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The psychology of Nietzsche and how to use it yourself
Psychology and philosophy have always been intertwined, what does one of the more famous philosophers have to say about how you think?
While we have talked about Nietzschean philosophy before, Nietzsche also considered himself a first-rate psychologist, going so far as to claim in Ecce Homo, “That a psychologist without equal speaks from my writings – this is perhaps the first insight gained by a good reader.” He then goes on the claim that he is the first philosopher to engage in real psychology.
He may have been on to something, as it is often possible to read his philosophy as psychology and many of his philosophical concepts can be applied as psychological concepts. While psychologists have generally not credited him beyond the occasional reference, his ideas foreshadow some of the most revolutionary ideas in the history of the science.
Here, we present some of the psychological insights Nietzsche gave us.
Nietzsche begins his psychology with what was a radical notion; the idea that you cannot hope to know all about your mind all of the time. While the idea of a person having subconscious ideas, feelings, drives, and repressed memories is not shocking to us, the idea that man, “the rational animal” might not be able to understand how the mind worked at all times would have shocked the thinkers who first read Nietzsche.
He also understood that outside influences could have major effects on the of psyches of individuals. He explains in Human All Too Human that “Direct self-observation is not nearly sufficient for us to know ourselves: we need history, for the past flows on within us in a hundred waves.” Hinting that he understands that our deeper selves are influenced by many more factors than meets the eye. He lists among those factors culture and history, alongside our upbringings and a multitude of drives.
That we still have animal drives is a fact we often try to suppress. But one that Nietzsche saw as a mere fact and one to be dealt with. Dubbed “The Beast Within” by Zarathustra, these drives towards sex and aggression were being suppressed by an archaic morality which saw them as wicked. Nietzsche saw this repression as causing potential energy to go to waste. He argued that it was much better to understand that we have these primal drives and that’s alright, so long as they can be subdued and harnessed.
Are you driving your desires, or are your desires driving you? (Getty Images)
But, what should they be harnessed for?
In a world, self-overcoming. Nietzsche was all about personal growth, and his psychology reflects this. Nietzsche viewed the mind as a collection of drives. These drives were often in direct opposition to one another. It is the responsibility of the individual to organize these drives to support a single goal.
Even then, however, Nietzsche views this selection as one drive being stronger than any other one and does not see us as independent of the drives that we are composed of. To organize yourself is really to overcome all of your other drives, which are also parts of the self.
The exact nature of Nietzsche’s ideas is, again, hard to determine as he was less than systematic and often made nearly contradictory statements. He does praise the man who can build himself up, saying that his favorite proto-Ubermensch Goethe, “disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself.” in Twilight of the Idols.
However, he also said that “At the bottom of us, really “deep down,” there is, of course, something unteachable, some granite of spiritual fatum of predetermined decision and answer to predetermined selected questions. Whenever a cardinal problem is at stake, there speaks an unchangeable 'this is I.'”' in Beyond Good and Evil
It does seem possible to say that Nietzsche is taking a middle road, arguing that it is possible to create yourself within limits set by your nature, culture, and historical forces. How much real freedom this grants the typical person in choosing what they will become is debatable, especially since Nietzsche didn’t believe in free will like the rest of the existentialists.
His often referenced “Will to Power” also fits in with this goal of self-creation. Walter Kauffmann explains in his book Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist that “The will to power is thus introduced as the will to overcome oneself. That this is no accident is certain. The will to power is not mentioned again until much later—and then at length—in the chapter “On Self-Overcoming.” After that, it is mentioned only once more in Zarathustra. The will to power is conceived of as the will to overcome oneself.”
A truly powerful individual will be able to harness their competing drives to help propel them to a singular goal, one which they choose for reasons which are their own; though they are influenced at some level by their innate nature. This conception of self-development has echoes in humanistic psychology.
How can I use this?
Ask yourself if you are in control of your desires. Can you ignore one temptation in order to advance towards a larger goal? If you can't, Dr. Nietzsche would say that you have yet to overcome some of your desires and they are derailing your ability to become what you can be.
While Nietzsche was skeptical of the benefits of self-reflection for most people he did see it as a worthwhile undertaking for the rare few who lived up to his insanely high standards. If we can make the blasphemy of applying his ideas to everybody, it can be said that the starting point for personal growth is to try to know yourself, what drives you have, what potentials you have or lack, and which drives you would like to foster or subdue. While, for Nietzsche, there is a limit to the knowledge of the self we can find this way, it is a place to start.
Has modern psychology gone anywhere with his ideas?
Freud, going somewhere. (Getty Images)
When it comes to Freud, the jury is still out on how much Nietzsche influenced him. While Freud claimed to have never read Nietzsche, this seems unlikely given both Nietzsche’s popularity and the similarity of several of their ideas on the subconscious mind. The psychologist Ernest Jones, who knew Freud, wrote that Freud both praised Nietzsche and claimed to have never read him. It has also been suggested that Freud purposefully avoided reading Nietzsche to prevent accusations of plagiarism, others claim he did read Nietzsche and then lied about it.
Carl Jung, a student of Freud, was influenced by Nietzsche when he created his psychological system. However, he didn’t openly admit this. He did use some Nietzschean terminology in his work and once lectured on Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
The Will to Power was later used as a basis for the individual psychology of Alfred Adler. Nietzsche’s conception of self-becoming has carried on in spirit, if not in exact form, in the humanistic psychology of Carl Rogers.
While his position as a philosopher is well known, Nietzsche’s contributions to psychology are often ignored. His insights into how we are motivated, how deep our subconscious mind goes, and how we might become the people that we hope to be, are all of great use to the individual. While the fact that he went stark raving mad may throw a damper on where a sane person who follows all of his insights might end up, there can be no doubt that his ideas can shine a light into the darkness of the minds that he was among the first to seriously explore.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.