Tuesday, March 22, 2016

So, What Did You Learn From All that Education? O, Nothing

I just wanted to finish up my little review of the prolix pentalogy of Balthasar books I've recently read. As I mentioned in a comment, the resonant bits are a bit few and far between, but I shall endeavor to retrieve them anyway, because I have nothing better to do, and it seems that I feel better when I blog than when I don't.

Continuing with Prayer, Balthasar makes an exceedingly important point about faith, which is not analogous to credulousness or precritical thinking, but rather, "the ability to go beyond our own human intramundane and personal 'truth'...." It posits that 1) truth exists, and 2) that it is beyond us. That being the case, how else but in the reaching-beyond of faith can we contact it? Faith is the vertical bridge between finite and infinite.

Truly truly, it is a bridge to Owhere.

It's really not fundamentally different than, say, scientific faith. We've discussed this in the past, but scientific discoveries are not made through mere logic, otherwise reality would simply be an iteration of what we already know. Note too that the tiniest error at the beginning will be magnified exponentially the further you try to take it.

For example, Newtonian physics is quite accurate, accurate enough to get you through life. But if you try to use it to describe the entire cosmos, it's all wrong. At a certain point the anomalies become too obvious. Which is where Einstein stepped in in 1905. But even then, no matter how accurate quantum and relativity theories are, they cannot literally map reality without reminder. A model is not the thing itself. Except in climate science.

In any event, my point is that the scientist can't just extend an existing theory, but rather, has to wait in faith for reality to "speak" to him.

I might add that this is especially true of persons (and it turns out that reality is personal, as we'll get to later). There is no shortage of psychological theories, but not one of them actually describes, or can possibly describe, a real flesh and blood individual. In fact, by definition there can be no general theory of the individual, right?

This takes me way back to graduate school, and my discovery of the obscure psychoanalytic theorist W.R. Bion. He wrote of how, in the presence of a patient, the therapist must suspend memory, desire, and understanding, and enter a state of mind he called.... faith!

This attitude is so far from a medical model of the mind, that I immediately thought to myself, "how can you charge good money for systematically knowing nothing?" Frankly, I've never gotten past that question (imagine explaining it to an insurance adjuster). It's just a contingency of history that psychotherapy became medicalized -- for which reason it will always be full of pseudo-scientific quackery. Might as well try to medicalize religion (which is what Scientology effectively does).

For Bion, therapy "is a dynamic and lively interchange between two people who listen and talk to each other in a particular way, and not merely an intellectual and sophisticated adaptation between a 'psychoanalyst' and a 'patient'..." Therefore, "the therapist's fantasies of omnipotence, and this tendency to cling to theoretical a priori knowledge are the analyst's chief reactions in the face of something new and unknown that appears in every analytic session."

Think about that one: your job is to forget everything you think you learned in graduate school, and instead, simply be with this stranger, in the faith that Truth will eventually emerge in the space between you. The state of "not knowing" is not the same as mere ignorance; it is a state of active-passivity, or perhaps giving-receptiveness. It obviously combines male and female. It is allowing the space to become pregnant with truth, and eventually give birth to it. Let your will be done!

One reason you do this -- that is, "turn off" primary modes of knowing, is to "turn on" the more implicit ones. You might say that you have to disable the left brain in order to activate the right. Think of how one detects, say, anxiety.

Anxiety cannot be touched, or seen, or heard, or smelled. Or, let's just say "pain." How does one detect areas of psychic pain in an individual, especially when the individual is in denial about them? Often times the pain is "dispersed" in such a way that the therapist must be able to detect some small fragment of it and trace it back to a more primordial experience. Furthermore, the pain is dispersed in both space and time -- within the personality, and along the personal-historical timeline.

This is how I came up with the idea of O applied to God: I didn't just borrow it from Bion, rather, I stole it outright. For him, O is the unKnown reality between two persons in the analytic situation. I simply transposed it to the unKnown reality between two persons in the religious situation.

Faith is two things at once: an act and its object.... In more concrete terms, it is the grace which comes to us in God's self-giving and enables us to give ourselves to him in return. --HvB


julie said...

Think about that one: your job is to forget everything you think you learned in graduate school, and instead, simply be with this stranger, in the faith that Truth will eventually emerge in the space between you.

Notably, this kind of interaction - that is, just being with people without any demands or expectations, just enjoying their presence - does not have to be limited to the therapist's office. And yes, in connection with O, how much more fruitful it is than trying to limit the unKnown reality to our own little frameworks! Once again, John reclining against Jesus' chest during the Last Supper comes to mind, literally resting next to the living, beating heart of God.

Anonymous said...

There are lots of Bible passages where Jesus implies that once you’ve got enough to survive the rest is a wild goose chase. It’s easier (more efficient) to get spiritual than it is to battle for material power and glory (though some people seem to be made that way). And then I saw a study backing this up. Can’t remember the income figure but it wasn’t that much, saying once you’ve got that, 80% of your potential for happiness has been achieved. If you’re like me, very short on time working to get to that mark, personal spiritual mantras culled from places like this one might work to take one to those happy places.

I was inspired by a guy I call “the traveler” (said he was “John”) at an Abraham Low type group, meant for small business owners but open to all. All one could guess is that something really bad had happened to him but he had the means to move to a city, lease for some months, then move to on without having to work. He never revealed his history, but hinted his psychological/spiritual troubles. He might’ve been on the lam I dunno, but seemed a decent guy. After he disappeared we got a letter from him describing how he found a group where they’d search for Bible verses to calm themselves during mundane troubles (like being late because of traffic), to build a skill set foundation for worse problems that usually arise in life. You find what inspires you personally, then just mentally repeat the short verses until you’re calm and focused again. It's different from praying because the situational-dependent solution is within the mantra.

Not bad, I thought. Combining CBT, relaxation techniques, spirituality... all into one neat easy to use package. Saying this because in college they'll teach Machiavelli, but not how to center oneself in the face of such adversity.

mushroom said...

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.

His Name equals that space of "be still and know that I AM".

ted said...

There are so many spiritual practices out there. And I've tried many, especially on the Buddhist path. But I have to say, there is one I came across that distills things to its essence (at least for me). Ironically, John Sherman (who developed this practice) does not consider it to be spiritual in nature. I'll share for those interested.

julie said...

Slightly off topic, but speaking of education and faith, here's a look at the real motive behind Muslim Jihad: more people than ever are able to actually read the Koran.

Interesting article. In a way, it's like the inverse of the effect of Vatican II. I know a lot of older Catholics who never cracked a Bible when they were young (families had Bibles, but they were not for reading), and also never learned Latin, so that when they went to Mass as kids they had no idea what was being said; they had to trust that whatever their religious told them about their faith was true. While a lot of people have been unhappy (not unreasonably in some ways) with the effect of having Mass in the language of the people attending, making the basics of the faith more accessible to ordinary members is generally a positive thing.

For Muslims, apparently, a similar dynamic was in place: nobody ever actually read the Koran, they just trusted that their parents and Imams knew what they were talking about, and for a while the elders were happy to develop a culture that could fit in with their Western neighbors. Now that the text is easily available in pretty much any language, people are reading for themselves. What they are learning about their religion is that it all leads to ISIS.

Eddie Marcia said...

Bob you have no idea how happy it makes the hundreds (thousands?) of regular readers of this blog who don't normally comment see you get back in the saddle.

Gagdad Bob said...

I hope so, but I have no way of knowing.

Anonymous said...

I come from a business where no news is good news, there are no groupies, and illegals suck away some of the business. I didn't choose well. This stuff is way cooler by comparison.