Category Archives: Psychology

Character

Section from a Quran Manuscript, 18th century Morocco or Tunisia. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper. | via metmuseum.org | Click image for larger view.

“it is as difficult to present a fixed image of a character as of societies and passions. For a character alters no less than they do, and if one tries to take a snapshot of what is relatively immutable in it, one finds it presenting a succession of different aspects … to the disconcerted lens” (Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: The Captive, 373).

Creativity & Mental Illness

nah puuchh be-khudii-e aish-e maqdam-e sailaab
kih naachte haiN paRe sar bah sar dar-o-diivaar

don’t ask about the self-lessness of the enjoyment of the coming of the flood
for/since they dance, fallen, end to end– doors and walls {58,9} Ghalib

Even if there are connections between creativity and madness, it does not mean that madness is the premise. Mental illnesses are generally disabling, and it could be a chance occurrence that being human, exceptionally creative minds too have their share of them. Acute sensitivity can lead to fruitful distraction and mood lability, but chaos is nothing without kosmos and vice versa.

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra

Illness and Art – Arts & Academe – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The reason why a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him.  It is his work itself that, by fertilizing the rare minds capable of understanding it, will make them increase and multiply.  It was Beethoven’s quartets themselves (the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth) that devoted half a century to forming, fashioning and enlarging the audience for Beethoven’s quartets, thus marking, like every great work of art, an advance if not in the quality of artists at least in the community of minds, largely composed today of what was not to be found when the work first appeared, that is to say of persons capable of appreciating it.  What is called posterity is the posterity of the work of art.  It is essential that the work (leaving out of account, for simplicity’s sake, the contingency that several men of genius may at the same time be working along parallel lines to create a more instructed public in the future, from which other men of genius will benefit)  should create its own posterity.  For if the work were held in reserve, were revealed only to posterity, that audience, for that particular work, would be not posterity, but a group of contemporaries who were merely living half a century later in time.  And so it is essential that the artist (and this is what Vinteuil had done), if he wishes his work to be free to follow its own course, should launch it, there where there is sufficient depth, boldly into the distant future.  

Marcel Proust, In Search Of Lost Time: Within a Budding Grove, page 142-143.

Group Psychology – Sigmund Freud & Heinrich Heine

Book burning at Opernplatz, 11 May 1933. | Source: Wikipedia | Click image for larger view.

Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz in 1933, following the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”) –Wikipedia

In order to make a correct judgement upon the morals of groups, one must take into consideration the fact that when individuals come together in a group all their individual inhibitions fall away and all the cruel, brutal and destructive instincts, which lie dormant in individuals as relics of a primitive epoch, are stirred up to find free gratification. But under the influence of suggestion groups are also capable of high achievements in the shape of abnegation, unselfishness, and devotion to an ideal. While with isolated individuals personal interest is almost the only motive force, with groups it is very rarely prominent. It is possible to speak of an individual having his moral standards raised by a group (p. 65). Whereas the intellectual capacity of a group is always far below that of an individual, its ethical conduct may rise as high above his as it may sink deep below it.

Some other features in Le Bon’s description show in a clear light how well justified is the identification of the group mind with the mind of primitive people. In groups the most contradictory ideas can exist side by side and tolerate each other, without any conflict arising from the logical contradiction between them. But this is also the case in the unconscious mental life of individuals, of children and of neurotics, as psycho-analysis has long pointed out. — Chapter II

Group Psychology & the Analysis of the Ego by Sigmund Freud, 1921 – (complete text).

Christianity – and that is its greatest merit – has somewhat mitigated that brutal Germanic love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals. (…)

Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.

From The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, by Heinrich Heine, 1834.

Related podcast: the banality of evil

Triumph of the Will: a propaganda film commissioned by Hitler in 1934 & directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

Ideology and Aggression: Osama Bin Laden

There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our “concept” of this matter, our “objectivity” be. [GM, Nietzsche]

Ideology and Aggression: Osama Bin Laden by Peter A. Olsson

This text has been scanned from The Crescent and the Couch: Cross-Currents Between Islam and Psychoanalysis, a collection of articles compiled by Dr. Salman Akhtar.

Attempting to advance knowledge about Islam and to create the possibility of a dialogue between Islam and psychoanalysis, The Crescent and the Couch brings together a distinguished panel of Muslim and non-Muslim contributors from the fields of history, religion, anthropology, politics, and psychoanalysis. Together these authors highlight the world-changing contributions of prominent Muslim figures, and elucidate the encounter of Islam with Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Moving on to matters of family, individual personality formation, human sexuality, and religious identity, they also address clinical issues that arise in the treatment of Muslim patients as well as the technical work of Muslim psychoanalysts.

Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious

“The pleasure in jokes has seemed to us to arise from an economy in expenditure upon inhibition, the pleasure in the comic from an economy in expenditure upon ideation (upon cathexis) and the pleasure in humour from an economy in expenditure upon feeling. In all three modes of working of our mental apparatus the pleasure is derived from an economy. All three are agreed in representing methods of regaining from mental activity a pleasure which has in fact been lost through the development of that activity. For the euphoria which we endeavour to reach by these means is nothing other than the mood of a period of life in which we were accustomed to deal with our psychical work in general with a small expenditure of energy – the mood of our childhood, when we were ignorant of the comic, when we were incapable of jokes and when we had no need of humour to make us feel happy in our life.” — Freud

What do Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh have in common?

