Siddhartha’s First Lecture: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 4)

ancient antique asia asian

The first teaching I received from my Buddhist psychology teacher was regarding suffering as an opportunity for insight. After introducing me to the idea that suffering is a part of life that cannot be entirely eliminated, my teacher asked me to meditate on my suffering for the next week. This meditation involved being actively mindful throughout my day, and remaining aware when I felt anxiety or frustration that lead to certain activities, such as eating chocolate or smoking a cigarette. He asked me to simply become aware of the impulse; the desire, and to spend some time with the feeling of anxiousness before fulfilling the desire.Continue reading “Siddhartha’s First Lecture: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 4)”

What Does The Buddhist Mean by Interconnectedness?: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 5)

close up photography of mshroom

One of the first lessons that one learns in wild mushroom hunting is that even the choice edibles can be poisoned by the soil in which they grow.  Mushrooms that grow on a chemically-treated golf course, or along a roadside might contain toxins that are absorbed into the mushroom from the polluted soil. In this way, a choice edible can become poisonous to eat.

This brings an awareness not only of the characteristics of the specific mushroom variety, but also the soil or context in which it grows. Context becomes as important as the object. The ground becomes synonymous with the figure. We find a parallel in understanding our experience of ourself in both Eastern Buddhist and Western psychodynamic and existential psychologies.

Continue reading “What Does The Buddhist Mean by Interconnectedness?: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 5)”

Siddhartha’s First Lecture, The Eightfold Path of The Middle Way: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 6)


Continuing our exploration of Siddhartha Gautama’s first lecture, The Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma Sutta, we turn to the central teaching of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path toward the Middle Way.

This lecture (Dhammacakkapavattana in Pali) was delivered in a deer sanctuary in Sarnath, India. It is taught that after Siddhartha awoke to the insights of enlightenment (Buddha means awoken one), he delivered this lecture to a small group of five people. This sutra (the Sanskrit word sutra is like the English word suture; it sews things together) is so dense and rich that we could spend years exploring the text. I would like to present a few concepts that are most relevant to psychology and life philosophy. This is the essence of Buddhist thought (presented in Part 4 of this series); the Eightfold Path of the Middle Way, and the Four Noble Truths.Continue reading “Siddhartha’s First Lecture, The Eightfold Path of The Middle Way: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 6)”

The Four Noble Truths: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 7)

pathway in between trees at daytime

We are exploring the Eightfold Path of the Middleway, and the Four Noble Truths. The first of the eight suggestions for living a life free of extremes concerns how we understand life. The Buddha taught that there is a beneficial way of understanding life, of seeing the world, which will help us to live a more pleasant life. This first of the Eightfold Path is typically translated as the right view. I will use beneficial view, to avoid the idea of correct or incorrect; right and wrong.

The Buddha taught that the beneficial view of the world is the Four Noble Truths. If we understand these four truths, we will see the world and our lives in a way in which we can reduce suffering and live a life of contentedness. It is the central concept of Buddhist teaching, and requires us to examine our habitual, unproductive attitude, and adopt a different attitude towards life.

Continue reading “The Four Noble Truths: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 7)”

An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology: On Vipassana Meditation (Part 8)

water blue ocean

Although there are many kinds of meditation, Buddhist practitioners typically speak of two approaches to meditation, Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha meditation predates Buddhism and is a calming, focusing, and clarifying practice. Vipassana practice is uniquely Buddhist and cultivates insight and an opening of experience to broader realties (awakening). Vipassana is commonly called mindfulness meditation. I find it useful to think of Samatha meditation as a first stage of meditation that leads into Vipassana. Vipassana practice begins with Samatha practice.Continue reading “An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology: On Vipassana Meditation (Part 8)”

