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The Blind Man Sees

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The papers in this book have been written over a period of fifteen years, and focus in the similarity between psychoanalysis and religion. Symington argues that psychoanalysis can be seen as a scientific religion with Freud as the leader of the movement. He examines the various stages of the journey made by a religious leader from "blindness" to "founding an institution" and finds counterparts in the development of psychoanalysis while drawing examples from Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. He invites the reader on a journey with him - to examine the human mind, our society, the process of psychoanalysis, science and philosophy. He successfully uses examples from the consulting room to illuminate his arguments. Symington's honest accounts of the search for answers relevant to all of us encourage the reader to think further and deeper than he or she had intended. 'The psychoanalyst examines scientifically the emotional pattern in himself and the other. He can only do this to the extent to which he is self-aware. As what is he is exercising is the inner pattern of his and the other's relationship, then, according to my definition, what he is engaged in is a religious activity. As he is doing it in an orderly way about a determinate subject-matter, he is acting as a scientist. Hence my claim that psychoanalysis is a scientific religion.' - Neville Symington, from the Introduction

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CHAPTER ONE: Freud’s awakening

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When the young Freud was a research student in Brücke’s physiological laboratory, he walked home earnestly and, after giving a cursory glance at his sisters, went straight into his small office to continue studying. He was 26, and one day he walked home deep in thought and entered the house with the usual earnest intent upon his face. He was moving directly towards his study when he saw his sisters talking with an attractive girl of about their age. He stopped in his tracks, and, to his sisters’ surprise, he started talking to this attractive visitor. That moment signalled a momentous change in the life of Freud. “Ha, ha, he fell in love—that’s all”, I can hear you say. True, for Freud but falling in love had consequences that were to be momentous in the history of our culture.

Two thousand five hundred years before this event there was another, which occurred in a remote part of Northern India. A young nobleman, named Siddhartha, ventured forth one day out of his father’s palace under the guidance of Channa, his charioteer. He had until that day never been out of the palace, we are told, but lived a life enclosed within the bosom of his family, living intimately with his wife and son. On this eventful day Channa pointed out to him an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a wandering ascetic. He was rudely awakened, as if out of a trance, and that night he slipped out of his father’s palace, cast off his nobleman’s garb, donned the clothes of a beggar, and set forth on the life of a wandering ascetic. That event was also momentous in the history of culture both in the East and later in the West.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Was Freud influenced by Brentano?

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I wrote this paper in 1975, when I was still a student at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis in London; it was published in the Bulletin of the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

I had read Brentano’s Psychology from the Empirical Standpoint (1973) and was immediately convinced that he had defined the contours of psychology in an accurate way. When I learned that Freud had attended his lectures for two years at Vienna University, I thought it likely that he would have been influenced by him. As I say in this chapter, Freud does not mention any debt to him, but I have noticed over the years that it is often the unmentioned figure that is the most influential in a person’s emotional and intellectual life. I believe this was so for Freud. His stress in later life on an active subject in relation to internal objects seemed to have come right out of Brentano’s psychological schema.

The fact that Brentano did not believe in the unconscious should not deter us from thinking that he could have influenced Freud. This sphere of activity from a psychically active subject in relation to inner representations is frequently unconscious. This was not the case for Brentano, but only because he had given it all his psychic attention. For the majority it remained unconscious, just as Freud became conscious of areas of the mind that are unconscious to most of us.

 

CHAPTER THREE: An exegesis of conscience in the works of Freud

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When we discharge elements that are within hatefully into the bodily outer world, we are violently reproached. This condemnation, which can be very violent, is what Freud came to call the superego. When we cease to discharge elements out of our inner selves but hold them instead within an encompassing membrane, then the superego becomes transformed into conscience. This chapter is an exegesis of Freud’s use of the word “conscience”. Very often his use of the word is synonymous with what he later termed superego. This chapter distinguishes Freud’s use of the word from the one that became current at the time of the Enlightenment. Conscience here is understood to be a free invitation within the personality to act in a way that will ennoble both the self and the other. It is very important not to confuse conscience with superego, as they are entirely different things.

The first mention of conscience is in Freud’s 71st letter to Fliess, written on 15 October 1897, where he quotes the celebrated line from Hamlet: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” (Freud, 1950 [1892–99], p. 266), and Freud goes on to ponder why it is that Hamlet did not avenge his father by killing his uncle when he kills Laertes and his courtiers without scruple. Freud suggests that Hamlet had himself meditated the same deed against his father (out of passion for his mother). And then he says: “His conscience is his unconscious sense of guilt” (p. 266).

