the human experience: design for optimal engagement (a thesis)

v 0.96 [PDF] | 1.0 ~ Aug 2016

Table of contents: 
  • Introduction
  • Approaches to Human Motivation
  • Humans are not Machines
  • The Human Purpose
  • Levels of Human Engagement
  • Types of Human Relations
  • Organic Design
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
Comments, feedback, questions highly welcome and appreciated!



A 100+ rat killing machines

Rat killing machines can include poisoning, trapping, cats, sticks, drowning, electric shocks, staring (see ‘Men who stare at goats’), and surely, if the rats are a delicacy, they can be taken as a source of food. None of the rat killing tool can be said to be better than another, because they do not merely fulfill the task of killing rats but also embody the relationship that respective individuals have with rats, and their human needs and values in time.

A rat killing machine must embody shifting human needs and values

The introduction of technology – idea, institution, or tool – into the lives of humans with the intention of bettering their situation must be preceded with a thorough experience and comprehension of the human experience, on a level that is as human – subjective – as possible. In addition, such change must be coupled with the acknowledgement that human values and needs are variant and dynamic. Thus, deployed technology should be as disposable and modifiable as possible so as not to inhibit human spontaneity, ingenuity, and shifts in their needs and values.

Needs and values are subjective

The processes of designing, using, modifying and disposing off of technology intended for the betterment of the human experience must be left in the hands of every individual, for it is in those processes that an individual can build their unique needs into the technology, understand its impact on their lives and have the ability to modify or do away with it, to accommodate their shifting needs and values, and a balance that is suitable for them, individually. Any other alternative inescapably is an imposition of the values and needs of others on the individual.

Indiscernible effects of technology

A lack of individual control in the design, use, modification and disposing off of technology inevitably creates a manipulative and exploitative dependency. On the one hand, we have the user, who as a result of being detached from these processes, increasingly becomes unconcerned with the design of the tool, and thus is deprived of learning how to organically design for himself. This dependency on another party to fulfill the needs and values of an individual inevitably results to what has been termed ‘invisible curriculum’ in schooling. In such a relationship, the user is inherently blinded and prevented from understanding all aspects of the technology they use, especially the disadvantages that it imposes on them.

If my tools are designed for me, I naturally become less concerned with, or worse blinded from the process in which they are designed including the materials that are used and the impact to environment and other entities. On the other hand, the designer – the party which designs tools for me – gains an upper hand in our relationship and stands to benefit by strengthening and propagating my dependency on him.

Most importantly, in such a set up, it must also be noted that I am prevented from having critical thought. If I am in a position to design my own tools, I am likely to be in a position to see their upsides and downsides. However, once I am detached from the design, then most likely, whatever technology is appropriated to me is ‘advertised’ without a critical analysis of its potential impact – both good and bad – to me as its user.

The individual who is deprived of human reality is also deprived of truth. He is separated from his concrete human and social reality, deprived of a consciousness of the practical, historical and social whole; even though, nowadays, given modern social structure, science and techniques, such consciousness is both possible and necessary. Turned back upon himself, secure within some imaginary inner fortress, he is the plaything of every hallucination, every spontaneous or deliberate ideological illusion. – Henri Lefebvre

The invisible curriculum

Surely, we have an innate desire for learning. However, to assume that another party can have better understanding of an individual’s learning needs, and values, and their shifting over time, can only result to a tool better known as the schooling system. The tool inherently prevents the individual from designing their education according to their needs and values, and thus invites them to appropriate themselves to be used by the tool that another party designs. Inevitably, the individual stands to be exploited in various ways  by the tool and its designers. The tool, not only limits the subjects of learning, but also inherently the fields of knowledge and thought. This should be of concern to any learner. From the onset, it suppresses individual interest, spontaneity, expression and ingenuity.

Regrettably, none will be more hopelessly enslaved than those who will lose the awareness that their freedom is alienated from them (Goethe).

Technology; the medium, is the message

Technology is not neutral when it embodies human needs and values. By itself, technology is implicated even before it is taken into use. Even though a language enables communication, it, in addition, also permits and restricts certain views of reality. It embodies our needs and values in its structure – how we relate to nature and others, what we can talk about and what we cannot. If a language is a box, then it enables us to effectively talk about things in the box, while it restricts our view and our talking of anything residing outside the box. The fact that the medium is made for us, then, inevitably, needs and values are also made for us, and in most cases, we have no say over the matter.