Cinderella: On The Forgotten Language

I suppose that a young person adores a story like Cinderella for the same reason that any of us enjoy a good story at any age. In childhood as in adulthood, we turn to stories not only for escape from the difficulties of our lives, but also to nourish our internal, psychic, emotional lives. We leave a good book or a good movie transformed by the experience. Aspects of ourselves that were hidden emerge, difficulties that have weighed upon us are lifted, and we often see our world and ourselves with new eyes. Isn’t this the charm of a good book or of cinema; its ability to fill us with enchantment?Understanding exactly how a story achieves this effect on us offers a glimpse into our internal workings, an opportunity to learn about ourselves.
Erich Fromm took up this endeavor in a book called The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths. Like all of Fromm’s writings this book is for the curious, intelligent layperson. One does not need a degree in psychology or philosophy to read this book, it is written for the reader. The only requirement made by Fromm is that the reader be curious about the inner workings of her psyche –her emotional life.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which was released last week, is the impetus for my thinking. Disney has built an empire on folk tales and legends, and Cinderella is at the heart of that empire. Said to be the most famous fairy tale, Cinderella, in one variation or another, has captivated children since ancient Egypt and China. A story with that kind of vitality, one that speaks to children despite the differences of culture and history, is fantastic. What exactly is it about this story that captivates children across the centuries?
The effect of a good story isn’t dependent on the medium. It is true that the experience of going into the theatre, sinking into the plush, velvet, seat as the lights dim and the fire begins to burn, all add to the psychological receptivity of the story. After all, isn’t this scene common to the bedtime story read by a parent, the gathering of the clan around the fire, the psychoanalyst’s couch, or the most intimate entrance into our internal world; the nocturnal dream? Cinema is a magical place which invites us into our emotive world, a place where we gather to stare into the flickering fire to catch a glimpse into our internal lives, projected onto the screen.
We know through the familiar experience of discussing a story, that each of us sees a different film. We bring something to the film that is unique to ourselves, and that changes throughout our lives. We  are repeatedly drawn to a certain film at one point in our life, which is later forgotten. We seem to utilize certain stories to work thorough emotional questions that we face. When those emotional questions are worked through successfully we pass on to another questions, and the stories that resonate with those questions are then embraced.
I think one of the missteps that people make when thinking about dream interpretation is similar to a misstep that scholars take when talking about film interpretation. Dreams, like media, are often approached as if they hold a singular, objective meaning. The meaning of a dream is highly individual and contextual with the dreamer’s life. Fromm points out that this is true for the meaning of a story as well. When we consider the meaning of a story we must also consider its meaning for the individual. This is why we find little substance in studies that seek to discover if a movie or video game causes a certain reaction in audiences. The question is too broad, which is evident in the broad results that such studies typically produce.
Stories, like dreams, are written in a symbolic language. These symbols, grounded in our common human evolution, are primarily visual and audial. The cinema acts on this tradition of resonating with deep psychical symbolism through the eyes and the ears. These symbols have meaning in isolation as well as in the context of how and when they appear with other symbols. These symbols, taken as a whole constitute the story that we receive. Like the dream, a story exists on two levels. There is the conscious storyline that we understand though the narrative. This manifest storyline operates on a certain logic, and unfolds in a series of causal chains. Cinderella is living amongst the ashes of the fireplace because her stepmother and stepsisters are cruel to her. She is transformed into beautiful clothing because her fairy godmother appears. She wins the prince because she “has courage and is kind (Disney forces this moral upon us to the point of suspicion; it almost feels like Disney is defending itself with this cliché propaganda).
The manifest content of the story functions at the surface level. It is the story that critics discuss in their reviews, and about which most post-viewing conversation takes place between adults. But listen to children talk about a film and you will hear something different. Children’s conversation about a film are much closer to that of the psychoanalyst’s. The conversation here is not confined to the surface level, manifest content, but is often about a deeper, latent content.

