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The Non-Linear Mind

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This book is concerned with whether we can develop our understanding of the mind through the application of new approaches to the study of complex systems. It is divided into two sections. The first is concerned with the application of non-linear systems theory to the psychoanalytic study of the mind. The second is concerned with the technical application of the ideas of chaos theory to the understanding of therapeutic action and psychic change. It concludes with a consideration of the research and clinical implications of considering the mind as a non-linear system.

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Introduction

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This book is concerned with whether we can develop our understanding of the mind through the application of new approaches to the study of complex systems. It is titled The Non-linear Mind because of the daily observation that the mind is complex and complex systems are essentially non-linear. What this means is that they cannot be adequately modelled mathematically using linear equations. In practical terms, this means that the accurate prediction of a response to any one stimulus becomes difficult, if not impossible. This is often because these systems exist in the world as entities that are in a dynamic relation with their environments. In the case of living dynamical systems (or living organisms), they must be adaptive in their responses to maintain their integrity. This relies upon accurate perception of their environment at any one time. In a very real way, they must be alive to changes in their environment if they are to stay viable by responding appropriately.

 

Chapter One: The Strange Attractor

ePub

James Rose

This chapter is an introduction to the concept of the strange attractor and its relevance to the study of the mind. As this concept is referred to repeatedly by the contributors to this book, though in varying ways, the editors felt that an introduction to this concept at this stage would be helpful for the reader. The idea of a strange attractor comes from the theory of complex non-linear systems. It refers to a pattern of cyclical dynamic motion towards which such a system tends when responding to external stimuli, which disturb its internally determined processes in some way. It comes from the observation that consistent patterns can be observed in the behaviour of iterative non-linear systems over a period of time, even though the system might appear, at any one moment, to be behaving randomly. They are seemingly “attracted” towards these patterns even if, within them, they might seem to become unpredictable. In psychoanalysis, it can be applied in understanding the patterns of internal representations and internal object relationships, or patterns of affect that can be observed in the transference and countertransference interaction.

 

Chapter Two: Experimental Psychology and Psychoanalysis: What We can Learn from a Century of Misunderstanding

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Paul Whittle

This chapter is a personal and informal ethnography of the subcultures of psychoanalysis and experimental psychology. It is a case study in incommensurability, and was written out of frustration with the incomprehension that each side displays toward the other. The two disciplines shared many common origins, but each now views the other, by and large, with indifference or hostility. I sketch some reasons why their relationship generates discussions, such as those concerning the scientific status of psychoanalysis, that are like trains passing in the dark. I make some tentative suggestions as to why we may always need such different styles of psychology, and for what different goals, and personal and sociological reasons, we have developed them. I make even more tentative suggestions as to what, if anything, we should do about it.

Since it derives its structure and its liveliness from the occasion, it is being published as a record of the talk, with informal style and local allusions, rather than in more conventional journal-article format. Two subcultures. Second, it was an example of the subcultural differences I was talking about. Natural scientists like to talk with minimal notes, prompted by their visual aids, and often encourage interruptions from the audience. They believe they are reporting their interaction with nature, their words and diagrams being merely transparent media, and that their informal style testifies to their openness and honesty. In arts contexts or in psychoanalysis, these assumptions are thought naïve, and “talks” are generally read from finished scripts. As a boundary-hopping scientist, I often feel excluded by this style. I can't keep up, and I often want to interrupt and query the assumptions. I miss the more open interaction of a scientific seminar. Nevertheless, I found myself doing it. These different attitudes to language are a key to what is going on.

