“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people adapt the world to themselves. All progress therefore depends on unreasonable people”.George Bernard Shaw
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