Though a psychology prof for many years, I don’t have a high opinion of psychology experiments. All the famous experiments of the twentieth century social psychologists, Milgram, Zimbardo, and Asch, show things, that if you ask me, are pretty darn obvious to the naked eye. And B.F.Skinner’s rats-clicking-for-cheese and half-starved pigeons pecking away was a chilling vision of human existence, a science fiction nightmare.
Now, so far as the culture as a whole seems aware of it, psychology is reduced to neurochemistry. We are the ghost in the machine once again. We are pictured brains in pretty colors on a cat scan or some other imagining technique, we are sequences of the four elements that are our DNA. Meanwhile, they can’t really “fix” anything, anyway. The can have you take a pill that dries your mouth out and you feel like there’s cotton in your head, but that’s about it. And all their “science” doesn’t tell us much of anything of when we love or hate, care about each other or treat each other cruelly.
Novels tell us. Plays tell us. Music, too. They can talk to us about the human condition in ways that matter, ways we can understand.
I got into listening to Dickens in my car. I drive from place to place quite a bit, so it was a marvelous way for me to “read” books that I had long ago thought I’d never read. Dostojevski, too. What an amazing understanding of the human condition, of all its generalities and uniqueness.
But I do hold dear one article that I read about in a newspaper once. They’d studied a whole bunch of factors so see what contributed to longevity. They took into account all sorts of factors into account, like exercise and diet. The thing they found that really correlated with long life was whether you were happy. I never read anything else on the subject. I didn’t want to see that somebody else found out that wasn’t true. Or maybe was only true if you ate your oatmeal or granola every morning. I realized: Even it weren’t true, even if happier people didn’t live longer lives, it was certainly better to live a short happy life than a long miserable one.