Interview with Victor Piccininni, author of several studies about the psychology of New Humanism. Among others: “About Working with Attention”, “About Guided Experiences” and “Experiences of Recognition”. He is also a researcher at the Centre of Humanist Studies.
Rehuno: Victor, what characterizes the psychology of New Humanism and how does it differ from other psychological currents?
Victor Piccininni: The current known as the Psychology of New Humanism was created by Silo and later other contributions have been added based to his teaching: www.silo.net.
One of the relevant aspects of this psychology (among many others that we could discuss on another occasion), is the proposal to work and explore what we call “profound” spaces of human consciousness and interiority. In those deep spaces (sometimes also called “transcendental”) are found the experiences linked to the meaning of life, death, transcendence… And all those experiences linked to the “sacred” that many times are not taken into account as relevant aspects by other traditional currents.
Rehuno: What is the situation of human consciousness from the point of view of the psychology of New Humanism?
Victor Piccininni: Events in all latitudes of the world point to an overflow of violence in all fields of human endeavour.
The lack of clear references generates disorientation in individuals and in populations in general.
The situation of disorientation and internal contradiction experienced by individuals is experienced as mental suffering and this suffering is transferred to others and is fed back into itself generating a general crisis of “meaning in life”.
This situation of accelerated destructuring of society and individuals is also a reflection of an accelerated destructuring of human consciousness, generating a growing spiral of personal crises and psycho-social outbursts that cannot be foreseen or understood.
Rehuno: And, how can such psychology help to resolve disorientation and contradiction?
Victor Piccininni: We want to emphasize the statement that this feeling of “destructuring of human consciousness”, this current process of loss of references and strong disorientation, is part of an evolutionary process, a process of “growth crisis”, where the consciousness seeks answers and references that it does not seem to find in the current belief system.
It is the moment of “internal failure” that in some cases leads to desperation and anguish, in others to new attempts but maintaining the same scheme of answers and therefore again to failure, and in some others begins a deep reflection that impels them towards new horizons.
This is the era of the “disillusioned soul” that Ortega y Gasset described so well.
Or, as Jaspers points out in one of his works: “In limit situations, either nothingness makes its appearance, or becomes sensitive to what really exists in spite of and beyond all evanescent worldly being”.
Rehuno: Specifically, what is the proposal to overcome suffering and give meaning to life?
Victor Piccininni: To outline a proposal we must first try to clarify the origin of this situation of suffering, and from there reflect on a possible path to follow.
The root of human suffering lies in fear. Fear of illness, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness and fear of death.
Overcoming suffering, understanding the fact of death and reaching transcendence are the themes that have nested in the depths of the human soul since the most remote times.
They are the “fundamental themes” of human existence to which the “meaning of life” is intimately linked.
One will be able to recognize them or hide them. One can do a thousand things to “distract” one’s consciousness from these profound themes, but they will always be there waiting, throwing their signals, asking and claiming our attention.
The human being will not be able to free themselves from deep inner suffering if they do not promptly assume and explore these issues within themselves.
The overcoming of mental suffering, the understanding of the fact of death and the possibility of reaching transcendence, are themes that must be taken into account by the professionals of Psychology who assume the challenge of deepening their contribution to human liberation.
The percentages of the world population that feel in themselves this “internal destructuring”, which does not allow them to live in the conditions they would like, grow exponentially. Individual and social psychological explosions are growing at all latitudes.
Rehuno: In this social context, how do you interpret the current situation of psychology professionals who make an effort to help others?
Victor Piccininni: The same professionals and scholars sometimes feel overwhelmed by an existential problem that cannot be treated or responded to from the parameters and schemes in which they were trained.
As Salvatore Pulleda says in his work “Historical Interpretations of Humanism”: “a psychotherapist who refuses a priori to listen to the voice that cries out in demand for meaning, how can it face the massive avalanche of neurosis in our days?
