Why (British?) experimental psychologists hate psychoanalysis(?)

From Whittle (1999, p. 240; I’m remaining silent on my opinion here—I just found the paragraph made me grin.)

The British are notoriously distrustful of theory. Newton was even, famously, distrustful of “hypotheses.” Theory is continental. We think of it as Germanic, and heavy. We think of Hegel and Heidegger. Brits who get entangled in it, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge or R. D. Laing, become incoherent substance abusers with marital problems. Psychoanalysis is full of theory. It has to be, because it is so distrustful of the surface. It could still choose to use the minimum necessary, but it does the opposite. It effervesces with theory, so infectiously that books of theory now bombard us from Paris, New Haven, Indiana, it sometimes seems from everywhere where there is a feminist modern-language academic. This weight of theory is a major reason why experimental psychologists, who are the most deeply British-Empiricist culture that there is, cannot get on with psychoanalysis. How could they possibly? How could people whose habit of mind is to ask of every statement that might have empirical content whether (1) it is statistically significant, and (2), more interestingly, whether there might not be another simpler explanation, possibly stomach these outpourings of prose, of sentence upon sentence of uncertain epistemological status?


Whittle, P. (1999). Experimental Psychology and Psychoanalysis: What We Can Learn from a Century of Misunderstanding. Neuropsychoanalysis, 1, 233-245.

Kropotkin on philosophy

“… in what respect does the philosopher, who pursues science in order that he may pass life pleasantly to himself, differ from that drunkard there, who only seeks the immediate gratification that gin affords him? The philosopher has, past all question, chosen his enjoyment more wisely, since it affords him a pleasure far deeper and more lasting than that of the toper. But that is all! Both one and the other have the same selfish end in view, personal gratification.”

(From An Appeal to the Young by Peter Kropotkin)

Nicholas Lezard on pub quizes

“Newcomers and innocent bystanders are encouraged – no, bullied – into taking part. The young are particularly welcome, because they cannot pace their drinking, not that it would matter much if they could, for they know absolutely f**k-all about anything, especially as the quiz is set by the regulars, none of whom is ever going to see 45 again, and whose frame of reference reflects this.”

“The real point of the quiz, as far as I can see, is not to win, but for everyone to shout at each other.”

(Well, a particular pub quiz, but I think it’s a general phenomena.)


This is brilliant (thanks to the BPS Research Digest).

Lord Falconer hit the nail on the head:

“Why are we talking about the precise detail of Gordon’s personality traits… why aren’t we talking about the substance of the issues?”

“Forget all this… sort of psycho-babble from… the Penguin guide to… And LET’S LOOK AT THE REAL ISSUES!”

“You’re a most irresponsible programme for doing all of this.”

“You don’t need a man who’s a psycho-neuron-babblist to come and say is he connecting… for goodness sake.”

Protesting close to parliament

As you’re probably aware, to protest near parliament these days you have to ask for permission. Mark Thomas recently played around with this, seeing how the system worked…

Officer: Let’s have a look. What have you got here? You want a demonstration to defend Surrealism.

Mark Thomas: Yeah, I do. I can have a demonstration about anything I like.

O: Indeed you can. I just didnae know surrealism was under threat!

MT: It is.

O: How so?

MT: Because we have a government of paradox. We have a government that seeks peace through war and protects civil liberties by eroding them. This is a paradox. This is absurdism. Absurdism is the enemy of Surrealism. Ergo it is under attack.

O: I wish I’d never asked.

[Thanks James—and this gentleman for saving me typing]