Psychosocial Reality stands on Two Legs

Warren Kinston 25. March 2013 12:00

This map that I call the Taxonomy of Human Elements in Endeavour, THEE, is still incomplete and poses many puzzles. 

Psychosocial Reality

The taxonomy was a surprise discovery. I knew I wanted to find a way to help people and improve their relationships, work life and communities. And I soon found that I had to get to grips with psychosocial reality. This was because it became rapidly apparent that what people happen to think and feel has an amazing influence over what they do. Fitting in with reality, objectively or at least independently perceived, was a relatively low priority. Often, it only happens if a psychosocial process is crafted with this end in mind.

In trying to assist, I found it useful to reflect to clients and friends assumptions that they implicitly used and took for granted. Together we saw how those affected what happened. I started learning from those who came for therapy. Later I became involved one way or another with a wide range of people: managers, professionals, politicians, chief executives, scientists. 

I noticed that troubles arose when people were confused about certain elements of their own experience. I mean those elements that were essential tools for their efforts to be successful. If you don't really know precisely what you are talking about, how can you get your head straight or, for that matter, proceed ethically? One way is to retreat into the world of science, where you get control, As in philosophy, you turn "not knowing" into a virtue and you never expect to know. But even scientists have to work in teams and deal with university administration. Many have families. Others do voluntary work or serve on local councils. It is hard to avoid knowing in those situations.

You can't be a person and avoid the necessity to get a clear fix on essential elements of social life. The parallel in the material world would be not knowing the names or the properties of various building materials. Could you sensibly or ethically build a tower-block not knowing the nature and properties of its construction materials?

As I teased out the elements critical to achievement and success, I saw that usually there were closely related concepts to consider. These could be ordered in terms of how abstract or concrete they were, and how they influenced each other. The result was a map. But this was not any map: it was a map of the self-in-committed-action.

Explained in relation to a currently problematic issue, this dynamic structure of unfolding forms and processes jumps out at people. However, it is normally invisible or implicit in actions. Often I found a dominance of «wrong thinking» as well. By «wrong thinking», I mean either unknowingly confusing and ignoring essential elements, using inappropriate assumptions, or imposing a dogma that is irrelevant on close inspection.

My focus in this blog is not on that map or on wrong thinking, but on psychosocial reality, because until you recognize that reality and know when you are dealing with it or talking about it (and when you are not), there is no point in any mapping. The distinguishing feature of any element in psychosocial reality is that it has two legs. One exists in the mind of a person, and the other exists in the shared social world. If either of these vanishes, then so does the psychosocial reality of that element. So most MRI studies and lab experiments in psychology are irrelevant.

Here is a simple example:

Purpose. If you produce a statement of purpose and share it with others, there seems to be something real. But only if you have a genuine inner intention. If you have no inner intention vitalizing that purpose, then nothing much will happen because there is no purpose in your psychosocial reality. All that exists is something in empirical reality: a set of words in a purpose-looking format on a piece of paper, or an instruction from an experimenter. Similarly, if you claim to have a purpose, but you never talk about it and no public action ever follows from it, then you are not holding a purpose in social terms. No change in psychosocial reality occurs. At best, you have the potential for creating a psychosocial purpose that could lead to something.

This same logic applies to deciding, to organizing, to measuring, to ethical choice and indeed anything else in the field.

So are the two legs of psychosocial reality still puzzling?  Let's consider a more complex situation:

An agreement to meet with a friend for lunch. That sets up a phenomenon in psychosocial reality. When the lunch occurs, it also exists in empirical reality. That past existence can persist in some empirical sense if there is a record of it—even if both parties forget about it entirely and it vanishes from their psychosocial reality. It is possible that a memory persists unconsciously and has future influences on choices that the individual never knows about ... but that too would be purely an empirical reality matter. Our focus is not on the influences on personal choice (the «why?») but on the deliberate and aware making of a personal choice at a moment in time (the process).

A far more complex example might be a research project, or an entrepreneurial start-up; and a political system is yet more complex. However, no matter how simple or how complicated, all such things are endeavours that depend on human beings (not machines or computer programs) sustaining a particular evolving psychosocial reality. Endeavours depend on a desire to do something by a person in a social situation, No matter how different, all endeavors share the same fundamental elements, only differing in how they are articulated and which are given more emphasis.

I discovered (or concluded—it's sometimes hard to know which) that psychosocial reality rests on doing. It is brought into being by doing. We apparently exist to do. Until we are dead. However, there is a whole superstructure within us that governs doing. It is needed to make sure that the action makes sense in both personal and social (i.e. psychosocial) terms. This superstructure includes THEE's Root elements: willingness, purpose, communicating, experiencing, change and inquiry.

The challenge for an investigator is to observe, name, organize and analyze all the elements that comprise "doing" from a purely psychosocial perspective. That then becomes the foundation of a worthwhile field of study. 

I believe that THEE provides that foundation: but if you don't, then I would welcome dialogue. To that end, I have introduced something new to the TOP website: a Studio where I have put incomplete frameworks. It might be a bit confusing … but then that is the point. We are all confused about psychosocial reality. If you only want to read material that is worked out and tightly written, just avoid the TOP Studio.

The only proviso in helping with my inquiry is that you don't say things like "first, let's define our terms", because that takes you down the wrong track. This work is not conventional philosophy. The goal is not to focus on words, but to use names as tools for observations. So you must say: "I have noticed X, so … " etc. or "How can a taxonomy account for … ?" or “Could it include … ?” I should warn you that the underlying categories and principles of anything and everything you say or think are found within THEE. We cannot operate from outside it or independently of it because it is us, at our best and worst. 

To look at THEE is to look at yourself in action. Try it.



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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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