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Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Freudian Slouch on the Couch

I put a thought experiment to my Freudian friend: suppose someone came to an analyst or psychiatrist, of any school, and said they had been speaking with an angel. As Mohammed did, or Joseph Smith, or Mary, or St. Francis, or Abraham, or Moses, or Joan of Arc. Would they accept that, or declare them mad? For if they could not accept that, they are working antithetically to religion. The two cannot both be true within the same universe.

He replied, “No competent lay therapist would pronounce someone who was visited by an angel as insane. Together they would find meaning in it.”

I am not satisfied. I find meaning in this phrasing, “find meaning in it.” Isn’t the meaning of the incident obvious? It’s an angel. It’s a message from God. Surely this “find meaning” means the analyst rejects this possibility and tries to replace it with a materialist explanation?

And then, if the patient does not buy the materialist explanation, he or she is declared mad.

There are, granted, procedures a religious person should follow as well to, as Paul said, “test the spirits.” But the phrase “find meaning in it” would not be the right one.

The first question would be, “is it an angel or a demon?”

And then there is a place for a certain sort of “analysis,” granted. God speaks in parables. He is oracular, the Greeks would say. The meaning is often not the literal meaning. So you might say “unravel the meaning of it.” Why is God speaking to you now? What is he telling you? What does he want you do to?

My friend ranks Freud with Copernicus and Darwin, as scientific paradigm shifters. I would rank him instead with Marx, as two thinkers who tried to apply the “scientific method,” or rather, a scientistic world view, to areas where it cannot work and does not belong.

Science relies on experiment and observation. You cannot directly observe the human soul: that is the key insight of Buddhism. You certainly cannot directly observe the soul of another.

As Heraclitus said almost three thousand years ago, you can never plumb the depths of soul, so deep is its logos.

Nor is a human soul an object, like an apple falling from a tree. This creates an insurmountable observer paradox: there is no way the observer can claim greater knowledge than the “object” of his study. Both are, unlike a geologist and a rock, in principle equally sentient beings. Worse: the object has knowledge of itself the observer cannot have. To overcome this, it is necessary to declare the observer mad, and so incompetent. Thank you, DSM. This objectifies him.

Ah, you say, but that is just the biomedical boys. They know nothing of the subconscious!

I think Freud created the subconscious to work around this same problem: positing an area of the soul of which the analysand is supposedly unaware. Still does not work, though: it is actually an area the analysand can see and experience, and the analyst cannot. This struck me when I realized that, to accept the theory as presented by Jung, you had to accept that a person is “unconscious” when, for example, reading a novel or watching a movie. So too in your dreams: you are conscious of the dream; only the analyst is not. If you are going to be scientific about it, the analysand is the expert, and is teaching the analyst.

But then, there is no such area of the soul. What Freud called the “subconscious” is simply the spiritual realm: Coleridge’s primary imagination, the spirit world, the kingdom of heaven, the source of Plato’s ideal forms. The place where mathematics comes from, and ethics, and archetypes, and innate knowledge of all sorts.

This is hardly a new discovery. Freud only tried, with his “subconscious,” to give a materialist explanation for it. Beyond the canard that it is all down to synapses in the brain, it was a repository of our repressed desires—for material things. For physical survival and for survival of the species: for food and sex.

Materialism. If the spiritual existed at all, it existed only secondarily; like the heat from a fire.

Yes, the spiritual world is beyond our direct conscious control. Just as is the physical world: we cannot decide what will happen in our dreams, and we cannot simply will it to rain. It is, in other words, something that exists and operates independently of us and our will. It is wrong, therefore, to think it is somehow nevertheless part of ourselves, “our” subconscious, any more than the physical world is. We do not speak of “our” physical universe. Yet this is what Freud asserts—in order to deny the independent existence of spiritual entities.

We are willing things we are not willing, then. A contradiction in terms.

Declaring ownership over the spirit world is a pretty blasphemous thing; and a pretty dangerous thing.

Freud came up with this construction because he had to. He understood that there is no modus vivendi between psychiatry and religion. Psychiatry was intended by Freud as the “scientific” replacement for religion. There is no common ground.

The rough beast is now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. The pagan jinn, the demons, are back. Science has led to progress in the material sphere, where it can operate. It has led only to regress when misapplied to the human world: witness the 20th century. Fascism, in its day, was “scientific.” Communism was and is “scientific.” Eugenics was “scientific.” Hallucinogenics, opioids, and so on, were “better living through chemistry.” And now the tide of madness rises.

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