A Science of Happiness and Health
The species “man,” can be defined not only in anatomical and physiological terms; its members share basic psychic qualities, the laws which govern their mental and emotional functioning, and the aims for a satisfactory solution of the problem of human existence.
It is true that our knowledge of man is still so incomplete that we cannot yet give a satisfactory definition of man in a psychological sense. It is the task of the “science of man” to arrive eventually at a correct description of what deserves to be called human nature. — Erich Fromm (the Sane Society)
Thinking the Unthinkable : A refreshing life way
Can there really be a “science of man”? How are we to know if psychic qualities really exist? And, if they do, how might one come to know their nature – let alone how such psychic qualities are related and interact?
The Answer Not Freud (Freud psychoanalysis), but Einstein
Interestingly, the answer to this question may not come from Freud, but Einstein. He wrote, “In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it’s ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious, he may form some picture of a mechanism for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one, which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility and meaning of such comparison.”
How We Make Sense of Reality
Einstein, by sharing this story of the watch, was describing the way the natural science of physics makes sense of reality.
He was well aware that despite that physicists may never discover exactly what was underneath the watch, there were still means to come closer to understanding it.
His predecessor, Newton, had done precisely that. After stating a few postulates that most of the scientists in his time accepted, Newton attempted to show how the postulates could explain many of the things they observed. To do so, however, he first had to define what it was he wanted to selectively observe or explain, and find a means or method to measure it (the latter was done by creating calculus).
In much the same way as physicists must grapple with understanding what is under the watch without being able to see it, the challenge with developing a natural “science of man” could be the same. The first step then is to do what physics and all natural sciences must courageously attempt: describe general phenomena, concepts or abstractions, which explain a wide variety of experiences. In the case of a science of man those general concepts concern human psychological experience. This endeavor is likely to be a more difficult task than physics!
What are the Spheres of Psychological Existence?
While all attempts to understand the mind are imperfect, if one begins in the tradition of the natural sciences one must start by describing psychological phenomena that are abstract (and encompassing enough) that they hold true for most psychological experience. These postulates need to encompass psychic qualities that when present determine the experience of well-being and health or when absent distress and illness. If indeed there were such core psychic qualities, the laws of “which govern our mental and emotional functioning,” then it would follow that when we move in accordance with those laws well-being is the result.
Can the Same Spheres define health and illness?
Forces, including self-defeating thoughts, feelings and actions, can help us understand the causes of non-organic disease. Naturally, assuming the very existence of psychological laws or of a better understanding of the structure of the human mind is to think the unthinkable. Yet, no science is exempt from thinking the unthinkable – of asking of itself the very simple questions that only children dare ask. These are the most dangerous questions, the ones that can shake the very foundations of any science.
Do the same assumptions hold for the body and mind?
Today, psychiatrists and psychologists need to be asking those questions. As of yet, the medical field has focused its attention on developing a fairly consistent and increasingly accurate means to classify and measure illnesses, disease and disorders. In this science of disease, mental illness is analogous to physical illness. Whether one has cancer or depression, successful treatment demands the elimination of the disease, its reduction or containment. To be healthy is not to be sick.
The Limits of a Medical Model based on the Body
This “medical model” has been helpful, yet it has a built-in limitation: it cannot explain the mind at its most healthy, creative and fullest potential. In that sense it can not qualify as a natural science of man. Too eager to establish a study of the mind as a science, psychiatrists never wondered whether the same assumptions hold for the body and mind. To use Einstein’s analogy, while surgery, allowed the doctor to open up “the watch” and see whether they were right or wrong about what makes it tick, a science of the mind could not. Psychiatrists had no idea if whether they were on the right track. Although psychiatry has come a long way and helped many people, perhaps it should have evolved even further.
DSM useful, but too narrow to understand the Mind
Although pharmacological research has given the medical field increasingly effective and safer medications such as Prozac, the disease model has failed to prove that specific chemical changes in the brain is the cause or the cure for all mental illnesses. What the field has now is a classification for disease that is helpful for the disbursement of medication, the labeling of “illnesses’” and insurance purposes.
The Death of the Disease Model?
Today this science based on disease is dying — not because it is wrong — but because it presents too narrow a worldview. It does not attempt to do what all the natural sciences must: describe general phenomena, concepts or abstractions, which explain a wide variety of (human psychological) experiences. To do so one must return to the challenge offered by Jahoda to develop a model of Positive Mental Health.
The Lifetrack model of positive mental health described on this website is one such attempt (insights Lifetrack), but is certainly not the only model possible. In this respect, all models are imperfect and wait further testing (objective subjective) by patients to be refined and improved.
Visit the Positive Mental Health Foundation to support a study of human beings at their best, happiest, and most creative form. Link to us to promote health and happiness.
Copyright © 2010 Lifetrack Corporation
Read our section Happiness and Health, Criteria for Health Models (science of happiness), Happiness Defined? Quantified? (cycle of life), Happier? (fear of the unknown), Why Positive Mental Health Works (objective subjective), Insights (life purpose), and Applications (international behavior).
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Health: A Refreshing Life Way
Health and happiness, nature of man or life way, science of health, love definition, self definition, work definition as psychological spheres of existence.