Thursday, 19 July 2018

elegant women

We often hear it said, for instance, "What is right in one age is wrong in another." This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard?

Thursday, 12 July 2018

repression, or not

For me the concept of repression finds its surest anchorage in two phenomena. One is the way it can be peculiarly hard to remember one's own dreams. Much harder than remembering someone else's for example. The other is the way it can be similarly hard to remember to tell your analyst about certain recurrent and genuine troubles, despite the fact that working through such troubles is why one pays such a lot of time and money for the analysis. I think there's also an ineluctable air of strain, shame and sneakiness about such phenomena - as is some of our thoughts are trying their best to evade capture, as if our efforts at recall feel like to us straining against a contrary impulse within.

And yet there's much that's strange about the concept. We have our Sartrean worries - that we're either going to end up with an incoherent idea of needing to be aware that a thought is distressing so that we can then make and keep it unaware, or in danger of proliferating various sub-agencies (censors, separate egos, etc) within the person, a theory-saving move which looks rather desperate in the face of the grammar and phenomenology of personhood. We also have the twin worries: that much that is troubling, much that we should rather like repressed, is not; and that much of what we struggle to recall turns out to be really rather affectively innocuous or, well, at least hardly worth all that fuss.

Now, there are things one can say to these worries by way of defence of the inner censor/repression theory. We may think of tropism rather than intention if the avoidance of the pain seems too intentionalistically rich. We may use Fuchs' metaphor of how one automatically adjusts one's gait if one has an injured leg: it's not that we have to keep feeling the pain and adjusting our gait; rather we make an automatic protective adjustment which stops the pain arising. We may offer a range of peculiar facts about human life which might make the sub-agency story more inviting. And we may distinguish between the infantile self who doesn't want and struggles with the feelings which it represses and the adult self who is rather more advanced and capable than the infantile self fears - the adult self, that is, who can't really understand what all the fuss was about when the ineluctable becomes, er, elucted.

Nevertheless, and before rushing ahead with further prosecution and defence, I'd rather choose to stop to think whether we might differently theorise these anchoring phenomena whilst yet respecting the phenomenology. So here's a different theory. This is that we struggle to recall that for which associative grooves are not already laid down in the mind. We struggle to recall that which is not well integrated. We struggle to lay down dream memories partly because we are moving from one radically different mental state to another (sleep to wake). By contrast we find it easier to recall others' dreams because we are fully awake when hearing them. And partly we struggle because dreams can symbolise material which is not well integrated into our dominant self. Because of this there aren't the associative back-and-forth tracks to travel on. And similarly for what we struggle to recall whilst on the couch. There are preoccupations that dog us but which are not yet well integrated into our dominant selfhood and self-conception.

An important difference between the repression thesis and my dunno-what-to-call-it-yet thesis is that mine needs no inner censoring agency to do its work. Another is that mine posits that the difficulty in recall is not a difficulty caused by the painfulness of, or anxiety aroused by, certain affectively charged emotions and memories, but is rather simply because such painful emotions and memories are not well integrated. Yet my theory would also explain why certain rather painless emotions and memories are also hard to recall: despite not being painful they are not (yet) part of the dominant self.

And how about the atmosphere of shame that attends the difficulty of recall on the couch? I propose that this is because we have an adult ideal of integration which we're aware of not here meeting. It's kind of embarrassing not to 'know your own mind'. And what we cannot recall may, because it's not well integrated, because it's the kind of concern which we are likely to encounter only when we are in dream or somewhat dissociated waking trance (as when mentally disturbed), not yet have had the chance to develop and join the club of adult mentality.

And what error theory do I have which explains why the concept of repression gets going so readily? This is that the theory mistakes an effect for a cause. It posits that it's because certain thoughts are disturbing that they're not readily thought about. I suggest first that such elusive thoughts are not always disturbing, and second that when they are it's not their being disturbing which causes them to be experienced as elusive. Rather it's their unintegrated character, the fact that they're not yet part of the gang, that makes us feel ashamed, that makes it the case that we've not yet found ways to deal with them, that causes them to evoke powerful feelings, etc. And why is it that we can feel like we're struggling with a contrary impulse within to not recall the thoughts and feelings in question? Well, first of all it often doesn't feel like this. Second, there's the fact of the shame we can feel at getting in touch with less integrated aspects of ourselves. Finally, and for the analytic aficionados, there's the ubiquitous concept of repression which comes in to (perhaps rather unhelpfully) colour our experience of ourselves.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

chesterton on madness

A man who thinks himself a chicken is to himself as ordinary as a chicken. A man who thinks he is a bit of glass is to himself as dull as a bit of glass. It is the homogeneity of his mind which makes him dull, and which makes him mad.
Here, by 'makes', G K Chesterton is talking not of efficient but of formal causation: mental homogeneity is a criterion of insanity. The statement is (not atypically) both overblown and underdetermined, but we get a clearer idea of what he meant as we read on:
Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Fact and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like... Imagination does breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.
Does this not seem peculiar? Is not unreason another name for madness? Chesterton clarifies:
I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic; I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. .... Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion... The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
Perhaps what he is saying would be better put in terms of an over-extension, an immodesty, of reason's application being what makes for insanity. (Think: Minkowski on the morbid rationalism and morbid geometrism found in schizophrenia.) This is born out by what follows:
We have all heard people cite the celebrated line of Dryden as "Great genius is to madness near allied." But Dryden did not say [this]. Dryden was a great genius himself, and knew better. It would have been hard to find a man more romantic than he, or more sensible. What Dryden said was this, "Great wits are oft to madness near allied"; and that is true. ... He was talking of a cynical man of the world, a skeptic, a diplomatist, a great practical politician. Such men are indeed to madness near allied. Their incessant calculation of their own brains and other people's brains is a dangerous trade. It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind.
Sanity, as Chesterton sees it, involves knowing when not to think. Consider:
the minor acts of a healthy man: whistling as he walks, slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. ... the madman... generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane.
Although Chesterton puts it in a psychological register, I suspect the point is better grasped as logical. (Think of Wittgenstein in On Certainty: we do not doubt the hinge propositions and, in fact: one would have to be mad to do so.)

Here's his most striking pronouncement:
If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst for it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgement. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
I believe that here Chesterton mis-speaks. Reason and good judgement are of a piece. What the madman still has is not his reason but rather his reasoning - his rational inference-making. Such reasoning activity has been deprived of its status as mechanism of reason - regardless of its inferential impeccability - because it does not have its feet on the ground. But this talk of being unhampered by the 'dumb certainties of experience' is surely on the money (think, again, of Wittgenstein's On Certainty). In other places Chesterton understands better that it is not inference making, but rather such reality contact as manifests reason, which is awry in madness:
The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proud not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives. ... [The] chief mark and element of insanity ... in summary ... is reason used without root, reason in the void. The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad; he begins to think at the wrong end.
Chesterton's recipe for therapeutics is surprising, but this is but a function of his rhetoric. The following makes this clear, and also speaks for itself:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. ... He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. ... Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. ... He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes clear. ... The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.

