As was described, we have intuitions about the physical world that can be clarified with reference to objects: there are types of objects or object classes, wholes and parts, mutually exclusive positions, object interactions, persistences of structural integrity, larger objects forcing smaller ones to move, and substances conceived as in a state of perpetual stability or a state of perpetual motion. We also have sometimes suspect tendencies: reifying analogies and metaphors, ascribing animation and agency to mysterious motion, presuming the necessity of origin, supposing the verity of oral narrative, reverence for ancestry, naive belief in the fidelity of dreams, and conviction that fate is deserved.
Whether or not our assessments are accurate or illusion in any particular case, all of this exists in a matrix of space, and reasoning instincts consist in our minds bonding the contents of spatiality together in various ways, linking events within a medium of perceived unity and adjacency. Our own form of this is not a condition of all possible experience, but is species specific or rather brain specific, thinking of ‘brain’ as a rough stand-in for the concept of cognitive apparatus without assuming anything definitive about the mind’s structure and function, for neuroscience is still provisional, in development from a relatively crude stage compared to what its reach might be in say a hundred years; obviously much of our mental capability remains unexplained.
We realize this is true by observing our buddies the housecats, who see us move objects with our hands but do not always perceive by direct inspection that the hand is connected to the arm, which is connected to the shoulder, which is connected to you; this is even more true of objects we are holding, and the closer an object looks to a mouse’s tail the more convincing illusion of disjunct is to a feline. When a cat gingerly reaches for something unfamiliar with a forelimb it often paws at the item rather than holding with a sure grip; its grasping is centered around the jaws, mouth and teeth, with some pouncing aptitude thrown in, so even self-awareness and some awareness of the intentions of others do not grant an intuition of hands. From sudden movements or the close proximity of our extremities they can infer intention, basically “figuring it out”, but also make the mistake of scratching or nipping without meaning to inflict harm on us. They perceive space, but the causality within that space uniting its elements differs from ours.
Similarly, we have a sense for historical accuracy far exceeding the beliefs of hunter-gatherer ancestors, methods of concept formation that upgrade our integration of happenings into a more sophisticated framework of technical causes, but issues such as negative effects of fossil fuel emissions on the atmosphere still elude our intuitions of causality in space, even when we view both the vehicle exhaust and smog, though we can infer the truth and possible solutions during our most lucid moments: perhaps a global carbon tax could counteract the problem, instituting of which would probably be one of the most herculean tasks the human species has ever aspired to. Like housecats observing our limbs, it pushes the limits of what our minds can handle.
Our intuitions of the physical world, to the extent that they are spatial, perform an assessment of proportionalities that are a kind of sense-perceptual relativity, and they can be divided into types of proportion: relative size, rigidity, balance, intermingling, movement, resistance. As these proportions have been examined ever more deliberately during successive eras of humanity, we acquired increasingly integrated conceptualizings of their structural nature, proceeding to systematic generalizations such as action, reaction, impedance and equilibrium. Space as a substrate of conception has become not merely static intuition about permanent tangibilities, but further a progressive hypothesizing of dynamic interrelatedness within and between even apparently stable substances, including some that had formerly been regarded as immutable, like the cosmos. This materialist insight that posits substance as in flux, the ‘becoming’ of ‘being’, facilitates mechanistic comprehensions of reality as a congregate of coordinated parts acting, reacting, cycling or obstructing in simultaneity. Thus, a trend towards more potent conceiving of perceptual relativities spurred arrival of mechanistic relativities organized into synthetic contexts of causality with parameters formulated as laws of nature.
Principles of the natural world take different forms depending on the investigative and experimental contexts under consideration. Some hold in all known cases, ranging towards theoretical proposals permitting alternatives or with explanatory gaps, all the way to the most hypothetical speculations that, even though they are useful ideas to guide research, are either untestable to this point or inconclusive. Similar to basic sense-perception and derivative conceptualizings, the theoretical modeling of natural principles also consists in relativities, but these proportions are not always intrinsic to phenomena themselves, rather being structural or mechanismal images we project onto observations in a technicalizing process partly determined by cultural priorities, a stark contrast to the more asocial and unreflective spontaneity of naked sensing. Theoretical structures are in many cases based on synthesis of data sets, a mathematical reasoning out of which approximate trends and statistical correlations become apparent, feeding back into the modeling imagery and impelling us to modify, augment or accept it as our thinking and data collection unfold.
