Self-transcendence and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
February 28, 2019 10:40 PM   Subscribe

The Missing Apex of Maslow’s Hierarchy: Maslow never got around to publishing the final tier of his pyramid: self-transcendence. American psychologist Abraham Maslow's (1908 – 1970) theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, a model of human motivation represented as a pyramid with self-actualization at the top, is fairly well known. Less well known is that in his later years, Maslow added another level which supplanted self-actualization at the apex: self-transcendence. "Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos."

The Hierarchy of Human Needs: Maslow’s Model of Motivation

Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research,and Unification (PDF)
The conventional description of Abraham Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs is inaccurate as a description of Maslow’s later thought. Maslow (1969a) amended his model, placing self-transcendence as a motivational step beyond self-actualization. Objections to this reinterpretation are considered. Possible reasons for the persistence of the conventional account are described. Recognizing self-transcendence as part of Maslow’s hierarchy has important consequences for theory and research: (a) a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews regarding the meaning of life; (b) broader understanding of the motivational roots of altruism, social progress, and wisdom; (c) a deeper understanding of religious violence; (d) integration of the psychology of religion and spirituality into the mainstream of psychology; and (e) a more multiculturally integrated approach to psychological theory.
Why Maslow's Self-Actualization Theory Is Not Quite Right: Having all needs met and living with little suffering may stifle growth.

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posted by homunculus (32 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
All of which he took uncredited from Blackfoot beliefs.

“About Maslow, Blackstock said many people are unaware that he was “stuck on his developmental theory” and went to see some friends who were conducting anthropological research on the Blackfoot reserve in Alberta. (Here is a link to an archival photo that places Maslow on the Blackfoot reserve.)”

He’s just a white colonizer who stole and repackaged culture. Poorly. As usual.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:10 PM on February 28, 2019 [23 favorites]


To me the pyramid seems to depict the tidy way Maslow thought you ought to prioritise, rather than the psychological reality. Doesn’t this make it worse by implying, for example, that you can’t think about self-transcendence unless you’re well-fed? Enlightenment reserved for the rich and comfortable? Count me with the ‘not quite right’ camp.
posted by Segundus at 11:42 PM on February 28, 2019 [14 favorites]


Seconded Segundus (an irony because of I translate your handle from Latin to English correctly, it means second).

I read the Dao as my psychology guide and the following verse still rings true
Cultivate the Dao within yourself and the Dao endures
Cultivate the Dao within you're family and it survives
Cultivate the dao within your community and it thrives
Cultivate the dao (across the nation/across the world) and it becomes eternal
(Parenthesis to accommodate for differing translations)

This is the blackfoot way of thinking if I read that link stoneweaver posted correctly, that until we are the most we can be we cannot help our family, our community, our species become more.

Maslow was definitely viewing this through gringo eyes and had to include the basic needs in that ... And I really don't think it's needed. Yeah you cant become the most you are if you're not eating well - that's a no brainer ... But if you face that and then teach your siblings how to face that, all of you become stronger.

I'm also a fan of this idea that challenge is necessary - you can make your challenges harder than what life throws at you (and thus life becomes easier), you can meet your challenges (this is the predominant thinking that I've encountered), and if there is no challenge you can either make a challenge for yourself or your subconscious will do that for you, hence all the mental illness and relationship stuff that the psychology today link discussed in relationship to that self transcendence.

Hope that makes sense. I am prone to very tangential connections in general and it being 1am does not help that.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 12:01 AM on March 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


The whole concept of a pyramid, or hierarchy, is that... there's not much room on top.
If there was a way for everyone to be up there, it wouldn't be a pyramid, and if there were no bottom people supporting the ones on top on all those various levels, they'd fall pretty hard and far.
Or is eveyone supposed to have their own individual pyramids in this theory and how exactly would that work then.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:46 AM on March 1, 2019


Oh nvm, then it would be more like connect the dots.
But I bet once you connect eveyones dots together they still make the shape of a pyramid anyway.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:54 AM on March 1, 2019


I feel like that definition of self-transcendence probably violates some information theoretic or space-time conservation law, though. Or maybe it would solve the halting problem or reduce NP to P.
posted by polymodus at 3:06 AM on March 1, 2019