 

Chapter Three: Chaos Theory and Psychoanalysis: the Fluidic Nature of the Mind

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George Moran

For many disciplines, the focus of study is a system that sometimes behaves predictably and, with a change in certain conditions, behaves in a complex or apparently random manner. In meteorology, fluid dynamics, and ecology, scientists have constructed models of their respective systems, attempting to capture the complex nature and behaviour seen in real life. Until the last ten or fifteen years, such models consisted of numerous equations which had to be “summed” in order to account for the variety possible in a real world system (this was true when trying to model even the simplest physical systems). Experimental observations that deviated from the models were considered artifactitious, or the deviations were resolved by the addition of more components or equations. Mathematical approaches to modelling have for a number of years examined systems that work on themselves over time, that “flow”. This approach drops the previous notion of tag-on equations to encompass supposedly variant behaviour, and shows that complex behaviour can be determined by simple equations of a special class, called non-linear differential equations (May, 1976). Many systems that are so modelled work on themselves, or “flow”: the old “output” becomes the new “input”. This process of flow suggests images of fluids, and indeed it is in the discipline of fluid dynamics that much of the pioneering work has occurred. Such fluidic systems characterised by this kind of feedback are prone to exhibit “chaotic” behaviour over time: behaviour that is apparently random, disorganised, and without order. The science of these new models is in fact called “Chaos”. The choice of the name is unfortunate, because there is little that is truly lawless, destructive, or totally disorderly about the field or its subjects of study. Indeed, the new models allow a clearer appreciation of qualitative and quantitative characteristics of complex systems never before possible.

 

Chapter Four: Chaotic Possibilities: Toward a New Model of Development

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Robert M. Galatzer-Levy

Most psychoanalytic models of development and change assume an orderly, sequential and predetermined unfolding of psychological functions and structures. Interferences with orderly unfolding challenge the individual and may lead to pathology. These models derive from a worldview associated with the descriptions of change through linear differential equations, which predict a smooth, orderly world. The study of complex systems and their associated non-linear dynamics predicts a very different kind of world: a world with abrupt changes, discontinuities, idiosyncratic developmental lines, and disproportions between causes and effects. The worldview of non-linear dynamics suggests new possibilities for the psychoanalytic model of change and development, and invites confrontation with the adequacy of many widely accepted models. These new possibilities include discontinuous, sudden and qualitative shifts not only in manifest behavior but also in in-depth psychological functioning.

 

Chapter Five: Internal Objects Considered As Strange Attractors in the Non-Linear Dynamical System of the Mind

ePub

Graham Shulman

But men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.

(William Shakespeare)

In this chapter, I discuss a specific set of circumstances in which the damaged internal object can exercise a perturbing and determining influence on the relationship to reality and the development of the capacity to differentiate internal and external reality. Drawing on the concept of the strange attractor from chaos theory, I suggest that the damaged object in such circumstances operates as a strange attractor in the mind. I describe a clinical case of once weekly psychoanalytic psychotherapy with a seven-year-old child to illustrate these themes.

The conjunction of internal and external realities

The lines from Shakespeare which I have used as an epigraph to this chapter encapsulate a core dimension of the psychoanalytic field of enquiry: that is, the ways in which people may unconsciously “construe things after their fashion” in terms of their “purpose”/meaning in both the internal and external world. The development of the sense of reality, and, in particular, the differentiation of internal and external reality, has its roots in early infancy and is a gradual, fluctuating, and never absolute achievement. Problems in the differentiation of internal and external reality may arise for a variety of reasons. Most common in the psychoanalytic literature is the theme of confusion of internal and external reality consequent upon excessive projective identification (Bion, 1962, p. 32). I shall consider another source of difficulty in the differentiation of internal and external reality, associated with the effects of the damaged object in a particular constellation of internal and external worlds.

 

Chapter Six: The Number of Sessions Per Week As An Aspect of the Psychoanalytical Setting: Theoretical and Technical Implications

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James Rose

Introduction

The psychoanalytical literature seems to be remarkably silent about the impact of the number of sessions per week on psychoanalytic treatment. It is remarkable because the number of sessions per week is considered by many to be a crucial aspect of the setting. Some seem to have felt that more sessions per week create more impact in a simply additive manner because we can do more given more time. Another way of thinking about impact is to consider the depth of emotional contact that can be achieved by different frequencies of sessions per week. However, if the depth of emotional contact is enhanced by more frequent contact, is this true for all analysands? If it is, are there not some for whom it is emotionally overwhelming? If so, there seems to be a clear case for deepening our understanding of the impact of the frequency of sessions upon the psychoanalytic experience and the particular analysand.