Rehuno: Pharmacology also has its limits and many people distrust it and consider it a business. What do you think?
Victor Piccininni: Pharmacology is becoming more and more complex. And just as in some cases it helps to advance treatments, in other cases the limits of scientific progress and the inhuman speculation of economic interests that feed the laboratories that produce such drugs are unclear.
In any case, what is important to clarify here is that we are trying to provide answers to the problem of human suffering, with tools that social experience shows to be, at least, insufficient.
Given the complexity of the time, the explanations that seemed sufficient a few decades ago are not enough to respond to current internal needs.
This last century has been characterized by a spectacular advance in the sciences applied to matter and technological development, but this advance is not reflected in the same magnitude in the sciences that study the internal and intangible of the human being, nor in the philosophical and psychological ideas and their more punctual application in the field of psychotherapy.
Rehuno: So, what to do? What would be the steps to follow in this situation of psychosocial urgency?
Victor Piccininni: The first step will have to be taken by all those concerned with psychology and human existence.
Then, yes, the moment will come, based on one’s own experience, to try to transfer this knowledge to professional practice, to help patients, to the relationship with the world and to academic areas.
We are talking about incorporating the themes and contributions that Silo has made in his Psychology of New Humanism to psychotherapeutic practices and professional training in academic areas.
This cannot only arise from theoretical discussions about human behaviour, but must have a necessary precondition: the professional’s own experience of contact with this “deep psychology”, which they will then transfer to their professional action in the world and thus open a new horizon in this valuable contribution to the liberation of personal and social suffering.
Without experience and a correct understanding of that experience, any attempt in this field will fall back into the realm of personal interpretation and theoretical discussion.
What we are saying is not new. Nor are we saying that no progress has been made, but we are saying that it has not been enough to balance the acceleration of the general crisis of the system.
We are talking about a process that the psychological sciences are already going through in their eagerness to accompany the human process. And in that process, we want to highlight what we understand to be a necessary and evolutionary next step.
Rehuno: Could you expand a little more on what this process is like and what it consists of?
Victor Piccininni: Western psychology is a very young science that is in the phase of its first discoveries.
Making a little history, about one hundred years ago appears that decisive work of Sigmund Freud entitled ¨The interpretation of dreams” which had in that first period a very weak resonance but which was later called to produce a new path in psychology and in its psychotherapeutic application.
There begins a path of exploration in the psychology of the profound.
Rehuno: Is it related to the studies developed by Jung in his research?
Victor Piccininni: Jung, after his close collaboration with Freud, directs his research towards what he himself called “analytical psychology”, warning of the biases of the developments of Freud and Adler, and deepening in his studies the complexity of the human psychism.
His more than two hundred works, his theories of archetypes and psychological types are very lush, and although difficult to characterize briefly, they point to a remarkable advance in the deepening of psychology and its applications.
Contemporary to these studies are Husserl’s remarkable and revolutionary investigations in the field of philosophy.
Phenomenology, characterized by the concepts of “intentionality” and “meaning” of human consciousness, gives impetus and serves as a basis for new psychological developments.
If we speak of the field of a “psychology of the profound” we cannot fail to highlight the contributions of Jasper and also of Binswagner.
From Ludwig Binswagner I would like to highlight the following thought that synthesizes his commitment to a psychology of the profound: “Our patients would be very unhappy if, in order to heal, they were obliged to understand Heraclitus or Hegel; however, no one will be healed, nor truly cured in the depths of their being, if the physician does not succeed in fanning in them that flame of spirituality whose vigilance must reveal the presence of the breath of the spirit”.
Among these studies and developments oriented towards an analysis of the profound registers of the consciousness, we cannot fail to mention the vast works of Sastre, produced between 1938 and 1960.
