The debate goes on about whether or not psychology and other branches of social sciences are true sciences. Can their research be subjected to rigorous methods and the data verified by other researchers? The argument, pro and con, gathered intensity, recently, over the theory of “ego depletion” — the contention that will power is finite and diminishes over time. But a retesting of the theory, using 2,141 subjects at Curtin University, challenges that notion and argues, if ego depletion exists, the effect is “close to zero.” (“Sizing Up Psychology’s Credibility Crisis,” by John Hogan, Scientific American Mind, July/August 2016 pg. 19.)
Those who support the theory have cried foul and vowed to institute a third study to test the outcome of the second. The problem, according psychology’s critics, is that researchers in the field are unable to agree upon a basic method for arriving at “truth.” (Ibid, pg. 19) That objection would come as no surprise to long dead William James, who helped create the field, and who described it as research in a “confused and imperfect state.” (Ibid pg. 19.)
My first and last brush with psychology was in high school, so I’m entitled to no opinion about the debate. I do know that science of every persuasion sometimes finds itself on shaky ground. In physics, it seems some new particle pops up every day to challenge our thinking about the universe. For centuries, we’ve been jostled by one theory to another – from by Newton’s gravitational world to Einstein’s relative one, for example Recently, we’ve run smack into the quantum world. Given this roller coaster ride, I can’t say with confidence that the STEMS have an immutable grasp on reality. And when I consider that the tool applied to all these studies is the dark and murky mind, I am inclined to crawl into bed and pull the covers over me.
For solace, I rely on psychologist John Hogan’s comment at the end of his disquieting article. He said there is as much to be learned about the workings of the human mind in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and his use of stream of consciousness, than in any scientific study. (Ibid pg. 19.) The point is one I’ve often raised to combat the snobbery of readers who insist fiction isn’t worth their time. Truth belongs to the Arts, especially psychological truth.