THEOSOPHY, Vol. 83, No. 11, September, 1995
(Pages 332-338; Size: 14K)
(Number 7 of a 7-part series)
ANCIENT AND MODERN SCIENCE
PSYCHOLOGY: PART VII
THE MAIN object of psychology has always been to describe the facts relating to the phenomena of the inner life of human beings and their relationship to the "outer" world. Like all sciences, there are no facts in psychology that exist in isolation from the theoretical perspective of scientists. It is a psychological necessity that the human mind impose structure on phenomena as it is fundamental to quantum mechanics that the perspective of the perceiver influences the perception. Therefore, another crucial task of psychology has been to organize observed data into logical and coherent systems that can be practically applied. The goal of psychology has always been to expand the awareness of human beings to a greater understanding of themselves and their relationship to the world, as well as to improve a particular relationship.
The scope and perspective of ancient psychology is nowhere more elegantly and succinctly expressed than in the Bhagavad Gita. In this ancient Hindu scripture, the psychological, philosophical, and ethical wisdom that Krishna discusses with Arjuna is repeatedly referred to as the "Science of the Supreme Spirit." Applying the psychological key to the interpretation of this text, the Supreme Spirit is the universally pervasive and eternal consciousness embodied in all the kingdoms of nature, but expressed in different degrees. The ultimate goal toward which ancient psychology moves is the self-conscious realization of the spiritual identity of all beings and the unity of the individual self and the Supreme Spirit -- sometimes called the Self of All.
Psychology, as such, did not exist in western nations in the last century. The scientific theories of the nineteenth century either ignored or opposed the existence of a "Science of the Supreme Spirit." But, for all its attention to the behavior and internal workings of the personality, as well as the complexity and role of the human brain, modern psychology in the twentieth century has made definite steps towards the perspective of the ancient psychologists.
As the ancient psychologists investigated different planes and states of consciousness, the modern schools of psychology focus on different levels or dimensions of the human mind. As the ancient psychologists knew that the science of the Supreme Spirit was ultimately a matter of direct, intuitive wisdom, some of the modern schools of psychology utilize methods of inwardly directed observations and intuition. As the ancient psychologists knew that there were methods by which human awareness could be expanded to a knowledge of the Supreme Spirit, some of the modern schools of psychology are teaching techniques for expanding one's consciousness and offering guidelines for psychological and spiritual unfoldment. As the ancient psychologists knew that the idea of the personal self was illusionary and an obstacle to soul wisdom, modern psychologists also recognize the transient nature of the personal self. It is seen as a constructed and evolving idea fashioned as much by internal influences as by external forces.
In the nineteenth century, psychology was confined to the scientific disciplines of neurology and physiology. Modern psychology, as it has evolved in the twentieth century, is dominated by three theoretical perspectives. Growing out of biological approaches of the last century, they mainly explain the development of personality and mental illness. These three general ways of seeing things within the discipline of modern psychology are the psychoanalytical, behavioral and cognitive-social approaches.
The founder of the psychoanalytical approach was Sigmund Freud. He was a neurologist who was particularly interested in mentally ill persons with hysteria. Such persons displayed physical symptoms and abnormal behaviors that could not be explained on the basis of anatomical knowledge of the brain and nervous system. Furthermore, these persons could not give any conscious motive or reason for their abnormal behavior. Freud hypothesized that if a person is doing something he or she has no desire to do consciously, then the motive must be unconscious. He proposed that much of the mental life of human beings is unconscious -- beyond the reach of their normal waking state. He developed a theory of psychodynamics which, simply stated, proposed that people can have multiple and conflicting motives, and that if a force is not expressing itself, then there must be another force blocking it. These psychodynamic processes, which operated unconsciously to the individual and independent of the brain and nervous system, could be brought to conscious realization by a method of guided introspection he called psychoanalysis. Freud's theories were controversial, but they set the stage for the modern science of psychology.
The late nineteenth century also witnessed the birth of another main approach of modern psychology -- behaviorism. The first major behaviorist was the physiologist, Ivan Pavlov. He accidentally discovered the laws of classical conditioning while studying the digestive processes of dogs. Dogs normally salivate at the sight and smell of food. But, if a bell is rung at the same time the dog is exposed to food, the animal soon "learns" to salivate at the sound of the bell. B. F. Skinner carried these investigations further in the twentieth century. He was primarily interested in how human behaviorism is derived from observing the laws of learning. The three principles of behaviorism are: a "reinforcer" is something in the environment that increases the probability that the behavior will be performed again; a "negative reinforcement" occurs when an adverse stimulus is removed, increasing the probability that the behavior will be repeated; and a "punishment" is the application of an adverse stimulus which decreases the probability of a behavior being repeated.