This process does not stop and it is perhaps in 1945, with the developments of Victor Frankl, creator of Logotherapy, that it finds its highest dimension. In his work Frankl highlights the spiritual dimension of the human being and stresses that it is the lack of “meaning” that is the main root of human suffering. This “psychotherapy of the meaning of life” is based on an active consciousness in search of meaning, thus overcoming the mechanistic visions predominant in classical psychology that placed consciousness as passive.
Rehuno: These new psychological conceptions, at what point in their development are they and what path do they have to follow?
Victor Piccininni: It is necessary to deepen in oneself the themes of the meaning of life, death and transcendence. It is necessary to understand how the lack of answers to these themes generates mental suffering and orients existence in directions that are often conflictive for one’s consciousness, leading it to situations of existential crisis and growing frustration.
It is necessary to discover and recognize the existence of “profound internal spaces” that, located beyond the usual spaces, should not be “interpreted” following the usual psychological schemes, but should be “experienced” without one’s own or others’ prejudices.
We are not starting from scratch. This new step already has notable contributions that can be explored and developed.
To the historical process already mentioned we add today the contributions that are made from New Humanism or Universalist Humanism reflected in many of its works, we mention three of them.
- Contributions to Thought. Where Silo tackles the theory of the image and its location in the space of representation. Here there is an enormous theoretical-experiential contribution to understanding in depth the function of the image as a transporter of psychic charges and as a structured synthesis of the functioning of the consciousness and not as a simple natural reflection of perceptions and/or representations. The theory of the “space of representation” is also developed here as an internal place where these representations are located.
- Guided Experiences. The “guided experiences” constitute a series of psychological practices supported by literary forms. These practices are conceived from a perspective where the contents and phenomena of consciousness that generate mental suffering can redirect their psychic charge and harmoniously reorder themselves to the practitioner’s internal landscape. Also, several of these practices are oriented towards a deep reflection on the themes of the “meaning” of life, death and transcendence, a theme typical of a “deep and transcendental psychology”.
- Psychology Notes. It is in this last writing that Silo describes and directly addresses the themes of a psychology of the profound. He describes the different conformations and structures of consciousness and expresses the possibility of exploring the deep spaces of the consciousness. It is in this work where the following is detailed :”The profound (also called the self in some contemporary psychological currents) is not exactly a content of consciousness. The consciousness can reach “the porfound” through a special work of internalization. In this internalization, that which is always hidden, covered by the “noise” of the consciousness, bursts in. It is in the “profound” where the experiences of sacred spaces and times are found. In other words, in “the profound” is found the root of all mysticism and all religious feeling.
Rehuno: So, you recommend the study of these works to keep moving forward?
Victor Piccininni: The study and reading of these works will not be enough to meet the challenge we have set ourselves. It will also be necessary for those professionals and scholars of psychology to reflect personally and explore their own deepest spaces so that, from their own experiences, they can then recreate them and translate them into their professional practice and academic training.
We live in an era where references of all kinds are falling and disorientation and violence are increasing. As an individual correlate, human consciousness becomes destructured and does not find valid answers to its “search for meaning”.
This “meaning” that has been declared is directly and deeply linked to the fundamental themes of human existence, which are: overcoming suffering, the problem of death and the possibility of spiritual transcendence.
There is a historical process, driven by numerous professionals and scholars of philosophy and psychology, that attempts to explore the depth of human consciousness in search of answers to mental suffering. This process, which made significant progress between 1900 and 1950, has lost strength in recent decades.
There are numerous contributions from New Humanist Psychology that can be of help when trying to deepen these issues. For this purpose, the books “Contributions to Thought”, “Guided Experiences” and “Psychology Notes” stand out.
It is necessary that professionals of Psychology deepen and explore these topics in themselves in order to be able to later transfer this personal experience to the therapeutic and academic practice.
The personal experience and the contact with one’s own profound spaces, although sometimes they cannot be explained in precise theoretical terms, will enable professionals and scholars of Psychology to have a deeper understanding of the existential problems and the lack of meaning that today floods the human soul.
Translation Pressenza London