Inherently, we are deprived critical thought, we are dumbed down. We are in Waking Sleep, a state of consciousness in which we are completely immersed in some a phenomenon yet we are unaware of all consequences we suffer from it.

In waking sleep we ingest the parts of others their values, attitudes, opinions or other aspects of their personalities, and incorporate them into our image of our self.

Of the dumbed down user, his submission to the designed artifact follows a trajectory such that, the more he uses it, the less he lives; the more readily he recognizes his own needs in the tools and practices proposed by the designer, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires (Guy Debord – the society of spectacle). Effectively since he merely follow a script, merely appropriating himself to the values and needs of others, he becomes impoverished in his capacities.

If there are a 100 ways to kill a rat, a rat killing tool can only accommodate a few if more than one. Thus by using a tool designed for us, we have to set aside our individual shifting needs and values for killing the rat and assume those embodied by the tool. A rat killing tool appropriated to us freezes our needs and values in time or else also exerts the values and needs of its designer on us. However, when we each design a rat killing tool for ourselves, we not only learn how to design, but we are also at will to alter our design to accommodate our shifting needs and values – insights we gather through the design and use of the tool – and eventually to do away with our tool if we deem it useless to our needs.

Design for oneself / Organic design

The embodiment of one’s shifting needs and values by a design, implies an organic design; ‘design for oneself’. Design for oneself, or organic design implies simplicity in design as any tool designed is within the bounds of one’s values, needs, ingenuity, spontaneity and critical thought at any given time. In other words, the tool lacks any complexity that can surpass these capacities and thus can be used with minimal possibility of using the user.

The more needs a human being has, the more he exists. The more powers and aptitudes he is able to exercise, the more he is free.” – Henri Lefebvre

Any tool that surpasses or freezes the capacities of its users – the needs, values, ingenuity, spontaneity, critical thought – is inherently a complex tool. Inescapably, a complex tool, when used, potentially stands to use its user.

The human being ceas[es] to be human [and] is turned into another tool to be used by other tools” (Henri Lefebvre).

In other words, whatever complexity the tool bears – e.g. in its needs or values – can be a means for abusing the user. This is true regardless of the form the tool takes. Whether it be a legal or technical contract, a derivative (complex algorithm for financial trading), a school curriculum, a computer or even a hammer.

A 100+ rat killing machines

Rat killing machines can include poisoning, trapping, cats, sticks, drowning, electric shocks, staring (see ‘Men who stare at goats’), and surely, if the rats are a delicacy, there is no reason why they cannot be taken as a source of food. What is clear in these hypothetical tools is the varying human needs and values implied and critical thought revealed through various connections and meanings to the larger ecological context.

None of the rat killing tool can be said to be better than another, because they do not merely fulfill the task of killing rats but also embody the relationship that respective individuals have with rats, and their human needs and values in time.

8 Forms of human relations

..belongingness, respect, protection, love, security, self-esteem, .. cannot be satisfied by trees, mountains or even dogs; only from healthy relations with other human beings. It is also, only, to other human beings that we can give these in the fullest measure – Maslov (p. 97-98)

In designing social institutions, perhaps not enough focus is given to the human relations that would be inherent or nurtured by their structures. A good social institution gives to its members the greatest possibility of health and self actualization by having its institutional arrangements set up to foster a maximum of high level relations and a minimum of low level relations (Maslow, p. 105). This essay attempts to describe various human relations that can be classified either as high or low level.

At the heart of all human relation are the various capacities that are characteristic of the human organism, including those in the hierarchy of needs. In high level relations, these capacities are permitted and nurtured, contributing to the health and self actualization of the individual. In contrast, in low level relations, the capacities are exploited, suppressed for the purpose of domination, and thereby contribute contribute to the development of neurotic and other behavioral and chronic illnesses (Maslow p. 151-157, Mate p. 1-12).

Dependence is a key factor in all relations. While it, in high level relations, can be said to be healthy, empathetic, cooperative, mutual and reciprocal, in low level relations, it is unhealthy, isolating, exploitative, competitive, enslaving, demeaning and dehumanizing.

Characteristics of high level relations

(Maslow p. 151-157)

High level relations permit the greatest self expression: spontaneity, the greatest naturalness, the greatest dropping of defenses, and protection against threat.

