Monday, December 26, 2016

Positive Psychology

  • All psychology has so far got stuck in moral prejudices and fears; it has not dared to descend into the depths … the psychologist who thus “makes a sacrifice” [to explore such depths] … will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized as the queen of the sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist. – Friedrich Nietzsche

How can psychologists prevent problems like depression or substance abuse or schizophrenia in young people who are genetically vulnerable or who live in worlds that nurture these problems? How can psychologists prevent murderous schoolyard violence in children who have access to weapons, poor parental supervision, and a mean streak? An article on Positive Psychology that I’d read recently had said that:

Prevention researchers have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness: courage, future mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, and the capacity for flow and insight, to name several. Much of the task of prevention in this new century will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to understand and learn how to foster these virtues in young people. So in order to make normal people stronger and more productive and for making high human potential actual, Martin Seligman, the 1999-2000 president of the American Psychological Association (APA), had suggested the science of Positive Psychology, a science of human strengths and resilience – the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.

National Geographic’s The KnowledgeBook says,
“Psychology’s path to becoming a modern science reached a milestone with the use of scientific methods such as laboratory experimentation. Instead of relying on subjective reports of individuals’ thoughts feelings and experiences, or some observation of their behavior, 19th century researchers carried out experiments in an attempt to obtain universally valid data. As a result, psychology gradually became a branch of the natural sciences.”

Psychology had become a natural science with the publication of Fechner’s Elements of Psychophysics in 1860. In his 1901 book The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel, one of the greatest biologists of the 19th century, tells us how Wilhelm Wundt, who had done so much to make psychology a physical science, eventually, converted it into a spiritualistic philosophy:

“In Germany, Wilhelm Wundt of Leipzig is considered to be the ablest living psychologist; he has the inestimable advantage over most other philosophers of a thorough zoological, anatomical, and physiological education. Formerly assistant and pupil of Helmholtz, Wundt had early accustomed himself to follow the application of the laws of physics and chemistry through the whole field of physiology, and, consequently, in the sense of Johannes Muller, in psychology, as a sub-section of the latter. Starting from this point of view, Wundt published his valuable "Lectures on human and animal psychology” in 1863. He proved, as he himself tells us in the preface, that the theatre of the most important psychic processes is in the “unconscious soul," and he affords us "a view of the mechanism which, in the unconscious background of the soul, manipulates the impressions which arise from the external stimuli." What seems to me, however, of special importance and value in Wundt's work is that he “extends the law of the persistence of force for the first time to the psychic world, and makes use of a series of facts of electro-physiology by way of demonstration.

“Thirty years afterwards (1892) Wundt published a second, much abridged, and entirely modified edition of his work. The important principles of the first edition are entirely abandoned in the second, and the monistic is exchanged for a purely dualistic standpoint. Wundt himself says in the preface to the second edition that he has emancipated himself from the fundamental errors of the first, and that he “learned many years ago to consider the work a sin of his youth"; it "weighed on him as a kind of crime, from which he longed to free himself as soon as possible." In fact, the most important systems of psychology are completely opposed to each other in the two editions of Wundt's famous Observation. In the first edition he is purely monistic and materialistic, in the second edition purely dualistic and spiritualistic. In the one psychology is treated as a physical science, on the same laws as the whole of physiology, of which it is only a part; thirty years afterwards he finds psychology to be a spiritual science, with principles and objects entirely different from those of physical science. This conversion is most clearly expressed in his principle of psycho-physical parallelism, according to which “every psychic event has a corresponding physical change"; but the two are completely independent, and are not in any natural causal connection. This complete dualism of body and soul, of nature and mind, naturally gave the liveliest satisfaction to the prevailing school-philosophy, and was acclaimed by it as an important advance, especially seeing that it came from a distinguished scientist who had previously adhered to the opposite system of monism. As I myself continue, after more than forty years' study, in this "narrow " position, and have not been able to free myself from it in spite of all my efforts, I must naturally consider the "youthful sin" of the young physiologist Wundt to be a correct knowledge of nature, and energetically defend it against the antagonistic view of the old philosopher Wundt.

“… Every single object in the world which comes within the sphere of our cognizance, all individual forms of existence, are but special transitory forms—accidents or mode—of substance. These modes are material things when we regard them under the attribute of extension (or "occupation of space "), but forces or ideas when we consider them under the attribute of thought (or "energy"). To this profound thought of Spinoza our purified monism returns after a lapse of two hundred years; for us, too, matter (space-filling substance) and energy (moving force) are but two inseparable attributes of the one underlying substance.”

After Wundt set up his laboratory to conduct experiments in psychophysics, – sensory psychologyErnst Wilhelm von Brücke had proposed the concept of "psychodynamics" in his 1874 book Lectures on Physiology. In it, Brucke had set forth the then-radical view that the living organism is a dynamic energy-system to which the Energy Laws – Laws of Thermodynamics – apply. Sigmund Freud, one of Brücke’s medical students, adopted this new "dynamic" physiology, giving us his psychodynamic theory of ego and the drives.

After the 1950s however, psychodynamics took a back seat. And clinical psychologists started relying on subjective reports of individuals’ thoughts feelings and experiences, bringing the Cartesian duality of the “mind” back into psychology, which they began defining as “the study of the mind and behavior”. But, the ancient Greek word “psychology” means the “study of the psyche”, and “psyche” means the soul—the immaterial essence, animating principle or the actuating cause of an individual life.

Fortunately for us, physiologists have now, finally, begun studying the human organism as an energy-system, and today we know that the DNA software – the hereditary information in our genes – is the actuating cause of an individual life. So, it has now become possible for scientists and physiologists to develop the natural science of psychology, – Positive Psychology or the Science of Happiness – by showing how the DNA software, our psyche, causes behavior. 

My earlier blogs contain a few paper abstracts on this topic, and you can also get an idea of how we can develop the ancient Indian Psychology into a natural science of psychology from this NCHRD-2015 presentation: Bhagavad Gita for Excellence in HRD. I sincerely hope that more and more scientists come forward to make psychology into the queen of sciences that it truly is.

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