Friday, December 16, 2016

What it Takes to Be a Man

Let's leave my own tangential asides to the side, and try to make some progress with God's Gamble. On page 56 Bailie makes a point that I don't recall anyone else making... except me. In a slightly different way, but still. It is not good that I should be alone in making it!

Specifically, in writing of Adam's "longing for communion" that is fulfilled in Eve, he points out that "It is just such a longing, and not the expansion of the creature's cranial cavity, that constitutes the precondition for the other-directed self-sacrifice which uniquely distinguishes our species."

I didn't put it quite that way, but I have many times emphasized that humanness cannot be the result merely of bigger brains, irrespective of how big. Rather, unless selves are intersubjective, then there can be no selves at all. Bigger brains are a necessary condition, to be sure, but not a sufficient one.

The two most important extra-genetic sufficient conditions are 1) being born premature and neurologically incomplete, and 2) maternal empathy, the latter of which is a "feeling with" the personhood of the baby.

Here we go, into another aside. Can't be helped. I'll try to make it brief. For my money, Bion provides the most fruitful way of looking at this.

Biological evolution has been going on for what, 4.5 billion years? Yet despite all that has happened since then, they say the most consequential development of all occurred with the emergence of eukaryotes some 2 billion years ago, give or take. The details aren't important, the main point being that -- to the best of my recollection -- one type of cell learned to survive by living inside another type, and voila! The rest is (evolutionary) history, "since eukaryotes include all complex cells and almost all multicellular organisms," up to and including us.

The point I want to make is that -- so to speak -- it was not good that prokaryotes should be all alone. Rather, had that been the case, then evolution would have been stymied. The details of exactly how it occurred don't really matter, for the principle is the same: life "entered" life and become something much more complex.

Well, the same principle applies to persons. Just as there was a sharp limit to how far prokaryotes could evolve, so too is there a limit on how far isolated, individual minds could evolve. Rather, we had to somehow become members of one another, i.e., intersubjective.

The hinge of all this is again the helpless and neurologically incomplete infant who must evoke the mothering necessary for it to survive, or this little evolutionary experiment is over in one generation.

I'm just going to summarize, but for Bion, it is as if the mother's job is to "think" the thoughts of the infant before the infant is capable of doing so. This may sound odd unless you've had a child, in which case it will sound about right.

Indeed, in the past I've written of how my wife used a particular technique with our preverbal baby, of putting his thoughts and emotions into words, such as "Tristan is angry!" or "Tristan doesn't want to leave the park!" This always had the effect of calming him and making him quite reasonable. Believe it or not, he's been reasonable ever since. And he's remarkably articulate with regard to his inner life -- much more so than I was until, I don't know, around age 40 or so.

Bion calls the thoughts without a thinker beta elements. The mother's job is to process the beta elements through what he calls alpha function. This is what one does with babies, and it also happens to be what one does with patients in psychotherapy -- that is to say, one tries to help the patient articulate unconscious experience.

Assuming we have been successfully mothered (and I use that term in the generic sense to stand for the whole environment of the developing child), then we internalize alpha function and become capable of thinking our own thoughts and metabolizing our own experience.

But the ultimate point is that thinking is an internalized relationship. And any number of pathologies result from degrees of failure to internalize alpha function. Then, instead of thinking thoughts, the thoughts become symptoms, manifesting in the body (somatization), or moods and anxieties, or interpersonal conflicts, or acting out, or substance abuse, or political pathologies, etc.

End of aside. Just note that the development of alpha function is analogous to the emergence of eukaryotes, only in a higher key. Not a coincidence. Just God punning again.

Consider what Bailie says about Eve being made from Adam's rib, which "is typically symbolized in our time by the heart, especially if we see the heart, not as the seat of emotions and even less the source of sentimentality, but -- as the ancients did -- as the source of a wisdom and understanding greater than that arising from cogitation alone" (emphasis mine).

