Saturday, February 23, 2013

'In Jung’s interpretation, Job is completely innocent. He is a scrupulously pious man who follows all the religious conventions, and for most of his life he is blessed with good fortune. This is the expected outcome for a just man in a rationally ordered universe. But then God goes to work on him, tests him with misfortune, reduces him to misery, and finally overwhelms him with questions and images of divine majesty and power. Job is silenced, and he realizes his inferior position vis-a-vis the Almighty. But he also retains his personal integrity, and this so impresses God that He is forced to take stock of Himself. Perhaps He is not so righteous after all! [As Marc Fonda observes, God’s omniscience precludes self-awareness. Being omniscient, God has no concentrated self to speak of. Being a part of everything, God has no opportunity to distinguish self from non-self. However, as God knows the thoughts of humans, through the thoughts of his creation he can experience what self-awareness is.] And out of this astonishing self-reflection, induced in God by Job’s stubborn righteousness, He, the Almighty, is pushed into a process of transformation that leads eventually to His incarnation as Jesus. God develops empathy and love through his confrontation with Job, and out of it a new relationship between God and humankind is born.'

Murray Stein, Jung on Christianity

'Job’s innocence is indeed righteous, and the tricky thing about his unfair fate, as Jung zeroes in on, is that the Devil made God do it. Somewhat like the serpent manipulating the first woman and man in the Garden of Eden, Satan challenges God to test Job’s faith by inflicting maximum suffering on this innocent civilian. Satan bets God that Job will then “curse thee to thy face.” God takes the wager, at the obvious and total expense of Job.

But in Jung’s view God hasn’t just taken a wager, he’s taken the bait. Jung says that God has been suckered (“bamboozled”), and goes on to cast an extremely critical eye on the Old Testament Yahweh. He describes God’s “personality” and actions vis a vis Job in these words: unconscious, amoral, totally lacking in self-reflection...no insight, savage, ruthless, revolting, touchy, suspicious, double-faced, jealous [Jung means here “envious”], despotic, intolerable, tantalizing, less than human, non compos mentis, clueless, a monster, etc. If God were a man – and Jung addresses and assesses him as such – Job would clearly be the better man. Furthermore, from Jung’s description God sounds like some sort of superhuman narcissistic personality disorder...'


'God, in the power position, has no need to be self-reflective, that is until God encountered Job who stood his ground and showed God who God is. Job as the more conscious but less powerful figure in relation to God has more knowledge about God than God, and thus in standing up to God is able to make God conscious of  Godself, in particular of  God’s shadow side....

Indeed God’s "answer to Job", far from being found in the Yahweh speeches in Job 38-41, is found in Christ’s cry of abandonment from the cross - "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" - for this, Jung maintains, is the moment in which God reaches full self-consciousness, experiencing what Job and humanity experience: "at that moment God experiences what it means to be a mortal man [sic] and drinks to the dregs what he made his faithful servant Job suffer. Here is given the answer to Job..." In this moment God catches up with the moral development of  humankind.'


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Meaning in life is generated by the realization of values. Values can be experienced, both actively and passively.

Nihilism is the position that all values are baseless. It doesn't simply declare that values do not exist, but rather that they exist only within the realm of human subjective experience, and that there is no such thing as meaning or value outside of it in the objective reality.

Based on this, I can differentiate between two strains of nihilism: 

1) Experiential Nihilism, which is an inability to experience values and thereby an inability to experience meaning. 

2) Volitional Nihilism, which is a refusal to realize values. When confronted with the possibility of meaningfulness, a volitional nihilist would respond that even if values can be experienced and meaning can be generated, why bother, it is all an illusion and a deception anyway.

Experiential Nihilism can often be the result of a pathological (for lack of a better adjective) state of mind, such as a person suffering from major depression. An experiential nihilist simply does not have access to an experience than others have access to. Volitional Nihilism, in turn, can arise out of rationalization of experiential nihilism (but not always and not necessarily).

