Archive for August, 2015

The Philosophy Of Dreams Re-Visited

August 10, 2015

Shortly after the last post (The Philosophy Of Dreams) serendipity found me overhearing a radio interview. It was a doctor/psychiatrist/researcher (Dr. Rachel Yehuda speaking with Krista Tippett “On Being” NPR). The doctor said something along the lines of people say they are a changed person after a trauma. And in a way they are. Although genetically they are unchanged (DNA), how their genes interact changes noticeably (what On Being describes as epigenetics – “genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior”). Originally from Cleveland, Dr. Yehuda returned to study the holocaust survivors she grew up amongst and their offspring. She discovered epigenetic changes within the offspring that expressed the original survivor’s disposition. Studies done of pregnant women who survived 911 found the changed interactions carried over to their infants. These studies would support Turcke’s assessment of the physiological connection of the experience of trauma and the psyche. People don’t “bounce back” but rather replay under changed conditions. A different consideration was expressed with a more recent interview (David Freudberg’s “Humankind” NPR). A writer named William Powers, former staff writer for the Washington Post, was making the rounds for the release of his new book “Hamlet’s Blackberry”. He said self-contradictory things that he wasn’t aware he was mouthing (in light of Turcke’s insights). Powers repeatedly advocated for a digital Sabbath, a time set aside for shutting down the screens so folks can reflect, do the “homework” (Turcke references Benjamin as saying was needed in the age of technical reproduction), refresh and restore their “persons” (in terms of experience). One proposal was from Friday through Sunday, etc. Powers claims large corporations have recognized this need and already are implementing such policies (he referenced Intel as being one). Powers glibly says that people need to rediscover this space (of reflection, homework, replay – what Turcke bases as foundational to the ability of the psyche to defer and repress, an ability developed over millennia that made human culture possible). The vast majority of current college students starting back in a couple of weeks will have been born during the Clinton presidency. All will have grown up with the concentrated distraction Turcke describes as becoming increasingly pervasive, directly or indirectly, cultivated or initiated on their own. What Powers said sounds comforting (that we can draw upon a time of experience that is non-digital). He references a bunch of his favorite philosophers, saying enthusiastically “we need to remember” that ultimately this is about us, who we are, etc. Hearing this, these same students, who have never known a time of non-digital experience, will immediately reach for their ever present smart phones. If Powers says “we need to remember” something, they will look it up on their phone. This existence of a function or work of the psyche being done better by a machine than the humans who created it is what makes for the radical change in culture and the de-evolution of human psychology that Turcke writes of. To remember is to recall. Plato’s Socrates considered knowledge already present, to be a function of recognition, recall, replay much as the way memory operates, which presumes a functioning repression or deferral. All of which a machine can now do faster and more efficiently. This underscores what Turcke points out, that what took millennia to achieve can be undone within the next hundred years.


