Friday, April 24, 2009

On Thinking Your Thoughts and God Thinking His

Someone asked yesterday how I meant the term "intersubjective." That's a fair -- and important -- question, because I don't want to be like those other philosophers who throw out neologisms or use words in an arbitrary or idiosyncratic manner. Rather, I'm trying to be quite precise, even when I throw out neologisms and use words in an arbitrary or idiosyncratic manner. I'll give as brief a summary as possible, because I don't want to get all pedantic on your.

When I use this term I mean it in the (modern) psychoanalytic sense that human minds are "interior" to one another. If you have even a nodding acquaintance with psychoanalytic thought, you may recall that Freud -- who was as materialist and positivist as they come -- regarded the mind as a sort of instinct-driven machine. Thus, it's not even a proper subject at all, more like a pressure cooker seeking release (not to say that some infra-human people aren't unreasonable factsimians of such a model).

Some of the early psychoanalysts who couldn't go along with this view formed their own schools and schisms. However, psychoanalysis itself began to undergo a profound shift after World War II, especially in Great Britain. To make a short story shorter, it began to explore the earliest relationship between mother and infant for the source of our deepening subjectivity. Anyone who is interested in learning a little more about what I consider of central importance to any comprehensive view of the cosmos might begin with The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.

It's been awhile, but my recollection is that this book does an able job of summarizing the most cutting edge research on the subject, including the work of Allan Schore, a remarkable polymath who synthesizes... well, I'll just quote one of the blurbs: "the depth and breadth of whose reading, bringing together neurobiology, developmental neurochemistry, behavioral neurology, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, developmental psychoanalysis and infant psychiatry, is staggering." "Staggering" is a good description. I definitely wouldn't recommend starting with him. It would be like giving Balthasar to Mtraven. He would only look for references to torture. But then he'd blame it on the Jews for occupying Roman land.

Here's a good summary by Dr. Grotstein, who was also nice enough to enblurb my book. Wordy but accurate. Skip ahead if you like:

"In this remarkable and unique integrative contribution on socioaffective ontogeny, Dr. Schore has assembled an incredible array of data that spans virtually the length and breadth of modern science, including neurobiology, developmental neurochemistry, behavioral neurology, evolutionary biology, sociobiology, developmental psychology, developmental psychoanalysis, and infant psychiatry. His aim in this work is to construct an interdisciplinary model for the attainment of optimum integration from all these disciplines so that we see a more transcendent picture of the emerging human infant as a neurobiological-social-emotional self. I believe that he has achieved his aim and, in so doing, he has lifted our neurobiological 'hardware' into a unique costarring role with our mental (cognitive/affective) software and has highlighted how our neurons become key players in the formation of our personalities. We can almost now see brain and mind in a paradoxically discontinuously continuous Möbius strip connection.... It fundamentally alters our traditional, fundamentalistic, cyclopean psychodynamic way of viewing infants and patients and dramatically informs a newer and much needed interdisciplinary perspective."

As Jerome Green -- rock's greatest maraca player -- famously said to Bo Diddley, "I can do what you do." Bo inquired, "then how come you ain't doin' it?" Jerome's condescending response was "because I got you doin' it."

So I'm not sure if I could do what Dr. Schore does, but it doesn't matter, since I got him doin' it for me.

But you don't really need to know all of the science in order to understand the truth of this worldview. For example, in my case, I merely had to be exposed to the ideas of Bion back in 1985, and I was instantly coonverted. He locates the roots of what we call "thinking" in the intersubjective space between mother and infant. You might say that when we come into the world, we are barraged by "thoughts without a thinker" (this is also summarized in my book). The (m)other serves as the "auxiliary cortex," so to speak, who will help the infant to think its thoughts (Bion called this "alpha function," the internalization of which will allow us to think our thoughts instead of simply being "subject to them," so to speak).

I'm afraid this is starting to sound overly abstract, but it's actually as concrete and empirical as can be. Mind parasites, for example, are internalized entities that thrive outside the bounds of our alpha function. They are not really just "thoughts without a thinker." Rather, the internalized mind parasite actually thinks thoughts that we do not authorize. Of course, there is always an unwilled flow of thoughts coming from various planes of consciousness, and depending upon the depth and integrity of our thinker, we will be able to organize them into higher and higher syntheses. But the mind parasite cannot be integrated, again, because it is split off from the central self.

