Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In order to know the human psyche, abandon experimental psychology and academia

Portland Oregon at Night: September 2013
CC Jean Stimmell
While in high school in the early 1960s – still part of the 1950's culture – I became fascinated with psychology, drinking in Sigmund Freud and particularly Otto Rank. I got accepted at Columbia University, which I didn’t expect, and agreed to attend immediately without knowing anything about their psychology department except, I figured, it must be great.

Imagine my surprise when I matriculated and found that the department was totally experimental psych: At my first class, I was issued 4 white rats and a Skinner box.

Disillusioned with psych and Columbia in general for not meeting my insane expectations that they could just hand me, pre-digested, all the answers to the big questions in life, I dropped out and ended up serving 18 months in Vietnam. When I got out of the service, I ended up getting a degree in radical sociology while supporting myself working union construction. I tried graduate school but found it too much like a bureaucratic corporation more concerned with winning turf battles and burnishing reputations by how many papers they could publish than in searching for truth and justice. Then I spent twenty years raising a family while working as a self-employed stonemason, freelance writer, and peace activist.

In a nutshell, I learned about psychology from the school of hard knocks. According to Carl Jung, that’s not a bad thing:

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.[1]

[1] Carl Jung, The Psychology of the Unconscious. CW7: 409.
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