They have the same middle name.

from Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters by Ted Cohen

‎Did you hear about the baby born in the high tech delivery room? It was cordless!

A man, granted heaven & a question, asks about the navel’s purpose: an angel turns a screw there & the man’s ass falls down.

5 Leading Theories for Why We Laugh—and the Jokes That Prove Them Wrong

“The Release Theory”, Freud’s argument, remains the hardest to beat because the wit – “A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.” – with which they try to uproot it is anemic at best, although it still relies on subverting the interpretation of what we have taken for granted in the word, “conclusion” – I would nod with a social smile but not launch into disarmed laughter. It is also quite presumptuous of the article to attempt to count five fingers of humor as if it were a hand or a concept. Good thoughts, nevertheless. —-Taimur

Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience

philoctetes.org: Roundtable Discussion with Cristina Alberini, Heather Berlin, Vittorio Gallese, Robert Michels, Donald Pfaff, and Mark Solms.

It’s been over ten years since the first issue of the journal Neuropsychoanalysis was published, and almost twenty years since an ongoing series of meetings between psychoanalysts and neuroscientists was initiated at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. This roundtable will discuss and review the progress made, the pitfalls and the gains, and the attempt to delineate possible paths forward in this emerging interdisciplinary field.

Cristina Alberini is Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Psychiatry, and Structural and Chemical Biology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Her current research interest is in learning and memory.

Heather A. Berlin is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she also completed an NIMH Postdoctoral Fellowship, and conducts research with brain lesion and impulsive, compulsive, and dissociative disorder patients. Dr. Berlin has conducted clinical research with diverse psychiatric and neurological populations in both the U.S. and the U.K., and has published her research in a number of prominent journals. She has taught at Vassar College, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, conducting courses on the Neurobiology of Consciousness. She is interested in the neural basis of the dynamic unconscious.

Vittorio Gallese is Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Parma, where he teaches cardiovascular physiology and neurophysiology in the School of Medicine. He also teaches neuroscience in the graduate program in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Bologna. His main research interest lies in the relationship between action perception and cognition, and has published several papers about mirror neurons.

Robert Michels is Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He is also Joint Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, and Deputy Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Donald Pfaff is Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University. He is a brain scientist who uses neuroanatomical, neurochemical and neurophysiological methods to study the cellular mechanisms by which the brain controls behavior. Dr. Pfaff is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, a member of the Advisory Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves on the editorial boards of numerous scholarly journals.

Mark Solms is Professor and Chair of Neuropsychology in the University of Cape Town’s Psychology Department, and is both a neuroscientist and a psychoanalyst. He has won numerous awards for his pioneering work in neuropsychoanalysis, including the International Psychiatrist Award from the American Psychiatric Association and Best Science Writing Awards. Solms has published 350 journal articles, book chapters, and six books. His book, The Brain and the Inner World, has been translated into 12 languages. Solms runs research initiatives at UCT, at the Arnold Pfeiffer Centre for Neuropsychoanalysis in New York, and at the Anna Freud Centre in London.

via philoctetes.org

Eid

Mosque Lamp; Ottoman, AD 1549; from Iznik, modern Turkey | Made for the Ottoman restoration of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem | British Museum | Click image for larger view.

The moment I saw this mosque lamp, I felt that my mother would have liked it because she – like many other people, and I among them – was very fond of ceramics and perfumed candles – my usual and last birthday gift. I could see it in the colors and patterns that they were concisely of that sort, as parents and siblings can possibly see in a child’s eyes those little things – and lovers too in each other or in any experience of beauty – guessing at the colors and patterns and those little things in the form of sensations received, renewed, remembered, reinterpreted and ultimately transformed into premises, attachments, possessions and other moorings of the mind, variously over time and place, and occasionally envisioned as articles of faith and works of art – the sorts of evanescence that are unquietly our own and therefore precious and meaningful. The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids was my favorite bedtime story which my mother often retold with variations to keep me entertained – and she would dotingly recall how I once corrected her that goats ‘graze’ [charna], not ‘eat’ [khaana] – and I remember it was in those days when my mother was young that I imagined God to be an old benevolent woman. The youngest of four brothers and finding myself somewhere between being a son and a grandson, I also bought my first few volumes of Freud in the standard english version with her at a book fair. One of my brothers is a psychiatrist – whose son was her favorite grandchild by far, and the happenstance, a great happiness of my life – and I proudly showed her what good taste I had in books, having read and half-understood Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents at seventeen from another brother’s bookshelf. She was indifferent in a very pleasant way and it was enough that we were basically out for a drive on a pleasantly cloudy winter afternoon, and that she let me read whatever I liked – something that later gave rise to certain opinions and criticisms of mine which she didn’t like at all. While last year’s Eid was the saddest of my life, I want to share her memory, again, perhaps with a feeling akin to adoration.

Eid Mubarak.

Taimur