This is all reviewed in my book, so I don't want to spend our limited time going over it again. See pp. 109-123, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. Now that I've both had a baby and been one, I can recoonfirm everything presented there.

Our interest is in how all of this relates to the interior life of the trinitarian godhead, a life that we share, being that we are its image and likeness. We'll get into this in much more detail later, but I think it's entirely soph to say that "the world" comes into being in the space between Father and Son, or Ground and Word, Love and Wisdom, or O and (n).

You might say that the eternal generation of God's Word is the operation of his own "alpha function" (or perhaps alpha-and-omega function!) in the groundless ground beyond being. It is his own "self understanding," which is why to understand the Word is to understand God, since it is his own witness to himself. And of course, it is not an "it," but another Subject; therefore, the Word is the Other who is actually non-Other, or Love; no intersubjectivity, no love, which is why love is a true union that reveals the One beneath, or "above" the two. And the baby -- the "third" -- is the witness to this love.

Which is why "homosexual marriage" is an intrinsic cosmic absurdity, but I don't want to go there. I don't want to jeopardize my chance to be Mister California.

Whew, that was a long prelude. Which rhymes with quaalude. And gay dude. And très rude. I'm sure there's a limerick in there about Perez Hilton.

A silly and bitchy young gay dude
who invented supposit'ry quaalude...


What? No, Dupree, they're just saying B'ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhB.

Okay, back to Image and World. Now that you know all about alpha function, you are in a position to draw the obvious parallels between it and HvB's observations about the raw image-world that confronts us, which is very much analogous to "thoughts without a thinker":

"The images simulate something that they themselves are not: a world. They suggest the idea of essence and existence, but they are neither. They have no essence, because they are nothing but surface with no depth. They are mere appearance and are thus incapable of displaying any interiority at all.... They are what they are, nothing more, this sweetness, this noisiness, this quickness, this colorfulness... Their sheer superficiality conveys nothing of any hidden background."

In short, we can only deepen the images by "thinking them" as opposed to merely being subject to them. Again, look at how HvB describes it: "If they are to start making sense, the images must be lent an essence and existence that they do not possess themselves. To lend them essence is to interpret them as the appearance of a coherent but non-appearing sense..."

We must "think the world into being," so to speak, very much in the manner that the mother thinks the infant into being, so that the infant may discover-create its world. For to "think" is to first apprehend and then tolerate the mystery of the There that isn't there; in other words, we do not waste our time thinking about things that possess no mystery, like Mtraven's skull. The mystery is precisely what draws us in.

But some people do not intuit the mystery, which in turn causes their thinking to suffer in consequence. Here again, one cannot help thinking of the poor atheist, who sees only a wall where we see a window or even Door. What happened to their alpha function? And who really cares?

O "testifies" to its own existence in the form of our ceaseless thoughts. You might think of these as an infinite number of "views" of O. Here is how HvB describes it: images proceed "from a common, non-appearing center," and are "the exhibition of one and the same thing from various angles or in various phases..."

And here is how Bion described O (and I can't tell you how daring it was for a psychoanalyst to speak in this way back in the 1960s): "The central postulate is that atonement with ultimate reality, or O, as I have called it to avoid involvement with existing association, is essential to harmonious growth.... In short, the individual has, and retains, what religious people call a belief in God however much he denies it or claims to have become emancipated. The final relationship is permanent, though its formulation is subject to constant reformulation," or what I call O-->(n).

I'll leave you with one more quote from Bion to ponder, for it bears on what we might call the "negative intersubjectivity" of the left, as exemplified by one of its rank-and-foul, mtraven: "The link between one mind and another that leads to destruction is the lie.... The lie is not restricted, as the word 'lie' would ordinarily imply, to the domain of thought, but has its counterpart in the domain of being; it is possible to be a lie and being so precludes at-one-ment in O."

33 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

You were quoting Bion:
"The lie is not restricted, as the word 'lie' would ordinarily imply, to the domain of thought, but has its counterpart in the domain of being..."

There is a strong parallel to this in the use of the body. Debauched sensory feedback is usually completely unconscious, but produces distortions in the realms of thought and feelings, and therefore actions, and therefore the entire personality. It takes genuine skill to unravel such things.

