Sunday, 15 November 2015

thwarts and splits, depletion and ambivalence

In what follows I use 'thought' a les philosophes - i.e. not to denote thinking as opposed to feeling or willing, but to denote any 'intentional attitude'. So here I include emotions - I'm happy to be going back to KPax but angry John tickled my iguana - and desires - I want to go once more round this mulberry bush - and beliefs - I reckon the moon is mightily gibbous of late - as thoughts. Intended thus, 'thought' can be reflective or unreflective; in this context it is not essentially cogitative.

(Needless to say, by talk of 'unreflective thought' I've not accidentally become a cognitive psychologist: I can think of no reason to think that understanding must proceed from conscious or subconscious cogitation. Or: the only way I can get to a felt need for such a reason would be if I unwittingly started off with a conception of action and gesture and speech as intrinsically uncomprehending or non-intentional, which activity then would need supplementation with cognition for it to ascend to the dizzy heights of being seen, as we naturally do, as expressive of thought. But, well, yeah: let's not start from there. An utterance expresses thought if its shape and circumstances are in order, not if it proceeds from cogitation.)

Kicking off now: It's helpful to be able to think - to be able, that is, to come to understand what's going down. It helps me accommodate to changes whilst remaining self-same. Well, I can put it better: it is the form that accommodation to change whilst yet remaining self-same takes.

Sometimes its hard to think. We can't get to grips with what's going down. Perhaps we're tired or drunk. But sometimes we're troubled, and that's why.

As I think, my grasp of my situation organises itself from nothing through to something rudimentary through to something more nuanced. Our thought becomes more structured or 'articulated' as I will say here. (By 'articulation' I don't mean: the voicing of something pre-existing; I mean the developing of structure itself.) Discourse is, on the whole, the condition of possibility for thought's finesse.

But sometimes I'm troubled. Accomm-odation in one direction would make for the articulate formation of such and such a desire, belief, affect. But such a structuration of thought could push against the formation of some quite other thought which also - to metaphorically represent the potential as actual - calls us forth, pulling us towards it. So we're stuck. A little like Burridan's ass (but without the rationalism).

The situation is tense. I can't accommodate; I don't know 'how to go on'; perhaps I go blank. Perhaps I get a headache.

We can depict it thus. Here is a depiction of a thought in formation - our dawning grip, our increasingly articulate stance, on our situation.
 * a→aaaa

So, great, all going well we get from the first stirrings of accommodation (*) on the left to the real deal on the right. But let's imagine that the situation also provides a pull in the other direction, and that if I develop articulate thought in one direction I am damaging my accommodative potential in the other direction.
-a-a-a-a-a←-a *

Either trajectory by itself would be just fine. But put them together, try to do justice both to a and to -a, we get in trouble:

….-a-a←-a * a→aa….

To make it a little more concrete: my mother and I have had a certain difficult exchange. The exchange, to a disinterested spectator, could readily be seen as one inspiring both love and hate. In the immediacy of the exchange I am pulled in two different directions. I don't expand enough to accommodate the growth of both feelings. Rather I go blank and start to feel anxious.

So one possibility here is that the individuation of my thought is thwarted. I never develop any. Like my non-reflective version of Buridan's donkey I just starve to death. An analogy could be a ball bearing poised between two opposing magnets. Each repels it towards the other - and it just hovers tensely in the middle. If it could go in either direction the tension from the push of one of the magnets could be gladly alleviated. But then one just encounters even more so the push of the other. So the ball goes nowhere and, by analogy, the thought goes nowhere too. Not only do I not have two unconscious occurrent thoughts, but it's not obvious either that I have two unconscious dispositional thoughts either. The predicament is: thought cannot here yet be born.

One possibility at this point is that I 'split' and develop two thoughts at roughly the same time but in different states of mind. In one frame of mind I develop my love. In another I develop my hate. Yet now I am no longer a self-identical subject. This itself is a radical failure of accommodation. But I do yet develop somewhat articulated thought. These two 'parts' of me must now, of course, not come too close together. It is not possible now that I be truly accountable. We might metaphorically depict this as the two parts not 'knowing' about each other - but it's important to me to note that I'm speaking here of the being (ontology) of the self and of our thought, and not of our knowing (epistemology) what we ourselves think. (I don't think we need second-order intentional attitudes of knowing here yet - that just complicates the story that can so-far be told at the first-order level of the forming of the relevant attitudes.) Half of a ball bearing goes in each direction.

Another possibility is that I become radically depleted. (Think: negative symptoms of schizophrenia.) One of the magnets is turned off. I live a half life, subservient, say, to my mother, with no hate on the scene because there is now no self to feel the hate. (It can be frightening to be with such a patient since we end up with the praecox gef├╝hl which, often enough, surfaces like a shimmering atmosphere of murderous rage.)

Another is that I 'project' half of that part of myself in this interaction into the other. (Think: borderline personality disorder.) The imminent feeling now takes its shape in the mind of the other.

What is the best option? The best option is I believe what has been called 'metastability' and healthy conscious ambivalence. I am able to remain self-same because I come to accommodate within the same breast both my nascent love and my nascent hate. I understand more clearly what I love, and I understand more clearly what angers me. This understanding is the growing, the structuration, of my love and hate. I can hold onto both of these by developing a more finessed articulation both of myself and of my mother. Both 'a' and '-a' are made space for. They no longer struggle for pole position. As my ego capacity is enlarged I can both love and hate the same object without needing to split in two. The ball bearing swells to include the magnets within it.

Why am I going on about all of this? Why not just help myself to a notion of 'unconscious thought' and be done with it? "It's not about thought formation Richard; it's about thought registration." Well, that's the point really: to see if we can get by without 'positing' anything obtaining unbeknownst to us 'in the unconscious' - without feeling that we must construct a structural picture of the mind as composed partly of an unconscious part 'invisible' to us, without feeling that we must abandon a purely enactivist conception of mindedness. What I've not done is said that all anxiety arises from conflict between articulated yet 'submerged' thoughts. I've tried to keep our conception of a thought closer to something which is itself an accommodative dispositional stance, rather than the theorist's inner state behind such stances causally explaining their adoption by the subject. You might not be as troubled as I am by a somewhat Sartrean disquiet with the very idea of unconscious thought. But, like me, you may feel that whilst psychoanalytic phenomenology - the details of our struggling meaningful lives - is the best on offer, the metapsychology - the theorist's positings (of unconscious thought etc.) - risks being a  conjuring trick we play on ourselves at our peril.