Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Triumph of Non-Thought Over Thought

It is difficult to conceptualize the differences between thought and its competitors, because if one hasn't thought about thought (thought² for short), it will look quite similar, if not identical, to non-thought. Non-thought is not no-thought, the latter of which is just stupidity. MSNBC is non-thought. Local TV news is no-thought.

Non-thought is an active perversion of thinking, and often exhibits a great deal of intelligence. It is a type of thinking that is detached from its proper object, -- or end -- which is reality in all its inexhaustible richness and depth.

I first began thinking about thinking, o, about 27 years ago, in the spring of 1985. And now that I'm in this gnostalgic mood, I just pulled a book from the shelf, Second Thoughts, by W.R. Bion (not recommended to the laity). The title is a play on words, because it is Bion thinking about his own thinking, providing "second thoughts" about various papers he had written over the previous fifteen years or so. The book first presents the paper, followed by his second thoughts and re-servations.

I see that one of the papers is called A Theory of Thinking. His first thoughts begin with the idea that his theory covers the same ground as various philosophical theories, with one difference: his theory was intended for use (i.e., clinical work leading to growth), analogous to the difference between, say, abstract theories of meteorology vs. whether you need to take an umbrella to work today (or, leftist economics vs. economics).

For Bion, thinking is "dependent on the successful outcome of two main mental developments." The first of these is "the development of thoughts." That pretty much happens automatically, unless one is in a coma. The second involves the development of "an apparatus to cope with them." Thus, "thinking has to be called into existence to cope with thoughts."

This theory reverses the usual way we think about thinking -- as if thinking produces the thought. But for you thinkers out there, you know that thoughts just come to you, and that you couldn't create one via thinking any more than you could create life in a test tube or Obama could create wealth in any context.

Thus, "thinking is a development forced on the psyche by the pressure of thoughts and not the other way around." Psychopathology may occur at either end, with the creation or management of thoughts; in other words, there may be "a breakdown in the development of thoughts, or a breakdown in the development of the apparatus for 'thinking' or dealing with thoughts, or both."

Now, thoughts are not just of the same order. Rather, they arise on various planes of consciousness which we call "vertical." We can have empirical thoughts, sensory thoughts, spiritual thoughts, emotional thoughts.

Some of our thoughts are quite primitive, and we clearly do not have control over them, as they are essentially "pre-human." Men, for example, beginning at a certain age, are bombarded by sexual thoughts. It's as if a primitive part of the psyche is unleashed, and now the mind has to develop a way to cope with these thoughts. Much of Arab culture revolves around the wrong way to do it.

There are also "empty thoughts," which is to say, categories of thought awaiting "realization." These consist of a kind of space awaiting fulfillment via experience. Jung called them "archetypes," but you could also just call them "human nature."

As Bion describes it, "when the pre-conception is brought into contact with a realization that approximates to it, the mental outcome is a conception." Thus, it is as if there is an implicit or nonlocal thought that only becomes explicit and local through experience -- somewhat analogous to the wave/particle complementarity in physics, where observation pulls the latter from the former.

Some thoughts are "unwanted," which means that emotion has clouded the picture. In other words, what happens if we have a true thought that we nevertheless don't want? The mind has a number of mechanisms to deal with this exigency, just as the body has ways to deal with unwanted invaders.

But just as the body can mistakenly attack itself -- what are called autoimmune disorders -- the mind too can mistakenly attack its own substance. For example, if man is in the image of the Creator, then any form of vulgar anti-theism would represent a psychic autoimmune disorder (with predictable consequences).

There are several mechanisms to avoid thinking unwanted thoughts, ranging from the primitive to the more sophisticated. The most primitive include denial, splitting, and projective identification, which, working in concert, displace the unwanted thought (or thought fragment) into the environment, usually in other minds. This doesn't actually eliminate the thought, but it is preferable to feel persecuted from outside than inside the head.

Some important implications follow this psychic expulsion of thoughts, touching on what was said yesterday about the will to power replacing the search for truth. On some level, the person who manages thought in this pathological way must feel superior to reality: instead of discriminating between true and false, "omniscience substitutes... a dictatorial affirmation that one thing is morally right and the other wrong."

Bion has just described the mechanism of political correctness, which again forbids certain avenues of thought through moral condemnation. And again, I don't want to pretend that this doesn't occur on the "right," because it does, especially with certain fundamentalist types.

Let's flip ahead and find out what sorts of second thoughts Bion had about all this.

Hmm. Not too many, really. Or rather, too many: "the ramifications... are so considerable that I require another book to attempt elucidation."

