Multilevelness of Reality

Human beings struggle with reality in every second of their life. Although the reality is a part of human life, sometimes it is hard to imagine something more difficult or even drastic.

In a process of creating the concept of multilevelness Kazimierz Dąbrowski refers to John Huhglings Jackson’s evolutional theory, to Jean Piaget’s ontogenetical theory, and Myrtle Byram McGraw’s theory which connected elements of both previous approaches.

For this reason, the reality is one of the basic problems of philosophy. Generally, we can talk about two opposing points of view on this matter. The first group is realists who define reality as everything that a human can perceive and consider. They concentrate on sensual reality. The method of cognition plays a crucial role for realists; it is also a tool of verification of reality. Because of the narrowness of the content of reality, this option is called minimalistic in philosophy (Dąbrowski 1973; Tatarkiewicz, 2019, vol. 1). 

The second group is idealists, who, as part of reality, interpret not only everything that is a subject of a sensual cognition, but also anything else that they can feel. The source of their knowledge about reality is meditation and contemplation. In this case, the content of cognition is more important than the method. Idealists have a tendency to connect the different levels of reality, and for this reason, this philosophical way is called maximalist (Dąbrowski 1973; Tatarkiewicz, 2019, vol. 1).

Concept of Multilevelness of Reality

Dąbrowski’s theory analyses many levels of human development. Some events in human life happen in between some levels. For this reason, this term often appears in his theory. Dąbrowski uses it in a context of development, reality, equilibrium, and many others.

In the book In Search of Mental Health from 1989, Dąbrowski notices that the presence of the multilevelness and multidimensionality in development is an effect of the activity of the developmental potential, and a condition of a proper and accelerated development.

In Dąbrowski‘s opinion, multilevelness and multidimensional development are a symptom of common sense in philosophy which is an important part of the developmental attitude, just like mystique (Dąbrowski, 1989). For this reason, it is important not to lose what is the most valuable in an individual and social sense, such as talents, relationships or empathy.

Multilevelness and Multidimensional Development

In Dąbrowski’s theory, both these words often appear together. But why is it so important to emphasize these two aspects of reality?  Multilevelness explains reality in its vertical structure between higher and lower tendencies in human nature. In brief, it is an attitude of denial and confirmation of some aspects of reality. The differences between levels have an especially emotional and axiological character.

In the mentality of the same person, we can find emotions, attitudes, and ideas of different levels. Like in nature, we can never reckon that someone is only on one level with mathematical purity, everyone is on a few levels of development at the same time.

Multilevelness is strictly connected to development as the pursuit to be better and more perfect in every life situation. The life of many spiritual leaders is an illustration of this tendency. The problem is much more complex with the artists. Their growth often is not so harmonious as in the case of the first category.

Artists can create work on a high level, full of deep reflection, and sophisticated spiritual knowledge, however, they can still live on a much lower level in everyday life in a moral sense. For example, Rembrandt, who in private life had an average hierarchy of values and a rather poor sense of morality, created high art, full of deep spiritual contexts.

What can we class as multidimensional anyway? In Elements of the Philosophy of Development from 1989, Dąbrowski determines that multidimensional development means versatility in intellectual, emotional, and behavioral development. It helps to increase intellectual, social, moral, and aesthetic sensitivity and thanks to it, human life is richer and much more sophisticated. Without it, we can talk about a lack in the perception of reality, about “psychological blindness” (Dąbrowski, 1989).

Multilevelness in Therapy

In Psychotherapy by the Development from 1979, multileveled and multidimensional development is a source of mental flexibility, and change of interests and affective attitudes, which with positive support can lead to growth. The narrowness of interests has a negative meaning in this context. What does it mean? This limitation can cause developmental restrictions or even obsessions. To clarify, negative fixation on some problems or objects has a destructive influence on mental growth.

To clarify, Dąbrowski defines a concept of multilevelness in this way: By multilevelness of reality we mean external and internal reality of various levels conceived by means of sensory perception, imagination, intellectual, imaginative or combined operations (Dąbrowski, 1973, 5).

