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The Origins and Scope of Psychology
The term "psychology" was first coined in 16th century Germany as a combination of two Greek root words: "psyche" (soul or mind) and "logos" (study). Its original use suggested "the study of the mind," something as old as the human race itself. In recent centuries this interest in human nature has been honed into a systematic discipline. Today psychology is defined as the science of behavior and mental processes.
The scope of psychology includes many different fields, distinguished by interest in different psychological processes, different populations, and different levels of analysis. Professional psychologists may be interested in basic research or applied techniques like therapy, or they may study humans or animals. They may focus on either internal or external processes, on changes among individuals or over time, and on the influence of either human nature or specific situations.
Because psychology is a science, all fields of psychology rely on the scientific method. The scientific method is a way of acquiring knowledge. This particular method emphasizes the study of how real events are experienced through one's senses, a perspective known as empiricism. Empirical research is research based on the evidence of sensory experience. A scientist conducts empirical observations, records measurements (data) of these events, and makes guesses (hypotheses) about their causes and connections. Many hypotheses about similar sets of events are summarized in theories, which are models or broad explanations of cause-and-effect connections.
In conducting scientific research on behaviorand mental processes, psychologists may study either human or nonhuman subjects. Research can be conducted in the natural settings where the events occur (referred to as the field) or in the laboratory, which is any controlled environment. In laboratory research, psychologists control who the subjects are as well as the conditions they encounter. In all research, whether humanor nonhuman, field or laboratory, psychologists record their observations and formulate hypotheses in order to explain behavior and mental processes. The goal of psychology is to understand, predict, and control behavior and mental processes.
Psychology has long been a common human interest, but it has been considered a formal scientific discipline only since the late nineteenth century. Several perspectives and disciplines contributed to the shaping of psychology as a science: philosophical perspectives; experimental methods and discoveries; therapeutic applications; and theoretical developments.
Before 500 B.C. in the Western world, medical practices were largely controlled by priests, who explained both mental and physical illnesses in terms of divine causes.
Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) rejected mystical and superstitious explanations for bodily processes. He argued that physical well-being, illness, and healing were natural processes. In The Art of Healing, Hippocrates described behavior patterns recognizable to modem psychologists as behavioral disorders. The Nature of Man contains his theory that the natural elements--earth, air, fire and water-combine to form bodily humors or natural fluids like blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Any imbalances among these four humors would result in illness or disease.
Galen (A.D. 130-200), a physician in Imperial Rome, extended Hippocrates's ideas by suggesting a better understanding of human nature and emotions. Galen emphasized the usefulness and effectiveness of the parts and processes of human anatomy. He further argued that imbalances among the bodily humors would result in extremes or disorders of temperament. Too much blood would make a person "sanguine" or cheerful, excessive yellow bile would make one "bilious" or angry, too much black bile led to "melancholia" or sadness, and too much phlegm of course made one "phlegmatic" or lethargic and sluggish.
These early ideas of influences on behavior, while obviously crude and simplistic by today's standards, have persisted in our language (e.g., a "sense of humor") and our ongoing interest in how bodily processes affect thought, emotions, and action.
Monism Versus Dualism
Psychology has also been influenced by basic arguments about the very nature of reality. Ancient notions that all which exists is of one nature are collectively referred to as monism. Later, religiously-popularized notions that there are two kinds of reality in existence are referred to as forms of dualism. Both monism and dualism have left undeniable marks on the modem science of psychology.
Dualism. Dualist ideas about human nature were first detailed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who conceived of the soul as the animator of all beings, including humans. According to Aristotle, humans have rational (reasoning) souls. Humans' ability to reason makes human thought abstract, separate from the material world. Thus a human being has a material body but a rational (reasoning) mind, and is governed by two systems of nature. Aristotle's dualism explains human thought and action as unique in all existence.
Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1227-1274) extended Aristotle's dualistic view of human nature with the argument that, because human thought is rational, human action is freely decided instead of compelled by natural forces. This is the essential argument in favor of free will. Whether human will is free or not is an important consideration in determining the morality of human action.
The most articulate proponent of the dualism of human nature was French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Famous for the dictum Cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"), Descartes distinguished between the free will that governs the rational human soul and the physical "passions" (appetites) and "emotions" (excitements) that govern the material body. Further, Descartes saw the relationship between body and soul as a conflict, an ongoing struggle for control of one's actions.
Modem psychologists continue to debate the nature of human behavior, with strong arguments both for forms of "free will" and for a more mechanical understanding of psychological processes.
Monism. Some of the earliest systems of philosophy were monistic philosophies, advocating that all of reality has but a single nature. One form of monism, idealism, argues that all of reality exists only in the mind, as ideas, and thus things are "real" only to the person who is presently experiencing them.Introduction to Psychology. Copyright © by Ann L. Weber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.