Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thought, Meta-Thought, Non-Thought, Anti-Thought

It is difficult to conceptualize the differences between thinking and its competitors, because if one hasn't thought about thinking (metathought or thought² for short), genuine thinking may appear similar, if not identical, to non- and anti-thinking.

Anti-thought is not non-thought, the latter of which is just stupidity. MSNBC is anti-thought. Local TV news is non-thought (although permeated by anti-thought when it presumes to think about anything of substance; in general, journalism is an eddy of anti-thought in an ocean of non-thought).

No Thought is another matter entirely, with mystical and apophatic implications. I'm not sure if we'll be touching on it, since I haven't read this post in over seven years, if ever.

Anti-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 (AKA being).

In normal times, anti-thought would be arrested and interrogated by philosophy. In abnormal times it might be healed or at least mitigated by psychology. But now psychology itself has careened into anti-thought; or, more accurately, anti-thought has infiltrated and corralled psychology into its dark principality (and let's not even talk about philosophy, except to say the greater the height the farther the fall).

I first began thinking about thinking exactly 34 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 preceding fifteen years or so. The book first presents the paper, followed by his second thoughts and re-servations. (Ironically, this is exactly what I am doing at the moment: having second thoughts about this post written seven years back.)

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 is intended for use (i.e., clinical work leading to growth), analogous to the difference between, say, abstract theories of meteorology vs. whether you should to take an umbrella to work today.

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."

Davila: Educating the individual consists in teaching him to distrust the ideas that occur to him.

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 unbidden, 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 of new thoughts or with the management of existing ones; 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 aren't necessarily 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, aesthetic thoughts, etc.

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. But increasingly, the modern left provides a cornucrapia of bad and infertile ways to think about sexuality.

There are also "empty thoughts," which is to say, categories of thought awaiting "realization." These consist of a kind of blueprint (or clueprint) 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. (Or, in Aristotelian terms, you would call it potency and act.)

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 projection, which, working in concert, displace the unwanted thought (or thought fragment) into the environment (which becomes "psychicized"), or into other minds. This doesn't actually eliminate the thought, but it is preferable for such a person 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 in the last decade or so, we have seen how nearly everything the left says is permeated with the projection of its own ideas, impulses, and emotions. When the racist anti-semite Ilhan Omar calls Trump a racist, and the left rallies being her, you know that their psycho-political world is upside-down and inside-out.

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

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 (or reality tunnel) 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, anti-thought must triumph over thought.


Anonymous said...

That personal responsibility is for the other poor dumb bastard, is a current cultural value which transcends partisan politics. No philosophy, movement, or religion will succeed past the tipping point, excepting sociopathic chaos.

julie said...

You are mistaken, Anon. Whatever happens, there will always be a remnant.

But now psychology itself has careened into anti-thought; or, more accurately, anti-thought has infiltrated and corralled psychology into its dark principality (and let's not even talk about philosophy, except to say the greater the height the farther the fall).

Not only psychology, but the culture - or more precisely, those who would steer the culture - in general.

Anonymous said...

You are mistaken, Anon. Whatever happens, there will always be a remnant.

To hide in caves, waiting for the next Constantine to become emperor?


Corporate News has always been in it for the money. They're businesses. Has there ever been an openly atheist major newspapers in America? Communist? No? You mean that wouldn’t have sold papers? News caters to their target audience which they hope will stick around through the ads. Some say eliminating the Fairness Doctrine caused the anti-thought. I say the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by those who’d divined a mass market for places like Fox and MSNBC, based on emerging tribal trends.