It means that multilevelness applies to a person in many contexts of life. All of them are present in human life at the same moment, which makes life such a big challenge. 

It is interesting that, according to Dąbrowski, multilevelness of reality, just like multilevelness of values, can be objectively and empirically established for every person. In this way, multilevelness is an essence of diagnosis in the positive disintegration theory.

Equilibrium and Multilevelness of Reality

In the process of development, the reality can be “loosening”, “splitting” or “smashing”. It is a situation that causes chaos in human life and often connects to pain, loss of mental stability, anxiety, and distress.  Although it is an experience so difficult, it conducts to authentic existence and self-realization (Cf. Dąbrowski, 1973, 14).

In the process of development, overexcitabilities have a crucial meaning, which stimulate more intensive and effective seeking of another aspect of reality. One in the growth is looking for something new, different, complex, and authentic. Furthermore, the bigger sensitivity and the developmental potential, the lower the resistance of frustration.

Dąbrowski says: They [more sensitive people] experience their traumas deeply, and for a long time, keep them in memory and derive meaningful conclusions (Dąbrowski, 1973, 15-16).

According to Dąbrowski the reaching of the state of equilibrium in development is possible only after a long period of disequilibrium which is associated with a severe experience of maladjustment. 

In other words, we can call the equilibrium homeostasis. It is natural on the biological and social levels of primitive integration. On a higher level, in the process of disintegration, it is destroyed. One comes back to equilibrium in the state of the second integration.

Hierarchy and Multilevelness

Sensual cognition is an undebatable aspect of human reality, but this perception can have a more or less important meaning in the philosophical system.

Dąbrowski notices:
Certain thinkers distinguish various levels of reality. Some of them consider the sensory reality to be more concrete, more “real“ than other forms and levels of reality. Others, on the contrary, accept a multilevel notion of reality and do not express any definite opinion concerning the problem of whether sensory reality is of a higher or lower level in relation to other realities, perceived through other mental receptors or transformers (Dąbrowski, 1973, 1).

Consequently, in Dąbrowski’s theory, the perception of reality depends on the sensitivity of the receptors and transformers of reality. It means that some people have a different view of reality than others. Furthermore, it is hard to explain to someone the essence of this specific character of perception. So, differences in the process of cognition do exist, and sometimes they are massive, and unfortunately, they are sometimes inexplicable. 

Multilevelness and Fantasy

We even have a more esoteric interpretation of cognition, coupled with Dąbrowski’s relation to the experiences of many artists who believe that the receptors and transmitters give them insights into a higher than sensual perception. Artists often perceive reality in their imagination and dreams, and the creative experiences are more real for them than sensual reality, like in the case of Franz Kafka or Marcel Proust. In their case, the sensual reality is only the background for their proper sense of reality.

With this in mind, we can add that great imagination transforms reality into the world of fantasy. Dąbrowski emphasizes that even many artists exhibit atrophy of receptors of the practical stimuli.

To explain it, Dąbrowski presents the concept of “theoretical reality” as a construct of imagination, fantasy, reality, which can “be touched” or “seen” by cognition, imagination, fantasy, and emotional life. Theoretical reality is usually higher than a practical one. Part of this reality is also higher functions and dynamisms, such as instincts, empathy, intuition, identification, and autonomy. All these elements can show different levels of existence in the integrative and disintegrative processes of development. 

Multilevelness of Reality and Cognition

An intellectual and imaginative overexcitability is connected to a special and unsensual reality, which brings an understanding of issues of the spiritual reality. Dąbrowski refers to this as “touching through seeming” of reality. He notices:

It will be perfectly understandable that somebody was “touched” by suspicion. All this belongs to the sphere of “tele perception” which is characteristic of poets, writers, and artists (Dąbrowski, 1973, 2).

Although we use the world “see”, this mental activity relates to many other aspects of human mental and spiritual life. Coming this way, we can say that a composer “heard” a piece of music in the musical imagination. For drama, this reference point will be a visual and affective imagination. Similar states are notable in contemplation or meditation when a person experiences reality without a sensual perception.

