Shred Radio Ep. 13 – Rami Gabriel: Psychology as Mythology

Professor and researcher, Dr. Rami Gabriel talks with Eli about his new article out in Aeon “How Psychology Fills the Gap from the Disenchantment of the World” (formerly “Psychology as Mythology”). This article is the first chapter in Rami’s forthcoming book “A Suspicious Science: The Uses of Psychology.” The Interview is in three parts. First, Rami gives a summary of the project, then Eli has Rami break down some core concepts from this article (ex. Personhood, Materialism, Myth, Secular Modernity), and finally Rami unpacks what’s at stake for us.

The Aeon Article

Rami Gabriel’s Music

Rami’s Full Bio

Full Transcript:

Eli Namay  0:00  

All right, everybody. Welcome to the 13th episode of shred radio. Big thanks to folks who have been tuning in. Welcome to new folks. You know, we’re super glad you’re here in this universe with us. So, soexcited to be here with you. Please take a second if y’all want to, to follow us on Instagram and Facebook, give us a like on YouTube. And if you’d like to support our organizing efforts, you can become a patron on Patreon. We have some great gifts for folks who donate at all levels, we have some merch, some handmade copper jewelry by adorn anamorphosis. We have some very sick tapes, CDs and ziens from our musical projects and a lot more so please support us there if you can. So today I’m extremely excited to talk with Dr. Rami Gabriel, whose work in teaching has been an incalculable influence on us here at Shred Magazine. Rami Gabriel is the Associate Professor of Psychology in the department of humanities, history and social sciences at Columbia College Chicago. Rami is a founding fellow at the Columbia College Chicago Liberal Arts and Sciences Research Group in mind, science and culture. And he has two books out right now. Why I buy self tastes and consumer society in America as well as the emotional mind aspect of roots of culture and cognition, which was co authored with Steven T. Asma. Rami is a has a third manuscript in the works called a suspicious science, the uses of psychology. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about On today’s episode. So aside from all this really dope and exciting research work, Romney is a composer and professional musician. He regularly plays the UHD and the guitar, both locally and nationally. His musical influences center on Middle Eastern classical and folk music, American jazz, blues and soul as well as music concrete. He’s produced several albums that folks should definitely check out. And you can check those out on Bandcamp at audio postcards, dot man camp calm. So we’ll link to everything in the description below. So Dr. Gabriel and I first met at Columbia College, where I took a couple classes taught by folks in the research group in mind, science and culture. I took a class on Sigmund Freud and 20th century art from you and a class called self identity in the mind brain question with the late Tom greiff. Nor creative director, Ruby also took this class with Tom. And I gotta say, again, the influence of these classes was incalculable, Ruby, and I would not have embarked on the political organizing path that we’ve been on for the past decade. And we would have not been doing this project today had it not been for those classes. So it was back in 2010 or so. But you and I reconnected a couple years ago. And we’ve been in periodic contact, since playing music together. And talking about ideas over the past several years in my efforts to make sense of, you know, the reification fallacy is something I’ve been obsessed with both economically and interpersonally. When we reconnected, you’re advised to check out the work of Terrence Deacon and your book, the Emotional Mind, which was just coming out at the time, let us directly toward the formation of Shred Magazine. So I just gotta say, again, this is a real pleasure to talk with you today.

Rami Gabriel  3:25  

Thank you, It’s a pleasure to be here. And I’m so glad to hear your reflections upon, you know, your intellectual coming, coming into being and all these things. Thank you.

Eli  3:38  

Yeah, thank you so much. So one thing that’s definitely a pillar of what we’re doing here is we want to always remind ourselves that we’re animals that exist in a dual world, want sensory real time, material experience, and a second virtual world of symbols and meaning. We use symbols, words and narratives, to describe processes in the world that are not static ideologies, movements, political labels, even historical figures, and our favorite writers, these are all processes, you know, so we set out to communicate about them. We want to remind folks that what we want to remind folks of what it is that we’re actually doing, you know that we’re using words and symbols, and what the nature of those words and symbols are. So we want to frame everything that we do here with that upfront. Rom, is there anything you’d like to add to that to frame our conversation today?

Rami  4:36  

There’s nothing I’d like to add.

Eli  4:38  

Cool. All right. So today, we’re going to talk about an article that you have out in the publication, Eon called the myth, the mythology of psychology, which is the first chapter of your forthcoming book, suspicious science, the uses of psychology. So I want to split this inner view up into three parts. First I’ll have you give a brief summary of what it is you’re doing with the article. Then second essence, we’re very focused on words and symbols here at shred. And being clear on what they’re indicating to, I want us to unpack some of the more important words and concepts you use in the article. So we can be super clear on what we’re talking about. And finally, I want to get into the heart of the epistemology of your arguments. That is your theory on how we can know the world. And I want to unpack why this is important, and talk about some of the political implications of all this. Okay, so to start out, Can Can you give us a summary, just a little overview of what this article is about? Sure.

