Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Human Nature and Mental Health: A Bahá'í-Inspired Perspective 1

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Human Nature and Mental Health: A Bahá'í-Inspired Perspective 1

Article excerpt

A Bahá'í Perspective on Human Ontology

During the nineteenth century when analysts were articulating the basic principles that would animate psychoanalytic psychiatry for much of the twentieth century an alternative view of human nature began to appear in the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith.2 The Bahá'í perspective sought to recover the soul that was lost to the materialistic philosophies of the era, while also harmonizing with the rational and evidential demands required of modern empirical science. At the heart of the Bahá'í model is an ontological order that provides for causality and law in the sphere of nature, and for a relatively high degree of freedom and responsibility in the human realm. It insists upon an essential harmony between the principles of science and those that animate the world's religions and affirms that human beings belong both to the impermanent world of nature and to a transcendent dimension of existence made possible by the unique capacities associated with the human soul.

The Bahá'í Writings suggest that the human soul is the most essential and enduring aspect of human identity. It is described as "a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp" and is among the most profound of all mysteries3; and yet, like all other phenomena, it can be known, in part, by the effects that it produces in the world. The soul provides each human being with the core identity that is the self and it is through the instrumentality of the human brain and body that the character and capacities of the soul are revealed. Inasmuch as the soul is not a thing, it cannot, in the Bahá'í view, either enter or leave the body. Rather, it is said to enjoy a relationship with the body that is akin to the relationship that light has to a mirror. It is useful, in this regard, to consider the nature of light as described by the physicist Arthur Zajonc:

As part of what I call "Project Eureka," a friend and I have designed and constructed a science exhibit in which one views a region of space filled with light. It is a simple but startling demonstration that uses only a carefully fabricated box and a powerful projector whose light shines directly into it. We have taken a special care to ensure that light does not illuminate any interior objects or surfaces in the box. Within the box, there is only pure light, and lots of it. The question is: What does one see? How does light look when left entirely to itself?

Approaching the exhibit, I turn on the projector, whose bulb and lenses can be seen through a Plexiglas panel. The projector sends a brilliant light through optical elements into the box beside it. Moving over to a view port, I look into the box and at the light within. What do I see? Absolute darkness! I see nothing but the blackness of empty space.

On the outside of the box is a handle connected to a wand that can move into and out of the box's interior. Pulling the handle, the wand flashes through the dark space before me and I see the wand brilliantly lit on one side. The space clearly is not empty but filled with light. Yet without an object on which light can fall, one sees only darkness. Light itself is always invisible. We see only things, only objects, not light. (2)

From a Bahá'í perspective, the human soul or spirit (and here we shall use these terms interchangeably), like light, cannot be known directly. In order for it to manifest itself, a vehicle is required. Thus the human brain and body make possible the manifestation of the powers of the human spirit in much the same way that a mirror provides a means for the manifestation of the qualities of light.

In the empirical sciences, we call phenomena that can only be known by the signs that they produce "hypothetical constructs." Hypothetical constructs include forces like love, intelligence, memory, and so forth. These phenomena are never accessible to direct sense inspection, and so we must intuit their existence by examining the effects that they produce in the world. …

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