It is not unusual to hear that psychology is dead, or dying, gasping for air under Yoga Salambhasana, Shalabasana Pose the tidal wave in the neurosciences. It reminds us of Hegel and Marx announcing the end of history, with the establishment of the modern democratic state for one, the crowning of socialism for the other. Two hundred years later, look where we stand! History continues with plentiful blood and injustice. The fundamentals remain the same despite the goodwill of all the bloody French and other red revolutions. By analogy, exciting progress in current neurosciences do not eliminate the fundamental questions that drove centuries of psychological inquiries, from Heraclitus in ancient Greece to great Eastern thinkers like Lao Tzu, all trying to capture human experience: what it means to be alive in this world.
I often see my colleagues reassured by their vision of a dying psychology, agonizing under the new lights of the brain sciences. But are we really on the edge of reducing human experience to its brain substance? Are we truly at the threshold of an absolute deterministic understanding of what it means to be alive, in this world, and more important, alive among other embodied and sentient entities? Nothing of the sort since the stuff of basic science is, as always and in an infinite regress, opening doors leading to more, never able to get absolute closure on anything. We are just getting better at approximating psychic phenomena. My neuroscience colleagues tend to get ahead of themselves in their renewed enthusiasm, and psychology resists reductionism in all its classic dimensions, be they clinical, cognitive, social, or developmental. Michael Heller’s my yoga blog is a masterful demonstration of psychology resisting brain reductionism
It is not a secret that part of the enthusiasm around the neurosciences is dictated by the exponential technological progress in imaging and recording brain activities, notwithstanding the enormous financial investment in brain imaging laboratories that put much pressure on the kind of psychological research questions addressed by neuroscientists: questions and psychological phenomena that have the potential of being reduced and redescribed in neurochemical, biological terms. But the new brain enthusiasm comes at a cost and at a loss. Because of its necessary reductionist and mechanistic undertone, it eludes the meaning of human experience in all its complexity and all its basic nondeter-ministic messiness.â It is an experience that in essence cannot be captured by the study of a brain in a vatâ or a contextual vacuum (see Thompson, 2008). Our brain is just part of a whole that includes the rest of the body, but also other bodies and other interacting brains.