What the human psyche is, and how it is constituted, are keys to understanding how we develop or fail to do so. This is closely tied to the question as to what common human 'nature' consists in. In its most primary or direct form the question is 'who am I?'. The same question is somehow or other at at least some times posed by all persons.

The truth or helpfulness of any answers to these related questions will depend upon both the depth of understanding and the inclusivness of the approach. Firstly, there is the question of the existence of a psyche, other than as an idea, a mental construct. There is no empirical evidence for there being any entity that exists independently of the psycho-physical organism, even though this is a deep-seated belief with a long pre-history, going back to Classical Greek thought and beyond to Indian religion.

Theories reflect and record different levels of personality development, some concentrating on the more apparent and common features and thus having less scope. Some omit anything that is not tangible, physically observable or measurable, while others take account of and lay emphasis on less tangible aspects of humanity, such as the values, conceptions of life and one's part in it, the purposes and the goals that characterise what is often called 'the psyche' and its ethical, philosophical, altruistic or selfless ideals. The human psyche is obviously no fixed entity, for growth would be excluded were it so, nor are its full potentialities yet actualised in the great majority of people. The human psyche is itself the result of the process of ever-changing evolution of species.

Psychological theories that interpret human behaviour mainly as controlled by instinctual survival urges such as sexuality, acquisitiveness, personal power or ego-growth can obtain very much precise factual detail from observations. But this by no means guarantees inclusiveness or understanding of what must be called 'higher' human motivations. This is not to deny the validity or relative usefulness of theories dealing with the less sublimated stages of development and mis-development, as long as they do not serve to stunt human evolution towards higher things or to conceal the fact of these potentials.

There is doubtless no one system of thought that accurately captures the whole of the human psyche in all its forms of development or degeneration. No generalized psychology can do full justice to all the apparently limitless experiences and capacities known to human beings, no more than one language can express all the nuances of meaning developed in all other languages. While some theories in modern psychology are doubtless almost wholly distorting and often quite false, others are only partly misleading, but almost all are lacking in secure knowledge of the highest human potential. Those which contain observable facts or theoretical truth are also most often partial or biassed to some extent in that their scope is not entirely universal. In choosing which overall framework or paradigm to work from, we must take account of the crucial human ability to obtain self-knowledge and effect self-transformation through the transcendence of existing conditions.


The very widespread confusion and vagueness of psychological language - and words relation to the subject in ordinary language - is a major problem to deal with. A Babel of ordinary words and technical jargon prevails both among laymen and 'experts' who write about psychology, especially with words like 'ego', 'self', 'psyche', 'mind', 'projection' etc. All degrees of vagueness, overlapping and incompatibility occur. The same key words can stand for different and even quite opposite meanings, often because of a veritable catalogue of different senses and definitions that the same words have been given through the ages by thinkers of apparently every conceivable standpoint. There is often little agreement on key terms even within the various schools of psychology. These are sometimes quasi-disagreements, due to terminological mix-ups and misinterpretations. But just as often, a real incompitibility of theories and/or facts on the subject causes the problem.

The uses of the words 'soul', 'psyche', 'person, 'personality' and 'character' cannot realistically be fixed in any exact and distinct manner without their becoming rather artificial. The word 'person', which is used in a broad sense in common language, is here taken to include both psyche and body, as the psycho-physical unity.

One wants as practical an understanding as possible of words, so some clarifications are important. We need the most inclusive, well-founded definitions of key terms. The faculties or phenomena to which words refer like 'intelligence', 'intellect', 'understanding', 'motivation', 'passion', 'soul' and so forth refer to inner experiences and qualities which, though not objects, are nevertheless objectively present somehow in our subjectively-experienced human make-up.

