The Psyche & the Soul

Today’s society has become entrenched between dynamic polarities; the search for the soul through the incorporation of spirituality, the development and overindulgence with the self, and belief and understanding there may be neither. In the modern Western, secular society, the soul has been replaced with the self and the measure of humanity is based on personal autonomy, self-sufficiency, individuation, differentiation form others, and self-fulfillment (Boyd, 1996). As the word “self” has become the modern replacement for the word “soul,” the rich history of the soul through the context of past traditions, cultures, religions through the vertical transcendence; a belief that hierarchically all things have their own origin in the domain of the sacred (Goodenough, 2001). As the culmination of embracing the spiritual within the ideology of the self has amassed a shift with modern society, the path toward enlightenment, knowledge, and the search of truth comes to fruition through the focused and concentrated efforts of a horizontal self-development. While on the surface these goals appear to be endowed with the wisdom of sage’s past, the self will leave individuals no closer to understanding themselves, others, or the ultimate truths of the human condition.

The concept of truth can be as allusive as the concept of the soul, but mirrors many of the difficulties experienced by the earliest founders of the discipline of psychology. As psychology separated and diverted itself from its philosophical and theological beginnings, the pursuit of psychology changed in methodology and pursuit. As a result of the claim to empirical science, the field of psychology began to embrace a pragmatic view of truth. The value of truth belief became affiliated with validity based on the compatibility of its predictions and its results instead of a truth embodying the personal, subjective authentic experience of an individual (Yadlin-Gadot, 2017). In the process of seeking validity and scientific status, quantification and the positivist view of the truth increased the separation between the knower and the known, and knowledge became grounded in positivism and the scientific practice of tracking the sensory experiences (Tafreshi, Slaney, & Neufeld, 2016). As a result of the positivism, the study of the soul morphed into abstractness, and the will to truth was reduced to a view of the soul into a scientific methodology of measurement and quantification of the visual. This movement would become one of the biggest contributions to nihilism, and the redirection from the traditions and beliefs of the past to the human condition represented through the concept of the self (Richardson, 2011). The process of the transformation of truth in the discipline of psychology can be attributed to the foundations of quantification in the late 19th century Germany, and the incorporation of the positivist view of knowledge. The concept of truth through a scientific lens will only narrow our understanding instead of expanding possibility. In reconciling the claims of science, the pursuit of truth must incorporate the claims of the various religion and morality in order to encapsulate the complexity of truth, and its relationship to the application of the human condition.

Since the inception of the field of psychology, and its original understanding and study of the soul, the focus of study has changed in such a dramatic fashion. Prior to the late 1800’s, psychology focused on the study of the psyche, or the soul, in relation to the human condition. During the late 1800’s, a significant change occurred when William Wundt, who is often credited to the founder of the science of psychology (Gare, 2019), established the first experimental psychology laboratory, rejecting the existence of the soul and attributing the understanding of the human condition to physiology; the body, brain and nervous system. The removal of the soul created the way for psychology to embrace the possibility of becoming a science and embraced a natural scientific understanding of the human being (Citizens Commission on Human Rights, 2018). This view of the human condition has continued, and modern psychology continues to rely on psychiatric and biological models, which is one of the greatest barriers for psychology and expanding rather than reducing the understanding of the human condition.

The term “soul” derives from the ancient Greek word “psyche” and was embraced in antiquity by philosophical thinkers. The soul is that entity within a person that integrates all the components of a life into one’s own, singular life (Willard, 1998). If the field of psychology continues to reduce the human being into empirical and quantitative statistics in order to enhance the understanding of the “self,” than the subjective meaning of life will continue to be overshadowed by the reductionist approach to science. The removal of the soul from the human condition occurred in psychology after the development of a secularized era of the “self,” and the separation of the philosophical and theological understanding of the human being through the lens of a natural science. In order for the discipline of psychology to continue to expand from it’s foundations, it must be able to understand the essence of the human condition in relationship to the natural world in which it exists within. This is where vertical transformation and the hierarchical system of body, mind, soul, spirit and Absolute can provide the answers to the human achievement, potential and optimal health.