The relations are not a struggle but something that just happens;  there is a growing intimacy and honesty (allowing one’s faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings to be freely seen by the other) and self-expression, … it is possible to be oneself, to feel natural. Furthermore, it is not necessary to be guarded, to conceal or to try to impress, to feel tense, to watch one’s words or actions, to suppress or repress. One can be themselves without feeling that there are demands or expectations upon them; they can feel psychologically as well as physically naked and still loved and wanted and secure. It can also be said that the high level relations are also cheerful, humorous, and playful. They come naturally as an enjoyment and a delight.

(Maslow p. 154): Respect is also a fundamental characteristic of high level relations. Respect is the ability to be pleased rather than threatened by the triumphs on another individual. Respect also acknowledges the other person’s independence and autonomy. Respect also means that the wishes of another are not controlled, or disregarded. It affords the respected individual a fundamental irreducible dignity, and protection from humiliation. Inherently, one’s relation to the other is  of enjoyment, admiration, delight, contemplation and appreciation, rather than use.

High level relations also allow the expression of a healthy amount of passivity, relaxation, childishness, and silliness, since if there is no danger and we are loved and respected for ourselves rather than for any front we put on or role we play, we can be as we really are, weak when we feel weak, protected when we feel confused, childish when we wish to drop the responsibilities of adulthood (Maslow p. 98).

In addition, high level relations feature cooperative behavior, mutual reciprocity, a responsibility towards each other, and empathy.

High level relations enable the gratification of those human needs that only other humans can fulfill e.g. Love, respect, belonging, …

High level relations tends toward holistic growth of the individual and thus health as there is no repression on individuality. High level relations also enable the gratification of those human needs that only other humans can fulfill e.g. Love, respect, belonging, .. It is healthy individuals that are also more likely to have high level relations with others (Maslow, p. 97-98). As Mate (p. 202) explains, “one learns to love not by instruction, but by being loved”.

Characteristics of low level relations

Low level relations’ characteristics can be said to be the opposite of high level relations. The litany can include the absence of genuine concern for the other, and interaction with others that is strangulated and mixed with embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, role play, and with a struggle for dominance (Maslow, p. 99).

Boundaries are a fundamental aspect of low lever relations. Boundaries are usually implicit e.g. as traditions or identities but can also be explicit for instance in a constitution, or in society’s human or organizational roles. Boundaries limit the expression of oneself and conceal one’s true nature – one cannot be oneself. Individuals involved in low level relations therefore struggle as their true nature is repressed. At their most extreme e.g. in ethnocentrism, the boundaries afford little or no human freedom or expression.

Low level relations inhibit the gratification of those human needs that only other humans can fulfill e.g. Love, respect, belonging, …

Low level relations are likely to result to psychopathology and other forms of sickness as there is little or no gratification of needs that only other humans can fulfill (Maslow, p. 100). As Mate (p. 16) argues ‘a lack of psychological independence, an overwhelming need for love and affection, and the inability to feel or express anger have long been identified as possible factors in the natural development of the disease’It is also the sick that are more likely to have low level relations with others.

Another way to look at low level relations is in terms of what can go wrong in human relations; i.e. either things that should happen do not happen or things that should not happen, happen.

High level relations

1. Parent-child

Before birth

The Parent-child relation is a special one. Firstly, the relation is cemented by nature. It contains a bond that goes beyond the bodily interaction with one another; one that is fundamental to the growth of the baby and the parent. The bond is like no other in the sense that at the beginning of the relation, the parent and child are one; they both reside in the same body; the need for belonging for the human organism begins here. Even before birth, the baby can experience its environment including the physiology of the mother and experience a belonging in it.

After birth

A parent-child relation is perhaps the highest form of human relation. It involves the enjoyment of the other, as it is, without necessary seeking to change it. It also features an interesting form of respect and empathy; one of speaking the language of the other; a mother speaks to a child in a simplistic manner so that the child can understand, a child tries on his parents shoes. The mother and the child play together, with each finding joy and laughter in the actions of the other even when they are simple and not necessarily meaningful. They enjoy the company of each other.

As Maslov (p. 86) suggests, one of the reasons that babies are loved and wanted so much must be that they are without visible evil, hatred, or malice in the first year or two of their lives.