The logic of the manifest content is different from the logic of the symbolic, emotional, latent content. Although the manifest story line of our dreams might seem illogical, they follow, as does the experience of a psychotic individual, an extremely logical thought process. What makes most dreams seem bizarre of fantastic is the premise and not the logic of the story. For example, the paranoid neurotic who goes to extreme measure to protect themselves from alien mind control is highly logical; the tinfoil cap blocks mind control waves, etc., but the premise of the belief, that is the starting point for the logical chain, is highly unusual.
We can see this with the depiction of dreams in film. It is a rare achievement that a filmmaker captures the essence of a dream in a movie. I can think of Federico Fellini’s dream sequences in 8 1/2 as a successful example. Typically the cliché depiction of dreams on film are merely reproductions of the surface level, manifest content of the dream world. This is why they miss the mark in conjuring up the dream experience. Fellini does not follow the logic of the manifest content in his dreams sequences, instead he is informed by the geometric or analogical reasoning of the deep, latent content of the dream. We are left, in 8 1/2, not with a logical experience, but rather, with a deep emotional shifting, not unlike the shifting that takes place when we awaken from a nocturnal dream.
Fromm tells us that “a dream unexamined is like a letter unopened.” We hold the same to be true for stories, myths, and films. But just as we must be literate to the language of the letter, Fromm tells us we must be literate to the language of the dream. This dream language is also the language of the latent content of the myth, story, and folktale. In fact, it is because of this underlying, symbolic significance that children and adults are captivated by these stories. The power of the myth lies within the fact that it speaks to us at a deep, unconscious, special level; a level which all humans share.
Taking rhetoric and semiotics as his starting point, Fromm begins his lesson on learning the forgotten language by describing the nature of meaning in symbols. Whereas Sigmund Freud’s dream analyses are often unconvincing and far-fetched (I often feel that Freud’s interpretations serve his theory, rather than serving the dreamer), Fromm’s method leaves us with a much more satisfying analysis. When we get the analysis right, that is, when we read the language of the dream and decode its meaning significantly, we are left with a sense of emotional release. I think this is evidence that we need to seek out when analyzing the meaning for us in a dream; does it produce a certain cathartic release in the dreamer? The same can be said for understanding the significance of a film or story.
Fromm tells us that visual and auditory symbols take on significance as conventional, accidental, or universal symbols. A conventional symbol, like the word table has learned meaning. The spoken or written word table is associated with the meaning through convention, that is learning. The word and meaning in conventional symbol is entirely arbitrary, it changes from language to language (be it table  or テーブル).
Accidental symbols refers to the personal significance that something takes on to an individual. For example, Fromm talks about the meaning that the name of a certain city takes on for an individual that has had an experience with that city. It is obvious that at the accidental symbolic level, meaning shifts from person to person.
For Fromm, universal meaning “is one in which there is an intrinsic relationship between the symbol and that which it represents.” The universal symbols are familiar to us all, they are the significance that words and images like fire or water take on. Fromm tells us,

“That a phenomenon of the physical world can be the adequate expression of an inner experience, that the world of things can be a symbol of the world of the mind, is not surprising. We all know that our bodies express our minds. Blood rushes to our heads when we are furious, it rushes away from them when we are afraid; our hearts bear more quickly when we are angry, and the whole body has a different tonus if we are happy from the one it has when we are sad. We express our moods by our facial expressions and our attitudes and feelings by movements and gestures so precise that others recognize them more accurately from our gestures than from our words. Indeed, the body is a symbol–and not an allegory–of the mind. Deeply and genuinely felt emotion, and even any genuinely felt thought, is expressed in out whole organism. In the case of the universal symbol. we find the same connection between mental an physical experience. Certain physical phenomena suggest by their very nature certain emotional and mental experiences, and we express emotional experiences in the language of physical experiences, that is to say, symbolically.”