There are a number of implications arising from the lack of a clear reason for distinguishing the effects of increasing frequencies. These include the obvious technical implication of how to recommend to a prospective analysand the frequency appropriate for them. But, there are also wider political implications in that the logic of distinguishing between psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and counselling on the basis of frequencies per week of treatment comes to appear very arbitrary to the outside world. The result is that it can come to look like arrogance rather than having a sound scientific basis.

 

Chapter Seven: Some Research Implications

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Graham Shulman

Smith (2007, p. 159) states that “our best models of the world are non-linear”, that “chaos has changed the goal posts” in science and that “[t]he study of chaos has provided new tools” (2007, p. 160). How might chaos theory and these “new tools” be used in research within the field of psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy? While conventional time series techniques and statistical methods of analysis have been used in research in child psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic child psychotherapy (e.g., Moran & Fonagy, 1987; Philps, 2009; Schneider et al., 2009), as far as I am aware, nonlinear models and the “new tools” derived from chaos and dynamical systems theory have not so far been employed in psychoanalytic research. The lesson from chaos theory seems to be that statistical analysis and conventional time series techniques, while unquestionably useful in studying linear correlations and relationships, are unable to observe or identify non-linear deterministic patterns, structures, or chains of cause and effect. This means the assumption based on conventional statistical analysis of linear patterns that “[i]f…two processes are uncorrelated, it is unlikely that they are causally connected” (Moran & Fonagy, 1987[2009, p. 88]) proves to be incorrect in relation to non-linear or chaotic processes.

 

Chapter Eight: Some Clinical Implications

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James Rose

The central tenet of this book is that, quintessentially, the mind is a complex system. It reacts to being studied and a linear reaction to stimulus is not to be expected, except where defined/required as such by the assumptions of research methodology. Strange attractors give us a sense of the structure of a system which is not to do with its anatomy but how a number of different contributing factors combine in determining its functioning.

It might be proposed that the identification of the strange attractors governing an individual's behaviour and experience could provide a kind of bridge between the two camps identified by Whittle in Chapter Two. This idea of the strange attractor is central to the contributors to this book. Not only does it have theoretical and conceptual implications, it has both clinical and technical implications as well.

How might it do this? As an illustration of clinical applications, Shulman demonstrates the ways in which clinical phenomena (e.g., a damaged object) may be thought of as strange attractors (see Chapter Five). Strange attractors, however, are not to be equated with objects. There is no advantage from such an equation. If it is simply another word for the same thing, then the advantages of this approach might well be overlooked.

 

Chapter Nine: Some Conclusions

ePub

James Rose & Graham Shulman

Overall, this book seeks to make the case that we must accept that the mind does not work in a simple linear way. The papers produced in this book have looked at various ways in which the ideas derived from chaos theory can be used to think about clinical phenomena; how they can have technical implications for thinking about how psychoanalysts work and why the psychoanalytic method has the impact that we observe it does in practice. A central idea has been that of the strange attractor observed in the functioning of a complex non-linear dynamic system. This has implications for psychoanalysis because it gives rise to a new model for understanding psychic reality. Further, it gives us a means of understanding how the psychoanalytic method reveals this structure of psychic reality.

In summary, the new perspectives of a complex systems approach to the understanding of the psychoanalytic process can be summarised as:

This book is part of a series called “Psychoanalytic Ideas”. How the reader of this book responds to the ideas in this book will be an experience unique to each individual and will be unquestionably subjective. If it stimulates the reader to some new ideas, it will have achieved its purpose.

 

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