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Психология Exploring the Text: In-depth reading
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This is the most essential of all reading skills. It involves reading a text thoroughly in order to comprehend the ideas and arguments it contains. This implies a careful decoding of the writer’s text, usually with the aim of understanding not only the literal meaning of the text, but also the writer’s deeper purpose, his position, and other possible textual subtleties.

Task 2. [individually]

Read the text to answer the questions below. Pay attention to the margin questions and hints on the right as you read. The margin questions and hints will help you to implement the reading strategies you have studied in the section LEARNING TO READ. Look up only those words in a dictionary which you feel you should understand precisely to be able to answer the questions.

1. Why is it so difficult to define psychology?

2. What are the approaches to generating a definition of psychology? What shortcomings do they have?

Complete the chart:

Approaches to defining psychology their shortcomings
2. a dictionary approach
3. a literal approach


What approach does the author choose to define psychology? What is his definition?

E     Demystifying Psychology   In this regular feature examiners and teachers will explore baffling1 or taken-for-granted concepts and topics to give you clarity and insight into their meaning and their significance What is psychology?     1) What part of speech is ‘baffling’? What does it mean here? Hint: baffle (v) = to be too difficult or strange for sb to understand or explain  
                                                                                                      From the person on the street to the professor of anthropology, everybody thinks they know what psychology is and yet within the discipline itself there is an almost complete lack of consensus2. In this article we examine what some of the key problems in generating an acceptable definition are, and to what extent they can be overcome. The first psychology book I ever read was a Penguin paperback3 written by an American psychologist, George Miller, entitled Psychology - The Science of Mental Life. We will return to the significance of the title4 shortly. Miller begins his book in the following way: Several years ago a professor who teaches psychology at a large university had to ask his assistant, a young man of great intelligence but little experience, to take over5 the introductory psychology course for a short time. The assistant was challenged by the opportunity and planned an ambitious series of lectures. But he made a mistake. He decided to open with a short definition of his subject6. When the professor got back to his classroom two weeks later he found his conscientious assistant still struggling to define psychology. Let us speculate7 on some of the approaches the conscientious assistant may have taken and why they proved so problematic. Everybody knows what psychology is. Don’t they? Miller8 follows his opening paragraph9 by writing 'An alternative approach [to the one taken by the conscientious assistant] is to assume at the very outset that everybody knows, more or less, what psychology is all about.' He then offers the classic definition given by the first great American psychologist William James way back in 1890 when the subject10 had only been established as a laboratory-based discipline for a mere 11 years: 'Psychology is the science of mental life.' (Hence my reference11 to the importance of the title of Miller's book, above.) In my view, there are three key shortcomings12 to the approach: • Notwithstanding the eminence of Professor Miller, it seems something of a cheat to 'dodge'13 the issue of at least endeavouring to construct a definition. • Just the most cursory inspection of the things psychologists write to each other (for example in the British Psychology Society periodical The Psychologist) shows that psychologists – especially those from different branches of the discipline such as biological, social, cognitive14 – tend to have very different views on what psychology is (or should be!) about. • The specific definition given – from William James – was rendered almost wholly redundant15 by the behavioural revolution (Watson 1913), which16 in turn was overturned by the cognitive revolution in the late 1950s. The point is that all definitions have a finite shelf life17. As with everything else, times change and psychology moves with them. Let's try another approach. Let’s consult the dictionary OK, you could just get out your English dictionary and look up psychology there. But we like you to use psychology-specific books for your psychology. (Sorry if that's blatantly18 obvious.) I can hear you saying, 'Ah but what if we use a psychology dictionary.' Significantly better, but remember that the writers of these books have to work to very strict word limits and must inevitably produce definitions which are 'safe' and have to skirt around19 a lot of the controversy. And the next20? A literal approach A rather extreme version of the previous approach is to examine the roots of the word and take that21 as its meaning. The word psychology has Greek components (although it was never used during the Ancient Greek period). A literal interpretation would be psyche = mind; logos = study of. So, we're really back to James' definition22 and have moved no further forward. A historical approach In his book The Beginnings of Modern Psychology, W. M. O'Neil (1968) tells us