The sufferer is dying from strangulation and it never occurs to him/her that it's a case of suicide.

4/24/2009 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, they're finding out so much about stress hormones, inflammation, and early death. It's quite stressful to be a lie. It's really the stock and trade of the psychotherapist. Whatever is lodged in the unconscious is usually lodged in the body as well.

4/24/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

In short, we can only deepen the images by "thinking them" as opposed to merely being subject to them. Again, look at how HvB describes it: "If they are to start making sense, the images must be lent an essence and existence that they do not possess themselves. To lend them essence is to interpret them as the appearance of a coherent but non-appearing sense..."

Hm.

I'll leave you with one more quote from Bion to ponder, for it bears on what we might call the "negative intersubjectivity"... The link between one mind and another that leads to destruction is the lie....

Yes, I think we saw more than enough examples of that yesterday. The left seems to have perfected the destruction of links, in any case - how else to understand why an obviously intelligent person, faced with certain realities, either cannot or will not follow the implications of those realities?

But enough of that; I like what is implied in the Bion quote about positive intersubjectivity.

4/24/2009 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Debauched sensory feedback is usually completely unconscious, but produces distortions in the realms of thought and feelings, and therefore actions, and therefore the entire personality.That's interesting, Walt. I've mentioned my friend's little boy here before. One of the problems with a lot of autistic kids is a sensory problem; part of his therapy if he was having a total meltdown was for his mom to take a baby brush and actually brush it over his skin - arms, legs, chest and back. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it worked as a way to help him feel contained within his own skin.

4/24/2009 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In psychoanalytic thought, the skin is indeed considered the first container -- the "skin-boundary frontier." Mentally ill people have damaged skin -- either too porous, too insensate, too "thick," etc.

4/24/2009 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

This also touches on something Will has mentioned on a number of occasions, the "mercy of materiality," as it were. For without it, we'd just drop like a stone to the bottom of the cosmos.

4/24/2009 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Word + Flesh.

4/24/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The world is a cow that is hard to milk -- life does not come so easy -- and, oh how thinly it is watered ere we get it!"

Thus said Thoreau in one of his letters to Emerson, which echoes - from a dif angle - Bion's words

"The lie is not restricted, as the word 'lie' would ordinaily imply, to the domain of thought, but has its counterpart in the domain of being.."

Theofilia

4/24/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Mentally ill people have damaged skin -- either too porous, too insensate, too "thick," etc.

And coming back to what Walt said,

Debauched sensory feedback is usually completely unconscious, but produces distortions in the realms of thought and feelings...

You guys are like a gold mine today; there are so many lines of thought that spring from this, I'm having trouble picking one :)

Suffice it to say, this is one of those connections that's fun to ponder. Thanks!

4/24/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

Skin.
Strange. I just came back from lunch with a friend who is a therapist at a university near here. She was talking about how girls w/ problems used to cut their HAIR, get a silly perm, or dye it green. Today, as she put it, the SKIN is the canvas. Piercings, tattoos, cutting. We were reflecting, too, that you have to pierce the skin to tattoo it.
Whether the change is just a coincidence of fashion or has special meaning I don't know. Food for thought.

4/24/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No, I believe the tattoo craze definitely has to do with skin containment, as is true of any form of self-mutilation.

4/24/2009 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm not into studies, but it would be interesting to see one looking at number of tattoos vis-a-vis quality of maternal attachment....

4/24/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“number of tattoos vis-a-vis quality of maternal attachment”

You mean “square feet” of tattoos.

BTW, some of the funniest funnies in this one today, Bob.

Also, have you seen “The Three Faces of Eve”?

4/24/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I know I've seen parts. Don't remember if I've seen the whole thing.

4/24/2009 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Zoltan said...

A couple of questions, one lower importance, one at least middling importance. Both summoned by the Grotstein passage.

Is the "self" he describes as emerging -- assuming he means from inside the mother's self to outside her self, out through the birth canal -- a self only following that emergence? Is this self, in Grotstein's view, a self at any time between conception and the completion of gestation?

The meta-question there, of course is whether the self, assuming there is such reality, is time-dependent, time being a category of finitude.

Second, is love "neurobiological hardware" or "mental software" or some other element of the metaphor of a computer he invokes for this description? And a subquestion: does he intend to use this metaphor as metaphor or as direct description?