The nature of the dream, or the fairytale, is analogical. That is, what is significant to us in the film is the meaningful analogy the we garner through both the symbolism of the story and our own, personal circumstances. When we examine the significance of a story or film, we do so in a way identical to our examining of a dream; meaning and significance is profoundly personal. However, there are some common universal themes and symbols that we can understand through what Fromm described in the universal symbols.
In The Forgotten Language Fromm does not address Cinderella. However, 24 years later Bruno Bettelheim would. I turn to Bettelheim’s classic The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales to illustrate Fromm’s universal meanings in Cinderella.
Bettelheim offers us a thorough, forty-something page analysis of the history and significance of the Cinderella tale. The Disney version of Cinderella is based upon an adaption written in 1697 by Charles Perrault. In Histoires ou contes du temps pasé (Stories of fairy tales from past times or Mother Goose Tales), we are given a sanitized version of Cinderella that was made polite for the ears of the court of Louis XIV of France. Absent is any of the morbid self-mutilation (step sisters cutting of their toes to make the slipper fit) or hints at incest (Cinderella struggling with the sexual expectations of her father) that we find in versions like that of the Brothers Grimm. After all, we are dealing here with a folk tale that was passed on orally, in many cultures, dating back to ancient Egypt and ancient China.
The universal themes that remain intact for audiences of the 2015, Disney version of Cinderella are described by Bettelheim include: Cinderella’s mistreatment as a consequence of sibling rivalry, Cinderella’s living among the ashes (thus her name Aschenputtel in the German tales), the loss of her loving “good” mother, the adjustment to a resentful and cruel “wicked” stepmother, the absence of her  father as protector from the wicked mother, the rejection by her father for the stepmother, and nurturing of internal goodness and hope and the reappearance of the eternal “goodness” of the mother as the fairy godmother. Finally, a struggle significant to children approaching adolescence is the transition that will take place with the replacement of the father with another male figure.
These themes are universal symbols that all humans can identify with. For Fromm, as well as Bettelheim, this is why fairy tales resonate with children throughout the ages. On the surface level, the child enjoys a story about a girl who has lost her mother, is treated poorly by her stepmother and step siblings, is granted magical intervention, and triumphs by finding happiness with a prince. However, there is something of more significance taking place at an unconscious level. The story resonates with the child and is most compelling for reasons that they are not yet aware of.
Here we can appreciate Bettelheim’s discussion of Erik Erikson’s insights into the psychic life of children. Taking into consideration the psychical age at which fairy tales most appeal to children (Bettelheim points to around 4 through the adolescence), we can understand the significance of Cinderella more fully.
Erikson tells us that the earliest stage of emotional development centers around a sense of basic trust. “Basic trust is instilled in the child by the good mothering he experiences during the earliest period of his life. If all goes well, then, the child will have confidence in himself and in the world. The helpful animal or the [fairy god mother] is an image, embodiment, external representation of this basic trust. It is the heritage which a good mother confers on her child which will stay with him, and preserve and sustain him in direst distress.”
Here we see the significance of the loving mother’s impact on the child. Even in her absence, the love and nurturing that Cinderella’s mother provided before she died serves as a resource that survives within her young daughter. Cinderella is unaware, as is the child who attends to the tale, that this “good mother” (godmother) is the magic that exists within herself, a spirit that, when fostered and embraced, serves to provide us all with the courage and strength to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances. “Only being true to oneself, as Cinderella is, succeeds in the end.”
The importance of fantasy and fairy tale in the life of children is at least as important for emotional well-being as the creative, fantasy life is for the adult. Like Cinderella herself, the fairy tale nurtures a warm fire of enchantment within each of us, the fire of which, when stoked, can serve to keep us hopeful through the most challenging of life’s tragedies.
Direct questions, comments, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

Mere Activity of the Brain or "Nothing but" Psychology

This blog originally appeared on March 9, 2012.

Neuroscientific explanations of human experience are the rage. Science writers, who all too often know just enough science to be dangerous -and not enough to be discerning, enthusiastically swarm around celebrity experts, repeating and indulging their narrative with oftentimes myopic and unexamined assumptions. Quite possibly the most dangerous of our time are those who write and speak with the tone, the rhetoric, of authority, but without the authority itself. By contrast, one characteristic that we often find in those who are the most thorough and penetrating in their thoughts is their refusal to refer to themselves in outdated and chauvinistic terms such as expert or authority. Such titles are remnants of an Enlightenment attitude that is quickly passing into history.

