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Reductive Psychology Essay, Research Paper

What is reductive psychology?

I took the subway after a whole day of work. It was already 7 PM, but the heat of the severe summer of Buenos Aires didn t dismiss the daylight yet. The subway was full. The people felt bothered by the closeness of their neighbors, sources of heat. We did our best to fight against our irrepressible wishes to shout, to push everybody else far from our reach. He didn t. The heat, the pressure in the office, the air feeling like soup (we were the noodles), some argue with his wife on the phone that afternoon, they all made him to explode and shout to the woman beside him: Move out! You re bothering me! The woman, a pregnant standing young woman, was obligated to shout back: You are bothering me, you, @#&$**+@. Several others, with no formal invitation, were moved by the environment to fight, so they did it shouting, complaining about the heat, and blaming the Subway Company because of the lack of oxygen that made them feel in such a bad mood.

Those people were healthy. They were responding to their environment in the proper way. They were reacting to (I don’t want to use the word) their stimuli in the normal way that any human being would. If they didn t, they would get home with this anguish in their chests, due (no doubt) to adrenaline and learned behavior patterns. They would, then, shout to their wives, husbands, children, because they needed to exonerate the pain and the anguish. Even a physically uncomfortable environment overcrowding, loud noise, heat can apparently help elicit aggressive behavior (Book, pg. 692).

This is reductive psychology.

To understand it, we will go through some concepts and definitions.

Stimulus: Any information that gets in contact with our consciences. Note that the information can come from the outside or from our self-internal senses. So, a noise is a stimulus, and some pain in the stomach is too.

Response: Our counteraction to a stimulus. It can be physical (punch someone) or emotional (compassion). It can also be on purpose (punch someone) or a body response without our intention. In this case, it is called a reflex (leg up after the hammer of the doctor).

Free agency: The Lord gave to man his free agency in the pre-existence. This great gift of agency, that is the privilege given to man to make his own choice, has never been revoked, and it never will be. It is an eternal principle giving freedom of thought and action to every soul. No person, by any decree of the Father, has ever been compelled to do good; no person has ever been forced to do evil. Each may act for himself. It was Satan’s plan to destroy this agency and force men to do his will. There could be no satisfactory existence without this great gift. Men must have the privilege to choose even to the extent that they may rebel against the divine decrees. Of course salvation and exaltation must come through the free will without coercion and by individual merit in order that righteous rewards may be given and proper punishment be meted out to the transgressor. Therefore, when the great day of the Lord shall come, the wicked who have merited banishment from a righteous government will be consumed, or the privilege of continuance on the earth will be denied. (ANSWERS TO GOSPEL QUESTIONS – VOL 2, by Joseph Fielding Smith; The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven: Page 20 )


When psychology first begun, the growing of the so-called natural sciences was a fact of the moment. Disciplines like biology or physics were developing a body of new knowledge, and some others like economics or sociology were growing or to be born. With the advent of Copernicus s discovery about the sun as the center of the solar system, the Earth became the earth, no longer the center of the universe. Men were one step down. Then it came Darwin, stating our relationship with our cousins, the apes. We were not the summit of the creation, but just another provisional link in the chain of life. Men were another step down. But we had full dominion over ourselves, at least.

Well, not exactly. We happen to have a whole world unexplored, virgin, feared, but necessary to be conquered. Our subconscience. Freud appeared to colonize those vast prairies that lied inside our skulls. Humanity as a whole didn’t lose the taste of adventure that developed in its years of colonization of America, buccaneers, The Travels of Marco Polo, Robinson Crusoe, and The Voyages of Gulliver.

The space of knowledge formerly occupied by myths, faith, and obscurantism was now finally illuminated by the almighty power of the final weapon, reason, which was meant to destroy our boundaries of ignorance.

In this new light, there was not room for beliefs, which were false by definition of science s way of knowledge. Men were looking for a rational explanation to phenomena, feeling somehow free of the fear of the lightning that our ancestors (hairy, curved, and close to beasts) professed as a religion. Humanity suddenly emerged from the abyss in which was thrown by those three revolutionaries (Copernicus, Darwin, Freud). Humanity had something that made it better and superior to apes, planets, and subconsciences. We had Knowledge. We had Scientific Thinking. We had Light. The Light of our Enlightened Brains.

In this scenery, it is not surprising that psychologist looked around to find some scientific hook in which to hang the new knowledge they had. The first psychologists that begun with introspection theories were quickly questioning those techniques, and James Watson appeared. He thought that abstract concepts like mental life of free will were not measurable, and thus, not intended to be acquainted by Science. He concentrated in measurable phenomena, and then created the Behaviorism, which created the trend of reductive psychology.

Reductive psychology can be described as the branch of psychology that deals with the model stimulus-response to answer the questions of psychology. The model is simple: if we have a stimulus, we will have a response, which will be measurable and understandable and predictable. Under this light, a man becomes a machine responding in the same way to the same stimuli. If you want to make a doctor, Watson said, you need to expose a young fellow to the right stimuli, and he ll become so. If you want to make someone shout to someone else, put him in a crowded subway in a Buenos Aires hot summer afternoon, and there you are!

