Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Non-Rational Mind

Originally posted on June 12, 2011

In late January, 2011,  I wrote about the “amplifying unconscious” as a feature of the mind that is as yet hardly known.  This blog will present another category, the Non-Rational Mind, which roughly but not precisely correlates with the “right brain” functions. This category may overlap in a few way with the amplifying unconscious. (I confess that these are speculations: I haven’t figured out ways or disciplined myself to establish these categories through empirical research.) Still, my hope is that these essays address some phenomena that traditional psychology may not have adequately addressed.

When Freud said, "Where id was, there shall ego be," I think he was half right: Where immature non-rational mind rules, let’s substitute wiser or more mature rational (language) mind. However, I think it might have been even more correct to say, “Where immature, non-rational mind rules, let’s (1) mature it, develop it, honor it, refine it, love and nurture it, positively reinforce it, develop good habits with it—i.e., the non-rational mind; (2) we should also develop a rational mind that recognizes and honors non-rational mind, and again refuses to force, coerce, punish, or negatively reinforce it. (Perhaps this is another way to look at the “positive psychology” trend.)

Non-rational mind is not always repressed. Sometimes it is just too big to be channeled through the language-ing functions. It includes myth, illusion, some aspects of poetry, symbols, dreams, inspirations, some music, body-work and dance, imagery, spontaneity, intuition, and the like. In these channels non-rational mind is sometimes more foolish but also sometimes clearly wiser that the capacities of rational mind. This what Shakespeare means when he writes about “the quality of mercy” that must balance mere justice.

The main thing, though, is for rational mind to learn how to collaborate with non-rational mind in a balanced fashion, sometimes referred to as balancing heart and mind, or spirit-soul and ego. This requires a different approach to “ego development.” In developing the capacity for love, faith, and responsibility, there is also a skill of balancing a degree of surrendering, letting go, and gentle-ing that allows better coordination with and a partial yielding to nonrational mind.

In a sense, this general idea in other ways has been expressed by Carl Jung in his discussion of the conjunction of opposites, of the syzygy of masculine and feminine principles. (But here we are not just talking about gender so much as yang and yin or other primal dualities.

All this carries forth an intuition of Freud as well as Jung, and many depth psychologists since, who found themselves truly awed by the powers of the unconscious mind. On the other hand, I suspect that not only the general public, but a significant percentage of people who have studied 20th century psychology, have never really recognized how much their own lives are lived by their non-rational selves. This may be part of the next paradigm shift.

Note that I’m not advocating a mere swing of the pendulum into a neo-romantic glorification of the non-rational or sentimental. The nonrational mind needs to be developed and refined just as does the rational mind! (We might consider that most people are really below average in, say, the kinds of lessons taught by cognitive therapy—i.e., a modicum of critical thinking.) The non-rational mind if undeveloped can be foolish. It isn’t intrinsically wise. Might we then consider which methods in ordinary school, religion, recreation, and other modalities would likely refine these sensibilities? I’m clear it can be done. (Aspects of the creative /expressive therapies and drama therapy or sociodrama, for example, offer many useful methods!)

In summary, I think that we need to educate the rational mind—especially in a variety of skills of critical thinking—; and also develop the non-rational mind; and also develop the capacity for both types of mind to work in a collaborative or integrative fashion. (I think this is in part what the work of the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber and the circle of intellectuals he has influenced are seeking to do with their approaches to what they call “Integral Psychology” and “Integral Spirituality.”)

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