Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


The main purpose of this thesis was to develop a constructivist theoretical understanding of insight, including how people come to it, what the experience is like and what meaning it has for its 'recipients'. In addition, this work aims to reveal something of the nature of the human being capable of insight. The main findings of the predominantly 'cognitive' insight literature reviewed here are that insight involves high levels of abstraction, that both tacit and explicit mental processes are involved, that 'emotion' has a very important role in this, and that there are important social and pragmatic processes within insight. It is argued that within this literature there is a trend towards constructivism. Accordingly, Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) is shown to most fruitfully integrate these findings, providing a coherent and comprehensive account of insight and of the proactive, anticipatory person capable of it. It is argued that Kelly's Creativity Cycle, involving skilled alternations between loose and tight construing, is central in understanding insight. Related to loose and tight construing, a unifying theme is Suzanne Langer's distinction between presentational and representational thought. The PCP account is elaborated and placed within the broader view of mind (including its emotional, 'unconscious', enactive, embodied and metaphorical nature) which, arguably, PCP was in the forefront of developing. It was concluded that essential to insight is a 'third mode' of construing, a type of 'meditative thinking' which does not head directly to insight, but which waits patiently and nonselfconsciously upon it. This playful, exploratory and receptive attitude reveals something of the affective and relational nature of mind and person. The joy of insight is characterised as a 'return' to one's anticipatory 'fit' with one's world, perhaps with one's cosmos. A study involving semi-structured interviews with seven successful Australian fiction writers about their insights augmented the theoretical discussion and provided strong support for the theoretical understanding presented. Implications for future research into both insight and PCP are explored. It is concluded that our potential for insight is a restorative, an antidote to both the sterility of objectivism and to the despair of relativism. Insight, it is proposed, reunites us with the world we seek to understand, a world which includes yet always transcends us.