Multilevelness of reality from the aesthetic point of view gives a chance to see human life as a composition of many emotions and experiences. It is an existential picture of one who struggles with circumstances, with an external world, and with oneself.  It is a constant confrontation with the opposite, strong emotions like with a sense of hopelessness and deprivation.

Multilevelness and Spiritual Life

Understanding the issues of reality applies to the level of abstraction characteristic for mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers.

Equally important is another aspect of a higher reality, which is a feeling of absolute in Socrates’ and Soren Kierkegaard’s creativity. In Elements of Philosophy of Development, Dąbrowski emphasizes the meaning of religious and mystical elements of philosophy.

Dąbrowski says:
It is impossible to separate the construction of intellectual relations to yourself and the world without participating in these activities not only to survive the moral hierarchy, but to experience the religious hierarchy, and therefore the hierarchy arising through the development of feelings of inferiority towards yourself and others, a feeling of reverence for higher values, trials, and certain breakdowns, doubts and projections towards “unknowable” in the meditative, contemplative and even mystical experiences (Dąbrowski, 1989, 18).

Philosophical development in light of the positive disintegration theory is a real challenge. So, self-anxiety, humility, and mental failure are inseparable companions of this difficult process. In fact, according to Dąbrowski, it is not enough to have some system of ideas, but even more important is to remember about authentism, and practicing life in accordance with the theoretical premisses.

The aim of emotional and thinking activity is a mental determination to create a developmental structure and transformation (Dąbrowski, 1973). How can we understand this structure? It is the domination of the higher reality – “what ought to be” over the reality of “what is” as everyday reality. Many people in the process of development run away from this hard-to-cope-with reality. It is worth adding that the higher reality, despite being seen as an expression of strangeness, disharmony, and pathology, develops in affective, moral, conceptual, and intuitive spheres of consciousness. 

Multilevelness and Intuition

Intuition connects intellectual and emotional factors of multilevel reality. It is a synthesizing attempt to solve this problem. In opposition to analysis, synthesis is a much more complete approach to reality. Dąbrowski says: [… ] intuitive operations take place on increasingly higher levels, in proportion to the process of mental development of an individual (Dąbrowski, 1973, 4). Furthermore, the higher the active level of dynamisms is, the higher the value of the synthesis.

Dąbrowski recommends Kafka’s creativity as an example of the well-organized synthesis of multilevel reality founded in an analysis of dreams. There are two aspects – prognosis and diagnosis present in his works.

The author of the positive disintegration theory notices:
As we seen, in some man, an extraordinary strength of stimuli and transformers coming from imagination, and fantasy allows a synthetic and incisive interpretation of many problems of life, while sensory stimuli and sensory experiences play in their lives a secondary, or even less than secondary role (Dąbrowski, 1973, 5).

In this way, we come back to the aforementioned problem of atrophy of some receptors of reality. One can more intensively and more effectively concentrate on one’s life problems because of a lack of extra stimuli that attract one’s attention. 

In conclusion, multilevelness of reality enriches human life and opens for another possibility. Without it, human existence could be boring. In multilevel reality, a solution to a problem can appear unexpectedly and change someone’s point of view, and sometimes even save someone’s life. 


Dąbrowski K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness, London: Gryf,

Dąbrowski K. (1973). The Dynamics of Concepts, London: Gryfą,

Dąbrowski K. (1979). Psychoterapia przez rozwój [The Psychotherapy through Development], Warszawa: PTHP,

Dąbrowski K. (1984). Funkcje i struktura emocjonalna osobowości [Function and the Emotional Structure of Personality], Lublin: PTHP,

Dąbrowski K. (1989). Elementy filozofii rozwoju [The Elements of Philosophy of the Development], Warsaw: PTHP.

Dąbrowski K. (1989). W poszukiwaniu zdrowia psychicznego [In Search of Mental Health], Warszawa: PWN,

Tatarkiewicz W. (2019). Historia Filozofii [History of Philosophy], vol. 1, Warszawa: PWN.


I have gained an MA in philosophy at UKSW University in Warsaw. Philosophy is my passion, especially existentialism. My second fascination is the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski as a connection of the psychological knowledge with a philosophical perspective.

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