Over the last twenty to thirty years the cognitive-social approach has gained prominence, and it is now the most widely accepted of psychological paradigms. The cognitive approach grew out of behaviorism in that it is concerned with laws of learning. However, cognitive theorists recognized that not all learning is conditioned by the environment; there are other ways in which human beings learn. People learn from observing other people. Much learning depends on the thought and attitude.
The basic principle of psychoanalysis that desires can motivate behavior, even when one cannot recognize, explain or control the desires or behaviors; the fundamental principle of behaviorism that the expectation of rewards and punishments conditions human behavior; the realization of the cognitive approach that attitude is all important to the way one feels, learns and behaves, were thoroughly discussed five thousand years ago in the Bhagavad Gita.
Modern psychology has gone beyond its original intent to study personality, behavior, and illness. There are gradually developing trends toward a "Science of the Supreme Spirit." In The Death and Rebirth of Psychology by Dr. Ira Progoff, the author indicates the net result that modern psychology has done to reaffirm man's experience of himself as a spiritual being. This trend moves away from paradigms that view the human being purely biologically or materialistically, toward views that include the human being's spiritual nature.The foundation of the new kind of psychology is its conception of man as an organism of psychological depth and spiritual magnitude... The ultimate task of the new psychology is to re-establish man's connection to life... Its task is to bring the modern person into touch with the sustaining and creative forces of life... and to make men psychologically available to them in terms of experiences he can learn to verify by himself, within himself.Another trend leading to a "Science of the Supreme Spirit" may be seen emerging in the discipline of developmental psychology. Developmental psychology is that branch of modern psychology which investigates the psychological evolution of human beings, particularly in relation to their evolving concept of self. Western psychology has studied the stages of human consciousness relating to drives, instincts, and wishes; and it has studied the stages relating to the development of an awareness of an integrated, autonomous, and individualized ego. Now, some Western psychologists are asking if there are no higher stages of human consciousness. Some have suggested that the world's great mystics and sages represent a higher stage of human consciousness that transcends time, place, and personality. By examining the records of the teachings of these mystics and sages and incorporating the principles of Eastern systems of psychology, some Western psychologists are developing theoretical paradigms which include recognition of a "Higher Self" and a state of absolute universal consciousness as an ultimate goal of evolution for the human mind.
A third trend in the movement of modern psychology towards a "Science of the Supreme Spirit" is seen in the acceptance and growth of the discipline of parapsychology. Any science of the Supreme Spirit is necessarily encompassing an understanding of laws, forces, and processes which are invisible, hidden or occult. In spite of the avoidance and reticence of many psychologists on such matters as psychic phenomena, psychologists have been forced to consider and explore these phenomena due to the explosion of evidence and general interest that has occurred in the twentieth century.
In an article from The Journal of Parapsychology which reviewed psychiatric contributions to the discipline of parapsychology, the author, Julie Eisenbud, M.D., states:Nevertheless, a number of psychiatrically trained observers have made contributions to the field of parapsychology... Most observations by Psychiatrists in the field of Parapsychology have been concerned with telepathy and clairvoyance...In this reviewer's opinion there have been two major developments in the study of psychic phenomena. One has been the careful refinement of statistical techniques for nailing down evidence for the reality of such phenomena, as exemplified in the work of J. B. Rhine of Duke University. The other has been the application of techniques enabling psychic phenomena to be viewed as part of man's total being. The impetus toward this second development, slowly getting under way, the author attributes to Freud.
In a paper entitled "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy" published in 1949, Freud sounds the keynote for such research.It no longer seems possible to brush aside the study of so-called occult facts, of things which seem to vouchsafe the real existence of psychic forces other than the known forces of the human mind and animal psyche, or which reveal mental faculties in which, until now, we did not believe. The appeal of this kind of inquiry seems irresistible.... It is by no means self-evident that the strengthening of the interest in occultism represents a danger for psychoanalysis. On the contrary one might expect a mutual sympathy between the two. Both have been subjected by official science to the same unfair and arrogant treatment... psychoanalysis, which is opposed to all that which is hidebound, established and generally accepted, has no interest in defending these authorities in a self-sacrificing manner; it would not be the first time that psychoanalysis would champion the obscure but indestructible intuitions of the common people against the arrogant assumed knowledge of the intellectuals. Thus, an alliance of, and collaboration between, psychoanalysis and occultists would seem to be both plausible and promising (Psychoanalysis and the Occult).The indication of these trends is that modern psychology is on a path of trajectory that is leading to the birth of a science of the Supreme Spirit in the West. While the majority of psychologists may still identify themselves with the psychodynamic, behavioral, or cognitive-social schools, other psychologists are beginning to realize that none of these approaches individually, or collectively encompasses all the observable phenomena of the inner life of human beings. The "Higher Self" and the hidden power and functions of the soul are no longer under assault by modern psychology; rather, they are gradually being realized to be the reality of human existence.
(This is the concluding article of this series)
The Eye of Spirit vs The Eye of Matter