The Philosophy Of Dreams

August 3, 2015

Christophe Turcke’s The Philosophy Of Dreams (2013) tackles the age old mind/body problem head on (no pun intended) only within the parameters of a very systematic approach founded on Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams. The mind is that of the human psyche which Turcke expands to include all its manifestations, social and cultural. The body is neurological, founded on the nervous system and its operation, from the most primitive organism to the most advanced – the human whose physiology incorporates the largest brain proportionately. Originally Freud determined a relationship of dreams with sex. The end of the great war (WWI) found returning veterans reliving their horror in repetitive dreams. Freud recognized this and reassessed his interpretation to consider this traumatic repetition compulsion. For Freud Dreams likewise were a manifestation for what he considered to be the vestiges of primitive thought process. Turcke seizes on this, hence The Philosophy Of Dreams. Language, visual art, architecture, etc. are evidence of a developed psyche and culture. No empirical evidence exists of how primitive humans, Neanderthals, pre- homo sapiens, etc. did anything (the Foreword is subtitled the Early Stone Age in Us). In the tradition of European speculative philosophy/reasoning Turcke meticulously considers the evolution of the psyche and its evidentiary culture, from “pre” to contemporary, in three chapters entitled Dreams, Drives, and Words. Within these three chapters contemporary culture is practically not. It, however, is the focus of the Afterword: High-Tech Dreamtime. My inadequate synopsis fails to convey the complexity of this book intended to weave traumatic repetition into an integral part of the functioning of the psyche and the consequent development of culture. Students of contemporary culture would benefit from a full reading. Some lack within the work begs to be addressed. Turcke’s presentation is very authoritative with frequent use of “it cannot be denied”, or “it cannot be otherwise”, or “is conclusive that…”, etc. No physical evidence can be produced to substantiate such reasoning (lacking a “way back machine”, Lucy’s bones tell us little of her thought process, went to the prom, etc. That is, had a social existence/non-existence). Turcke’s position of authority lies with his speculative reasoning much as that of economists since Adam Smith. And we all know how well that has gone. Which brings out a basic unsubstantiated assumption (of that very reasoning) critical to the entire work – that early, early humans/pre-humans were social. Turcke criticizes early cultural history assumptions based on current practices but never considers his own propensity. Perhaps early humans/pre-humans were not necessarily social but solitary, each for themselves like bears or groundhogs. If this is considered, much of what he reasons from falls apart (the centrality of human sacrifice as trauma repeated compulsively). To go from the solitary to the social is no small feat in itself for the evolving psyche. For Turcke an organism recoils from unpleasantness encountered in the environment. The unpleasantness is detected through a stimulus experience. Humans, being the most sensitive in terms of nervous system development, continuously must process and dispose of/deal with countless stimuli, internally as well as externally generated. This results in the working behavior of the human psyche, accounting for the exceptional significance of traumatic repetition compulsion (instead of recoil, there is replay). The brain has to “do” something with all this stimulus, get rid of it or diminish it, integrate it (stimulus flight). Turcke’s description of the brain’s synaptic activity is practically analogous to one of sex at the cellular level, in terms of ejaculation and reception (a Freudian slip?). Freud himself maintained the primacy of the sexual within dreams even after his traumatic repetition assessment. Turcke finds fault with this but himself fails to consider the relationship of sex to the development of the social. He simply assumes social cohesiveness without establishing physiological ties. No account is given of what makes for the development of the solitary to the social. His model of an organism’s neural activity in response to outside stimulus limits, displaces, or denies any physiological link to the source of that stimulus within its environment, i.e. what is not the organism itself (outside the organism proper). Standing within the vicinity of a robin’s nest or near a mother grizzly and her cubs reveals a quite different scenario. The behavior of these creatures will yield a response quite different than that of an isolated robin on the lawn or a bear splashing for salmon. The former response to the stimulus of the close proximity of an other is in terms of a threat to something outside the organism proper, something which is not a physiological part of the organism itself, attached to its neural circuitry. The latter would be along the lines of what Turcke bases his reasoning on re: individual psyche assessment of stimulus from outside the organism. The threat to the “social” of nest or cubs argues for a response connection not restricted by the organism’s inherent physiological make up itself but to a link to something greater, outside itself that it considers part of itself or itself to be part of (so the robin feigns injury to distract, the bear charges). This would account for Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual as a “pre” of the social, facilitating the psyche’s evolution from solitary to social. This would, however, disrupt Turcke’s account of traumatic repetition as central to the development of thought and culture (the raison d’etre of “human sacrifice”). The Philosophy Of Dreams provides invaluable insights and reasoning for much that affects the contemporary though some of the omissions and assumptions show there is more to the story than an authoritative account. A like exposition could theoretically be made for euphoric repetition compulsion (if there is such a thing) and its workings within the parameters of why pre-humans turned over rocks in search of…, and otherwise interacted with their environment as well as migrated for a “better life”. How would they know “better” was possible if it wasn’t a repetition compulsion?