Homo Psychicus as Human and on Becoming a Person

Towards a theory of the human being between the analogue and the digital

by Alf Nilsson (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVIII, 260 Pages


This book is about unifying, in one and the same theory, the human being, Homo psychicus, both as an affective/internal presentation being and an operative, cognitive being. In this way, we see two human abilities – on the one hand, Silvan Tomkins’ comprehensive theories of our innate biological affects and, on the other hand, Jean Piaget’s theories of Homo psychicus as an operative, cognitive being – in one theory. According to Piaget the basis for operations is to be found in our innate reflexes. Overarching perspectives of this derivation are found in development: evolutionary, phylogenetic, ontogenetic and epigenetic. The author’s empirical research is directed towards development of a «percept-genetic» method called the Percept-genetic Object-Relation Test (PORT). This method is employed in the description and illustration of how Homo psychicus may become a person. Thus, this subject is discussed from an epigenetic and a clinical perspective.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. Background, purposes and some unlocking keys
  • Chapter 2. Towards an epistemology forming the background to further understanding of Homo psychicus
  • Chapter 3. Two lines of development as the foundation for the origin of Homo psychicus
  • Chapter 4. Operations in relationships to affects/internal presentations: a teleodynamic investigation
  • Chapter 5. Homo psychicus: a brief comment on language
  • Chapter 6. Psychopathology as viewed in epigenetical perspective
  • Chapter 7. Return to the start: and the whole extension to Homo psychicus today
  • Bibliography
  • Author index
  • Subject index

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We are living in the Anthropocene epoch. This entails that we as human beings have a profound knowledge of ourselves as biological beings. In addition, we have acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the physical world. At the macro level we have gained knowledge of the origin of universe through the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, and of the growing universe with its galaxies at a distance of several billion light years away. At the micro level, we have gained knowledge of particles at the quantum level, and here our capability for determinacy ends.

It is really astonishing that we as living creatures on earth – with earth as a planet in a solar system on the outskirts of the galaxy the Milky Way – have achieved this knowledge of our universe. In what way are we favoured and deserving of such knowledge as earthly beings? And, as a paramount question: in what way have we utilized this knowledge? One answer to that question might be: to develop digital technologies to such an extent that we are on the verge of jeopardizing the conditions for people’s life on earth, a condition caused by our over-exploitation of earth’s resources with devastating consequences for the biosphere on earth. Given this grave situation, we might consider that the origin of life is located more than three billion years back in time. Less than half a billion years ago, natural selection and evolution developed simple forms of life into increasingly complex organisms in fertile ecosystems. Just two million years ago the first Homo creature saw the light of day. Homo sapiens ascended about 170,000 years ago in Africa. Homo psychicus, as we know him or her today, started the second and thereby worldwide emigration from Africa 70,000–30,000 years ago. Today it is Man who has power over life on earth. What are we actually doing to our existence on earth?

The Nobel Prize laureate in physiology or medicine in 2000, Eric Kandel, began his career as a psychiatrist grounded in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic thinking. In 2012 he published a comprehensive work, The Age of Insight, in which he wrote: “Psychoanalysis […] was developed ← xiii | xiv → by Freud as a dynamic, introspective psychology, a precursor of modern cognitive psychology” (italics mine). I don’t agree with his description of history. When he maintains a few pages later “As [Ernst] Gombrich was to say prophetically: ‘Psychology is biology’”, he misses what the essential key issues in psychology are.

My premise is that there is a manner in which all things are organized: nature, objects, our world, affects, operative cognition, mental processes etc. If we formulate a systematic way to describe such a manner, we are formulating a theory. There is no theory that does not involve a manner of being. To borrow a term from the philosopher John Searle, one may sum this up by saying that we are moving into “external and internal realism”.

Since psychology, just a century ago, became a scientific discipline, a split has divided psychology: on the one hand in the direction of motivation/affects and, on the other, in the direction of operative cognition. After behaviourism, with cognitive psychology as the heir and at the same time an integral part of mainstream psychology, the only decisive change that has occurred is that cognitive psychology has become a part of “cognitive science”. That entails a symbiosis with, among others, cybernetics in the form of “connectionism”, and semiotics in the form of “cognitive semiotics”.

During my sixteen years as professor emeritus, I’ve had time to immerse myself in “cognitive science”, and I’ve marvelled at the facile relation between cognitive and affect psychology. In the 1990s it seemed to me that there was an increasing interest in Silvan Tomkins’s substantial follow-up of Charles Darwin’s suggestion of “the innate and universal emotions”. For some reason, Tomkins’s thinking about the affects was never widely promoted by cognitive psychology. Instead, cognitive psychology aligned itself with the neurobiological research on affects that had its breakthrough towards the end of last century.

This is my first book on Homo psychicus in English. In my approach to the description of Homo psychicus, I consider him or her as both an affective/emotional/feeling being and an operative reflex-sensorimotor being in development towards an operative cognitive being. To consider Homo psychicus in a developmental frame of reference, involving evolution and ontogenesis, seems to me to be a fruitful way of approaching him. ← xiv | xv →

In the 1970s and 1980s I wrote and published a few theoretical articles and a book in which I was trying to connect Jean Piaget’s view of the child’s operative development with psychoanalytic developmental thinking. With the passage of time I came to perceive psychoanalysis as theory, and as a dead end for understanding the human being as both an affective and a cognitive being. It was in the 1990s that I discovered Silvan Tomkins’s theory of affects.

It is our strong striving for feeling of same-ness, continuity and “me-ness” that has seduced us into regarding the human mind as melted together into one piece, instead of regarding the human mind as emerging layer on layer during the evolution (later as a stroke in ontogenesis). Towards the end of his new book and under the heading “Mind/Brain Networks, Layering, and the Brain”, Michael Gazzaniga writes: “Layered architectures are one particular modular architecture. Each layer can be thought of as a module.”1 To that I add another quotation from him: “In the current era of human brain imaging experiments, thousands of scientists are committed to finding the places and/or networks that seem to be more active during certain kinds of cognitive states. All realize, however, that this neophren­ology may not be capturing the essence of how the brain does its magic to make us who we are and how we feel.”2

According to the view presented in the book, it is when the feeling of same-ness, continuity and “me-ness” roughly begins to crumble that more or less severe psychopathologies tend to appear. This is also my starting point when describing, in an epigenetic perspective, Homo psychicus as a person.

The translation of the present book is the work of Anna Cabak Rédei and the manuscript has been edited by Alan Crozier. I am greatly indebted to both of them. ← xv | xvi →

1 Michael Gazzaniga, 2015, p. 348.

2 Michael Gazzaniga, 2015, p. 336.

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During my work with the books about Homo psychicus, a number of people have assisted in various ways. I am grateful to Cecilia, Christina, Cristina, David, John, Lars, Leif, Mats, Ronny, and Tommy. Special thanks to Frederic Täckström who designed all the books in Swedish. ← xvii | xviii →

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XVIII, 260
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Homo psychicus developmental line of affect/internal presentation developmental line of operation
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. , XVIII, 260 pp., 3 fig. col., fig. 16 b/w

Biographical notes

Alf Nilsson (Author)

Alf Nilsson was a full professor of clinical psychology between 1986 and 2001, and an associate professor between 1981 and 1986 at the Department of Psychology, Lund University, Sweden. He is a certified psychotherapist and psychologist.


Title: Homo Psychicus as Human and on Becoming a Person
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