with the emotions is difficult.
e.g. another example: a narcissist would have to stand up under intense anxiety when, for instance, others in a group are laughing at someone’s else’s joke and attention is drawn completely away from them. (Dr. Carlton)
Disbelieving in a telos or possibility of perfection in mankind, many psychologists turn to medicines and give up. The emotions will always be at war; there is no way the lion of anger and the lamb of affection could lie together in perfect peace and harmony.
There’s also the role for music. Franz Joseph Haydn regarded it the highest function of music to integrate the intellect with the emotions.
Factors such as hope, endurance, a reason to suffer, come into play. Viktor Frankl and other existential psychologists are the few to make this clinical.
“The goal of psychoanalysis is to convert neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness.” -Freud
“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” - Jung
VIRTUE IN THERAPY
Other illnesses strike irregardless of virtue. but vice makes mental illness worse, and probably causes it sometimes.
Why not just focus on virtue rather than go to therapy? A clouded and irrational intellect is involved in many conditions, and it’s necessary to understand yourself to fight moral battles, however, virtue is still half the picture!
A lot of mental illness is derived from conflicts of our conscience with our instincts. This is inevitable for Freud since conscience is derived from fear of father’s retaliation for having mother as sex object, both the renunciation for being a rival for mother. For Freud, a boy internalizes father’s his prohibitions, and his conscience is a compromise, and like in Marx, a sociological invention meant to minimize conflict between rivaling men.
Re. Freud’s Oedipal Theory, it explains the origin of man’s conscience in a reductive fashion, but minus that, it explains homosexuality and many perversions.
Can get into this later if you want...
Freud was a man of high morals; but for the wrong reasons.
Viewing the conscience as a Christian, we have an option of obeying or rebelling from God. The neurotic person is a person who chooses neither. Like Nietzsche’s ‘pale felons’ and like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, he tries to have it both ways, justifying his rebellion; but suffers sickness as a result.
Why not just be virtuous? It’s good advice.
Take pride for example. Here’s Gordon Allport, a personality theorist, on pride:
“Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness. Even though many of his individual sentiments may be altruistic, the region of his misery represents a complete preoccupation with himself. The very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride. If the sufferer is hypersensitive, resentful, captious, he may be indicating a fear that he will not appear to advantage in competitive situations where he wants to show his worth. If he is chronically indecisive, he is showing fear that he may do the wrong thing and be discredited. If he is over-scrupulous and self-critical, he may be endeavoring to show how really praiseworthy he is.” -Gordon Allport
In Plato’s The Republic, the soul is compared to society, and, like in Freud, has three parts. There are the guardians (intellect, ego), the producers (will, Id), and the police.(conscience, superego). The conscience unites the intellect with the will, teaching the will what is good, and what to desire, and what not to desire. Each department has its vice: for the producers, lust and gluttony, for the police, anger, and for the guardians, pride. Each has its own virtue, the producers must be temperate, the guardians wise, and the police courageous. Justice, the fourth pagan virtue, must govern the harmony between them all. Such a possibility of perfection and justice in the human soul presumes a purpose or telos for the human soul. (Thrasymachus had argued in the opening pages of The Republic that justice belonged to the powerful, and some could be happy and get away with evil deeds. The argument of the Republic hinges on the fact that the human souls is like a civilization, with many parts working in harmony, and if an unjust life upsets that harmony, unhappiness and disharmony in the soul would result. Either a person’s soul will become like a timocratic police state, and anger will be the dominant emotion, or the demands of the producers will cause a tyranny of gluttony and lust.
THE WAR OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL MAGISTERIA
So there is a War of Psychological Magisteria because Man is a freak; he is everything at once. An embodied spirit, an angel and animal all at once.
Perhaps there is such a War because psychologists prefer theories to disturbing realities.
It goes back to the Pascal remark about being alone with yourself.
St. Augustine addressing God, said: “If I abide in You, I abide in myself. If I do not abide in You, I cannot abide in myself.”