Rami  5:43  

This article, again, is based on the first chapter of the book. And what I’m doing is introducing some of the main concepts. One of them is how to rethink psychology. In so far, psychology is our society’s method, or set of methods to study the mind. And an important thing to notice here is when I say psychology doesn’t just mean the empirical psychology of laboratory studies. This also, in my opinion, psychology includes things like popular psychology, things like the use of therapy, the use of drugs, formal and informal, how psychology plays into the arts and the humanities. So there’s this multiple multiplicity of formats that make up psychology. So I start a little bit with that. And this sort of the stakes of this are that in our era, which I described as this post enlightenment type of secular era, or Western intellectual society, science has an epistemological status that other modes of looking at reality do not have. And so what I describe further in the book is how out of that atmosphere, which you use the word reify, maybe it’s sort of a reification, of scientific methods as a pathway to understanding reality. Psychology slipped in to, to, sort of place itself as a natural science or in between human science, natural science, social science, that’s sort of the interesting thing I’m playing with how it took elements of all of those, how took elements of religion and metaphysics and created this this amalgamation, which we call contemporary psychology. So that’s sort of the first part of my project and then in this article, I’m talking about what other formats do humans have to find meaning and significance in the world? And what have we done? What did human beings do before this enlightenment period, and even during this sort of post enlightenment period. And the concept that I, I emphasize is this concept of mythology. There are several people who’ve written about this. And I talked a bit about Mircea Eliade, who was Romanian, a thinker who was at University of Chicago, and wrote several, several books about mythology and mythology and contemporary life. And I’m taking this concept of mythology and trying to whet it to the notion of what psychology does for us, how does it give us meaning and significance? And what are the terms in which it gives us meaning and significance? And so the important thing is to break this down. That’s what the book is doing is breaking down each of the elements through which the study of the mind does this. And so the first chapter is just putting those two terms together. And there’s a couple things you have to do. One is you have to say, well, mythology is not does not just mean a wives tale or urban legend, that’s not one mythology and mythology is a set of practices, a set of narrative stories, about origins, about why things are the way they are. And mythology also is a byproduct of lived reality. Because we are living, we have symbols, we have this whole set of structures that we’ve created a sort of what I call an epistemic niche. that humans live in. And we’ve created this nice, you’ve created these buildings that we live in all these other things. But we’ve also created thought and sort of institutionalized thought. And I want to argue that psychology is a type of institutionalized thought or an epistemic niche that we’ve created to understand ourselves and to give ourselves meaning within the current secular worldview, that dominates,

Eli  10:31  

right? So you’re really talking about something, this isn’t just this experimental psychology that’s happening in the ivory tower away from society, this is something that’s extremely intimate to our lives that we’re interfacing with all the time.

Rami  10:45  

Yeah. I mean, it’s important to say, Okay, what is going on in the laboratories? And what are the frames that they’re using? Why are they using it? So in one chapter, I talked about the historical, historical precedent of these forms of, of study, the, there’s all these frames being used when we’re studying, but the same time, this is also playing out in, in it outside the Academy, in and I have a whole chapter on popular psychology. So more people read popular psychology by maybe 10, to one of what people read, you know, academic psychology. And therapy is also another sort of 10, to one to two, academic psychology. So, really, in the books called the uses of psychology, psychology is being used more for these AP applied situations than for theoretical considerations. But I feel like I need some clarity on what the theoretical lay of the land is, and how it’s it. It conditions these practical applied uses of psychology.

Eli  11:58  

Right? And you would say, right, exactly, there’s those that interconnectivity between the theory that what’s going on in the labs and whatnot, and how that’s trickling through society, and I think we’re gonna get into some of that, you know, at the, at the end of the interview here. Great, let’s, let’s move on, and talk about unpacking some of these words. So, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of important concepts that you use here that you just use an intro and want to unpack, you know, you know, what, what the meaning are these for, for folks listening? So in the article, you know, you talk about psychology as in meshed with, quote, our mythical understanding of deeper questions of significance, you know, like you’re just talking about, then you do a great job of unpacking your definition of mythology. But for our listeners and viewers, can you describe, you know, and again, you already started doing this? Just now, but can you go into a little more detail about this? About what you’re really talking about to drive that point home when we talk about mythology in this context?

Rami  13:10  

Sure. A couple of things I get into an article to describe this one is the notion of heroes. So in mythology, we know about mythological heroes, the famous Greek ones, of course, Hercules is the most famous one, we have a whole mythological story of gods. Now, one, one comparison I make is that we still use role models and heroes. Obviously, there’s the several I could point to now. Celebrity role models, that kind of thing, historical landmarks, which people from history, do you take out how do we refashion them? How do you mythologize figures from the past to fit the aspirations of the current moment? So this is still happening. It’s happening very much in this last year, as it has been a sort of recalibration of what the goals of society are and what the what the oppositional formats are. So I would say hero heroes, and that that notion of mythology is one thing to point out. Another one I point out in the article is within mythologies in traditional societies, there were also origin stories and types of pilgrimages. pilgrimage is sort of how a devout person confirms their allegiance to the belief system. And in the secular format. The question is what replaces those sorts of pilgrimages and I suggest there are other things going on. For example, these types of Dionicean experiences of Music, rock concerts and dancing. But I also point out things like, people have a sort of quest to understand themselves, and they look to find methods to look deeper. There’s also this idea of where you are from, you know, the sort of searches for origin stories have their own identity. And obviously, we’re an individualist society. So there’s a sort of transformation of these mythological systems into this context. So that’s a couple of them for you, the hero’s thing and the religious journey, spiritual journey sort of element of mythology.

