Psychology as Storytelling

Sam Vaknin’s Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Internet Web-sites

Storytelling has been with us considering that the days of campfire and besieging wild animals. It served a number of crucial functions: amelioration of fears, communication of crucial information (concerning survival techniques and the characteristics of animals, for instance), the satisfaction of a sense of order (justice), the development of the potential to hypothesize, predict and introduce theories and so on.

We are all endowed with a sense of wonder. The globe around us in inexplicable, baffling in its diversity and myriad forms. We practical experience an urge to organize it, to “explain the wonder away”, to order it in order to know what to count on subsequent (predict). These are the essentials of survival. But although we have been prosperous at imposing our mind’s structures on the outside planet – we have been significantly much less thriving when we attempted to cope with our internal universe.

The connection amongst the structure and functioning of our (ephemeral) mind, the structure and modes of operation of our (physical) brain and the structure and conduct of the outside world have been the matter of heated debate for millennia. Broadly speaking, there were (and nonetheless are) two approaches of treating it:

There were those who, for all practical purposes, identified the origin (brain) with its solution (mind). Some of them postulated the existence of a lattice of preconceived, born categorical know-how about the universe – the vessels into which we pour our knowledge and which mold it. Other people have regarded the thoughts as a black box. While it was attainable in principle to know its input and output, it was not possible, once again in principle, to have an understanding of its internal functioning and management of info. 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 or not a physical entity, an epiphenomenon, a non-physical principle of organization, or the outcome of introspection) – had a structure and a restricted set of functions. They argued that a “user’s manual” could be composed, replete with engineering and upkeep directions. The most prominent of these “psychodynamists” was, of course, Freud. Even though his disciples (Adler, Horney, the object-relations lot) diverged wildly from his initial theories – they all shared his belief…

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