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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Field theory: mirrors and reflections

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This was originally a lecture given at a day conference honouring Malcolm Parlett on his retirement as editor of the British Gestalt Journal (BGJ), and then published in the BGJ in a Festschrift edition. It encompasses the development of my understanding of how recent discoveries in neuroscience support the Gestalt field approach. It also confronts what I see as a kind of anti-materialism, or anti-science, in the name of avoiding reductionism, which, at its limit, would turn what was grounded in research into a kind of religious faith, a creed to be followed with no external criteria on which to evaluate it.

Introduction

While the emphasis of Gestalt therapy as a field theory was present in the earliest days, for most present-day Gestaltists, the primary source of discussion on the theme is in the writings of Parlett (1991, 1997). Since these were published, there have been startling advances in our understanding of the neurological underpinning of human behaviour, which have both confirmed and added to our understanding of the field nature of human consciousness and selfhood. In this chapter, I explore some of these advances and their implications for the development of a Gestalt field theory that is true to our tradition, and also in line with what we are currently discovering.

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Chapter Two

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

2.1 Theory Setting the scene

My sense of myself is as one who engages in the world, making choices within a range of possibilities afforded by that world and by my capacities in the situation I find myself in. I can both act spontaneously and without self-consciousness as an embodied self, and I can also observe my body as if from outside it, and adjust it by anything from holding my breath to diet to surgery.

And yet my actions occur in a world of matter, governed by scientific laws on all levels from physics and chemistry to quantum physics, at which level any sense of a body or person separate from the whole field breaks down. Does choice have any real meaning or is it an illusion? For if I am, in any real sense of the word, making choices, this implies an unpredictability at some fundamental level in the universe. The image I have is of moments of standing at a crossroads, seeing a choice of paths and being clear that my life would turn out differently depending on which path I take. Furthermore, as in the film Sliding Doors, I have no way to predict what lies further down each path, but I can have a sense of making a choice that seems to move in the direction I want. My intuition is that I am not in reality constrained to take the path I take because that is what fits with what the universe determines. My choosing does make a difference, and of course not just to me.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Cultural action for freedom: Paulo Freire as Gestaltist

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

I have liked the work of Paulo Freire since the days of being a student activist, and I had the pleasure of attending seminars with him in Britain in about 1975, and loved the way he worked. Later, as I became involved in Gestalt therapy, I realised the similarities between the two sets of ideas, in both the theories and the methodology. Part of our holistic heritage as Gestaltists is an interest in the social and political aspects of being a human being, and Freire brings that in a manner similar to our Paul Goodman, who was, after all, author of one of the first radical critiques of education: Growing Up Absurd (1960). The writing is experimental, trying to capture some of the essence of Freire’s approach in the linear format of a paper.

I would particularly like to thank here the participants in my Cleveland workshop of the same title, in particular the participants from Brazil and the Philippines, who brought their own experience of Paulo Freire and his work.

Iam caught in a paradox. If I present the approach of Paulo Freire here, I contradict his approach, and my workshop. As a participant in my Cleveland workshop pointed out, if I tell you why this is, I already pattern your response.

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CHAPTER FOUR: Zen and the art of pinball

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This is, for me, a very satisfying paper. I used to be pretty good at pinball when I was much younger. And I think the application of pinball to philosophy has been underrated. Why does it just have to be archery or motorcycle maintenance? I like how the principle is illustrated by such an accessible means. I am also proud that it was quoted on a website devoted to all things pinball!

“You know the theory of destiny: that we are destined to do what we do? Well I don’t agree with that. We are destined to be where we are; what we do with it is ours”

(Said by my younger son when he was eight years old)

Suppose you’ve never seen a pinball table before, and come across one for the first time. Stripped of all the flashing lights and noises, what you see is a large bagatelle game, most of which operates automatically. It seems the only control you have is the spring-loaded plunger and two flippers. If you then try to play the table, you discover that most of the movements of the ball are entirely random and out of your control.

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: On yelling and bashing cushions

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This article also comes out of my interest in the place of emotion in our actions, and in therapy. There was a lot of “bashing cushions” in 1993! I realised that I had never seen anyone change as a result of this kind of cathartic work. Somehow the (melo)drama of this way of working supported its continuation, though it was not an approach that fitted the original theory, which always emphasised that emotion was a means of orientation in the world and was not to be wasted in “discharge”. I emphasise to trainees that, if there is to be drama in therapy, it has to be good drama of believable human characters, drama that you would want to see in the theatre, not melodrama with a wicked uncle twirling his moustache.

“Emotion, considered as the organism’s direct evaluative experience of the organism/environment field, is not mediated by thoughts and verbal judgements, but is immediate. As such, it is a crucial regulator of action, for it not only furnishes the basis of awareness of what is important but it also energies appropriate action, or, if this is not at once available, it energies and directs the search for it”

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