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Freud’s truth

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I wrote a review of Richard Webster’s Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1995 (30 December). I decided to include it in this book because there has been so much ill-informed de-bunking of Freud, and Webster’s book seems to epitomize this philistine deluge. Rather than concentrate upon Freud’s thinking, the author does what psychoanalysts are often accused of: reading a motivation into the author of the theory rather than examine the theory unsullied by this personalist bias.

This is a long book, consisting of 528 pages of text and a further 100 pages of appendices and notes. If the reader, relying on the publisher’s credits, believes he is embarking on a work of originality and scholarship, he is in for a disappointment.

The classic biography of Freud is the three-volume masterpiece written by Ernest Jones, his devoted disciple. For its detail and understanding of psychoanalysis, Freud’s brainchild, it is unsurpassed. However, Jones was a fanatic who failed to differentiate clearly the good from the bad in Freud, and Webster fairly quotes some of Jones’s worst excesses. Probably the best corrective account is to be found in Ellenberger’s Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), where in a long chapter on Freud the author places him soberly in context and unidealized. Webster relies on Ellenberger and also on Sulloway and Thornton, but, surprisingly, makes no reference to Ricoeur, whose philosophical treatise on Freud still remains the most comprehensive cultural evaluation of Freud that we have. Webster believes, though, that the critique of Ellenberger and others needs to be taken further.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The relation between the determinist and the religious model of the mind

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In the determinist model all human action is explained by efficient causes. In this model a person’s actions are all explicable in terms of stimuli to which the person reacts.

In the religious model the human being is called to account for his own actions. This implies that the individual is the source of his own activity. In the religious model a judgement is made upon the individual on the basis of his behaviour.

***

In the determinist model everything that a human being does is caused entirely by an external agent. There is no essential difference between the theory of action for an inanimate object and for an animate one. I have been pushed either by an object outside that has bumped into me or by an object inside. In psychological discourse the outer object is referred to as a stimulus, whereas the inner one is called either a drive or an instinct. I cannot therefore be held accountable for my actions. Now, as we have seen, in the religious model of man the individual is held accountable for his actions and, in particular, for the way he treats his fellow human beings and also his own self. This latter point is also central in the major religions.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The unconscious as an amoral construction

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This paper was the keynote address at a Psychoanalytic conference in Melbourne in 1992. The chapter sets out to demonstrate that the unconscious is constructed in order to hide from the individual his own immoral activity. The title may be misleading unless one realizes that the chapter challenges Freud, who tried to construct a metapsychology on principles derived from natural science and therefore amoral.

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, p. 37

Socrates said that if I know that what I plan is evil, I cannot do it. He said that therefore the key to good living, to moral action, lies in knowledge. I cannot know that something is evil and yet do it. It is, said Socrates, a psychological impossibility. He believed that if it was possible to show to someone through rational argument that a project or way of behaving was wrong, then the person would be unable to do it.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Religion and science in psychoanalysis

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This chapter is an adaptation of a lecture given at the Freud Conference in Melbourne on 2 April 1995.

The crisis within psychoanalysis

There is, I believe, a crisis within psychoanalysis and within the psychotherapy schools that derive from it. Hardly a week goes by when our enemies do not assail us in the media. This is healthy. Criticism and challenge can only sharpen our minds to think more clearly and reflect more deeply upon our practice and its methods. What worries me are the replies to these taunts by our own practitioners, rushing, as we usually do, to our own defence. Many of these criticisms are prejudiced assaults that do not deserve much attention, but there is a common theme running through much of the critique that has some basis: it is that the “talking cure”, as it was called by Freud, is not producing any results; that patients visit their analyst or therapist year in, year out, with no visible change in their condition. I know from my own experience that this criticism is frequently verified. I have heard clinical presentations where a patient has been visiting an analyst or therapist for four, five, six, even ten, years without any change that I was able to detect. I have heard this not just on isolated occasions but frequently. These are the obvious cases where no change has occurred and where a malingering situation has set in, but even in cases where it looks as though change has occurred, it is often a case of subtle accommodation to the analyst or therapist, and the patient remains with the same mental structure within. Most frequently, this consists of a mentality that is paranoid. I am not, here, supporting many of the burgeoning therapies that claim to cure mental disturbance in a quicker, more efficient, cost-effective way. Many of these only give the appearance of cure. The criterion here is if a patient “feels cured” or “feels better”. Experienced clinicians know that such feelings are an insufficient criterion. We have all seen the case where such a statement is made with confidence one day, and next day the person has committed suicide. No, I am not criticizing psychoanalysis alone but the whole psychotherapy movement. In fact, I believe that in a sick situation, psychoanalysis is probably the healthiest patient.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The nature of reality

