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28 December, 2010

Psychology and Invisible Realities



“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people adapt the world to themselves. All progress therefore depends on unreasonable people”.
George Bernard Shaw
They know but the outer (things) in the life of this world: but of the End of things they are heedless.  (30:7)


I’ve had the good fortune of teaching the history of psychology to undergraduate students and I noticed a peculiar thing. Modern Psychology began its journey roughly in 1879 and it has come full circle with the emergence of the cognitive school of thought. As Wundtian psychology it began as an endeavor to understand the human mind. Then after a period of time, under the influence of Watson, mind and all such “vague” phenomena as they call them were ousted from its domain. But an interesting thing happened with the birth of cognitive psychology: Psychologists again realized the obvious importance of mental processes and returned to the common-sense approach that recognizes that mind being the foundation and indeed the cause of all behavior cannot be ignored. This is how psychology completed a circle that spans roughly a 100 years. When you are moving in a circle, you are not really going anywhere because a circle ends where it begins and this means that sooner or later you are back to square one. But what is even more intriguing is that psychology has completed a larger circle also. If we take the Greek period as the starting point for the history of Psychology, it was a time when soul was a matter of great interest for philosophers and scholars and the notion of God was accepted as legitimate to mention. Afterwards these two words became odious for psychologists and indeed taboo as psychology developed “physics-envy” and deemed it necessary to rid itself of anything having even a remote religious flavor. The larger circle has almost been completed with the appearance of positive psychology because words that were once forbidden have made reappearance in books, articles and elsewhere. We see words that clearly have a religious or spiritual connotation such as compassion, forgiveness, praying, character, morality and yes-even faith. Without having realized it, we have entered into a new phase of psychology’s history that is gradually moving towards the incorporation of the idea of God in the textbooks of psychology as the most natural thing in the world. My plea is for an acceleration of this process.


Please lets take a brief look at the reason why scientific psychology always tended to be “theo-phobic” to use a term that Dr. Muhammad Rafiuddin adopted. The hallmark of sciences is an aversion to anything that cannot be seen with the human eye because it regards the sense organs as the only source of true knowledge. But this attitude is essentially flawed. Let me quote Dr. Rafiuddin. The visibility of an object or an entity is not essential proof of its existence. If we become scientifically sure of the presence of smoke at any place, we become scientifically sure also of the presence of fire or combustion at that place. Indeed not only the existence but also the details of the qualities and characteristics of an invisible object can be known scientifically by its visible effects and manifestations. No scientist has ever seen an atom. Yet who can deny today that the atom is a scientific fact? It is generally recognized by the scientists themselves that scientific facts are of two kinds-the facts based on direct observation and the facts in the form of assumptions which explain and order facts based on direct observation. The atom is a scientific fact of the second category and so is God because the force of the creative will of God—is ultimately the only assumption that can adequately explain all true facts of physics, biology and psychology.”

Let me share an intriguing fact with you that most of us are probably not aware of. No man or woman has ever seen his or her own face directly (except probably the farthest tip of the nose) All you’ve ever seen is a reflection (you in the mirror, you in somebody else’s eyes, reflection on the surface of water, photograph etc) If we go by the fundamental principle of scientists that anything that cannot be seen has a dubious existence and is not a worthwhile thing to study, we would not even be able to be reasonably sure that we have a face or that it is the same face as the reflection. “Seeing is believing” puts us in a very difficult situation.

Humans would not be able to live the normal life that we are accustomed to if we abide fully by the “seeing is believing” rule. Out of the information that we have access to at any given moment only .01 % or less is confirmed after seeing. I was looking at the computer screen as I worked on this article. If at that time my husband spoke to me, I would believe without turning my head that it is he and not only a disconnected voice. I won’t have to see and confirm that the voice has a source. When I am sitting in my room, my kitchen, the TV lounge, the whole house is not visible to me. But I have no choice but to think that even when I do not see it, it’s there. Otherwise I would fail to function. Ok, you would say, they are not visible right now but potentially visible. I can go and check that the TV lounge is there. But a colossal part of my knowledge is about things are not even potentially visible: knowledge about history e.g. I believe in the stone age, the renaissance, the Victorian era, the partition of the subcontinent without having personally witnessed that. When I am at the university, my home would cease to exist scientifically and when I am home, there would be no university. So there are limitations that leave us no choice but to believe without seeing in the al-ghaib or the Absent.

Science is replete with examples of invisible realities it cannot deny e.g. black holes are invisible because light cannot escape from them. In fact when the black holes were first hypothesized, they were called “invisible stars”. A black hole can be found indirectly by observing its effects on the stars close to it. I was amazed to read in the newspaper that physicists are beginning to discover that most of the physical universe (roughly 96%) is composed of black matter about whose nature we know absolutely nothing because it invisible. It is the remaining 4% that is composed of atoms and molecules that we are familiar with. This means that even within physics, the gulf between the physical and the meta-physical is all but bridged now. To conclude let me say that it is high time Pakistani psychologists re-considered their aversion to the subtler phenomena and incorporated them within mainstream psychology instead of keeping them marginalized like in the past because even in the West, they are making a steady but sure comeback.

 


Author: Amina Obaid Khwaja
 

Send your comments and suggestions at Muhammad.Awais.Tahir@gmail.com

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9 comments:

Muhammad Awais Tahir said...

SubhanAllah!

This is one of my most amazing reads. I hope it triggers in the students of Psychology a passion to redefine psychology in the light of spirituality (ruhaniyyah).