But, what about free agency?

From J. F. Smith s quote we learn that freedom of agency can t be beaten. Whether if you like it or not, you ll be obligated to be free. And this is the first point of error, where reductivism crashes.

They just ignore free agency. And this makes this doctrine dangerous. If I m not liable for my behavior (environment made him shout to the pregnant woman!), then I can t be punished because of it. Reductivism relieves us of responsibility. Every human attitude can be explained in terms of response to stimulus. It s not my fault, but the environment s!

A good example of responsibility or lack of it is the self-betrayal process.

When you are self-betraying, you begin to blame the other person of the things he/she didn t do or did to justify your behavior. Now, this position is in a deep error if view from a gospel perspective. The Salvation Plan implies free agency. Free agency is the cornerstone of the whole probation time we have on Earth. If we didn t have it, we would be obedient, but also stupid. If we didn t have the opportunity to choose, we would have been good, but the earth time would have been worthless.

But, what is free agency without responsibility on our acts? Nothing, but an insane and useless game. And it is dangerous, too. The precious thing about agency is the responsibility component that implies. We have to choose, but we have to live with the outcome of our decisions.

Now, in the self-betrayal process, we blame others of the outcome of our acts. We become children, saying stubbornly I didn t do it. He did! And it is what makes it so dangerous. If we decide to blame somebody else each time we have a bad consequence, then we are cheating with our life.

The problem can involve others. And this is another danger of self-betrayal. If I m in a self-betrayal process and blame my wife because of something I did, she has 2 alternatives: a) try to understand my problem and avoid the crash; and b) self-betray and provoke a collusion. When two people engage in a collusion, each one is self-betraying, and making the other to become the monster. Each one is blaming the other and not taking responsibility for their own mistakes. In the end, the fight ends up being 2 kids arguing stubbornly and getting nowhere. The problem is that in the process each can stab the other really hard with hurting words, and these wounds normally are built to last.

One last thing: in the collusion process, each other becomes the monster, while each one is the victim of the other s monsterness. So, a great solution for this problem could be to stop looking to the other s mistakes and fails, and check inside to see what our mistake is. Of course, this solution demands of you a big effort and strong will, but the other option is going through the War of the Roses…

Reductive psychologists use several scientific tools to prove their points. One of them is the experimentation with animals.

This tool is strongly justified by organic reasons. If an animal respond in certain way to certain physical stimulus, why wouldn’t we? And they have some part of reason. If we talk about organic responses, they are right. Now, Pavlov s dog acts like me when I see Buffalo Wings, but it doesn t mean that I ll be howling when they re coming!

We can distinguish two levels of responses, then. The first level, the lower, the basal, is related with physical, non-willing responses. They come from our bodies. We don t control them. They were put there mercifully by Our Heavenly Father to help us. Imagine how it could be if we had to pay attention to our gastric glands so they produce acid, or to our heart to assure it won t stop. These responses involve all kind of automated outcomes meant to face a stimulus. When discussing those, reductivists are in their place.

But there s another responses to stimulus that are filtered by our souls. When we have a stimulus, we don’t just react, but there s an intermediate step that reductivists choose to ignore in reason of the lack of proper measuring tools: election. The process goes from a binary one to a ternary one. Where there was Stimulus >Response, now we have Stimulus > CHOICE > Response.

Note that the process of choosing the response puts the weight in our own backs. If we respond in certain way is because we chose to, so responsibility is our fate. From a LDS point of view, reductivism (with its denial of responsibility) is the reflex of Satan s plan of salvation: we all were supposed to be saved just because we are compelled to.

But I want to praise reductivism too. In order to get a good scientific corpus of knowledge, we need to have measure and a scientific method. They are really good in that. The question is not if reductivism has The Truth, but if the scientific method is good to measure and explain and predict human behavior. I don t think so.

Human behavior is vitiated with so many personal variables that it resists any kind of systematic approach. Our souls are far richer than statistic equations. True, we can predict big masses movements, but you cannot say what I ll do when in a subway. Scientific knowledge can give a probability, but not more than that.

Should it be able of more? No. It s in its nature to be limited, because we, as human beings, are limited in our reaching of eternal truths. We are limited to get some slight overview of some truths, but the whole picture can only be seen through the eyes of the spirit. The scientific mind wants to understand the whole truth, and it just can t. Graphically:

Scientific mind is focused on the portion of physical truth that can be measured. But when they try to move into the shared part, where physical and spiritual truths mix, or even worst when they try to embrace spiritual truths with physical (scientific) tools, they find nothing. The truth can t be measured, so it doesn t exist.

But as I said before, the problem with reductivism is not that they are mistaken in how they are doing the things: the scientific method is not bad in measuring what it is designed to measure. The problem is what they are doing: they are trying to measure an apple (3D) with a ruler. It s not that the ruler is bad, it s just not designed for this.

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