Cultuur, psychologie, omgevingsvormgeving en zelfoverstijging

H.W.J. Boerwinkel

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    Development as manifested both in the culture as a whole and in individuals is based on a dialectical process. This is the central theme of this study.

    The nature of this dialectical process is explored in order to assess to what extent it may contribute to a solution of what has been labeled: the problem of self- transcendance in western culture. In this context, it is contended that the dialectical process runs as follows: a satisfying transactional event (thesis), is gradually hampered and eventually blocked and is inevitably being converted into a diametrically opposite direction (antithesis) and has ultimately to be 'liberated' (synthesis) by proceeding to a higher level of transactional functioning of the organism - and/or the culture.

    This very outcome is due to a differentiation steered by a set of four basic components, called 'dialectical control functions' (DCF's). These control functions are deducted on the basis of a formal analysis and illustrated with reference to basic theories and models of behavior borrowed from general psychology. Not only developmental stages of personality growth, but also models of perception and learning are reconstructed in such a fashion that the dialectical dynamics takes the form of successive stages.

    It is suggested that these stages are related to functional exchange structures in the brain.

    With due reference to diverse dialectical conceptualizations of philosophers who deal with the course of history, it seems possible to conceive of a culture as homologuous with processes in the individual.

    An important supplementation of the socalled 'forward' character of dialectic process, such as described above, is a 'backward' type of dialectic dynamics. This backward type of dialectic dynamics is engendered by the transactional partner, in close correspondence with the gradual appropriation by the subject of the dialectical control functions (DCF's). This backward dialectic appears to have a basic connection with the problem of self-transcendence as mentioned above. The transactional partner, eg. a parent in the role of 'counterpart' for the child, reverses the sequence of DCF-combinations so as to bring about 'disappropriation', while the subject - the child - is proceeding forwards.

    The concepts of 'giving and taking', of 'love for the other and self-love', of 'self- denial and self-actualisation' are thus connected in a fundamental dialectical bond.

    The main topics of this thesis concern the following. In chapter 2 several models of development of western culture comprising explicit or less conspicuous dialectical themes are explored.

    In chapter 3 some basic parallels concerning discussions about the problem of self-transcendence in the period around the beginning of our era among the Greek, the Romans and in Christianity and comparable discussions in our time are explored. The implications of these parallels for the interpretation of the period 'in between' as a fundamental dialectical regression of western culture are introduced as a warning to be vigilant with regard to the fundamental options of cultural progression, stagnation and regression.

    Chapter 4 describes the derivation of the basics of DCF-dialectics, both the forward and the backward types. In a brief comparative excursion the evident correspondence of the DCF-control-system is discussed. In view of the seemingly evident parallels between this system and the Periodic System of Elements in chemistry the dialectical system as depicted in this study is further referred to as a Periodic System of Psychological Transactions.

    In chapter 5 the forward and backward PSPT-dialectic are considered so as to see what practical consequences are implicated.

    First, the 'mystic road', in the sense that this may refer to a gradual and stepwise submergence into a sort of a union with the Absolute, is interpreted as typical for the backward dialectic; this in apparent contradiction to a downright regression. The former is a proces which takes place within a limited space and time dimension which is liable at any time to resume forward progression. Regression implies a less controlled form of a setback to earlier stages in PSPT-terms.

    Moreover a more or less drastic dissolution of the self is involved in surrendering to environmental demands.

    In order to make a clear distinction between the two modes, reference was made to an analysis of Erich Fromm, presented in chapter 3 in terms of healthy as opposed to negative, 'symbiotic' transcendence in relationships which imply mutual dependency.

    Another specification referring to the backward dialectic (in chapter 5) is to be found in the professional development of the reknowned psychotherapist from the humanistic school Carl Rogers. In this context due reference is given to the psychodynamics of his therapeutic procedure.

    As an example of regression which has to be taken as a serious option of defective self-transcendence in society, reference is made to the measurement of the socalled 'authoritarian reaction' in (American) society.

    The specific dimensions relevant for adaptation the backward dialectic and regression are finally integrated in the same chapter into a general model of decision making under threat.

    The change in basic orientation regarding the problem of self-transcendence - both in a personal (professional) and in cultural sense - may be interpreted as a process of successive steps in which the need for a fundamental change in adaptational strategy is evaluated by the subject or the culture.

    A prediction was put forward that a discriminative. assessment of a potential long term regressive dynamic in future cultural change is not to be expected before the end of the century.