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It is the thesis of this chapter that when we say something is “real”, it is a value judgement and not a statement as to whether or not it exists. An hallucination exists, but we say it is not real. We distinguish it from a perception, which we say is real. Therefore this distinction is not made according to whether what is perceived exists but according to its quality. What this chapter sets out to examine is what quality in human subjects and objects leads to this distinction between what is real and what is not.

I originally gave this paper at the Freud Conference in Melbourne in 1992. I was excited by what I felt was a new discovery when I gave the paper, but it was muddled with other realizations. With the passage of time I have come to think that the central insight of this paper is of enormous importance for understanding in the social sciences. It seems to be the key concept that separates social science from natural science.

An hallucination comes about through a discharge of a hated element from within onto the outer, whereas a true perception comes about through an inner element that is embraced or loved. So what distinguishes the real from the false is whether inner elements are loved or hated. This puts the social sciences upon a different foundation from natural science. I believe this basis revolutionizes our thinking about our human world.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Religion and consciousness

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I believe that “revealed religion” is antithethical to consciousness, whereas “natural religion” is conducive to it. This chapter is an attempt to substantiate this statement. In order to do this, I need, first, to define the difference between revealed religion and natural religion, then to elaborate my theory of how something comes to consciousness, and, finally, to show how revealed religion prevents it, whereas natural religion favours it. As each of these elements in the argument is in itself a huge topic and each is open to debate, this chapter is necessarily a sketch or an outline that requires considerable elaboration.

When people say that they are religious or not religious, they conceptualize religion according to one particular form of it—the form that has been transmitted into Western civilization through the agency of the Judaeo–Christian community of the faithful. I include Islam in the Judaeo–Christian tradition. The idea that this one particular form constitutes the whole of religion is such a deeply rooted assumption that, I have found it usually takes more than just intellectual argument to open people to the notion of any religion other than this one. I shall try first to outline what is meant by revealed religion.

 

CHAPTER TEN: The true god and the false god

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Apatient was late one day because snow on the road had delayed her, and she was angry. I mentioned this to Wilfred Bion in supervision, and he said to me: “You must say to her that God has sent down that snow to get between you and her.” There is a god that gets in the way of two people coming to know each other. There is a god who interferes with my thinking; there is a god who demands that I follow his instructions; there is a god who punishes me if I think for myself; there is a god who sanctions my sadism, a god who encourages my masochism, a god who fosters my greed, who inflates my envy, who fans my jealousy, a god who possesses me but despises me, a god who solves problems by obliterating them.

You may recognize in this portrait of god, traits with which you are familiar from the reading of the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran. Embodied in these ancient texts are aspects of this god that I have been trying to describe. There are also other aspects that I shall come to later. This cultural expression is manifest in the psychology of the individual. I can find in myself and my patients traces of this god. This god is a narcissistic object seen from one particular angle. The narcissistic object is many-faceted, and it is a part of the self that has been expelled and embodied either in a figure, or figures, outside. The outer figure is then enveloped by this part of the self, in the way that Wilfred Bion describes: “The object, angered at being engulfed, swells up, so to speak, and suffuses and controls the piece of personality that engulfs it (1956, p. 40).

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Natural spirituality

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Religion remains as it always was, the chief motive power, the heart of the life of human societies, and without it, as without the heart, there can be no rational life.

Leo Tolstoy, “What Is Religion?” p. 214

The motivation for action under the influence of revealed religion is that such-and-such should be done and that-other-thing not done because God had so ordained that it shall be such. How do we know that this is the best thing to do? We know because God has ordained that it shall be such. That, in summary, is the position of revealed religion.

