Whatever concerns the problems of human life as seen and experienced from the viewpoint of a person who seeks to understand, to experience meaning and joy, to live harmoniously and to love is the aim of this study. One might argue that these questions are more like those of philosophy, religion than of psychology... yet all these matters deeply affect personal development, the degree of emotional and mental sanity and self-fulfilment we can achieve. The basis of the viewpoints here is not unscientific, though it also draws upon less that strict experimental humanistic traditions in psychology. I avoid subservience to any particular overall theory or rigid set of assumptions about the human psyche, though I draw upon the truth content of any tradition where germane.
How best to live in relation to oneself and to others, how to overcome mental burdens, how to understand what happens to us and why, how to deal with one's doubts, mistrust, anxieties and a whole catalogue of other ills of the mind - or how to attain trust, self esteem, fulfillment, faith, peace of mind and live a meaningful life... all these are issues about which any worthwhile psychology recognises and to which it should provide some answers as a source of possible guidance, using where possible tried and tested knowledge and experience. Though one may point out and describe the various highways, byways and dead-ends of a personal history, true answers are only found through self-investigation by the person who actually makes the journey.
Today there are many psychological theories and therapies, most of which doubtless have content that is true and beneficial, yet clearly all are neither equally and fully true nor good. Much of 20th century psychology has already shown itself to be inaccurate and inadequate, while much of it is also highly misleading. Once having become widespread, however, it tends to live on in many shapes and forms. In order to provide some means to the relative newcomer of dealing with all this - pointing out the well-tried blind alleys and finding a way onwards to real self-discovery and self-improvement - I discuss some current hypotheses and theories of psychology with a view to extracting their useful truth contents... and discarding residue or dross.
Different types of psychological theory could be ranged in ascending orders of practicality, fruitfulness or completeness, according more or less to the phase of psychological development and human understanding that each provides. This study aims towards what can be called a philosophical psychology of human development.1
Empirical, experimental or other controllable psychological information is not the chief subject matter here. Though it is taken into account, referred to and commented on as required, such information is regarded as secondary to the psychology of personal understanding. This must integrate moral values and such disciplines that further the good life.
Thus the human person is preferably to be seen in a wider and less technical perspective than either that of psycho-physical theories like behaviourism. Like various humanistic psychological theories, of which there are many, it would include recognition of the unavoidability of values for human development and happiness, and their key role in many aspects of the theory and practice of psychology itself. It recognizes the nature of both conscience and practical ethical reasoning and their importance in nurturing a healthy psyche. It must accept the human urge to discover meaning in the cosmos and the dire need of society for a practical philosophy of life.
I do not deny the value of more limited, specific approaches in clinical psychological
investigation (developmental, perceptional, experimental etc.), but ask from
the perspective of asking 'what is their place in understanding
oneself and one' life on the whole?', 'what are their values and what is their value?'.
By this I ask both what practical, personal use they may have and whether they
are likely to be effective or not in work for good of people in the arena of human life.
SCIENTIFIC METHOD IN PSYCHOLOGY
SCIENTIFIC METHOD IN PSYCHOLOGY
In this century an increasing need for a science of mankind has been felt and various attempts at laying foundations for it have been made in psychology. This work has increased gradually, expanding rapidly mainly after the Second World War, when the need for correct recruitment to the various branches of the services was partly met by innovative psychological questionnaires and tests. Natural science made possible the demonstration of its hypotheses in repeated experiments. Its prestige arose from this combined with the control of nature that was gradually developed to provide technology and material advancements. Such science studies nature; that is, the physical environment of man, including the human body. Therefore the belief was cherished that the methods of natural science would, if only applied on a large enough scale, enable us to understand human nature in much the same way one understands physical nature. The underlying 'philosophy' of this assumption is usually called 'materialism' or 'physicalism'. Eventually one hoped that a psychology based on such physicalistic theorizing would explain the causes of all human behaviour so as to be able to eliminate the problems of mankind.
