Psychoanalysis and the Paranormal: Lands of Darkness

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'The space of the paranormal can indeed be frightening. But psychoanalysis specializes in entering and tolerating frightening spaces. Why should this one be an exception?'-Nick Totton from the ForewordThis fascinating and long-overdue work on paranormal phenomena - a topic ignored in mainstream psychoanalytic media since the 1950s - aims to demonstrate the real relevance of the paranormal to psychoanalysis and clinical practice. Nick Totton has gathered together a wide range of psychoanalytic approaches, including Freudian, Lacanian, Jungian and Reichian, to present an impressive collection of thought-provoking articles on this controversial subject. Various aspects of the paranormal are investigated, such as dream telepathy, parapsychology, UFO contactee stories and alien abductions (the only wholly sceptical paper in this collection, presented by two Parisian Lacanian analysts), and synchronicity. There is also a philosophical essay concerned with the concept of the paranormal and the surrounding psychoanalytic ideas. This is a well-informed and well-argued work that will engage its readers in a stimulating debate on the disputed concept of the paranormal.

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CHAPTER ONE. Dream telepathy: experimental and clinical findings

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Montague Ullman

Over the course of my life I have had close encounters of I 1 four kinds with the paranormal or what has come to be known as psi phenomena.1 In 1932, at the age of sixteen, I happened on the subject of what was then called “psychic phenomena”. Impressed with how many great names were associated with the study of mediumship (William James, J. W. Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge), several college friends and I embarked upon seances of our own at weekly intervals and lasting almost two years. The striking physical effects we encountered left their mark on each of us over the many years we remained in touch.2

That was encounter number one. It left me with a lifelong interest in the “paranormal” and an openness to it. Encounter number two was more fleeting and personal and lacked the consensual quality of my youthful experiences. It took the form of very occasional dreams that seemed to me to be either telepathic or precognitive. Here is one such dream that Jung might have considered a good example of synchronicity:3

 

CHAPTER TWO. Parapsychology and psychoanalysis

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M. Litaert Peerbolte

Case I

My studies in parapsychology from a psychoanalytical point of view commenced in 1936. They owed their origin to the fact that in the course of a treatment a female patient produced a dream with a distinctly telepathic character. The circumstances were, briefly, as follows. A week before she had the specific dream, the patient, acting in a transference state, begged her psychiatrist to requite her love (more will be heard about her masculine role presently). The cautious refusal of this request threw the patient into a deplorable mental state in which she alternately hoped to succeed in her attempts and was driven back again to her sense of inferiority that she had before the transference. In this state she had the following dream.

I am in bed with Dr L. P. in a side-room. Another patient enters, a woman wearing a brown hat trimmed with a feather. The latter is holding a child in her arms, while leading another one by the hand. This woman remarks: “In the hall were two blue ewers full of water which were upset by one of the children.” You thought: “All that lot of water in the corridor!” But you remained polite. The patient sat down, next to the side of the bed. The children were placed in a basket, and there they turned into kittens. You said to the children: “Stroke my chin, and tell me what you feel.” I then left the room on purpose in order to leave you alone with the patient and, in the corridor, tied a violet-coloured ribbon round my hair.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Explicability, psychoanalysis and the paranormal

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Chris Cherry

Introduction

Speaking of what he takes to be Freud’s view that anxiety is always a repetition in some way of the anxiety we felt at birth, Wittgenstein draws attention to one reason for the “marked attraction” of psychoanalytic exploration. Freud himself regularly emphasizes that people are disinclined to accept explanations he provides in analysis. However, “if the explanation is one which people are disinclined to accept, it is highly probable that it is also one which they are inclined to accept” (Wittgenstein, 1966, p. 43). And again: “There is a strong tendency to say: ‘We can’t get round the fact that this dream is really such and such.’ It may be the fact that the explanation is extremely repellent that drives you to adopt it” (ibid., p. 24).1 People are conflicted: they both want and don’t want to accept the sort of thing psychoanalytic explanation offers.

We can add two further reasons for the “marked attraction” of psychoanalytic explanation. The first is its unstoppability, annexing just about everything in its path, the seemingly unexceptionable and everyday included. The second is the way in which it leads us to see things in initially unfamiliar ways: everything is what it is and something else as well.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Mercurius, archetype, and "transpsychic reality": C. G. Jung's parapsychology of spirit(s)

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Michael Whan

“Parapsychology plays a subtle part in psychology because it lurks everywhere behind the surface of things. But, as the facts are difficult to catch, their theoretical aspect is still more elusive on account of its transcendent character”

C. G. Jung, 1973, pp. 378-379

“At bottom the only courage that is demanded of us is to have the courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter”

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1975, p. 98

Introduction

For me, the Rilke quotation serves as a fundamental axiom both for life itself and, thus, for psychotherapy. How can life be lived at its deepest without the “courage for life”? And in psychotherapy also I do not see how either the therapist or patient can bear the emotional risks, turmoil, and profound uncertainty of the work without the virtue of courage (I use the term “patient” not in the medical sense, but with reference to suffering, patience, with what one has to undergo, experience, encounter). What Rilke says though is specific, he writes: “the courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable”. To allow for the “most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable”, the therapist has to abrogate omniscient “knowing”, the patient too has to permit the therapist and him/herself not to know. Furthermore, psychological and psychotherapeutic theory has also to acknowledge its own limits, to refrain from the inflationary impulse to explain all things. Psychotherapy and psychology then need to give recognition to the Unknown, the Unknowable, and Unknowing. We can and do experience things without always being able to understand what they are. The rationalistic “explaining away” of some enigmas and anomalies leads to a falsification or denial of the very phenomena for which the explanation seeks to account.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. The "alien abduction" syndrome