Natural religion (see chapter 9, this volume) is arrived at through rational reflection, but how does that throw any light on how we are to live our lives? The answer to this lies in the conditions necessary to achieve such understanding. I cannot engage in a process of reflection upon the nature of reality and of our existence if I am drunk, if I am full of lust, if I am craving food, if all my attention is upon making more money or improving my status. Essential to the process of such reflection is some withdrawal from such pursuits, not out of contempt for them but, rather, in order that psychic attention be devoted to this reflection. Could one not say, however, that once this understanding has been reached, then that is that, and no more reflection is necessary? Such a question assumes that an act of understanding is purely an intellectual act, whereas it is both intellectual and emotional and the latter requires months, years, or a whole lifetime for it to permeate the personality. The initial act of understanding needs to be deepened and broadened. Only through continual reflection is the achieved act of understanding taken more deeply into the emotional life. It is that the intellectual act becomes a possession not only of the intellect but of the emotions. When someone dies, this is known intellectually as soon as we are told of the death, but it may take months or years before we know it emotionally. In the same way there is an intellectual act at one moment in time, but in order to know it emotionally considerable time is necessary and not only time, but also concentration of psychic attention upon the object.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: An enquiry into the concepts of soul and psyche

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This chapter was originally written in 1980, and I gave it as a paper to the Applied Section of Psychoanalysis in that year and then to the Society of Analytical Psychology shortly afterwards.

I would not now agree with the Platonic idea that the self is a non-material reality and that this is implied in Freud. Although at this time I had installed in me the ontological concept of being that I outline in “Religion and Consciousness” (chapter 9, this volume), I had not realized its all-embracing significance, and I had therefore not employed it as an integrating principle. Had I been able to do so, then the duality implied in the following would have been understood as in truth a unity, the duality of which was not a quality of the object but due, rather, to the limitation of the human mind to grasp diversity as compatible with unity.

The main thrust of the chapter, however—that the soul and the psyche are one reality but seen from different perspectives—is something that I still hold.

I want to take one fragment from a more comprehensive endeavour and investigate the ways in which psychoanalysis could be enriched through being open to the influence of certain concepts and goals that are usually considered to be the province of religion. The capacity for love, which is a Christian ideal, is one; the attributes of god as analogues of infantile wishes is another; the psychological significance of the Christian myth yet another; and so on. I think that as a result of taking a rather stand-offish attitude to religion, psychoanalysis has been the loser. It has failed to tap a rich resource and has remained somewhat impoverished thereby. Can we really doubt that religion, which has been such a powerful force in the building up of civilizations in the world, is symbolical of an intrapsychic truth?

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Religion and spirituality

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The purpose of detachment is to uncloak spiritual action in all its nakedness. Only when this action is revealed is it possible for the mystic to distinguish good from bad. The founders of the great religious traditions were men who had devoted themselves to this inner scrutiny with the goal of triumphing over the bad and establishing the good. The good was then an internal possession, the light of which they followed, and they were thus able to abandon the religion of the culture in which they had been brought up. However, they never abandoned it completely but retained elements of the religious tradition in which they were socialized. So, for instance, the Buddha maintained the doctrine of reincarnation and built his theory of karma into it.

The internal possession of the good is what guides these mystics who were founders of the great religious traditions. They all founded institutions, and the institution then embodied the good in a scriptural canon, the function of which was to encapsulate the teachings of the founder, and then a responsible body the job of which was to guard the doctrine. The moment the good is made incarnate in these two components, the institution is born, and this marks the transition from spirituality to religion.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Is psychoanalysis a religion?

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When a patient comes for psychoanalysis he does not want to know just why he is depressed. If a patient came to tell me he was depressed, I could give him a little dissertation of this nature:

“From what you have told me, I think your depression is due to unconscious aggression against your father and that when your father died when you were at the age of eight, you believed that your aggression had killed him. You believed this because of your unconscious omnipotence, and then you felt guilty and bad about what you had done. This guilt and badness is what you experience as depression.”

I tell my patient that I have now given him an explanation, and he can go away and rest assured that his depression will vanish.

A wry smile may come to your lips, because you know that I am being absurd. But the question is: in what does the absurdity consist? I have, I believe, given a reasonable scientific explanation for this man’s depression. The obvious point is that this patient of mine requires more than a scientific explanation. He needs to know what he has to do in order to resolve his depression. He needs, in other words, a prescription for living. He needs to know how to live in order to overcome his depression. I might therefore give you another example.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The murder of Laius

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The story of Oedipus is a myth. A myth functions as a dream in the social group. It also has this function for the individual within the group. Laius, then, represents an inner psychic reality. This is a detective story, but one that is a bit different from the usual format. We know there has been a murder; we do not know who the murdered person is; we want to know why the murder is hushed up.