Even though the new natural sciences led to the improvement of material conditions generally including working conditions, health and productivity on all material fronts, they proved largely incapable of altering the problems that arose from 'human nature'. This naturally led to the ambition of developing 'sciences of the human being', such as sociology, social anthropology, economics and at the core of which is the study of the psychological make-up and behaviour of individuals.2
As a part of nature, the human being appears in many respects to transcend limitations of nature, both due to science and technology and to the indefinable spirit of enterprise and willpower. Therefore the belief was cherished that the methods of natural science would, if only applied on a large enough scale, enable us to understand human nature in much the same way one understands physical nature. The underlying 'philosophy' of this assumption is usually called 'materialism' or 'physicalism'. Eventually one hoped that a psychology based on such physicalistic theo rising would explain the causes of all human behaviour so as to be able to eliminate the problems of mankind.
A psychological and social understanding of mankind, one productive in finding remedies the psychic and social ills from which the world suffers, is yet far from being satisfactorily achieved by the social sciences, though much progress has been made since 1900. Psychology may be compared to medicine in that, while a certain
degree of expertise has been developed in both fields in treating the sick,
they have had limited success in predicting and averting certain kinds of illness and mental sufferings due to psychological problems. Further, there so far exists no trustworthy nor well-founded means of defining positively what is full
psychic health. This suggests that the philosophical aspects of psychology should be enhanced by projecting forward-looking models of understanding human limitation and potentialities.
MISTAKEN SCIENTIFIC IDEAS ABOUT PERSONS
MISTAKEN SCIENTIFIC IDEAS ABOUT PERSONS
The belief that the human being is just an objective entity like any natural object and nothing more was fairly widely held in the sciences of the 20th century. This mistaken bias brought with it the wrong standards of knowledge, and concentrated research on narrowing and inadequate methods and techniques for studying the human entity and society. In so far as these are not mere natural physical phenomena, they cannot only be studied effectively in line with physical nature. Human beings are not just bodies, not objects simply reacting only to natural causes, for they are conscious and wilful subjects. This follows from the human ability to confound and defy authoritative explanations and do the unexpected and unheard-of, simply putting the predictions of psychologists and sociologists to shame. Otherwise scientifically-informed polls on, say, how people will vote would always be far more certain amid accurate than they usually are. So we can and do make up our own minds, act as subjects with human motives and purposes.
The sort of regularities and correspondences that social studies have discovered are also mostly highly specific to societies and brief eras of times in which they arose. The social sciences from sociology and social psychology to criminology and social economics rely largely on scientific method aiming to reach generalisations or 'nomothetic' explanations, such as statistical information on populations and opinion surveys, which are grist for politicians and social planners whose ends they are best suited to serve. These seldom bear clear or direct relevance to problems and concerns experienced by the people studied. The scientific 'acid test' of all general hypotheses and generalisations is whether or not they allow of accurate and reliable predictions of future trends in behaviour. This has not been achieved to any notable degree with high reliability in any such human sphere.
Therefore we must admit that there are no 'sciences' of society or mankind at all comparable to natural sciences as regards their power of explanation or their results in application either to social or individual behaviour. The majority of data recorded so far is incommensurable with any intelligible general theory that can account for our deepest motivations and aspirations, let alone to explain or forward personal and social transformation. On the other hand, there are numerous kinds of 'ideographic' studies which attempt to explain human events on the basis of systematic observation, sometimes supported by comparative studies.3 These rely on information provided through contact with personal and their concerns and specific experiences, which are frequently regarded by scientific purists as mere 'anecdotal' information. However, there are methods of investigation, interview, depth psychological interactions that can sift and critically evaluate such 'anecdotal' information so that sound and fruitful conclusion can be drawn from them. To exclude such methods would be to lost a most valuable and important well of knowledge, despite its not having the nature of general empirical 'laws'. This view alone takes into account that the human being is almost certainly not entirely an object of causal laws and circumstance, and that human behaviour and relations can frequently take unique forms, and occur as historically and scientifically unrepeatable events.
