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)