Along these lines, he warns of how the thinker might seize onto a "sense of security" in order "to offset and neutralize the sense of insecurity following on the discovery that discovery has exposed further vistas of unsolved problems -- 'thoughts' in search of a thinker."

In other words, reality never stops speaking just because we have stopped listening, or because we have some little theory to make the mystery go away and stop bothering us. A theory of thinking is not the same as the unending project of thinking.

Which leads right back to Voegelin's Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, because this is precisely what the gnostic has done: stopped listening to reality. Consider this little gem from Karl Marx's crocktoral dissertation:

"The confession of Prometheus, 'In a word, I hate all the gods,' is its own confession, its own verdict against all gods heavenly and earthly who do not acknowledge human self-consciousness as the supreme deity. There shall be none beside it" (in Voegelin).

Later in the book Voegelin outlines what might be thought of as the cure for such gnostic omnipotence: "Thus, 'actual knowledge' is reserved to God; finite man can only be the 'lover of knowledge,' not himself the one who knows.... If a thinker attempts it, he is not advancing philosophy, but abandoning it to become a gnostic."

In short, for the gnostic, "In the clash between system and reality, reality must give way."

Or, non-thought must triumph over thought.

33 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

Non-thought is an active perversion of thinking, and often exhibits a great deal of intelligence.

Confusing to a lot of people. It's pretty easy for most to recognize the no-thought of a guy like Bush. My sister gave me a copy of Decision Points for Christmas -- I think in 2010. I still haven't finished it. A couple of pages were mildly interesting.

It is much harder for some to look at Obama and his pseudo-intellectualism and recognize that a true thought would cause his pretty little head to explode. Otherwise, he would long ago have turned in disgust from perverted minds like Wright, Ayers, and Bell.

5/16/2012 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Politicians generally have to rely upon the thought or non-thought of others. I mean, it's impossible to believe a Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi ever thought anything through on their own. Their job is simply to demonize enemies of the non-thought.

Along these lines, I had wanted to include something about the nature of intellectual, emotional, and moral capital, but forgot. But if you think about the quality of intellectual capital Obama is dealing with, you can see why he is so ineffectual.

5/16/2012 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

finite man can only be the 'lover of knowledge,' not himself the one who knows.... If a thinker attempts it, he is not advancing philosophy, but abandoning it to become a gnostic.

And to excessive self-love, to some variety of narcissism. Cf. Obamao and his 2012 cult. Weird, pathetic, and destructive -- all at once.

Gnostics are also deeply attracted to power and promoting their role as savoir/savior. If they were just cranks under the bridge, they'd be entertaining. But there they are, on the bridge with a wild eye and a box of dynamite, crying "I know what to do! I know what to do!"

I know who is even more pitiable: the chap with the microphone who, on seeing the salvific Playvior in full regalia, feels an electrical "tingle." If there's anything less edifying than that, I don't know what it is.

5/16/2012 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/16/2012 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

did you see where MaTTHEWS bombed on 'Jeopardy' after issuing multi digs at Sarah P how she'd fare badly there?

5/16/2012 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

You know, ge, in fairness to Mattress, the tingle may have spread to his button hand.

5/16/2012 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Capital is important. One of my friends used to say that he got "fifteen percent smarter" when he became a Christian. I'm not sure how he came up with that percentage, but the reason was that he began to fill his head with something besides pop culture and country/western song lyrics.

5/16/2012 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

Good piece. I'm reading "The Iron Heel" by Jack London, and it is really something to hear Marxism (the epitome of non-thinking) from the mouth of a verbally gifted and self-righteous true believer. I think if I would have read it earlier in life it could have done some serious damage, and I think I am beginning to catch a glimpse of the internal mental mechanism by which communism was able to hold on to so many bright people in the face of so much empirical refutation.

And someone mentioned narcissism, which is all the invitation I need to promote a writer I found a couple months ago, the apostle to the narcissists:

http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/01/can_narcissism_be_cured.html

He does not mention his theological beliefs, but he is always starting sentences "Since God is dead" and proceeding to indicate how screwed man is because of it, so I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a believer. I think of him as a post-modern Pascal, or Walker Percy's best protagonist, Dr. Thomas More, incarnated.

5/16/2012 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That reminds me. I wanted to work in a similar paean to the wonders of socialism penned by Oscar Wilde, perhaps the only thing that escaped his withering irony, which shows its pseudo-sacred borrowings.

5/16/2012 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thus, "thinking is a development forced on the psyche by the pressure of thoughts and not the other way around." Psychopathology may occur at either end, with the creation or management of thoughts; in other words, there may be "a breakdown in the development of thoughts, or a breakdown in the development of the apparatus for 'thinking' or dealing with thoughts, or both."