Another bias found in various sub-divisions of psychology stems from having been motivated by a greater concern for the sick or pathological mind and the prevention of mental illness than for the practical
study of psychic healthiness and what may lead to the genuinely good life. The intuitive view of the human psyche being a whole unit - either functional or dysfunctional - needs representation in modern
terms and non-technical understanding. This may help reformulate our approach to psychic health and
stimulate to more realistic and successful research and practical innovation.
This differs radically from what is current
in many professional forms of psychology and it shows up weaknesses in
various Western psychological theories and therapies. THE MEANING OF LIFE - PHILOSOPHY IN PSYCHOLOGY
THE MEANING OF LIFE - PHILOSOPHY IN PSYCHOLOGY
Because psychology deals with - or should be concerned with - such far-reaching questions as 'Who am I?', 'Why was I born?', 'What matters in my life?' or 'How should I live?', it is not fully separable from philosophy. Philosophy in the original Greek sense was not concerned primarily with cumulating facts and generalisations so much as penetrating the true nature of the self. The Apollonian oracle at Delphi whose slogan Socrates embraced held the goal to be "Know thyself".
The human faculty of reason, which is possessed by all - though at various levels of development from common sense reasoning to what has been called intellect (Greek= nous). These cannot genuinely be separated from the power of moral discrimination, the voice of conscience and the defining human values of progressive civilization. What is taught by reason, illumined by soundly analysed experience and guided by insights into values and their role in life, can help connect psychology with philosophy in an overview of the human psyche.
As an instrument of insight into people, psychology must direct its ambitions more towards reaching intelligible descriptions and guiding generalisations based on people's own understanding of themselves and their experiences. This eventually hinges on self-understanding through various kinds of introspection involving memory, reflection on thoughts and feelings, logical reasoning, creative imagining, the intuitive grasp of meaning, intentions, motives, purposes and many another connection. All of these functions are a normal part of the make-up of any mature person.
This approach in psychology can fairly be called 'holistic', meaning that it would aim at a consistent understanding of the person as a whole - objective and subjective, behavioural and intentional, or body and mind, as distinct from an aggregation of many and
limited aspects of personality and development resulting from a spread of specialized research results. Persons are assumed to be in some sense unitary living
beings acting in self-awareness who interact in society and who aspire towards its
mutual development. So-called 'holistic' thought necessarily involves self-reflection by the thinker
so as to include his or her assumptions and the influences that have engendered them, the better to draw the consequences of such understanding in personal practice.
THE REINSTITUTION OF PERENNIAL INSIGHTS
THE REINSTITUTION OF PERENNIAL INSIGHTS
A very widespread modern reaction against dogmatic morals and theology in the era of the Christian churches' domination of Western intellectual life led to empirical scientific psychology. The followers of this approach abolished most prior ideas of psychological nature by shifting all interest to the analysis of more and more specific and limited question to which some sort of empirical observation was feasible. In so far as knowledge had been accumulated throughout the world's cultures and religions in previous ages, most of this was discarded along with the teachings of Christian revelation and the more speculative metaphysical theories of Renaissance thinkers.
