Charlene Spretnak is one of the Founding Mothers of the Women’s Spirituality movement. She is the author of eight books, including most recently Relational Reality. She is a professor in the Women’s Spirituality graduate program in the Philosophy and Religion Department at the California Institute of Integral Studies. For further information about her books, see www.CharleneSpretnak.com.
Field-Dependent or Field-Astute?
While listening to an NPR station a few months ago, I heard a man – apparently a marketing whiz – say, “Teenage girls are a field-dependent market for us.” Hmmmm. There it is again, the long arm of Herman Witkin’s influence decades after his famous experiment in the psychology of visual perception in 1954, which found that male subjects tend strongly to focus on a foreground figure, while female subjects tend strongly to perceive figure and ground as a gestalt, or holistic totality. (These results have been replicated thousands of times since then, including cross-culturally.) However, following the experimental findings themselves, then came the patriarchal spin. Witkin assigned the positive, admirable label “field-independent” to men and the less admirable “field-dependent” to women. He and other psychologists extrapolated from his findings that women’s cognitive style is “conforming,” “child-like,” and “global,” being similar, as Witkin added in 1962, to the [supposedly] undifferentiated thought processes found in “primitive” cultures. He added that women’s “field-dependence” renders us unable to maintain a “sense of separate identity,” unlike “field-independent males,” whose cognitive style was seen as “analytical” and “self-reliant.” In more recent decades female psychologists have suggested that women’s cognitive style might well be re-labeled “field-sensitive.” But is that really sufficient? After all, it carries the connotation of women’s being supposedly “over-sensitive.”
Why does this matter now? Because the ground is shifting fast under the old view of reality as an aggregate of discrete entities (foreground figures, as Witkin would say), which may or may not relate to one another. On the contrary, numerous discoveries in recent years indicate that the entire physical world, including humans, is far more dynamically interrelated – in both structure and functioning – than had been imagined (except by indigenous cultures and Eastern philosophy). Even as someone who’s been tracking the Relational Shift for decades, I was amazed by many of the recent discoveries – as well as the fact that this shift is now decidedly mainstream. Continue reading “Field-Dependent or Field-Astute? By Charlene Spretnak”