I feel that any vision of psychology becomes sensible and compelling only insofar as it reflects some larger, more encompassing vision of what is desirable in life. As Nietzsche notes, an academic discipline should "become life." To me, what is important in life is to come to know ourselves and the worlds in which we live -- to perceive their contours and to fathom their depths -- so that we may come to revere life, and to engage its demands with sensitivity, intelligence and integrity.
I view life in these terms, and this general vision is what lends shape to my more specific view of psychology. Insofar as it is important in life to move toward knowing ourselves and our world, it is important to grapple with the question, "What it is to be a human being in the world?" To me, this is psychology's central question -- even for those schools of thought that seem far removed from the task of illuminating the psychological structures of human experience.
I personally have chosen to pursue existential-phenomenological psychology, which does seek to illuminate the psychological structures of human experience. I have chosen existential-phenomenological psychology over my earlier studies in computer science, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology because to me psychology attains its deeper, more powerful possibilities when it makes sense of human experience and human existence -- when it touches upon the pulse of life.
As its Greek etymology suggests, psychology is a matter of the mind, the heart and the soul. Psychology is an intellectual undertaking, yet it aims at charting the mysterious and often turbulent latitudes of the human psyche. In contrast to many other academic disciplines, psychology thus possesses a distinctly personal dimension. What we study as psychologists is ultimately our own human nature in its various manifestations, and our studies can impinge directly upon our very lives (and vice versa). To me, it is important to take psychology's personal dimension seriously. Consequently, for me psychology is much more a calling than an occupation -- it calls for an engagement of one's very person -- one's mind, one's spirit and one's heart.
For instance, through my experiences at Duquesne and now at West Georgia, I have discovered that teaching psychology calls for a particular conjoining of mind, heart and spirit. I find that it is important for a psychology teacher to foster an acuity of mind in his or her students, because our minds allow us to know the world. In part, a psychology teacher's task is to stand for the value of intelligence, and so the work of teaching psychology involves inviting students into thinking incisively, coherently and powerfully.
At times, though, I find that a psychology teacher's work reaches beyond the purely cerebral sphere. Within the framework of education's intellectual purpose, we psychology teachers sometimes move our students powerfully. In our better moments, we can bring our students into the ecstasies of intellectual adventure, or into a more vital involvement in the day's concerns, or even into a deeper passion for life itself. Similarly, to me teaching psychology aims not only at developing students' minds, but at inviting students to engage the world with a deeper appreciation and reverence for life. In my concrete experience as a psychology teacher, I try to embody this view not only by presenting psychology to my students, but by joining with them in questing after its deeper significances and relations to life. In my classes, I try to foster a commerce of ideas that stirs my students' minds, hearts and spirits. In turn, I find that my students respond much more powerfully when their learning becomes a matter of entering more fully into life's core struggle.
In my time here at West Georgia I have come
to sense in this department an uncommon vitality and concern for what in
my view are psychology's deeper possibilities. I sense in our department
a rare interweaving of serious intellectual endeavor and an atmosphere
of genuine community and quest. In short, more than any other department
I've encountered, this department seems closer to the center of true-university.
Of course, like any other department, ours has its faults -- that's to
be expected. Yet in my small experience, our department has a spirit about
it, and in that spirit a heart -- even in the midst of our intellectual
projects. Why am I here at West Georgia? Well, more than anything else,
I'm here to participate in this spirit, this elusive interblending of mind
and heart. To me, that's our department's core value, and that's what distinguishes
us from most other psychology departments I've encountered.
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