Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Importance of 'Depth' Psychology

Andrew D Atkin:

When you put monkey's in a bad zoo they tend not to breed. In this sense they act abnormally (yet normal, relative to the environmental pressures).

Now imagine I brought a behavioural psychologist into the scene and asked him to cure my monkey's of their infertility. The behavioral psychologist, trained in Pavlovian conditioning, then gets to work setting up a head-mounted apparatus that delivers electrical pain to my monkeys (for negative reinforcement) coupled with a small dried banana dispenser (for positive-reinforcement).

Over time, my monkey's are pushed and pulled with reinforcements into all different kinds of behaviours, and eventually my behaviourist even gets them to mate and have babies - in spite of the bad zoo. Hence the monkey's are cured of their abnormality, and act normal.

But are those monkey's really normal? Of course not. With behavioural conditioning all I've really done is layered one perverse reality over the top of another. However, the difference is invisible to the eye of surface-level research because the behavioural outlook, by definition, is blind to the deeper "why" behind the behaviour.

Now imagine I had another zoo, nice and green and spacious, for another collection of monkey's. In this good zoo I find the monkey's breed and with no external influence required. However, there is no difference between the outcomes between the good and bad zoos from the behavioural perspective. The monkey's all seem the same - they breed all the same.

So why should we care for the difference? What does it matter if different animals do the same [supposedly ideal] things for different reasons? Well, imagine if we opened the gates on the conditioned monkey's living in the bad zoo and the non-conditioned monkey's in the good zoo, too.

With this change in the environment we could get very different reactions. The monkey's in the bad zoo could very well let out their "craziness" and run-rampant all over town, or maybe just huddle together in terror because the change made them desperately insecure. Conversely the monkey's in the good zoo might just look at their opened gates with amusement, going for a wander beyond them for the sake of satisfying idle curiosity, to return later when they get hungry or lonely.

My point is the behavioural perspective can't tell the difference. That is, they can't predict how animals will or won't react to change when they don't understand the 'why' behind their behaviour. Your perfectly normal monkey's that are acting normal but for only abnormal reasons could nonetheless be a ticking time-bomb; or maybe just incredibly miserable and under deep stress (most definitely, from my example).

Obviously the same can be said for humans. Our behavioural perspective toward humanity, generally provided by the psychology world today, often tends to ignore real needs and real feelings. The focus is about "outcomes" rather than sincerely satisfied people. And when we get the outcomes we want we hang them on our walls like a trophy, all the while ignoring the human realities--the good and the bad--behind it.

Indeed, we tend to just assume people are happy because they act how we think they should act, for a satisfied life. But is a breeding monkey (or human) that doesn't really want to breed happy? I doubt it. And will they join the next Hitler show just after we thought we trained them to be morally perfect, for if that opportunity ever exposed itself to them? Quite possibly. A 'conditioned' morality is very different to real humanity (here).

Behaviourism certainly has its place, so long as it knows its place. But it's depth psychology that looks closer and deeper into the human condition to give us insights into who we really are and what we're really doing to and with ourselves. It can tell us what behaviourism can't - and what we need to understand. It's depth psychology that can help to tell us if we're really normal or just playing some socially-conditioned game.

Relevant 'depth psychology' link here.

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