link: psychology as function of culture

 

                                      PSYCHOLOGY AS A FUNCTION OF CULTURE: 'Cultural Psychology'

theme: Within different cultural contexts, cultural belief systems form the basis of cultural psychologies which in turn produce the social realities within different cultural contexts. A 'psychology' is a model of human nature originating within a given cultural context and its beliefs. The cultural beliefs become the premises upon which psychologies are built. Different psychologies are produced within the context of cultural belief systems. In this way the psychologies are consistent with cultural beliefs.

"Traditionally, psychologists and philosophers have tended to avoid defining the highest good for humanity, resorting to negative terms in defining 'health' as the absence of disease, and 'good' as the absence of 'evil'. Health by such a definition is only 'not sick'. Such a definition involves a number of assumptions and limitations. For example, it ignores the possibility that the healthy may display ways of being, modes and depths of experiencing, interests and motives that do not show up at all in pathology. Similarly the very healthy might not do some things that are so widespread in the remainder of the population that they have been accepted as universal and intrinsic to human nature. This raises the interesting question of whether the extremely psychologically healthy might not at times appear mysterious or bizarre to the rest of us. In other words, we must be wary of assuming that they will fit our cultural stereotypes of health or that we will easily and automatically recognize them for what they are". (Walsh)

 "Within the Western model, we recognize and define 'psychosis' as a suboptimal state of consciousness that views 'reality' in a distorted way and does not recognize that distortion. It is therefore significant to note that from the mystical perspective, our usual state fits all the criteria of psychosis in that it is suboptimal, has a distorted view of reality, and does not recognize that distortion. Indeed, from the ultimate mystical perspective, psychosis can be defined as being trapped or attached to, any one state of consciousness, which by itself is necessarily limited and only relatively 'real'." (Walsh Beyond Ego...)

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 Psychology as 'study of the psyche'...    history of psychology...   'normality is culturally defined...

  Western psychology...   Freud...

Eastern psychology: Buddhism...   difference between Eastern and Western psychologies... 

consciousness levels:  existential...   ego or 'personal'...   shadow...   mind or 'transpersonal'...

 modes of knowing...

life on the transpersonal level...

implications for education...

Psychology as 'study of the psyche'

History of psychology: Plato... Descartes...

  "One of the most powerful and influential images of the psyche is found in Plato's philosophy. In the Phaedrus the soul is pictured as a charioteer driving two horses, one representing the bodily passions and the other the higher emotions. This metaphor encapsulates the two approaches to consciousness - the biological and the spiritual - which have been pursued, without being reconciled, throughout Western philosophy and science. This conflict generated the 'mind-body problem' that is reflected in many schools of psychology, most notably in the conflict between the psychologies of Freud and Jung. In the seventeenth century, the mind-body problem was cast into the form that shaped the consequent development of Western scientific psychology. According to Descartes, mind and body belonged to two parallel but fundamentally different realms, each of which could be studied without reference to the other. The body was governed by mechanical laws, but the mind - or soul - was free and immortal. The soul was clearly and specifically identified with consciousness and could affect the body by interacting with it through the brain's pineal gland. Human emotions were seen as combinations of six elementary 'passions' and described in a semimechanical way. As far as knowledge and perception were concerned, Descartes believed that knowing was a primary function of human reason, that is, of the soul, which could take place independently of the brain. Clarity of concepts, which played such an important role in Descartes' philosophy and science, could not be derived from the confused performance of the senses but was the result of an innate cognitive disposition. Learning and experience merely provided the occasions for the manifestation of innate ideas." (Cartesian doctrine) (Capra Turning Point 166) 

 "Hobbes and Locke refuted Descartes' concept of innate ideas and maintained that there was nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses. At birth, the human mind was, in Locke's famous phrase, a 'tabula rasa', a blank tablet upon which ideas were imprinted through sensory perceptions. This notion served as the starting point for the mechanistic theory of knowledge, in which sensations were the basic elements of the mental realm and were combined into more complex structures by the process of association." (Capra Turning Point 167)

Western model of psychology depends on Western model of human nature:

 "The modern science of psychology was a result of nineteenth century developments in anatomy and physiology. Intensive studies of the brain and the nervous system established specific relations between mental functions and brain structures, clarified various functions of the nervous system, and brought detailed knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the sensory organs. As a result of these advances, the ingenious but naive mechanistic models outlined by Descartes were formulated in modern terms, and the Newtonian orientation of psychology became firmly established." (Capra The Turning Point 169)

 Freud lived at a time in which the prevailing trend of thought was to ascribe the peculiarities of one's culture to human nature in general. He was ignorant of today's knowledge of anthropology and sociology and so was unaware of the effect of cultural forces on the individual psyche. He did not recognize that psychology is a function of culture. Freudian psychology is based on the pessimistic view of human nature which was a part of the belief system of the culture in which he lived and worked. Freud accepted the traditional notion of the basic wickedness or 'evil' of human nature. He believed that the human individual is naturally antisocial with 'antisocial instincts'. Belief in the antisocial nature of the human individual became the premise upon which Freud built his psychology.