Today it is nearly impossible to read about the human experiences of love, anger, lust, empathy, or creativity without being told that these are merely chemicals or neural connections of the brain. The explanation is convincing, and to many, it seems, satisfying. Like the interesting work in evolutionary psychology and psychoanalysis, the explanations are typically the repetition of a single narrative. In other words, the same punch-line for every joke.
We are not dismissing the necessity for, or possible importance of, such empirical insights. But we are stating, and stating emphatically, that the schwärmerei over biological explanations is not only headlong, but also limits ones understanding of themselves and others.
These explanations, given by great authorities of science, and often expounded in the presentist, narcissistic-wonderment of journalism, leaves the reader with an illusion of knowing -the false sense of security that the great ecclesiastics of modernity have it all under control.
Because examples of the mere activity of the brain explanations are so frequent, I will not present specific instances here. One can find examples in nearly any magazine or newspaper article written on a fad topic. On Valentine’s Day we are told that love is due to the increased levels of the hormone oxytocin, and when we feel depressed we are told that we have an imbalance of serotonin. These explanations, given by great authorities of science, and often expounded in the presentist, narcissistic-wonderment of journalism, leave the reader with an illusion of knowing -the false sense of security that the great ecclesiastics of modernity have it all under control.
William James
The founder of American psychology, William James, called this attitude nothing-but psychology. Referring to the popular position of the German experimentalists, James described it as an “unwarrantable impertinence in the present state of psychology”. Today, however, technology lends the imprimatur for pertinence. The august spectacle of computer imaging (fMRI, MRI, CT and PET scanning) conflate technology and knowing. The equipment lends a certain authority to the orientation. After all, the technology is a tool, and not the theoretical framework, of the explanation.
To better understand the mere activity of the brain attitude, we must consider the two pillars of biological psychology and neuroscience. The two central ideas are reductionism and mechanism.
Reductionism is the belief that the further some material thing is reduced (dissected) the closer we get to the foundation, base, or “truth” of that thing. It seems logical and is easy to accept that a potato is made up of microscopic cells -something we all learn in early school days. The idea that reducing something to its smallest parts will bring us to the fundamental stuff that it is, is not only incorrect, it is antiquated. The Quantum Revolution in physics dismissed the myth of reductionism. To understand this, think of an hour glass. At some point the funneling inverts and becomes large. In theoretical terms this means that reduction to the microscopic reveals an infinitely large, quantum dimension. Ideas of big, small, and necessarily reductionism, become meaningless.
What then does reductionism in biological psychology tell us? The forgotten lesson was taught by not only by William James but the Gestalt psychologists. Contemporary neuropsychology would benefit from a Gestalt or Jamesian renaissance. The lesson is: genes, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cells, taken collectively, are expressions of what we call, on the social or personal level, emotions, motivation, and action. These are not causes, but rather, qualities.
The lesson is: genes, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cells, taken collectively, are expressions of what we call, on the social or personal level, emotions, motivation, and action. These are not causes, but rather, qualities.
The second assumption of the mere activity of the brain attitude is the philosophical position of mechanism. An antiquated notion of the Enlightenment, mechanism (also known as materialism) holds that the analysis of the behavior of reduced stuff (like neurotransmitter or genes) will reveal a systematic, lawful, predictable clockwork mechanism. This position holds that the more one observes the behavior of the parts, the more one will come to understand its regular patterns. Although this belief is held by many experimentalists in behavioral science, it has been retired in other sciences for over one hundred years.
With the Einsteinian Revolution (1905) and Werner Heissenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (1927) the way science is done was changed. Both of these scientific reorientations resulted from Peirce’s pragmatic semiotics and entered physics into the Post-Enlightenment projects of quantum mechanics, string theory, and chaos theory. Today experimental psychology and neuroscience remain firmly rooted in an Enlightenment tradition that clings to simplistic causal relationships that can only be established through reduction and careful documentation of the mechanized patterns of behavior. The necessary step, is a reconsideration of James’ 1890 Principles of Psychology.

Direct Questions, comments, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

On Semiology, Psychoanalysis, and Phenomenology: Remembering What We Once Knew

This blog originally appeared on January 15, 2012.

Roland Barthes. Photo 1978 by Sophie Bassouls.

Since childhood, since the earliest memories of youth, we have been aware of an implicit, nonverbal, unarticulated aspect of experience.

