The Transcendent Position and its Three Brains
In the past, I have posted many times on the theories of Ignacio Matte Blanco, who was a major influence on my thinking. Along with Bion, he is probably the most far-reaching psychoanalytic thinker, in such a way that he far transcends psychoanalysis. Among other things, he drew out the implications of the unconscious mind, allowing one to fruitfully think about a number of pesky metaphysical problems in new ways.
I just looked him up on wikipedia and was surprised to see that there is actually a short entry:
"Ignacio Matte Blanco was a Chilean psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who developed a rule-based structure for the unconscious which allows us to make sense of the non-logical aspects of thought. Matte Blanco suggested that our thinking combines conventional logic with a different, symmetrical logic in varying degrees, and he named this combination 'bi-logic.' He studied Freud's five characteristics of the unconscious and deduced that if the unconscious has consistent characteristics it must have rules, or there would be chaos.
"However the nature of the characteristics indicate that the rules differ from conventional logic. In The Unconscious as Infinite Sets, Matte Blanco proposes that the structure of the unconscious can be summarised by the principle of Generalisation and the principle of Symmetry. Under the principle of Generalisation the unconscious perceives individual objects as members of classes or sets which are in turn grouped into more general classes. This is compatible with conventional logic. The discontinuity is introduced by the principle of Symmetry, under which relationships are treated as symmetrical, or reversible. For example an asymmetrical relationship, X is greater than Y, becomes reversible so that Y is simultaneously greater than X.
"The principle of Symmetry is clearly outside of conventional logic, consequently Matte Blanco suggests that this alternative logic be called symmetrical logic."
It is difficult for me to discuss this subject without getting pedantic, which I would like to avoid. Rather, I would prefer to operate in my customary mode of free-wheeling vulgarization. I also hate to repeat myself. Nevertheless let me quickly search the blog for "Matte Blanco," and see if there is anything useful for our present purposes...
Yes. Here is some material that will set the stage; there's so much of it, that this post may end up being something of a review, otherwise it will just get too long.
Matte Blanco begins with Freud's model of the unconscious, which is characterized by 1) eternity (or timelessness), 2) spacelessness, 3) symbolism, 4) non-contradiction, and 5) non-distinction between imagination and reality.
However, Matte Blanco, who was also a mathematician, realized that these characteristics were necessary consequences of the kind of logic employed by the unconscious mind, which is to say, symmetrical logic. You might say that this is the logic of the timeless world of eternity, whereas Aristotelian ("asymmetrical") logic only applies to the more limited temporal world, which is a subset of the former. (Which, now that I think about it, is consistent with Robert Rosen's idea that biology is more general than physics, but that is a subject for a different post.)
For example, in the asymmetrical world, it is not possible for two objects to occupy the same space. But in the unconscious mind? No problemo . There, your husband can be your mother, a government can be a bountiful breast, President Bush can be Hitler, or, as Queeg demonstrates on a daily basis, a good Christian or Jew can be an Islamic terrorist.
Likewise, in the unconscious mind, "time travel" is as easy as falling off a log, or Queeg's blog falling off. One of the most vivid clinical cases I've seen of this involved a man who had been shot in the abdomen in an attempted robbery about a decade before. He thought he had forgotten all about it, until one day at work a couple of coworkers decided to play a practical joke on him. One of them aimed a metal tube at him, as if he were holding a rifle. The other coworker slapped together a couple of two-by-fours, creating a loud cracking noise that happened to sound just like gunfire.
The patient reacted just as if he had been shot. He looked down and literally saw blood flowing from his abdomen. He became agitated, and an ambulance had to be called. He was actually taken to the ER, and only after being given a strong anxiolytic did "the past" recede from the present, like an unconscious wave pulling back from the shore of the conscious mind. But for 30 to 45 minutes, the past and present were completely interpenetrating, pulling him down into an infinite terror.
This is simply a vivid example of what happens to us all on a moment-to-moment basis. The past and present are constantly -- and necessarily -- conflated on a deep unconscious level, which accounts for so much of the richness of being. But it also accounts for virtually all psychopathology, which you might say consists not of unpleasant memories that we recall, but unpleasant memories which recall us. [I might add that mind parasites always partake of symmetrical logic, which is why they are impossible to eliminate with mere reason; they "hide out" in the right brain, something that has actually been empirically confirmed, c.f. the works of Allan Schore.]
I'm sure you've all felt the bottomless and unending nameless dread at some point in your life. When I was younger I used to feel it from time to time in the middle of the night. I'd wake up and feel as if all my familiar psychological landmarks had vanished, so to speak. Instead, I was wrapped -- or "unwrapped," actually -- in the eternal silence of the infinite spaces, as Pascal called it -- "the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me."