Monday, 25 June 2018

psychotic dreams

Kleinian theory tells of psychotic and borderline dreams; here I merely summarise and clarify.
Susanne Langer

As Segal has it in The Function of Dreams, Freud didn't have the concept of 'working through' at the time of writing The Interpretation of Dreams. But once we have that concept available to us we can start to see dreams - 'good dreams' at least - as not just a defence against, but as the constructive processing of, difficult emotional experiences. For Freud, dreams are compromises of repressing and repressed forces; for him only the repressed was symbolised. In Segal's hands, however, 'symbolism' comes to mean something much more like what Langer means by it: that is, the expressive bodying forth of meaningful action tendencies whereby difficult emotional experience is given shape and representation, and so can be renewingly woven into the flow of an ongoing subjective life, regardless of whether the symbolising subject can now avow an intentional object for his emotion. (This isn't surprising: Segal read Langer in the 1940s.) What I want to stress here is that this isn't a different theory of symbolism: it is a different concept of symbolism. In fact it's a rather radically different concept: for Freud, symbolism has to do just with what is unthinkable; for the later Kleinians it becomes the process whereby difficult experience becomes thinkable. The difference is rather underplayed by Segal. If I had a psychoanalytic fiefdom I think I should insist there on 'symbolism' for the Freudian, and 'symbolisation' for the Langerian, phenomenon. 


As is well known, Segal enriched psychoanalytic theory by distinguishing between symbolisation proper and symbolic equation. The latter involves a collapse of symbol and symbolised, something we may also call 'concrete' symbolising. Segal often talks of the psychotic patient not being able to tell apart the symbol and the symbolised, but a more helpful way of putting this would be in terms of an actual indistinction - and not just 'for them' - between thoughts that treat of metaphoric and those that treat of literal truth, between self and object. This occurs, Segal tells us, when projective identification is in the ascendant: i.e. when aspects of the self are truly lost from it and instead become lodged in the self's representations of its objects. The distinction becomes important when we turn to psychotic dreaming. Symbolisation proper, Segal tells us, by contrast, can only obtain when the subject is capable of mourning. After all, one might think, the ability to tolerate the absence of the object is essential before one can represent it as absent - and this capacity is essential to a symbol functioning as such.

Psychotic Dreams? 

In true psychosis there is no difference between wake and sleep, hallucination and dream. (In the ambit of the complexes, that is; it's not as if the psychotic subject is always inexorably psychotic, nor the sane subject always inexorably sane.) Segal suggests that the patient may treat their ‘dream’ as a real happening. By contrast we may suggest (with e.g. Sass) that the schizophrenic patient experiences reality as having the subjective quality of a dream. In fact, rather than say either of those, I propose that we stick instead to an ontological, and avoid the epistemological, claim: the schizophrenic's mind does not, when he is in his autism, instantiate in its very form the distinction between reality and fantasy. Dream and reality are of a piece. This is because they are in that radically dissociated - 'autistic' - state of mind. They've lost 'reality contact'.

Borderline psychotic subjects, by contrast, ‘can use dreams for getting rid of, rather than working through, unwanted parts of the self and objects’. Hence the curious Kleinian talk of ‘projection into a dream’. 

It is the use, rather than the content, of dreams which comes more to the fore in Kleinian analysis, and this affects the kinds of interpretations given when working with borderline subjects. 

Bion

In chapter 7 of Learning from Experience, Bion proposes that the function of dreaming is to create a distinction of conscious emotional experience from unconscious emotional experience. He describes this in concrete terms: as a semi-permeable 'barrier' composed of alpha elements. I cannot find a way to treat this as more than a mythology useful for keeping our eye on the relevant phenomena whilst yet remaining explanatorily impotent. A way to think about the creation of this conscious/unconscious distinction is in terms of the narrative structure of dreaming, which binds salient tolerable emotional experience into a thinkable/dreamable whole and thereby excludes otherwise overwhelming unmanageable proto-thoughts and proto-feelings (which now can be said to be unconscious). Psychosis, then, involves the failure of dreaming to create the distinction between the conscious and unconscious. 

Whilst a mentally healthy person can be both awake and asleep, the psychotic person cannot be either when in her psychosis.

Here is a helpful passage from Learning from Experience. Unlike in Freudian theory,
in alpha-function theory the powers of censorship and resistance are essential to differentiation of conscious and unconscious and help to maintain the discrimination between the two. This discrimination derives from the operation of the “dream”, which is a combination in narrative form of dream thoughts, which thoughts in turn derive from combinations of alpha-elements. In this theory the ability to “dream” preserves the personality from what is virtually a psychotic state. It therefore helps to explain the tenacity with which the dream, as represented in classical theory, defends itself against the attempt to make the unconscious conscious. Such an attempt must appear indistinguishable from destruction of the capacity to dream in so far as that capacity is related to differentiating conscious from unconsciousand maintaining the difference so established.
To end I should like to share my own Bionian impression of the psychotic dream. Which is that it is a dream which is violent, disturbing, a fusing of love and hate, containing objects broken into pieces, not rich in imagery, with barely any development, etc. Perhaps it is just of some dangerous teeth or threatening faeces. It's a dream which hardly functions as such since the narrative containing function barely gets going.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

on symbolisation, take two

There are 2 theories of psychological symbolism and psychological symbolisation which interest me at the moment. One we owe primarily to Freud, the other primarily to Langer.

Freud's is a substitutive theory. It parallels our understanding of conventional (non-psychological) symbolism - in which one extant thing (the substitute) stands for some other extant thing (an intolerable wish or fear, for example) - except, in the substitutive psychological case, the relation (created by a 'mechanism' of displacement) is causally rather than intentionally constructed. (This makes it capable of being unconscious.) The intolerable wish/fear can now be avoided by a focus on the tolerable substitute which focus is invested with the affective charge proper to the intolerable wish/fear.

Langer's is a non-substitutive, expressive, theory. It offers 'symbolisation' as the name of the natural process of (let's-call-it) the animal soul whereby confounding experience is metabolised through its various expressions, or whereby the joyous exuberance of the individual bodies forth in spontaneous creativity. Symbolisation, that is, is the largely non-conscious expressive metabolism of such predicaments as we are sunk into, or of the ecstatic creation of new meaning in play and art. Without it the engine of the animal soul seizes up and we become flung along or frozen by life's vicissitudes. These expressions may include conventional expressions (e.g. linguistic representations that mention an intentional object of the now fully-fledged wish or fear) but may include non-conventional expressions. Yet any expressive shape may do the job: gestures, song lyrics, singing expressively without words, play scenarios, visual-artistic productions, rational emotionally-alive thoughts about the situation one is in, the imaginative self-talk of young children.

So an important difference between the two models is how much each relies on defences as the defining motors of symbolisation, and how much each relies on the idea of an extant representation being repressed and transformed. Substitutive theories rely on a notion of an already extant representation being worked over by a defence which leads, by psychologically real 'primary processes' which themselves may not be motivationally driven (i.e. they may just characterise 'the unconscious'), to the creation of a substitutive symbol. The symbol here really does take the place of something which already obtained, if only 'in the unconscious'. This 'taking the place of' is part of what characterises the particular meaning of 'symbol' at play here.

In the expressive theory we have instead emotional experience striving for whatever expressive form it may take. From the point of view of emotional experience, as it were, it doesn't really matter whether such expressive forms take on the shape of what can form the content of true statements about what is expressed. What matters is that life - the fluid movement (the 'externalisation' a la Hegel) of the animal soul - goes on. To think that it naturally takes the form of what can constitute the content of a judgement is to impose on it a model which really only fits one quite particular region of the soul.

There are various significant and obvious benefits, at times, of operating within this region - i.e. of finding an expressive outlet for a feeling which outlet also constitutes a truthful self-ascription of that very feeling. Yet there appear to be disbenefits as well when that mode takes over (think of those rather annoyingly poised 'well-analysed' people who only tend to express their feelings through well-controlled self-ascriptions), disbenefits such as creative deficits, lack of real playfulness, lack of inspiring passion - in short, disbenefits that seem to amount to a lack of full humanity since one part of the soul has here hijacked its other parts. It seems to me that the substitutive model also fosters that unhealthy 'hermeneutic of suspicion' that can underlie a certain kind of psychoanalytic vision: a vision which risks inexorably imposing a normative model of the 'actual intentional object' onto others' expressive projects which are seen now as inexorably defensively motivated. To be sure, we do well to take note of, and issue with, those who unfairly take out their feelings on others. Yet many a work of, say, visual art may express feelings toward objects which are not depicted on the canvas without their creation itself being motivated defensively.

