Emergent Needs & CuriositiesIn the description of awareness and attention we look at the process of awareness and the structures and processes of attention. What is figural for an individual is conceived in Gestalt therapy theory as related to organismic need—the satisfaction of basic survival needs as well as the need for wholeness. Need is related to "impulse" toward health and wholeness and the aggressive energy necessary for the impulse to surface.
Here Maslow's hierarchy of needs may add to our formulations. At the survival level, the "active organizing force of meaningful wholes relates to physical, emotional, mental or social survival" (Perls 1973, p 3). Need reduction is reactive in the context of the organism/environment field in which survival is the key. However, when we consider other levels of need as in Maslow's community needs and self-actualizing needs, (Perls notes these as a need to "grow" [1973, p 7],) some mechanism other than need reduction seems to be operative. Here Michael Vincent Miller (1987) suggests the addition of curiosity. He suggests that curiosity "is itself a primary force linking the evolving infant [person] to its environment and playing a central part in deepening and enriching this relationship" (p 25).
Survival needs and discovery needs are intimately related. The need for safety and security is paramount in the presence of threat to any of the survival needs—food, clothing, shelter, touch, etc., in the physical sphere or care and validation in the mental/emotional/social sphere. However, when safety and security are assured, the need for novelty, experimentation, and discovery emerges. Here curiosity is the "elemental shaping force" (Miller's words) and we may note that imagination functions as one of the elements since efforts to actualize oneself are creative efforts. The individual is moving into the unknown using "aggressive" energy.
To conclude, then, imaginative curiosity takes over when the individual feels safe and secure, when there is no need to fear for survival in any context—physical, mental, emotional, or social. In an infant's behavior this connection is easily demonstrated: Watch a baby who does not feel safe or, alternatively, who can be observed exploring a crib or a toy or a face. Even a baby's curiosity reaches out to understand the world around it and to "know it for what it is" (Miller's words). Adults have learned to be less transparent about their needs but the same kinds of connections can be observed.
Miller again: "Treated as a fundamental theoretical concept, curiosity fits readily into the phenomenological basis of Gestalt therapy, for it is an 'intentional' concept; that is, it combines awareness with aggression in the sense that Gestalt therapy uses these terms, reflecting the subjective experience of a self directing its meanings and purposes toward the world" (p 22). Perls seems to have had this process in mind when he spoke of "interest" as the organizing element in the emergence of needs (Perls 1973, p 2). Curiosity or interest, then, is proactive, that is, open to or directing itself to new experience; need reduction is reactive, that is, it rests on awarenesses of survival needs. Both are necessary when describing the organism/environment interactive processes. In either case, needs arise, come to the foreground and recede progressively as they receive attention and are satisfied. As has been noted in the Korb et al 1989 book, this continuous perceptual process has been expanded by phenomenological psychologists as a model of general human functioning (Combs, Richards, and Richards, 1975). Once satisfied (the gestalt completed), a need recedes from prominence and another emerges into awareness.
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