Eli  15:45  

Got you got you. Um, and, you know, in this article, you know, you do a great job also of unpacking the concept of belief. And, you know, this is intertwined with, with mythology and our need for it. And, you know, talk about why this concept is important to humans. So I wonder if you could give us a summary, again, of what that definition is here for you. And maybe also going to concepts from your earlier book, the emotional mind a bit more. So how does belief relate to our emotions? And how they evolved over time? How does it? How do they relate to the human symbolic capacity? And how can we conceptualize this for ourselves, like, how we got here that we are these, you know, creatures that need? belief we need meaning we are these meaning based narrative creatures. How did we get here?

Rami  16:44  

Well, it’s a very complicated question, but I’ll try to answer some of it. So you’re referring to the Emotional Mind book, which came out in 2019. And the purpose of our book was to, as the subtitle suggests, portray the affective, so the emotional roots of culture and cognition. And the way we do it is we adopt some terminology from a late neuroscientist named Jaak Panksepp, who split up his analysis of, of the human condition of the animal condition, into these sort of three layers. There’s these basic needs, these basic things taken care of by the body, there’s the second layer of the things that we’re conditioned into the sort of unconscious types of learning. And then there’s this third layer, the tertiary level, which is mediated by symbols and culture, etc. Now, when we get into belief, you’re sort of cross cutting through these three layers, most. And the way I tried to portray this in the article is to say that we have beliefs that are non reflective, that we never, we don’t think about, we just believe them. And that’s probably because of what we’re conditioned into those, you know, in our early lives, etc. And then we have reflective beliefs, things we think about. So if anyone tries to figure out what position they are on a given issue, that requires reflection, thought consideration, you know, it takes a lot of time for these kinds of things. Now, the way I’m, I want to address it here is to say that there are emotional elements to any belief, the simple one, the simplest element of emotion belief is to try to diffuse the sense of doubt. And, of course, this probably is easy for people to think about now, as we live in an age of uncertainty, or an era a year of uncertainty, certainly, where we don’t know what’s going to happen. And also, we’re questioning a lot of our own life ways and motivations. We’ve been forced to by many of us, but also some of us have decided to take on larger pictures, too. Question. So this but if people can consider to think about their own experiences, you want to get away from doubt, no one really wants to stay in doubt for that long. So what is it that’s pushing us out of doubt? And in the question I, the answer I offer comes from some of the American pragmatists, John Dewey and William James who say that we all doubt always. The release from doubt is belief, and part of the satisfaction of believing something is not being in that state anymore. state of doubt. So that’s, that’s one of the ways to connect emotions and beliefs. Now, of course, once you get into reflective beliefs, you’re into this level of symbols symbology. And we have so many symbol systems, you know, people who are raised in one society sort of used to one set of symbols. But of course, now we have a lot more access to different things. And after, I would argue, the 19th century push of anthropology, the early anthropologists opened up this whole other set of symbol systems. And what I’m trying to do in the article in the book is suggest that the method by which individuals believe is a type of mediation between what you and your society that you’re conditioning to find appropriate. And then your reflective position on that as an agent, as an autonomous agent. So there’s these different levels of belief. And to put it simply, there’s nonreflective stuff, and there’s reflective stuff, and the reflective beliefs are the ones that are the complicated ones, I think you have a lot of interest in

Eli  21:11  

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for clarifying that. I mean, I think that that does a great job of, you know, painting a picture for us of what’s going on and, and how that might, you know, relate to our brain structure. So yeah, so now I want to move on to a couple words that are a couple concepts that are a little bit bigger picture. So we just looked at some words that were more at the level of individual kind of organism, at the individual human level. But now let’s let’s look at some bigger picture, social concepts here. So you talk about all mythologies, providing an explanation of the world, and, quote, by virtue of giving an account of where things came from. And you go on to say that psychology as mythology gives explanations for two elements of human nature, it gives us a story of personhood, and a materialist story of our physical constitution in the brain. To me, materialism can be kind of a fraught term. So you know, thinking about what Noam Chomsky points out, materialism is a concept that, over time continually accrues new meaning as scientific discoveries are made. So that is, at the start of scientific revolution in Europe. There’s a clear concept of materialist intelligibility, you know, its body affecting body. And then there was a, simultaneously a push to get away from what were deemed as Oh call ideas about invisible forces, sympathies, and antipathies things like this, at play in the world. You know, but then in comes gravity into the picture, which apparently Isaac Newton was upset about, at the end of his life. Couldn’t reconcile that contradiction between the materialist intelligibility of body affecting body, that standard of intelligibility, and this seemingly invisible force that he was describing with his mathematics. Then we have the discovery of electromagnetic forces, then atomic and subatomic forces, dark matter, dark energy, etc, etc. So now we have a very complicated and possibly contradictory understanding of what materialism is. So could you talk about what you’re indicating to when you talk about materialism, and personhood in this context and your article? What are the connections between these two concepts and how they’re constituted in the social formation that we find ourselves in?

