Send in the Psychos

What sort of science is psychology, and what does it mean that there is no place in it for its most important practitioners?

“Psychology is a science,” says Hebrew University of Jerusalem Deputy Rector Professor Yaakov Schul, who plans to move the university’s psychology department from its present location, on Mount Scopus, where the university’s humanities and social sciences faculties are located ‏(that is, everything that is not really a “science,” though it might have that name‏), to the Givat Ram campus. Givat Ram houses the university’s life sciences faculty, that is, its “real” sciences, as the deputy rector sees it.

Brief and terrible were my own days at the Hebrew University’s psychology department, where I enrolled after quite an enjoyable year at the same department at Tel Aviv University. I enrolled in psychology because of my interest in the mysteries of the human soul and my desire to acquire a humanistic profession focused on non-quantifiable matters such as emotions, fears, trauma and personality development, rather than the ability to chart with precision manifestations of compulsive personality disorders. The psychology faculty at Tel Aviv definitely lived up to my expectations. We studied Freud, Jung, Adler and Melanie Klein, and we gained experience in the field. Two things caused me to quit pursuing my degree at the Hebrew University. The more significant was the acute difficulties I encountered trying to find way around the incredibly ugly edifice that housed the social sciences at the Mount Scopus campus ‏(incidentally, the architect who designed this monstrosity won the Israel Prize‏). In addition, I discovered that required courses at the Hebrew University included, apart from statistics and research methods, laboratory exercises and lectures on the role of intuition. The courses in theories of personality and therapy techniques, which I had so loved, were nowhere to be found in Jerusalem. I felt like a rat in a maze forced to learn to relate to peers as though they, too, were laboratory rats. And so, what this whole experience taught me was that if you want to enhance the scientific aura of the Hebrew University’s psychology department, the best place to locate is in its current Mount Scopus labyrinth.

According to recent newspapers reports, the department has plans to cancel its first year course on theories of personality, and, in the name of science, reduce class time devoted to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. The insights and theories of his successors will not be studied, since as Schul explains, “Professional knowledge in psychoanalysis is more art than science.” The question then arises: What sort of science is psychology, and what does it mean that there is no place in it for the study of Freud and his disciples? Psychoanalysis, which has always been based on internal observation and subjective assessment of another, cannot produce a measurable portrait of the soul that fits scientific criteria. An understanding of the human psyche has always been based on the theories of Freud and his disciples.

But even more important, the desire to replace the psyche with logic is part of a trend that is transforming psychology into a barren pursuit. It is turning psychology into a profession that suits those who have no real interest in the suffering or beauty of the human soul but have simply not been accepted to cybernetics or nanotechnology. This is the root of the problem. A fisherman might not have to love fish, and a microbiologist might not need to like microbes, but a psychologist of the sort that I would be willing to share emotional secrets with, must like psychos, that is to say, people.