However, underlying Volitional Nihilism is a cloaked value judgement: it is the belief that truth is always preferable to consolatory illusions, and the truth as perceived by nihilism is that the reality is devoid of meaning and value. And yet, if there genuinely are no values, there is no reason to prefer truth over falsehood. Even the nihilist cannot rid himself of the value of truth.

This article in The American Journal of Psychiatry by James W. Lomax and Glen O. Gabbard discusses the nature of transference love with reference to a particular case of a patient Dr. A. The central theme is the analogy of transference love with an artificial rose, derived from a dream that the patient had. The patient dreamt that the therapist gave her an artificial rose, which disappointed her. She would have preferred a real rose, but also acknowledged that real roses 'don't do well in Houston' and don't last long. This is taken by the patient and the therapist as a representation of the artificial nature of transference love in comparison to the real love of other relationships.

Below are some excerpts from the article:

Dr. Gabbard: '... transference love almost always carries with it an undercurrent of aggression and hate. Inherent in the analytic frame is the notion that there is an asymmetrical expression of feelings. The patient attempts to say whatever is on his or her mind, including all of the feelings toward the analyst. In most cases, however, the analyst expresses his or her own feelings judiciously, but only when it seems therapeutically helpful to do so. This asymmetry often creates a chronic sense of rage in the patient about the inequality of the setup. Moreover, the patient must pay the analyst, who, as the patient noted, is just "doing a job." Winnicott stressed that both love and hate are inherent in the analytic frame for these reasons. While love is typified by the empathic holding environment that the analyst creates and the effort to understand the patient’s life in a nonjudgmental context, hate is reflected in the fact that time with the analyst is always limited by the professional hour and that a fee is paid for the service.'

Dr. Lomax: 'For Dr. A, being involved in a loving relationship within analysis carried with it the risk of being lured into a conflictual, critical, and frustrating relationship. While sorting through these urges and the reluctances and prohibitions associated with them, she dreamt of my giving roses to each of my patients. Naturally, she wished for a real rose and a real relationship—one without the imbalance and artificiality of psychoanalysis. The artificial rose she received instead was, of course, disappointing. However, she also recognized that the artificiality of the therapeutic relationship allows it to last longer and to serve the function it was designed to accomplish. In her metaphor, in Houston (our relationship), the living roses (the natural expression of love) would not do well....
Dr. A was right. Love in psychoanalysis is an artificial rose. The psychoanalytic relationship does copy or include elements of more natural relationships. In that sense, it was a real relationship. Yet, if it was to serve as a means to an end, it must also have remained "artificially" within a therapeutic structure, providing the limits required to achieve therapeutic results.'

Dr. Gabbard: '... at the risk of splitting hairs, I don’t think I agree with either the patient or Dr. Lomax that love in psychoanalysis is an artificial rose. I think the love experienced in one’s analysis is basically similar to the love experienced outside of analysis. The feelings are just as real, but the actions are different.... [F]rom the patient’s perspective, the feelings are definitely real. In fact, the only difference between love inside and outside the transference is that the former is analyzed. All of our significant relationships are a mixture of real elements in the present situation and the recreation of past relationships.'


If I were to describe it, I would call transference love 'synthetic' rather than 'artificial'. The analogy I have in mind is the goal of creating life out of scratch in a laboratory. [J. Craig Venter has already created the first complete synthetic bacterial genome in a lab.] Such life, if it is ever created, would be as real as life gets, but it would be synthetic, and because it would be synthetic, it could be genetically programmed to have properties that natural life does not possess. Similarly, transference love is perhaps in some sense like creating love in a psychoanalytic lab, and it is as real as love gets, but because this love is synthetic, it can be programmed to have properties and serve functions that natural love does not.

Just as creating life in a lab raises questions about the value and meaning of life in general, I think that transference love also raises questions about the value and meaning of love in general.