Most interestingly to note in this form of relation is the fact that the child is without (for lack of a better word) hypocracy and prejudice. He or she acts out and speaks their minds without fear of judgement. They may show uncertainity towards things and people they are not familiar with but they do not withhold their curiosity in paying attention to them.

“No infant is born with a propensity to repress the expression of emotion. If an infant is uncomfortable or unhappy, she’ll cry, show sadness, show anger. Anything that we do to hide pain or sadness is an acquired response. We repress our emotional intelligence in order to avoid an ongoing war with the crucial people in our lives, a war we cannot possibly win” (Mate, p. 200 – 201, 254, 267).

We may hypothesize that it is not until they have been prejudiced that babies develop the character of repressing their intentions or emotions, saying things they do not mean and so on. Perhaps it is at this point in life that a disconcerting split occurs within them; that they are one thing yet they are expected to be another, a burden they have to carry hence forth.

As a result, the parent-child relation may transition to friendship, neighborly or other low level relations depending on the reciprocity exchanged by the two as the child approaches adolescence and seeks independence.

2. Love-Sexual

This relation, we may say, is a foundation for the highest form of human relation: the parent-child relation. In addition to the various values exchanged and experienced in friendship and neighborly relations, the love-sexual relation surpasses these two specifically in one aspect: it leads to the gratification of sexual needs, which are considered important for the human organism, at least in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

A difference (and perhaps an important one) that may be noted between the love-sexual relation and other high level relations is that while you can be a parent to many children or be friends or neighborly to many, cultural/state/religious/ideological arrangements have at some point suggested or dictated that an individual only love one and not many. Why has this been the case when we know in practice it has not been so? Why have the social, economic and political institutions suppressed the expression and satiation of a basic human need? Why is the sex need, out of the many, singled out to have this limitation?

3. Friendship

Friendship may be described as a long term relation between individuals, with respect, understanding, enjoyment and caring for each other as its main aspects. It may also involve love for each other but not necessarily with a sexual aspect.

Friendship mainly differs from the neighborly relation in the dimension of time; in friendship the striving to be the guardian of the other is long term while in a neighborly relation, it is short term – it happens only in the moments of contact without necessarily being future oriented. It may however, be said that friendship transmutes from the neighborly relation and in turn it – friendship – can transmute to a love-sexual relation.

4. Neighborly

Simply put, a neighborly relation involves a striving of one to be the guardian of the other. Not in the sense of running their affairs but in safe guarding their well being (in the moments of contact) as if it was one’s own.  It is best expressed in non-commodified social transactions such as giving a seat to an elderly in a bus, or helping a child cross a road, or noticing someone is experiencing a problem and attempting to help them. It is not necessarily determined by the familiarity of each other but the acting of each other as humans – the acknowledgement of human vulnerability depicted by developing, declining or weakened human capacities. Neighborly relations are however endangered and are quickly getting replaced by the strangerly relation.

Low level relations

5. Strangerly/Proximal abandonment

Just as it sounds, this is a strange form of relation. One way in which is it is expressed is in the feeling of loneliness in the midst of other people. This form of relation is weird as it appears to be neutral – there are no negative attitudes towards others even though genuine concern for others is usually subdued – yet it bears negative results; that of feeling alone. Inescapably, since there is no relation with others, there is no gratification of human needs that only other humans can fulfill.

The phrase proximal abandonment has been used to refers to the strangerly relation – where people in the same physical location – whether it be in a house, car, office, or whatever – do not interact with each other for whatever reason. Mate (p. 208) calls it proximate separation and defines it as “the phenomenon of physical closeness but emotional separation.

Perhaps proximal abandonment can be seen as an inherent characteristic of social institutions. Urbanization, schools, businesses, health institutions; hospitals, nursing homes etc separate generations and tear familial and high level relations for various reasons (Mate, p. 223). Children are kept separate from adults and their parents, in schools or daycare, adults are locked in offices, the old in nursing homes, the disabled and the sick in hospitals or in special schools and homes. This means that no generation can withstand, understand or know how to interact with the other. The young cannot stand adults. The adults do not stand the young. No one understands or can stand the old, the disabled, the sick and so on, and they in return are unable to stand other generations. A household may physically appear to be but its members could be emotionally detached. Every generation is a waste to the others. And so, like the garbage they are, they have to be placed out of sight of each other (Carse, 1986 p.133). The resulting society is one whose members are maladjusted to dealing with their own human condition.