Note the familiar pattern: something from one is internalized by the other, making for a more complex entity. "God took the heart out of the man and put it into the woman," for which reason Adam exclaims "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!" And perhaps even more to the point, "psyche of my psyche," or "being of -- or with -- my being," AKA intersubjectivity. The one is literally inside the other.

Here we have the remarkable moment "when love appeared in the world for the first time..." Or was it? In my book I emphasized the irreducibly trinitarian nature of it all, in that the helpless infant evokes the mother it requires to survive, as mother evokes the husband she and the baby need to survive. In short, the tripartite family becomes the "unit" of civilization.

Bailie often speaks of "things hidden since the foundation of the world," in reference to human sacrifice. Well, this is another one of those things, only hidden in plain sight. I was reminded of it by a link at Happy Acres that goes to the idea that the ones we love are more a part of us than our own parts.

In other words, I could lose a leg, or a kidney, or an eye, and still be me. But remove my son, and that would be infinitely worse than mere amputation. The father expresses it well: "he knows me better than anyone, and that's how I like it." Note the orthoparadox here: for alpha function isn't actually a one-way street. Rather, through our relationship with our children, we become aware of parts of ourselves that would otherwise be unconscious and un-actualized.

Bailie quotes Ratzinger, who writes of "letting ourselves be torn away from the selfishness of someone who is living only for himself and entering into the great basic orientation of existing for the sake of another."

The bottom penultimate line is that although "prehuman men," for lack of a better term, were "in possession of all the neurological wherewithal requisite to human experience, the full actualization of his humanity awaited the moment when he came out of himself and discovered the mystery that was his true calling: self-sacrificial love" (Bailie).

However, "there is no reason to doubt that the more typical situation in which the bonding event occurs is the moment of exchange of loving gazes between a mother and a child" (ibid.).

So there you are. We'll have to agree to agree.

We cannot say that they love with each other until the two love a third in harmonious unity, lovingly embracing him in common, and the affection of the two surges forth as one in the flame of love for the third. --Richard of Saint Victor, in Bailie

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Free to Be Three

From instinct to... to what?

That is to say, other animals don't have to worry about anything, because instinct takes care of every contingency -- even if the instinct is inappropriate to the contingency.

For example, we used to have a cat we rescued from a dumpster. In addition to being half-dead, he had been prematurely separated from his mother, so was never quite right -- or rather, better than right: he had to be the Funniest Cat Ever. His wires were crossed, such that he would exercise instinctual behaviors in the wrong context, for example, making motions to bury his poop while drinking water, or being startled by his food.

Come to think of it, many neuroses have a similar pattern. Think, for example, of all the strange things that are conjoined in unholy matrimony with the sexual impulse -- various perversions, fetishes, frotteurism, masochism, sadism, etc.

With regard to early humans, Bailie speaks of an "aboriginal world, now inhabited by a creature which had slipped its instinctual leash, so to speak, a creature whose survival could no longer depend on neurophysiological reflexes" to govern behavior. What a strange development!

How does a creature slip its instinctual leash, anyway? Is there some in-between state, of an animal that is mostly instinctual but just a little bit free?

Not really. Compared to man, the most evolved animal is infinitely distant -- literally. No animal could ever conceive of infinitude. Or of absoluteness, or eternity, or any other concept. Which is one of the main reasons it isn't good that man should be alone. A man allone could only pretend to be one anyway, since we are intersubjective down to the ground and up to the sky.

Which may provide a hint into what -- or Who -- we were released into upon slipping the instinctual leash: intersubjectivity. Not only do humans "interact" externally like any other objects, but we also do so internally, like... like what, exactly?

Well, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but like the Trinity. This answers the question of what we were released into in the most general sense: into an irreducibly trinitarian structure of intersubjectivity.

Come to think of it, I even had a dream about this last night, so it must be true. I was explaining to someone the whole idea; I remember she was a novice therapist -- possibly a student -- holding a baby; the idea "clicked" in her, and she gleefully ran from the room in an acute state of guffah-HA!

