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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn


Metabletics, the “theory of changes,” is van den Berg’s (1961) method of phenomenology. As its name suggests, metabletics pays attention to changes. The metabletic method itself was not spelled out explicitly by van den Berg, but merely alluded to throughout his writings. van den Berg, it seems, was himself a bit of a bricoleur! According to van Spaendonck (1985):

van den Berg is criticized for his elusive way of writing and for haphazardly stringing together facts subjectively explained. The ingenious way in which apparently completely unrelated incidents are connected commands admiration but he arrives at daring hypotheses to which many readers will yet have to attune their brains. We may grant to this pioneer the pursuit of his explanations by devious ways . . . . (pp. 111-112)

Goodchild (2003) notes that a method is merely a way, a process, a path to follow, and although van Spaendonck (1985) has analyzed the metabletic method and describes six principles of the method, I will first examine the beliefs that guide metabletics and only later mention these principles.

According to van den Berg, person and world are one. There is no such thing as a subject apart from the world. One cannot be a person without being in a world, and the world is different when we are different. Romanyshyn (1992, cassette) points out that every emotion gives us a different way of being in the world. Likewise, our presence changes things, as we have seen from quantum physics. The world is always changing and forever incomplete. Because there is no fixed interpretation in hermeneutics, there is no fixed reality but only a making of realty. Things also change us. The way in which the world is already made affects us. Jacobs (1985) writes:

These “cultural remains” from former periods of themselves are pieces of reality open to examination which effect the thinking and doing of subsequent generations. They testified to a (new) reality; they showed man what his world in essence was and as such they were appreciated. (p. 63)

For example, Romanyshyn (1992, cassette) remarks that the world of science and technology has given us a disembodied, discarnate world “where we forget that it is through the body that we first know the world.” We have taken leave of our senses (in more ways than one)! “Metabletics asks us questions such as “How did it come to be so?” and “Have you forgotten that it could be otherwise?” It asks us to remember differences and how we participate in the making of reality. “It is the contents of the togetherness of man and world which metabletics seeks to explore with the result that light is cast on the meaning of our own world here and now” (Jacobs, 1985, pp. 63-64). Romanyshyn (1985) notes that metabletics is a “cultural therapeutics” and “recovers from the changing facades of the visible cultural world the changing psychological face of humanity” (p. 104).

van den Berg believes that psychology must not isolate the object of research from the history of culture. For van den Berg, studying events of culture in relationship to their timing was fascinating. van Spaendonck (1985) notes that for van den Berg, “ a seemingly trivial incident, a bagatelle, can be highly illuminating as a ‘meaningful beacon’ ” (p. 111).

Romanyshyn (2001) has extensively examined the metaphorical nature of reality, and notes that psychological life is mirrored in the world around us. For him, the imaginal world of soul breaks through mind and nature. “Jung would call this mutual mirroring of psychological experience and material event an expression of synchronicity. van den Berg would call it a metabletic moment” (p. 214). Metabletics pays attention to these metabletic moments in order to understand the relationship of man and world more fully.

van Spaendonck (1985) has highlighted six principles of the metabletic method: (1) a graphic portrayal of periods and events; (2) tracing metabletically significant events; (3) the significant incident and the emergence of a new reality; (4) comparing synchronous incidents; (5) what period is represented by an incident or by a connection between simultaneous incidents; (6) comparing incidents in different periods and combining incidents in horizontal and vertical connections.

van den Berg outlines what can loosely be called “the spirit of the time.” He gives voice to what is “in the air” at a particular moment by examining and fitting together incidents such as simultaneous discoveries, innovations, literary works, changes in culture and in man’s relations that are produced by a period. He finds that “a discovery never comes a century early or late, it always arrives on time, invited by reality” (van Spaendonck, 1985 p. 116). Although he is careful not to draw causal connections, van den Berg feels that “history teaches us that coincidences of this rank are, as a rule, if not always, intimately connected. No synchronism in history is without significance . . . . new ideas may be strongly echoed” (p. 117). van den Berg is open to how the world is gathered, and by comparing synchronous events, he discovers patterns:

His investigations follow many directions and attention centers precisely on what is not related, and may find surprising connections. He throws a wide net over a period without forming a notion of what he will catch. He cannot avoid that at times he “drifts into the boundless.” (van Spaendonck 1985, p. 119)

Tarnas (1993), in ThePassion of the Western Mind traces the history of Western thought and shows how we have arrived at our present mechanistic/materialistic world view. In his latest work, Cosmos and Psyche (2006), Tarnas focuses on to the cosmic implications of a new world view which seeks to re-enchant the world, and which brings astrology back into the fold as a legitimate way of knowing and making meaning. Tarnas shows how the cosmic patterns revealed by planetary transits are reflected in human history and culture. Tarnas and Grof feel that in the future, psychology will take astrology into consideration, and that psychology practiced without astrology will be like astronomy practiced without a telescope (Tarnas, 1999, cassette).

In the “Kaleidoscope of Culture” section of my dissertation, I consider different cultural creations to see play’s cosmic essence more clearly. Like van den Berg, I have cast my net across the periods in which these creations were born and also those periods that these creations portray in order to discover meaningful connections and patterns. Heeding Grof’s and Tarnas’s views concerning the future of psychology, I also consider the cosmic significance of these metabletic moments through transit astrology.

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