The danger of proximal abandonment has to be taken seriously, as it is now acknowledged, the lack or denial of physical or emotional contact is detrimental to health (Mate, p. 199 – 209). Proximal abandonment is the case where what is supposed to happen – social and emotional attachment, gratification of social needs – does not happen. Mate (p. 187-198) describes in detail how these contributes to reduced immune systems leaving individuals susceptible to stress and illness. He (p. 211 -225) strongly cautions on the neglect to resolve social-emotional stresses as this are easily transmittable across generations as has been demonstrated with the Adult Attachment Interview and Strange Situation studies.

Particularly and increasingly, urban dwellers are not part of any reciprocal, continuous, well-articulated community and are profoundly alienated from their own human interests – those of interacting, relating and having genuine concern for each other. It may also be said that the ubiquity of communication technology is contributing to the rise of proximal abandonment: increasingly, people are tending to technology rather than to their fellow beings next to them.

In contrast to other low level relations, in proximal abandonment, what is supposed to happen does not happen, while in the other low level relations, what is not supposed to happen, happens (Mate, p. 202).

6. Explotative – dependence (master – slave)

This form of human relation is mostly found in commodified interactions. I.e., where the basis for relating and interacting are on the one hand exploitative – one party gets more than they give back – and on the other hand are structured in such a way that the dependence recurs. As Dr. Richard Wolff [Youtube] illustrates, exploitative-dependence is the hallmark of leading economic paradigms.

It is through this type of relation that the modern society has achieved the 1% – 99% split among other socially stratifying and disintegrating elements. This form of relation impedes the realization of the high human relations especially when it replaces genuine social transactions with commodified ones.

A fundamental aspect that may be observed in exploitative-dependence relations is that they start out with seemingly good intentions but end up as undesirable. For instance with fractional reserve banking, loans may be seen as good, except the end result is an exploitative dependence.

By this measure, the exploitative-dependence relation can be described as addiction if addiction as Mate defines it is any pattern or behavior that you crave that gives temporary pleasure or relief in the short term but negative consequences in the long term, that you still persist in despite the negative consequences. And in turn by this measure, the exploitative-dependence can also be termed enslavement.

In schooling, emotional and intellectual dependencies (both effects of the invisible curriculum) impedes the growth and development of children. Inevitably, they become maladjusted for their own futures. Governments and corporations may also be observed as institutions that cement and promote this relation; whether it be the in cases where a minority govern the majority or the business owner gives less to the worker than he gets from the worker. For economic institutions to promote high level relations, Dr. Richard Wolff suggests cooperatives as alternatives.

Another main aspect of this relation is that the individuals involved in them do not voluntarily choose each other, unlike in the high relations such as friendship or love. Maslow (p. 101) argues that human relations aimed at improving the health of individuals should be based on participants selecting each other where the choice should be made not solely on the basis of reputation, size of fee, technical training, skill, and the like, but also on the basis of ordinary human liking for each other.

Vigilance is a necessity in the design of social, political and economic institutions, else they result to and nurture exploitative-dependence relations whenever applied.

7. Competitive-combative

This human relation strives to find, expose and exploit the vulnerabilities of one by  another, so that the one is diminished and the other exalted. Sibling rivalry may also be seen as a competitive or combative relation (Maslow, p. 87). When the competitive-combative relation takes place over long periods, it may impede or inhibit the coming into being of the high levels of human relations. Enemies, as the opponents they are, either come together with the intent of defeating or destroying each other.

While the intent of relating to each other is of this kind, any high relations that may form are likely to be factitious. Potentially this form of relationship can transmute to ethnocentrism

8. Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism can be said to be the lowest form of human relationship. It is built on the premise that one’s culture – beliefs, customs, and traditions – are better than those of others. By default ethnocentrism seeks to belittle, demean, disregard and even to outright eliminate the other.

No need to point fingers on this as most societies have histories laden with ethnocentric driven atrocities. Unfortunately this is also evident in the present. To sidestep a bit, Stephen Hawking have warned us against making contact with aliens; he believes that what happened to the natives in the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans would be a likely occurrence were aliens to visit earth.


Peculiarly, it is possible for a human to have all forms of relations with others simultaneously.

It is paramount to consider the human relations that may be nurtured or inherent in various social institutions arrangements, if not for other things, simply for the health of the human members participating in these institutions. As Maslov (p. 92-110) argues, there are human needs that can only be satisfied through positive interaction with other humans.