One of the risks of using self-ascription and descriptive object reference ('I am angry - with her for hurting my friend') to articulate feeling is that it can quickly become affectless. We risk falling into 'intellectualisation', i.e. into situations in which - however much one's words may count as true descriptions of situations and relationships, and as true self-ascriptions of feelings towards those situations - one's self-ascriptive words no longer count as expressions because they do not express the feelings in question. (Here I follow Finkelstein who describes unconscious states as those which cannot themselves be expressed by means of true self-ascriptions.) Situations in which, I'd say, the words no longer convey an understanding or show a knowledge of the described situations, since true understanding and knowledge do not reside merely in words but rather propagate right through, and take their shape within, the lived body's reactive dispositions - reactive dispositions which here are lacking. (A pseudo-mature person 'knows' that one ought to save drowning men (knows to say 'one ought to save a drowning man' and to draw apt inferences about such situations) but yet on encountering one walks on by: such a person does not, I think we should want to say, really enjoy moral understanding or embody moral knowledge.) Situations of quiet affect yet truthful judgement which are mistaken for genuinely coming to terms with one's predicaments.

So we (these unreflective selves who are us) often do better to express our feelings in a variety of creative and, relative to truthful self-ascription, oblique ways. This keeps us inwardly alive and prevents us from falling into a cul-de-sac of affectless (non-expressive) true self-ascriptions. Our unconsciousness (or at least: our not here expressing our feelings through self-ascriptions) is now not a problem. All that really matters is that we express ourselves creatively and don't take our feelings out on undeserving others. Relatedly we will do well, too, to not allow our rites and rituals to become too instrumentally intelligible, for this will corrode their true function for us. Our gods, too, ought not to become the objects of intelligible predications, for they surely die once that happens (caught in the Enlightenment's spotlight, for example). And whilst we need our theologians to be self-conscious of when they're issuing intelligible pronouncements and when they're talking nonsense, it would be devastating for the meaning of our faiths if they tried to substitute the former for the latter.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

symbolisation

What's a psychological symbol? What is psychological symbolisation?

Freud provides an answer which makes ready use of entitative and correlative epistemic metaphors: we have an emotionally disturbing wish, but it's too unbearable, so an inner censor doesn't allow it's representational content to rise to inner consciousness, so we don't know we have the wish in question. It resides in the unconscious, but by a primary process mechanism called 'displacement' the emotionally alive wish is transferred onto a substitute object. This substitute is what we call the 'symbol'. The desires are enacted freely with regards the symbolic substitute. The substitutive gratification quells the wish for a time. The substitute action or object may be a symptom e.g. an obsession and compulsion, it may amount to a sublimation, it may be a dream image, a pet dog who is a stand-in for a non-existant lover, etc. Petocz tells this story well.

The cogency of Freud's answer depends upon whether the story still seems to us to have legs once we've cashed out the spatial and epistemic metaphors, once we remind ourselves that our relationship with our conscious feelings isn't perceptual, introspective, or awareness-invoking, once we remind ourselves that the 'censor' is just a theorist's metaphorical concoction, once we question the coherence of form-content dualism when it comes to emotion and desire (the energy and the representational content of an emotion), once we remind ourselves that emotions aren't, in any normal senses of the words, sensibly to be counted as entities or processes. My own opinion is that it's rather a mythology, and that it fails to provide enough by way of criteria of identity for the unconscious wish for us to credit it with cogency. In short, the criteria would seem to reduce either to the fact of the symbol itself (which thereby collapses the explanatory power of the theory), or reduce to what the symboliser later acknowledges (Wittgenstein suggests something like this. However when is it that we take someone to be in a position to own their previously unconscious wishes? We can hardly say 'when the repression is lifted' or 'when they become conscious' and expect to be taken seriously - for that goes round in a circle), or to be whatever is wished when the symbol fades away (but many things may be wished at this time...)).

So what's the alternative? Well, the existential phenomenologists have already given us a different conception of the unconscious, and effectively, too, of the motor of (a process worth calling) symbolisation. The unconscious for the phenomenologist is not what we don't inwardly apprehend, since apprehension isn't relevant here, but is instead what we're too close to to bring into focus. The unconscious is so close to us that it's our very flesh. When we do come to have feelings about our predicaments, we've managed to extricate ourself enough from our predicaments to bring them into our purview. We are now not simply sunk into them, not simply of a piece with them, fused with them. We may here make use of Bollas' 'unthought known': we 'know' our predicament in the sense of 'are of a piece with it', but we can't 'think' it - can't bring it into view because instead we share flesh with it. The unconscious is part of the seeing eye, not something we're blind to. Something we are primally seduced into (Laplanche). The presence of imaginative a prioris (Lear). Tacit enframing assumptions we take in unquestioned, unnoticed, with mother's milk which yet go against the bent of our flourishing.

Take a child's unconsciousness of the miserable emotions which saturate the atmosphere in his family. He inhabits this atmosphere, it is part of the 'from where' of his experience, it is the uninterrogated invisible background against which various thoughts are formed. A pervasive mood which runs right through him. It runs through him like the customs and habits of his culture which he has absorbed - customs and habits which he knows not that he has. It's part of his manner of interacting, and not something itself interacted with.

On such a conception, making the unconscious conscious can involve something like turning a mood into one or more feelings. This process involves a disidentification from the embedding mood, an Hegelian 'externalising' of what was previously part of the flesh of the self, so that now there arises a comprehending relation (rather than identification) between (the now separate) self and object, which intentional relation is what we call an emotional experience. The growth of the self, the achievement of self-possession rather than remaining possessed by the habitual dynamics, is a matter of the ongoing disidentification from such atmospheres as one is sunk into, a condensing out of that inhabited atmosphere into liquid or solid particulates which can now be apprehended rather than unwittingly inhaled. The very act is freeing, and it makes the as-yet unthought known thinkable.

Now a striking thing about this disidentificatory, self-possession-creating, process is that it runs along by itself, naturally, autochthonously, and is found in dreams and spontaneous imaginative creations of other sorts. The young child plays with her dolls and dinosaurs and spontaneously acts out a scene as to what is going on in the family. She doesn't know she's doing this. But what she's doing is starting to make thought and feeling about her family situation possible. She's unwittingly preparing the grounds. In this process of birthing meaning through disidentification/externalisation, an aspect of the ground of the self's 'form' morphs into the figure of one of the self's 'content' (it's now-possible intentional relations with its objects), and this now enables predicaments to be grappled with rather than leaving them as invisible contexts against which anything must show up.

Why is it that dreaming and playing and free associating tend to make disidentificatory predicamental thought possible through coming up with contents other than those which could be developed for the primary predicaments? (I'm looking, recall, for an answer that doesn't involve knowing and repressing knowing, doesn't take an epistemic attitude to the unconscious, doesn't see it as contingently hidden extant figure but instead sees it as necessarily blind enframing, doesn't invoke putative mechanisms like displacement but instead sees that as a useful theorists' fiction.)  In other words, if the successful disidentification involves the externalising of some aspect of (in our example) the family's latent enframing predicament so that it can now be thought about, why is this not always the dreaming mind's first choice of figure? Why do we have 'substitute' figures (substitutes for the as-yet mere res potentia (rather than hidden res actualis, as the traditional epistemic conception of the unconscious would have it)) rather than the real deal?

