More Varieties of Ultimate Satisfaction

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


4 thoughts on “More Varieties of Ultimate Satisfaction

  1. The place of (and for) ultimate satisfaction(s) in what is generally referred to as “retirement” may be an interesting and practical application of this set of understandings.

  2. Hi Tony, I’m really enjoying these terrific posts about Ultmate Satisfaction (US) so I’d like to enter the conversation, asking questions about the posts themselves and some related material you’ve sent out.

    I’m wondering about a couple of things:

    First, I’m a bit perplexed by the parenthetical phrase in this maxim. It seems to me that “to be a person at all” requires a world, but it doesn’t follow for me that “to be a person at all” requires a world that make sense, at least to the person. “The world makes sense and so do people. They make sense now” seems to me to be different than saying that a specific person will see their world as making sense (although the observer may see it as making sense). It seems to me that the maxim is a good reminder, of sorts, that not everyone’s world will make sense to them, because it is only by reason of the world making sense that a specific world can be seen to make sense or not make sense. If THE world didn’t make sense, it would then be meaningless to talk about any specific world either making sense or not making sense. While the world must makes sense (to talk about persons at all), a world may not.

    Given this, a person in a pathological state may take their world to be one that makes no sense at all, but they are still a person, albeit “troubled” to varying degrees.

    Having said this, I’m therefore wondering if the difference between the maxim with and without the parenthetical phrase is, perhaps, the difference between Actor language and Observer language. A person in a pathological state who takes their world not to be making sense may come to therapy, because living in a world that either makes no sense or living in a world that they recognize could make sense but that they have no way of achieving, at some point just isn’t fun. However, through various therapeutic interventions that legitimize that person’s world (i.e., from the O-C perspective), they may then have reasons to change because they see that their world and their actions in that world do make sense (and perhaps it will even make sense to them how they have until then been taking their world to make no sense). The therapist might say that they have moved from a pathological to a non-pathological state, but not from being a non-person to a person. Am I right in thinking that the parenthetical phrase is clarified conceptually if one interprets it from the O-C perspective?

    The second thing that’s been puzzling me is the stipulation that US somehow requires a sudden insight that the world makes sense in a way it didn’t before, within a community. Again, I’m perplexed because of the difference between Actor and O-C language. A person who has a sudden profound insight about a world’s sense, may speak in ways that indicate their Ultimate Satisfaction because that sudden insight or recognition “accompanies participation in a practice involving direct appreciation of how the community’s world make sense”. However, a person’s world may be one that already expresses the ways in which the community’s world (of which they are a member) already makes sense, without requiring any sudden insight. They are just going about their lives in way that is Ultimately Satisfied, because to them, the world is (simply) profoundly sensible. This person may have no sudden realization or insight, but might still be described as ultimately satisfied. This perplexity on my part doesn’t detract in any way from the basic idea that US is to participate fully in a world and a community that make sense. It just suggests to me that a change from one state of “recognition” to another may only be what is required for the Actor to describe their participation in that way. This change of state can be one of “happiness” (“now I see it but I didn’t before”) or one of “distress” (“now I’ve lost it and I see what I’ve lost”) depending on the change, either of which brings to the Actor’s attention the sense that their community has been making all along. However, for an Actor having no such change of state, they are simply going about their lives Ultimately Satisfied, to be described in this way by the O-C.

    What are your thoughts about this?

    More generally, thanks for this very stimulating topic. Your insights and conceptual efforts are very much appreciated.

  3. Ned, Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. I appreciate your pointing out items that need clarification. Some of your points are covered in the next two posts (both up now). Here’s a brief take on some of the rest:

    “A person requires a world to be a person at all”: “that makes sense” is implicit in this, not a addition. Consider “A person requires a world, but it doesn’t have to make sense.” This is a non-starter for a paradigm case of person, because then you have to add something additional to the world or the person that makes the world make sense. Compare: a person engages in behavior but they don’t know what they want or whether they have accomplished it, unless we add in … Very defective as a paradigm case.

    One does not “see” the world as making sense — that is the Observer/Critic. One directly experiences the world as making sense, as the Actor. A reason why all this ultimate satisfaction talk may seem unfamiliar is we just don’t have, until Ossorio, talk about Actor, Actor’s world and Actor’s knowing.

    “The second thing that’s been puzzling me is the stipulation that US somehow requires a sudden insight that the world makes sense in a way it didn’t before, within a community.” There is no such stipulation, although we began by talking about such insights. In fact, see above: “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.” I agree with all your points in that paragraph.

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