Rami  23:54  

Well, the sense in which I use materialism is that the dominant strategy in empirical psychology is to say that the mind is the brain. And this is, of course, illustrated by things like by drug use, medic, medical drug use, also the kinds of surgeries and the kinds of medical practices that have accrued around this notion. And it’s proved obviously a very useful and a very, in many cases, medical cases robust formulation of the nature of the mind. But the question is, if the mythology of psychology is that the mind is the brain are there elements that other mythologies in the past like mythologies of Judeo Christianity for example, are there elements That are not being fulfilled by that. what one would call that positive positivistic equation of materialism. And one of the things I suggest is that some elements of ethics of the moral position of us of mythology are not being fulfilled. And that’s what I go on to say later in the book. But your description of materialism was, it was a very quick thumbnail sketch, and it was just listening to you saying, amazing how, how, how complex. Our understanding is, but also how, how incomplete it is, you know, so to speak. So that’s something to point out too, is that materialism is, is a, an approach. It’s a metaphysical position. But it’s also a promissory note, in many ways. That is, if the mind is the brain, then here, here’s what we know. But here’s what we would need to know further for it to be a complete system. And it’s not there yet. But,it is, it has proved to be quite useful in many ways. So I mean, this is probably a good time, just to say as this is not to say that psychology isn’t mythology is not to say that’s a social construction. That’s not what I’m saying. I think that’s important. Because once we’ve, once there’s an attack on materialism, a lot of times people think the alternative is some sort of constructionism. But I, what I’m trying to pull out and all of this is that if you are pragmatic about these things, there’s going to be holes, there’s holes in any kind of knowledge practice. There’s repercussions for taking on a particular knowledge practice, like materialism, and we should be aware of those. But I don’t think accepting the I don’t think that the incompleteness of given theories is a negates negates their, their practical utility. So that’s, that’s a little bit of the neuroscience materialism stuff for you. And we could talk about personhood, but if you want to reformulate anything.

Eli  27:37  

No, I think that that, you know, really, in that description, you kind of answered that codec, that connection that I was interested in between materialism and, and personhood, you know, talking about what you’re concerned about here is this kind of promissory note of like, the brain, the mind is the brain, you know, in this, this kind of conception of materialism, and how that’s this, in particular, in research, and in popular psychology, that’s the, you know, what we see, you know, what we see kind of playing out, and I and I appreciate you, you know, given that context that, you know, you’re we’re not what you’re trying to do here isn’t, say, Oh, this is just a social construct, oh, this is, you know, we’re gonna just totally kind of throw this, this out the window is a social construct psychology, because, you know, that can get us into I think, like a very unproductive, maybe even nihilistic kind of relativism, you know, and I think that that’s something that, for me has been attractive about your work. And the work of like, some folks, like I mentioned, Terrence Deacon up front that you introduce me to, because, you know, when I’m thinking about things like reification, at those higher level, you know, symbolic activities in the brain. You know, when I’m thinking about that stuff, a lot of the reading that I’ve done on it, or that I did earlier on, it was very coming from a very kind of like, either cultural perspective, or social science perspective in it. And it gave this very, like, it was either like a positivistic thing, I felt like my choices were like, just reified positivism or relativism, and I was like, why I feel stuck between these two things. And there seems like there needs to be a third way and I mean, yeah, you showing me the Terrence Deacon stuff and getting deeper into, you know, your scientific work and the Emotional Mind that was like, just big aha moment of like, Oh, we can, you know, we there’s other ways of talking about this. So. So yeah, I totally appreciate you saying that. And I think that it’s, it’s a super useful thing for us to remind ourselves of. So you know, final word here. And section one, we’re unpacking these concepts, secular modernity. So secular modernity is another word that indicates to a huge category of processes that we can see, you know, taking shape for a long period of time. Can you talk about what the main characteristics of secular modernity are for you in this article, and how these processes emerged, and most importantly, what you see as the economic and political power structures from which it emerged and kind of continues to reproduce itself? And how’s that all important to your work here?