The first thing to note is that whilst externalisation is, at least in a reasonably healthy individual, somewhat inexorable, it is yet blind. It doesn't know where it is going. It is not teleological. (How could it be, on pain of Sartrean contradiction?) This freeing up of the ground so that it may transmute and dehisce in various ways, this free play by the animal soul with its own structure, obtains at a diffuse affective association-drifting level, so perhaps any old thematically congruent content will do. The mind, here, is, remember, dreaming. Second, it is sometimes, perhaps most often, the case that the unconscious becomes conscious in a more straightforward way. One dehisces rather precisely from the actual predicament and thoughts and feelings thereby becomes possible about that very predicament. It is only when we start talking about symbolism that we ask the question as to why the original content is not directly thematised. Third, I suggest it is simply easier for the animal soul to develop the requisite dehiscence when not dealing directly with our actual predicaments. And this simply because we are more entrenched in our actual predicaments than with their thematic cousins.

Might we say that the little girl blithely intently passionately unknowingly acting out her family drama with her dolls is substituting the dolls for what she unconsciously knows is the real object? Might we say that she does have an unconscious feeling toward her mother and father which is being expressed here? Well, what I'm suggesting is that a) we don't have to say that, and b) that if we do we mustn't confuse res potentia for realia. For, remember, it is only on the basis that such an unconscious feeling would in this situation be a valid feeling to have consciously, and on the basis of the thematic content of the play, and perhaps retrospectively on the basis of her later conscious feeling, that we ascribe the unconscious affect in question. Unless I'm missing some other criterion (please tell me if you think of it!). But yes, by all means, call being in just that configuration 'having an unconscious emotion' if you like. (Just remember, if you want to say you are doing so as an inference to the best explanation, to please not forget to give criteria for the identity of the unconscious emotion in question.)

So: the externalisation develops, the self now becoming progressively separated from its predicaments, which predicaments are now affectively thinkable. We observers, theorists, or post-fact symbolisers may say: ah, this relationship with this dream figure symbolises this actual relationship with this actual person. We can if we wish avoid turning these res potentia into realia - the unconscious thought or feeling was just a potential thought or feeling, one that, one could say, needed to develop if freedom and coping are to be maintained or achieved. And the dream symbol for it was but a way-station. We may take it as a representative of that affective thought which would, we believe, be the apt thematisation of the predicamental situation.

Now what about the idea that symbols may be the kinds of substitutes which prevent the 'true' feeling from becoming conscious? So that one is instead satisfied with compulsively acting on the obsession; petting the pooch; remaining in the psychotic delusion. Isn't this the import of the Freudian thought that the affective energy is detached from the representation and redirected onto the symbolic substitute? Well, how can we tell that the symbolic act is here preventing reality from being emotionally contacted? Imagine: perhaps if the symbol were not found the person would become catatonic or depressed. Nothing in the story suggests that the person who has a dream which organises those feelings as are not yet more finely directed at what, post-disidentification, will become acknowledged as their real predicament, need yet have the requisite ego capacity for the latter emotional achievement. But consider too that often enough the true emotional realisation is not troubling. The new reality might take some getting used to. But, in my experience at least, the main accessory feeling - aside from the emotional understanding in question, that is - which arises on the condensing out of the atmosphere is relief. And yet the fact of the reality of the feeling of relief doesn't put into question the status as symbolic of the dream or play images.

Let's try an example. So, in March of this year I dreamed that I found myself, after selling a house, staying for two years in an expensive hotel until the next house came on the market. In the dream I was shocked at how I hadn't thought about the expense of the hotel stay and the effect of this on my future house-buying plans. When I awoke I asked myself what this was about. Now, in reality, at the beginning of the year I started a two year sabbatical from my clinical work to focus on writing rather than earning. I started out the year mindful of my spending habits, living as simply as I could on my savings. Yet by March I'd started to drift unreflectively into spending in the way I did when earning. I wasn't really aware of this, although my mood was not straightforward - I felt somehow blocked. What I needed to do was to become anxious about my predicament, to take it in hand, and develop a clear spending plan. Yet at that moment I was unaware of this discrepancy - I was simply sunk into my habits without any liberating self-consciousness. Here we can say that the two years between houses symbolises the two years off work, and the hotel bills symbolised my shopping bills. The dream was a gift 'from my unconscious' as we might say: through thinking on it I could see what what my predicament was and what I needed to do to get a handle on it. The mood, the diffuse anxiety, lifted - a specific object emerges takes shape and can now be handled clearly.

A simple traditional Freudian account would be: I had actual worries about my spending, I didn't want to have these so I repressed them in the service of the palliative pleasures of spending, the feelings were then displaced onto an imagined predicament about hotel bills, I developed a low mood as a result of the repression. The revised reading I'm offering is: I'd become (yes, conveniently) mindless about my situation and so was left needing to develop some decent thoughts and feelings about it. The dream works towards dehiscence of self and predicament through developing the requisite feelings. The ball-park feelings are directed toward whatever imagined objects comes to mind (think of how often the dreaming mind reuses the same imagery - the school exam one suddenly finds oneself sitting aged 44, etc.). When asleep we don't have the distractions of the day, the teloi which keep us busy, to divert our attention. Dreaming occurs as a natural process - it's the unconscious mind finding (or at least seeking) its own level again, i.e. 'aiming' for maximal coherence amongst its projects (amongst its ego ideals, its extant interests, its knowledge and desires).

That royal road to the unconscious which is dream interpretation is one which is already begun by the dream itself. But the destination - it itself is work in progress.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

delusional reason

Psychologists tell us that Jaspers was wrong about 'primary' or 'true' delusions being a different kind of creature than 'delusion-like ideas'. Much of the psychological literature - one of the considerably more interesting examples of which is Peter Chadwick's Borderline - characterises the alleged unintelligibility of the primary delusion in terms of its rapid arrival: the idea of 'primary' delusion is, they suggest, to be understood in terms of its not being the product of efforts at reasoning or understanding. Yet, they continue, it's naïve to imagine that what the psychiatrist might experience as her patient's suddenly-arrived-at delusions really do arrive so autochthonously in her patient's mind. Might not the mark of true delusion rather be a marker of a psychiatric failure of inquisitiveness? Might not this patient in fact be arriving at his apparently out-of-the-blue delusion through normal processes of sense-making which are as yet undisclosed to his psychiatrist? In short and by way of upshot, the psychologist invites us to forget all about the idea of a distinction between primary delusion and delusion-like idea. Which is, as-it-were, all rather convenient for her project of using psychological enquiry to try to achieve what those old-school psychiatrists told us was impossible - namely a genuine understanding of what is nevertheless as worthy of the designation of 'delusion' as anything else.

I'm not here concerned to resurrect the concept of primary delusion, but am instead concerned to tease apart matters epistemological and psychological which matters often get run together in the psychological literature and which in the process make for the appearance of psychology rescuing the patient in her intelligibility from the inattention of psychiatry. In the last paragraph, for example, I talked blithely of 'normal processes of sense-making' as if we all already knew perfectly well what is meant by talking in that way - as if it were straightforward to assume that 'reasoning' and 'inference-making' and 'understanding', for example, are helpfully understood as names of mental processes. As if we can know whether or not understanding is to be met with by considering whether a certain information-transmuting temporally-extended mental event or sequence of such events is here going on. The slip from talk of understanding as personal ability or capacity or epistemic achievement to talk of understanding as mental process may look innocuous, but what I'm developing here is the idea that it obscures the fundamental matter at stake for Jaspers, in treating of delusion, which is whether or not we, anyone, can really find his comprehending, empathic, sense-finding feet with the psychotic subject when he is in his delusion, or whether delusion as such repels comprehension.

