Aspects of the Scientific Fantasy

by Liam Marsh

The fact that the Newtonian physical world view dominates us despite our modern physical theories only shows that the way we view the world has nothing to do with a rational process that imparts truth but rather that our perceptions are the results of acculturated fantasy structures which are shared by the communal psyche.

There are many aspects to the fantasy of science within which we psychologists are stuck. One of the most powerful thought organizing stories is the myth of causality. The belief that the essence of anything is the result of a complex series of causes and effects. In this mythology one event (the big bang), an explosion in an infinitesimally small space, caused absolutely everything to exist. When operating within this fantasy, the understanding of any phenomena is intimately connected to the understanding of the causes of that thing.

The idea of causal history defining an object effects the way the psychologist imagines the person seeking help. Often in the clinical imagination the patient is almost immediately conceived of as a set of life circumstances (causes) that have given rise to the presenting person. In order for that person's difficulties to be understood we must understand the causes of that person's life. For the psychologist, as popularized by Papa Freud, understanding the individual begins with understanding the person's childhood. The psychologist tries to understand the causes that create the individual, placing a great importance on the person's childhood. The importance of childhood is taken to be axiomatic in the same manner in which the scientist axiomatically accepts the myth of cause.

This unchallenged fantasy of childhood importance can be potentially dysfunctional as the psychological client tries to improve his situation. The client is often led in unknowingly by psychologist's fantasies which do not question the causal assumptions of childhood importance. The danger comes in the over valuation of the child motif. If a client comes to accept this child as the great causal creator of his existence than he participates in the creation of that fantasized reality. As a result of this created world, with the ever powerful child at the center, the client is in a position of subordinateness to those forces of childhood experience. The situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the imagination has created a reality in which the individual is indeed much controlled my his experiences of childhood. The myth of scientific causality has carried over unnoticed into psychological paradigms creating theoretical structures which are potentially limiting to the experiential imaginations of therapeutic clients.

Objectivity is also a powerful myth that prevails over the world of science and, hence, that of psychology. There is a belief that there is a static reality outside of ourselves that exists on its own, independent of observers. From this comes the idea of truth; the idea that there is somehow a right answer; a way the world truly is. The whole idea of scientific methodology and experimentation exists to serve this fantasy, that there is a method which will give to us the truth, the real nature of things. A theory can be shown irrefutable and certainty can be obtained. The unknown can become known. The question, answered. Woven into this story is the assumption of natural laws. The idea that there are rules or laws which all things abide by. These laws of nature are reliable as well for they never change and always applies. In the stories of science are many peculiar beliefs which purport the unbelievable.

The psychologist in her philosophy of the natural world sets out as all scientist do. She posits theories, implores scientific methodology, cohorts with other psychologists and their data, modifies theory and ultimately comes to conclusions which she believes to be true. The psychologist ultimately comes to believe these truths to be objective and indisputable in nature. As with the problem of causality, the fantasy of objectivity can constrict the psychological imagination and isolate the psychologist from the fact that he is participating in the creation of the world. The patient seeking psychological help becomes subjected to the constrictions of the psychologist's own imagination. To the extent that the psychologist believes his own world views to be true, he is trapped by culturally ingrained scientific perspectives. The patient is then further restricted to the degree to which the psychologist's perceptional faculties are controlled by the notion that he perceives a world that he understands. In other words, if the psychologist believes to understand the world and the psyche than he will naturally constrain the person in need of help with those perspectives. The fantasy of objectivity effects the psychologist, as well as everybody else, by reinforcing the myth that our ideas about the world contain the world.

The idea of "objectivity" itself is a fantasy of Newtonian physics which posited a world which existed independently of the observer. Modern quantum physics has shown this perspective to have out grown its usefulness as the "out there" world has become less concrete and less certain. Atoms are no longer solid objects imagined with simple physical properties. Rather they have become mathematical entities; they have receded from the world and reside in the theoretical imagination. It has been shown that many aspects of the modern molecular world are simply undefined or nonexistent when unperceived. Many molecular properties have been shown to be dependent upon the observation process. There is no longer a world which exists statically independent. If our modern scientific understanding of the physical world has developed to the point at which we can no longer talk about an existing world which is separate from the observer, than it would seem even more absurd to pretend that we have some objective window through which we can define the psyche.

Going Back:

Science and Psychology
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Other Readings:

Ideas and Managed Care
The End of Therapy

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