Where naturalistic psychology rejects the existence of soul and spirit, and see the words as representing false ideas, other psychological theories accept them as realities. These latter theories include a wide range of modern approaches, such as mentalism, Jungian analytic psychology, the 'diamond approach' of A.H. Almaas, transpersonal psychology and a range of newly-emerging spiritual belief systems. In addition to the ideas of many a philosopher, various versions of spiritism, mysticism and religious transcendentalism have been becoming more influential in psychological therapy and research projects. Several of these assume the existence of a variety of supra-sensory 'bodies' or 'envelopes', auric sheaths, chakras, various subtle energies, levels of consciousness and more besides. Without pronouncing on the truth or fruitfulness of such ideas here, it can be said that such phenomena are very largely not themselves observable in the sense of being registered by any of our five external sense organs. Therefore these concepts lend themselves to much abuse by dilettantes and charlatans. But it is essential to observe the absolute unavoidability of such conceptions in some form or another in any sensible and far-reaching discussion of human nature.

Even in ordinary conversation, words like spirit and soul are practically unavoidable. Were there nothing whatever at all corresponding to the word 'spirit', no spirituality could exist and the word would be meaningless. Yet, on almost any reasonable definition of the word, spirituality does exist - at least say, as something opposed to animality or brutishness and as something superior to normal human fallibility. The lives of known thinkers, artists, philosophers, and their works - bear witness to the prevalence of the idea of spirit. These well-known thinkers were often religiously influenced, taking spirit in the senses that it is intended in the Bible, the Vedas and many other scriptures and the theological literature to which they gave rise. Since no such entity as 'spirit' has been observed, located or measured in any way by any science, the word is used with care here, usually to refer to the 'human spirit' of compassion, enterprise, care, love, truth-seeking, self-sacrifice and so on, without implying that there exists some transcendental, invisible entity or entities which animate the human mind and will.

An interesting psychological fact is actually demonstrated by the Babel of meanings facing us. The understanding of a word or idea sometimes depends upon the level of one's personal development. Different uses of the words 'ego' and 'self' illustrate this fact. The ego is sometimes called 'the self' or 'the person', yet sometimes these are used to refer to quite other aspects of the human being, such as 'ego' meaning self-centeredness, egotistical behaviour, over-attachment to one's own achievements and the like. The ego is often identified both with body, physical needs and material possessions, but also with the mind or with mental desires and achievements. Depending of the meaning attached to the term 'ego', the 'struggle' to advance and strengthen it ego is seen either as a negative agenda of egotism, or as a positive psychic development. The same dualism in meaning applied to opposing meanings of the word 'self'.

The 'self' is usually thought of as being inextricably tied up with instincts, bodily needs and functions of self-protection and self-survival. At this biological level, the self and the ego are thought to be much the same 'thing'... as the psycho-physical organism. Those who profess to know of a 'higher self' (a spiritual self or the religious 'soul', inspired by a holy spirit etc.) see the former biological entity as a lower reality, the sum of possessive (i.e. literally 'selfish') behavioural instincts, behavioural patterns and binding attachments to one's own interests and close concerns. Since all ideas of a so-called 'higher' or 'invisible, eternal,' or 'divine' self are not supported by tangible evidence and cannot be verified as having existence by any amount of scientific research invisible, this philosophical psychology rejects this conception as empty and an unreliable belief structure for all purposes of life. The belief that religious observances, spiritual practices, yoga or other related disciplines can liberate one to become unified with the Higher Self, and so avoid all suffering, become entirely imperturbable, non-defensive, non-attached and in possession of openness of being and much more in that line is viewed here simply as a belief, not a known fact, and hence being unfruitful for learning about one's actual self and its possibilities. It follows that the belief in an afterlife or reincarnation is not here considered as relevant or helpful in human psychology.

There are many gradations of development and therefore there can be equally many gradations of the meanings of central ideas about the human personality. Were a psychologivcal survey of all human beings possible, it might discover that, on the average, the ill-balanced, poorly-socialised and unemancipated personality is in the majority. This sort of deprivation may describe the normal human psyche at an early or arrested stage of development. Though such may be widespread in a populace, such a finding, however empirical, cannot be allowed to determine the outline of the human whole which must equally include and account for the more developed, sophisticated and liberated aspects of humanity, if it is to have universal import as a psychology. The aim for universality and inclusive truth is - or should be - crucial to all psychological thought.

