Human Beings Make Sense of Things in Essay

  • Length: 12 pages
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  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #29364579

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Human Beings Make Sense of Things

In the early-1900s, Edmund Husserl sought to provide psychology with a truly scientific basis, not by copying the physical sciences but through the description of conscious experiences. This would be a truly humanistic psychology, grounded in human life and experience rather than materialistic and mechanistic theories like functionalism and behaviorism. Karl Jaspers called for a psychology that would describe phenomena such as "hallucinations, delusions, dreams, expressions, motor activity, and gestures" for the "person as a whole" (Churchill and Wertz, 2001, p. 247). This holistic or Gestalt psychology is dedicated to the search for the authentic self, and to heal the "hollow' men and women of our time who have lost touch with themselves" (Churchill and Wertz, p. 248). Intentionality is one of the key assumptions of phenomenological psychology in which "experience must be grasped holistically and a relationship in which the subject relates to the object through its meaning" (Churchill and Wertz, p. 249). For example, water is a drink to a thirsty person, but has another meaning for someone about to go swimming or wash the dishes, so consciousness is never separate from an object or thing. Thinking, feeling, remembering, imagining and hoping are all intentional experiences, and phenomenology insists that subject and object are always connected, and that the nature of existence is monism rather than dualism.

Phenomenologists criticized depth psychology and its Cartesian dualism, which has existed for centuries while the world has become worse. James Hillman called for a new type of psychology based on Platonic Idealism, centered on a belief in the World Soul or Anima Mundi that rejected the Enlightenment and its "mechanistic explanations of nature" (Sipiora, 2000, p. 64). Anima Mundi is "that particular soul spark, that seminal image, which refers itself through each thing inn its visible form," like a Jungian archetype or the collective unconscious (Sipiora, 2000, p. 65). Phenomenology did not go far enough in recognizing the existence of the soul or the imagination, in which all reality is symbolic and metaphorical. This has much in common with Heidegger's hermeneutic psychology, whose purpose is to uncover the hidden meaning of existence or Being. Meaning come from the imagination or a "fantasy-image," and the Dasein is a world where human beings orient themselves, encounter others and deal with things (Sipiora, 200, p. 69). Rollo May found that there were "serious gaps" in modern psychology and psychiatry, and that patients were seen as mere "projections" of our own theories" (May, 1958. p. 1). He was skeptical of Freudian constructs like the libido and censor, and remarked that "the unconscious ideas of the patient are more than not the conscious ideas of the therapist" (May, p. 3).

In 1955, Heidegger argued that the increase in thoughtlessness was one of the symptoms of modern life, and that it was actually a deliberate escape from thought. Only calculative thinking was prospering, along with the increased use of machines and computers, and "calculative thinking is not meditative thinking, not thinking which contemplates the meaning which reigns in everything that is" (Heidegger, 1955, p. 89). Humans are thinking and meditating beings, which should not be regarded as mystical mumbo-jumbo but a statement about the identity of authentic persons. Nor was meditative thinking encouraged by the flood of words and images from movies, television, radio and magazines, all the "modern techniques of communication" that "stimulate, assail, and drive man" (Heidegger, 1955, p. 90). These are superficial and reflect a loss of rootedness in modern, urban society, where the masses no longer give any thought to the heavens and the spirit, but only "planning and calculation…organization and automation" (Heidegger, 1955, p. 90). Even nuclear energy promised to lead to a happier human life in the atomic age, of which Heidegger was highly skeptical. Humanity had lost the ability to think in ways that had "enabled modern technology to discover and set free new energies in nature," and instead regarded the earth as a big gas station and a thing to be exploited (Heidegger, 1955, p. 91). This was the final result of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th Centuries that reduced the earth to a thing, and indeed the entire universe, given that humans would soon be moving into space. Because of this type of thinking, "technological advance with move faster and can never be stopped," but this machine will no longer be under human control (Heidegger, 1955, p. 92). Meditative thinking, on the other hand, had become so alien and unfamiliar that it required that "we engage…with what at first sight does not go together at all" (Heidegger, 1955, p. 93). Humanity needed to develop a real and inner core that was not enslaved to technical devices, so it would not be dominated by machines. Meditative thinking also required a search for hidden meanings in the world of technology and machines, and a "releasement toward things and openness to the mystery," so that humanity could dwell in the world in a new way (Heidegger, 1955, p. 94). If this did not happen, then calculative thinking would eventually become the only type of thinking.

Existentialist psychotherapy was a protest against the suppositions and assumptions of both Freudians and behaviorists. In the United States, psychology has always been most successful in "behavioristic, clinical, and applied areas," but almost all of its theoretical foundations had come from Europe (May, p. 7). American psychology was based on the pragmatism and empiricism of John Locke, as opposed to the Continental tradition of Kant and Leibnitz, which had a stronger theoretical and philosophical basis. In short the U.S. was always a "nation of practitioners" and therefore had great difficulty comprehending existentialism. It seemed too much like a bohemian philosophy of Left Bank cafes in Paris, combined with Germanic nihilism and irrationalism, and "a philosophy od despair advocating suicide." Jean Paul Sartre represented existentialism for most Americans, even though he was only "a nihilistic, subjective extreme." In its mainstream form, however, existentialism was attempting to follow in the tradition of Socrates and many other philosophers who unified both subject and object and understood human beings in their social, historical and cultural contexts (May, p. 9). Individual behavior can be "understood only in the context of the structure of the existence of the person we are dealing with" (May, p. 37). In Old English, the terms knowing and loving were closely related, and in existential psychotherapy there is "at least a readiness to love the other person, broadly speaking, if one is to be able to understand him" (May, p. 39).

Existentialism is not simply mysticism or idealism, but the attempt to recognize of the non-rational, non-mathematical aspects of human existence. In the modern West, the person has been reduced to an "abstraction" that survives in a state of loneliness and isolation. In Heidegger's Dasein ("being-there) therapy, human persons are made conscience of their own existence but also of death and the fact that they are in a dialectal relationship with "non-being, death" (May, p. 42). This experience is the basis for treatment, which always involves a sense of relatedness to the world. Dasein therapy is not simply transference to the therapist nor is it the "introjection of social and ethical norms" or "rigid moralism" (May. p. 45). On the contrary, the heart of existentialist psychology is developing a personal sense of authenticity and integrity, and making choices on this basis. These should not be the choices or others or of the superego, and self-esteem should not rest on validation from the outside. Even Freud regarded the ego as "a relatively weak, shadowy, passive, and derived agent," under the control of the Id, superego and external world (May, p. 46). Modern ideologies like fascism and communism also regarded the individual are passive and under the control of external forces. Existentialists and phenomenologists maintained that the sense of being included both the conscious and unconscious, and their relations with the external world. Sense of being means "my capacity to see myself as a being in the world" and this can be diminished by "conformist tendencies" (May, p. 47). It also means awareness of death on non-being as an inevitability, but the central existential question is how the person "relates to the fact of death," which indeed is also essential in giving meaning to life (May, p. 49).

Anxiety is also a fundamental aspect of being in the modern world, not only for psychotics and neurotics but as a normal aspect of life. In fact, the English world anxiety is not adequate to convey the meaning of the German word Angst, which could also be translated as existential dread, terror or a threat to existence. Indeed, the entire 20th Century could be described as an era of chronic Angst. Guilt is also an "ontological characteristic of human existence," caused by living an inauthentic life and not making genuine choices but simply conforming to society. Of this, the patient is guilty, not in the trivial sense of…

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