A healthy human relation is akin to the relation between a seed and the soil, where a seed sees a part of itself health – the source of growth – in the soil and the soil – its renewal – and thus part of itself in the seed.

In other words, the relation is of mutually reciprocity and non-exploitative. The seed sees the source of its growth in the soil – through the use of the various minerals in the soil while the soil sees its regeneration (renewal) through the growth, fruition and finally fertilization by the plant (after its life), – not in an exploitative way but to continually nurture new seeds. The plant itself does not necessarily die but rather also goes a renewal. This relationship is special in a number of ways, but most importantly in the respect of the well-being of the other (perhaps due to the recognition that the health of the one is also in the other).

Certainly if either or both the soil and seed would suppress their relation to each other, growth for both would be inhibited. The seed would lack vital nutrients and minerals for its growth while the soil would not regenerate. Both the soil and seed would be under stress; they would lack an expression of their originality in themselves and the other. In absence of a vital attachment – healthy relation – to each other that spurs growth in each, both would eventually die!

Ref & further reading:

  • Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row. [Love in self actualizing people. (p. 199 – 209, 151-157)]
  • Maté, G. (2011). When the body says no: The cost of hidden stress. Random House LLC.
  • Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and infinite games. (p. 4-10)

The human purpose

One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment in life (Maslow)

In order to discern what a/the human purpose is/ought to be, lets recap what a human is. A human being is: a complex, ambiguous, meaning-makingunderstanding, and feeling creature that has a unique biologically rooted, intangible mental life; ..a human is as a whole in process; his ‘minding’ processes are simultaneous functions, not discrete compartments (Humans are not machines, 2014).

The human purpose

If what a man can be he must become, then, he must be able to use his human character as a whole (psychic, emotional and moral dimensions) to his best in the pursuit of whatever he may find as having potential for fulfilling him (Maslov, 1987; Postman, 1992 p.118).

Put another way, the human purpose involves the voluntary participation in phenomena that may have potential for the most pleasurable, satisfying, and meaningful emotional state one can experience. This voluntary participation is characterized by freedom, firstly, to withdrawal from phenomenon that may harbor harmful experiences and secondly, to engage in phenomenon that may result to pleasurable, satisfying and meaningful experiences (Design for voluntary participation, 2014).

When this freedom is suppressed or restricted for whatever reason, the human purpose – the becoming what one can be, of having pleasurable, satisfying and meaningful experiences – becomes an impossibility for the affected individual. If man, for whatever reason, must not become what he can be, then whatever else he must become or must do, denies him his essence; it dehumanizes him.

The human purpose is a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith (Lanier, 2010). No one knows what they will become or what will make them happy. To take the leap of faith, or to undertake the quest, one has to daringly use all his human characteristics and abilities to listen to and determine for himself, his own self, at each moment in life (Maslov, 1987)

Human purpose and the hierarchy of needs 

The hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1987 p. 15-60) provides a basis for exploring the various motivations that determine the human purpose. Even though the hierarchy of needs is classically visualized as a hierarchy, such a visualization should be negated as it suggests a mechanical division of the various needs or motivations within the being, of which none exists. Fundamentally because no one need is absolutely isolable from another – the body is the unified experience of the environmental, physiological and psychological health (Maslow, 1987 p. 3-8; Mate: When the body says no).

With human needs, any need can easily have dynamic and complex relationships with almost every other need (Maslow, 1987 p. 3-4, 8). In addition, the human is at all times integrated, organized and acting as a whole; when he is thinking, he is at the same time also acting, emotioning, spiritualizing, livering and so on (Maslow, 1987 p.3; Postman, 2009).

Nothing records the effects of life so completely, so graphically as the human body – Gabor Mate

Essentially too, the environmental, psychological and physiological health (that on an equal basis constitute an individual) are inseparable. While it is important to focus on the individual, we must not forget that he is the collective experience of the three integral healths. In contrast to Maslow’s (1987 p. 57) claim – deprivation of higher needs do not produce so desperately a defense and emergency reaction as is produced by lower deprivations – we now acknowledge the deprivation of higher needs as contributing factors for chronic illnesses (Karasek & Theorell, 1992; Mate: When the body says no), a reaction that is as destructive to an individual’s Physiological health as the deficient gratification of his Physiological needs.