On second thought I think that's true. :^)

"Some thoughts are "unwanted," which means that emotion has clouded the picture. In other words, what happens if we have a true thought that we nevertheless don't want?"

Yeah, like a song you don't wanna get stuck in yer head.

5/16/2012 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Gabe, you are right. I started that book a while back. It really is a look inside the pathology, and, as such, it just became too dark for me to finish at the time.

5/16/2012 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Some thoughts are "unwanted," which means that emotion has clouded the picture."

Speaking of emotion clouding the picture, I often find myself thinking about what you said about being dispassionately passionate which puts the intellect in control instead of emotions.

It doesn't deny emothions but it puts emotions where they belong: subordinate to the intellect rather than at the helm.

Emotion at the helm is bad mojo, like wearing an albotross on your neck.
It never ends well.

5/16/2012 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of Non-thought and no-thought, life imitates the Simpsons: Does this look like a man who's had all he can eat?

Money quote at the end: "Bill Wisth says he will picket every Sunday until the restaurant rethinks what happened."

5/16/2012 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

In short, for the gnostic, "In the clash between system and reality, reality must give way."

Or, non-thought must triumph over thought."

Clash of the Wight-ins.

"Release the Baracken!"

5/16/2012 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

IRT Julie's link:

"They do have like some of the best pizza in town if you like deep dish pizza," said Wisth.

Well, at least the restaurant is getting good advertising.
And that quote you mentioned, Julie is hilarious!

That'll show 'em. They don't know who they're messing with.

5/16/2012 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger son of a preacher man said...

Looks like life does imitate art

5/16/2012 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

5/16/2012 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

On a more serious note, Steyn has a piece up about Geert Wilders which contains a good demonstration of non-thought and its effects:

"And, although Mr. Wilders was eventually acquitted by his kangaroo court, the determination to place him beyond the pale is unceasing: “The far-right anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders” (The Financial Times) . . . “Far-right leader Geert Wilders” (The Guardian) . . . “Extreme right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders” (Agence France-Presse) is “at the fringes of mainstream politics” (Time) . . . Mr. Wilders is so far out on the far-right extreme fringe that his party is the third biggest in parliament. Indeed, the present Dutch government governs only through the support of Wilders’ Party for Freedom. So he’s “extreme” and “far-right” and out on the “fringe,” but the seven parties that got far fewer votes than him are “mainstream”? That right there is a lot of what’s wrong with European political discourse and its media coverage: Maybe he only seems so “extreme” and “far-right” because they’re the ones out on the fringe."

5/16/2012 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Another good tidbit from the Steyn article (emphasis mine):

"Yet the same political class responsible for this unprecedented “demographic substitution” (in the words of French demographer Michèle Tribalat) insists the subject remain beyond discussion. The British novelist Martin Amis asked Tony Blair if, at meetings with his fellow prime ministers, the Continental demographic picture was part of the “European conversation.” Mr. Blair replied, with disarming honesty, “It’s a subterranean conversation” — i.e., the fellows who got us into this mess can’t figure out a way to talk about it in public, other than in the smiley-face banalities of an ever more shopworn cultural relativism."

5/16/2012 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Doc Zero has a relevant post.

5/16/2012 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Good one, Bob. This:

"The terminology used in political debates can be defined through culture. Dissenters can be marginalized by selling the illusion that they float in lonely orbits, far beyond the light and warmth of consensus. It is very useful to be the arbiter of what “everyone knows.”"

meshes perfectly with what Steyn was saying.

5/16/2012 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I tend to think of thoughts as a kind of energy - which is emitted, perhaps, by the heart, the center of your being, or is perhaps being tossed your way from some other source. The mind, and all of our faculties simply convert this energy into what it already was - maybe into words, into feelings, into intuitions, emotions, etc.

I finally recognized the point of the Christian idea of 'guarding one's heart' - the attempt is to kill the affections which give rise to thoughts - sensory, spiritual, emotional - if possible. I discovered in myself the usage of happy thoughts or feelings to cope with reality, but such things give rise to other, pleasurable thoughts and feelings which may or may not be kosher.

I think old Solomon had the idea when he told them to kill the little foxes in the garden. It's easier to deal with the really nasty thoughts when you're not ginning up a bunch of thought opium.

And the upside is you can detect reality a bit better, and maybe also detect those messages with a more sublime frequency.

5/16/2012 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Julie,
reminds me of my days dealing with the kids' elementary school. When you complained about something, you were told you were the only one who had a problem with whatever.
Until you checked with other parents...

5/16/2012 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The anti-science of non-thought, which was William's specialty.

5/16/2012 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Wow - that is astonishingly poor research. Our tax dollars at work.

