Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Imponderable Nature of Mind

Originally posted on October 23, 2015

Psychotherapy is a mixture of the brain and the mind; the hardware (or, more accurately, “wet-ware”) and the programming; temperament and innate types of intelligence and all the habits we’ve picked up from our culture and family and, later, friends and teachers. It’s a mixture of innate tendencies and the conditioning of the era, the prevalent paradigms. How then to work with mind, that highly complex dynamic of stuff and function?

I suspect we cannot work with it as we do with complex machinery. We—some of us—can understand and modify in controlled ways various types of even fairly complex mechanisms or computers. The phrase “highly complex,” in contrast, refers to an escalation of complexity to a higher power. Highly complex refers to an exponential increase in complexity, far greater than merely several times more.

Mind takes in innumerable impressions along innumerable channels. These include variables such as the psychic imprint of the minds around it in childhood and up to the present moment. Indeed, mind anticipates, has fantasies of the future, and these are important factors too. Where we are going, what our goals are—Alfred Adler noted this as a variable in his psychology, and it should be included in ours, too.

Alfred Adler was to begin with significantly influenced by Freud, and he granted the power of unconscious dynamics. He knew that the mind generates and then builds upon illusions, and the awareness of this process is again out of conscious awareness. What to do about it, and further refinements, mark the differences between what Freud called Psycho-analysis and what Adler called his approach, Individual Psychology. (Jung diverged also in the second and third decades of the 20th century and called his body of methods and ideas Analytical Psychology.)

The point is that the mind can be described many ways: It’s not as if there is only one objective truth. Nor, in psychology, is Adler’s view more or less true than Jung’s. Freud offered many more conclusions and some of these are weaker than others. And thousands since have built upon all three and many more have set off from different sources.

Now this affronts our metaphysics, our sense that there is a reality, or that this reality should be and/or is capable of being described in one true way, the others not being true. This appeals to mediocre mind, the tendency of mind to assume that reality can be understood by mind. But what if instead reality far surpasses not only what is known by one’s own collective, but by all minds everywhere—even, in fantasy—on other planets in other galaxies!?

This tendency to not imagine conflates vision—daring to imagine beyond oneself—with playful indulgence—imagining just for fun. The fantasy that puny little humans can understand the great mysteries is arrogant indeed. Indeed, belief in the ultimate omniscience—all knowingness—of science is a residue of processes that sought to describe astronomy and biology and mechanics in general, chemistry and physics, in mechanistic terms. It was indeed able to do this with some  success! (That it left out so much that still remains a mystery doesn’t seem to inhibit the tendency of pride to think it knows all that needs to be known!)

But inanimate bodies without minds—or with whatever mind they might conceivably have being so inconsequential as to be insignificant— makes for explanations that can be followed mathematically.  This is great—but it tends to obscure the idea that other parts of reality that do not act mechanically do in fact exist—such as the workings of the mind itself!

But the limitations of science have not been clarified. Many are “scientistic” and think that everything—every process—can be described in terms of what we know about matter and its physical dynamics. This sceintistic belief thinks that ultimately such dynamics as finding something “cute” will be entirely explainable using our present understanding of mechanics of bodies in space-time. I personally doubt it.

I think there are other dimensions at work, mind dimensions being the most apparent. Within these mind dimensions there are other frameworks such as aesthetics, and that partakes of humor, jokes, incongruities that don’t really hurt anyone. Then there is a type of consciousness where “other” beings, animals, enemies, suffer and that is fun for the in-group. Ha ha. Empathy is not extended to many out-groups, and what is “in” and what is “out” is often not clearly specified.

Indeed, mid-groups that partake of two classifications are common in the world. In other words, our tendency to impose classifications, to observe criteria that account for differences, is our own need and tendency and not always reflected in the way things are.

Back to mind, which exemplifies this blurring far more frequently than people might prefer. Life, mind, dreams, and so forth is elusive, failing rather obviously to stay within boundaries. For example, the aesthetic, the sense of something being pleasant or noxious, is subjective. It’s part of mind. Attempts to find objective criteria for aesthetics have failed. Way too many variables,

I’m making the point that mind transcends mechanistic ways of looking at it. It partakes of many categories that have no physical foundation. Spiritual, economic, tradition, social pressure (and wanting to be accepted), and other forces operate beyond mechanism.

Because of this, approaches to psychiatry that are merely physical are welcome, but incomplete. It is important to open to approaches that seek to understand and intervene with not just the hardware/wetware of the brain, but also the highly complex way it weaves together the many sub-types of cognitions, aesthetics, play, and so forth.

I’m making the case for a more sophisticated conceptualization of mind-brain. It’s much more than brain physiology. It’s much more than any single theory can describe. That transcendence of mind—our inability to describe its own function—is nettlesome, but that doesn’t make it not so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *