Monthly Archives: February 2015

Freud Comes To The Aid of Krugman

We live in a political era where facts don’t matter. In a recent ed-op in the New York Times, Paul Krugman states, “The modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there.”

Krugman is understandably puzzled. Accepting reality is not a choice. We don’t order facts of life from a menu. No grand Poo-Bah awaits our pleasure. Everyone of us, whether on the political Left or the political Right, ready or not, got THROWN into existence. Geworfenheit – THROWN-NESS – that’s what existentialist Martin Heideggger calls our noisy, violent arrival on the planet. We are hurled into space and time, our life’s trajectory determined by forces utterly indifferent to our wishes.

Science, of course, can’t be bothered with wishes. Please. Everyone knows that “wishing won’t make it so” – a mere exercise in fancy, as insubstantial as the air. Young Freud, grounded in thermodynamics, its laws thundering with the authority of mathematics, spoke the language of science, its syntax designed for drawing necessary conclusions, unforgiving of the slightest grammatical error. Fill a chalk board with mathematical hieroglyphics as lovely as the Maxwell field equations, but, alas, one syntactical blip – Boom! Like in Denmark, that one fault, Prince Hamlet warns Horatio, your virtues all else, in the general censure gets you hammered on Fox News. If you want to do science, bring chalk in one hand and an eraser in the other. Every mathematical dialect – algebra, trig, calculus, imaginary numbers and so on – must at some point touch down and be realized in the sensible domain. Science is not an exercise in fancy.

Now I ask you, why would a scientist like Freud, in mid-life, develop a language without mathematics? Had he lost his mind! He thrived on science, spoke it like a native. Why would he THROW his brilliant, quantitative Project for a Scientific Psychology into a drawer, never to look at it again? What kind of Geworfenheit was that!

I will tell you. It was the Geworfenheit of genius. He recognized Mind is not contained within the language of received science and mathematics. In his Project for a Scientific Psychology, Mind, like the fabled Melusina, had vanished away. He needed to invent a new language – free association – and did!.

Freud kick-started psychoanalysis by asking a simple question, How does Mind deal with pangs of hunger? Like King Lear, collapsing back into an infantile state, we all couldn’t wait one jot for our next feeding. PAIN! Couldn’t wait for a diaper change. PAIN!PAIN! Or…. Wait a minute. What’s this Mind business? Sure, philosophers have filled libraries with learned treatises on Mind, but none has ever claimed it for physical science. Metaphysics? Of course, no argument. Mind is “beyond physics.” But Freud proposes to study Mind scientifically, not metaphysically. Really? Yes, really.

He begins by asking a simple question, How does Pain register on the Mind? He does not ask what Pain is. We all know. It’s Euclidean, pangs of hunger in the belly, cold and wet diapers irritating skin. It takes no ghost come the grave to tell us that! True!

What Freud is telling us is that Pain is a physical reality located in the brain. Mind has no location. It comes into existence by its powers of transformation. If you want to study Mind, you can do so only by its transformations of objective reality.

Freud’s insight on Transformations, as I will detail in future blogs, in my judgment helps us understand the Mind of the political Right.

(to be continued)

Krugman Needs Interpreter

Everybody knows if you don’t know your history, you’re going to repeat it. Santayana told us a hundred years ago.

So Paul Krugman, in today’s New York Times, tells the world that demanding further austerity to the Greek government is the same blunder that Germany and France  made after the Great War To End All Wars. Take THAT, you naughty Germans. We know how that turned out! Easy history to remember.

And in the Times, TODAY, there’s a news report that negotiations between Greece and its partners in the European Union ended in acrimony yesterday because Europe wants to inflict the same punishment on Greece that the Allies concocted after the Great War. Take THAT, you naughty Greeks.

The deep structure for this madness is rooted in the Moral Sense, which I’ll explain later. Don’t have the time now. Need to find someone who can translate Krugman.

Krugman knows history. Hear! Hear! Anybody listening?


Pain and Sex

Freud did not invent psychoanalysis, he discovered it. He invented “free association,” a breathtaking achievement.  It enabled him to pivot from the three-dimensional world of neurology to the non-Euclidean domain of the Mind. Free association asks a patient to say whatever comes to mind, to speak freely. The ancient Greeks valued speaking as the highest form of action. Free association, transforming words into thoughts, lets Mind speak its mind. With a vocabulary no more extensive than  a good dictionary and a grammar mastered by normal two and three year olds, free association catches Mind in the act of thinking thoughts, thereby makimg thoughts accessible to scientific investigation.. Of course, thoughts and meaning don’t register on the senses. They are measureless. By free association what is measureless can be made to fit on a couch.

