A Chinese student in a psychology class interrupted me with a question, “Tell me, please, the difference between psychology and philosophy.”

That got me.  “Good question,” I replied, and I gave some quick answer.  Now I wish to answer it more completely by adding a third inquiry – and then a fourth.  But let’s start at the bottom, with psychology.

Psychology is the study of how the mind works–or doesn’t.  It posits without saying anything about it that there is a kind of a neutral state and psychology is the study of how to get from a lack to or at least towards that neutral state.  If you have a psychosis, there is a long way to go; if you have a neurosis, the distance is shorter but the neurosis can be stubborn.  I draw this for students like this:

–  —————- 0 ————— +

Most of psychology is about the left hand side, towards the minus.  The more recent psychology of happiness and the “flow” theory works on the right hand side and offers prescriptions of how to get there.  And then a whole lot of psychology concerns just how the brain operates as a mechanism of perception, decision making, and emotion production.  So in sum, psychology is the study of how the mind works.

Philosophy on the other hand is the study of how the thinking mind works or, better yet, how it could work.  As such it tends to consider the mind as a realm of rationality.  It considers the mind as a thinking apparatus, not so much a feeling one.  Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”  That I can think equals that I reason.  That I reason seems to mean that I am operating optimally as a human, i.e., using my reasoning capacity.  Reason is a combination of empirical data plus understandings and judgement about what precedes what and what follows from what.

Compare:  Psychology describes how the mind does work; philosophy describes how the mind could work if it worked well, free of fear and pettiness.

Psychology requires data, theory, hypothesis, and experiments.  Philosophy requires philosophers thinking.

Theology:  First we need a better word, for theology seems to drag along a sense of important people doing it, people with degrees and time on their hands to discuss God.  Let the better word be Spirituality, a word which  can sound wimpy so let’s tighten it up a bit.  Spirituality is that which is picked up by a sixth sense–some sense beyond the basic five, a sense that there is some intangible, untouchable, unreachable reason or wholeness of which you are a part.  I say that this is very simple.  We all know it.  It stops us.  We catch our breath.  We feel more awake than in the moment before.  We have caught something, that something for which we live.  It is as if there is a glimpse.  We are Hamlet and there is a clue.  These moments are like stepping stones through our lives and while we do not always amass their output effectively to “get somewhere” in the unknown, we have a sense these moments are cumulative.  Sometimes they seem cyclical.  Sometimes they seem repeated but we comprehend them at a deeper level.  Sometimes they lift us higher.  We can be filled with life.  I say we all believe in this something which is “bigger than we are” because we are part of this something which is “bigger than we are.”  We are in it.  Some call it consciousness.  Some call it God.  Some call it the Force.  This is not psychology, though our psychology yearns for it as completeness.  This is not philosophy although some philosophies might purport to step around in it which is silly, for one cannot place clear, rational steps in the mysterious void.  This is spirit.  Is it really there?  No one can tell you, no one can prove it, but you know it from your experience.  So yes.  Spirit calls.  Its call means more than psychology or philosophy to you.

Art:  Then there is art.  Art we can do.  We can take everything there is and toss it into art.  Art can contain any note, any color, any object, any line, any harmony or disharmony, cling, or clash–but all those elements are tossed in there with the intention to invoke spirit, to provide a place for spirit to emerge.