The images and abstraction we employ to model data are essentially spatial, consisting of basic elements – shapes and sequences – mixed and matched into hybrid structures. Basic models trace the form of data sets directly, often with simple implications such as ratios of atoms in compounds and molecules, quantities of electromagnetic or heat radiation, durations of chemical reactions, or distances travelled by projectiles. Higher order models can be considered those that are not in direct contact with sense-perceptual spatiality, but which synthesize intermediate conceptual relativities. Some higher order models are the periodic table of the elements in chemistry, Boyle’s ideal gas law, and E=mc2: paradigms for metaorganization or abstract formulas, with diverse degrees of generality. Their very core is often mechanistic, with ancillary contribution from naked stream of consciousness, as for instance direct and inverse correlations, averages with deviations regarded as negligible, patterns viewed as by some standard identical or analogizable, and similar ideas. We infuse dimensional proportionality, the sense-perceptual matrix of our world, back into environments as precision structures hybridized via abstract inference, which makes information processing and problem-solving more intuitive in such a way that technical facility is increased, but submerges to implicitness or even unconsciousness the foundations of theory in tangible substance.
Thus a rift has developed between basic intuition of patterns in perception on one side, and conceptual inference with its snowballing amount of functionality and meaning that is leaving these intuitions in the dust on the other, a gap only uncommon philosophical reflection bridges. Modern knowledge has drifted away from the basics of nature, as an almost inscrutable tangle of commitments, though it reaches colossal heights by way of intricate and diverse generalization.
The chasm separating nature from meaning cannot be dismissed as trivial, for this is intrinsic to the total structure of conceived reality and our judgements about it. Technological tradition has transitioned from close contact with the innate as in prehistoric practices, to rapid innovations that are unprecedented for Earth’s ecosystems and our societies, surpassing communal necessities amongst immediate acquaintances to become responsibility for a potentially boundless future of logistical travails and possible suffering throughout the world. Our actions are inseparable from the prospects of all humanity at levels that might induce one to shrink away in horror, far beyond personal fate. Billions are bound together by mechanisms, theories, an objective culture upon which everyone’s way of life depends.
One of the simplest examples of a theoretical model is the hierarchy of needs put together by Abraham Maslow. It is a pyramidal design with five successive levels, the bottom one labeled with physiological needs of human beings, ascending to the somewhat more demanding need for safety, then sublimated needs for love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Narrowing width of each category as the diagram approaches its apex conveys the relative rarity of achievement, with each higher level supported by lower levels that must first be reached before greater sublimations can take place, in that order. It captures the nature of cultural life in a way summing everything from hunter-gatherer existence to the Information Age, encapsulating decades of research and forming a pillar of sociology’s picturing of the world, just as John Dalton’s tenets of atomic theory, which everyone learns in American schools, accomplished for chemistry.
This model deals with the subjectivity of intention and is not quantifiable, nor would there be much reason to make the attempt; it is an image with a particular shape, but not one that involves precision measurement. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a generalization that synthesizes a wide swath of knowledge, directs the observer’s thought, and postulates a framework of principles, but is not meant for prediction of every instance of fact it draws from. It does not dictate anything specific about moment by moment practices of counselors for instance; only specific research projects that the hierarchy is based on can manage that. One could probably consider it a pedagogical tool more than a technical criterion for procedures, though it is innovative and founded on accurate observations.
Sigmund Freud’s theory of the tripartite psyche is also a qualitative model, but goes further in deriving particular objects, namely those of mental structure, claiming to be actual – functionally and justifiably reified (though admitting of progressive revision) – rather than solely a descriptive tool for clarifying thought as in the needs hierarchy. We can assert that Maslow’s model is a way of looking at society, while Freud’s is presumed to be the psyche itself, as if it were composed of three units analogous to atomic elements. These two models are both based on empirical analysis, but Freud’s has discovered something while Maslow’s has only defined; Freud’s is a theory of structure and Maslow’s a method of conceiving. Freud would perhaps claim that his phenomenon of psyche is lodged in the brain, akin to physical reality, while Maslow’s is fundamentally a way of looking at culture, with the act of looking being primary.
The hierarchy of needs can be reduced to phenomena that have no resemblance to it, like a theory proposing some general form descriptive of a species’ subsistence, a lifecycle diagram for instance, incorporating key characteristics of structure and activity in its formulation but by no means establishing anything foundational in its causality, such as some new detail of biochemistry, whereas Freud’s theoretical psyche is like the organisms themselves. Maslow’s model is of course based on a vast assortment of sociological particulars, but is more of a metatheory than directly addressed to substance, generalizing what we already know so as to bring it into clearer focus, though like modeling of the psyche it has conceptual form: Maslow’s image is a simple pyramid, and Freud’s is a set of three disembodied patterns – repetitive structures or ‘recurrences’ – he discerned as common to his records, extracted and generalized from specific patterns of individual case studies with patients, but again present as the psyche itself, tangible as organs of the brain.