Rami  30:37  

Okay, I can’t answer all that. Okay. But I can talk a little bit about secularism, because it is a huge question. The notion of secularism is a lot of people will trace it to the Enlightenment philosophers. And it’s this notion that belief in metaphysical deities is not necessary. And therefore, there can be different relations to meaning that is not mediated by deities. Now, at the same time, as this philosophical view comes out, we have the beginning of what we would call the modern liberal state, which is made up of various grades of citizens, and relationships of production. So at the same time, we have to remember there’s enlightenment, and then there’s the Industrial Revolution, basically right after that. And sort of, in the 18th century, after what we call this long enlightenment period, there’s the French Revolution, which redefines notions of all kinds of things, including citizenship, including what it means to be free, including what it means to be liberal, including what it means what modern, what life is, like, in an urban environment, too. So we also have this with industrialization, we have this urbanization. So those are some of the factors that I think are relevant to how we exist in the world, and how we sort of this modern period, so to speak, we have urbanization, we have less. We have various modes of mediation of meaning. And then we have this industrial production, and now we have this sort of post industrial production, I’m not sure what to call it is financial. Financial, virtual virtual production, right, financialized

Eli  32:49  

capitalism here,

Rami  32:51  

right? So all these things are relevant, all these things are relevant, because then this is sort of a difficult job of what I’m trying to do is to say, How do our beliefs about the mind embody or follow from their context? And so this has changed. So I try to trace a little bit of this post enlightenment stuff till now. And again, I said that, as I said, I can’t fully answer your question right now. But secularism does not just refer to a lack of deities. I think it also refers to changes in social structures due to a lessening of the influence of the church, but also a different way of approaching reality and meaning within the context of the social forces that accompanied the philosophical challenge of secularism.

Eli  33:57  

Nice, no, I think you did a great job getting to pretty much all of that question. I mean, you know, so, you know, I appreciate you clearing and clarifying that for us here. So, Alright, so let’s move on to kind of the final, final phase of the interview here, just unpacking the philosophical elements here, unpacking the epistemological elements here. So, you know, just to frame it for folks, again, we like to, you know, repeat this stuff and be clear here. You know, it at Shred Magazine, we’re super concerned about what might be called fundamentalist reductionism. So, you know, we’re taking inspiration from people like Richard Levin’s and Richard Lewington. You know who in the dialectical biologists are critical of fundamentalist reductionism that gives rise to what they describe as an alienated worldview. One which turns the natural world into a machine. And we’re also influenced by folks like Robert sapolsky, who in many places, warns against the tendency to reduce the world down to, you know, just one frame or what he calls one scientific kind of bucket. So Polsky gives us some grisly examples of where this kind of reductionist thinking, you know, oftentimes coming from very brilliant people has been used to justify horrific social movements. So two examples he gives are from the neurologist egus monets, who’s a pioneer of the frontal lobotomy, and Conrad lourens, who’s an animal animal behaviorist and Nazi propagandist. So here, you know, you end your article, saying that, quote, psychology as mythology delivers, at the same time, too much and too little. And earlier on, in the article, you talk about the methodological crises in psychology and its lack of effectiveness at tracing general ways. So you know, based on some of the stuff and based on how you and asthma open your book, the emotional mind with what you call it, a kind of a dialectical approach. I can’t help but think the quote too little part of this formulation from this article has to do with a kind of reductionism and reification. In the field of psychology. Do you think is this a correct characterization of your view? And either way, could you unpack that a little bit?

Rami  36:33  

Okay. Some interesting things you’re bringing up. This phrase psychology promises too much, and offers too little. And it’s, it’s related to it. There’s been this critique of psychology for a while now above 50 years. In fact, after I wrote it, I’ve been reading Sigmund Koch, and he did a history of psychology sort of history in six volumes, and has written some other things. But his arguments are very interesting. He’s saying he’s a psychologist, and a philosopher of science. And what he’s saying is that psychology is bound to fail, because it thinks that its topic is everything the mind does. And that’s a patently absurd range of phenomena to study. So you think about botanists who are studying just these kinds of plants, or you think about animal ecologists who have a particular name and, and thats kind of limited. It’s not limited at all, but it’s definitely more limited than psychology, which is beliefs, thoughts, you know, emotions, all these things, putting it all into one field is, is courting, you know, a disaster because you cannot, you can’t, we don’t expect there to be a sort of, at one time, we thought there’s gonna be a unity of science, and every science is going to is going to be reduced down to physics. This is something that people thought about 60 years ago. Now, it didn’t really work out, because it turned out that other sciences have different, they break the world down differently in terms of how they, how it’s classified, and kinds of laws, there’s different kinds of laws, there’s no more nomological laws, which is law, like it follows no matter what, like gravity, for example. And then there’s historical loss, which is due to these contingencies in the past, like evolutionary biology, so it is a historical system, doing these contingencies. That’s what it ended up being. And it might turn out different in the future. You know, that depends upon other things. So those are kind of historical laws, and then you have these nomothetic laws. And it turns out that they don’t, not everything will reduce down to a type of physics. There are theories and physics that are trying to do that. And they’re quite esoteric, but they are trying to offer that and, but largely, I don’t think that they have been the fight isn’t over. There isn’t there isn’t an answer yet.