In fact, Bailie has a chapter called "It is Not Good That Man Should Be All Alone..." It begins with a crack by Balthasar: "It is clear that a conscious subject can only awaken to himself and his distinct selfhood if he is addressed by one or more others who regard him as of value or perhaps indispensable."

We are literally actualized by love and by the m(o)ther's (p)re-cognition of us. Love alone is not fully sufficient, for it must be a passionate love for a unique and particular individual, not just "anybody."

Nor can it be a disinterested and "professional" love -- the way, say, we are "loved" by the state. Under the best of circumstances the state is supposed to treat us equally, which is to deny individuality. That's appropriate for a state but not for a mother.

I've mentioned before that amazon seems to "love" me in a way; or at least it acknowledges my uniqueness, constantly suggesting far-flung books that only an intimate would recognize as appropriate. But that's hardly a substitute for human love. Even so, the Japanese never stop trying, do they?

In how many ways do people search after counterfeit trinitarian substitutes? I don't know. It's the first time I've put it that way, but I'll bet the answer is "lots."

"[T]he God in whose image humans are made is a Trinitarian God, a God who, prior to creation, is a community of such unimaginably generous love that the sources of this love are consubstantial. In the words of an early creed: 'God is one but not solitary'" (Bailie).

I would suggest that this truly represents our First Metaphysical Orthoparadox, one without which all the others can make only imperfect nonsense: that Ultimate Reality is neither substance nor relation but substance-in-relation.

Of note, this is not a "complementarity," since that would imply two agents. However, I would suggest that it will be mirrored herebelowintime in the form of various rockbottom complementarities -- even a complementarity principle.

Not to get all new-agey on you, but do you think it is a coincidence -- and what is a meaningful coincidence anyway but a celestial pun? -- that material reality is simultaneously wavenparticle? That wave is not the sum of particles, and that particles exhibit nonlocality, meaning that every thing is inside everything else, pardon my French? That physics is trinitarian?

Whitehead wrote that the properties of elementary particles "are in the end influenced by the history and state of the whole universe"; and that "we habitually speak of stones, and planets, and animals, as though each individual thing could exist, even for a passing moment, in separation from an environment which is in truth a necessary factor in its own nature."

But we can't speak of reality that way. Because Trinity.

Why is it not good that man should be alone? Precisely because he cannot fulfill his true human vocation in solitude, for he is made in the image and likeness of a God who -- even within the Godhead -- is a communion of loving self-gift. --Bailie

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Cheap and Primitive Edge of Experience

This post may be more rambly than usual, because we are attempting to explore the far edge of the psyche in real timelessness, where things aren't so neatly ordered in a linear way...

The question is, is the primitive edge of experience the edge of primitive experience? It really comes down to whether there is anything about the psyche today that can help us get into the mind of archaic humans.

It seems to me that you can't start with an adult. Compared to a first-world adult human, a primitive man would likely look more like an animal. However, we all start off as infants. And apparently, an infant of 50,000 years ago is essentially no different than an infant born today.

Let's enter the all-the-wayback machine and try to imagine what it was like. If you consult p. 150 of the book, there is a stab at it by another author. First of all, there is no writing and probably not much of a vocabulary:

"Learn to use facial expressions and bodily gestures to convey much of your meaning." Also, there can't have been much in the way of insight, or critical distance from oneself: "You have not yet developed the ability to analyze and plan beyond the most rudimentary level." The space we call the transcendent Third -- for it is between neurology and world -- has yet to be fully pried open, but we have a foot in the door.

Time too must have been closely bound to the rhythms of nature and to biological need. The latter couldn't have been far from awareness at every moment of the day, i.e., the next meal. It's not as if you could walk over to the fridge and grab a snack.

Danger was everywhere. One wonders to what extent fear was the dominant emotion. In any event, "Put aside any sophisticated emotions, such as romantic love. You do not have a a sufficiently distinct sense of yourself or others to support such feelings."