Given that Maslow's hierarchy places sex alongside food and shelter as a basic need, it does seem very much of a heady late-60s zeitgeist; a zeitgeist many of whose products, from soft-porn magazines to the concept of the rock star, have turned out to be deeply problematic.
posted by acb at 4:29 AM on March 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I had to suffer through an astounding number of personal statements this fall that took Maslow's hierarchy of needs to be the answer to life, the universe, and everything. So my visceral distaste is probably colored by that, but yeah, it seems to be less a Hierarchy of Needs as a Hierarchy of Things This Dude Thinks Are Important In Late 20th Century America.

In my mind, it ought to be a Venn Diagram of needs, which doesn't prioritize one set of values over the other. You can put transcendence in the middle, I guess, but acting like social belongingness is somehow less fundamental than financial security is a pretty fucked up way of thinking.
posted by basalganglia at 4:57 AM on March 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that the pyramid isn't telling you how you ought to live your life, it is theorising how one is motivated.

The point of it is that you can't even begin to think about Transcendence if you're worried about where your next meal is from. The Buddha was still a rich prince while starving under that tree.
posted by jonnay at 5:33 AM on March 1, 2019 [20 favorites]


Bah, I know how several experts will learn me that it fits in one or another mid-level level but actually there is one thing that transcends the pinnacle of this pyramid and that is the transcendence of chocolate.
posted by sammyo at 5:59 AM on March 1, 2019


it does seem very much of a heady late-60s zeitgeist

Maybe more relevant to our moment is

Victor Laszlo's Hierarchy of Needs

• Fight nazis
• Escape Casablanca
• Ditch Bogie
• Letters of transit
• Shelter
• Food
• Water
posted by octobersurprise at 6:18 AM on March 1, 2019 [22 favorites]


Sounds like a neat way excuse oneself from social and ecological responsibilities. "I don't care about the poor because I haven't self-actualized yet!"
posted by MiraK at 6:46 AM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Much as I hated having to go over the Maslow pyramid in school, I generally think it's correct. I can't care about self-actualization when I'm worried about trying to stay alive and eat and have a home and all that jazz. It's actively annoying when the needs of the soul are whining "But I want to be freeeeeeeeeeeeee" or whatever stupid shit and that is in direct conflict with the need to be having a home and eating. This has become A Problem for me these days--I guess that's where midlife crisis comes in.

As for this extra layer? Come on, who's that enlightened to get that high up to care about it? I can't ever get past about row three anyway myself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:55 AM on March 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


He’s just a white colonizer who stole and repackaged culture. Poorly. As usual.

The arguments presented at that link appear to say:

1. Maslow totally ripped off his ideas from the Blackfoot people.
2. Maslow used a triangle-shaped diagram. It's a tipi!
3. Maslow's theory is totally wrong and screwed up, and nothing like the Blackfoot understanding.

The first and third claims contradict each other, and the second is ludicrous.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 6:57 AM on March 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


The arguments presented at that link appear to say:

1. Maslow totally ripped off his ideas from the Blackfoot people.


Which is interesting, because last time this was brought up I commented that while I believe he should've definitely been candid about the influence of Blackfoot thought on his ideas, they were by no means lifted wholesale.

As a matter of fact, the Blackfoot thought on this matter effectively used self-actualization as a starting point, and Maslow's concept was developing the prerequisites for the "base" of the Blackfoot pyramid. It's right there in the article, and I think the author isn't giving Maslow his due for explicating the needs that come BEFORE self-actualization.

As multiple commenters here have said, you aren't thinking of self-actualization if you fear for your safety or your sustenance.
posted by tclark at 8:07 AM on March 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Sounds like a neat way excuse oneself from social and ecological responsibilities. "I don't care about the poor because I haven't self-actualized yet!"
Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.
posted by No Robots at 8:14 AM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Maslow's hierarchy is not about how you individually should live your life; it is a general outline of how most people, not all people, are motivated to prioritize their needs. It's descriptive, not prescriptive. There are people who skip levels of the hierarchy – they are called saints.
posted by tommyD at 8:17 AM on March 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


The first and third claims contradict each other, and the second is ludicrous.