This experience, contrary to what education insisted, was not primarily contemplative, but rather, emotive. Beneath the rational cognition, quite plunging and undulating, pushing and pulling, was the fundamental essence of visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile phenomenal experience. Meaning is identical in the senses, it is absent from a thing itself, only emerging in relational context to something else. Meaning is not of some thing, rather it is between, or in relation with some things.
The relationship, never simply a dyad, but a severely complex contextual system, forms signification of experience. Knowing is something we feel, not something we think. We can think something, yet it does not take hold of us, when we know something we feel it somatically. It finally hits us, it sinks in, and we experience the “a-ha” moment of knowing. It is a physical sensation of the body, this knowing that I speak of.
Auditory and visual symbols hold significance with each other in the perceiver. Perception is an intentional act, not a passive experience. Roland Barthes examined this phenomenon that we have known (have felt) since childhood. Whereas Barthes described it in image and music, Sigmund Freud was a semiologist of the psyche. We do not mean the bastardized, Enlightenment use of the word, but rather its seminal meaning: soul. Having soul requires that you feel.
Film, photograph, architecture, fashion, advertising, painting, poetry, music -these are all symbolic structures that act, as do words, to signify all that we come to call “reality”. Barthes tells us that through indoctrination and repetition we become captivated by a reality effect. Husserl described this as a captivation-in-an-acceptedness -the reality that we have no recollection of actively fabricating reality. It never occurs to us to question it.
The photograph is not a sign it is a reality in itself -it is really a photograph. The signifier (iconic or echoic sensory trace) was arbitrarily associated with the signified (the concept). This is where science is confined, in the language games of the signifiers, predetermined by the grammar system from which it emerges. But there is something beneath this, something more that is felt rather than thought -the referent. Jacques Lacan called this referent –L’imaginaire- the place of the symbolic order. The ego ideal, according to Lacan, is the place, from within the symbolic order, that I seem myself from.
But how do sounds and images come to mean things? How does a referent come to be signified by a signifier? Charles Sanders Pierce tells us that this happens in three different ways: iconically, indexically, and symbolically. All signification can be described (unwritten) with one, or a combination of all three, of these functions. The icon resembles the signified. The symbol refers merely through tradition, and the index is presumed to cause the signifier.
We used to know, before we were educated, this relationship between signs (symbols). We were closer to the validity of our own experience. Ferdinand de Saussure reminded us of this experience which Barthes unfolds. The experiential, similar to the analytic methods of dream interpretation, is applied to the conscious as well as unconscious experience. In Carl Jung’s development of the signs of the psyche (the archetypes) we come closer to what Maurice Merleau-Ponty described as existential communication. This move, from linguistics, to psychoanalysis, to phenomenology is a formidable path to which we see Martin Heidegger as the thread of thought.
Saussure would hold that convention is the mother of meaning. If we set images (signs) in relation to each other (parole) we have an act that communicates something. However, in the organization of the signs themselves we have yet a deeper level of meaning that is communicating to us, the code (langue).
Freud taught us to distinguish between manifest and latent content of a dream. Although we become fascinated in talking about the manifest content with others, it is the latent content of the dream that holds its greatest significance for us. The code of the dream is always written in the non-rational, that is, in the emotional. Dream meaning can be found by going through the manifest (parole), and experiencing the latent (langue) in which phenomenological experience informs us. This is something we all knew and then lost through civilization. The poet regains it and reminds us of what we once knew.

Direct comments, questions, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

12 Propositions of Alfred Adler

This blog originally appeared on October 20, 2013.

Let’s dwell in the work of Alfred Adler; his cultural, group, and individual processes of a mediated world and a mediated self. Adler began with 12 propositions which serve as the ground or referent for his working system. Like the Ptolemaic, geocentric, worldview; it can function pragmatically. What interests us here is not objective Truth, but rather a functional, pragmatic, system that is both useful and thoughtful. We approach Adler with the attitude of radical empiricism.

