science inspires puzzlement and wonder
What attracted me to psychology some 40 years ago was its genuine effort to scientifically approach questions that I found particularly fascinating. My early teachers instilled in me an appreciation of how important it is to test out ideas, challenge theories, and doubt certainties.
The old questions continue to interest me. I have never ceased to be intrigued by the search for viable explanations, and I remain respectful of the psychologists who have not forgotten to work within the limits set by science. I fear, however, that these psychologists are in the minority. So now I am primarily known as someone who criticises her profession, openly expressing concern about the influence exerted by psychologists who - while still calling what they do science - recognise no boundaries.
For almost two decades, I have been cautioning people to be wary of the trendy notion that psychology can provide the answer to the age-old enigmas of life, the solution to civilisation's discontents, and the key to eliminating the destructive side of human nature. Assuming everything psychology offers to be scientifically proven, fearful people cling hopefully to a modern myth, that all of life's mysteries can be opened to human understanding. And too many psychologists have themselves embraced this myth. Rising proudly to a populist call for answers, they speak with a certainty that upholds the myth, but degrades the science.
Not only does this reduce science to a label that enhances psychologists' credibility; it also confuses science with faith. What science can do is show us that an explanation is wrong, or incomplete. Science can never prove, beyond doubt, that our understanding is right. Science serves to remind us that a theory - however elegant, convincing, or appealing - may one day be proven wrong. Science exposes any promise of the ultimate answer, for what it is - nothing but folly.
Physicists, geologists, biologists and chemists, by and large, know the difference between theory and truth. But the psychologists who are now having far too great an influence - upon how we understand ourselves, our society and our world - do not know the difference. What they have lost is the humbling aspect of science, that essential element that excites curiosity and curbs hubris. As Albert Einstein once said, 'whosoever undertakes to set themselves up as judges in the field of truth and knowledge are shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods'.
And so, upon reflection and with an ear open for cosmic laughter, the one thing I wish people understood about science is how science inspires puzzlement and wonder.
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by Dr. Tana Dineen,