Sunday, 28 October 2018


How can we understand out of body experiences? There on the divan lies Geoff, mid-psychotic episode, or whacked out on drugs, or just dreamy, or an 'astral projection' pundit, and he's taking himself to be floating on the ceiling looking down at his own body. What's going on? Is this pure hallucination? Is it some kind of projection?

My guess is that it's neither. So, I predict that it can't happen if your eyes are shut, and that you can't 'travel' to parts of the room that you haven't been able to see. If I'm right about that then I think that any simple hallucination theory is already scotched. As for projection: well, that's just a 'made up' explanation, since we don't have any clearer an idea of what is meant by 'projection' here than we do of what is meant by 'OBE'. Three more predictions: that what is seen in OBEs are static scenes (even as the 'perceiver' moves about them), and that who has OBEs are people (who are actually) lying still, and that the 'hovering perceiver' of the OBE is experienced not as static but as, even if but a little, moving ('flying') around the room as he 'looks down' on his own body and its environs.

So what are they? How can we understand OBEs within a purely naturalistic framework? I propose we think of it like this. Every perceptual act enacts a differentiation of a a body subject from a perceived object. Normally the lived body synthesises these so that the body subject pole remains self-same over a whole variety of transforms. The perceiving pole is therefore anchored in the body, and the perceived pole shifts depending on what is seen. This enactive differentiation of body-subject and its intentional object is at the very same time a perceptual act: the cat is constituted as object of my perception, I am constituted as body subject in this chair, the perceptual relation unfolds between the two of us, with the direction of the intentional perceptual relation manifesting in the content: it is, here, I who see the cat, and not the sleeping cat who sees me. What is it, for any experience, that determines which pole shall be which? Well presumably the brain's integrative function sorts out which are to be the variances and which the invariances amongst a whole bunch of ongoing sensorimotor enactions, at the same time over different senses, over time within the same sense, and so on. Presumably the simplest solution to the differential equations which the brain has, as it were, here to solve is usually the one which drops the body out of the content and relegates it to the transcendental from-where of the experience. But when you have an OBE the simplest solution changes. The sensorimotor body is no longer tightly self-integrating over time, so the only two options are for a shifting visual scene to be constituted despite the variety of cues that suggest its stasis, or instead for the subject pole and the intentional object to switch position in the constitution of the intentional arc. Usually we take for granted the constitution of the body subject and so imagine that the only sensorimotor task confronting the brain is determining whether an alteration is due either to the subject (Geoff moves his head) or to the object (the cat moves). But this ignores the need to also determine the polarity of the intentional arc.

Why is it hard to grasp this? I think it is because we are, even today, relentlessly attracted to representationalism in our theories of vision. So we think of perception as reception of information from the environment; we take for granted the constitution of the subject; we imagine that in perception visibilia are simply presented, re-presented even, to a pre-constituted body subject. Or we imagine that the fact that the constitution of the body subject is transcendental somehow makes it not a part of the world, not a co-constituted, constantly re-enacted, empirically ascertainable fact. We relentlessly take the constitution of the subject for granted. (This explains, too, why we are constantly drawn to misunderstand psychosis in merely epistemic terms - as if it were simply a matter of a self-same subject making mistakes in his perception and in his belief.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

wittgenstein's dreams

Sometimes Wittgenstein records his dreams in his diaries. And sometimes they're funny. For example when repeatedly calling a particularly stubborn mule he was talking to 'Inspector', then deciding to call all horses 'Inspector', only realising on waking that perhaps this was all rather odd. (There's far more to the dream, as it happens, than the pleasing oddness of it, but we may still enjoy that about it.) But more often they are deeply sad. I think they are sad in ways that Wittgenstein himself is unable to appreciate. I might put that differently though: if Wittgenstein were able to appreciate their sadness, and take care of himself in his sadness, then I don't think he'd have had them to begin with.

