Freud: Science and Psychology

Last seminar, a heated discussion arose about the nature of psychology, and whether or not it is in fact a science. I called it a pseudo-science, much to the insult of several of my classmates. After many interesting discussions and argumentative statements, the class ended and many felt unconvinced. I also retracted my initial statement, saying that it may have been too harsh. Now, armed with the power of the internet and the dictionary, I will re-state, in a more eloquent manner, my original statement.

“Psychology is NOT an empirical science”. There, I said it.

Empirical science is the branch of science that uses empirical evidence or data. This is defined as: a source of knowledge based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

In other words, this is the type of science where you repeat the same mind-numbing experiment 1000’s of times and record every detail, trying to find a consistency that you can call a law by proving that it happens every time. So, now let us return to psychology, and how that is in no way applicable to this criteria. As I am not particularly knowledgeable in the field of psychology, I will apply this statement to Freud and why I disagree with some of what he says.

I think that Freud uses overreaching generalizations and conjectures to understand the human mind. For example, when he states on Page 21 that Dora’s disgusted reaction to Herr K’s unwanted advances was uncharacteristically abnormal and that she should have responded with sexual excitement is completely absurd. By saying this, he is generalizing that every person is sexual in the same way, at the same age, and is attracted to the same things.

Another instance where I disagree with Freud is in his analysis of Dora’s dreams, particularly her dreams of fire. Saying that Dora’s dreaming of fire is akin to bedwetting and sexuality seems to me like a gross conjecture with evidence solely found in Freud’s mind. Once again let us return to the definition of empirical. One can clearly see that Freud is not using any repeatable or provable evidence in his analysis of Dora’s dreams and that, as Christina Hendricks stated in her lecture: “each of Freud’s dream analyses are unique”, there is no way he can apply the same symbols to different patients. That raises a bit of a red flag for me, as how can he be so sure of something which has so many variables IE, the human dream state.

However, I did find Dora overall very fascinating, whether or not it was unethical for him to publish it. I believe that this was a good introduction to psychology for me, because, even through some of Freud’s theories are flawed, he is touching upon some truly valuable, and essential topics towards better understanding the human condition.

P.S. I promise this is the last late blog post from me! 🙂

1 thought on “Freud: Science and Psychology

  1. Thanks for clarifying, Devin! I agree that Freud’s analyses don’t fit well with the idea of repeating the same experiments over and over and getting the same result, except that he does think he sees similar results in patients to support things like his view of the ego, super-ego and id, the stages of sexual development, etc. But without going into deep detail on how he got this evidence or how similar it was from patient to patient, I can’t defend him well on this.

    But I would like to say that psychology today could still be counted as an empirical science. Psychologists run the same test, the same questionnaires, put people into the same situations and observe them, over and over, and only after getting a good number of similar results can they say that something may be generally accepted. They don’t always get exactly the same results, because humans are not inert matter, but similar enough to justify certain conclusions. And by taking into account other possible explanations and background conditions like socioeconomic status, gender, education level, religious beliefs, etc., they can see if there are things that are common to people across those divisions.

    But I’m not a great expert on psychology; perhaps you should take a course and find out for yourself!

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