Friday, April 17, 2009

From Cradle to Graves: The genesis of health and psychopathology

For about a decade now I have been studying various nuances in the work of psychologist, Clare W. Graves and have recently been reading his original PhD thesis (1945). All of the positive qualities of intrigue and obstinacy in this brilliant mind are evident in this original source work.

Titled "A study of the genesis and dynamics of psychopathic personality as revealed by combining clinical case history and experimental approaches" he re-introduces the concept of "Anspruchsniveau" (aspiration level) while looking at why the different theories of therapy in sociology, psychology and physiology only have partial histories of success in very similar cases.

When you consider that Engel's essay on a biopsychosocial theory of medicine was not written until 1977 and the approach of triangulation in research methodology is still not often used, here we have a unique mind forming a creative methodology to an undefined problem of great importance.

In his doctorate Graves reviewed 1048 titles of theory, conducted five experiments with 94 subjects in four groupings, and reviewed seven case studies so as to highlight the difference and similarity in thirteen theoretical traits of the psychopathic personality.

His conclusion on the preceding 136 years of confusion in the field of psychology is significant. His thesis was that: "although these individuals may have many traits in common, one cannot understand the meaning of the traits until the dynamics of their organization within the individual are known." (p. 108). His conclusion on the thesis was that: "... the results of all the previous observations are not necessarily divergent if one orients himself properly. In this investigation a simple proposal was made; namely, that all the points of view are correct for one or another psychopathic personality but not for all of them." (p. 126)

What Graves found was that within the homogeneity of traits was uniqueness. The arguments on the definition of what is a psychopathic personality by its causes of deficiency leads nowhere, but to opposition. His resolution was to see the initial whole and gather greater definition of the parts. He concludes:

"Let us classify first by the broadest common trait, then as experiment shows differences exclude, so that we finally arrive at a point where we understand what the person is like in comparison to others and also how his dynamic organization differs from others." (p. 135)

This quest for the broadest common traits led to another 30 years of research and the generation of the emergent cyclical levels of existence theory. From this we are able to create, with some small measure of informed understanding, the broad classifications that lead to the definition of individual dynamics. This algorithm of uniqueness is where human nature might be disclosed for all the forms in which it is made manifest.

The only question I have is why we still prefer a simplistic answer to a complex problem rather than simple answers within a clear solution. Graves' work was apparently inspired by the confusion he saw in what must be a solvable problem in his field. In his approach he embraced, rather than narrowed, the confusion. This tendency towards the simplistic is I suspect, our ultimate human failing and one that can be easily met with acknowledgment and self-acceptance of this fact, if only for its attempted mitigation within ourselves.

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