Life on earth is a process of evolution of which humanity is at the apex. Evidently, each human being progresses through life to reach one or another level of his or her potential, each starting from different circumstances and living under different conditions. The overall process of individual human development can be seen as a continuous spectrum, though sub-divided here and there in many ways by all manner of thin lines or bands, somewhat as the colour spectrum itself. Further, this applies as much to the degree of freedom (ability to exercise free will) as to any other consideration.

Seen from one end of the spectrum of development, human beings appear more as physical organisms having evolved minds for survival, while from the other end appearíng more as conscious beings aware of their lives, their history and the collective advances of humanity through societies and cultures. The physical side of human behaviour, communication and interaction is inseparably bound up with the inner, psychical aspects of our existence, which are the subject matter of memory, introspection and self-understanding. Without either, it is generally recognised that no normal or full human being. To avoid both the extremes of 'misplaced concreteness' or undue materialism and unrealistic idealisms or spiritual dilettantism, therefore, we regard the body, the mind and whatever we can call human spirit as integrated within one continuum.

Psyche is mostly used here to indicate the person, which means both a body (Greek -soma) and an inner, subjective aspect; the mind as far as it is distinct from the physical brain. It refers to the individual having an 'I-consciousness'. The 'personality'generally refers to a person's overall character at some level of development and integration of the personal faculties, qualities and values. The personality thus is the product of growth or more or less effective organisation of one's experiences and behaviour to fulfil the latent functions of the person.

It is well always to remember that neither psyche, ego, mind, intelligence or many similar words indicate distinct, fixed entities or qualities in the same way that words for well-known objects or physical characteristics do. Non-tangible experience which such words express are not well-known objects, but inner aspects of human subjects still represent reality.


To the question, 'what is the nature of the human being?', the common tripartite explanation of the overall human being as 'body, mind and spirit' is a potentially very misleading set. It suggests that body and mind are ontologically separate and that the 'Spirit' is itself a third entity over and above the former. Holistic thought insists that, whatever may correspond to these terms is necessarily a unity of which each only can refer to some aspect of the indivisible entity, the human being. This also implies that the Freudian concept of the unconscious as an independent and autonomous entity, cut off by the psyche from itself, like a guarded cellar beneath the structure of personality, is rejected as a static view of dynamic processes and thus as ontologically primitive. While subliminal activities, emotionally-conditioned repression and other 'unconscious' phenomena do occur, this does not require that an 'unconscious mind' thereby has positive existence. All ideas about the psyche and its faculties should sensibly be regarded for their potential 'regulative' and practical function rather than as a classification of divisible entities. They should regulate by bringing order to the particular mass of otherwise confused perceptions and thoughts so that useful results can be achieved in understanding, self-improvement and therapeutic healing or personal transformation. Again, such regulative ideas do not necessarily or usually correspond to any physically-observable entities. The bodily self to which we subscribe identity and possessions, as in 'my body' 'my limbs', 'my brain' etc. - and even simply call 'me' - is in many ways the instrument of the mind and the will, yet it has its own autonomous nature and metabolism to which the mind is subject. The mind is also often thought of as a possession of, and attachment to, the body. The acquisitive and possessive sense of 'mineness', which some call 'ego' or egotism', is closely related to bodily needs and desires, the mind being the medium through which its requirements are largely fulfilled. Both form different aspects of an unitary, organic system.

By 'psyche' people often refer to the multi-faceted form of being that we are, a psycho-physical being with its many aspects illumined in consciousness in such a way that it has a sufficient consistency and continuity of awareness to make it an integral unit. This integrity or unity of the psyche is what makes us persons. All persons are in some way unique, which makes them individual. Personal identity is a form of consciousness which can be more or less integrated, according to the manner of birth, growth, development and possible devolution of the psyche. The psyche, then, is the conscious individual who perceives him or herself to be distinct from the environment. The relationship between inner and outer experience, however, is extremely subtle and mercurial... because matter and mind are so deeply entwined in life, their effects cannot easily be distinguished from one another. The multiplicity and intricacy of relations between body and mind, and the enlivening life principle must not be underestimated through imposing stiff, artificial orderings on the overflowing richness of aspects that human life can exhibit. This task has occupied people since the dawn of history, with varying degrees of success and failure. Moreover, the human being is evidently not made up of separable substances that are each distinctly identifiable, as if we were all only physical and divisible like chemical composites.

