what is psychology?
We, humans have a one specific and tremendous talent – we can contemplate ourselves. Self-contemplation means wondering about how and why we do things we do. And among other sciences, psychology is derived exactly from that ability of self-contemplation.
First of all, psychology is a science and thus it consolidates all attempts to answer questions through the systematic collection and logical analysis of objectively observable data. Fields of psychology are closely related to human mind and behavior. Note that behavior should be an observable action and mind mostly refers to our subjective experiences (perceptions, dreams, emotional feelings etc.).
Psychology emerged as a science, when people accepted an idea that questions about human behavior and the mind could be, in principle, answered scientifically. This is when people started ask questions about senses, human intellect and physical basis of mind.
In middle ages it was natural to think that human being consisted of two distinct entities - a material body and an immaterial soul. That religious doctrine was accepted in middle-ages and it asserted that the immaterial soul operated according to its free will (which was not observable at all) and therefore could not be studied scientifically.
The first wave of revolution took place in 17th century, when Frenchman – Rene Descartes speculated about physical causes of behavior and mental experiences and Englishman – Thomas Hobbs, who went much further, broke out from dualism entirely. In that way, they together created field of study for psychology, because human behavior and mind were amenable to scientific analysis.
The second wave came in action when empiricist philosophers (John Lock, David Hartley, James mill, John Stuart Mill) argued that the mind and behavior were shaped by experiences; According to them, the most important operating principle was the law of association of contiguity (e.g. it takes place when a person is experiencing two or more stimuli or sensation, at the same time or contiguously, those two or more sensations will bound together in a person’s mind and in the future one event will tend to elicit the thought of the other(s)). To cut a long story short, the law of association of contiguity claims even our most complex ideas to be combinations of elementary ones.
Although, empiricism was a very good philosophy, Immanuel Kant ruined the assumption that every idea can derive from simpler idea; He distinguished between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge. Kant argued that, a priori knowledge is initial machinery – a basis for gaining experience from environment and without it a posteriori knowledge (accumulated experiences) cannot be gained.
It’s clear that, while the problem of a priori knowledge was not solved, the psychology, as a science, could not be emerged (because the science cannot rely on a fact, which is not fully grasped). In order to overcome that problem, third wave of revolution was needed.
That problem was challenged and solved by English naturalist Charles Darwin, who analyzed functions of behavior and mind and stated that the machinery of the brain (a priori knowledge) evolved gradually by a process of natural selection; In other words, this innate ability of human brain was generated over millions of years and was a result of natural selection.
Those three revolutionary ideas, offered a scientific basis for psychology, because they led to the view that human being was completely material entity and thus it could be studied scientifically.