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Jean-Claude Maleval and Nathalie Charraud

“From this ignorance of how to distinguish dreams, and other strong fancies, from vision and sense, did arise the greatest part of the religion of the Gentiles in time past, that worshipped satyrs, fauns, nymphs and the like; and nowadays the opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghosts, and goblins, and of the power of witches”

Thomas Hobbes, 1998, p. 14

October 3rd 1938: around two million Americans were convinced, by a radio broadcast devised by Orson Welles, that the Martians were invading Earth (Cantril et al, 1940). The progress of astronomical knowledge has toppled the myth of the Martians. Nowadays we no longer hazard a guess as to the precise planetary origin of aliens. Nevertheless, since the 1980s numerous Americans claim to have been victims of abductions carried out by beings from other worlds. Firstly, there is the work of the New York sculptor Budd Hopkins, which serves to give the phenomenon objective form. In 1981, he published Missing Time, in which he studies, among other symptoms affecting certain subjects, periods of time that seemed to have disappeared from their memories. Hopkins assumes that such phenomena can be explained by kidnappings carried out by aliens. He returns to the theme in 1987 with Intruders, where he draws on various accounts to describe the sexual and reproductive behaviour linked to alien abductions. These things might have remained within the confines of one group of cranks among so many others, if they had not been given support by a major scientific authority. John E. Mack’s book Abduction (1994) seems to be currently giving these phenomena an importance which recalls the effect of the “Book of the Spirits” by Allan Kardec (Kardec, 1857),1 in the late-nineteenth-century, which gave birth to the doctrine of Spiritism and to many techniques for communicating with the spirits of the Beyond (which usually relied on revolving tables).

 

CHAPTER SIX. Developments in the concept of synchronicity in the analytic relationship and in theory

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I. Marvin Spiegelman

Since Jung introduced his concept of synchronicity a half-century ago, the idea and the word have taken wing in the popular imagination and entered into general consciousness. Even popular songs make use of it. Despite general recognition and understanding, however, there has been little follow-up research into this idea in academic and analytical circles, other than to explain it or present examples. M.-L. Von Franz provides a major exception in her works Number and Time (1974) and On Divination and Synchronicity (1980) which elaborate the concept in both mathematics and fairy tales. Another exception is found in the work of the astrophysicist Professor Victor Mansfield of Cornell University, who has written an excellent book on the topic with many examples and significant criticism of the concept (Mansfield, 1995). My own work on synchronicity in the transference relationship, as a variant on the mind-body, matter-spirit issue addresses the topic in the analytic process itself (Spiegelman, 1996). The following remarks on the further development of Jung’s concept of synchronicity will summarize the work of all three of the foregoing authors and are divided into two sections: (1) synchronicity in the analytical relationship and (2) theoretical questions.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. The ghost in the mother: strange attractors and impossible mourning

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Edward Emery

I: The scene of haunting

The secret we don’t know we’re trying to find, the thing unseen, the suction-point of which we now are trying to feed our lives …

—the secret—the place where the words, twist,

… we try the nipple …

—we look away—

… into the edifice of your whisper … [Jori Graham, The Errancy, 1997]

The ghosting of the mother deranges the psychic economy of the child who has been nominated to carry the spectral prefigurations of the ghost. The one so haunted is spooked by two impossibilities: impossible mourning and impossible longing. While these two impossibilities are inseparable, I wish to begin with the second first as impossible longing shapes and deforms the first impossibility.

There are many ways to ghost the mother. The one that I shall focus on is the inscription of a dead child in the maternal psychic economy and its elegiac transmission as an atmospheric surround of a subsequently born child, the so-called replacement child. Abraham and Torok (1986), who are the first since Freud to take psychic haunting seriously as foundational to the problematic structurations of psychic life, distinguish between two modes of inscription: introjection and incorporation.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. "Each single ego": telepathy and psychoanalysis

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Nick Totton

“Have I given you the impression that I am secretly inclined to support the reality of telepathy in the occult sense? If so, I should very much regret that it is so difficult to avoid giving such an impression. In reality, however, I was anxious to be strictly impartial. I have every reason to be so, for I have no opinion; I know nothing about it”

Freud, 1922, p. 220

“Telepathy would be the name of an ongoing and groping research that—at the moment of its emergence and in the area of its relevance—had not yet grasped either the true scope of its own inquiry or the conceptual rigour necessary for its elaboration”

Maria Torok, 1986, p. 861

Wenceslas

Following in its founder’s often heavy footsteps, Reichian therapy—in which I had my original training—has tended to be sceptical of the paranormal. This scepticism often surprises non-Reichians, who (if inclined to be generous) usually understand Reich himself to be a shaman, alchemist or mystic who, at some point between the 1930s and the 1950s, came untethered from consensual reality and floated off into the stratosphere in a cloud of UFOs and orgone energy. The picture is not wholly unfair: Reich’s later work does have fascinating and important parallels (of which he himself was largely unaware) with magical and alchemical traditions.2 But it discounts Reich’s own fierce insistence on his scientific materialism, and his lifelong hostility to what he defined as “mysticism”.

 

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