Human needs as holistic for a being

If an individual is at all times integrated, organized and acting as a whole, then the individual is tending to all his needs simultaneously and according to his preference. The individual does not necessarily seek to gratify ‘higher’ needs because ‘lower’ ones have been satisfied but is gratifying all, even if pathologically.

A slave does not wait to to be free to self-actualize (e.g. to develop morality, or to solve a problem – resolve his situation) but rather self-actualizes either pathologically or healthily during enslavement. Similarly, a starved person does not wait to eat to seek the gratification of other needs, neither does a prisoner or a soldier. These individuals are at all times being (driven and seeking gratification) of their human needs healthily or otherwise.

Perhaps a visualization such as the one below can be used to communicate the wholeness rather than separatedness of human needs. The visualization also implies that the needs are of equal importance to the whole being – a deficiency in one affects the individual as a whole not just a part of him.

Human needs as holistic (Maslov's hierarchy of needs)

Human needs as integral rather than isolable, independent and hierarchical units

One implications for considering human needs as composites of a being is that we cannot design a society in which some human needs or motivations are not accommodated or whose accommodation is delayed. Indeed, a humanistic society must afford the pursuit and fulfillment of all human needs – it must contain the conditions for self actualization – for all its members at all times (Maslow, 1987 p. 120). An individual in such a society can be said to be tending to all needs simultaneously or according to his preference as there is no constraint placed on him by his environment or living condition. The individual can then be said to be at potential for self actualization as his freedom to do so is not withheld from him (Maslow, 1987 p. 120).

The consideration of human needs strictly as a hierarchy may only be characteristic in a deficient and dysfunctional society, in which the engagement in the human purpose is restricted e.g. through the lack of freedom, food, safety, etc.

Of course such humanistic societies are yet to be realized, with the mechanical societies of today, at best, only a few individuals can engage in the human purpose, a vast majority are dehumanized (Humans are not machines, 2014). It should be noted that with the ingenuity of the human species and the current advancement of technology there is nothing that may inhibit the realization of a humanistic society, other than humans themselves. As J. F. Kennedy (1961) argued in his inaugural speech man now possesses the ability to address all forms of human needs.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.

Hypothetical relations and magnitude of needs

Even though impossible in any realistic sense, if we were to draw the relations of one group of needs to others such as in the sketch below, we would find that the strengths and even relations would be different for each individual. (Keep in mind that a need or motivation may not always be identifiable to the individual on whom it acts upon). Henceforth, we can acknowledge the differences in individuals, and have an appreciation and respect for their originality in their essence and human purpose.

Hierarchy of needs - possible dependencies

Hypothetical relation & magnitude of dependence for Physiological needs

And what profound implications this would have on all aspects of human life; we would seize all efforts to control and mechanize individuals for there would never be a single way to do so while respecting the human purpose. Each individual would be in control of their human purpose for only they can see and understand the complexity of their situation and how to best self actualize hence.

The human purpose is playful and not necessarily productive

If the human purpose strives for the most pleasurable, satisfying, and meaningful emotional state one can experience, then, it should be no surprise that it may not necessarily be directed towards productivity (How to measure motivation, 2013). As Maslow (1987 p. 176) argues, thinking is not always directed, organized, motivated, or goal-bent; it is also playful and engages in fantasy, dreaming, symbolism, unconscious thinking, infantile, emotional thinking, and psychoanalytic free association.

The human purpose is however, more favorable to productivity because it does not dehumanize individuals in the process of productive work (Design for voluntary participation, 2014; How to measure motivation, 2013; Humans are not machines, 2014). For if it is only through dehumanization that work can be done, what would be its value if it diminishes the quality of human life? (Gatto, 1992 p. 83).

Unfortunately, today, the society is obsessed with the praise of individuals whose efforts are productive, with the rest being undervalued, demeaned, belittled and even punishable. This notion is repugnant because it veils the true nature of being human; that none is necessarily productive but that productivity takes place (or ought to) as a side effect of their playful, creative nature.

For individuals engaged in the pursuit of the human purpose – what Maslow (1987) refers to as self-actualizing people – there is a unification of desire and reason: a harmonious and coherent reflection of the mental and moral structure of the individual, their desires and purposes into the imaginative and emotional outlook on life (Maslow, 1987 p.149; McDermott, 1973 p. 612). In other words, for self-actualizing people, work is play: it [work] is simultaneously an expression of one self, a striving for a higher self, a seeking for pleasure and happiness, and as a side effect productive in its own right (Maslow, 1987 p.149).