Freud had one rule for patients undergoing psychoanalysis. Simple. “Say whatever comes to mind. No censoring. Any thought, however silly, trivial, embarrassing, shocking is grist for the mill.  Reporting dreams can be helpful.” He recommended The Couch as a protection from the visual. Eyes, more often than not, transmogrify into Looky-Loo’s, interfering with the conversation. The Inner world is better accessed through hearing.

There it was, the great invention of free association! seemingly little more than a private conversation between a speaker and a listener, completely spontaneous, minted afresh moment by moment, following no direction and with no goal.

In fact, Freud had designed a magnificent Trojan Horse. Hidden in the zama-zama of free association, unnoticed in the boring recounting of every day happenings, Freud slipped through the gate of a mysterious, walled city; its fierce defenders, unsuspecting, put down their weapons so that, unencumbered, they could more easily pull him and his peculiar contraption into the heart of an undiscovered world. A half century later, Freud’s daughter, Anna, identfied the members of that guard in her expose, The Ego and the  Mechanisms of Defense. Each guard employed a unique defensive strategy, handed down from a line of forebears, maybe reaching back deep into the Pleistocene. My guess is that psychoanalysis began with the acquisition of symbolic language.

Friedrich Schiller, the great German poet and playwright, claimed that every person has two over-riding concerns, Hunger and Love. These are nouns. Like clay, they lie still. Mind’s a rover. When not active, Mind disappears. Psychoanalytically, Freud studied hunger experienced as pain and love as experienced sexually. His findings throw a great light on Paul Krugman’s observation.

“We can’t have meaningful cooperation when we can’t agree on reality,”

Joining Forces With Krugman

Krugman observes the fact we live in a political era when facts don’t matter. Astonishingly, his fellow economists disregard evidence, however compelling. In one Ed-Op piece after another, he documents, with palpable concern and puzzlement, facts don’t register on many economists any more than on Republicans. Economics is Krugman’s bailiwick. He should know.

Without facts, how can one think straight? How can our country survive if  politicians and economists suffer from a thinking disorder? Krugman has good reason for  concern, but he has bigger fish to fry than writing polemics against Republicans. He’s a scientist and, happily, color blind. He doesn’t write for Red States or Blue States. He writes his columns and books for the United States. I write my blogs with the same spirit and from the same point of view.

Psychoanalysis began when Freud tossed his Project for a Scientific Psychology into a drawer, never to look at it again. He had staked out a  wild, improbable venture,  gambling, against all odds, that Mind, incorporeal, non-Euclidean, invisible to the five senses, is a subject for scientific investigation. Freud had entered a domain long ceded to philosophers and theologians; but he intended psychoanalysis to complement neurology, Mind and Brain scientifically paired. Maybe Don Quixote would sell him a horse.

As already noted, knowledge comes via the senses, whereas meaning integrates how the Mind thinks, exerts its will and renders judgment.  Mirabile dictu, Freud invented “free association,” a non-Euclidean tool which makes meaning accessible for investigation, putting psychoanalysis on a scientific basis. No need for that horse.

His brilliant career in neurology locked in a drawer, out of sight, out of mind, Freud kick-started psychoanalysis by asking a simple question, How does Mind deal with Pain? He gave as answer: Mind   mobilizes its powers to rid itself of the Pain, invoking The Unpleasure-Pleasure Principle. Huh? it takes no genius to tell us that! Of course Mind experiences Pain as Unpleasure and aims to get rid of it. What could be more obvious? Here’s a simple example. Everyone of us, sooner than later, suffers pangs of hunger. Howling up a storm, our Unpleasure fades into Pleasure when we are fed. And that’s the least of it. We are born into what Shelley describes as the ” sphere of our sorrow.” Pain is a constant. It follows us like our shadow.

But I must ‘fess up. It took me forever to recognize that Freud’s greatest discovery, certainly his most important, came from his exegesis of the Unpleasure-Pleasure Principle. It throws great light on the loss of objectivity in our nation’s political life. I’ll spell out details in subsequent blogs.

The thought-disorder crippling economists is not based on the Unpleasure-Pleasure Principle. I’ll examine its deep structure later.

Making Sense of Non-Sense

The Nobel Laureate economist and Op-Ed contributor to The New York Times, Paul Krugman, observes, “Republicans know many things that aren’t so, and no amount of contrary evidence will get them to change their minds…It’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter…The real question is why.”

Can psychoanalysis help answer Krugman’s question?

Yes it can!

The human brain, a physical structure weighing in at three pounds, made of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, evolved subject to the laws of biology and chemistry. These laws can be identified, quantified, mathematized.

What laws frame the Mind? How does one study this planet-changing Neomorph?

It’s  not a structure, a three-dimensional object in space. It’s without any structure. It’s non-Euclidean. No tracking it down with a microscope. No catching it in a test-tube. Mind has escaped from the closed world of biology. By the acquisition of language, mind employs finite means – vocabulary and grammar – for infinite purposes. 

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