Freud’s model of the psyche consists in three layers corresponding to successively more civilized function. The ‘id’ is base psychical instinct, centered around the sex drive and its supposed manifestation in behavior. The ‘ego’ is our intentional self that consummates needs of the id by reasoning from goals to their realization and projecting a personality, allowing the individual to deal with practical concerns. The ‘superego’ is our social consciousness, the sense we have for what is ethical in cultural contexts, enabling the ego to navigate institutions with appropriate approaches.
Freud’s theories have caught a lot of flak for interpreting ambiguous phenomena as submerged sexuality, including childhood behavior, but it was plausible as an initial supposition, for reproduction intuitively seems to be the core behavioral function, and ‘rapport’ – patient/psychoanalyst relationship – with it’s complicating of objectivity via the dynamics of psychoanalytic communication had not been studied. Still, the concept that any behavior can be unconscious in a distinctly human way as opposed to animalistic or demonic was huge advance and a forerunner of neuroscientific concepts viewing the psyche as physiological modularity with arational division of labor.
There are theories that can be considered intermediate between Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Freud’s model of the psyche. A simple example is provided by Freud himself in his psychosocial stages of early childhood development, oral and anal, periods of maturation during which the kinds of interactions with caregivers are a factor in whether or not a child ends up neurotic as an adult. The most well-known instance, famous as pejorative slang, is ‘anal retentive’ or ‘anal’ for short, when strict and guilt-inducing toilet training results in obsessive concern with cleanliness and order later in life. To utilize our species conceit, Freud’s model of anal retentiveness is like theoretical description of a growth phase in an individual organism, whereas Maslow’s social model is like a very approximate image of change in entire populations, and again Freud’s model of the psyche is like the individual organism itself. Models of specific data-sourcing are nested within more generalized ones of broader but less precise application, and we can zoom in and out in an often fluid way to focus on information we find most relevant.
Despite connectedness between general and specific models, there are major disjunctions, divisions that stretch throughout the entire structure of the episteme. These are the levels of what is called ’emergence’, modeling contexts that all of course describe and predict the same natural environment we call ‘physical’, but which operate in accordance with different principles because of discrepancies in content, scale or complexity.
Subatomic physics is the ‘lowest’ level of emergence, smallest in terms of particularity; it consists in unintuitive, ‘quantum’ phenomena such as the spontaneous disappearance and appearance of photons, particles synchronized in “spooky action at a distance”, matter spread out diffusely as a wave, and more oddities. The next level is thermodynamic chemistry, trillions upon trillions of atoms colliding as well as combining in compounds and molecules. Organic chemistry is the next level, bioactive matter sustaining its greater organization by harnessing a mixture of thermodynamic and quantum processes to support metabolism and reproduction. Intraplanetary or ‘classical’ physics is next, force phenomena that function on a more macroscopic level in both inorganic and organic chemistry, flirting with a planet’s gravity to drive mechanisms by kinetic and potential energy differentials in what is called material ‘work’. Currently, the highest level is interplanetary, galactic physics, directed towards solar systems and galaxies equal in unintuitiveness to the quantum level, comprised of phenomena such as the bending and morphing of energy sources by superdense black holes and across vast distances within which even light speed is relatively slow. Psychology and sociology, what could be called theories of intentionality, free float in their midst, incorporating facts and structural paradigms of multiple levels to definitionalize the mental as mechanism.
Classical physics is by far the most intuitive level of emergence, with content based on unaided sense-perception, and was the first to be rendered in the form of natural laws. Thermodynamic chemistry followed closely on its heels, then organic chemistry after that as an extension. Psychology and sociology were roughly coeval with the rise of organic chemistry, as parallel life sciences. And quantum and galactic physics, the very small and very large, are still in their early stages, though much progress is being made.
Models not only fall into one of these six categories of emergence, but also mutate into novel forms as knowledge advances; to illustrate this, we can return to psychology. Carl Jung’s philosophy delved deeper into the psyche, exceeding analysis of basic drives and their socialization in relationships to look for the roots of conception, an unconscious structure within reason itself. One of his contributions was a concept of the ‘collective unconscious’ composed of ‘archetypes’, mental imagery and social roles that were postulated as having innateness due to formative conditions of prehistoric culture that fashioned the trait profile of our species’ cognition. He wrote that when one’s ‘persona’, the ego’s assortment of socialized tendencies, breaks down with severity as in schizophrenia, underlying archetypes are given greater influence on thought and behavior, so that a manifestation of primordial mental imagery and archaic beliefs about oneself and the world occurs, as evidenced by actions and experiences of afflicted individuals, such as the drawing of mandalalike shapes or the onset of delusions that one is a prophet.
