On the Origin of Homo Psychicus

On the Origin of Homo Psychicus

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In Swedish


Alf Nilsson, professor emeritus, worked as a professor of clinical psychology at the Department of Psychology, Lund University. He is a licensed psychologist as well as a psychotherapist.

Copyright © 2005 Alf Nilsson
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Jan-Olof Nilsson

Who is Homo Psychicus? He is all of us humans living on Earth ... In the derivation of Homo Psychicus, the authorís starting point is system-theoretical. Six systems, hierarchically organised, can be outlined: the drives or needs, action or sensomotorics, perception, the affects, cognition and language. The drives or needs and the affects are systems of motivation. The other four have a more or less evident executive, instrumental [mental] function. The evolutionary perspective comprises the derivation and limitation of the systems. To support the derivation, the author also analyses the matter from philosophical, epistemological, ontogenetic, psychoanalytic, neurobiological and object-relational perspectives. In "Personality on clinical basis", a chapter specifically dedicated to the individual, Alf Nilsson shares his experience from many years of research and practical work in the clinical area.

Chapter 1

What kind of book is this and what is it all about? Well, it is about Homo psychicus, a term I myself have come up with. In "Consciousness regained" (1983), Nicholas Humphrey introduces the name Homo psychologicus. It alludes to the fact that all human beings are prone to "psychologise". It happens in everyday life when we come across people who make us want to know more about them: What are their intentions? What do they feel? How do they think? Sometimes we also wonder about the powers we ourselves are governed by.

The perspective of this book is wider. It contains the derivation and function of the systems and processes that make it possible for psychologisation to become common practice - but also how the systems are built to make us act, become conscious, feel and think the way we do. Therefore Homo psychicus.

PDF-fil Read the entire first chapter (in Swedish).

Chapter 2
About scientific approach and psychology as science

To what extent can knowledge be extracted from science? To answer that question we rely on Immanuel Kant to outline the prospective limitations. He brought the state of things to a head. After Kant human thought took quite a different course. He placed thought in an cage of iron with two gatekeepers as unbribable today as they were then, more than two centuries ago: one was the unapproachable 'thing in itself', the other the 'categorical imperative' (act towards people in a way that may give your actions the force of a universal law). With that, man is destined to confess that absolute truth and absolute knowledge form an illusion. Furthermore, the subject can only rely on its own self when trying to find the answer to the question, "What is my true self?" I think Kant expresses the same thought when he writes "We cannot ... view our own state of mind by means of any other way of thinking than the one linked to our own self."

Chapter 3
The system of drives or needs

What is manís deepest driving force? To find a first answer to the question I turn to the thinking of Baruch Spinoza: "The striving (Conatus) by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing."

Almost two centuries elapsed before, through Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), we got a thorough analysis of man as a being governed by instinctual drives.

Chapter 4
The affects system or affection

What is affect? To answer the question, we make Silvan Tompkins?derivation of the system of human affects our guide. Tompkins is eager to point out that he connects to Darwinís lines of thought as presented in "The expressions of the emotions in man and animals", a study in which Darwin describes his observations of a number of discreet emotions in human beings as well as in animals. He leans towards the viewpoint that emotions are innate and that they are universal by their nature.

Chapter 5
The reflex-sensomotoric system

What is a newborn child? One answer is that the human child is the most premature and helpless of all new-born, living beings ?but it also has genetic potentials to become an individual within the species provided with the most advanced equipment in the evolutionary chain. However, to achieve that, the child has to take quite a few emotional as well as instrumental steps.

Chapter 6
Perception or the perceptional system

What is perception? Literally, to become conscious of something through a sensory stimulus. The term, according to some encyclopaedias and dictionaries, is especially associated with vision ?but consciousness or perception does not originally exclude any sensory modality. When it comes to the human being, the common expression "to become aware" means to become conscious of something in the world outside ourselves. When we put it in a scientific perspective we also mean ?modern perceptional research has greatly contributed to this ?to become conscious of something coming from within ("now I realise that ...").

Chapter 7
Cognition or the cognitive system

What makes knowledge possible? The question was the basis of Immanuel Kantís whole philosophical project. Kant was the first philosopher who brought to notice that space, time, substance, casuality are human constructions.

How does knowledge build up and how is it remodelled during a childís development into an adult? This question launched Jean Piagetís expansion of the Kantesian project. At that, Piagetís systematic examination used as its starting point the childís innate and first reflex gestures aimed at the world in order to 'grasp' it.

Chapter 8
The language or the language system

Is language innate or acquired? In 1957, the question was brought to a head. That year, Burrhus Skinner published "Verbal Behaviour". In his article Skinner stated that language is an operant behaviour just like every other acquired behaviour.

The same year, Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, published "Syntactic Structures", in which he put forward a one-sided nativistic view of language: language and syntax are governed by an innate generative and universal grammar linked to manís unique set of genes (perhaps an expression of Chomskyís Descartesian heritage).

Chapter 9
Personality on clinical basis

Is personality innate or acquired? The question can be rephrased using biopsychological and technical terms. Is personality a genotypic or phenotypic creation? The basic matrix needed to answer the question in the chapter is clear: the object-relational and the epigenetic development of importance to a personís ability to control and handle his or her innate affects.

Chapter 10
Meetingpoint motivation and the instrumental organisation

  • About the evolution and to think in hierarcic organised systems
  • Homo psychicus?invention moral and ethics
  • Back to the beginning
  • Homo psychicus as a moral being
  • About the parallellism between the "generative grammar" of sexual drive and of the instrumental organisation
  • Wishes - beliefs - thinking - language
  • About recognitive and multimodal evocative representations and reflected abstraction
  • About similarity, dissimilarity and difference - the relation to analog and digital coding systems
  • Afterword

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