Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Theory of the Mind Riffing VI

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will." --G. B. Shaw

Let us leave the feminine aspect of the psyche for a moment and review some common models of the human personality. Christianity has long divided the self into body, soul and spirit, though some factions confine their speculation to body and soul. The tripartite model is more common, based on the creation story where God breathes his spirit into the dust and man becomes a living "soul." Which makes man an amphibian, of spiritual origin but of bodily circumstance. In this schema the spirit corresponds to God-consciousness, the soul to self-consciousness, and the body to thing-consciousness, which we share with animals. What animals have yet to demonstrate is self-consciousness, which would require of them the infinite regressive capacity of the "I" voice, for which we have no evidence.

Self-consciousness of course includes the "I" and all the gifts that come with it, from reason to fantasy and above all, the will, which is closely tied to the spirit. In the Bible man's spirit is known to strive with God's spirit, but when attuned by the Holy spirit, man's restless spirit should know peace. Of course this is a lifelong struggle, and none attains it completely. Yet the idea that God's spirit can intervene in the highest functions of the self is a very supernatural idea, one best aligned with transpersonal psychology.

Freud posited the superego, the ego and the id--or the moral center, the center of self and choice, and the primitive urges, mainly bodily and sexual, which influence the "higher" functions. Freud's theory is useful in terms of psychological defenses, but it founders on the bar of sexuality, which is much overemphasized as an organizing principle. For simplicity's sake, we can equate the id with bodily desires and the unconscious.

Jung saw the persona as the superego, or public self; the choosing self as the ego, or 'I;' in the unconscious he located the true self, the anima and animus, the shadow, and the collective unconscious of mythical archetypes. Much less bodily-driven, his model has been useful in classifying personality types when combined with his ideas of extroversion, introversion, judgment, feeling, sensation, perception, and intuition.

The formerly popular Transactional Analysis divides the self into Parent, Adult, and Child, roughly corresponding to the Superego, Ego, and Id, the difference being in its conception of internal roles, roles assumed by exposure to others, that combine to make the self therapeutic simplicity. And indeed, when we accuse ourselves of failings, we do very much sound like a parent, and when we feel the world is patently unfair, we are in touch with our child, while the adult must adjudicate the proper path, living as an adult or choosing self in relation to other adults, avoiding the easily assumed roles of parent and child that we have so well learned by experience.

Galen's ideas of temperament ruled the western world for over fifteen hundred years, through medieval times, and four temperaments or humors were postulated: the upbeat and extroverted sanguine, passionate and laughing, or blood; the brooding and pessimistic black bile of melancholy; the driving, energetic and and quick to anger, aggressive yellow bile of the choleric, and the watery bile or phlegm of the phlegmatic, also called sluggish or dull, but better conceived as unflappable. All of these temperaments can be interpreted in positive and negative ways. The melancholic is sensitive; the sanguine is passionate; the choleric is aggressive, and the phlegmatic filled with equanimity, when taken positively. Unfortunately this clinical quadrumvirate led to blood-letting to restore the balance of humors, a practice that only produces anemia and dehydration except in the rare case of heart failure, where it might actually do some good by lowering the blood volume. What is fascinating about the temperaments or humors is that they ruled western medicine for over 1500 years. One biographer of George Washington is convinced that the bloodletting applied to his pneumonia led directly to his death. But I digress.

Once we start assigning any of the above models to my model of the tree, the first split is the conscious vs. the unconscious, and where then to put the superego? Because the superego includes taboos, it must exist consciously and unconsciously, whereas Jung's more elegant persona is the socialized self, the self that seeks to follow society's requirements, though in the unconscious "shadow" we can find things like incest, a great superego taboo. Let us then put these models aside, as I seek to wrap my writing around a model that has more clarity and clinical utility.

So far I have not written anything with any great clinical application, save perhaps my modeling of forgiveness and the importance of the feminine, but clinical applications can wait while I go on.

In my schema, when the unconscious becomes conscious it joins the tree; otherwise, it stays in the roots below ground. Thus with Jung's persona we care how our tree appears to others, but feel secure that they cannot see our hidden roots of unconscious--although this is not strictly true, since we reveal our unconscious in our actions quite frequently, though they have been polished through defenses to become part of the persona.

And what are Freud's defenses? Anna Freud is the best on this with "The Ego and Its Defenses," in which many categories and examples are clearly stated, as in projection, denial, even humor (a healthy defense). A defense is a psychological response to a threat to the ego. Thus if I am unwilling to face my greed in asking my boss for an untimely raise, I instead accuse him of miserliness to prevent the collision of my true self with the ego's more complimentary projection of itself.

In all of this I am working towards being "present," being aware of root and branch, of the unconscious and the conscious, of the repressed, suppressed and expressed, in an effort to unify the self.

I cannot conceptualize the self without two indispensable features: will and language. Although I do not know what I shall next write, I am willing myself to write, and as I do language is supplied to my developing notions, which are essentially non-verbal syntheses waiting to be born. Before I write about a thing one might say it doesn't exist; and in writing about it, it has a very limited existence, circumscribed by denotation, connotation, interpretation and misinterpretation. To describe the self most clearly we must resort to models because otherwise we are left with a psychic soup. Perhaps consciousness is a soup, but our will possesses the ladle by which we scoop up certain ideas that stand out. These ideas then become a basis for a psychology, though a true psychology can only be established, finally, by an understanding of brain function. The soul or self is in the brain, easily proven by stroke victims, but in my experience most spectacularly affirmed in an eight-month old named "Gloria."