That the human reality exceeds physicalistic theory can hardly be overemphasised, for human experience cannot be understood properly when reduced to physical terms alone, neglecting the subjective appearances given to consciousness. To see this one only has to think of the nature of such examples as sustained determination, years of patience, exceptional tolerance of others and of differences, depth of human insight and so on.

Modern science's methodology is based on physicalistic assumptions, often with a prevailing tendency to need to reduce everything to material measurements and terms. This can be seen in certain medical practices where the patient's experience and awareness are regarded as wholly irelevant to the diagnosis and treatment. Fotunately this is not the rule, or - if it is - there are many intellegent exceptions. This physicalistic outlook tends to make objects the only object of investigation, excluding subjects as conscious beings. As methodologyit is insufficient for getting at the nature of human understanding highly inadequate for psychology, which needs a dynamic approach that can move beyond mere bodily-related facts and phenomena. This way of thought has increasingly been discredited as an instrument of fruitful explanation of either psychological experience or psychic phenomena.

The static concepts of most psychology have to give way to dynamic perspectives. It is the nature of the human faculty of understanding to expand as if concentrically rather than merely trace series of cause-effect relations or categorise and compare traits, behaviour patterns etc. Likewise, the psyche's inherent potential is to develop and improve.

The ego, the mind and the 'I': People tend to identify the self sometimes with the body, sometimes with the mind, or some aspect of it. By the word 'mind' in ordinary speech we usually mean the product of the power of thought. It has the capacity both to perceive the world, and project itself towards the empathetic understanding of others, as well as conceive and invent new thoughts and even ground-breaking ideas. Further, it's scope and the likelihood of its perceptions being true or false is expanded through practical, scientific and speculative reason. The mind is capable of self-reflection, whereby - through direct intuition of self-apprehending consciousness it is not only capable of directing itself at will towards anything at all as its object, but also 'inwards'.

It is said in some religious theologies that what we call the 'I' is itself neither the body, the ego, the mind or even the individual soul. In its purest form, the 'I' is only a witnessing consciousness, even though it identifies itself successively with each level of our experience. This is a sophisticated but speculative theory with many supportive arguments as riders. Since it is esxclusively a rational and not at all an empirical way of explanation, it must remain hypothetical, though also untestable. Still, what some conceive as 'the pure 'I' is consciousness as direct experiencing, known for what it apparently is without any interposing feeling, reasoning or other medium. Since human being are conditioned from birth through instincts, experience and learning - as well as by disturbing influences like traumas, deprivations etc. - it is doubtful that such a 'pure I' can be wholly unaffected in its perceptions. Self-delusion occurs and the assumption that what we see, hear, touch etc. is known for what it is, is naive. The senses only supply us with a limited range of phenomena, not 'everything that is out there' before us.

The 'apparent facts of reality', of individuality and ego, are neither permanent immutable facts nor primary truths of human identity, even though they indeed seem real enough for the majority of humanity living in the world. Consciousness as the basis of the observing intelligence in everyone, can approach the stance of an independent witness of whatevert comes and goes within its sphere. In general, it mostly receives the 'imprints' of shifting events without becoming bound or unduly attached to them. Should it become bound, that is a psychic/cognitive disturbance called obsession.

The pure 'I' is consciousness as direct experiencing, known for what it is without any interposing feeling, reasoning or other medium. It is 'self-awareness', without thereby implying that there is any given entity or identity 'attached' in the form of a particular 'self' or 'ego'. Only in such self-awareness, for example, can the absolute certainty of a mathematical calculation or proof of a theorem be decided, and one more, this is provided that the person is trained in the procedures and has learned to apply them exactly.

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