So psychology offers to answer everything, but what we get, in fact, especially from empirical psychology is you know, these little studies on little things in laboratories, you know, or we get these statistics, huge statistical reams of information mediated by statistical instruments, and then we get you know, these pictures of The brain with these incredible instruments that we use. So it’s amazing the kinds of data and the amount of data that’s been provided and empirical psychology, for example. But it’s also noteworthy that it’s not. It’s not giving us what it’s promising to give, or what the people started psychology promised to give, or what we expect that this field of social science, human science, natural science will deliver to us. So the larger argument is that we might not be getting what we expect. But what are we getting? That’s what the rest of the book is doing? Like, what are we getting Piper psychology? What are we getting in therapy are we getting, but then to admit, it’s not, it’s not what we wanted, it’s not what we thought we were going to get. And it should be pointed out that mythology is supposed to do a little bit more in terms of meaning and significance. At least for ethics. That’s what I want to get into it. Towards the end of the book about ethics and how the art, arts and humanities use of psychology give a little bit more in terms of ethics, and a little bit less in terms of explanatory. Most

Eli  41:20  

Right, right. You know, and that, that dovetails I think, really nicely what with what I wanted to ask Next, you know, and talking about this kind of reflection on methodology? Well, you know, we’re, we’re interested across the board and science, you know, in scientific circles, and cultural circles in political circles, you know, the issue of reification. And our people reflecting on the the analytical frameworks that were that they’re using, are they promising, like, okay, we have this huge analytical framework, and we can fit everything in, you know, into that, you know, everything is going to be that or is it too small, you know, I’ve heard like, reductionist critiques of reductionism, where those kinds of approaches are called pejoratively like small ism, you know, like, Oh, I, we, if we can just describe it on the smallest level, that’s, like, that’s real, that’s the real stuff there, you know, it’s just, we can talk about why I want to, you know, why I’m driven to eat food or whatever, and based on like, corks, you know, or moving around, or whatever, whatever the case may be, it’s like, and that’s like, sort of real science. And I mean, I’m, for what it’s worth, I mean, I personally tend to agree with that, that it’s like that sort of project, of trying to take these big picture phenomena and like, reduce them down to just these like small little elements, it’s, you know, that one thing is going to collapse on the next is going to collapse on the next and it’s going to, we’re going to be able to explain it like down here, it’s like, maybe missing the point to how, how symbols are functioning and how, you know, our relationship between things in the world in symbols and, and our senses, you know, how that’s, that’s working. And I think, you know, that kind of a dialectical approach that we’re trying to take with Shred is, you know, we’re trying to recognize that the world is completely interconnected in all these different levels. And our process of collecting data and interpreting data about the world is an active one. But that’s the point. And that is the boundaries that we draw. And the frames of reference that we use when we explore the world are not necessarily a given. So you know, that we must actively decide how we’re abstracting the world and what our frame of reference is, at any given time, depending on what aspect of the world, you know, we want to learn about. And we think and why I really appreciate the work that you’ve been doing is, you know, we must communicate how we came to these decisions. And I think that this is really great, reflection that’s going on about the frame of reference that you’re using, for what, here. So, you know, when we do this, we feel like we recognize the great possibilities, not only in how we can interpret the data, you know, there’s just a wide range of possibilities that we can interpret a given set of data. But like Stephen Jay Gould points out what can even be considered relevant data in the first place for something that we want to explore. And you already kind of answered this, but could you unpack a little bit more? You know, what’s the importance of reflecting on the frameworks that you’re using? The data that you’re using the models that you’re using? You know, can you talk about more for folks the importance of that for you and maybe how you’ve done this here a little bit.

Rami  44:45  


If we take it, if we take it that psychology is the study of the mind for our culture, If that’s the position that it has, then it’s quite important because it suggests to us, first of all, what is human nature? What is our form? If psychology is telling us what the mind is, it’s also telling us what we are, what we’re capable of, what’s right and wrong. It has a lot of ethical consequences. I mean, you have to think about you have a set of knowledge practices, you have certain kinds of biology, you have the study of material science, you have all you know, you have all these different formats of looking at the world and and you have groups of people doing each of them engineers doing this, you have humanists doing that you have economists doing this, you have all these groups, this group psychologists are being called on to do very, very important work as well. Now, have we reflected enough on what the job of psychology is? And what we’ve gotten from psychologists? That’s sort of the project of this book. What have we gotten in all the different fields? What have we gotten Imperial psychology? What have we gotten in therapy? What have we gotten into drugs? What’s the you know, what it’s been, you know, it’s been 150 years, what have we got? It’s important to do that, because we are. We are, you know, it’s sort of at a certain point in history that we’re at, and there are, resources are shrinking, and a lot of senses. There’s things that are going to be there’s the end, there’s different forces of power at play right now. And these kinds of this project of rethinking or reappraising, or understanding the past, within the context of our own goals, seems necessary. It seemed necessary to me. I mean, I’m interested in sort of political philosophy of science and epistemology sense as well. But I know for your purposes, there are some elements of practice that that for you are, are crucial. It’s not something I can speak to, specifically, but I can say that, that reflecting upon knowledge practices, what we do when we want to find something out, what are the rituals through which we maintain these formats of knowledge? reflecting upon those kinds of things? Is not lost time, you know what I mean? It’s not, it’s not some theoretical esotericism, which, you know, we’re also being led to believe with this anti intellectualism and the sort of crowding out the public space and all spaces with this advertisements and crap. We’re being told, you know, reflection is sort of an elite practice, but I don’t think it is. And I think that the more we’re pushed away from, from reflection, the more we’re, we’re bound into the conditions of our own sort of oppression or our own sorts of alienation.

