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THE RELIABILITY OF PSYCHO
BY GIRINDRASHEKHAR BOSE.
In every department of knowledge it is sometimes desirable to examine the foundation on which it rests. The different sciences do not all stand on equally solid grounds. The fundamental assumptions in Physics and Chemistry for instance are capable of much better experimental verification than those in medicine. Absolute certainty-except perhaps in logic and mathematics—is an impossibility in any department of knowledge. So long as we are dealing with observational facts we are on comparatively sure grounds, but directly we attempt an interpretation of such findings our position becomes much less secure. The real business of science is, however, interpretation. The same facts may be explained on the basis of more than one supposition and the warrant for any particular interpretation is really a question of probability. Curiously enough when an interpretation has been in the field for a sufficient length of time it is apt to lose its real significance and is mistaken for a fact. As an illustration I might mention the theory of the earth revolving on its own axis to account for the diurnal motion of the sun. At the present day very few people would be inclined to take it merely as a theory. The majority would look upon it as a fact. It must be remembered here that what we call facts may psychologically be designated as perceptions. The apparent motion of the sun round the visible portion of the earth is the 'fact' here. In former times we believed in the real motion of the sun to account for the perception and when the theory of the revolution of the earth was brought forward it was hotly contested. But this theory was finally accepted because it explained many other associated facts, e.g. the nocturnal movement of the stars etc. in much simpler a manner than the other theory. This theory has been so often stated that at the present time we have forgotten its real position as an interpretation and are likely to mistake it as a 'fact'. In Physics we have been so much accustomed to mistake the Newtonian interpretations as 'facts' that the theory of Einstein has come as a shock to many of us. It is highly desirable therefore that we occasionally take stock of our knowledge and sift facts from theories so that progress may be unhindered. In this paper I have attempted such an investigation in the department of Psycho-analysis. I must mention that this is not a new effort in this line. Ernest Jones in his book on Psycho-analysis has discussed this problem in the section entitled “Warrant for Interpretations (see Papers on Psycho-analysis by Ernest Jones, 1918, p. 87). The subject is so important from the scientific standpoint that I do not hesitate to go over this field again even at the risk of some repetition. Critics very often condemn psycho-analytic interpretations as fanciful and unscientific and there are psycho-analysts who do not hesitate to dogmatise on their findings and regard them as settled facts' even when the analysis has been of a very cursory nature.
Psycho-analysis is concerned with the unearthing of unconscious elements of the mind and as such it labours under certain peculiar difficulties which are not apparent in other sciences. The very nature of the unconscious elements is such as to resist their emergence into the conscious sphere and even when they have been unearthed the tendency is to disown them. Emotional factors very seldom stand in the way of acceptance of any physical theory, but not so in psycho-analysis. Psychoanalysis brings to light those tendencies of the mind which are being suppressed in the course of evolution; it drags us back to the past which we would all like to forget. We are therefore apt to underestimate the value of such findings. On the other hand there is a certain type of mind which takes peculiar pleasure in dwelling on things shunned by the majority and to such persons all psycho-analytic conclusions assume an exaggerated significance. In the face of these contradictory tendencies of the mind it is extremely difficult to maintain an unbiassed attitude and to evaluate the findings on a strict scientific basis. Some sort of criterion is therefore all the more necessary in psycho-analysis to judge the relative value of the assertions of different workers.
In some laboratories students are required to keep a record of their work under three headings, viz. (1) Experiment, (2) Observation and (3) Inference. This classification although somewhat old-fashioned is useful as it serves to emphasize the different functions of a science. The aim of experiment and observation is the collection of facts and the aim of inference is to help in the formulation of a theory. It will be seen that in psycho-analysis the field for experiment is not very great. Observation certainly plays a very important part. A chance symptomatic action sometimes gives the physician a direct clue to the understanding of a complicated symptom. It is necessary therefore that the psycho-analyst should have a very comprehensive survey of the patients’ activities in every possible sphere. The importance of such observations will be fully realised in the interpretation of symptoms which are not merely isolated occurrences in the patient's life but form integrate portions of his whole personality. The importance of inference in psychoanalysis cannot be over-rated. The satisfactory interpretation of the symptoms is not a mere scientific pursuit but on this depends the cure of the patient. The cure however is not an absolute evidence of the correctness of the findings; on the other hand cure may not be established even when a symptom has been correctly interpreted.
Psycho-analytic interpretations must always be of the nature of theories. They must not be confounded with 'facts.' Psycho-analysis concerns itself with processes in the unconscious level of the mind and as such they can never be matters for direct perception, i.e. they can never be facts in the sense we have defined the term. A ‘complex' is a matter for psycho-analytical investigation so long as it is unconscious. Directly it becomes conscious it ceases to be of interest to the psychoanalyst. The psycho-analytic physician does not concern himself much with conscious motives for action. It is extremely difficult to prove the correctness or otherwise of a factor which cannot be directly appreciated. Since a psycho-analytical interpretation must necessarily be of the nature of a theory it can never be directly proved. Its correctness can only be determined in terms of degree of probability. One interpretation is more likely than another but no interpretation is absolutely certain.
