Saturday, June 13, 2009

"This terribly significant business of other people"

As a social psychologist, trying to come to some reasonable grip, on at least a portion of the vast sea of human social activity and behavior, is the end game.

But, it is seriously worth noting that although social psychology is just over a century old, humans have been at this problem for millenia - indeed since there have been humans.

Will breakthroughs in biopsychology, cognitive science, and behavioral neuroscience yield an ax to break through the ice?

It is argued, and quite tenably so, that because people have free will (though this is certainly debatable), they can be placed in the exact same conditions, and behave differently. Seeing that one of science's pillars, Prediction, cannot hold when matter is at times erratic and self-driven - then how is social psychology to be legitimately defended as a science? Or, even a decent folk science?

Consider author Philip Roth's question in his famed book American Pastoral :

"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong.

You might as well have the brain of a tank.

You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again.

Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of perception.

And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims?"


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