Psychology: The Science of Mental Life

Many psychologists have various views on the subject matter of psychology. Some believe that it is the science of mental life whereas others believe that it is purely objective and experimental. William James M. D. believes that “Psychology is the science of mental life, both of its phenomena and their conditions. The phenomena are such things as we call feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions, and the like”. (4) On the contrary, John Watson Ph. D. argued, “Psychology is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science.

Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior”. (7) As I am a Freudian follower and believer, I find myself closely allied towards Dr. James’s argument. Freud would agree that feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions, and the like are all part of a person’s personality. His psychoanalytic theory stated that unconscious forces act as the catalysts of someone’s personality. Each of the key points Dr. James presents can be covered in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, especially in his psychosexual stages. One must understand what personality and unconscious is defined as.

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To Freud, personality is the pattern of enduring characteristics that produce consistency and individuality in a given person. The unconscious is a part of the personality that contains the memories, knowledge, beliefs, feelings, urges, drives, and instincts of which an individual is not aware of. Freud’s psychodynamic approach states that inner forces and conflicts about which people have little awareness and no control over motivate personality.

These inner forces are the same things Dr. James talks about when he says “feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions, and the like”. 4) Every personality is characterized into three categories, which relate to one another. The Id is the raw inborn part of personality that relates to primitive drives and urges, such as sex, aggression, and hunger. The second category, The Ego, is the part of the personality that is used as a buffer between the Id’s irrational impulses and the outside world. Lastly, The Superego is the final personality structure to develop and it is what helps us determine the rights and wrongs of society. Parents, teachers, or other figures of importance can hand down these rights and wrongs.

For example, all three would play a role in which the primitive desire of sex would arise. The Id would have irrational thoughts about a sexual desire, which The Ego would buffer between reality and The Superego would determine that the desire would not be accepted in society. As stated earlier, this is considered the psychodynamic approach, where we have no awareness that is is going on and also have no control. A good point that Dr. James presents about feelings, desires, reasonings, and decisions is in his Scope of Psychology where he talks about Romeo and Juliet.

He presents the argument that if an inanimate object, such as a magnet and iron shavings were to be presented near each other the iron shavings would take a direct path to the magnet, which is its desired location. However, if the magnet were behind a piece of paper, those shavings would stick directly to the magnet, but with a piece of paper separating it from its desired location. When he talks about a person, someone with a personality, he describes how feelings, desires, reasonings, and decisions ultimately affect the path that is taken. With the fillings the path is fixed; whether it reaches the end depends on accidents. With the lover it is the end which is fixed, the path may be modified indefinitely”. (6) This is his argument towards the fact that Romeo would simply not sit there with his face kissing a glass window with Juliet behind it, but his decisions and reasonings to get through or around the glass depend on his feelings and desires.

This example can also relate to where Dr. James said, “It will be safe to lay down the general law that no mental modification ever occurs which is not accompanied or followed by a bodily change”. 4) This can be viewed as either a voluntary bodily change, or an involuntary bodily change. When the desire reaches a peak, the sympathetic nervous system to involuntary flood the body with adrenaline, which causes the voluntary action of using energy to get past the glass window. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in because The Id is taking over, when the primitive desire of sex is prevalent. The Ego allows your primitive desire of sex to be rationalized into the emotion of love, and The Superego allows the functions to proceed and guide you towards your end.

Freud’s psychosexual stages can also back up Dr. James’s views on psychology. The stages are characterized into a category called fixations, which are conflicts that can persist beyond the stage of development, which they first occur. The five psychosexual stages are the Oral Stage, the Anal Stage, the Phallic Stage, the Latency Stage, and the Genital Stage. Each of these stages presents a specific feeling, desire, reason, or decisions that is made. For example, the Genital Stage can be related to the Romeo and Juliet example Dr. James presented to us earlier.

This stage begins in adolescence and continues into adulthood. The stage is when the reemergence of sexual interests and establishment of mature sexual relationships occur. If in the previous stage, the Latency Stage, Romeo may have acted like the iron shavings taking a direct path to Juliet and being stopped at the window. This stage is between the ages 5/6 through adolescence between the Phallic Stage and puberty where sexual concerns are not of importance. However, Romeo must have been in the Genital Stage because his desires for sex and love helped him decide to move around the window to get to his end goal.

I believe that the works of Dr. James may have influenced the Freudian psychodynamic perspective. Freud’s approach to psychology and the way he explains the way personality is described is something that I believe true. I personally feel that my personality and desires stem from my Id, where my Ego and Superego control and help me make rational decisions that are accepted in society due to what my elders have taught me. The unconscious mind is still a mystery but until further explanation occurs, Freudian psychology is the way I will view others and myself.