Here's the first dream I want to consider. Note how much he talks of realising that the feeling of dread in it has significance, and yet how little he understands of that significance.
Cumaean Sibyl 
Last night I awoke with dread from a dream and I suddenly saw that such dread means something after all, that I should think about what it means.The dream had so to speak two parts … In the first someone had died, it was sad and I seemed to have conducted myself well and then as if upon returning home someone, namely a strong, old rural person (of the sort of our Rosalie [a beloved family maid, apparently, not his sister]) (I am also thinking of the Cumaean Sibyl) gave me a word of praise and something like: “You are someone, after all.” Then this image disappeared and I was alone in the dark and said to myself – with irony “You are someone, after all” and voices shouted loudly around me (but I saw no one shouting) “the debt must yet be paid” or “the debt is yet unpaid” or something like that. I awoke as from a dreadful dream. (Hid my head – as since childhood I have always done in this case – under the blanket and dared only after a few minutes to uncover it and to open my eyes.) As I said I became conscious that this dread has a deeper significance …. that is, the capacity to feel dread is to mean something for me. Immediately after waking, in dread, I thought: dream or no dream, this dread means something. I did something, felt something, after all, whatever my body was doing in the meantime.That is, the human being is capable of such dread – And this means something. [Diary entry 12.10.1931] 
It is reasonable, and straightforward, to interpret the dream. The Wittgenstein children were not well loved; Brahms talked of finding an atmosphere as of being at court in their family home; three brothers suicided. Ludwig was anxious, aloof, needy of others' affection, desperately fearful of not receiving it, seeking positions of invulnerability and solitude, sometimes desperately lonely, fearful of madness. In the dream someone has died, and Wittgenstein says straightforwardly: 'it was sad and I ... conducted myself well'. He is able to experience appropriate sadness on someone's death, he is able to 'stay in touch with' his feelings. And then a mother figure (Rosalie that is; there's too many meanings of the Sibyl of Cumae for us to even guess at his associations) tells him that he is someone. He can feel healthy feelings, he can be receive ordinary recognition, care, love. But then something terrible, something spoiling, comes crashing in. The dynamic is echt Wittgenstein: ordinary love cannot be held onto inside; it is not safe, secure, enough; he cannot rest easy with, cannot trust in, ordinary affection's reliability. It becomes an unpaid debt, not a gift freely given. The healthy 'you are someone' gets ironically parroted by a mocking internal object. Wittgenstein's habitual dynamic of vanity and self-loathing for that vanity - a dynamic that drives his inner loveless loneliness toward a sense of insanity - then comes into play.

A natural interpretation of a second dream hangs together with the above:
I stood with Paul [brother] and Mining [elder sister]… as if on the front platform of a streetcar …Paul told Mining how enthusiastic my brother-in-law Jerome was about my unbelievable musical gift; the day before I had so wonderfully sung along in a work of Mendelsohn …. it was as if we had performed this work among ourselves at home and I had sung along with extraordinary expressiveness and also with especially expressive gestures. Paul and Mining seemed to completely agree with Jerome’s praise. Jerome was said to have said again and again: “What talent!” … I held a withered plant in my hand with blackish seeds in the little pods that had already opened and thought: if they were to tell me what a pity it is about my unused musical talent, I will show them the plant and say that nature isn’t stingy with its seed either and that one shouldn’t be afraid and just throw out a seed. All of this was carried on in a self-satisfied manner. – I woke up and was angry or ashamed because of my vanity. … May I not become completely base and also not mad! May God have mercy on me. [Diary entry 28.1.1937]
The under-loved Ludwig dreams wishfulfillingly of praise from his brother-in-law. (Recall the family atmospherics; recall Paul coming in from the room where he was practicing piano into Ludwig's room exclaiming that he couldn't play when Ludwig's scepticism toward him was seeping in from under the door. Recall Ludwig's combined intensity and awkwardness of expression.) To achieve its effect, to push past the doubt and competition, it takes an extreme form. Everyone 'completely agrees'. But then - a withered plant, black seeds in a pod. A symbol of life and generation and of free and easy expression (throwing out a seed without inhibition) is already stifled, blackened, withered. Doubt is kept at bay through self-satisfaction. And then, well, the dynamic we know so well - the vanity and the shame at the vanity, the self-excoriation, the fear of madness. Nowhere do we find a jot of ordinary healthy self-sympathy. Nowhere, even, do we find acknowledgement that such apt sympathy is missing.