Naturally, it felt like an "external" space, but it was in internal space merely projected outward. In reality, there is no outer space, only inner space projected. A lot of people who are obsessed with extra-terrestrial life are merely inside-out psychoanalysts, treating fantasized objects as if they come from the outside rather than the inside.
In hindsight, it is also obvious to me now how my very first heartbreak at 17 reasonated in an infinite way with the loss of Eden that Robin was discussing the other day. I wasn't just alone, but infintely so. Furthermore, I always would be. Thank God for Joseph Coors, who was there when I needed him.
Usually, the deeper the emotion, the more it partakes of symmetrical logic (what would love be if it weren't "forever and ever, amen"?). For example, Matte Blanco noticed that a large part of the pain of psychosis is that emotions are raised to a kind of infinite fever pitch. Imagine my little night-terror occurring 24/7, with no way to stop it. Each moment is a calamitous novelty, completely beyond your control. Even if you've had a single panic attack, you can get a sense of this "bad infinite," which is boundless and unending. This is why some psychiatric patients slash themselves or put cigarette burns into their skin -- anything to end the nameless dread and bring them back into contact with the boundaries of time and space. Finite physical pain is far preferable to infinite emotional pain. (BTW, I also notice this with my son, whom I love so much "I can't stand it"; perhaps I should try burning some cigarets on my arm.)
The logic of the symmetrical unconscious helps explains the angry left. To anyone who is not participating in their group fantasy, one can see how absurdly overblown their fears are, whether it is global warming hysteria, "civil rights," or Queeg's fear of Christians and Jews. But it all makes sense in the deep unconscious. Because of its symmetrical nature, that which you deeply hate is deeply frightening. The more you hate or fear it, the more powerful it becomes, until it is equated with the all-powerful and all-evil. (Might this not be the deeper meaning of "turn the other cheek"?)
The conscious mind, because of its asymmetry, is able to discern sharp differences, whereas the unconscious mind ignores -- or transcends -- distinctions and sees deep similarities. Obviously this has an important function that is vital to psychological health and happiness. But both processes can go haywire. For example, Queeg notices that Islamists and Christians or Jews all believe in some form of Creation, therefore on an unconscious level they are identical. Only the "sameness" is seen, not the vast and irreconcilable differences. Or, it is possible to enforce conscious distinctions in an illogical way, for example, between the nature of our fascist enemies in WWII and our fascist enemies today. There the left sees distinctions where it should see the similarities.
It is easy to see how asymmetrical logic can go awry, as demonstrated on a daily basis by our scientistic mascot. In one sense, yes, science is "true." But from the standpoint of total reality, it obviously cannot possibly be true. Rather, it is merely a left-brain abstraction from the totality of being, the latter of which may only be known by the right brain, since it has access to a mode of thinking that is much deeper than mere language. You might say that science, if wrenched from the mystery of being, automatically becomes a perversion. Just so, scripture reduced to a left-brain narrative can also become a perversion.
In the past, I've posted on the book The Symmetry of God by Rodney Bomford, which applies Matte Blanco's ideas to God and religion. I can't say that I recommend this book without reservation, first because it is kind of expensive for a relatively short book, and second, because the author is a bit too liberal for my tastes. That is, he comes very close to reducing scripture only to a sort of allegorical or mythological language that is understood by the right brain, a la Jung.
That is definitely not what I am saying. Rather, I am saying that scripture reveals deeper realities that can only be decoded and understood by symmetrical logic. Bomford might say that things like scripture and poetry exist because we happen to have a right brain. I am saying the opposite: that we have a right brain because man is a microcosmos who mirrors the totality, and in order to accomplish that, we must possess both modes functioning "to the hilt" in a harmoniously interacting manner. As we shall see later, my whole point is that there is a "transcendent position" that arises from the dialectic between left and right brains, or more to the point, a higher synthesis of symmetrical and assymetrical logic.
With that caveat in mind, I found that Bomford had some incredibly useful things to say about symmetrical logic and its relation to God, and about how we may meaningfully communicate about something that vastly exceeds the limits of language. The book attempts to resolve the issue of literalism vs. reductionism. That is to say, it is for someone who "neither clings rigidly to the literal truth of every word of the Bible, nor on the other hand reduces the faith by rejecting most of what the past has believed to be central." This interdisciplinary spirit allows one to be a believer and still engage with the same world as those outside the faith. In fact, without this engagement, one will inevitably create a sort of intellectual ghetto for oneself. But there is no reason whatsoever that one cannot build sturdy and robust bridges between religion and any other discipline, which was obviously the whole point of my own book. There should be no intrinsic barrier between religion and the most up-to-date science.
