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3 Comments on “What science for psychoanalysis? Tullio Carere-Comes”
Great article! Beautifully written and very stimulating. I’d like to share with you a train of thought that was sparked by it.
You mention the possibility of direct, unmediated knowledge. This is something I have ambivalent feelings about. On the one hand, I have the experiences of intuition and of resonance, and, more generally, put a high value on mindfulness. On the other hand, I have a lot of distrust about the way “direct knowledge” has been used to justify sloppy thinking or arbitrariness (from George W Bush’s “moral clarity” to dogmatists of all stripes).
So I ask myself what is the difference between both. And, since we are talking about a realm that is experiential and phenomenological, I am trying to do so in a way that is fitting the topic. That is, instead of thinking of it as an abstraction, I look into the experience of it.
While I am neither busy lot more a religious fanatic, I can have some experiences of “knowing I’m right” that are on a continuum with those of a dogmatist. In those moments, my emotions and my physical body are mobilized in some sort of an attack mode. In contrast, when I experience a sense of resonance with somebody else, or an intuition, or some other form of valuable direct knowledge, my body and my emotions are more grounded. I may be excited or moved, or some other feeling, but there is an essential sense of groundedness that is quite different from the attack mode I mentioned earlier.
Interestingly enough, these 2 states correspond to 2 states of the nervous system: the attack mode is very much a sympathetic activation. The other, what Stephen Porges has called the “ventral vagal” mode in his “polyvagal” theory. This “ventral vagal” mode is much more recent phylogenetically and then the archaic “dorsal vagal” mode; it has a lot of nuances; and it is connected to social engagement.
So, this is where this leads me. That integration, or the possibility of productive discourse about different orientations, is a real possibility only when our nervous systems are not engaged in “fight or flight” mode, but are in “ventral vagal” mode. This is facilitated by 2 conditions: that the situation is safe, and that the participants have both a commitment and some skill in mindfulness.
What is interesting is that, in talking about it this way, I am actually shifting from talking about “direct knowledge”, “unmediated knowledge”, or “clarity”. Instead, I am talking about “the experience of direct knowledge”, “the experience of unmediated knowledge”, or “the experience of clarity”. Adding just the word “experience” may seem like a trivial addition. However, to me, it makes all the difference in the world: Doing so allows the conversation to remain within the phenomenological, experiential framework, instead of being hijacked into the “empirical” arena. And, as we are talking about experiences and comparing experiences, we are in an intersubjective situation instead of being dragged into the terrain of “objectivity” were what we have to say doesn’t quite fit.
How this relates to the topic of your paper: This perspective emphasizes that integration of different approaches is not some abstract operation that operates on disembodied ideas. It emphasizes that integration happens at an experiential level, at an individual level, as well as in an exchange between people. To clarify this: When I talk about an idea, I’m just spouting off empty words unless I have integrated this idea into my experience. When you and I talk about different ideas, the exchange is that much more meaningful if we are also sharing more of the experiences that make these ideas meaningful to us.
To use a visual metaphor: I would represent the concept as the tip of an iceberg. Identifying the whole iceberg through its tip is convenient… but we have more clarity if we bring in more of the iceberg into the discussion.
Does this mean that we completely let go of “empirical” thinking? Of course not. You’ll recall that, earlier in my comment, I mentioned Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal theory, relating it to specific subjective experiences. That is an example of how there can be observable, “objective” correlates of subjective experience (which, of course, do not account for all the richness of the subjective experience).
You raise the crucial question: How do we distinguish genuine and valuable intuition from the “direct knowledge” of dogmatists and fanatics of all kind? You offer a criterion: the knowledge is valuable to the extent that one is in a grounded, and not in an attack, mode. I would say basically the same, with different words. The attack-or-flight mode is a reaction to fear. I am in a responsive, and not reactive, mode, if I can suspend any automatic reflex that causes stereotyped perception or behavior. Epoché, or freedom from memory, desire, and understanding, is a first step of suspension–a first degree of freedom from prejudice and expectation. This first step (noesis) has to be doubled by a second step (dianoesis): I must put my intuition to the test of critical, rational, discursive knowledge. The noetic-dianoetic dialectic is the basis of sound knowledge. Then a third step must follow. The intrasubjective dialectic between intuitive and discursive knowledge needs to be complemented by intersubjective dialogue. Unfortunately dialogue is difficult, and mostly ends in apparent impossibility. Hence the fourth step, pointed out by Jaspers. When communication ultimately fails, as it almost inevitably does, one should not become discouraged (and possibly fall back in the attack-or-flight mode), but tolerate the failure as something inherent in human communication. By staying in the Grenzsituation (limit situation), without attacking or running away, one can experience new insights and new openings in the communication. But the uncertainty felt on that limit is intolerable, unless one can take the attitude that Jaspers calls philosophical faith, and Bion F in O, or faith in the unknown. The lack of this faith is the main reason, in my view, of the authoritarian orthodoxies that plague the psychoanalytic field, as Cooper sadly observed. Well, not just our field: but one would hope to find a little more courage in the face of the unknown in the psychoanalysts, than in the average population.
I like how you link epoche and noesis to being responsive (not reactive). In doing this, you’re practicing the “third step” you’re talking about, bringing the result of your noesis/dianoesis into an intersubjective dialogue: You’re finding bridges between the conceptual frameworks we’re using in order to increase the chances that we focus on the commonalities in the underlying experiences.
I also resonate very much with the “fourth step” you describe. My own references to it include Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing and philosophy of the Implicit and what Yvonne Agazarian (Systems-Centered / Theory of Human Living Systems) calls “turbulence at the edge of the unknown” (sounds similar to “Grenzsituation”, doesn’t it?). I agree with you that experiencing this as a failure, and the “inability to tolerate this failure” leads to hanging on to authoritarian certainties. And I agree that it takes “philosophical faith / faith in the unknown” to go beyond the anxiety of the not-communicating.
In this context, the word “faith” resonates with my experience: It takes something in the order of faith to go beyond the anxiety of the situation. However, it feels important to me to qualify the word “faith”. It feels important to me to see it more like a “leap of faith” than, say “blind faith”. It is a faith sustained by an understanding of the limitations of conceptual frameworks – - that these are not “the truth”, but representations / modelizations of experience; as such, they’re only tools that allow us, through successive iterations, to progressively come to share experiences. Which comes back to what you so nicely expressed in your paper!
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