I wanted to raise a discussion here. Very often we use the word 'islamizing sciences' and we present this concept in different ways. But, in some cases, specially with psychology, we have to redefine some of its basics even, as with total godless (spiritless) basis of psychology at present, we cannot integrate or incorporate islamic values of spiritual dimensions in it. Am I correct in my observation?

Also, I feel that muslim psychologists should be reading Qur'an and several books on ruhaniyyah or nafs written by muslim scholars of the past. This is how the realized the science of human behavior. They explained it in terms of the human existence in two different dimensions at the same time : the physical self and spiritual self. But the muslim psychology graduates of the day no almost nothing about the matters of ruh. A very vivid example of this is the term 'nafsiat', where nafs is mainly attributed to the physical self alone.

Amina Obaid Khawaja said...

Assalam ualaikum. The way I see it, Islamization can take place at many levels; one, Psychology can be completely re-written so to say in terms of definition, methodology, philosophy, subject matter, terminology, goals, and applications. This is indeed an ambitious but not impossible goal. It would take a group of very committed and able individuals to introduce an entirely new school of thought that is congruent with Islam and its ideology. I have secretly harboured this wish of witnessing such a thing happen in my lifetime: the budding of an Islamic school of thought within Psychology. This work will be ‘building’ work.
Secondly, in a narrower sense, and at a relatively more superficial sense, we can criticize existing Psychology from different angles, such as the tentativeness of its conclusions and its sterility when it comes to questions of purpose, meaning and other existential issues. This will be ‘demolishing’ work and important in its own right.
The least that we can do and must do in our role as teachers of psychology is to include the Islamic angle in the lecture, material and syllabus to acquaint the young generation with the Islamic approach.
Another extremely important task is to explicate, develop, elaborate and convert into contemporary psychological dictum the psychological theories, therapies and postulates inherent in Islamic sources.

Muhammad Awais Tahir said...

I totally agree with the levels of Islamization that you mentioned. I want to share Iqbal's advice to Psychologists here :

Jurat hai to afkaar ke duniya say guzar ja !
Hain bahre Khuda main abhe posheeda jazeeray
Khultay nahe is qulzam e Khamosh say asraar!
Jab tak tu issay zarb e kaleemi say na cheeray !

Anonymous said...

jurrat hai tou afkaar ki duniya say guzar ja
hain behray khudi* mai abhi posheeda jazeeray
khultay nahi is qulzam e Khamosh kay* asraar
jb tk tu isay zarb e kaleemi se na cheeray

Maryam Hussain. said...

It was a food for thought, indeed.
Out of the box thinking is essential to bring about a revolution in the 'nearly' scientific approach such as Psychology.
I have immense respect for both the Author and Blogger since they posses a reservoir of knowledge and experience which obviously I don't. But I had this question pricking at the back of my head while I was reading the Article and the discussion above, would it be appropriate to step towards as Divine an approach as God Himself. Because when Greeks crossed the limits of their mental abilities and a layman could tell at that time if the person standing in front of him was Gabriel or not, God' fury caught them.
Please help me get a vivid view-point of this discussion.
thank you.

Anonymous said...

assalamualikum,
i was one of your student mrs amina in LCWU. Throughout my course i had an intense thought in my mind that somehow or i should say definitely psychology is linked with Islam. Psychology as i understand is an effort by humans to understand humans, their existence, cause of their own behavior, remedy to their own woes... if we could link rules and teachings of Quran with psychology i am sure we will get every solution and answer to psychological distress.so my curiosity led me to this web site.. i didn't read the name of the author of this article but while reading it i had an intuition that it was written by you (you used to share your thoughts abt islam and psy with us in class) so i dragged and yes it was written by you...and that moment was filled with happiness and pride. thank you
your student.

Maryam Hussain. said...

It was a food for thought, indeed.
Out of the box thinking is essential to bring about a revolution in the 'nearly' scientific approach such as Psychology.
I have immense respect for both the Author and Blogger since they posses a reservoir of knowledge and experience which obviously I don't. But I had this question pricking at the back of my head while I was reading the Article and the discussion above, would it be appropriate to step towards as Divine an approach as God Himself. Because when Greeks crossed the limits of their mental abilities and a layman could tell at that time if the person standing in front of him was Gabriel or not, God' fury caught them.
Please help me get a vivid view-point of this discussion.
thank you.

Amina Obaid Khawaja said...

Assalam ualaikum. The way I see it, Islamization can take place at many levels; one, Psychology can be completely re-written so to say in terms of definition, methodology, philosophy, subject matter, terminology, goals, and applications. This is indeed an ambitious but not impossible goal. It would take a group of very committed and able individuals to introduce an entirely new school of thought that is congruent with Islam and its ideology. I have secretly harboured this wish of witnessing such a thing happen in my lifetime: the budding of an Islamic school of thought within Psychology. This work will be ‘building’ work.
Secondly, in a narrower sense, and at a relatively more superficial sense, we can criticize existing Psychology from different angles, such as the tentativeness of its conclusions and its sterility when it comes to questions of purpose, meaning and other existential issues. This will be ‘demolishing’ work and important in its own right.
The least that we can do and must do in our role as teachers of psychology is to include the Islamic angle in the lecture, material and syllabus to acquaint the young generation with the Islamic approach.
Another extremely important task is to explicate, develop, elaborate and convert into contemporary psychological dictum the psychological theories, therapies and postulates inherent in Islamic sources.

Ahmed Sadiq said...

Good article on Islamic psychology:

http://i-epistemology.net/psychology/60-the-islamization-of-psychology-its-why-its-what-its-how-and-its-who.html

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