I was browsing through the list of courses on the university website. I needed to choose just one more, but was stuck between several options. Psychology seemed the most interesting, yet I was still in doubt. I spent so many hours now thinking about it. What even is psychology? Yes, it is about brains and behaviours, but is there anything more to it? Getting anxious and overly curious, I decided to call my friend, an aspiring psychologist. He promised to help and scheduled a meeting several hours from when I called. Having nothing better to do, I started rereading the course descriptions while sitting by the opened window.
We met in the neighbourhood library, as agreed on. It was an old one. Carrying a fresh cup of mocha, I was looking around as if in a museum. Finally, I caught sight of my friend and joined him at a table.
“Hey! So, I did some research for you! Basically, psychology comes from the word ‘psyche’,” he said, drawing on a paper some foreign letters. “It means ‘soul’ in Greek. There is, actually, a myth about a maiden, Psyche, and Cupid. But that is besides the point.” “A lot of things can be traced back to the Greeks or Romans,” I added thoughtfully.
“Early psychology was a part of philosophy. Technically, it was a study of the soul, and every Greek philosopher had his ideas about it,” continued my friend. “Like Aristotle?” I asked. “Yup, exactly. He thought the soul was the reason for a body’s existence and a link to the Divine,” he explained. I nodded and asked him to continue.
“Psychology only started to get a more modern meaning when Hume, an English philosopher, redefined philosophy as a study of human nature. As psychology, at the time, was a part of philosophy, it followed. He advocated for the reality of perceptions, and their influence on thoughts. He turned philosophy from idealistic to scientific.”
I sipped my mocha, getting distracted by a falling leaf outside. “Wait, so did he have ideas about the soul, and how is he connected to psychology?” I asked. My friend sighed and answered, “Hume was against spiritual ideas of philosophy, so he was against the idea of the soul. He argued that philosophy should be more practical, and focused on perceptions, thoughts, and human behaviour. Does that not sound like psychology?” “So, the psychology-as-study-of-soul was succeeded by psychology-as-study-of-behaviour?” I clarified. “Roughly speaking, yes. It is more complicated, but this is the gist,” he replied.
“Finally, there was Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt. He fully separated psychology from philosophy because he analyzed the mind in a more organized way through experiments with perception and reaction time of his subjects. He also opened the first Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany of 1879. And then you have the famous Skinner, Freud, et cetera,” concluded my friend. “Hmmm, okay. So, this was to show me that psychology has a history and different sides to it, right?” I said a minute later, having slowly finished my drink. “Yup, is it not cool? In a way, we are learning about the soul, but more scientifically,” echoed my enthusiastic friend. “Well, it certainly is cool, but I think you swayed me more towards taking a history course instead,” I laughed, patting his shoulder.