If all this were true it would have two consequences. First it would require a strict distinction between what a person reports their perception to be and what that perception actually is. The act of perceiving a perception in order to describe or render it would be understood as a skill, subject both to cultivation and neglect. What cognitive psychology identifies as debilities of human perception would be no more than an untrained clumsiness. Second and correlatively it would regard the ways that cognitive psychology identifies to influence human behavior as weaknesses to be annealed by education, not intrinsic handles to pull in a desirable direction.
All this essaying is futile, I know. Even if I were right, no one would ever call me right, except in retrospect; and I am very likely wrong. In doubting a large field of scientific work I am certain to sound like a crank. I can only note that I am not nailing up theses; and that if I am wrong I would like to be straightened out.
Since I wrote this essay I have participated, as a subject, in several experiments in cognitive psychology, and in consequence I now regard cognitive psychology as a pseudoscience.
Here is the problem: in order to avoid the appearance of shirking, the subject has no choice but to express preferences in the absence of preference and beliefs in the absence of belief. Even without financial stakes, ordinary social conventions compel the subject, in order to be kind to the experimenter, to deceive them.
It goes like this. The experimenter asks, “Does this make me look fat?” The subject says, “No.” And the experiment concludes: “Human beings are incapable of accurate estimation of one another’s weight.” Soon books are written about “cognitive weight bias.” “For our ancestors,” the editorial begins, “underestimating one another’s weight was an important survival strategy.”
This is what cognitive psychology is, and it is all cognitive psychology is: the heedless elaboration of a social solecism. In an experiment in cognitive psychology, the only true psychologists are the subjects.