What Is Psychology?


If anyone wants to study the topic of psychology in detail, it is necessary to know what psychology is all about. Although this sounds like a obvious thing, the fact is psychology is considered as one of those terms which is related to different topics without knowing its actual meaning.

This results because a great amount of confusion is already created around psychology. You may also have came in contact with the students who are approaching their final year of graduation and still they are not 100% sure of what psychology is all about.

Many texts define psychology as the “science of mental processes and behaviour.” However, ‘Psychology‘ is difficult to define because the word “mental” suggests there are no boundaries or limits. “Psyche”, in “Psychology,” also suggests breath, life, soul or mind — all of which are without limit.

The meaning of the Greek word psyche, suggests a totality of inner experience lacking in spatial dimensions. Perhaps psyche owes its signification to our subjective sense that we are in possession of a measure of immateriality. However, we cannot directly apprehend the psyche in others the way we appreciate it for ourselves, not even by using our senses. The difficulty of pinning down the psyche is expressed here by our attempts to understand it by a negative terminology, — what it is NOT.

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, introduced Psychology to North America in the late nineteenth century. In his Psychology: The Briefer Course, James uses the more limiting word ‘consciousness’ instead of ‘psyche’ and accordingly defines psychology “as the description and explanation of states of consciousness as such.”

By ‘consciousness’ James understands a list of descriptive psychological attributes, some of which point very much to a few of the prominent topics in modern Psychology: sensation, emotion, and cognition. He also includes “desires,” and “volitions,” attributes of consciousness having their place in the current topic areas of emotion and motivation respectively.

James’ definition also suggests the study of more than one conscious state; today, one refers to ‘altered states of consciousness,’ implied by our experience of different moods, psychoactive drugs, hypnosis, meditation and a “variety of religious experience” (the title of James’ last book). But if there is consciousness, perhaps there is also its opposite, an unconscious psyche.

Imagine being capable of “meaning,” having memories, and playing out fantasies without the slightest awareness; or again, to will something without even knowing it! What effect would such a subliminal, autonomous, dynamic part of the mind have on one’s conscious experience? The concept of the unconscious psyche has led to theories which explain a whole variety of phenomena, all the way from being attracted to someone without knowing it to extrasensory perception and precognition; that is, knowledge about future events.

In his definition, William James refers to “description” and “explanation,” suggesting that the psyche can be observed and then subjected to the law of cause and effect. There are many ways to use cause and effect. For example, how might the visible part of us, the body, cause changes in our psyche and how might the psyche cause changes in the body?

More particularly, how do hormones, natural brain chemicals, drugs and brain damage cause changes in the way we think, feel and behave? On the other hand, how does the psyche cause stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer? And for the philosophically inclined, how real is this distinction between psyche and body? Is this opposition merely an artificial product of grammar or is it a function of gross sensory perception?

So what is the hardest part?

It is the absence of unity. Under psychology there exists more than one as well as competing stages of explanation when one tries to understand behavior. When you actually start your study in psychology then you actually realize that at times the subject may overwhelm you.

The rule of keeping it simple

Especially when you are new to the subject. Just try to understand one thing that is psychology is all about understanding behavior. You cannot expect yourself to know each and everything of that is related to behavior when you start as a complete newbie but soon after you start to study more and more about the subject, you will be able to explain the subject in an appropriate psychological framework.

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