  "One trouble with classical science applied to psychology is that all it knows how to do well is to study people as objects, when what we need is to be able to study them also as subjects." (Maslow Psychology of Science p.54)

Eastern psychology... Buddhism and the Four Truths: The psychology of Buddhism outlines four truths in the prescription of mental training for the attainment of enlightenment. The first is the 'noble truth' that 'all life is imbued with suffering.' The other three truths show the way out of suffering. 'The cause of all suffering is attachment'; 'the relief of suffering comes from the cessation of attachment'; and 'the cessation of attachment comes from following the eightfold path of ethical living'.

Difference between Eastern and Western psychologies  The difference between the various psychologies lies in the degree of emphasis which is placed on the different levels. The Western psychology of behavioural science emphasizes the 'ego level' and the importance of conditioned learning. The Eastern psychology of the consciousness disciplines emphasizes the 'mind level' and the importance of altered states or 'meditation'.

 The various 'psychologies' are complementary, each representing a different perspective on the fundamental question 'what is human nature'?  Each psychology is based on a different model of human nature and its corresponding theory of human potential. The different psychologies differ in the degree of emphasis which they place on the various dimensions of the complex multidimensional human personality as a whole. Psychological 'normality' is culturally defined. A psychology represents a worldview or 'paradigm'.  Each psychology is based on a different model of the human personality or 'human nature' and its corresponding theory of human potential. A 'psychology' is a model of human nature originating within a given cultural context and its belief system.  The cultural belief systems become the premises upon which different psychologies are built. The different psychologies are products of different cultural belief systems and are therefore consistent with them.The various 'psychologies' are complementary, each representing a different perspective on the fundamental question 'what is the nature of our humanity 'human nature'?   Each psychology is based on a different model of human nature .The different psychologies differ in the degree of emphasis which they place on the various dimensions of the complex multidimensional human personality as a whole.

Cultural beliefs are formalized and they permeate the culture when the psychology is popularized. When the psychology is popularized a dynamic interplay is set up between the psychology and cultural beliefs which  permeate the culture as they are formalized by the psychology. The psychology becomes the  cultural world view or ''paradigm' which is shared by all members of the community. The paradigm is perpetuated and propagated in a socialization process of propaganda. If the resulting social reality coincides with culturally accepted behaviours validated by consensus then it is considered 'normative reality' or 'normal'. So-called normal behaviour is behaviour which is validated by consensus and becomes the arbitrarily conventional behaviour. In this way the psychology produced within the cultural context influences the culture.

A new vision of education emerges with the integration of Western behavioural psychology with Eastern consciousness discipline into a tranpersonal psychology.

The psychology of Buddhism outlines four truths in the prescription of mental training for the attainment of enlightenment. The first is the 'noble truth' that 'all life is imbued with suffering.' The other three truths show the way out of suffering. 'The cause of all suffering is attachment'; 'the relief of suffering comes from the cessation of attachment'; and 'the cessation of attachment comes from following the eightfold path of ethical living'.

 

 Most cultural traditions acknowledge a wide spectrum or range of consciousness states or 'levels'.  The difference between the various psychologies lies in the degree of emphasis which is placed on the different levels.

Ego level The 'ego level' represents the state of mind and body separation and the individual's identification with a self-image. The ego level and the importance of conditioned learning is emphasized in Western psychology of behavioural science or 'behaviourism'

. The Western psychology of behavioural science emphasizes the 'ego level' and the importance of conditioned learning.

 Shadow level  The 'shadow level' represents those facets of the personality which are not accepted at the 'ego level'.

Existential levelThe 'existential level' represents the level of identity as a psychophysical organism existing in space and time. The existential level which is influenced by the familial and cultural context of the individual's experience is the source of rational thought processes and personal will.

 The different levels of consciousness are also known as 'modes of knowing'.

