Thursday, January 9, 2014

Self-Actualization Redux

Redux means to bring back or restore.

In the present post we are using it in the sense of coming back to self-actualization.

Self-actualization, or self-realization, is a term in positive psychology.

It is used in various connotations. Here are some examples.

(1) Pursuit of Knowledge
(2) Urge to Do Something for Society
(3) Desire for Spiritual Enlightenment
(4) Expression of Creativity

Psychology is the discipline dealing with human psyche and hence it has natural boundary with the Islamic mystical tradition.

The main modern scientific tradition, as much as it can be used for psychology, is to present a mechanical view of the world.

As a result a modern psychologist would conclude that religion has nothing to say about human psyche.

Falsity of above claim should not be a point of contention.

But one can not ignore the fact that western scientific tradition sneers at anything that can not fit its mechanical paradigm. This manifests, for example, in a very patronizing attitude towards homeopathy. The Unani Medicine tradition, so prevalent in the Indian subcontinent will receive the same treatment by the western establishment were it presented to them.

Practitioners of Unani Medicines are called Hakims and the irony is that many of them would prefer to be called doctors and in deed so many of them use western allopathic medicines in their prescription - an act for which they are certaunly not qualified.

But let us talk about conservative practitioners of Unani Medicine. Many of them are products of our Islamic Darul Ulooms, Islamic seminaries and some of them are experts of Islamic mysticism. They deal both with physical ailments as well as matters spiritual.

So what do the practitioners of Islamic mysticism, the mystics, the Sufis, say about above matters of self-actualization.

Let us take one of them: Pursuit of Knowledge.

A western psychologist would assert, after Kurt Goldstein [1], that tendency to actualize self is the mater motive of an organism. 

Let us restrict ourselves to human beings.
In the context of pursuit of knowledge a western psychologist would assert that a human beings have the master motive to acquire knowledge.

This should be qualified. The motive is strong in some people and moderate in others and there are people who are rather detached from this tendency.

This is a rather obvious but significant aspect of the issue at hand.
We do have mighty scholars of every discipline of academic pursuit.
Over the period of time we have seen mighty scholars of Islam - both Muslim and western.

Then there have been western scholars of Christianity, Hinduism as well as the fames Indian scholars of the latter.

Then there is the long list of western Muslim and Indian scholars of philosophy. Similar long list of scientists with insatiable urge for knowledge. Same is true for the disciplines of humanities and social sciences, including economics and literature.

So this observation that some human beings have a rather strong desire to acquire knowledge is a truism.

But there is another truism. Every human being is not like John L. Esposito or Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi or Noam Chomsky or S. Radhakrishnan, Amartya Sen or Edward Witten. The matter of fact is there are only few people like them.

Let us be little more specific and accurate. Every modern society has a sizable number of academicians of various hue. But what is its percentage of the whole population. It certainly vary from country to country. For a Jewish population it will perhaps be very large but for an underdeveloped country it will be very small. On the average we would be lucky to have a hundred good academicians per million residents.

Here we are not talking about literacy. That is quite different from self-actualization.

Let us include all the people overwhelmed by the self-actualization desire in all the fields mentioned the list at the beginning. Let us also include also those disciplines that are not mentioned in above list. The number still might reach only a hundred souls per million. That is a tiny percentage of population.

The number is so small that it is not worth mentioning even if multiplied by hundred.

This raises a question. Why are such people so visible if there number is really so small? Answer to that is that we talk only about such people and we do that again and again.

In conclusion we do have examples of self-actualization but the numbers are insignificantly small.

And the phenomena is remarkable because of the impressive nature of every such achievement and the fact that we human beings focus on such things but phenomena is really rare.

Indeed this rareness and scarcity contributes to the mystique of the phenomenon of self-actualization.

From the Islamic point of view this would be a mundane observation that Allah, Exalted is He, sometimes distributes his bounties appreciable to some of His slaves. This is a Grace of God and He bestows it by His Will on whoever He wants.

To view the same from a mechanical angle is a travesty of truth because it dissociates a piece of reality from not only spiritual but even psychological content. A better attitude, even for a western academician would be that an emotional and psychological phenomena is more than the content of its parts and that is spiritual. Before that we got to accept that psychological phenomenon is more then its biological content. Even before that we got to accept that biological phenomenon is more than corresponding mere bio-chemical collective content.

Our western friends would disagree with that.

But we do have an Islamic perspective.

[1] Arnold H. Modell, The Private Self (Harvard 1993) p. 44