a blog by josef johann

Friday, December 11, 2009

Abraham Maslow on the fusion of fact and value

From The Farther Reaches of Human Nature:

Too many people of limited vision define the essence of science as cautious checking, validating of hypotheses, finding out if other people's ideas are correct or not. But, insofar as science is also a technique of discovery, it will have to learn how to foster peak-experience insights and visions and then how to handle them as data. [...]

I quote a letter from Dr. A. Hoffer, dated February 8, 1963:

We have deliberately used P.E. (peak experience) as a therapeutic weapon. Our alcoholics who receive LSD or mescaline are given P.E. using music, visual stimuli, words, suggestion, anything which will give them what they say is a P.E. We have treated over five hundred alcoholics and certain general rules can be enunciated. One is that in general the majority of alcoholics who respond by sobriety after treatment have had P.E. Conversely, hardly any who have not had P.E. respond.

We also have strong data which suggest that affect is the chief component of P.E. When LSD subjects are first given penicillamine for two days they have an experience which is identical with the one normally gained from LSD, but where there is a marked dampening of affect. They observe all the visual changes, have all the changes in thinking, but they are emotionally flat and are more non-participant observers than participants. These subjects do not have P.E. In addition, only 10 per cent do well after treatment compared to our expected 60 per cent recovery on several large follow-up studies.

Now we make our big jump: This same list of described characteristics of reality, of the world, seen at certain times, is just about the same as what have been called the eternal values, the eternal verities. We see here the old familiar trinity of truth, beauty, and goodness. That is to say, this list of described characteristics is also simultaneously a list of values. These characteristics are what the great religionists and philosophers have valued, and this is practically the same list that most serious thinkers of mankind have agreed upon as the ultimate or highest value of life.

To repeat, my first statement is in the realm of science, defined as public. Anyone can do the same thing; anyone can check for himself; anyone can use the same procedure that I have used and can, objectively if he wishes, record on tape the things that are said in answer to the questions I posed and then make them public. That is, what I am reporting is public, repeatable, confirmable or not; it is even quantifiable if you wish. It is stable and reliable in the sense that when I repeat the operation I get approximately the same results. Even by the most orthodox, positivistic definitions of ninteenth-century science, this is a scientific statement. It is a cognitive statement, a description of the characteristics of reality, of the cosmos, of the world out there, outside the person who is reporting and describing, of the world as perceived. These data can be worked with in the traditional fashion of science, and their degree of truth or untruth can be determined.

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