Chapter 4 Biological


The biological approach is deterministic (we have no free will to behave as we choose, but are shaped by our biology) and reductionist (studying little bits of people in great detail tells you all you need to know about the whole. The opposite of this approach — that you need to look at people at a higher level of analysis to see anything meaningful — is called the holistic approach. As you will be beginning to see by now in this course, both of these approaches are wrong, and to say anything meaningful about people you have to look at them at all levels: it may be that my depression involves abnormal neurotransmission in my brain, but the fact that I'm typing this up on a Bank Holiday Monday is very probably equally involved).


It uses the same methodologies as non-psychological biology: experiments, brain scanning, animal torture etc. (I'm sorry — I do try to stay unbiased, but it's hard sometimes).

It tries to be objective. (By the way, those of you who have been paying attention during DSE212 will have encountered the argument put forward by social constructionists that it is impossible to be objective (because we all have our own subjective biases), and thus "scientists" are bad people because they think they are unbiased and objective, and social constructionists are good people because they don't try to be anything but subjective. However, in 1981 Stephen Jay Gould (such a top scientist that he and Stephen Hawking are the only scientists to have appeared on The Simpsons) said that a proper scientist should reflect really hard to find out what subjective biases they may have, and then try really, really hard to discount them when they are working. They'll know they're not 100% objective, but they'll be more and more sure the more often other scientists, with other, different, biases find the same things in their research. That way we can eventually get at the external, objective truth and thus be less likely to be conned by liars, rather than just giving up as the social constructionists have done. It's only a view (and it's up to you to choose), but since I'm not a social constructionist, I can feel free to say it's probably the correct view.)

It uses material data.


Not interested in "humanness" as such (i.e., the experience of being a unique human). (Or at least this is what is claimed in the chapter, but those of you who have had the pleasure of reading/seeing Sachs and Ramachandran will know how wrong this is.)

But some are interested in what makes us biologically different from other species and the differences between humans (especially normal and "abnormal" ones).

Interested in both fixity and change as both are necessary in a biological entity.

Mainly interested in nature rather than nurture though.

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