Let's first remind ourselves that, despite the calumnies of contemporary psychologists, Jaspers is happy to concede that there are senses of 'understand' - perhaps those closer to 'explain' for those who like to keep their understanding and their explanation in separate conceptual categories - which are appropriately deployed in talk of a true understanding of true delusion. We may for example understand the causal genesis of a delusion in terms of the motivational work it does for the delusional subject. We may understand perfectly well why someone could be motivated - in terms of not simply boosting their morale or self-esteem, but in terms of making life bearable at all - to maintain that they are the Archduke Ferdinand. And drawing on psychodynamic forms of explanation we may turn this question of motive into an answer not about intention but about causation: the delusion was formed and sustained because of the way it makes life more bearable. This can be true not only of grandiose but also of paranoid delusions: it's more bearable to believe that the Vatican has it in for you because of their hatred of what you think they allege are your sexual desires than it is to experience the dissolution of your mind under the aegis of an as-yet-un-split-off,-as-yet-un-projected ego-destructive superego and as-yet-un-integrated sexual desires. Jaspers was no big fan of psychoanalysis, but even he was happy to go along with such causal-motivational understandings of various bona fide delusions. (Jaspers: ... ‘understandable connections do [indeed] play a part … in psychoses so far as content is concerned’. .... We ‘may well understand from the context how a delusional belief liberates an individual from something unbearable, seems to deliver him from reality and lends a peculiar satisfaction which may well be the ground [would motive be a better translation?] for why it is so tenaciously held.’)

The sense of 'understand' we are after, however, has as I said not to do with psychology but with epistemology. We may understand why someone is motivated to believe that they are the Archduke Ferdinand, yet still not at all be able to take being Archduke Ferdinand as an intelligible, thinkable, thought. How can someone who knows where he was born and who his parents are and what year it is and so on yet believe that? Isn't that the kind of thing you'd 'have to be mad to believe?' Laing asks somewhere who is the madder person: the girl who thinks that there's a nuclear bomb inside her stomach, or a prime minister who's got his finger on the nuclear button? The answer, I think, is the former: the sense in which Hiroshima was unthinkable is rather different from the sense in which taking something large to be fitted inside something small is unthinkable.

Let's even concede that when a sane and grounded person is arriving at her beliefs and when a delusional person is arriving at her delusions they may both have something like the same processes going on inside their heads. They both have one thought after another, all the thoughts associatively give rise to further thoughts, and so on. Let's imagine, what is surely often-enough true, that the delusional person is even more busy than normal trying to 'make sense of' what's going on, and that if you asked him carefully he might offer his delusions as explanations for certain rather strange experiences he has. What none of this shows, though, is that he really does make sense of the strange experiences, rather than arriving at those illusions of sense we call 'delusions'. For... if one's feet aren't on the ground then it doesn't matter what goes on in your head: crank the normal associative mechanisms as hard and rigorously as you like, and you still won't get a sane output. Sure, delusional thinking may often be a valiant attempt to make sense of crazy experiences. Sure, the inferences involved in the delusional thought may be no less logical than the motley that make up the reasoning of the sane subject. Still, if you start from there then, try as hard as you might, you'll never get to somewhere called 'reason'.

Pierre-Simon Laplace
Let us imagine that the delusional person has largely intact inferential abilities, that he is biased in his thinking in similar self-serving ways that non-delusional people are, that delusions are the result of trying to fathom strange experiences, etc. None of this makes delusions into cogent explanations of experiences. They remain, rather, mad explanations of mad experiences. Their madness does not consist, however, in something that is awry with the psychological performance of the delusional subject. (Why would we ever have imagined that it did? Did we really think that psychology, of all disciplines, would tell us what it is to be in touch with reality?) The madness of the delusional subject does not consist in his deploying different reasoning standards; as Lisa Bortolotti has argued, his 'procedural, epistemic and agential' rationality may be as intact as the next person's. The difference is that the next person has the good fortune of being in touch with reality - has by grace of nature been left with her feet on the ground so she can set her reasoning off on the right foot.

In his 1812 Philosophical Essay on Probabilities Laplace offered that “the more extraordinary the event, the greater the need of its being supported by strong proofs”. What in one context may count as a reasonable degree of evidence provision or a reasonable degree of care in reasoning will not count as such in another context. It's not the maxim - which perhaps doesn't apply here - but rather the moral - that reasonableness is not guaranteed by mere quotient of reasoning - to which I'm here drawing attention.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

imaginary friends

It's easy to knock the imaginary friend (IF). The knocking takes its lead from the idea of the value of the IF as providing but a wish-fulfilling substitutive pseudo-satisfaction. This IF fills a gap but through desire's self-deceiving palliation rather than through desire's genuine satisfaction. It takes us further away from reality; it entrenches a self-deception. This IF doesn't help us accommodate, doesn't help us face the world in an honest way, doesn't help us tackle our loneliness, but encourages a drifting away into the pallid shades of faery.

What that critique of the IF misses is a deeper understanding of loneliness as existential state. What if what we are really at risk of is not the pain of missing actual others, or the painful longing for friendship one doesn't have, but a loss in one's sense of self as lovable, an unwitting voiding of that inner echo chamber where the You and the I may hear one another, where both meeting and missing take place? An unexperienced loss of warmth, of sense of inner warmth and inner value, an unwittingly traversed loveless wasteland?

On this more fundamental understanding, the function of the IF isn't to conjure an imaginary companion for such wanderings in the void. It's rather to keep alive the axis of relatedness in our inner life, an axis which provides warmth to our heart and opens us to meaning and value in our relations. Such an IF, far from being a salve for everyday loneliness, may even function as its condition of possibility. What I mean is that without that axis being energised by the relationality cultivated by the IF, perhaps we might lose relationality altogether, and thereby lose the possibility of enjoying or missing the company of others.

Might God - the God of love, that is - be the supreme IF? And, if so, might He fulfil a function really quite other than any mere wish-fulfilment? Might praying to Him keep us alive to relatedness at times when otherwise we may drift off into depression's drifting void? Perhaps such prayer not only staves melancholy or apathy but also, through keeping us alive to what is met with in relatedness - through disclosing the other to us in her otherness under the aspect of love - keep us on the moral ball. Keep in check our centripetal disposition to self-centredness; keep alive our centrifugal disposition to caring connection.

---------------

Theological afterword: I'd be disappointed to be read as implying that God is an imaginary as opposed to a real Being! Whilst I know what it is to distinguish between a real childhood friend and an imaginary childhood friend, I don't think I know what it is to distinguish between (to pick a common understanding of God) a Ground of Being which is Love that is real and one that is imaginary. Do many of our concepts of 'God' really make room for an imaginary/real contrast - any more than, say, those of 'space' or 'time' do? We may ask whether a certain space is real or imagined, but space itself? (It's not as if the concepts of 'space' or 'God' do their work by 'referring to' or by 'picking out' something.) What notions of 'real' and of 'God' are we working with if we ask whether or not God is but an imaginary being or instead has a real existence? (They don't seem to be the ones met with in religious texts. So why use them?)

Monday, 19 March 2018

changing to stay the same

There's a strange passage in Wittgenstein's Zettel:
37. (At the beginning of a piece of music it says crotchet = 88, written there by the composer. But in order to play it right nowadays it must be played crotchet = 94: which is the tempo intended by the composer?)
I find it hard to know quite what Wittgenstein here had in mind. But perhaps (to recall some suggestions from members of my reading group) it no longer sounds right at that speed on modern instruments. Or perhaps the cultural times have changed - 'speeded up' as we might put it - in such a way that the emotional experience of this music played at 88 just would now feel lugubrious when before it wouldn't have. (The remark is, incidentally, in parentheses.) I suspect that the important work the remark does it to open up the question, to get us thinking about what doing justice over time to an original meaning consists in.