Back to temporality, "Exclude an extended past or future from your awareness. All that is significant is happening now." Moreover, there is no rational explanation for anything. This can't be stressed enough: "Everything that happens is the result of invisible and unknown forces."


Consciousness must at first have been very "diffuse" and extended, not localized and contained in the head. Hans Jonas describes this in The Phenomenon of Life:

"When man first began to interpret the things of nature -- and this he did when he began to be man -- life was to him everywhere, and being the same as being alive.... Soul flooded the whole of existence and encountered itself in all things. Bare matter, that is, truly inanimate, 'dead' matter, was yet to be discovered -- as indeed its concept, so familiar to us, is anything but obvious."

"Primitive panpsychism, in addition to answering powerful needs of the soul, was justified by the rules of inference and verification within the available range of experience." That the world was alive was obvious. There was no competing theory.

This reminds me of children and of psychotics, for whom matter is very much alive. But "That the world is alive is really the most natural view, and largely supported by prima-facie evidence."

Even someone as lofty as Aristotle couldn't fully cleanse his mind of animism, and saw objects as "desiring" their own ends. And really, it took until Newton to come up with a better explanation. That's just yesterday in evolutionary terms. And in how many ways do people still cling to a magical worldview?

This reminds me of Freud's belief to the effect that a neurosis is a kind of private magic, whereas religious magic is a public neurosis.

Was human sacrifice just such a public neurosis? Or psychosis? "The rite of sacrifice," says Bergmann, must have met "a deep and universal need, otherwise we would be at a loss to explain its presence in all known cultures." He notes that "From early times" -- indeed, the (circular) time before (linear) time -- people "felt that they must give up something dear to them in order to prevent destruction by an envious or jealous god."

"Primitive cultures were haunted by a fear that it is dangerous to eat a hunted animal or harvest a crop without giving some of it back. One who does not sacrifice will be persecuted, punished; the soil will become barren; no animal will be hunted successfully. In further developments this feeling expands into a belief that the harmony of nature depends on periodic sacrifice."

In any event, "this suggests an exceptionally deep cultural anxiety, because not even the continuance of time could be taken for granted."

Reminds me of mad old Chronos devouring his son:

Now, from whence comes the envy and jealousy? Well, where does it ever come from? From the psyche of man, only projected outward, into gods. The gods must have served as fixed receptacles for otherwise unruly projections: they were a "place" to put one's greed, envy, aggression, etc. They were a way to manage Thoughts that didn't yet have a proper Thinker.

Have you seen one of those deranged Keith Olbermann Resistance videos? That's the kind of raw and primitive emotionality we're dealing with here. It bears no relationship to the external world, but is simply a way to deal with one's own persecutory thoughts and emotions. Better that they live in Trump than inside Olbermann's own head! Note that he signs off each paranoid rant with an open-handed "peace." That's what you call "reaction formation," a complete reversal of his own psychic truth.

Let's get back to God's Gamble. "One could say that God's great gamble was in giving humans freedom..." However, "it was a necessary gamble" without which the giving of love and seeking of truth would be impossible.

It is to these and other transcendentals that humans are properly ordered. But we are always free to turn away from them, hence the Fall: "freedom can be used to rebel against the very order that is indispensable to the exercise of freedom," occasioning the descent into "violence and madness."

The other day I noticed this headline: $1,570,000,000,000: How Much the World Spent on Arms this Year. That's 1.57 trillion dollars. Why so much lethal force? To attack, and to protect us from, other humans. That's a lot of cash, but it is just a measure of how much violence and craziness we're dealing with.

Back into the wayback machine: "What the first fallen humans needed far more than they might have needed garments to protect them from the elements was something to protect them from each other, which is precisely what archaic religion did for our most ancient ancestors. That is to say, it allowed them to exert a degree of ritual control" over the violence.