When the people of Thebes saw the royal carriage ride past, carrying along their king and queen, Oedipus and Jocasta, all looked well. How fortunate it was that Oedipus, this knightly prince from Corinth, had sallied forth into Jocasta’s bedchamber and so had made up for the untimely death of Laius. All looked well in Thebes that day.

Of course, this knowing reader knows better than did those innocents in Thebes. Yet do we? What was so dreadful about Oedipus being bound in wedlock to his mother? Oh, incest, the reader will say. We all know there is a taboo against that. We all know that is wrong. All societies have condemned it. This is factually not true, however, because there are exceptions—for instance, in the royal house of Hawaii before it was colonized by white Americans. But the question is, “Why is incest wrong?” or, “Is it wrong?” Is it perhaps a taboo that we should long since have abandoned in this scientific age?—in this age of liberal values? Let us address ourselves to the first question: why it is that there has been such a far-reaching taboo on incest and then see whether that answer suggests lines of approach to the other question.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Psychoanalysis and human freedom

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This paper was originally given in Sydney in 1999 as the concluding lecture of a three-year series on psychoanalysis.

Patients come for psychoanalysis because they wish to be free. They want to be liberated from those inner forces that limit their freedom. A psychotic patient is tortured by voices that castigate her; a patient who suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder is prevented from stepping forth into the social world with confidence; the moods that afflict a borderline patient prevent him from carrying through some of his most enlightened projects; the psychopath comes for analysis when the world has turned against her and she can no longer function as a business executive; the schizophrenic is tortured by all the classic symptoms: belief that he is being watched through the television screen, that his thoughts are being recorded by alien powers and so on. The person with a less serious condition wants to be freed of her depression or of those inner elements that prevent her from being able to make friends and be loved by people. I say “less serious”, though in terms of human suffering the condition of such people may be more painful. As every individual who walks into the consulting-room seeks to rid herself of obstacles to freedom, a psychoanalyst would have to conclude that the desire for freedom must be one of the deepest human longings.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Failure of internalization in modern culture

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There are two ways in which an object can be present in the mind. I shall call these two the “photographic” and the “artistic”. Two people are facing the same scene. One has in his hands a camera, which he pulls up and points at the landscape and clicks. The other has an easel, a palette, and paints, and after three hours of industry she has a representation of the scene in front of her.1

This model is designed to highlight two different ways in which something is present in the mind. In the photographic mode the thing is “taken in” as a whole, and the mind of the individual is like a film upon which the scene is imprinted, like the impression of a seal upon wax. In the artist’s mode there is an active engagement with the object. The artist makes a selection; she decides which moment of light she will represent; she will decide what to leave out and what to include. The artist will know that scene better a year later than her friend, the photographer.

It is a common dictum that a person learns through teaching. It is something I can personally vouch for. When I have to explain the contents of a book to pupils in a classroom, I come to know and understand the book a good deal better than when I sit back and “drink it in” in my comfortable armchair. I remember Juliet Mitchell saying to me that any serious reading requires note-taking. In other words, there is active engagement with the object. George Orwell complains in “Politics and the English Language” (1971) that the language is being deadened because rather than constructing our own similes and metaphors, we reach for one from the supermarket shelf and put it indiscriminately into our basket.

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Anti-Semitism: another perspective

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This lecture was given at Tel-Aviv University in April 1999.

So much has been written on this subject that people may justifiably sigh when yet another person launches himself into the subject. Many of those who have written upon it are more knowledgeable than I, and they have researched the field far more thoroughly. Therefore what possible reason could there be for me to say anything on the matter? My reason is this: I have been developing a schema that, I hope, can throw light on the nature of madness. This has developed out of an exploration of narcissism, which, I believe, is the core of all madness. This exploration has been particularly in relation to the individual, but it has slowly become clear that certain elements of madness are always embodied and never purely contained within the individual psyche, and therefore in such a research social psychology and individual psychology are inextricably intertwined. (In fact, I believe that it is a mistake to divide the subject in this way.) Therefore the principles that have emerged from this study of madness can and do throw light on some social facts, of which one is anti-Semitism. My apologetic for this is that I have not seen this explanation put forward anywhere else. This does not mean that it has not been, only that I have not come across it. Someone may be able to disabuse me and reveal my ignorance.

 

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