Philosophical / speculative
I am drawn towards topics that could be regarded as unconventional and/or speculative, and which have a philosophical flavour (though I am by no means a philosopher!) This includes papers on the nature of consciousness, the history of humankind, and the issue of UAPs (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena).
The Western-centricity of psychology means it has inherited some of the key ontological categories and distinctions at the heart of Western cultures. This paper identifies four such distinctions that have been particularly influential in psychology: mind-body; subjective-objective; self-other; and inner-outer. Together, these have created a pervasive view that the mind-and the person more broadly-is metaphorically like a "container." However, this paper proposes that a better conceptualization, or at least a complementary one, may be a "field," whereby people's being extends outwards, beyond the apparent boundary of their skin, into the world. Such perspectives have been especially prominent in other cultures and traditions (such as Buddhism), but have pedigree in the West too. The paper thus draws on various cultural sources, and numerous disciplines both within psychology and beyond. It is hoped the discussion may help psychology reflect on and re-evaluate the ontological assumptions at its core, and to engage with field-based perspectives that may be provide a useful alternative or complement to the standard container metaphor.
Lomas, T., & Case, B. (2023). A history of psychogeography and psychocosmology: Humankind's evolving orientation on earth and in space. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, 4, 100090.
Although psychology has tended to focus on the individual, paradigms have emerged looking at people in context, such as social psychology. More recently, these have included fields attending to humans’ ecological context, such as ecopsychology. However, little has been conducted on spatial orientation, on how humankind has understood itself in relation to the Earth (“psychogeography”) or the universe (“psychocosmology”). To address this lacuna, this paper presents a historical narrative of psychogeography and psychocosmology, identifying four main perspectives that emerged over time. First, stretching into pre-history, belief in a flat Earth and a layered cosmos. Second, beginning around the 6th Century BCE, a spherical Earth and a geocentric cosmos. Third, from the 15th Century onwards, an expanded Earth and a heliocentric cosmos. Finally, in the 20th Century, an unstable Earth and an acentric cosmos. The paper illuminates the evolving way humans have understood their world and place in the wider universe, and highlights the psychological impact of these developments.
Throughout history, people have observed aerial events that appeared extraordinary and anomalous. In earlier eras, these were often interpreted through a lens that invoked special classes of divine beings, such as angels (who, compared with gods, are regarded as more likely to interact with humans). Today, in our ostensibly secular scientific age, there is a tendency to assume such observers were mistaken, and that with the benefit of modern knowledge, these events can be “debunked” and attributed to conventional naturalistic explanations. However, recent years have seen a burgeoning interest and even concern over the issue of unidentified aerial phenomena. Through the lens of our “space age,” these are sometimes interpreted using notions such as extraterrestrial agents. Ultimately though, this article suggests that both categories of explanation, from angels to aliens, may be the perennial human quest to render comprehensible, through the prism of prevailing beliefs and traditions, an ongoing encounter with celestial phenomena that remain genuinely unknown but deeply significant.
Lomas, T. (2022). Stranger than we can imagine: The possibility and potential significance of non-human forms of consciousness and wellbeing. Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2022.2131608
Recent decades have seen an intensification of scholarship on wellbeing. Looking ahead, the next frontier may be engaging with the possibility of non-human forms of wellbeing. This paper reviews the main candidates for what these forms may be, limiting its considerations to entities that are living and capable of conscious experience. However, what makes this topic so complex and fascinating is that what exactly constitutes life or conscious experience is not self-evident. Thus, this paper considers various potential life forms, which vary in the extent to which they challenge standard conceptions of life, including organic life forms on earth, matter, AI, and extra-terrestrial life. Some possibilities are unlikelier and more speculative than others, but all have at least a non-zero probability, so merit at least some consideration and attention. Moreover, the paper articulates why these possibilities have considerable relevance for human wellbeing, and so warrant the attention of wellbeing scholars.
Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic of interest across numerous academic fields. However, the literature can sometimes imply it is predominantly a modern concern. Relatedly, critics have argued that contemporary scholarship on happiness is Western-centric, yet in so doing can appear to suggest that happiness is mainly a Western preoccupation. However, taking an expansive view of happiness-defining it broadly as a desirable mental experience-one can appreciate that versions of this phenomenon have been of interest to humans across cultures and throughout history. To articulate this perspective, this paper offers a brief overview of 14 different eras, spanning a range of global regions, in each case highlighting concepts and concerns that bear some close resemblance to happiness. In so doing, the paper encourages a deeper and more inclusive understanding of this vital topic.
The relevance of balance and harmony to wellbeing has been under-appreciated in psychology. Even though these concepts have received considerable attention across different contexts (e.g., work-life balance), this literature is fragmented and scattered. There have been few attempts to bring these disparate threads together, or to centre these concepts as foundational and important across all aspects of human functioning. This paper remedies this lacuna by offering a narrative review of these diverse works. Relevant literature is organised into four emergent categories: affect, cognition, behaviour, and self-other relations. Throughout these, balance and harmony can be appreciated as not merely relevant to wellbeing, but arguably a defining principle, a 'golden thread' running through its myriad dimensions (though this thread is itself multifaceted, comprising a cluster of interlinked concepts). Based on this analysis, an overarching definition of wellbeing is offered: the dynamic attainment of optimal balance and harmony in any-and ideally all-aspects of life. This paper provides a foundation and stimulus for further work on these important topics.
Although semiotics has historically been a focus of interest in psychology, its impact over recent decades has been fairly muted. Moreover, no systematic efforts have been made to study and understand it from a positive perspective, i.e., the way sign-systems are or can be “positive.” As such, this paper introduces the notion of “positive semiotics,” a label for the disparate research and theorising that is already underway across academia relating to this topic. The paper draws on the work of C. S. Peirce, particularly in terms of his triadic view of sign-systems as comprising a sign, an object, and an interpretant. The idea of positivity is then elucidated using the criterion of desirability, drawing on the work of James Pawelski. Attempts are also made to ascertain the nature of desirability, including normative forms (clarified here using the conceptual triad of goodness, truth, and beauty) and non-normative forms (understood as personal wants). The paper then considers four key semiotic channels – discursive language, body language, symbols, and art – looking at selective examples of how positive semiotics might pertain to that channel. It is hoped the paper will stimulate further interest in, and work on, a phenomenon that is of considerable importance to psychology and beyond.
In thinking and talking about wellbeing, people often deploy spatial metaphors, such as identifying positive and negative affect with “up” and “down” respectively. However, there has not yet been a systematic investigation of how wellbeing is represented through metaphor. To shed light on this topic, a content analysis was conducted of spatial metaphors in academic discourse on wellbeing, focusing on recent editions of two leading journals, the Journal of Positive Psychology, and the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Across 28 papers, 54 spatial metaphors were identified, grouped into four main categories: verticality; horizontality; configuration; and dynamism. Above all, wellbeing is associated with interior expansiveness, with positive valence usually attaching to vertical metaphors of height and depth, horizontal metaphors of width and breadth, and configuration metaphors of size and growth. The analysis thus offers valuable insights into the subjective dynamics of wellbeing.
A prominent criticism of positive psychology is that it has been shaped by its Western context, and yet that this ‘situatedness’ often remains unacknowledged. Consequently, this paper offers an archaeological analysis of conceptualisations of happiness in the West. More specifically, the paper explores the emergence of significant ideas relating to the good life through the innovative device of studying artworks, on the premise that being featured in art is an effective signifier of when a given idea rose to prominence. Taking a time span of 1,000 years, one artwork per century has been selected to illustrate the emergence of a particular stream of thought during that centennial period. The paper elucidates the roots of current ideas around happiness in fields like positive psychology, and in the West more generally. It is hoped this type of ‘consciousness-raising’ activity may help such fields acknowledge and overcome any limitations arising from their cultural situatedness.