Gloria was deserted at the teaching hospital at which I trained by her parents early on. The reason? She was not human. She lacked anything above the midbrain, essentially no neocortex for synthesis, a condition called holoprosenchephaly. All she did was lie on her back, blink and have seizures. She didn't track faces, her eyes were like dolls' eyes, she had no tactile responses, just automatic reflexes. There was truly no there there, and you could see the absence on a cat scan. Nothing in medicine so unnerved me as seeing this non-human infant in a human body, kept alive by a feeding tube, her seizures only poorly controlled by anticonvulsants. She could not feel or think or respond to human touch or sounds. She was a machine, quite simply, with less personality than a dog or cat.

It is clear that the human soul is in the physical brain, which brings up a host of problems. I like to think that the necessary complexity of the 16 billion neurons of the brain and their connections, combined with exposure to environmental stimuli and bodily experience, amount to what we call human. On the other end of the lifespan we see Alzheimer's patients who appear to have lost their souls; they must be fed and diapered, and when the disease takes over completely, where a person was is only a human-shaped shell. Yet loved ones take, as in the Terry Schiavo case, undue liberties with their projections on the soulless person, convincing themselves that some response or capacity remains when it is only a grunting coincidence.

Of those things unconscious, we must admit that many are just below the surface, as in easily accessed portions of intellectual and emotional memory, which can be recalled from the near surface roots without difficulty, just as I recall the music played at the concert I attended tonight. To relegate mere memory to the unconscious is to place a much stricter requirement on what is conscious; easy recall of non-conflicted experiences is not conscious, in my view, for it has to be remembered to become conscious. We must think of the unconscious as roots at different depths, some easily communicating with the tree, some that must nearly be dug up to liberate the trauma they secret.

Freud's idea of the unconscious was that which was repressed, which we did not wish to remember, but it is clear that much is forgotten as well and only re-surfaces with proper stimulation, as when baseball's All-Star game causes me to remember my own All-Star games in Little League, a not unpleasant memory, but not necessarily a conscious memory, rather a memory I must retrieve and rarely do. Freud's idea is that the really important stuff, the traumatic experience of maturation from an infant, is buried for the ego to survive. Else how could an executive hold forth at a board meeting while thinking about his liberation from diapers at age two or three? Naturally we cannot have this sort of information leaking into our brains at any time it pleases, or we would be unable to function. To function we must filter all of the past, most of the present and some of the future. And without a mental outline, much of our conversation is basically associative: "You saw what movie? I saw the one just before it. How was the sequel?" Or, "My mom used to wear a hat like that." Or, "When you mentioned your abuse as a child I thought of mine."

Freud's priesthood felt that "free" association would naturally lead to ur-traumas, but much of it can lead in circles with no therapeutic effect except an increase in self-preoccupation, and a wish to please the therapist by digging up some really impressive childhood stuff. This is one of the basic traps of therapy; the patient will try to please the therapist, no matter what school he hails from. So those in Jungian therapy are happy to recall archetypes, those in Freudian therapy, sexually repressed material, especially the early struggle with parents, and cognitive-behavioral patients are quite simply encouraged to report on their progress toward goals agreed on with the therapist. In all cases the therapist warps the response through his prejudice toward psychological systems. Yet worse is a therapist without a system, with no way to chart the patent's growth. But that would not bother someone like Carl Rogers or Paul Tournier, who emphasize the interpersonal in therapy, where simply "positive regard" for the patient yields results. And it does.

What is the chief factor in whether a therapist is helpful? Whether the patient likes him or not. And if the patient likes the therapist, he will try to please him as well, trying to gain his approval; it is inevitable. Thus all therapists are behaviorists and cognitive therapists, because they reward the brain for certain processes more than others.

Back to the brain. If the majority of personality, say 75% (as I believe) is congenital, how much overall effect can a therapist have, anyway? Actually a great effect, if therapy is directed toward exploring the desires of one's true self and putting aside the expectations of others, even the therapist. When I have practiced therapy I know the patient is on the way when they disagree with me and treat me as an equal. In so doing they demonstrate the affirmation of their true selves, or better, learn to accept the brain they were born with it and all its idiosyncrasies and prejudices.

I have been typing for some time without regard to organization, so let me take a moment to review. I envision the human personality as a tree, the unconscious below ground, the conscious above, and their junction, or trunk, the seat of the will. From both conscious and unconscious sources we are influenced, and the greatest act of intentional consciousness is a verbally premeditated action. Many if not most of our actions are automatic, which properly belong to the monitoring system of the brain and body; how we tie our shoes and brush our teeth need no updated verbal instruction. Even a new-fangled toothbrush is more used than discussed in the mind; the hands and mouth adjust without a lecture. But to make a list on which "toothbrush" appears is a very conscious act. Should automatic behaviors be considered conscious or unconscious? I say conscious because we are aware of them, however peripherally, but not so peripherally that we can't identify a missed eyelet in a shoe or a sore gum while brushing.

I should add, as an ongoing personal experience of the self on which these musings are based, that I decided to stop after the above paragraph. Gathering myself on the porch with a night view I thought about playing the guitar to experiment in arpeggios and other techniques of the Jango Reinhardt-style guitar I heard tonight, whereupon I projected a voice internally that cautioned me, "You don't have the energy to do that right now. Just edit this piece once and then go to bed." So my superego, my parent, my adult, perhaps even my spirit, spoke to me--realistically, I might add--but only because I willed that cautionary voice into existence.

To be continued...

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