Annoying Dichotomies


So this evening a friend and I got in a fight over his contention that psychotherapy is an art not a science. He stated that he had the knack for it, and that ultimately he was destined to work in this field. What pissed me off about this argument is the false dichotomy it sets up between science and art. Apparently, art is an imaginative, intuitive, subjective field where one exercises one’s creative abilities to generate magical solutions. Essentially psychotherapy is an art in so far as this sort of sixth sense cannot be taught, and one either has the gift or one doesn’t. What bothers me is that to create this dichotomy we must assume that science is an unimaginative, rigid, technical activity that demands that one adhere to a strict methodology. This is bullshit. All good scientists constantly create new concepts to explore different issues and problems. The scientific method is not some mechanistic tool that enables one to understand the world. Many great discoveries require that scientists envision problems in new exploratory ways that could never have been discovered if one had stayed within the given epistemological parameters as set by one’s field.

Another bothersome dichotomy that I constantly confront is the relationship between natural and social sciences. Disciplines such as physics, biochemistry, and astronomy are hard sciences that require automatons to crunch numbers and use mathematical functions to discover the right answer. Soft sciences like sociology and psychology are much more ‘subjective’ and do not adhere to the same methodological rigor that a physicist would likely adhere to. Ok, I call bullshit again. While I do understand there are certain differences, in what way exactly is psychology soft and chemistry hard? I mean, in the research area both disciplines rely on statistical models and experiments to predict outcomes and discover associations. The same statistics are used. It’s not as if the interpretations made by psychologists are anymore impressionistic than those made by your chemistry professor. The difference in my opinion are the domain of knowledge explored by the given science. For instance, psychologists and sociologists have to study people and their interactions with one another. People’s behaviors are complex, multi-faceted, and difficult to understand. I don’t mean to suggest that understanding the way forces interact or cells communicate is any simpler, but one has to admit that there is a certain amount of difficulty in isolating and discerning how humans behave given the ethical constraints imposed on research. Overall, I find this dichotomy equally unhelpful because it creates caricatures that do not exist. It’s not as if chemists discover causation, and psychologists merely discover correlations. This is ridiculous. All of statistics operates on probability. Something as objective as thermodynamics is run by an understanding of statistical mechanics. So, let’s stop this with these distinctions as they are ultimately unhelpful.


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