Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Annie on Maslow

By way of contrast, as these musings tend to be, some psychotherapy. This time, a few notes, with some autobiographical comments, from my late partner, Annie Parmeter. She discussed Maslow in her class, and also with me.

The idea that the evolution of life was counter to entropy, which she begins with, was partly due to her reading of M. Scott Peck's "The Road Less Travelled", when he came out with very much that idea. It was one of the few areas that we disagreed, because while the emergence of life, and the increasing complexity of life on earth seems to run counter to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it only does so if one assumes the earth is a closed system. But it isn't, of course, getting energy into the biosphere from the sun, all the time, and it is the sun's energy which is the engine supplying energy for life on earth - and the sun is running down gradually, so that the whole system is increasing in entropy, regardless of localised areas where it appears to be reversed.

She was very good (and where I did agree with her) in seeing, as she explains here, how part of the apparently value-free "self-actualisation" of Maslow actually embodies cultural values from 20th century America, and it must be reinterpreted or adapted to other cultures.

I'd come across a similar problem arising in conjunction with even the seemingly "objective" IQ testing - it is clear that they often involved not just logic, as their proponents suggest, but also significant cultural biases. Even items such as "Fill an empty field on the left side with the correct picture from the right side" make assumptions about symmetries and regularities which are implicit. The test assumes that the result must come from symmetries in Euclidean geometry, and this has has some absolute Platonic "correctness" in the real world, which of course, it does not. Other considerations may enter into notions of "correctness", for example - in Turkey, prayer rugs, identifiable by a deliberate lack of symmetry (the "arrow" will always be lain in the direction of Mecca), continue to be one of the more beautiful categories of traditional Turkish rugs. The same occurs in Jewish culture, where one of the stylistic traits of Ancient Jewish art is an imperfect symmetry of design where in other cultural contexts a symmetrical pattern would be expected. A "correct" picture might be very unexpected after all!

Anyhow, here is Annie's interesting take on Maslow, and some reflective comments on life:

Refelections on Maslow by Annie Parmeter

This evening in class we revisited the work of Maslow and his idea of a hierarchy of needs, the idea of self-actualisation reflecting the popular needs and beliefs of the West coast of America in the 1950s and 60s, some focusing on the human potential of the idea, others applying the principle of self-actualisation to all life as countermanding the natural law of entropy.

The progressive system of needs outlined in Maslow's pyramid can be applied on many levels, right from an individual's addressing the fulfilment of these needs in the decision making process relating to a particular circumstance through consideration of personal development to a chronological 'lifecycle' interpretation of:

· Physiological needs being the primary concern of babies, the elderly, the sick and persons in crisis.
· Safety needs as pertaining to young children.
· Belonging needs applying to all but particularly teenagers seeking peer acceptance and finding their own social niche.
· Recognition needs relating to young adults.
· Self-actualisation needs being part of the human drive to 'create' and 'become'.

Some classmates perceived these needs as being the domain of the privileged few. I think that we all have these needs and the intelligence to find ways of fulfilling them in our daily lives, but the opportunity to address and implement them in particular ways may be the domain of the privileged few.

There are also cultural determinants involved for example our own 'western' value system may encourage a highly individualistic approach but other cultures may see that self-actualisation comes through contribution to the fulfilment of a family, tribal or other larger group need.

Personally I am in a very privileged position with regards being able to concentrate on what is important to me as I have no dependants or work commitments, the only thing that comes between me and my drive to self-actualise is chronic illness which can be an extremely demanding and unpredictable companion.

I see part of the purpose of my existence as being 'to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before'. I see no purpose in resistance to the inevitability of change; I welcome the opportunities and possibilities that it brings.

From amongst quite a complex layering of different patterns of attachment I have emerged with a sense of confidence in myself and in addition and perhaps as a consequence I have so far lived a most unusual and interesting life. What I do fear is injustice and men with guns.

As an only child forced to fall back on my own mental and emotional resources from the age of twelve I soon developed the need to form my own judgements of situations, and very soon realised that the view of the world that my parents had portrayed to me no longer existed in real life and quite possibly never had done.

Neither my own view nor that of my parents seemed to tie in with those of the people around me whose ideas seemed to me to be the stuff of fairytales, so I managed the situation as best I could by steering a middle path, on the one hand sticking to my own evaluations gleaned from day to day experiences but on the other presenting a sort of self-preserving collaboration so as to blend in 'undetected'. This charade diminished over the years, until now cantankerous and forty-something I scarcely have the patience to bother with it at all even for the sake of 'social niceties'.

I have made a commitment to be honest with myself, there are still plenty of things I catch myself trying to sweep under the carpet but I'm giving it my best shot. Other people frequently seem to find my honesty fairly scary!

On the subject of presenting my own views.hmm tricky. The last few years have seen me become less and less willing to form any concrete opinions let alone present them to others. Opinions seem to be limiting and bare little relevance to the shifting nature of reality, my boyfriend, a robust critical thinker sees this as a decline into the worst and woolliest sort of relativism. So. damned if you have an opinion and damned if you don't! Am I bovvered?

Taking responsibility for one's life? Quite keen on that as I'm not sure who else is going to do it (so speaks the abandoned owning-class child). I am also interested in taking my share of responsibility for my illness, which I have discussed with my consultant. He is taking care of the medical treatment plan, jointly we are setting goals and I am doing lifestyle choices, research, emotional and mental health and the fun bit.exploration of existential dilemmas.

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