By Elliott Ingersoll, Ph.D.
The word “psychology” was coined in the 16th century from the modern Latin psychologia which in turn is taken from the Greek psykhe meaning “breath, spirit, soul.” If these words signified similar things to the 16th century Greeks as they do to us you’d never know it. To sign up as a psychology major in any of the world’s mainstream universities in the early 21st century “psychology” is still described as “the science of mind and behavior.” As all historians of psychology know most of the emphasis in the last 200 years has been on the “behavior” piece. We are still “fuzzy” on the “mind” piece. If by “mind” we mean our mental experiences, sentience, and the field of awareness that these arise in we still come up short. There is growing evidence that “mind” is also a social phenomenon being sculpted dialectically by our interactions with other creatures and the environment. Also there is mounting evidence that at least the experiences of “mind” may be more affected by things like our gut bacteria than ever thought possible even 20 years ago. This may be thought of as another “interactional” dynamic. We carry more DNA for the bacteria that symbiotically work with us than the DNA of our own cells. All these interactions affecting our mental experience and what we call our “mind” seem to suggest more of a field effect than a solitary reality.
In physics, the field effect refers to modulating the electrical conductivity of a material by the application of an external electric field. I try to be very cautious about using similes from physics to discuss psychology. Here I want to relax my caution to use the simile two ways implying the “material” in the description of physics field effects is akin to our solitary experience of “mind” and the “field” in physics akin to the cacophony of situations and stimuli we are immersed in from cradle to grave. What I am pondering is whether what we colloquially refer to as “our mind” is possibly only one aspect of a vast and potentially infinite array of interactions, influences, and overlapping fields.
Ok so back to the two ways I am playing with the simile of field effect: First we know that much of our being relies on electrical activity including our brain. And we know that human brains electrically (and otherwise) entrain with other brains in the presence of certain stimuli. Some stimuli (experiences) are more entraining than others. Drumming and all music have the potential for strong entrainment as do physical activities done in groups like dance, sports, sex (imagine a dyad if the group thing bugs you here), and various “crowd phenomena like so-called “mob psychology” (and “no” this is not psychoanalysis of Vito Corleone but rather how people will do things in crowds they won’t do alone and where the increase of energy is almost wave-like in a so-called “mob happening.”).
Second I feel playing with the simile of field effect to describe “mind” is valid because we are all immersed in a series of fields whether you think of them concentrically or as an overlapping cacophony of potential influences. Part of training “mind” is discerning, focusing, and choosing from among those influences. Some are such that we can make them objects of awareness then “choose” to focus on them (for example choosing those people we will allow emotionally closest). Others are things we are totally immersed in and necessary for survival (like gut bacteria) or characterized by chaos patterns that make them more variable (crowds, things that happen to us, elements in the environments we physically inhabit).
In Personality Psychology or Psychotherapy Theory it is common to hear people describe themselves as a “community of selves.” Mind seems a similar phenomenon in that it is a seeming solitary experience that is one aspect of a vast and potentially infinite field of influences, interactions, symbiosis and accidents. In future blog entries I will discuss levels of the field of psychology in the context of Unique Self Psychology. We will also explore why “soul” keeps popping up in etymological explorations of the word “psychology.”
Integral Psychologist and Associate Academic Director for CIW Elliott Ingersoll, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and clinical counselor in Ohio. He is professor of counseling/counseling psychology and “Distinguished Faculty Member” at Cleveland State University. His research interests span a broad spectrum including psychopathology, mental health diagnosis, psychopharmacology, and spirituality in counseling and psychotherapy. He has authored or co-authored six books and dozens of peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on mental health related topics.
Elliott has been inspired and influenced by the Free Thought movement of the late 19th century and particularly by Robert Green Ingersoll, a leading freethinker of that time. He believes the most important skill for a human being is critical thinking seasoned with compassion. Elliott also is a singer/songwriter and creator of “FreeThought Folk Music” which he performs throughout Northeast Ohio. His CD “American Infidel” was released in 2013.
He has worked with Ken Wilber and the Integral Psychotherapy Team at Integral Institute since 2004 developing the Integral Psychotherapy approach. Integral Psychotherapy draws upon all validated psychotherapeutic approaches to help clients deal with psychological symptoms or live more fulfilling lives by removing barriers that come from living unconsciously. As an Integral Coach, he helps clients take action through motivation, methods of inquiry, and assisting clients in using the Integral Model to achieve their goals and improve their lives.
We wish all our readers a good and sweet year: L’Shanah Tovah U-Metukah. Read more about the cosmocentric rereading of the ritual of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday, by Dr. Marc Gafni, here>>>
In Evolutionary Love,
The Center for Integral Wisdom Team