A Heretic’s Guide to Psychology

I have been studying psychology for about a year and a half now. I’ve learnt some wonderful stuff. I’ve learnt that an evil but tiny little region in the brain with a double-barrelled first name – the supra-chiasmatic nucleus – is responsible for my desire to sleep in, every morning. I’ve learnt that, contrary to my beliefs, you can’t always believe what you (think you) see. I’ve learnt that researchers named Metalski and Alloy can work together on countless research papers and not realize the irony.

Most importantly, however, I’ve learnt about how misinformed people are about the subject.

Psychology is widely perceived to be this mystical discipline wherein people learn how to read minds, hypnotize hapless insomniacs and then sacrifice the sheep that they count in their dreams for the ghost of Freud’s mother, who was, of course, awakened through a séance.

Unfortunately, that already exists. It’s called Scientology.

The very first reason I can proffer as to why psychology is used to label anything that is even slightly inexplicable is that humans, as a species, tend to conflate words which begin with the same letters. That itself is inexplicable enough to be deemed worthy of a psychological explanation. This is why ‘psychology’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘psychic’ and why ‘heretics’ (said in an accusatory tone, preferably with a pointed finger) is often seen by the uninitiated as a portmanteau of ‘heredity’ and ‘genetics’.

Strangely enough, Kim Kardashian is not mistaken for Kimchi – a Korean dish which Wikipedia describes as “spicy and sour, with a notoriously offensive odor” (I promise I didn’t write that page myself).

Anyway, the confounding of ‘psychic’ and ‘psychology’ is worrying. It means that a disturbingly large proportion of the population believes that thousands of students enter universities each year to intensively study clairvoyance, telekinesis and aura-reading. Hasn’t anyone realized that if this were true, we’d have 90,000 X-Men graduating every year? The world would be in safe hands (or rather, minds).

I’ll admit, there are a significant number of people who realize that ‘ology’ is very different from ‘ic’ and agree that all psychologists do not moonlight as Professor Charles Xaviers. But even amongst these benevolent souls, very few refer to it as a ‘science’, and those who do, do so rather grudgingly. Most people insist on prefixing it with ‘human’, or much worse, with ‘pseudo’.

Pseudo-sciences are sciences which aren’t really sciences (hence the ‘pseudo’). They were only called sciences because they vaguely involved some numbers and everything becomes more believable if you add the word ‘science’ into the fray. Examples of pseudo-sciences are crystal healing, ghost busting and Simon Cowell’s X-Factor selection process.

People’s arguments for classifying psychology as a pseudo-science are amongst the most baseless I’ve seen. Apparently “real” sciences involve the study of matter. This is basically saying that the entire realm of science is, in fact, physics.

The same people also claim that psychology’s shady dealings with the conscious and unconscious lend it an air of disrepute. As evidence for this, they cite ‘dream-deciphering’ and ‘Jung’ (which, more often than not, they pronounce incorrectly, but that’s a peeve to deal with another day). To these people, I’d like to say four things:

1. That is called psychoanalysis. It is not to be mistaken with psychology, again, just because it starts with the word ‘psych’.

2. Freud and Jung were like the only guys who tried to make psychoanalysis a part of psychology (and didn’t succeed, by the way). Jeez. This is like not eating your birthday cake just because your name’s spelt wrong on the top. Cut us some slack (and a piece of cake, please).

3. Look up psychophysics.

4. If you still don’t agree, keep an open mind and allow me to demonstrate the real meaning of ‘unconscious’.

And while we’re arguing like this about whether or not psychology should be classified as a science, some other subjects have just sneaked past us and made it across the border with no struggle at all. Quantum mechanics, for example, tries to explain immortality. Yet we choose to ignore this blasphemy simply because it has a lot of complicated-looking numbers and formulae that nobody understands. And what about molecular gastronomy? Well, it involves food and Heston Blumenthal, so it can be whatever it wants.

I’d like to clarify that I love quantum mechanics and molecular gastronomy, but sometimes, they just rub it in too much.

Another thing that irks me is the fear with which psychology is regarded. Ask any psychology student to note down people’s responses to the question, “Will you participate in a psychology experiment?” I guarantee that the answer will always be a nervous (and perhaps squeaky) “You want to experiment on me?” This, for some reason, draws up vivid images of Victor Frankenstein working on his Creature, or of scary men in surgical masks tickling the underbellies of guinea pigs. Or maybe that’s just me.

To conclude: I hope that my sales pitch for this discriminated-against discipline will succeed in convincing the St. Peters at the Pearly (and Scientifically-Designed For Minimum Seepage) Gates to let psychology through.

But if you don’t, it’s okay, we don’t need you anyway. We have pyrokinesis to deal with the hell-fire.