Here is where it gets interesting: Maslow (1987 p. 175-176) argues that self-actualizing people – those engaged in the human purpose – enjoy being productive, as it comes naturally for them; they do not have to be manipulated or coerced into it.

Maslow (1987 p.175-176): … thinking also is often produced without effort, automatically, as the liver secrets bile. For people who do so, they enjoy being thinking animals, they do not have to be harassed into it.

Control of the human purpose results to dehumanization

Dehumanization is the antithesis of the human purpose. Dehumanization involves the detachment or restriction from an individual the human characteristics and abilities that consist the individual as a whole. This can be in various forms including the restriction of self expression, the detachment from the environment, the detachment of one’s reason from his emotion, will, intellect, or reason. Such restrictions or detachments we can equate to mechanization; which unfortunately is dangerous because it destroys the delicate interconnectedness of the special human qualities (Postman, 1992 p73; McDermott, 1973 p. 612; Mate, When the body says no; Karasek & Theorell, 1992).

Even the open playfulness of children is exploited through organized athletic, artistic, and educational regimens as a means of preparing the young for serious adult competition – Carse.

in the struggle to see who can squeeze the highest test scores out of their kids, we are depriving them of sleep, freedom to play and explore; childhood – Gray

Inevitably, dehumanization reduces the human to one whose self expression, playful and artistic (unique personality and behavior) purposes are suppressed (Humans are not machines, 2014). Eventually all spontaneous, playful and leisurely activities and time will be used for productive and competitive work but with a catastrophic effect. I need not reiterate what becomes of Jack when he goes on about work with no play. In Dewey’s (DcDermott, 1973 p. 484) words we get either the narrow, bigoted man who is obstinate and irresponsible even in his own preconceived aims and beliefs or a character dull, mechanical and unalert, because the vital juice spontaneous ingenuity has been squeezed out of him.

Dewey (McDermott, 1973 p.600) laments not so much for the vast number of individuals who are dehumanized by society, but mostly for our inability to comprehend their moral and psychological predicament.

Dehumanization reduces life itself

Scientifically, we do not yet (and maybe we never will) understand the human-as-a-whole well enough to comprehend the human purpose for an individual (Lanier, 2010). When we use a standardized/computer models of learning or friendship or self actualization, and ask people to conduct their lives through our models, we are potentially reducing life itself (Lanier, 2010). We must acknowledge that such models encourage narrow philosophies that deny the mystery of the existence and experience for an individual (Lanier, 2010; Postman, 1992 p.71 – 91).

Postman, 1992 p. 89: ..when we are made to believe that a test can reveal precisely the quantity of intelligence a person has, then, a score on a test becomes his or her intelligence. The test transforms an abstract and multifaceted meaning into a technical and exact term that leaves out everything of importance. An intelligence test is a tale told by an expert, signifying nothing. We come to believe that our score is our intelligence, or our capacity for creativity or love or pain, when in reality it is none of these.

In any case, dehumanization creates short-term benefits for some but ultimately a disaster – a society of maladjusted individuals – awaits all in the long term (Lanier, 2010). In all truism, to become themselves, individuals must to be left to their own instruments of human characteristics and abilities to listen to and determine for themselves at each moment in life (Maslov, 1987).

In addition, man shall not realize his potentialities and achieve his highest possibilities, until he acknowledges and respects himself, for what and who he is. Until then, it will be impossible to lead a healthy and full life. If you like, man shall not live by bread alone – the gratification of a single need or a diminished array of his needs – but by the gratification of every need that is his essence.


  • Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
  • Karasek, R., & Theorell, T. (1992). Healthy work: stress productivity and the reconstruction of working life.
  • Gabor Mate: [Video] When the body says no; Caring for ourselves while caring for others
  • McDermott, J. (Ed.) (1973). The philosophy of John Dewey. Chicago and London. Chicago Press.
  • Lanier, J. (2010). You are not a gadget. Random House Digital, Inc..
  • Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology.
  • Postman, N. (2009). Teaching as a subversive activity. Random House Digital, Inc.
  • Gatto, T. J. (1992) Dumbing us down