Or he ripped off the Blackfoots' understanding but, lacking their spiritual connection to nature or similar, managed to lose most of the value, turning it into kitsch. (“When the finger points at the moon, the fool stares at the finger”)
posted by acb at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Maslow say "Get over yourself"
posted by otherchaz at 8:59 AM on March 1, 2019


There are people who skip levels of the hierarchy – they are called saints.

I thought they were called starving artists.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2019 [4 favorites]





In my mind, it ought to be a Venn Diagram of needs, which doesn't prioritize one set of values over the other


YES. Layers make far more sense to support this theory than a hierarchy structure would.

The point of it is that you can't even begin to think about Transcendence if you're worried about where your next meal is from

So would that then not mean whenever one gets hungry or cold, you have to start all over at the bottom again until like your meal is done cooking?

A synonym of transcendence is superiority and under this theory it is assumed to be an achievement one can earn via privilege; the very concept of it contradicts itself.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:50 AM on March 1, 2019 [5 favorites]



As multiple commenters here have said, you aren't thinking of self-actualization if you fear for your safety or your sustenance.


But at the same time, if one is self actualized, they wouldn't necessarily have fear even if warranted or experience hunger as an immediate threat, they'd be operating from a place of full acceptance and complete trust that those are simply transient states and their hierarchy structure would either provide or they are "there" to experience and learn something of value, turning the whole pyramid upside down.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't get the hate for those who seek spiritual/intellectual self-improvement. People don't seem to whine when others work out to improve their bodies.
posted by No Robots at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the final level Maslow was describing Vorlons and Minds from the Culture and other similar post-human entities; he just didn't know it at the time, and that's understandable.
posted by polymodus at 12:51 PM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would suspect also, that some people who are self actualized are fully content with lack of motive to climb hierarchy structures and find fulfillment at any level of existence.
If this were not so, then we would find competition itself to be motivating, and even safely remove security and belonging from this theory.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:01 PM on March 1, 2019


I admit, Maslow deserves credit for inventing the galaxy brain meme.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:13 PM on March 1, 2019


There are popularly and devoutly followed schools of thought the world over -- from Buddhism, Jainism, and anti-materialist versions of Hinduism to Shinto, Taoist, and Catholic monasteries and nunneries -- which require one to embrace on poverty, hunger, homelessness, and isolation IN ORDER TO achieve self transcendence. I personally grew up in a mainstream, widespread culture that emphasized renunciation of material goals (to an extent that western people would consider deprivation) IN ORDER TO self actualize.

Maslow's theories have too narrow an applicability to justify the hype he gets.
posted by MiraK at 8:04 PM on March 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Self transcendence" is Level 0.
Ask John Lilly for the rest.
posted by symbioid at 10:48 AM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


All the schools of thought you mention are prescriptions for how one should live life. In that case, what school of thought wouldn't encourage people to disregard other needs in favor of actualization and/or transcendence?

Maslow's hierarchy of needs isn't prescriptive, it's descriptive, and I think is a far more accurate description of reality than the prescriptive toolkit which is always co-opted into "you must be poor and cold and achieve $idealState so don't tinker with the oppressive hierarchy which is making you poor and cold" reinforcement of an unequal status quo.
posted by tclark at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


The purpose of socialism is to ensure that everyone has the material means to pursue their spiritual goals.
posted by No Robots at 6:49 PM on March 3, 2019


I mostly started seeing Maslow's pyramid everywhere in my education program.

To the extent it motivates politicians, administrators, chancellors, superintendents, school board members, mayors, gazillionaire wannabe education 'reformers', and any other relevant person with power, to work on making sure every student has secure food and housing and safe and supportive environments to live, commute, and learn in, I am all for it.

The idea that a great teacher can singlehandedly make up for all the lower layers combined and the only thing standing between a privileged and supported student in a wealthy school and a marginalized, oppressed, and impoverished student in a poor school, is a dedicated teacher and the perfectly formulated set of educational standards and battery of standardized exams is pernicious.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:18 AM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


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