The 12 propositions (paraphrased):
  1. The fundamental human condition is a striving from a state of “felt minus situation towards a plus situation, from a feeling of inferiority towards superiority, perfection, totality.”
  2. We strive towards a biological and environmental self-ideal, a fiction that we (ultimately) create and choose to endorse as our guiding fiction.
  3. We go about our business largely unaware of our guiding fiction, it is unconscious.
  4. The goal (guiding fiction) is a final cause. It is a teleological pull towards the self-deal fiction. One must identify the final fiction to organize the behavior into meaningfulness.
  5. Ones style of life is shaped by this final fiction from an early age. Behavior that seems contradictory or absurd becomes meaningful when viewed from the final fiction of the self-ideal.
  6. The style of life is a system that is comprised of conscious and unconscious processes.
  7. Biological and environmental factors are relative to the goal. Genes and experience are not direct causes but probabilities that function through the style of life towards a self-ideal.
  8. An individual’s opinion of themselves and their worldview (enframing) influence all psychological processes.
  9. The individual self is embedded with the social context. The self and context are not independent.
  10. All biological and personal desires become social desires.
  11. The goal of the healthful individual is social interest; an un-narcissistic, non-ego-centered life.
  12. Maladjustment includes lack of social interest, a persistent and defining sense of inferiority, and a goal of personal superiority over others.
Adler proposes a psychology of context. How can we understand the individual-mediated (figure-ground) phenomena of media psychology through this pragmatic system of thought? What are the implications for thinking through cultural phenomena that we have encountered in media and psychology? If we ask the questions; how does this behavior serve to move from a state of minus (inferiority) to a state of plus? How does the style of life form the worldview that produces phenomena? How can we think from new directions when we consider the fictional finaltude of a media producer and media re-broadcaster (persona)?

Direct comments, questions, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

Theodor Reik Part 4: Dream Analysis & The Compulsion to Confession

This blog originally appeared on December 21, 2011.

Dream analysis for Reik, as for Freud, was of fundamental significance in self-analysis of the psyche. The emotional and iconic nature of the dream is one that is somehow closest to alchemy and analogical thought.
Described by Freud as “the royal road to the unconscious,” Reik proposes dream analysis to be the cornerstone of self-analysis. He offers an analysis of his own dream (known as the “judgement” dream) to illustrate how an analyst goes about analyzing a dream of their own.
Reik remains faithful to classical Freudian dream interpretation and offers an analysis that brings us closer to his understanding of himself as a proud and vengeful person, who might feel somewhat inadequate (or falsely humble) in his contributions to psychoanalysis. The admission, as it were, of Reik’s pride and desire to dominate (he takes great pains to point out that this is not physical, but intellectual domination) is repeated frequently. One wonders whom Reik was writing to in this chapter? It is almost a confession in itself. In this way, Reik points out that his dream was a confession, and that confession is a desire to re-experience the “guilty” action. In this way, Reik contends, a confession is way of emotionally reliving the act, and not without some sort of satisfaction.

Reik describes how dream images (emotionally loaded icons) at the unconscious, latent level, resonate with imagery and action in the waking life. Oftentimes the full exposure of the latent content of a dream is not immediate, but rather, unfolds over the course of months and years. Reik explains that the recollection of a dream, or portion of a dream, can be understood in the context of what is happening in the person’s life at the moment of recollection. Emotionally charged symbols resonate with the imagery and context of the waking life, which elicits the the dream imagery to manifest in consciousness. Paying attention to the emotional, environmental, and intellectual events, preceding and following the recollection of the dream, will offer clues to its meaning. A dream continues to be analyzed and revised within the context of the conscious life.
The symbolic-emotional nature of dreams are archetypal, emotionally loaded, iconography that takes on general emotional relationships. The everyday interactions of objects in our life are experiences within a certain set of analogical archetypes that are amalgamated at the symbolic level. It is not the icon itself that holds significance in the analogical process, but rather, the emotional and relational phenomenon that comes forth from the interaction between objects. This is the wisdom of the analogical dream -the structure of the configurations of knowing, which is the outcome of dream analysis.

Direct questions, comments, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.