Firstly, is there a distinction between a psychological explanation and a neuroscientific one for the same phenomenon?

Imagine if I posed a question to the entire field of psychology, seeking the best explanation for phenomenon X, let's say X = "the experience of the Kundalini rising". Then, if I presented the same query to the entire field of neuroscience, prompting the best neuroscientific explanation, could it be that the psychological account proves more accurate than the neuroscientific one?

Is it valid to assert that we possess a successful psychological explanation for a phenomenon X without a corresponding successful neuroscientific explanation for X? If so, what would be some illustrative examples?

Moreover, what differences are there between psychology and neuroscience in terms of how they determine that a phenomenon has been successfully "explained"?

Bonus material on Kundalini Rising

For the interested reader, these books may be worth considering:

  • 2
    Please clarify what you mean by "successful scientific explanation" - do you refer to predictive power? Usefulness in diagnosis and treatment? Something else?
    – Lowri
    Apr 13 at 14:41
  • @Lowri Mainly predictive power. What causes the phenomenon in question.
    – Mark
    Apr 13 at 15:32
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    Cause and prediction are totally different senses of "explanation" though.
    – Lowri
    Apr 13 at 15:36
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    This is your question; I don't know how to elaborate what you're asking about. Are you just asking whether there can be psychological explanations without having yet understood the physical/structural/chemical mechanism?
    – Lowri
    Apr 13 at 15:43
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    I started to write an answer, pointing to psychology approaching things from the top-down, and neuroscience approaching them from the bottom-up. In theory they arrive at a common answer. However, while writing it, I realized I'm pulling from both psychology and psychiatry at the same time. Rather than complicate the already confusing division between them, I leave a comment instead.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 13 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


Apparently psychology and neuroscience operate on two different levels. Broadly speaking, models from neuroscience take into account the neurobiology of the brain and its mental processes. While psychology investigates the affects, the behaviour and the cognition of human persons.

  • During the last decades, the strong improvement of imaging methods allows to diminish the gap between the two disciplines. Currently we are still far away from decoding the language of the mental processes. But we are no longer restricted alone on introspection and on what the person tells us from a first person stance about his/her affects and cognition.

  • A first step is to locate the active brain areas which participate in an affect or a perception. Analyzing the mental processes during meditation has started. Possibly, also Kundalini research is a field of similar investigation already.

    An active field, which demonstrates the effort to bring together explanations from psychology and from neurobiology, is the search for the neural correlate of consciousness.

  • The whole development tries to reinforce the link between psychology and sciences like biology and chemistry.

    A field where explanations from psychology are linked to neurobiological explanations is the relevance of neurotransmitters for the formation of certain psychic disturbances. On the other hand, the whole field of personality psychology or social psychology has no connection with the level of neuroscience.

    A far reaching aim for the future is to make neuroscience also fruitful for psychotherapy. Eric Kandel, who was awarded the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine in 2000, is a proponent of this approach. See his book Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and the New Biology of Mind.

  • 1
    "to bring psychology nearer to the level of science" - to suggest (?) that we need neuroscience for psychology to be a science is like saying we need atomic theory for macro-scale physics (or biology or just about anything else, really) to be a science. Something being a science isn't determined by whether we understand the underlying mechanisms, but rather it's based on the scientific method of empirical observation, hypothesis, experimentation and analysis, for which psychology certainly qualifies. Related: Is psychology a science?
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 13 at 19:45
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    @NotThatGuy I made a correction, thanks.
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 13 at 20:00

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