And it was much cheaper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Primitive Minds and Minds of Primitives

I'm always receiving notices in the mail for continuing education courses and seminars. Yesterday's flier from a psychoanalytic institute has several offerings that remind me of our current attempt to reach down into the mindset of human sacrifice.

One is called Treating Primitive Mental States. You might say that human sacrifice was the treatment for certain primitive mental states. Before there was psychotherapy, there was murder. I'm not sure which is more effective. Certainly murder is more popular.

Another seminar is called Forms of Things Unknown: An Approach to Ineffable Experience. It goes to how we manage to translate unconscious experience into language.

Here again, this goes to the problem of thoughts and what to do with them. Human sacrifice had to be a mode of expression, but expression of what exactly? Clearly, it involved acting out instead of thinking. The acting out is a kind of thinking-in-action, the way children act out their thoughts and emotions instead of reflecting upon them.

Recall what was said about innocence only being seen retrospectively. It is no doubt the same with human sacrifice. It could not be seen for what it was when it was occurring -- which was the whole point. Acting out is defense mechanism, the purpose of which is to avoid thinking, precisely.

Here's another: The Fragmented Self: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Dissociation. As we've discussed in the past, we begin life with a fragmented self that eventually becomes integrated through what is generically called good-enough-mothering.

But any number of things can happen along the way that keep the self fragmented: trauma, neglect, abuse, etc. This is how the mind parasites take root. A mind parasite is essentially an unintegrated and semi-autonomous fragment of subjectivity that takes on a life and agenda of its own.

Each of these concepts is essential to understanding human experience and behavior: primitive mental states, unverbalized experience, and fragmentation. The more primitive the mental state, the more fragmentation, dissociation, projection, etc.

The question is, can our current knowledge of primitive mental states tell us anything about the mental states of primitives? I don't see any other way. Humans are humans; just as our physical form develops along certain universal lines, so too do our minds. Indeed, if they don't develop the same way, then we're talking about a different species.

That was abrupt. Work suddenly beckons. I gotta get going. To be continued...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Toward a Total Explanation of Everything

This next chapter in God's Gamble is called Toward a Theological Anthropology. I find that you have to beware of papers and chapters that begin with the word "toward." It's a tip that the author didn't actually arrive at the destination. Rather, he tried.

Which is sometimes the best you can do. For example, I might call this post Toward a Total Explanation of Everything. That lets me off the hook for failing to explain everything. But I'll try.

Over the weekend I wasn't puzzling over everything, just onething, that is, human sacrifice. Maybe I'm missing something, but as I mentioned in a comment on Friday's post, I'm not so sure uncontrolled mimetic desire is a sufficient explanation for the practice. Nice try, but I don't find it completely satisfying. (And this is not to criticize the book; it's still a brilliant toward.)

How can a practice that was so ubiquitous have no explanation? Virtually all humans everywhere thought human sacrifice was a great idea for coping with reality. It's not as if we're trying to figure out the motivations of some alien species. Rather, we're talking about us! Why therefore can't we just look within to find the answer? Or ask ourselves: if I were an archaic human who suddenly found myself self-aware, what would I do?

The thing is, it's as difficult to put ourselves in the mind of primitive human as it is to put ourselves in the mind of an infant. In fact, infant comes from the Latin, unable to speak. Is it even possible for a linguistic being to (re)enter a wordless reality?

Bailie touches on something similar with a rather interesting take on our prelapsarian innocence. That is, "innocence is never a present experience; it is the memory of a situation no longer pertaining." Our primordial innocence is a kind of backward projection from the condition of non-innocence. We can never fully recover it, for which reason the way back to it is guarded by those sword-wielding cherubim.

"No innocent child walks around aware of his innocence. Anyone older than a child has ceased to be innocent and has access to a lost innocence only as a mental reconstruction..." It is "always in the past. It is always remembered as a prior state of blessedness" (Bailie).

It reminds me of Hesse's Demian, in which the main character, Sinclair, only realizes his innocence upon being tormented by his conscience. Let's see if I can find it....

