"I've been straining for decades to push psychology over into art, to recognize psychology as an art form rather than a science or a medicine or an education, because the soul is inherently imaginative."

-James Hillman

The Fantasy of Science:

Psychology's Struggle with a Persona

by Liam Marsh

Psychology finds itself in a continually awkward attempt to be a science. In its attempts to justify its existence to its professional and acacdemic communities by presenting itself as a science, Psychology has greatly retarded its own psychological growth. What has been lost in the donning of the ill-suited persona of science is its ability to imagine, and hence has prevented it from becoming an arena of psychological wealth.

To understand the way psychology fantasizes about the psyche, we must examine the mytho-structures that give form to psychology's ideation. A strong infrastructure of psychology's imagination is science. In trying to understand the logos of the psyche, the school of psychology has relied heavily upon scientific fantasies for structuring its ideas. By academia and the mental health profession, psychology has been held accountable to the ideals of the scientific method. Psychology has suffered from these restrictions for they have greatly constrained the formation of its images and ideas.

Aspects of the Scientific Fantasy

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.

How Psychologists Think

It has become a struggle for psychology to determine whether or not it is a science.

Psychology has long believed itself to be a science despite the fact that psychologists do not think nor act as scientists. In its presentation of ideas; in its self-justification within the business community; in its academic classification, psychology continues to be influenced by the scientific fantasy. In academic journals the psychologist writes in a style which requires cross referencing statements and making connections between ideas and research. While its science is, in general, absurd with its lack of statistical understanding and disregard for true experimental method, psychology dances on believing whole heartily that it is making sense. In the profession world the psychologist sells her wears by continuing the illusion of scientific objectivity. Insurance companies and politicians are entertain with data and studies all of which support the psychologist's fantasy that their beliefs are grounded in scientific truth. The reality of the origin of the psychologist's beliefs is actually quite different.

Going back to the original psychologist, Freud, a man with an extensive scientific background and understanding of the scientific method, psychologists have recklessly abandoned scientific methodology in favor of basing their theories on intuitive observation. In practice there is no conflict for psychologists base their ideas on countless years of experiencing the human phenomenon. After extensive interaction with a particular aspect of the human malaise, intuition automatically kicks in and repeated patterns become conscious and become the bases for ideas and theories which follow. These theories are going to naturally reflect not only the world that seemingly surrounds the psychologist but the world of the psychologist himself. The fantasy that the ideas are simply accounts of an objective reality, does not have weight for the creator of ideas can not be separated from the ideas themselves. An inherent aspect of an idea, is the person who is having it. The ideas say more about the individual having them than they do about their subject.

There is no problem with the natural process by which the psychologist thinks. It is the way all humans gather and process information about the world. The problem comes from trying to meet the criteria of science's fantasy of objectivity. The psychologist is in the business of knowing something about human nature. This knowing is held accountable to the ideals of science and academia. Knowledge becomes of secondary importance as the human mind forces itself to comply with certain forms of thought.

Psychology's Position in Academia

Psychologists have structures built into their trade which prevent them from following the instincts of imagination. The value psychology puts on the persona of scientific objectivity is demonstrated in the structural requirements of the professional classification of Psychologist. To receive this ranking one must fully commit to the scientific model as handed down through academia. This persona of science is mostly enforced in the style of writing that academia requires of the PhD candidate. This APA journal writing style requires that the psychologist makes excessive references to other works, not to demonstrate being well read, but rather to aid in the creation of the illusion of objectivity. This is further enhanced with references to research which models itself on the scientific method, yet recklessly ignores any real understanding of statistics or the scientific method it pretends to be following. In order to succeed in the professional and academic fields the psychologist has no choice but to don a half-baked scientific persona.

When psychology is imagined as category within an academic framework it is excluded from those other categories; political science, anthropology, literature, business management, all of which are aspects of the phenomenon of psyche. Divorcing itself from concerns of the political, historical, and cultural world it is left to dribble on about personal interiorities. When this dribbling imagination is further constrained by the pretense of an outdated fantasy of objectivity, the result becomes an intellectually infantile world of ideas. If she were to step out of the constrains of academia and its science, the psychologist would greatly expand her imaginal world.

The big question for psychologists is, what is the human investment in maintaining the sterile and constricted fantasy structure of academia? The answer involves an understanding of American culture and politics. It involves money and the people who benefit from the academic structures and the professional hiring practices. If the psychologist is invested in the material gains that result from the academic initiation process, there is no need to worry about how ideas are choked by the structures within. If a richness of imaginal wealth is in want than the narrowing structures will become a problem.

Liberating Psychological Imagination

The problem that psychology faces with the constraints of its pseudoscience academic classification, does not arise from its inability to follow methodologies that purport reliability in establishing objective truth. The problem is that it strangles itself imaginatively in its efforts to pretend to be something that it is not. Psychology attempts to study the phenomenon of the human being and his ever illusive non-physical nature, referred to as the psyche. In order to entertain the fantasy of understanding the psyche more tools are needed other than scientific methodology.

The idea that these fantasies of science have a negative impact on individuals and, hence, therapy and psychology comes from the assumption that the psyche benefits from expanding itself phenomenologically and imaginatively. The individual who is in need is most likely troubled by some motif that is burdening her life. The motif itself is usually less the problem than the fact that the motif is overwhelmingly pervasive to the exclusion of other necessary life themes. From this idea comes the therapeutic fantasy that a troubled individual would benefit by expanding the imagination with a plethora of experiential motifs, rather than the present palette of but a few which have become disabling. Science effects the imagination of the psychologist by putting great restrictions on psychology's theoretical perspectives. The psychologist who is limited in fantasy will bring these limitations to his client and the client at best will have a chance to trade a dysfunctionally limiting fantasy structure for a more socially accepted limiting one.

For the psychologist there is no bad news here. Accepting the process from which ideas are born as a nature human function that is always going to include the fantasy structure of the creator only liberates the imagination from the sterile fantasy of scientific methodology. Since the human experience or psyche is so multifaceted that it is essentially undefinable within the realm of ideas, the psychologist in an effort to bring understanding to such a mysterious beast must have a vast plethora of tools with which their fantasies of human nature are framed.

"Outward hearing should not penetrate further than the ear; the intellect should not seek to lead a separate existence, thus the soul can become empty and absorb the whole world. It is Tao that fills this emptiness. If you have insight, you use your inner eye, your inner ear, to pierce to the heart of things, and have no need of intellectual knowledge."

-Chuang Tzu

Going Back:

Science and Psychology
Ares Press homepage

Other Readings:

Ideas and Managed Care
The End of Therapy

Copyright 1996 The Ares Press and Hermes Systems