Though the trend towards naturalistic and empirical ideas was inevitable in the climate of wild and unrealistic dogmas that held sway in the European middle ages as a reaction to the dogmatic morals and theology in the era of the Christian churches' domination of Western life and thought, the main pendulum swung over to empirical scientific psychology. This occurred first in the natural sciences and later in humanistic studies, including psychology. This swing towards what we can observe with the senses reinstated much 'common sense' to dispel many a superstitious belief about almost every idea about the human organism, the nature of mind and what affects human behaviour. In the process (at first straying much towards the opposite extreme of strictly materialistic scientism in the shape of positivism and later towards a largely non-humanistic behaviourism) the figurative bath water was thrown out, but what about the baby? My contention is that 'the baby', represented by the personal self with its inner core of consciousness, was rather sidelined, ignored or unwittingly overlooked as a prerequisite and underpinning factor in psychology - if not also in most human science disciplines. There are difficulties because of the subjectivity of the personal self and its consciousness and its impenetrability to direct observation other than by the individual involved. This reserve also held back recognition of the importance of the interpersonal or 'inter subjective' sphere in so far as this was not meaningfully measurable in scientific terms. Social culture as lived in, understood and debated - whether through media, politics, literature and all avenues of opinion - was mistrusted as source material, being so multifarious and often too intangible to test, record or document reliably. The difficulties still exist, of course, but this fact does not detract from the importance of social culture as experienced (rather than as measured statistically etc.) in the understanding of society, social trends, problems and solutions.
The so-called 'world treasury of human wisdom' is so varied and extensive that a full account can hardly be expected. Much of it is tainted by mythology, superstition, religious speculation and contrivance, and traditional ignorance of the natural world and the real causes of most phenomena. Despite that, certain important features of human experience recur again and again in the history of culture which were not surprisingly ignored as suspect goods - neglected or discounted - by many psychologists. The experiences related to these traditions can undoubtedly be a source at least of stimulating insights and perspectives into the human psyche which deserve notice and further study. Not a few human experiences - often connected to animism, magic, extreme forms of 'spiritual' practices, induced trances, and paranormal phenomena have been rejected and even misdiagnosed as symptoms of mental illness. That many unexplained human conditions occur is undeniable and their nature and causes are not properly known, having become a much neglected aspect of psychology.
One must at the same time exclude sectarian excesses and the many and various historical and social distortions that have plagued all influential religions and ideologies. The discovery of what is essential and true among the many garbled and distorted versions of scripture and esoteric religions that abound in this day and age is no easy matter. Another reason for skepticism is the relative inability of religions based on strong traditions (and too often with a heavy ballast of assumptions and beliefs) to absorb and interpret new discoveries about human psychology which would require great modifications to their doctrines, at the least.
Any psychology seeking towards universal validity must benefit from the wide spectrum
of world literature including historical humanistic studies, biography, scripture
and philosophical ethics. Instead of narrowing down the approach to no more
than a secular or materialist view, it could surely only benefit from the study and evaluation by modern techniques and methods of teachings in
various cultures that have been with the human race in diverse forms of expression
since the dawn of history.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST'S DILEMMA
THE PSYCHOLOGIST'S DILEMMA
Modern psychologists who identify themselves as
scientific in approach have not - in the past half-century - often wished to
be professionally responsible for any explicit norms or seeking actively to
forward advice on life challenges or on practical moral principles. By contract, humanistic psychological practitioners have written many popular books which do so. While science aims only to investigate,
observe and demonstrate, scientists embrace amorality and tend to avoid discussing values, let alone any morally relevant advice. In their caution to appear as non-interfering
neutral observers (and hence somehow elevated beyond normal criticism),
most scientific psychologists have steered clear of anything like practically-intelligible teachings
in the interests of self-knowledge and of personal and social harmony. Recognizing the inevitable norm-setting functions
in society of all psychological thought this avoidance represents a failure. Grasping the horns and becoming involved in values is another step towards
becoming effective in understanding the consequences of incipient normlessness
so as to learn and provide useful solutions to the dilemmas of right living
and moral development.
Psychiatry and psychology are in great
demand due to the continuing escalation of psycho-social problems and mental
disturbances related to crime, violence, terror, drugs and widespread sexual
abuses. Even though these disciplines very seldom have reliable or far-reaching solutions to such problems, practitioners of these disciplines often unavoidably do fulfil legitimizing functions and varied professional
involvements and contacts with society, such as through law, diagnosis, therapy and more. These norm-setting activities are seldom made subject to examination or debate, except in some instances such as in prominent court cases where their opinions have been highly controversial due to the contentious nature of their disciplines when openly faced with major moral issues.