In judging the accuracy of an interpretation we ought to be guided by exactly the same principles as are employed in the formulation of a theory in any other branch of science.
I should like to emphasize some of these principles here. The first principle that should guide us in the selection of a theory is what is known technically as the 'economy of hypothesis. According to this principle we should prefer a single and simple explanation to a multiple and complicated one; or, in other words, when a fact may be explained on a simple supposition there is no justification in explaining it as due to multiple factors. In actual practice this principle may not be valid in every case but this is the only safe guide from the standpoint of probability. I shall illustrate this by an example. Supposing I observe a branch of a tree swaying along with other branches and that a light wind is blowing at the time. I would naturally ascribe the movement of this particular branch to the influence of the wind but it may be quite possible that this movement is due to the manipulation of an invisible string tied to the branch by some concealed person. Here the principle of the economy of hypothesis will not allow us to formulate any other explanation besides that of the wind and we would be only justified in bringing forward another explanation if the movement be different from that of the other branches which are being moved by the wind. Theoretically of course the movement must necessarily be different to some extent, but it may be quite impossible to notice it. In spite of such apparent fallacy however this principle is our only safe guide. If we stick to this principle we will be more often correct in the long run than if we assume all possible explanations to be valid. In all cases however we ought to be alive to the possibility of other explanations besides the one we assume to be true.
The theory of the string is therefore rejected as being more complicated than the theory of the wind. But supposing now I actually see the person manipulating the string the explanation ceases to be a theory and becomes a fact or direct perception.
The next principle may be described as the principle of familiarity. Of two theories the more familiar one is the more likely. When a fact may be explained by a known law of nature there is no justification in postulating an unknown force as an explanation. There is again a fallacy in accepting the principle as a certain guide. An explanation is not necessarily true because it is familiar.
The third guiding principle is the principle of extension. The more extended the application of a theory the greater the chance of its being true, i.e. the greater the number of facts that could be explained by a theory the greater is the chance of its validity. Supposing we have several series of occurrences and a different theory to account for the facts under each group and supposing we find a theory which would explain all the facts of the different groups taken simultaneously; under such circumstances we are certainly justified in accepting such a theory as valid. The possibility of individual explanations however is not absolutely excluded. It is quite likely that a particular occurrence is the result of simultaneous functioning of several factors each one of which is capable of bringing about the result acting independently. In such cases of multiple functioning or 'overdetermination as it is technically called we must have independent evidence for each; otherwise the principle of economy of hypothesis is violated.
The fourth principle is the principle of analogy. When a theory has been proved to be valid in a large number of cases it is likely to be true also in any other similar case. The validity of a theory can only be
conclusively proved by direct appreciation, i.e. at the point when it ceases to be a theory. We know that fevers of the tertian type attended with rigor are due to malarial infection. This has been proved in a large number of cases by actual verification under the microscope. So that when we get a case of a similar type we are justified in bringing forward the theory that it is due to malarial germs.
A scientific theory is to be evaluated on the basis of the four general principles enumerated above, viz. (1) the principle of economy, (2) the principle of familiarity, (3) the principle of extension and (4) the principle of analogy. Even when a theory has conformed to all the above con- . ditions it must not be taken to be absolutely true. It may be regarded only as highly probable.
Every psycho-analytic interpretation is usually met by another explanation by the patient. There is a tendency in every one of us to find out a cause of our actions and when the motive is unconscious some sort of rationalisation is almost always evident. The psycho-analytical interpretation thus always stands as a rival to some other explanation put forward by the patient. To assert its validity the following conditions therefore ought to be fulfilled:
(1) It must explain the action in a better and simpler manner than the explanation put forward by the patient.
(2) The interpretation ought to fit in with other events of the patient's life for which separate explanations are necessary from the conscious standpoint.
(3) The nature of the explanation should be more or less familiar in other spheres of life.
(4) The trustworthiness of the interpretation would be greater if it serves to explain dreams, myths, rituals, etc. and if it is supported by philological and other evidences.
(5) The explanation becomes very probable if it has been proved to be accurate in case of similar symptoms in other patients.
(6) The interpretation gains decided support in case of symptoms when such symptoms are removed after analysis.
(7) The interpretation may be admitted as true by the patient. The value of such admission is not always very great. When positive transference is very marked the patient is often willing to admit anything coming from his physician; this may bring about a cure in some cases but the truth of the interpretation is not necessarily proved. There is a type of intelligent patients who are willing to believe an interpretation because it happens to be supported by psycho-analytical authorities.