Sam Vaknin has a combined doctorate in Physics and Philosophy.
He is an economic and political columnist in many periodicals in a few countries and a published and awarded author of short fiction and reference books in Hebrew, English and Macedonian in Israel, Macedonia and the Czech Republic.
|Storytelling has been with us since the days of campfire and besieging wild animals.
It served a number of important functions: amelioration of fears, communication of vital information (regarding survival tactics and the characteristics of animals, for instance), the satisfaction of a sense of order (justice), the development of the ability to hypothesize, predict and introduce theories and so on.
We are all endowed with a sense of wonder. The world around us in inexplicable, baffling in its diversity and myriad forms. We experience an urge to organize it, to "explain the wonder away", to order it in order to know what to expect next (predict). These are the essentials of survival. But while we have been successful at imposing our mind's structures on the outside world - we have been much less successful when we tried to cope with our internal universe.
Others have regarded the mind as a black box. While it was possible in principle to know its input and output, it was impossible, again in principle, to understand its internal functioning and management of information. Pavlov coined the word "conditioning", Watson adopted it and invented "behaviorism", Skinner came up with reinforcement". But all ignored the psychophysical question: what IS the mind and HOW is it linked to the brain?
The other camp was more "scientific" and "positivist". It speculated that the mind (whether a physical entity, an epiphenomenon, a non-physical principle of organization, or the result of introspection) - had a structure and a limited set of functions. They argued that a "user's manual" could be composed, replete with engineering and maintenance instructions.
The most prominent of these psychodynamists" was, of course, Freud. Though his disciples (Adler, Horney, the object-relations lot) diverged wildly from his initial theories - they all shared his belief in the need to "scientify" and objectify psychology. Freud - a medical doctor by profession (Neurologist) and Bleuler before him - came with a theory regarding the structure of the mind and its mechanics: (suppressed) energies and (reactive) forces. Flow charts were provided together with a method of analysis, a mathematical physics of the mind.
Psychological theories of the mind are metaphors of the mind. They are fables and myths, narratives, stories, hypotheses, conjunctures. They play (exceedingly) important roles in the psychotherapeutic setting - but not in the laboratory.
Their form is artistic, not rigorous, not testable, less structured than theories in the natural sciences. The language used is polyvalent, rich, effusive, and fuzzy - in short, metaphorical. They are suffused with value
judgments, preferences, fears, post facto and ad hoc constructions. None of this has
methodological, systematic, analytic and predictive merits.
|Still, the theories in psychology are powerful instruments, admirable constructs of the mind. As such, they are bound to satisfy some needs. Their very existence proves it.
The attainment of peace of mind is a need, which was neglected by Maslow in his famous rendition. People will sacrifice material wealth and welfare, will forgo temptations, will ignore opportunities, and will put their lives in danger - just to reach this bliss of wholeness and completeness. There is, in other words, a preference of inner equilibrium over homeostasis. It is the fulfillment of this overriding need that psychological theories set out to cater to. In this, they are no different than other collective narratives (myths, for instance).
In some respects, though, there are striking differences: Psychology is desperately trying to link up to reality and to scientific discipline by employing observation and measurement and by organizing the results and presenting them using the language of mathematics. This does not atone for its primordial sin: that its subject matter is ethereal and inaccessible. Still, it lends an air of credibility and rigorousness to it.
The second difference is that while historical narratives are "blanket" narratives - psychology is "tailored", "customized". A unique narrative is invented for every listener (patient, client) and he is incorporated in it as the main hero (or anti-hero). This flexible "production line" seems to be the result of an age of increasing individualism. True, the "language units" (large chunks of denotates and connotates) are one and the same for every "user". In psychoanalysis, the therapist is likely to always employ the tripartite structure (Id, Ego, Superego). But these are language elements and need not be confused with the plots. Each client, each person, and his own, unique, irreplicable, plot.
To qualify as a "psychological" plot, it must be:
The client sheds layers of functional, adaptive clothing. This is inordinately painful. The client feels dangerously naked, precariously exposed. He then assimilates the plot offered to him, thus enjoying the benefits emanating from the previous two principles and only then does he develop new mechanisms of coping. Therapy is a mental crucifixion and resurrection and atonement for the sins. It is highly religious with the plot in the role of the scriptures from which solace and consolation can be always gleaned.
Sam Vaknin has a combined doctorate in Physics
and Philosophy. He is an economic and political
columnist in many periodicals in a few countries
and a published and awarded author of short
fiction and reference books in Hebrew, English
and Macedonian in Israel, Macedonia and the
He has collaborated with Israeli psychologists
and criminologists in the study of personality
disorders and is the author of "Malignant Self
Love - Narcissism Revisited" (available from
Book Institute of Mental Health - BIMH - and
from Barnes and Noble and, as an e-book, from
BIMH, Booklocker, eBooksonthe.net, SoftLock,
MightyWords and from CyberRead).
He is the editor of the Mental Health Disorders
category in the Open Directory Project and the
editor of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder
topic in Suite101 and Go.com.
He is serving currently as the Economic Advisor
to the Government of Macedonia.
His new book "After the Rain - How the West
Lost the East" is available from Barnes and
Noble and, as an e-book, from Booklocker,
eBooksonthe.net, MightyWords, SoftLock and