Monthly Archives: February 2016

Actor’s Knowing, West and East

Actor’s knowing has occupied a central place in my writing for the past decade or so, including my current work on “Ultimate Satisfaction” (to be published as a monograph this Spring.) I was inspired by Peter Ossorio’s revolutionary formulation of “the Actor’s world” in his 2006 magnum opus The Behavior of Persons, which includes this electrifying vision:

As an Actor I see the real world as a field of action, as the domain within which I live my life. In it are givens and possibilities, opportunities and non-opportunities, hindrances and facilitations for behavior. In it are reasons for acting one way or another. I am sensitized to behaviors that are available and ways of being that are available. There is no question of who or what I am – I am me. There is no question of my inclinations and proclivities; I do not need to know what they are, although I often do – what is primary is that I have them, and my having them is not something different from being me. In particular, they are not peculiar entities or forces that cause me to do what I do. Ideas come – I do not send for them nor do I receive them as information. Theories come. Visions and inklings of the future come, and their coming is not something different from being me. All of this is embedded in my actions and in the short term and long term structures of action and being that I compose, sometimes ad lib, sometimes without realizing it until later, and sometimes upon casual or serious reflection.” (Ossorio, 2006a, p. 254)

In my paper “At a Glance and Out of Nowhere: How Ordinary People Create the Real World” I wrote the following:

Actor’s knowledge is the immediate, first-hand, before-the-fact knowledge of the author of an action. It is not observation nor inference; it is recognition. I only recognize things that have a place in my world. What I recognize something as is in terms of its place in my on-going structure of behavior, and I may or may not have a thought about it. And of course, what I am capable of recognizing essentially depends on my developed competence.

We know what our behavior is before-the-fact, otherwise we could not do it on purpose. As Actor, we do not know our behavior as the Observer does, by observation; we know it directly, first-hand.

First-hand, direct knowing takes various forms which are quite familiar to us (in both senses of that word.) They include feelings, images, insights, decisions, impulses and, yes, thoughts – the kind of thoughts that seem to pop into our minds, out of nowhere.”

This is a radical departure for Western thought but, as it turns out, it is an ancient and honored way of thinking in Eastern philosophy/psychology. Consider the following by a renowned authority on Kashmir Shaivite and Buddhist thought:

Buddhi is the higher mind, the intuitive aspect of Consciousness, and the seat of discrimination. Through buddhi we know things without knowing how we know them. Insights simply arise from within, manifesting as conscience and intuitive guidance.

“You might read something and say to yourself, That’s true! How do you know that it is true? Because the words sparked the inner buddhi, an inner feeling of rightness, of knowing , of Yes! – because whatever the words alluded to was intuitively obvious.

This is how we know the truth of things – not through words describing opinions or perspectives, but through our own innermost feeling.”    — D. R. Butler, 2013

There is no reason to believe that Ossorio was cognizant of “buddhi” when he wrote The Behavior of Persons; Descriptive Psychology is by no means a Westernized version of Buddhism or any other Eastern school of thought. But “Actor’s knowing” is not something Peter Ossorio just made up; like all of Descriptive Psychology, it is the result of careful observation and thought regarding people and what they do. It is not surprising to find that other people at other times saw and articulated the same thing.

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