Eli  48:37  

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think, again, you know, that sets us up once again, for our, for, you know, kind of concluding segment here, because I totally agree, and that’s what we’re trying to do here is that we want to make, you know, we want to try to actualize the best we can in the world right now. And also struggle for a world, you know, where a thriving cultural life a thriving intellectual life is, is available for as many people as possible, you know, were trying to popularize it reflection and get people to, if, if we can create space for folks and tools for folks to just reflect on, on, you know, what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on, politically, who they are as, as, as, as people, not in this sort of, like, you know, limited self actualizing kind of self help kind of way, you know, that can be very superficial, I think, like you saying the article can just reproduce. You know, reproduce humans in such a way where it makes it, you know, that’s beneficial. For, for capitalism for a particular type of economic production, but in a way where folks can, can organize more effectively to create a better world. So, you know, so to get back around, you know, back into this political importance of this, you know, which I think we’ve seen a really great thread through this whole interview of, you know, I want to read some excerpts from the article that I think hit home strongly about why we should be thinking about this from a political perspective. Or I should say, we’re going to add it in the reading of these excerpts into this interview. So I won’t be reading them right this second, but they will be edited in. And I want to say, again, for folks listening, you know, it’s our mission here, you know, to try to synthesize the important work with folks like, you know, Dr. Gabriel here in actionable tools that can be integrated in our political and organizing spaces. So that’s something that you’re going to be seeing from us. You know, in the coming months after we start to publish details on our basic philosophical perspectives, and that serves as sort of the first round of publishing that’s going to be happening here. So we’re going to splice in here the excerpts that we want to highlight,

Ruby Pinto  51:22  

quote, psychology has come to take on the rhetoric of personal enlightenment and its therapeutic practices, and thus attempts to serve as a means of salvation. This is apparent in the self help literature. The field of psychology gained in popularity by drawing on popular metaphors that shaped the human niche, and an industrial landscape. In particular, psychology emphasized society’s pressure to achieve efficiency through purpose, integration and productivity, identity and autonomy as the key characteristics of personhood, came together to perpetuate capitalism. Through extending the notion of exchange value over all relations, and melding seamlessly with techno fetishism. mythology was traditionally the expression of an enchanted world. And now psychology is an attempt to fill the disenchanted space with a rich characterization of interiority. Rami goes on to talk about how psychology fulfills our need for finding meaning through belief in force by myth, which provides quotes, symbols and expressive ways to cope with the hazards of life. By providing explanatory tenants psychology is thus a means of enabling humans to sustain their practices of personhood and materialism, such that we can face the world with greater confidence and increased energy. Romney then talks about how our need for meaning in the realm of belief is shaped by the society. Quote, our shared world is maintained by the practice of Rites of rituals. The sacred nature of assemble or story derives its power from the power of society, whereas fire is sacred for the brahmans. The scientific approach and the notion of the liberal individual are sacred and secular modernity and how psychology as mythology grounds the materialist and historical origin story of mankind and neuroscience and empirical psychology. The cosmology of enlightenment humanism is enacted in the rituals of personhood, worked out in clinical psychology and more esoterically. In popular psychology. Rami concludes by describing the woeful inadequacy of psychology as mythology, saying, while logic and science have proven more efficient in gaining control over the environment, the aspect of myth which dictates ethics has been underplayed. modern man is as Eliade claimed, and an anxious Limbo and the middle of an initiatory ritual of dying. To believe in the importance of identity and materialism, he must face a vacuum of nothingness which would render the rituals of life meaningless. The truth may be that there is no unassailable truth about human nature, psychology as mythology delivers at the same time, too much and too little.

Eli  54:11  

Alright, so can you unpack this quote, that I think is at the heart of our political question from the excerpt that we just heard. So you say from the article, quote, in particular, psychology emphasize society’s pressure to achieve efficiency through purpose, integration and productivity, identity and autonomy, as the key characteristics of personhood came together to perpetuate capitalism, through extending the notion of exchange value over all relations and melding seamlessly with techno fetishism in quote. So, you’ve already talked about this a little bit, but can you unpack a little bit further in response to that quote? How does psychology accomp This, you know, how is this idea? How does this ideology support the maintenance of the power structures that we find ourselves in, in this capitalist moment that we’re in?

