Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Wayward Mind

Continuing my review of old posts that have popped into my head over the past few days during mulling over this and that, I am reproducing my March 6, 2006 post in its entirety: 

I want to mention the excellent book by Guy Claxton - THE WAYWARD MIND, an intimate history of the unconscious (2005, Little, Brown, and Co., available from amazon.com). Here is a excerpt and paraphrase from pp. 348-252:
"What we call our "self " is an agglomeration of both conscious and unconscious ingredients, cans, needs, dos, oughts, thinks - the temptation is to assume that the "I" is the same in all of them - so that instead of having an intricate web of things that make me ME, I have to create a single imaginary hub around which they all revolve, to which they all refer - the attempt to keep this fiction going, to "hold it together" can become quite tiring and bothersome - If "I" am essentially reasonable, if I imagine that my zones of control - over my own feelings for example - are wider and more robust than they are, then I am going to get in a tangle trying to "control myself." If I have decided that who I am is clever, attractive, athletic, stable, creating the hub of "I" locks everything together and prevents it moving. It stops Me expanding to include the unconscious, or graciously shrinking to accommodate old age. I can not enjoy my waywardness, nor see it as an intrinsic part of ME - (note: he gives Ramachandran's two foot nose pinocchio demonstration as evidence of plasticity of self image), and then says - The orthodox sense of self is thrown by such experiences, and tends to suffer a sense-of-humour failure. It sees all waywardness as an affront, and tends to become earnest or myopic in response. In a nutshell: it is bad enough to have a nightmare, without your rattled sense of self telling you that you are going mad. Weird experience can never be just funny (as the pinocchio effect can be) or matter-of fact (as possession is in Bali), or transiently inconvenvient (as a bad dream is), or wonderful (as a mystical experience can be), or just mysterious (as a premonition might be). For the locked-up self they have to be denied, explained or dealt with. All the evidence is that a more relaxed attitude toward the bounds of self makes for a richer, easier and more creative life. Perhaps, after all, waywardness in all its forms is in need not so much of explanation, but of a mystified but friendly welcome. We can explain it if we wish, and the brain is beginning to a reasonable job. But the need to explain, when not motivated by the dispassionate curiosity of the scientist, is surely a sign of anxiety: of the desire to tame with words that which is experienced as unsettling.

1 comment:

  1. Devil's advocate reply:

    You wrote: "If I have decided that who I am is clever, attractive, athletic, stable, creating the hub of 'I' locks everything together and prevents it moving. It stops Me expanding to include the unconscious."

    I disagree. Our identities motivate behaviors to support them. For example, if all things to include my unconscious considered, I decide I'm clever, attractive, athletic and stable I'm much more likely than a person who has not incorporated these things as identities to do the following:

    Read educational blogs such as this one.
    Diet and exercise
    Have a lifestyle that promotes stability such as to get adequate sleep, manage my finances effectively, gain credentials to help my career, be faithful to my partner, etc.

    IMO what works best for most people are identities with our fingers crossed behind our back so-to-speak when we establish them. I.E. identities that allow some flexibility in ways contradictory to them. For example, the woman who sees herself as a faithful wife and acts accordingly most of the time can remain flexible enough to get to know her pool boy when her husband is out of town.