Excluding other human minds, our mind is the most complicated piece of the universe currently we know about, maybe our brain isn’t complex enough to understand themselves.
The word psychology comes from a Latin word, that is ‘the study of the soul’ while its formal definition has evolved over several decades. Today, we call it ‘the study of behaviour and mental processes’. From the efforts of those early thinkers up until today, the field of psychology has all about taking some of the big questions:
- How can humans commit genocide or torture other humans? How do we know it is horrible?
- Do we have free will, or we are driven by our environment, biology and unconscious influences?
- What is mental illness and what can we do about it?
- Am I still human, how our brain works, how they can break or heal, why do we behave the way we do or not, what does it mean to be thinking, feeling or alive?
When hearing the word psychology we mostly think therapist, sitting on a couch, listening to the patients/subjects, unpacking details of its day or planning, probably picturing Sigmund Freud with his cigar. Today, psychology is one of the most widely diverse sciences, in terms of question it proposes, the method it applies and different school of thought and discipline it contains. There were a lot of schools who thought about how the study of the human mind should be tackled, mainly there where the ideas of Structuralism, Functionalism and psychoanalysis.
Scientific psychology started in 1879 in Germany when physician Wilhelm Wundt set up the first laboratory at university of Leipzig just a few years after publishing his ‘principles of physiology psychology’ considered to be first psychiatric textbook, Wundt and his student Edward Bradford Titchener took questions from chemistry and physic and argued those people could break down all the matter into simple elements and structure, why couldn’t they do similar with brain. They tried to understand the structure by getting the patients to talk inwards, asking them how they felt when they saw the sunrise, smell a flower or licking ice cream. Despite its rigid sounding name, it was too subjective, you may sense or feel different with other person does even if you lick the same ice cream. Psychologist, of course, can’t observe a patient inner thought, feeling, so ultimately the structuralism school of thought very short-lived.
William James proposed a certain set of questions focusing on why we think and feel, basically he focused on the function of behaviour and he called it functionalism which was inspired by evolution procedure. William James defined psychology as ‘the science of mental life’, similar to Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud began his medical career at Venice hospital but in 1886 he started his in practice specializing on nervous disorder, during his practice he witnessed his colleague Josef Breuer, who treated a patient called Anna O. with a new talking cure, basically, he just told her to talk her symptoms, the more she talked, the more it pulled out her traumatic memories and the symptoms were reduced. It was a breakthrough and it changed Freud forever. From then on Freud encouraged his patients to talk freely about whatever comes in their mind to ‘free association’. This technique provided a base to his career and the entire branch of psychology.
In the 1900s he published his book ‘the interpretation of dreams’ when he introduced his theory of psychoanalysis. Now when you probably think psychoanalysis as a therapist and a couch scenario, well that is a part of it. Freud’s concept was much more complex than that and it was revolutionary. The radical cornea of psychoanalysis is that the theory of our personality is shaped under ‘unconscious motives’ basically Freud suggested that we all are profoundly affected by mental process that we are not even aware and this sounds almost obvious to us but in 1990 it was something that our mind themselves didn’t know, it was hard to grasp as all organism evolving by natural selection, it was abstract, invisible and then was something seems to be irrational.
Another part of Freud’s theory was that the subconscious was literally below consciousness and was still discoverable even though you were not aware of it, you could understand it through therapeutic techniques, using dream, projection and free association to root our own repressed feeling and gain self-insight. So Freud basically said mental disorder can be healed through therapy and self-discovery. This was really breakthrough because prior to these people with a mental disorder were either confined to a sanatorium or the worst shackled to bed frames.
The next big shape up role came in the first half of 20th century when behaviourist came in the practice like Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner. They focused on the theory of observable behaviour. Skinner, who experimented on rats, pigeon and babies in boxes and conditioned them to perform a certain behaviour, he published ‘behaviour of organism’ assuring the era of behaviourism which remained all the rage in the 1960s.
I will be writing about the other major topics and theories in future blogs.
P.S- edited and made it as a post.