The well-loved E E Cummings can write 'i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)'. He knows his mother's love, he carries it inside him, and it spills out in his love of, especially, women and nature/God. He has something good in him and can rest easy with it, reasonably fearless of its being taken away. Wittgenstein, though, struggled either to find the necessary self-solicitude for life, or even to know it for missing. He remains something of a mystery to himself. The result is not an ordinary self-understanding and ordinary fluctuation of emotion; it's a feared incipient madness. His 1930s diary entries show this - show how caught up he is in but the distal products of a dynamic that itself remains unconscious, a dynamic substituted for by cruel vacillations of pride and shame. An unconscious dynamic of something so ordinary, simple, valuable - care, trust, value, gentleness - being needed, wanted desperately - but feared in its possible, in its likely, unavailability - then mocked, then naturally compensated for with conscious vanity, a vanity in turn consciously despised. (The perverse and painful comforts of self-reproach.)

Loneliness comes in different forms. The term covers what psychically are near antonyms, marked as common only by their both being un-easy reactions to solitude. In a healthy loneliness one knows one misses the kind of loving connection with others which one also knows, for oneself, is truly possible and realistic. One can feel, in a healthy sense, 'sorry for oneself'. One can know it's time to seek out a friend, or to take especial care of oneself if a friend is currently unavailable. One can suffer properly, meaningfully; one's feelings make natural sense to one, are to be expected, are tended to. In dreadful and largely 'unconscious' loneliness there's no realistic sense of the self as lovable and of others as loving. (Ordinary friendly gestures are looked on with suspicion; Wittgenstein is acutely sensitive to the issue of the friendliness of others toward him.) The sufferer tends to retreat into a world of one; into solipsism; into a mountain hut; he seeks to become independent of fate. But the real feeling of loneliness is, if you like, 'repressed'. To put it otherwise: there is within what still remains of the human soul a drive to connection, and this drive, when unsatisfied, will now be diverted, into dreams, into symptoms, into madness; it cannot take shape as ordinary loneliness, it cannot be 'suffered' (in a 'suffer the little children...' sense) but will instead lead to psychic 'constructions' (Bion: suffering vs constructing an experience). The dread of being abandoned, lost, becomes nameless; it becomes something that feels significant but can't really be grasped. The dreams are necessary because the loneliness cannot be tolerated, known of, accepted, cared for; they (and the correlative neuroses) are necessary because Wittgenstein so struggles to, in an ordinary way, for long, carry the heart of another securely within his own.

To end, one further short dream. In the dream Wittgenstein 'arrived at a sentence which upon awakening I still vaguely knew:'
Baron Munchausen's
remarkable feat
“But let us talk in our mother tongue, and not believe that we must pull ourselves out of the swamp by our own hair; that was – thank God – only a dream, after all. To God alone be praise!” [11.4.1937].
Here he finally finds the way out, and remarkably he finds it even in the dream itself. We do not need to try and be our own source of nourishment, have one hand give another a gift and for that to somehow be meaningful, define the terms of our own introspective language so that we cannot go wrong but yet somehow supposedly yet go right, tell our height by putting our hand on top of our head, secure the hands of a clock to the dial, push on the dashboard to try to make a car move forward, get ourself and our horse out of the swamp by pulling on our own hair like Baron Munchhausen ... Wittgenstein's metaphors for the perils of this fruitless backfiring solipsistic desire for self-sufficiency, and his experience of the nightmares that then ensue (when we are cut off from external nourishment), are legion. What we must do, instead, is talk in that language which is not of our own making, which is a good-enough mother; we must talk in our mother tongue; give up the narcissistic ambitions and instead give our praise to God; find the courage to have trust in this mother tongue God; forgo the frictionless ice that takes us nowhere; and then we can walk the rough but serviceable ground, stumbling a little but, by the grace of God and nature, not too much.