"[A]ll of it was lost to me now, all of it belonged to the clear, well-lighted world of my father and mother, and I, guilty and deeply engulfed in an alien world, was entangled in adventures and sin, threatened by an enemy -- by dangers, fear, and shame."

He has been expelled from paradise, from where he can now see paradise: the old innocent world is "more precious, more delicious than ever before, but... had ceased to be a refuge and something I could rely on.... None of it was mine anymore, I could no longer take part in its quiet cheerfulness. My feet had become muddied, I could not even wipe them clean on the mat; everywhere I went I was followed by a darkness of which this world of home knew nothing." Etc.

The point is, the innocence is only fully appreciated retrospectively. Thus, in a sense, we could say that paradise is an experience that "never happened," but for which we are nevertheless nostalgic -- in the same sense that we can only know we were an infant retrospectively. What did Churchill say about his birth? "Although present on that occasion I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Might we say: Although present at the expulsion from paradise, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it. That's why the reason for the expulsion is a bit hazy and Kafkaesque: we are guilty of being guilty, you might say.

About that term: theological anthropology. For Girard, each illuminates the other, for which reason a purely secular anthropologist couldn't get on board with the theo- part. But "it's a question of the Light that is at once what must be seen and what makes it possible to see..." Theology illuminates anthropology, and vice versa, for which reason its last -- and first -- Word is Christ.

Girard doesn't explicitly say this, but it is as if the secular anthropologist is trying to use a Light that could only come from above in order to illuminate the below. As such, he can never get back to the point when the light split off from the darkness and became a conscious experience. Although present on that occasion he has no clear recollection of the events leading up to it.

Thus, "When and how the threshold from animal to human existence was crossed is a mystery known only to God" (Bailie). On the far side of that threshold is myth, or stories about the transition.

However, on this side is ritual violence: "Attempts to find evidence for peaceful primitive societies or even to imagine them... are, of course, doomed" (ibid). They don't exist. But the societies remember paradise, and virtually all their rituals -- including the violent ones -- are designed to resurrect it.

Over the weekend I consulted another book that attempts an explanation of human sacrifice, In the Shadow of Moloch: The Sacrifice of Children and its Impact on Western Religions. It comes at the phenomenon from a psychoanalytic perspective, writing that "The religious past of Western culture is alive in the unconscious and is just as important to atheists as to believers." He maintains that the struggle against sacrifice "has been a driving force in the development of Western religions." Even so, "the fear of being sacrificed is still alive in the unconscious of men and women today."

For Bergmann, human sacrifice is a way to try to control a hostile and arbitrary deity who might lash out at any time: "the hostility of the sacrificer has been projected onto the deity and thereby transformed into a fear of being persecuted by the deity. The sacrifice is made in the belief that the deity will accept a substitute victim. Nothing is asked of the deity but that the sacrificer be spared."

Let this cup passover, and all that.

Note that he has an individual-psychological explanation, where Girard's is a collective-anthropological one. Although vaguely aware of a sense of guilt, or wrongness, I'm not sure how much individuality would be present in primitive minds. Rather, they would have been primarily aware of being members of the group; sacrifice was done by the group, for the group. Just as there was no individual without a family, there was no family outside the collective. For Girard, the sacrifice is in order to maintain harmony within the group, whereas for Bergman it is for managing one's own anxieties.

It seems noteworthy that pagan myths feature a great deal of inter-generational violence, including a lot of "hostility of the father directed toward the son." Indeed, "the Greeks never succeeded in creating loving gods." They "could sacrifice to their gods, make promises of further sacrifices, but they could not develop a trust in their gods..." (Bergman).

Thus, the transformation of "the image of the deity from a god who demanded the sacrifice of babies to one who abhorred such rites signifies an inner change, but one can imagine it taking place only gradually" (ibid.).

Out of time for this morning. At least we made some headway toward that Total Explanation... .

Theme Song

Theme Song