I have just published my new monograph Worlds and Ultimate Satisfaction.
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.
On my website is a new, very brief paper on the concept of Significance. Significance Revisited is technical Descriptive Psychology, which will interest some readers of this blog but perhaps not others, so I have posted it elsewhere for anyone interested. It’s not “Tony makes sense of …” so much as “How Tony makes sense of …”
My website tonyputman.com is once again available. I refreshed the look and function of the site, and re-ordered the content. In addition, I have added some new material, in particular a page on Mastering Living where you can find portions of my book-in-process Ordinary Magic: Mastering the Art of Living.
Check it out! Feedback is always welcome.
I am currently writing a book entitled Ordinary Magic: Mastering the Art of Living. From time to time I will post excerpts. This is the first, from the final section of the book.
We live our lives in the context of our circumstances. Mastering the art of living involves recognizing, acknowledging and coming into harmony with your circumstances – and changing them where possible to suit you better. We have already explored in depth the ordinary magic of doing that.
But circumstances are only part – indeed, the smaller part – of life. How you live your life in the circumstances you are in essentially determines what your experience of life is. The key is mastering, not life, but living.
Consider: Continue reading Mastering Living
This is the tenth and final post in a series on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
Pathologies of ultimate satisfaction suggest a somewhat different orientation to therapy. This final post in the Worlds series will touch briefly on some aspects of this orientation.
First, some disclaimers:
- Not all pathology is connected to ultimate satisfaction. Many persons who seek and benefit from therapy experience living in a world that makes sense to them, and they find themselves significantly restricted in their ability to participate in that world.
- I am not proposing a new school or approach to therapy. To the extent these thoughts have any utility at all, they very likely will be useful to seasoned therapists from a broad variety of approaches.
- You do not need to be a therapist to find these thoughts useful and applicable.
- Each thought is stated and briefly expanded; they are meant to be evocative, not complete. A thorough exploration would require at least a very long paper or a short book.
This is the ninth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
A person is in a pathological state when their ability to participate in the practices of their community is significantly restricted. This can be a matter of restriction of specific important practices, enough to appraise the restriction as “significant”, while the person continues to participate in the community’s world and experiences it as making sense. These are not pathologies of ultimate satisfaction.
Pathologies of ultimate satisfaction involve a more pervasive restriction. (Note that I said more pervasive – not deeper or more significant or more important.) In pathologies of ultimate satisfaction my world does not make sense, nor does my place in it. I may struggle to act as if the world did make sense – but unless it actually does make sense to me, it will remain an unsatisfying effort.
Let’s look at some examples: Continue reading More Pathologies of Ultimate Satisfaction
This is the eighth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
Descriptive Psychologists understand psychopathology to be “a significant restriction in a person’s ability to participate in the social practices of their community.” This is among the most powerful and useful formulations in the Descriptive Psychology canon, connecting to many practical therapeutic approaches.
Notice a few things about this formulation of pathology (let’s drop the “psycho-” part for the sake of brevity):
- It does not “locate” pathology within the person, that is, it does not require that something important is wrong with the person’s physiology or character or developmental history or skills. While these certainly can be involved in a particular pathology, it is not required and in fact observably is not so in many instances we recognize as pathology. Pathology is a state-of-affairs involving the person and their participation in the world of their community.
- It does not imply that pathology is an enduring condition. Some pathologies do endure over time; many, perhaps most, do not. Just because a person was once in a particular pathological state says comparatively little about whether this will recur. Some pathologies have what we might appropriately call a “root cause” that endures; many simply do not.
- It does not imply that pathology is an abnormal condition. This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the Descriptive Psychology formulation; it specifically eliminates the confounding of pathology with abnormal. Depression, for instance, is a significant restriction in participation that varies from moderate to severe, but it is hardly abnormal in any sense of the term: a majority of people suffer from depression at times on their life, and it is often part of an adaptive response to significant loss of eligibility. Pathology is not inherently abnormal.
But pathology is strongly connected to ultimate satisfaction. Continue reading Pathologies of Ultimate Satisfaction
This is the seventh in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
“The world makes sense.”
This has been stated several times in this series to good effect in helping articulate ultimate satisfaction and its place in a person’s life. Now we need to look a little further. Let’s begin by clarifying what this statement is and what it is not.
“The world makes sense” is not a statement about what is universally true. It does not mean that the world actually makes sense to everyone all the time; the world obviously does not. “The world makes sense” is a slogan, which Ossorio reminds us “are apt for saying what you live by, and that is quite different from saying what you happen to believe or what happens to be true.” Continue reading What Ultimate Satisfaction is Not
This is the sixth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
So far we have been talking as if a person has one and only one community in which they participate and thus only one world to make sense of.
Ah, if only everyday life were that simple! In fact, each of us participates in multiple communities, each with its own world that makes sense in its own particular way. Usually we switch from one community to another smoothly, without much effort, and we have no trouble keeping track of who we are in which world – that’s part of our core competence as persons and we’re mostly really good at it. Sometimes the shift is incomplete; we find ourselves a bit wrong-footed and have to focus more to make sense of what we’re up to right now. And from time to time we find ourselves in an impossible situation, called upon to participate in two communities simultaneously. This can require a quick and sometimes hard choice – which comes first? Or can you literally live in both worlds at once? Continue reading Ultimate Satisfaction in Everyday Life