that the term psychology 'was created in the fifteenth century to refer to one aspect of the study of spiritual being. The whole study was called pneumatology23 and psychology was the part concerned with the human soul.' It was not until 1732 that it was first used in a secular24 (non-religious) way, by Christian von Wolff, 'to denote the... philosophical analysis and interpretation of mental phenomena' Although I would be the first to acknowledge that it is impossible to understand the psychologies of the present without a good understanding of the psychologies of the past, I feel we need much more than this25 to understand what psychology in 2001 is. Before we move on, however, let me mention an excellent new book on the history of psychology by Thorne and Henley (see 'References and further reading'). Do follow this up if you get the opportunity, it's a fascinating read. Dodge the first principles and let’s get practical Notwithstanding what I said earlier about the problems of dodging definitions, this does carry some appeal. What many authors do is to argue that it is impossible to define psychology in a way that will keep everybody happy but that we can get past this by looking at the 'fields of psychology'. By using this approach26 we can examine what we might call the 'sub-domains' of psychology. I mentioned earlier that bio-psychologists, social psychologists and cognitive psychologists (for example) have very different perceptions about what this thing called psychology should be about. Psychology is certainly a very 'broad church'27 (to borrow a phrase from our Prime Minister). Can you just imagine how different the working day of a psychologist studying the neurology of the brain and its28 impact on behavioural patterns would be from a Freudian therapist! But both29 are psychologists. However, before we abandon our efforts to establish any definition of psychology at all, let's try one final approach. How about:   What is it that psychologists do? And what do they produce? Let me introduce two terms that you may not be familiar with,epistemology30andontology31. For our purposes here we can define epistemology as the way in which knowledge is generated within a particular discipline. In practical terms this will relate to the methodologies used, although this is underpinned by the assumptions which justify the use of those methods. So, for example, many psychologists have a preference for using the experimental method (often the laboratory experiment) because this enables us to manipulate variables, control and standardise the environments in which we do our work. It further enables us – if we have done everything properly – to identify cause and effect relationships between certain factors. Ontology, on the other hand, can be taken to refer to what it is we find out. To put it simply, it is the findings (knowledge) we generate by our epistemological activities. Psychologists generate an enormous amount of knowledge (ontology) through their work with a wide range of methodologies (epistemology). Let us then say that that is what psychology is. Not a reductionist32 couple of lines or a paragraph in a dictionary, but all of the things we do and all of the journals and books that result from this. Perhaps this is the only way to define psychology. References and further reading Thorne, B. M. and Henley, T. B. (2001) Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology (2nd edn), Houghton Mifflin. Miller, B. A. (1966) Psychology: The Science of Mental Life, Penguin Books. O'Neil, W. M. (1968) The Beginnings of Modern Psychology, Penguin Books. Paul Humphreys is Principal Examiner for a major examining board, a Senior Lecturer at University College Worcester and an Editor of psychology review   2) Is there a word like ‘consensus’ in your mother tongue? What does it mean?   3) What does ‘a Penguin paperback’ refer to?   4) What does ‘the title’ refer to?     5) Do you need to know the exact meaning of ‘take over’ here? Use the context to guess its approximate meaning.   6) What does ‘his subject’ refer to?   7) ’Speculate’ – true cognate or false friend? What does it mean in this context?     8) Who is Miller?   9) ‘his opening paragraph’ of what?     10) What does ‘subject’ refer to?   11) What does ‘my reference’ refer to?   12) ‘shortcomings’– strong or weak points?   13) ‘dodge’= avoid or try?     14) What do ‘biological, social, cognitive’ refer to?     15) ‘redundant’ – without a job or not needed/ not useful?   16) What does ‘which’ refer to?   17) Consider the whole paragraph to understand ‘shelf life’ of definitions. Literally shelf life = the length of time that food, etc. can be kept before it is too old to be sold   18) blatant= so easy to notice that it shocks you, so ‘blatantly’? 19) ’skirt around’ – avoid or produce?   20) What does ‘the next’refer to?   21) What does ‘that’ refer to?   22) Do you still remember what ‘James’ definition’ is?   23) Use the previous sentence to understand ‘pneumotology’. What does it refer to?   24) What is ‘secular’? Hint: word in brackets     25) What does ‘this’ refer to?   26) What ‘approach’?   27) How do you understand ‘broad church’in this context?   28) What does ‘its’ refer to? 29) ‘Both’who?     30) How is ‘epistemology’ defined here? Hint:Consider the whole paragraph   31) What does ‘ontology’ mean? Hint: two sentences are enough to consider   32) Does ‘reductionist’ resemble any word in your mother tongue or any other language? Does it help you work out the meaning?  

(Humphreys, P. (2001) ‘What is psychology?’, Psychology Review, Vol. 8, No.1, pp.26-27)