There are easier examples. Currency inflation makes for a rather obvious case: in order for a house to remain the same value it must increase in price. Or, to take a simpler musical example: if you change the key of a piece of music, to now sing the right note at the start of the fourth bar you must sing not what was originally written, a C sharp, but a D sharp. Yet such examples may be rather too easy in that with them we can appeal to a singular criterion to justify our choice of revision, and I suspect all the interesting cases are ones in which that won't be available. 

There's a kind of cultural illness we often meet with which pretends to be a friend of conservativism - conservativism in the sense of: valuing the preservation of what is of deep value in our cultural and environmental legacy - yet which betrays itself by insisting that in order to remain the same you just gotta remain the same. The idiocy of this position shows itself in how it never stops to ask what it is to remain the same when so much around is changing. The result is a fetishising rather than a preservation of the past. The past no longer lives in this tradition, but instead merely serves the function of quelling current obsessional anxieties. ('We'll be ok so long as we keep on doing just what they used to do.') When the world has changed key we find this faux conservative coming in with the C sharp, a C sharp which now but clangs.

The effects are striking when we turn to religion. Orthodox practitioners are perhaps the most often guilty of practices which corrupt the original meaning of belief and ritual by keeping it 'the same' despite the new context. The Word now risks being reduced to an idol. The faux conservative wants to substitute the grasp we have of the meaning of scripture which comes from something like the application of a criterion for the grasp we enjoy which comes from our living faith. In non-scientific ages it was natural for faith to be expressed in ways which to us now seem almost incomprehensible (e.g. that we always have an angel standing over us; I don't deny the fact but ask what today, given our best understandings of how the world works, it could even mean to assert this). When the range of conceptual distinctions available to us was not so great - for example, in times before reflective thought was even alive to the conceptual/empirical distinction - it made sense to simply proclaim all sorts of beliefs which now, said like that, are surely just incredible.

Which is the tempo intended by the composer? What would the Christ or Prophet have us do today? What is it now for that spirit to live? In answering this you can't read the scripture the way one reads an instruction manual. For the scripture might say 'play it at 88 Joe' whilst today, to really hear The Word, you gotta play it at 94. And how do you know that 94 is the right tempo? Through prayer; through listening to your heart; through talking it over with others; through weeding out the egoism of fetishistic idolatry within oneself; through imagination. What, you wanted it easy? What, you'd forgotten that the whole point was to encounter not the world but the living spirit? You really thought that to be informed by The Word you could just comprehend the words? Really?

Sunday, 18 March 2018

how to live with a personality disorder

I continue to be struck by how my 'personality-disordered' patients ruined their lives by damaging their relationships through what we could call the breaking of promises. This promise-breaking rarely happened explicitly. It happened, rather, through an erosion of human trust: by the largely unacknowledged changing of tunes over time; by the insistent and too-convenient use of excuses; by doing too much of what they momentarily felt like and too little of what was the right thing to do; by insisting, when others tried to hold them to what they said in the past, that these others were taking their past declarations too seriously - whilst getting annoyed if they weren't taken utterly seriously in their current declarations; by tacit attempts to gain others' pity; by excessive invoking of illness or disability as moral get-out-of-jail-free cards; and, at worst, by emotionally abusive, conscience-overriding, efforts to project guilt and shame and inadequacy feelings into others (i.e. trying actively to make others instead of themselves feel like the morally bad one), efforts which become a vicious cycle when what also now has to be defended against is the guilt about being emotionally abusive in this manner.

In such ways the 'personality-disordered' adult has, despite much intellectual development, remained in their heart and morals a toddler-teenager. They have not developed that self-sameness over time, in the form of being a word-keeper, which is essential if there can be something in us in which others can meaningfully be said to trust, something which allows them to then come to know and love us.

Before continuing, let's be clear: everyone has some degree of 'personality disorder'. (The concept of a morally mature adult is an 'ideal type', it is not something which many of us manage to completely realise all the time.) But the degrees vary widely!

Sometimes I met with someone who in their heart knew full well what they were doing, and so who  understood that those they called friends really either merely tolerated them or had fallen for their charms and excuses perhaps because they, the friends, tend to see the best in people or tend depressively to see the worst in themselves. But often I met with people who seemed puzzled and hurt by the chaos they created, perhaps because their projections against overwhelming unbearable moral emotions really did succeed in ridding them of a sense of their guilt and shame, i.e. ridding them of a sense of what they had done to deserve their shunning.

Here I share my thoughts as to what someone might do if they find themselves spoiling their relationships in the above ways. 

a. Bring to mind a clear sense of what the right thing for anyone to do in any situation is, and always act only according to this general understanding. In this way you can align yourself with the good rather than only with what feels comfortable or rewarding to you. You can then also reap the rewards within yourself of what we call 'adult dignity' - i.e. feeling good because what you're doing is the right thing to do - and can leave behind the childish form of satisfactions which come from getting your way or getting out of something unpleasant. Dignity is not often talked about today, but in truth it is the only valuable form of self-love. The dignified person can feel good in herself because she knows she is living according to what is right, and this provides the deepest nourishment that the self can have outside of the love of another. The ambition of living a dignified life also helps with what to do when there's not much joy to be reaped in life. It has us ask: well, what can I do, today, to use my talents well, to help somebody, to grow, to discharge my responsibilities; what meaningful options are open to me? So long as we do what we can then, even if there's not much we can do, even if nothing goes our way, we can feel good in ourselves, so long as we are organised by dignity. By living a dignified life we also reap the rewards of the genuine love and respect of others.

b. Be honest with yourself in acknowledging that whilst there are no criteria for what count as: a reasonable or an unreasonable excuse, a legitimate or illegitimate changing of one's opinion or values, respectful or disrespectful talk, etc, in no way does this mean that it is up to you to say what is and isn't reasonable in your own actions! To think in that way - to think that we have some kind of privileged position from which we can inwardly know about the reasonableness or genuineness of our excuses, and some right to insist on what is thereby true of us - is to be what clinically is called a 'narcissist' - i.e. is to adopt the moral stance of the defensive teenager. (To put it philosophically, our first-person authority is a function of the expressive transparency of our avowals to the thoughts and feelings thereby avowed; it is not a function of our either being better informed than others, or getting the final word, about why we act as we do.) The discernment of what is and isn't reasonable cannot be done in a defensive state of mind; it comes along in life as one develops a mature moral sensibility.