The science is settled!

5/16/2012 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Speaking of strange science: Gaia Theory of Earth as Living Organism.

I'm semi-sympathetic to the basic concept if not the terminology. And at least the theory has elements that can be tested -- unlike climate science. But it still makes me uncomfortable, along with the new phrenology thing.

I keep thinking they are going to draw the sanity line by government edict, and I'm going to be on the wrong side. Or they will declare Gaia the new god and go after all the heretics.

5/16/2012 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"It is difficult to conceptualize the differences between thought and its competitors, because if one hasn't thought about thought (thought² for short), it will look quite similar, if not identical, to non-thought."

You know, I'm gonna go out on a limb here.

When I first read this I thought I got it.
But after dijesting it, I realized I didn't get it...at first.
At least not holy.
Now I'm gafawing like crazy!

Bob, that's a brilliant lead in!

This hasta do with the cosmic yolk.
You either "get it" or you don't.

Like all cosmicmedians, Bob not only hits a home run with his One liners, but he throws in, by necessity I might add, some amazing improv!

But not to contain...rather to point to that which can't be contained.

That's the point of the yolk.
Or at least one of the points.

When it hits you, it hits you where you live.

I reckon what I'm sayin' is, we are truly blessed to get such insight...insight that cannot be bought but it can be souled!
For free! As it must Be...ing.

We are truly blessed to be witnesses of Bob's radness!

Thanks Bob. I really appreciate the honest humanor you bring, day in n' day out.

This stuff really sticks with you if you stick with it.

It gets you to thinking twice, even thrice. And more.

One Cosmos reminds me to slow down and coontemplate what's really happenin' man!

One cosmos is younique that Way.
You get out of it what you put into it, and more, because grace abounds here.

Here, thought triumps over non-thought. Humor triumps over bitterness n' envy. Joy abounds.

That ain't by accident my friends.
This is the real deal, and I can honestly say Bob is planting seeds like all get out!

Speakin' for myself, those seeds have taken root and transformed my life.

To be sure I have taken it for granted more times than I care to admit.

But once one dedicates their life to search for Truth, Beauty n' Goodness you can't just stop.
You hafta gno! You hafta!

And thank God you hafta! Thank God you chose this path, hard as it is, because the alternative is to be a sheep. And be asleep.

You guys gno what I mean.

Thanks Bob! You really helped me in the Destiny department.
And the spiritual humor dept..., well... let's jest say I'm truly doubled over. :^)

Gawfartender, give me another shot.

5/17/2012 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Mushroom,
15% smarter seems pretty timid, but I guess it varies for a number of reasons.

First year in high school, I decided to prioritize reading the speeches of known pious Christians rather than school books. After all, we had teachers teaching all day at school but not pious Christians. Over the next couple years, my grades went from above average to off the scale, until I was conversing with the teachers as if one of them. I have little doubt that this was cause and effect, and the effect was pretty much what the Bionic Man wrote about.

See, in my younger years, thoughts just welled up profusely, but it was not until I studied the Truth that I got channels deep enough to channel that flow of "liquid thought".

Admittedly it is usually the fate of teenagers to have their thoughts run all over the place, but it need not be so, if properly instructed. The whole teenage rebellion, mood swings and craziness is much less pronounced, if at all, in traditional cultures. I was blessed to get a good "framework for thought" in place in the nick of time, as it were. But I have seen some few who already had a good framework before puberty started stomping the grapes of their brain, and came through it all unharmed.

5/17/2012 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

(Of course, in extremely traditional cultures, you don't have the whole problem of creating your own individual personality, since such a thing is not encouraged. But that's a separate matter from being properly instructed in how to think.)

5/17/2012 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ben, what you wrote means all the more to me, knowing that you're 100% heterosexual.

And Magnus:

thoughts just welled up profusely, but it was not until I studied the Truth that I got channels deep enough to channel that flow of "liquid thought"

What a perfect way to express it.

5/17/2012 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Argh... frustrating. I've been reading along, consuming and metabolizing the posts but, sparring your patience and forests worth of HTML, haven't had the time to write the comments, long comments, even for me, that this subject won't let me stop short of.

I did cover it here, though it may be time for some second thoughts there too... assuming that I manage to get some time for the first thoughts again.

5/17/2012 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ha ha! Well, I did have a wee bit too much tequila (for therapeudic purposes only) when I wrote that.
Which explains the sapiness part.

Jose Cuervo is a friend of mine, but he gets carried away sometimes when I'm trying to write.

5/17/2012 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ben: I just can't take a compliment. It's the only thing worse than being ignored.

5/18/2012 07:15:00 AM  

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