Rami  55:16  

Well, I can’t answer all that. But I can say in the first book I wrote in 2013, called Why I Buy: self Tastes and Consumer Society in America, what I’m trying to do is connect those levels, the level of self and identity, to these economic practices. And in that book, I connected it through this element, this component of taste, how does an individual make consumer decisions. And part of tastes is, is founded on individualism and uniqueness, authenticity. And the notion that that Charles Taylor talks about, which is called expressive ism, which is this notion that we also have a space for expression in ourselves. So, I would highlight those two elements of the modern self as crucial sites of connection with the kind of liberal subjectivity that you’re that you’re referring to. And as I said earlier, secular modernity is also in meshed with the Industrial Revolution, with the rise of capitalism, colonial capitalism, etc. All these things came about in the same sort of time period. Of course, there’s all kinds of strange results and kinds of interpretations, like the ones you’re referring to, that I can’t speak to particularly. But maybe that’s just a little start, because I don’t I don’t feel comfortable going too much into all the other things.

Eli  57:01  

No, that’s, that’s great. No, I’m, you know, yeah, again, appreciate you, you know, given us a start there, and what your perspective is, okay, cool. And just to kind of round off our interview here, you know, would want to invite you here to be a little bit more speculative or imaginative, if you want to be and, you know, what are some things that that you would really like to see some some things changed to some things that you would like to see to help the situation change, and it doesn’t have to be like a sort of process oriented kind of thing like, Oh, well, this is how we’re going to get from point A to point B to point C, you know, from like, an organizers perspective, but just, you know, from, I guess, since we are narrative based creatures, and, you know, sometimes having these stories are these imaginative moments of the world that we would like to see, you know, what are some things that you would like to see, you know, differently here to take care of some of these issues with, with how psychology is used? You know, what, yeah, what are some things that you would like to see differently, or either in the practice of psychology or just in society in general?

Rami  58:27  


I am hoping that there’s going to be a spring this year in Chicago. And as you know, from when you lived here, it’s this, this feeling of coming outside. And this relief, I’m hoping we have a sort of a spring of the public sphere in a way because the public sphere has been closed off in so many ways, for with precautions, but I’m hoping for spring for all of us. And I attempt to study psychology which is more pertinent here. There are some contemporary psychologists who are reflecting upon the short shortcomings of psychological methods, methodologies, and are suggesting using methodologies from other fields. For example, some people talk about using more historical methods, from practice of history, some people are saying use more anthropology, anthropological methods of understanding worldviews in the continental people’s behaviors in laboratories in the context of worldviews. And then there’s also interesting work being done about how do you accept them, there are values that people who practice psychology are, are also bringing values into it, and how do you use that in a good way rather than say, oh, if you have Then it’s no longer objective. It’s, you know, it’s not a science, it’s not an objective. But the thing is, people have values systems have values built in institutions have values, how can we take that and use it to enrich study? So there’s someone whose name is Lisa Osbeck, who has written a book about this. So there’s, there’s interesting things going on in terms of how to change it. There’s some books by Jerome Kagan, which are highly critical of what’s been happening in psychology, but are offering ways of saying let’s change the paradigms. Let’s expand the paradigms. Let’s there’s no reason why we have to keep using these methodologies. I mean, there’s issues also in psychologists in the education for psychology, in terms of how, in the academy, how much do you need to know to be a psychologist? You just need to know, methodology and statistics? Or do you need to know things from other disciplines? What does it mean to be a psychologist in 2021? Is it the same thing as 20 years ago? And I’m sure many departments have taken on this challenge. But these are the kinds of things that I’m interested in. And of course, changes in that way. There’s, there’s this notion of, of what is interdisciplinarity? What is the point of it? And what can it accomplish? And I’m interested in how those projects move forward, and what sort of fruits, I think there’s some point we need to also be critical about what exactly are we getting from infringement? So those are some of the things that I’m, I’m thinking about in the near future?

Eli  1:01:43  

That’s great. No, I think that’s a great note to end on, you know, some suggestions for what folks can check out. Some authors and thinkers that folks can check out who are interested in some, some updated stuff, some, some folks who are thinking along the same lines as you about psychology, and how we can sort of improve the practice of that. And, and, and really, especially this you know, we’re hoping here to, again, for a big a big spring, a big spring of the public sphere, I think that that’s something we want, we want to fight for the commons, you know, and for folks to have a, to be able to have those flourishing social lives, intellectual lives, cultural lives, you know. So on we go. So I want to thank everybody for tuning in here. And I really want to thank Dr. Rami Gabriel for taking the time to talk with me. Again, this was an extreme pleasure to have you on today for one of our first interviews here and I hope that we can continue some of these conversations and get into some of these details in the you know, future.

Rami  1:03:10  

Thank you. I appreciate you having me and I wish you the best of luck.

Eli  1:03:14  

Thanks so much.