He pointed out parallels between schizophrenia’s symptomatology and motifs in ancient myths of hunter-gatherer tribes as well as those from the dawn of civilization. Jung noted the same material in dream symbolism of virtually normal but stressed personas as their unconscious, while unconstrained by the logical thinking of waking life in modern civilization, tries to work its way through some social pressure or life transition, a process the analyst can ideally assist. This could be considered the first effort to express an evolutionary dimension of the unconscious in theory together with a stab at the topic of conceptualizing instinct, an examination of unintuitive features which contribute to activity of the reasoning mind.
As Jung conceded, data available at the time of his authorship was scant, and it became clear that analysis of brain function by neurology provides a firmer foundation for unveiling many aspects of cognition, in particular those that manifest as reflexive. This is a narrow objectivity that tends to view the psyche in the context of its most salient biochemistry and unmistakable behaviors. Unfortunately, neuroscience often fails to acknowledge many of the deviancies in human consciousness, restricting its subordinate analysis of qualitative experience to mainstream sensibilities. It often neglects controversial fact or falls victim to paradigmal fads, feeding into prejudices about gender, sexuality, intelligence and sanity. Emphasis in psychology shifted from investigating and relieving the sufferings of those with neurosis, to talk therapy as assistance in coping with common stressors such as divorces or temporary trauma on the one hand and treating supposedly physical causes on the other.
The subjective psyche was downplayed in favor of physiological and biochemical interventions, with counseling a normative influence to snap patients out of it into typical behavior or superficially mitigate their troubled minds, and everything extraordinarily difficult allotted to medicine. Diagnostic labels were assigned to more and more kinds of experience, with psychology becoming a rather careless institution of demographic classification as opposed to an empirical enrichment of theory and truth, more about defining what is or is not wrong with patients in bulk than developing better accounts of what is going on in particular minds, though the field still makes positive contributions.
The mental health profession sometimes produces bad outcomes, but also does a respectable amount of good by lending many rare mental traits or traumatic backgrounds an officially agnized niche so these patients can be in good standing and participate in society, working, forming relationships, with resources to combat adriftedness and discrimination. Physical reductionism has been revealing and its applications to treatment consistently improve, but can be constricting or even dangerous when materialistic approximations prove invasive to or dismissive of the unfathomed depth and cultural construction of the first person psyche, an ongoing struggle for balance within healthcare.
So there can be continuity while theory develops, as can be seen in diversification from the first, Freudian model of the psyche, to a Jungian account of the ego in particular, to neuroscientific models of brain structure and function that predominate today, such as were described in chapter 2 of section 2, “Current Theory of Cognition”. There are also discontinuities across time: recent transition to a paradigm that neglects the human psyche’s dark side, its unethical features, in favor of value-neutral categories of interest such as ‘thought’, ‘memory’ or ‘emotion’, which when given exclusive attention can diminish vigilance of how manipulation and repression infuse themselves into human relationships, a disjointed shift to utilitarian materialism that holds the nuances of subjective experience in less regard while designing treatments for psychological ailments. Theory of the psyche also demonstrates a productive trend towards historicity, the inclusion of an evolutionary viewpoint that regards prehistory as an important source of insight for the modern mind.
The hierarchy of needs is a metatheory generalizing the discoveries of many researchers into an overarching framework that sums much understanding of how the psyche relates to society and giving intimations of the direction in which sociology should proceed, namely towards consummation of human actualizing (though not necessarily heeded of course). Scientific progress is fractionalized within a hierarchy of six categorically different levels of emergence. It is also continuous and cohesive, a progressing effort dividing up facts in complementary ways, but takes the form of differing structures: for instance, pyramidal ascent and foundation (of actualization), abstract triunity (of the conscious and unconscious mind), compositional layering (the ego located atop the collective unconscious), inanimate physical machinery (of the brain), all addressing the same phenomenon, the cultural human psyche. We can see how psychoanalytic theory has given way to physical theory, a course derived from the expansion of chemistry, biology and physics, which are more uncontroversial and quantitatively precise, into examinations of thinking and behavior.
A free download of the book Standards for Behavioral Commitments: Philosophy of Humanism, also available for preview below. Topics covered include chemistry, biology, genetics, neuroscience, epistemology, the history of Western philosophy, cultural evolution, theory of cognition, ethics and much more.