Psychology, as an official field of study, emerged sometime in the mid-1800’s, but the questions that psychologists concern themselves with have been of interest to humanity for thousands of years. Philosophers throughout history have questioned the acts of humanity and the psyche of our species, trying to pinpoint just why we think and do the things we do – and that’s exactly what psychology is all about (it is often referred to as the study of human behaviour and the mind).
This idea of behaviour and mind (that is, as two distinct things) is credited with coming from 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes, who proposed that it was the interaction of these two forces that create the human experience. This split theory of the human condition is known as Dualism.
Today, Monist views within psychology are much more common place. This implies that it is one or the other: the mind exists purely as a result of the physical characteristics of the world, or vice versa. These two approaches are referred to as Materialism and Phenomenalism (or Idealism), respectively.
The mainstream point of view within psychology has shifted over time, heavily favouring materialism at a time – reflected in the Behaviourist approach which began early in the 1900’s and would dominate the field for years to come – however views have shifted with the emergence of Cognitive Psychology. This field allowed psychologists to study the phenomena of the mind, and allowed for a sort of Dualist resurgence, where the mind-brain interaction could again be acknowledged.
Countless offshoots of psychology have emerged throughout its history, each adding a unique perspective on the broad scope of issues psychology aims to address. The pressures that the field faces in its attempts to be viewed as a ‘real science’ have somewhat narrowed the scope of what mainstream psychologists might attempt to study, however fields like Transpersonal- and Depth-Psychology, which acknowledge a broader spectrum of the human condition, provide invaluable perspectives on many issues such as mystical and near death experiences, the unconscious, and spirituality.
Cognitive psychology continues to add to our current understanding of the body-brain-mind interaction and -with huge leaps forward in imaging techniques which can directly study the activity of the brain – we are gaining a much clearer picture of how such things operate. The puzzle is far from complete, though, with as much mystery as there is fact.
p.s. This is (for now – I plan to update it as we go along!) a very brief and admittedly patchy overview of what is a very complex field. Please check out the links within the text to read more on the specific fields and views, and check back for updates and more information. I’ll also be interlinking blog articles as they are written in to the various categories which are covered here.