This is the fifth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
We have seen examples of ultimate satisfaction involving appraisals of “fittingness” from conceptual-aesthetic, natural-aesthetic, artistic-aesthetic and moral perspectives. Notice something interesting here: in each case, the individual whose world is held together by this ultimate satisfaction had a breakthrough or initiation experience in which the world suddenly made sense in this new and fundamental way:
- Russell’s experience of Euclid’s proof and my own experience of elegance in Cantor’s proof are clear examples of the world suddenly making sense in a new, conceptual-aesthetic way.
- Recognizing deep unity with nature is frequently the result of a nature-based rite of passage, or a spiritual practice of an ecstatic tradition.
- Virtually every artist, musician or performer has a story of their first encounter with their art, when they experienced its creativity directly and knew “this is what I’m here to do.”
- Most spiritual paths have practices of initiation in which the new member of the community experiences what it’s like to be “one of us.”
Note that each of these involves direct encounter with community members who already see the world as this community does, and experience directly how this world makes sense. Ultimate Satisfaction is connected to a specific world, of a particular community – no exceptions.
But many people have no memory of experiencing breakthrough into a new world – and it’s not the sort of thing one is inclined to forget.
Many of us found the world we were born into makes sense from the beginning, and it continues to do so for many years. Our family treats us as literally “one of us” – we have a valued and secure place in the practices of the primal community, the birth family. We learn our place and how to be ourselves primarily through how we are treated; we come to experience a deep sense of belonging. This is ultimate satisfaction in a primal form, which we can see as a direct social-aesthetic appraisal: Here I am, and here I belong. What I am doing and being is right for me.
Note that I am presenting a paradigm case here – a way these things happen that provides a context for understanding variations on how they happen. Early family life notoriously goes wrong in many well-known ways. Psychologists – especially analysts – emphasize the importance of good early childhood experiences of bonding, attachment, nurturance, etc. for the development of the person. Some do not develop a strong sense of being and belonging; their world and their place does not make sense in their direct experience. To reiterate Ossorio’s maxim: A person requires a world (a world that makes sense) to be a person at all. This is arguably the most basic, fundamental human need, following only the biological necessities of food, water, air and what the body does with these; lacking a world is a pathological condition. We are thus not surprised to see pathological behavior from such persons.
But pathology is the exception. Most people begin their lives in a world that makes sense. For a rare few their world makes sense in the same way throughout their lives; their sense of belonging, their Ultimate Satisfaction, remains strong and unshaken.
For the rest of us it’s a more complex story. The world we were born into makes sense from the beginning, and it continues to do so for many years – until one day, as with Updike’s Reverend Clarence Arthur Wilmot, it doesn’t. Anything that disrupts that secure sense of being and belonging can trigger a world collapse – early death of a parent, being uprooted from an established home, adolescence, going to college or to war, exposure to role models who live in ways very different from your own. The list is endless and again, well known.
In many cases people essentially swap one world for another, as when an adolescent’s secure place in the world of the birth family gives way to an exciting place in the larger world of peers. And of course what holds the new world together is exactly what held the old one together: the ultimate satisfaction of participating in this world. What differs is the nature of that ultimate satisfaction; for adolescents, from a secure experience of belonging in a known community to an exciting experience of new possibilities for becoming in another, larger community. Different worlds make sense in different ways.
Our emphasis so far has been on ultimate satisfaction in the beginning and ending of worlds. But that is by no means the full story; in fact, our most important use for this concept is found in the everyday, minute-to-minute living of a person’s life. The world we live in makes sense, and it makes sense now. Unpacking ultimate satisfaction in everyday life is the topic of the next post in this series; by way of preview, here are three examples:
- “Doing good science is simply the most pleasurable thing anyone can do. It is like having good sex. It excites you all over and makes you feel all-powerful and complete.” Renowned scientist participating in Prof. Nancy L. Andreasen’s study of creativity, reported in The Atlantic July/August 2014.
- “It would be vain to try to put into words that immeasurable sense of bliss which comes over me directly a new idea awakens in me and begins to assume a different form. … Everything within me starts pulsing and quivering; hardly have I begun the sketch ere one thought follows another.” Peter Tchaikovsky.
- “No matter how great the outer turmoil or sorrow might seem to be, there is a space within that provides comfort and support whenever we turn there. We always have the ability to turn there, in each new present moment.” D. R. Butler, author of “Living in the Truth of the Present Moment”
Next: Ultimate Satisfaction in Everyday Life