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Great Quotations For The Psychology Classroom

Updated: Aug 22

I am excited about getting some quotations enlarged and placed onto the wall of my classroom. After much searching around the internet and books of classic quotations, I have settled upon the following:

"A point, like a joke, is a terrible thing to miss." Christopher Hitchens

I am no doubt taking this quotation out of context. I plan to point to it periodically whenever I hand back student essays. In the context of an essay a point is certainly very easy to miss. The development of an argument in Psychology essays typically gets muddled up to the detriment of quality and grade. I suspect that Hitchens was referring to the way that people do not listen to arguments in discussion and simply miss the point. Additionally, we live in a society where jokes are misinterpreted, deliberately or ignorantly, to the extent where offence-taking is like a national occupation.

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” John Stuart Mill

I have been reading Mill’s essay, Liberty, partly for a scholars’ lesson and partly because it seems like a prescient text at the moment. It feels as though the current generation of students are growing up in especially censorious times, in which people only discuss their political views and values with those that agree with them. This ‘echo chamber’ mentality is prominent on Twitter: challenging an idea is quite likely to get you either blocked from a person’s account or, even worse, from Twitter per se. In this quotation, Mill considers how the coherence of an individual’s argument, to an extent, relies on alternative views. Understanding something partly comes from understanding what it is not. Therefore, to really know a point or argument we need to know the other side of that argument.

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” Sigmund Freud

Freud is widely criticised and, in scientific terms, his work does not fulfil the standards of rigorous, objective data that modern psychologists find desirable. Nevertheless, his idea that we are motivated by unconscious forces still holds credibility. The lower part of the seven-eighths of our personality was called the ‘unconscious’ by Freud and is responsible for our selfish, primitive wishes and instincts. This quotation is a useful reminder that society cannot ultimately manage the animalistic disposition of human beings. Freud has much to offer modern, Western society which tries to make day to day life safer, happier, mundane, sentimental and congenial whilst forgetting that people are born fundamentally selfish.

“As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish.” Steven Pinker

This is part of Steven Pinker’s exposition to an audience member at a talk who asked ‘why should I live?’ His response, from his 2018 book Enlightenment Now, describes the wonder and pleasure in being a sentient, thinking, rational individual, in a modern, educated Western society. Whilst the question was not necessarily intended as a negative one, Pinker nevertheless offers a reminder about how each human being can develop their knowledge and understanding of the world beyond the previous generation.

“Life is a battle: may we all be enabled to fight it well.” Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte and her sisters knew what struggle meant. In childhood she lost two beloved sisters and, by the time she was in her thirties, was a lone sibling after the deaths of her two other sisters, Emily and Anne, and brother Branwell. When Charlotte received word that her publisher, George Smith, doubted that her sisters’ novels were indeed written by separate writers, she travelled to London from West Yorkshire with Anne and confronted Smith for the first time in his publishing office. They became friends afterwards with Smith developing a new level of respect for the woman who had previously gone by the name of ‘Currer Bell’. In her determination to contribute to the family finances, Charlotte and Emily journeyed to Brussels to work as school governesses, Charlotte learned French and battled the unruly girls at the Pensionnat School. Charlotte Bronte’s life and works serves as a reminder of the afflictions of previous generations.

“I had a wonderful childhood, which is tough because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” Larry David

I could not resists a Larry David quotation. Writer and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David subverts the idea that a poor childhood is catastrophic for later development, arguing instead that a good childhood makes a happy adulthood more difficult by comparison. In terms of mental illness, this is questionable as many severely ill people have experienced trauma. Nevertheless, Larry David does hit on a serious point that too much contentment in childhood could be the recipe for later disappointment. Some struggle is a good thing.

“Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.” Elizabeth Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus provided landmark research in Psychology with her work on memory in eyewitnesses. Humans do not make very good eyewitnesses, mainly because we do not so much recall information from experience as reconstruct it. Here Loftus makes the point that human memory is open to manipulation by other people. I am unable to attend her approaching conferences in London, but would be fascinated to know her views on prosecuting people following historic allegations. To what extent can an eyewitness be trusted several years after the event? Long term memory is, based on research, not accurate and not to be trusted.

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