As mankind has evolved, we have become increasingly aware of the internal world of consciousness itself. Religion has followed this trend, which is why the further back in history you travel, the more religion tends to be dominated by an externalizing tendency (of course, there have always been individual exceptions). Today, if you ask the average person where God is encountered, they will likely respond "within myself." In other words, they do not believe that they are literally going to visit God in the church or temple -- although our consciousness of God is surely "focussed," so to speak, in certain proscribed areas and rituals. But when we attend a service, engage in a ritual, meditate, pray, or purchase an indulgence from Petey, we are obviously attempting to heighten our consciousness of God, are we not?
But what do we know about consciousness? What is it? Or, to put it another way, what can consciousness know of itself?
Bomford begins with what amounts to a truism, that our conscious self -- or ego -- is situated in a much larger area of consciousness as such, much of which goes by the name "unconscious." This is a misleading term, since the unconscious is not unconscious, just not fully available to the ego; obviously, the totality of consciousness cannot be circumscribed by the little ego.
Traditionally, psychoanlaysts have imagined a sort of horizontal line, with the ego above and the unconscious below. But I believe a more accurate mental image would be an island surrounded by water on all sides, or like a point within a sphere (which is itself multidimensional). I would also argue that consciousness is not linear but holographically structured, so that the unconscious is not spatially above or below, but within consciousness (somewhat analogous to God, who is both immanent and transcendent, the deepest within and the furthest beyond of any "thing" that partakes of Being).
Furthermore, we must abandon the idea that the unconscious is merely an uncivilized repository of repressed mind parasites and other troubling forces and entities. That is surely part of the picture, but only part. For example, Grotstein writes of the unconscious as a sort of alter-ego, or “stranger within” that shadows our existence in a most intimate, creative, and mysterious way. Far from being “primitive and impersonal” (although it obviously includes primitive, lower vertical elements as well), it is “subjective and ultra-personal,” a “mystical, preternatural, numinous second self” characterized by “a loftiness, sophistication, versatility, profundity, virtuosity, and brilliance that utterly dwarf the conscious aspects of the ego.” (In other words, it is more like an analogue of O; if I could reproduce the symbol, it would be a small o within O, or "uh oh.")
The production of a dream, for example, "is a unique and mysterious event, an undertaking that requires an ability to think and to create that is beyond the capacity of conscious human beings.... [D]reams are, at the very least, complex cinematographic productions requiring consummate artistry, technology, and aesthetic decision making.... [D]reams are dramatic plays that are written, cast, plotted, directed, and produced and require the help of scenic designers and location scouts, along with other experts.... I am really proposing the existence of a profound preturnatural presence whose other name is the Ineffable Subject of Being, which itself is a part of a larger holographic entity, the Supraordinate Subject of Being and Agency."
Now, this is what I meant when I referred to Kepler's songs appealing to my right brain, as they might more accurately be described as "Kepler's Dreams" -- which can be said of any "prophet." In my view, a real prophet is simply someone who has truly mastered the "transcendent position," and can speak the rich and resonant language of the higher third.
Oy, this post is getting entirely too long, isn't it? A little bit more:
Religion provides an extremely sophisticated language through which we may speak of the Absolute, the eternal, the immutable. Remember, eternity is not time everlasting, but timelessness. As I explained in my book, time is a function of eternity. In fact, the two are dialectically related, and one is not possible without the other. However, our surface ego, or frontal personality, gives us the illusion that only time exists.
Yet, we always have intuitions of the eternal ground from which the events of time perpetually arise and return. Religion is a way of acknowledging and talking about this, of giving form and substance to this more primary ground of timelessness. It is where we came from before birth and where we are headed after death, only it is present in every now. In fact, now is the only place eternity is or has ever been.
Recall that when God reveals his name to Moses, he says that it is, "I AM THAT I AM." Not I was, or I will be, but I AM. When you think about it, there is something very mysterious about this "I" and this "AM." As a matter of fact, there is no science or philosophy that can even begin to account for them or explain what they actually are. They are ultimate categories of thought that mere conventional logic can never penetrate. As it so happens, this "I" and "AM" are the slots in the cosmos where eternity comes pouring into time consciously.
Similarly, what did Jesus say? "Before Abraham was, I AM." Also, the Upanishads speak of this in many ways: "aham asmi" (I AM), or "so ham asmi" ("I am he"). The Tao Te Ching too: "Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not. How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see."
Or, in Petey's thirdspeak: Cut me down to sighs. Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM. Brahmasmi the Truth. The whole Truth. Nothing but the Truth. So ham, me God.
Again I apologize for all this dreary review, but we do have a number of new regulars, so it might be worthwhile to get them up to speed on some of the Raccoon basics.