BROADENING OF PSYCHOLOGICAL VISION
BROADENING OF PSYCHOLOGICAL VISION
Mainstream developments in psychological studies in the West have largely failed to integrate that wider moral and intellectual framework to be found in world literature, spiritual writings and scriptures. The modern tradition in Western psychology which has best forwarded the study of the whole person is that of humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology studies human meaning, understanding, and experience involved in growing, learning, teaching and living. It emphasizes characteristics that are commonly shared by human beings such as love, care, anxiety, grief, and self-worth.
Due to the inexhaustible variety of life and the necessity of practicing in our own ways in order to learn properly, many types of experience and insight doubtless lie behind each person's way of understanding and living in the world. Each of us inevitably tries by ourselves to reach towards a greater experience or vision, developing selfhood through its many phases within the rich perspectives life offers. It would therefore probably be impossible for anyone to state logically in step-by-step fashion any single master method of understanding for and of everyone. Yet there surely are crucial differences in the progress of human understanding - whatever its particular subject and aim - depending on which guiding principles or doctrine one may (or may not) follow.
The aim should surely be to provide in widely understandable terms a frame of reference of sufficient scope to give room to numerous approaches towards understanding and realization of one's possibilities, not excluding fruitful researches and insights in Western spheres of thought.4 It can only be a plus that the profession includes an outlook informed by traditions obscured by misinterpretations and malpractice, yet which have been well-tried and not found at all wanting by their genuine practitioners. There are still few notable exceptions to the tendency to describe, diagnose and categorize people and their subjective experiences. Psychology should not retract from debunking purely speculative conjectures about the human make-up of the kind promoted in many of the varieties of Eastern-inspired psychology of a religious bent, which lay far too much weight on mystical states of 'expanded consciousness'. This includes fruitless rituals for 'self-realisation' and self-indulgent meditation or similar 'spiritual exercises' which show a limited understanding of the overriding importance of the practical moral and lifestyle prerequisites of unproblematic psycho-spiritual growth.
However broad any one person's experience may be, it will of course
always be limited when compared
to the sum of billions of different individuals' experience. This does not necessarily make it uninteresting or worthy of explanation, for
no science should deny and eliminate out-of-hand all subjective and specific cultural factors. Insights derived from personal experience may
provide the stimulus to discover unknown possibilities. Any philosophically-regulated psychology should remain open and experimental in the genuine sense, it not always being possible to apply controlled conditions, such as when one operates within the
confines of artificially-contrived circumstances (eg. in the laboratory)
instead of in 'interface' with life and society. Researches can have important
cumulative influences on people, which is unavoidable in that they actively engage
in influencing the very order of facts they study.
KEY PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGY
KEY PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGY
Every system of thought makes its start from certain assumptions. An assumption is an hypothesis which is untested. One cannot test or demonstrate the truth or falsity of one's starting point... not until its consequences are so fully explored as to be able to evaluate its likely validity/invalidity or judge its eventual fruitfulness as secure knowledge. Philosophy teaches us that every system of thought makes at least some very basic assumptions that are not proven to be either true or false. In other words, an assumption is a sort of belief or - at beast - a general hypothesis which cannot be tested directly but only through a great many researches which bear back upon it. Though one may be convinced that some system of thought is based on true axioms, until the axioms are proven without any possibility of doubt, they remain but assumptions.This cautionary teaching helps protect us against the dangers of rigid dogmatism and fanatical belief. However, the assumptions that underlie any system of ideas, must ultimately stand the test of truth (provided, of course, that they involve clear and definitive assertions). The danger of rigid faith in one's assumptions is that, if they should actually be false, this will bend much of what is built on them and lead to false conclusions. Wrong or fruitless assumptions will direct and distort some perceptions, even at a very basic level. The methods of selecting facts and ordering them determines the scope of our interpretation, thus affecting how we evaluate theories and also how we feel and act. So, one may ask, what is the best solution to the dilemma of having to make assumptions?