c. Develop a moral practice in which you learn to tolerate and even cherish your guilt and shame and feelings of inadequacy. If this doesn't happen then those awful defensive spirals, in which you keep needing to bolster the lie or the denial of blame and to try to push it into others, thereby alienating them and destroying friendships, will flourish. The person with a 'personality disorder' can get stuck in a moral universe in which admitting blame feels dangerous or seems to make one vulnerable in a potentially devastating way. This is after all how it may seem if you were raised by a 'personality-disordered' parent: your guilt will not be forgiven but held against you as a weapon, and so acknowledging guilt will be felt to be foolish, leaving you open to attack. Well, you can choose to stay in such a moral universe if you want, or you can choose to cultivate a different way of moral being, a way of moral being which is compatible with having genuine friends. In a morally mature universe others respect and forgive you precisely when you make genuine apology, and it is in the genuine apology and the forgiveness that proper relationship can be restored and nourished. Moral maturity consists in learning that such vulnerability to being seen as blameworthy is an essential part of friendship. (Going to confession is an example of a moral practice of this sort.) I said 'cherish your guilt and shame'; what I mean is: come to cherish your conscience which gives you such feelings. (I'm not talking about the bogus neurotic versions of depressive guilt and shame, but the genuine articles!) Your conscience is your friend because it helps you know when you've done things wrong; it enables you to rebuild and deepen your friendships. And your vulnerability is your friend because it is the condition of possibility of you having meaningful human relationships at all.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

senses of presence

In a previous post I proposed a theory of hallucination as a particular kind of anticipation or readiness - what I called a 'bodily anticipation' - of right now having a sensory experience of someone coming down the stairs, which anticipation is unrelinquished (for when it is relinquished, the hallucination of someone coming down the stairs ceases) despite it being unfulfilled (nobody is seen to come down the stairs - since there is, let's imagine, nobody coming down the stairs). This power of updating or relinquishing through sensory engagement with the environment is, I think, of a piece with what we call 'reality contact'. I wrote there too that the idea of the 'inner image' is hopeless as part of the explanation of hallucination; naturally, though, I have no objection to the use of the term as merely another way to referring to an hallucination. But if to form a mental image of a cat is either to imagine looking at a cat or to imagine looking at a picture of a cat, then it could be misleading to talk of hallucinating a cat as having a mental image of a cat. To be sure, we might say of someone who hallucinates a cat that they are unwittingly imagining looking at a cat, but a risk of talking that way is that one thereby fails to distinguish hallucinating from daydreaming.

As against my understanding of hallucination, it could be said that one of the things which hallucination at least often-times shares with perception is a sense of the presence of the hallucinated or perceived object. But an anticipation by itself hardly constitutes a sense of presence. So don't we need to add something to unrelinquished anticipation to arrive at the sense of presence which hallucination shares with perception? Perhaps what we need to add is - heaven forbid - an inner image! It is, perhaps, the image which at least is 'present to the mind'. And perhaps such an image is also, in its way, the fulfilment of the anticipation.  

By way of answer I want to press the question what is really meant here by this notion of a 'sense of presence'. For there is a standard use of that term which itself implies something unshared by hallucination and perception, but instead indicates something which only obtains when we don't perceive something. So let's avoid the risk of misleading ourselves by getting that use clearly on the table first, before rushing on too quickly with the discussion.

So, we do sometimes talk about 'sensing the presence' of something or someone; we may even talk about sensing 'a presence', 'presence' now being another term for ghost or spirit. I suggest that the logic of this talk of 'presence' is best understood by comparison with our talk of déjà vu. An experience of déjà vu is properly articulated with a phrase like 'it is for me just like I had already experienced this very same thing happening.' Such uses of words defines the experience in question. However we have gazillions of experiences every day which we have had before - walking down the same corridor to our office, using the same toilet, drinking from the same coffee cup - and these precisely do not engender an experience of déjà vu. So in a sense the experience of déjà vu is precisely not like an ordinary experience of encountering something again. What this goes to show, I think, is that we are here using the phrase 'as if I had already had this experience' in what Wittgenstein called a special 'secondary sense'. We are drawn to use just this phrase; that we are so drawn is criterial for the experience in question; yet the use is not to be taken as justified by the current experience having something in common with the perfectly ordinary experience of encountering something which one had previously encountered in just the same way. (It is neither justified nor unjustified; that's just not how it works.)

What I am claiming is that the ordinary use of 'sense of presence' is, just like that of déjà vu, a secondary sense application of the term. We precisely do not mark with it something which is shared by both hallucination and perception. But perhaps, the objection goes, this is not the sense of 'sense of presence' which is relevant here. Sure, there is such a sense which applies specifically to hallucination, but what is relevant here is rather the (...alleged...) sense that (...allegedly...) applies to the case of the perception of objects. When I ordinarily see an object I ordinarily have a sense of the presence of the object (...so the argument goes....). And this same sense of presence can obtain in at least some hallucinations. Thus one might use, in both hallucinatory and perceptual cases, sentences like 'It is for me just as if I were actually seeing the cat' to emphasise the same point.

As against this I want to ask just what is meant here by a 'sense of presence' in the non-hallucinatory case. For example, does the person who says that when I actually see a cat I have a sense of the presence of a cat mean more by this than that they are, er, seeing a cat? If so, what? I see a cat and in seeing this cat most often can also be said to see that there is a cat there on the mat. This however is precisely not shared with hallucination: when I hallucinate a cat I precisely do not see that there is a cat there on the mat. ('Seeing' and 'Seeing that something is there' are what we call success verbs/clauses. Hallucination is not successful or unsuccessful seeing!) Or is it that when someone sees a cat and hallucinates a cat it can seem to them that they see a cat? Is the 'sense of presence' a 'seeming' of some kind? But then, well, honestly, it is rather hard to know what is being done with the phrase 'it seems to me that I see a cat' when used by someone who straightforwardly, in a situation which wasn't anticipated by them to be one of deception (for we do use it as an expression of hesitancy when we're not sure if we should believe what we see, even when we are in fact undeceived), does see a cat. The concepts of appearance (seeming, etc.) gain their sense in virtue of the distinction they draw between the case of the seeming and the case of what is.

Now, it may be that there is some use being envisaged for 'sense of presence' which has not yet been spelled out. A use which is shared by both hallucinatory and perceptual cases. I however have not had it introduced to me, nor have I yet been able to pull it out of my own noggin. So, well... I'm waiting.

What however is also interesting to me is that we do use this notion of a 'sense of presence' to describe cases of hallucination.  I think it is worth pondering why this should be. (And when we think on the 'why' here I think we should make sure that we don't automatically start to look for a justifying reason, rather than an elucidatory cause, for our talk.)

On my understanding of hallucination it involves a form of anticipation of right now perceiving something which is unrelinquished despite the fact that one also has no experience of this anticipation being confirmed. Despite, that is, one not perceiving whatever is presently anticipated. This leads us to use the word 'presence' in the spooky, secondary sense, manner. 'I sensed the presence of my dead grandma' or 'I felt her presence' is what we are spontaneously drawn say. Despite her manifestly not being present: if she were actually present then we precisely wouldn't have that experience which we call the 'experience of her presence'. So, my question is: why are we drawn to use this locution? I take it that the question is the same as that which attends the use of 'déjà vu': why do we use this phrase to describe an experience which is precisely not like the gazillions of experiences we have everyday for the second or third or millionth time? 

Well, the reason (in the sense of cause that moves us, not in the sense of that which I could give as my reason) why we use the notion of 'presence' is, I think, because we have here to do with an unrelinquished anticipation. In this way it, the hallucination, is similar to a fulfilled anticipation (i.e. to a perception) since in the hallucinatory case there is no cancelling of the anticipation despite the manifest absence of what is anticipated. And in the perceptual case it is also not cancelled since it is instead fulfilled, and now has its life immanently within the perception itself. In short, this is what both perception and hallucination have in common: the continued life of the bodily anticipation. 

