Can Psychology Be Unified?


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There has been many a publications about uniting almost all sub-disciplines in Psychology into an integral and coherent theoretical framework while relating this premise to Newton’s contribution to the unification of Physics and Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to Biology. It seems possible in Psychology but the so-called ‘unification’ might be broken into sub-divisions having underlying characteristics that might be less comprehensive in explaining the concept of Psychology, deviating from its actual goal of unification.

The author clarifies that he means unification here entails the discipline (Psychology) would have a common set of grounding rationales in which adequate understanding can be gotten through description of its contents and concepts which could be explained.

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Psychology, however, can’t seem to agree on this common sets of principles unlike the natural sciences like Physics and Biology. These two were able through Newton’s laws and theory of natural selection respectively seem to have a wide array of generalization and applicability in explaining the commonality of different concepts.

The quest in the unification of Psychology is not a new thing as proposals had been publish concerning the issue. American Psychologist and The Review of General Psychology are among the journals published for their discipline unification’s sake. Not all would certainly agree that Psychology can be unified.

Some believed it can’t be unified and suggest assigning a new name to the field. Sigmund Koch suggested it be renamed to «psychological studies». Much work on the unification of psychology developed from distinct views. These views, each believing that their orientation is superior and that only their views, believes and concepts are comprehensive enough to explain and describe the whole of psychology or to create a relatively largely dominant area where others are either supporting or opposing. This method won’t work since there are disparate disciplines in psychology that already disagree with one another thereby reducing the gap for any success of unity.

For there to be any progress in this unification process, the author believes a theory shaped in a formal language that strictly and accurately captures different concepts. The formal language serves three purposes.

Firstly, a formal language should have a coherence with similar structural characteristics even though their subject matter may differ.

Secondly, prediction and the type of explanation that prediction relies upon which contributes to its accuracy, frequency and nature.

Thirdly, instead of having arguments as to whether whose orientation supersedes all or is more important, formal language cuts through it and sees if the theory works and its theoretical predictions are accurate.

Why does the apple fall directly to the ground? Why does the moon ceaselessly revolved round the earth? Newton’s laws of motion gave a better understanding and answers to these questions. His theory would later go on to be applied to other concepts like fluid dynamics and electromagnetism initially different from what he theorized about. Darwin although not framed in formal language, with the integration of Mendelian concepts and Modern synthesis was redefined in a formal term and other evolutionary models have used his principles away from the biological umbrella.

Psychological frameworks like psychophysics, decision theory, signal detection theory etc. have not been able to inspire psychological prediction to a degree or attained the formal language to unify the discipline as a whole.

Unification of psychology at a time seemed plausible as it began to align with the Kuhn’s model of paradigmatic science. These events are different in different sciences in accordance with their characteristics. It is one of the method of how science develops and is very significant to philosophers and historians of science. Kuhn’s model or cycle science, challenged the believe that science was a gradual progression of the aggregation of novel ideas but instead is advanced the most by occasional revolutionary explosions of new knowledge, each revolution activated by introduction of new ways of thought so large they must be called new paradigms.. This was a conspicuous movement in psychology which gave birth to school of thoughts like structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism etc. Kuhn highlighted the inapplicability of his theory to social sciences, especially psychology.

Structuralism which was spear headed by Wilhelm Wundt helped make psychology scientific employing physiological techniques and found the first ever psychology laboratory. He later noticed that there are some phenomena in psychology that his techniques can’t study in his laboratory and went on to publish them in a 10-volume of writing. It got a lot of public interest and left them all impressed except the psychologists who were disappointed with the limitations which led them to apply the evolutionary model to psychology. They would generalize and not limit their research. From children, women and unhealthy people to animals and even insects they would study their mental variation, which eventually led to the school of thought, called Functionalism. This school combined a lot of distinct concepts and was concerned with creation of a new discipline a unification of them all.

Behaviourism shortly followed and was thought to be first attempt at unification of psychology even though it’s pioneers have different approaches to this thought which is either to redefine psychology in this new found school operations or to disregard the psychological operations and create a new formal language for the discipline. Behaviourism, believed to be dominant was only important in Latin America and Japan.

History of psychology seemed to feature different concepts or topics fused into one which puts doubt if psychology would ever be unified. Periodicals like the American Journal of Psychology (AJP) by Stanley Hall consisted of numerous disparate works not having any form of commonality both ontologically and epistemologically in which the authors move to another discipline or gets replaced by new authors. Psychological Review was created by Baldwin in 1894 to compete with AJP also had a wide range of authors or researchers without a common goal.

No form of principle guided interests, passion, knowledge or research carried out which resulted in poor definitions of concepts that led to the fluidity and ambiguity in psychology. «Consciousness» is one of such concepts until functionalist William James challenged the definition of the concept.

Who is a psychologist? The American Psychological Association encountered the difficulty of determining what or who a psychologist is since different accumulation of diverse orientations laid the foundation for the discipline. Some wanted to exclude themselves from philosophers as well as setting up esoteric schools like E.B. Titchener did in The Society for Experimental Psychology. As time passed, psychology became popular giving birth to new specialties published in different journals e.g Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Psychobiology etc.

For a while it dwindled and a moment of resurgence came during World War 1 in 1920, a time described as the «outbreak of psychology». Psychological knowledge began to grow and spread and the public wanted its information to improve quality of life in different areas but did little in unifying psychology. Although at the time, real psychologists were few and in process of being defined so nonprofessionals offered information to them as pretend psychologist which gave back to Pop Psychology. It is the application of psychology that the populace favors regardless of adequate scientific research.

Psychology could have been easily unified if its foundations were created by like-minded individuals with an aim. However, origins doesn’t guarantee hopelessness. There is still as the author believed that there is a yet to be discovered fundamentals.

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