Some claim that a system will always rest on assumptions that can never be proven or unproven within that system, because this would involve fallacious 'circular proof'. Against this stands the view here, namely, that the assumptions adopted can themselves eventually be tested by external means... by drawing out the theory based on them until it shows itself incapable of explaining crucial established facts, redundant as to sufficient explanatory power and scope. The belief that only material is real and human beings (including mind & consciousness) can only be explained as such - is a basic assumption in science, and its contrary assumption - that everything is the creating of consciousness and that matter is a bi-product of mind - competes with science in the form of religion or 'spiritual belief'. The consequence of either position are so great and so much in conflict with one another, that the issue is not resolved, of course, even though the latter position has lost most of its ground within all prominent universities and successfully educated societies.
From time to time, theories based on unfruitful (i.e. mistaken) assumptions simply come to the limits of their lifetime, having run out of feasibility. This happens mostly because it ignores or suppresses, either wilfully or by default, to which its proponents take strong exception or which it ignores, misrepresents or distorts to fit the Procrustean bed of its assumptions. Pushing problems caused by faulty assumptions ahead of oneself then becomes an endless and futile task which also absorbs increasing research resources in terms of energy and finance. Theories which are failing tend to become extremely complex, over-detailed and abstruse... too far removed from practical or human concerns. Science has economy of thought and explanation as its watchword, Occam's razor.
One of the most criticized aspects of much has been the various types of 'reductionism' it employs to try to account for one type of phenomenon by transforming it intellectually into another type to suit a methodology which is as demanding as that of physics. This has been attacked as distortion of the human reality rather than a reasonable way of determining causes. Human motives are 'reduced' to caused physical phenomena, values are disregarded as 'immaterial' and so on. This reductionism does, however, have a valid role in some studies, but cannot be a model for what we call 'human understanding' as a faculty which includes, but is not limited to, causal explanation on a strict model. become causes. To wish to explain everything from physical causes or, for that matter, in terms of only of psychological theory (Freudianism as one relevant model) is a form of absolutism to be avoided at all costs. This has too often taken place in 20th century 'sciences of man', from economics ('economism'), history ('historicism') sociology ('sociologism') and not least biology ('biologism') whereby one would interpret all phenomena of whatever kind in terms of one's distinct theoretical scientific theory.
Which psychological ideas may be fruitful on the personal and social levels is not a neutral and theoretical issue divorced from our concerns in living life, from moral issues in life and up to questions of human purpose. The relative value of opposing and deep-rooted assumptions can be judged only with major effort based on wide experience, broad knowledge, keen analysis and deep self-reflection. In the present outline of the higher psychology, certain vital assumptions therefore are necessarily examined and some which promise to be fruitful for the further development of human understanding are outlined and discussed.
3. Limiting research to following scientistic
assumptions for a variety of extra-scientific reasons results in results largely irrelevant to the 'man in the street' as individual persons. Partly too, the aims of researches that can command
finance are frequently steered by extra-scientific needs and interests.
All too commonly the human sciences try to analyse human beings and
their societies from an academic or theoretical standpoint without any overall guiding principles as to usefulness and public demand for answers.
4Psychological knowledge in most academic communities consists in vast collections of disparate sets of data that tend to favour now the likelihood of some general hypotheses and now to weaken others. The requirements of strict science, such as testability and reproducibility of generalisations, have most seldom been fulfilled in notable psychological studies (except occasionally those in the laboratory experimental field, whose interests are much closer to psycho-physiology than to psychology in the proper sense). No unitary and overall working theory - comparable say to relativity - exists in scientific psychology- Virtually all branches and schools of modern psychology having semi-paradigms and exist largely in mutually-insulated branches of research and administration.