The Philosophical Task:

To Place Psyche Back into the (Natural) World

A kind of mass soul loss defines the modern epoch.

The world correspondingly robbed of soul has taken on a flat, disconnected, uninviting, depersonalised and literal appearance for most of us. By pressing all of the soul into the human being we have de-animated the world and simultaneously inflated the significance of the human person. Because a dead, soulless world offers no intimacy, an enormous weight now rests on human relations, which have become “overcharged with archetypal significance”.

Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology1

According to Fisher, the bifurcation of reality implied by Cartesian Dualism reflects a withdrawal of reality into the head of the modern Western individual and a corresponding estrangement of that individual from the “external” social and ecological world.2 Phenomenology suggests a different mode in which we can perceive the world and thus opens up a space in which “the seemingly irreconcilable dichotomies and paradoxes that formerly prevailed with respect to mind vs. matter… become reconciled in a… unifying view of mind, brain, and man in nature.” 3

Edmund Husserl used the term life-world in an attempt to capture the essence of this mode of experiencing.4 The life-world is the world of our immediately lived experience, as we live it, prior to all our thoughts about it, reality as it engages us before being analysed by our theories and our science.5 Maurice Merleau-Ponty elaborates on these themes by emphasising the integral part our bodily experience plays in our perception of the world. He called perception a “mutual embrace” or conversation between body and world. We can have no experience, perception or self knowledge without a world in which to bodily interact.6

The perceiving body does not calculate logical possibilities; it gregariously participates in the activity of the world, lending it’s imagination to things in order to see them more fully.

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous7

Put another way, it is not possible, using any kind of method, scientific or phenomenological, to fully grasp the meaning of subjective experience and obtain any absolute truth, because self is not conceived of as an object but as a process which is always carrying itself forward, with every experience and event containing implicit further movement8 so that new meaning is constantly being created. Our sense of self and the meaning we derive from it is created through a process of interaction with other subjects; a process of intersubjectivity. Nothing meaningful can be stated or experienced about “self” without an implicit reliance upon the self’s interrelational placement in the world.9 According to Merleau-Ponty, we live “out there among things” in a kind of communion with the world – “there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself”.10 His philosophy was itself gradually revealing the earth as the original field for all human experience, the ultimate source of, or necessary ground for, all psychological life.11

Next: The Practical Task »

References

  1. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. p.10.
  2. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. p.9.
  3. Spery, R. (1968) “Hemispheric disconnection and unity in consciousness awareness” in American Psychologist, 23. pp.723-733.
  4. Husserl, E. (1970) The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  5. Abram, D. (1997) The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books. p.40.
  6. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. p.12.
  7. Abram, D. (1997) The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books. p.58.
  8. Gendlin, E. (1996) Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method. New York: The Guildford Press. p.15.
  9. Spinelli, E. (2005) The Interpreted World: An Introduction to Phenomenological Psychology, Second Edition. London: Sage Publications. p.42.
  10. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p.xi.
  11. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. p.12.

Notes from a journey towards ecological consciousness