The subquestion is of some moment because if he intends the metaphor as direct description rather than as metaphor (which it is), he is making the self a man-made mechanical device, i.e., horizontal, is he not? In that case his epistemological posture is that of an idolater, is it not?

4/24/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Lee J. Cobb also plays a psychiatrist in “The Dark Past”. After 12 Angry Men, me and Mrs R were on a Lee J. Cobb kick – I didn’t get to see The Dark Past though… She said it was good.
Have you seen that one?

4/24/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Zoltan, those are very complex questions, and I need to get some work done.

Don't recall seeing The Dark Past.

4/24/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Probably saw it in film school, as one of my professors was big into the theme of perverse family structure in film noir.

4/24/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Zoltan said...

No, I have been on a Doris Day kick.

4/24/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Here again, one cannot help thinking of the poor atheist, who sees only a wall where we see a window or even Door. What happened to their alpha function? And who really cares?"

And the wall they see is a torture device. Because, you know, the terrorists said so.

Deep post, bob! I'm treadin' water here.

4/24/2009 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Sometimes, science stumbles across the holy grail:
Study finds-
Bacon helps cure hangovers!

4/24/2009 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

a nodding acquaintance with psychoanalytic thought

For those of you who don't know, in the reddest parts of flyover country, there is such a thing as "noodling". It involves reaching into murky waters under things you can't see and grabbing a big catfish off the nest with your bare hands. Because it is extremely effective and thus leaves the nest defenseless, it is strictly illegal in almost every state. I read the above sentence repeatedly and it came up "noodling acquaintance" every time. In the context, it made perfect sense to me, but I could not believe Dear Leader had ever been noodling.

4/24/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

As opposed to ca-noodling which is similar and yet distinct. Afterall, my Wench may not have those catfish spikes but she is infinitely more dangerous.
Nuance.

4/24/2009 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Mushroom, I couldn't resist googling that. The wiki is interesting; I had no idea catfish grew to be so big!

4/24/2009 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

As Skully points out, noodling has some psychosexual connotations I can't handle. Plus I find cottonmouths and snapping turtles a huge turnoff. I prefer fishing for smallmouth bass, crappie, or bluegill.

Speaking of piercings and tattoos, those are extremely common in the prison population. I got the sense that they were detached from their bodies -- or that they viewed their bodies as a tool. In any case, it seemed like a dangerous detachment rather than anything positive.

4/24/2009 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"They have no essence, because they are nothing but surface with no depth. They are mere appearance and are thus incapable of displaying any interiority at all..."

I didn't know that HvB knew mtcraven... whadyaknow....

4/24/2009 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"The link between one mind and another that leads to destruction is the lie.... The lie is not restricted, as the word 'lie' would ordinarily imply, to the domain of thought, but has its counterpart in the domain of being; it is possible to be a lie and being so precludes at-one-ment in O."

Being anti-reality, mis-representing the Truth... how could it not be be destructive, dis-integrating, and lead to, destruction?

4/24/2009 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

"Brang it on Ho-o-o-me--Brang it to Jerome!"

How lucky I was to have had an elder brother [rip] whose peers in the early '60s living in Kansas City, Mo. had the likes of fellow Missourians Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley playing at proms, intimate mainly-black clubs & venues... and when our past-middleage maid Mattie heard the first few seconds of "Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" [so unlike our other 45s: ie "Tammy", Beach Boys, "Sugar Shack", "Purple People Eater", "Big John" etc] she broke character and started to dance & shimmy like we'd never seen before nor since!

4/24/2009 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm lucky too. On the day Bo died I snapped up one of these limited editions for under 20 bucks. They instantly went up in price to well over 100, but I see that they now have some for under 50.... Great stuff.

4/24/2009 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D
I just got called for an NBC poll, sounds like it'll come out Monday. All about the first 100 days.

Yes, I admit it - I got a cheap thrill out of expressing my disapproval, in a multitude of ways, about pretty much everything he's done so far. Man, that felt good.

4/24/2009 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Zoltan said...

Julie, "cheap"?

4/24/2009 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It didn't cost me anything but a few minutes of my time. Then again, I suppose by some estimates it might have been pretty expensive. wv reminds me that time is moniz, after all...

4/25/2009 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Zoltan said...

Julie, I take your point.

4/25/2009 12:29:00 AM  

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