To understand the historical background that led to the gradual formalization of Ontopsychology as a science, it is necessary to start from the assumption that sciences originate from the multiple problems that face mankind: every scientific theory analyses in its own way the various phenomena, trying to find a solution.
Every sector develops a specific technique to solve a given problem: physics, for instance, tries to explain the physical world; religion deals with the fundamental problems of human nature; art is the concerned with beauty; economics tries to satisfy material needs and wants. Psychology tries to explain what humans are, what their inner reality and roots are but, in the end, does it provide a solution to the human problem?
Despite social and political advances, human beings continue to suffer physically and psychologically. To know what an individual has to do it is necessary first of all to find out who he or she is.
The birth of psychology as an autonomous science is linked to the name of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) and to the first Institute of Experimental Psychology founded by him in Leipzig in 1879.
Within psychology, as a general science, different schools arose. Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviourism, Gestalt, Psychoanalysis, Jung’s Analytical Psychology, Cognitivism, Existentialism, etc.
They have all tried to understand and describe mankind on the basis of three factors:
(the organism, man’s inner and subjective world)
- The environment
(that is the immediate external situation)
- The social world
(the world of culture, senses and meanings)
Based on the importance attributed to these three factors, these currents have developed a special type of approach to the human problem. For instance, Behaviourism analyses behaviour to understand the inner nature of man; Gestalt tries to understand man on the basis of form and places of reference; Psychoanalysis studies man through slips of the tongue, dreams, symptoms, etc. Ontopsychology originates from all these currents, which, however, cannot explain man in his vast complexity.
It was the philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) who announced, in 1935, the crisis of all European sciences in a conference in Prague.
Despite its great development, according to Husserl a great crisis had been clearly taking shape within modern science, and this represented a crisis for humanity as a whole. The crisis of all sciences was in essence, according to Husserl, a crisis of psychology, whose area of inquiry is man, the subject of any other possible research.
Thus, according to Husserl, it was first of all necessary to re-found psychology.
Even though he was not a psychologist, Husserl already knew the psychoanalysis of Freud, Jung, Adler, Vygotsij’s psychology, Piaget’s psycho-pedagogy, Watson’s behaviourism, Pavlov’s, Wundt’s and Mesmer’s reflexological psychology and stated that those were not the psychologies that could identify the criterion of exactness of life.
Husserl maintained that the only psychology capable of identifying the criterion of exactness, truth, reality would be that which would be able to sift through opinions and traditions to access directly the dynamics of things according to the laws of the universe. This psychology would find a way into the lifeworld.
Husserl proposed a phenomenic-transcendental psychology capable of piercing different veils, different phenomena, different epoché of phenomenology so as to lead the psychologist to discover first the inner nature of his or her own subjectivity, his or her own transcendental Ego and then to understand the other Egos, as these are all poles of a single inter-subjective dimension. What Husserl proposed in the conference held in Prague in 1935 was a return to the individual purified from any theory and ideology. According to Husserl, the unity of knowledge is pure subjectivity, or the dimension of evident experience, which comes before the dualism introduced by rationality. Rationality is limited by nature; it acts by making distinctions and cannot grasp the whole.
According to the philosopher, pure subjectivity comprehends through evidence, by experiencing things and the world directly before any explanation and theory. Husserl theorized a psychology capable of transcending the multiple modes of man’s historical construction to get straight to the principle, the ontic structure, hence the name ontopsychology.
According to Antonio Meneghetti, the problem of science derives from the primary problem of man, who is split and whose consciousness is detached from his substantial reality. This did not take place because of an error at birth but because of an alteration metabolized in the reticular formation that makes logical processes dystonic.
The entire ontopsychological methodology aims to bring the ontic structure back to human consciousness, thus allowing man to gain full consciousness.
To do that, Ontopsychology relies on three discoveries: Ontic In Itself (basic criterion which allows the individual to follow his or her intended direction and utilitarian and functional rationale), monitor of deflection (dystonia in logical processes) and semantic field (basic information that acts within and without the context).
Meneghetti never thought that he would invent a new science. Yet he understood that he had opened a new avenue in the decade in which he engaged in clinical practice. In this respect, the critical problem of knowledge (can man know the meaning of existence?) is dealt with initially in the clinical field, as man’s disease and suffering are the most tangible evidence of an incomplete, or lack of, knowledge of self and the absence of a criterion that leads the individual to adopt a course of action with certainty.
For ten years, every day, he engaged solely in clinical practice and after treating hundreds upon hundreds of patients he formalized a theory that gave a structure to his approach. Understanding schizophrenia, neurosis, psychosomatics was very easy for him: if one wants to understand, a disease has no mystery; however, to engage in scientific pursuits one needs to be exact. Science is exact when reversibility is possible: what it says is what it is and vice versa.
Twenty years after Husserl’s conference, in 1956, all the great names of Existential Psychology (May, Maslow, Rogers, Sutich) met in Paris, where they underscored the inadequacy of scientific psychology in solving man’s problem. In particular, they accused Psychoanalysis (Freud) of focusing only on psychopathology and called for the coming of a fourth force, a new psychology for the fully realized man, or a psychology that would unveil the ontological foundation that can be constantly seen over the horizon of an existential orientation.
The subject of Ontopsychology is exactly this ontological foundation that can be constantly seen over the horizon of an existential orientation.