    In chapter 6 an operationalization is presented of three socalled 'basic attitudes', to be defined as 'standards' from which each member of our culture is supposed to derive a priority-system of values.

    With formal reference to the PSPT-system, and with reference to the psychological analysis of western history which was presented in chapter 2, these three basic attitudes are called 'nomocentrism', 'technocentrism' and 'biocentrism'.

    Nomocentrism refers to the preferred valuation of traditional and hierarchically institutionalized values, customs and authority in a spatially bounded - more or less local - area.

    Technocentrism is the basic attitude favoring the functional allocation of differentiated tasks and facilities to be perceived as means to enhance organizational expertise.

    Biocentrism is the basic attitude in which all living creatures are the main focus which acts as the starting point and inspiration for decisional options. The former implies the living nature outside and inside the self and involves both human and nonhuman beings.

    In biocentrism the basic viewpoint is also that self-transcendence has to be integrated with self-actualization on a genuine nondominant basis.

    These three basic attitudes have been operationalized by means of the socalled NTB-scale, presenting 14 to 16 basic problems with which society is presently confronted. These problems range from small scale conflicts in the family via medium scale conflicts regarding environmental design to large scale conflicts concerning environmental pollution, nature conservation, financing of higher education, liberal art, arms control a.o.

    In three studies the scale was administered to a student population and permitted assessment in terms of validation.

    There appeared to be predominant adherence to the biocentric outlook. A further outcome showed successive steps of equal and significant distances for technocentrism and nomocentrism. The latter was evidently rejected by the majority of the respondents.

    Biocentrism appeared also to be significantly linked with a measure of generalized and differentiated forms of coping; and also with positive 'self experience', as measured with a special scale. A factor dimension in this scale, which was interpreted in terms of 'transcendence', was exclusively and posi tively correlated with NTB-biocentrism.

    The last two chapters are specifically concerned with the implications of the preceding for environmental design, with special reference to landscape architecture.

    In chapter 7 aspects of historical development in urban design and landscape architecture could be interpreted as a specification of the general dialectical picture in western culture as was described earlier.

    The professional development of the architect and urban designer Christopher Alexander was dealt with stipulating that his basic attitude is to a large extent comparable to the stand of Carl Rogers. The implimentation of the evocation of ideational processes in Alexander's clients could moreover be interpreted as basically similar in terms of the backward dialectic, as is the case in mysticism and also in the therapeutic process in Rogers' clinical practice.

    In chapter 8 the fundamental process of imaginative submergence in the object of design on the side of the client is differentiated formally in three phases.

    In the first phase, which was called the 'context of imagination', the dynamics of self-transcendence were considered to be steered by social psychological processes among different participants - including the designers - , implicating mutual exchange with regard to their respective basic attitudes.

    In the second phase, which was called the 'freedom of imagination' the dynamics of self-transcendence was considered to be steered by the interests of others outside the group of participants.

    In a formal sense the administration of local, regional and central government operating on principles of law and formal agreements constitute the financial and material limitations within which imagination may move freely. In a less formal sense the interests of people who just pass by, such as tourists and non- residents, can be brought into the imaginative process during this phase

    At last the dynamics of self-transcendence are directed at the imaginative processes with reference to spatial conditions, functional significance and personal experience.

    This in fact refers to the third phase which is called 'dynamics of imagination'. This phase is thoroughly covered by Alexander.

    His manner of dealing with the imaginative process, which we interpreted earlier as a specification of the backward dialectic, is conceived as a model for projects of landscape planning and design.

    By way of exemplification a design was presented which was diagnosed as suggesting a kind of self-transcendence on a truly biocentric basis, while at the same time suppression of the individual by a local community is to be feared.

    Another example refers to a project in which opportunities for genuine selftranscendence by local participants were probably overlooked.

    Two other projects in which environmental psychologists participated seemed to have failed in offering a substantial contribution to the dynamics of imagination in phase three - as was the case with the architects.

    In the final section attention is given to techniques which may enhance the capacity of architects to share their own imaginative experience with the users of their designs.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Defares, P.B., Promotor, External person
    • Vroom, M.J., Promotor, External person
    Award date7 May 1986
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Publication statusPublished - 1986


    • culture
    • design
    • environment
    • environmental impact
    • history
    • landscape
    • man
    • perception
    • physical planning
    • planning
    • psychology
    • social environment
    • civilization
    • cultural history
    • influences

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