 

 Mind level or 'transpersonal level' The higher state or 'mind level' represents the innermost consciousness or 'supreme identity' of humanness. The mind level represents the transpersonal dimension of human consciousness. The 'mind level' and the importance of altered states or 'meditation' is emphasized by the Eastern psychologies of the consciousness disciplines.

Life on the transpersonal level of consciousness All human individuals have the capacity to transcend the limits of social conditioning and to take responsibility for designing their lives in harmony with themselves, with others and with nature. This is clear to those who commit themselves to the self-exploration and the self-knowledge which is necessary for direct experience of the deeper nature of their being. When the individual lives on the transpersonal level of consciousness, life is experienced as an unbroken pattern of interconnection with all of life. The person's conscious and direct engagement with life extends from the details of daily existence to the largest scale features of cosmic existence. Living on the transpersonal level makes it impossible to escape from worldly responsibilities.

 All individuals in all cultures have the potential for expressing the different levels of consciousness. They all share the instinctive striving to attain awareness on the transpersonal level of consciousnes i.e. 'happiness'.

The levels are similar across different human societies and cultures. It is the way in which they are perceived - the 'societal perception' - which varies from one culture to another.

 Each of the modes of knowing has a different function but whether or not that function is recognized depends on the norms of the culture. Whether a given level is appropriate in a given social situation depends on existent cultural norms and whether they fit with the accepted cultural psychology. It is the cultural norms which determine people's state of awareness and their perception of reality and human nature.

All human individuals have the capacity to transcend the limits of social conditioning and to take responsibility for designing their lives in harmony with themselves, with others and with nature. This is clear to those who commit themselves to the self-exploration and the self-knowledge which is necessary for direct experience of the deeper nature of their being. When the individual lives on the transpersonal level of consciousness, life is experienced as an unbroken pattern of interconnection with all of life. The person's conscious and direct engagement with life extends from the details of daily existence to the largest scale features of cosmic existence. Living on the transpersonal level makes it impossible to escape from worldly responsibilities. In the new paradigm, the task of education as is to bring one's life and its diverse expression, into increasingly conscious and harmonious alignment with the changing web of relationships of which one is an inseparable part.

Each level produces its way of thinking or 'mode of knowing'  

Each of the different  levels of expression of the human consciousness produces its modes of knowing... i.e. 'knowledge'.

Each involves the functioning of the entire brain but with a different part dominating. Each of the modes of knowing has a different function but whether or not that function is recognized depends on the norms of the culture. Whether a given level is appropriate in a given social situation depends on existent cultural norms and whether they fit with the accepted cultural psychology. It is the cultural norms which determine people's state of awareness and their perception of reality and the nature of humanity or 'human nature'.

 An individual's level of consciousness or 'state of awareness' determines their sense of identity or 'self'. The mind's perception of self determines its thinking about itself and its perception of the social reality. The levels are similar across different human societies and cultures. It is the way in which they are perceived - the 'societal perception' - which varies from one culture to another. Each of the modes of knowing has a different function but whether or not that function is recognized depends on the norms of the culture. Whether a given level is appropriate in a given social situation depends on existent cultural norms and whether they fit with the accepted cultural psychology. It is the cultural norms which determine people's state of awareness and their perception of reality and human nature. All individuals in all cultures have the potential for expressing the different levels of consciousness. They all share the instinctive striving to attain awareness on the transpersonal level of consciousnes i.e. happiness. The difference between the various psychologies lies in the degree of emphasis which is placed on the different levels. The Western psychology of behavioural science emphasizes the 'ego level' and the importance of conditioned learning. The Eastern psychology of the consciousness disciplines emphasizes the 'mind level' and the importance of altered states or 'meditation'. The various 'psychologies' are complementary, each representing a different perspective on the fundamental question 'what is human nature'? (human nature) Each psychology is based on a different model of human nature and its corresponding theory of human potential. The different psychologies differ in the degree of emphasis which they place on the various dimensions of the complex multidimensional human personality as a whole.

Implications for education  

Traditional education is based on the paradigm of behavioural psychology which emphasizes conditioned learning or 'conditioning'... and indoctrination. A new vision of education emerges with the integration of Western behavioural psychology with Eastern consciousness disciplines i.e. 'tranpersonal psychology'. In the new paradigm, education is concerned with all aspects of human experience, inner experience as well as outer, transpersonal experience as well as personal... the task of education as is to bring one's life and its diverse expression, into increasingly conscious and harmonious alignment with the changing web of relationships of which one is an inseparable part... holistic education.

 

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References

Ram Dass. *Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook. 1978*