Similarly with déjà vu. It is not really that I seem to remember having had this conversation or visual experience before. We've all done that, all the time, and it doesn't amount to déjà vu. We don't reach for that description because it is part of the content of the experience; we are not justified, not even seemingly, in using the 'as if I've done this before' locution. Something in the temporal structure of the experience has instead gone awry. Something like the registering of the newness of each experience through time has failed, thereby constituting a distinctive dissociation. We want to say something like 'It is as if this very stretch of experience - not simply its content, but it in its temporally individuated identity - had happened before.' But that of course is nonsense, since what it is for the experience to be this one, when we are thinking not about its content but about its temporally indexed identity, is precisely for it to not be any previous experience. And yet we want to say what we say, and that we want to say just this is criterial for the experience being what it is. It's notable that with both déjà vu and hallucination we necessarily encounter a form of dissociation or trance or loss of reality contact - not necessarily any global state of such within the individual, but within the experience itself, as an essential part of its form.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

moral character, illness, and the mind

What is it that makes for illness? In trying to answer this question we are perennially tempted to look toward the causes of illness - diseases for example - and away from the work that the concept does for us. In what follows I pay closer attention to that work by relating the concept of illness to that of character. The discussion also considers the question of what we are to make of the concept of mental illness and how it relates to physical illness. I shall both draw on and dispute a claim of Wittgenstein's and a claim made in a paper by T S Champlin. The remark from Wittgenstein is (Culture & Value p.54) 'Madness need not be regarded as an illness. Why shouldn't it be seen as a sudden - more or less sudden - change of character?' First however I turn to Champlin's paper.

Champlin is amongst those who consider the concept of 'mental illness' to be derived from 'physical illness' or, more perspicuously, from what, before the concept of 'mental illness' was invented, was simply called 'illness'. Unlike those (like Neil Pickering) who consider 'mental illness' a conceptual metaphor, Champlin considers it formed by 'secondary sense' and offers an analogy to help us grasp this. The analogy suggests the model of a 'rhyme for the eye' which stands to a 'rhyme for the ear' in the same kind of relation as 'mental illness' stands to 'physical illness'. So just as we may call the end of two lines of poetry which look the same even if sounding differently (...he'd read quite enough / ...of The Golden Bough) a 'rhyme for the eye', so too we may talk of an 'illness of the mind' even when we don't have to do with such features as are essential to illnesses 'of the body'.

But what is it that grounds (by way not of justification but of inspiration) the extension? Champlin suggests that 'the counterpart to position at the end of the line which facilitated the extension of the word 'rhyme' to cover rhymes for the eye but not the ear was that, typically, the mentally ill have in common with the physically ill the fact that they behave in ways similar to the physically ill. They often look ill and fail to carry on with their normal lives and need to be cared for by others.' Well, I don't buy this. For those who are mentally ill often don't look ill, they may never really have had normal lives or may be carrying on with what for them is a normal life in a mentally ill way, and they may not need to be cared for by others to a greater extent than the rest of us. These consequential difficulties do not take us into what it is for the mind to itself become 'ill'. So I suggest we keep the analogical idea - mental and physical illness needn't share something in common in virtue of which they are both illnesses; instead of something in common we need to look for a counterpart - but think again about what the counterpart is.

Wittgenstein asks - in what was presumably intended as a rhetorical question, although I shall treat it otherwise - why we don't talk not of mental illnesses but of sudden changes in character. The remark does the helpful work it does by virtue of shaking us out of the idea that we could, with our concept of 'mental illness', meaningfully be said to here have hit upon 'the right concept'. (We play the language game, and that's enough.) It also helpfully brings the concept of 'illness' into relation with that of 'character'. But what I want to suggest is that the whole point of the concept of 'illness' is that, precisely, we don't sanction an inference to the idea of a change of moral character, and that the whole point of 'mental illness' is that we may continue to draw on such exculpatory benefits in cases where the attribution of a character change is even more tempting.

Here's my main claim: Illness essentially involves changes in personal disposition which would, unless we reference that defeating condition which is the illness ascription itself, be seen as constituting a decline in moral character. Thus when we are ill we are disinclined to work, to take care of our responsibilities to others, to exercise our talents, to enjoy our appetites for life, to cultivate and spread hope. We are instead inclined to withdrawal, sloth, pessimism, self-preoccupation. Were such changes to happen to someone in the absence of disease we should say of that person that they had developed a poorer character. Such habits essentially find a negative moral evaluation, but thankfully we may be excused by being ill! The concept of 'illness' allows us to keep our virtues intact, if you like. In this way the concept of 'illness' does important work in regulating our social and occupational interactions. We cut the ill person some moral slack, discharge them of responsibilities, give them a sick note, do not hold them accountable for incompetencies to the same extent, etc. That the concept should be open to abuse by the pity-seeker or the work-shy is an important part of it. But another important part of it is that the mentally competent adult who is ill is able to acknowledge that he is ill. That he can do this is also an important part of our not ascribing character change to him. He himself offers illness as a legitimate excuse.

Now what about mental illness? What I suggest is that the excusing function of the concept of 'illness' is also central to the identity of 'mental illness'. And the person we call 'mentally ill' also starts to do things which would, were it not for the leeway we afford her, be judged as showing failure of moral character. She becomes preoccupied with herself, she stops respecting the shared norms that constitute conversational sense, she shows failures in courage and resolve, she shows less solicitude with others and does not make genuine heartfelt emotional contact with them. In short she demonstrates what looks to be a deficiency of humanity. Were it not for our saying of her that she is mentally ill then we should say of her that she was not being her better self, and if the difficulties were enduring then we should say that she had a change of character for the worse. However, the person who is the paradigm of the mentally ill has 'lost touch with reality'. Unlike the physically ill adult, she does not say of herself that she is ill. She may have moments of insight and during those say that she is unwell at the moment. Or she may look back at her past thoughts and deeds and say 'I was really ill during that time'. But in the moment of mental illness itself she does not say of herself 'this is illness'.

It is this, I am suggesting, which discriminates the mentally from the physically ill. In both cases the positive functioning of the concept is to defeat a moral judgement to do with bad character. In the physical case it works through citing bodily ailment: the person, we now allow, has the same good character, it is just that his character enactment is currently blocked by his bodily infirmity. In the mental case we also find the same helpful defeating function, and here we also say that the person is 'not herself' rather than that she has succumbed to vice. And we do this even though she in her adult self is not willing to say 'I am ill'. She 'lacks insight' and this lack is constitutive of her illness being a mental illness; she suffers a detachment from reality i.e. a foundational disturbance in her reason (notice I do not write: 'in her reasoning').

---------------

Addendum: The above discussion aims to discern some underlooked necessary, although not of course sufficient, conditions for talk of illness. I thought just append here what seems essential to me in illness generally and mental illness in particular. Whilst we may have what today we call a disease without feeling dis-easy, we become ill when we are, for example, overwhelmed by a disease. When you get the flu, for example, your body is overwhelmed. For a while you might have been 'fighting off' the virus. But then it gets to a point when your usual homeostatic mechanisms that maintain ordinary energy and balance collapse. You get a temperature, can't muster energy, feel hot and cold and achey all at the same time. Your health has broken down.

In mental illness you also suffer a 'break down'. The breakdown here is of the normal processes which keep you from being overwhelmed by painful emotional experience. Normally we find ways to deal with shame, grief, guilt, envy, fear, anxiety, and anger. We symbolise them in words and encase them in narratives, we take appropriate assertive action, we take time out to grieve i.e. to accommodate to loss. When this doesn't work we sublimate or repress. But when even these defences break down we become overwhelmed. This, I believe, is the basis of the use of illness talk when it comes to the mind. What we analogise between is the overwhelm of the normal self-regulating mechanisms in the case of bodily illness and in the case of emotional experience. The person who breaks down is no longer able to cope with reality. In the case of mental illness it is because what we call 'symbolisation' breaks down (i.e. the ability to put as yet inchoate affect into thinkable form is overwhelmed). In the case of physical illness it is because the regulation of appetite and energy provision and temperature breaks down. The analogy is so natural that it is surprising that the concept of mental illness didn't become more widespread earlier than it did.