A schizophrenic who thought we are living in hell and not on earth reminded me of a passage from the article Reincarnation and the Meaning of Life by John Hick

"[The] basic cosmic optimism is marred within the monotheisms by their traditional doctrine of an eternal hell.... Julian of Norwich was one of the minority of pre-modern Christian thinkers, and Jalaluldin Rumi a hundred years earlier one of the minority of Muslim thinkers, who have been hospitable to the idea of universal salvation; and it may well be significant that they were both mystics, that is to say experiencers, rather than writers of dogmatic theology. Buddhism and Hinduism, on the other hand, believing in many further lives to come, have much less need for an eternal hell. Their cosmologies do indeed include many states that are generally called hells, but these are states through which people pass, not to which they are consigned for eternity. It may even be that we are in one of these now. But the cosmic optimism of these faiths, shared by various strands of Christianity, holds that the fundamental element of good at the core of our nature, the atman, or the universal Buddha nature, or the image of God within us, or ‘that of God in everyone', will eventually come to its complete fulfilment through the course of many lives, each bounded by birth and death and thus subject to the creative pressure of mortality." (my emphasis)

"Our brains evolved in such a way as to render us all eager but flawed mind readers." (my emphasis)

Michael Bérubé, paraphrasing Lisa Zunshine's theory

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A skeptical hypothesis is the possibility of a state of affairs in which our knowledge of the world is erroneous and deceptive. For example, the famous 'brain in a vat' scenario. 

Epistemological skepticism argues that we cannot have knowledge until we can rule out the skeptical hypotheses: The skeptical hypotheses cannot be ruled out, hence we do not have knowledge.

This argument however rests on a premise about the nature of knowledge, and the truth of this skeptical premise is simply being assumed without proof or demonstration.

Apart from a skeptical bias, there is no reason to assume that knowledge is impossible until the skeptical hypothesis has been ruled out.

Epistemological skepticism cannot be refuted, but the simplest way to avoid its conclusion is to not accept the skeptical premise in the first place.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Female Posing (1968), drawing by the physicist Richard Feynman
(Source: Brain Pickings)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Some excerpts from the Introduction of The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy by Viktor E. Frankl:

* This will-to-meaning is the most human phenomenon of all, since an animal certainly never worries about the meaning of its existence. Yet psychotherapy would turn this will-to-meaning into a human frailty, a neurotic complex. A therapist who ignores man's spiritual side, and is thus forced to ignore the will-to-meaning, is giving away one of his most valuable assets. For it is to this will that a psychotherapist should appeal. Again and again we have seen that an appeal to continue life, to survive the most unfavorable circumstances, can be made only when such survival appears to have a meaning. that meaning must be specific and personal, a meaning which can be realized by this one person alone.

* I believe there is no such thing as psychotherapy unconcerned with values, only one that is blind to values.

* Men can give meaning to their lives by realizing what I call creative values, by achieving tasks. But they can also give meaning to their lives by realizing experiential values, by experiencing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, or by knowing one single human being in all his uniqueness. And to experience one human being as unique means to love him.

   But even a man who finds himself in the greatest distress, in which neither activity nor creativity can bring values to life, nor experience give meaning to it — even such a man can still give his life a meaning by the way he faces his fate, his distress. By taking his unavoidable suffering upon himself he may yet realize values.

   Thus, life has meaning to the last breath. For the possibility of realizing values by the very attitude with which we face our unchangeable suffering — this possibility exists to the very last moment. I call such values attitudinal values. The right kind of suffering — facing your fate without flinching — is the highest achievement that has been granted to man.

* I have said that man should not ask what he may expect from life, but should rather understand that life expects something from him

* While the collectivist ignores his own personality, the fanatic ignores that of the other man, the man who thinks differently. Only his own opinion is valid. In reality, his opinions are those of the group and he does not really have them; his opinions have him.

* Freud once said: "Man is not only often much more immoral than he believes, but also much more moral than he thinks." I should like to add that he is often much more religious than he suspects.

Multiculturalism is not simply a juxtaposition of differing cultures.
It is a culture in it's own right, with it's own central principles to which participant cultures agree to submit.
Participant cultures are rarely by origin multicultural. Often it requires certain adaptations on part of the cultural adherents for a culture to become compatible with a multicultural society.
There is a vaguely defined and arbitrary distinction between public and private, a line that may be drawn differently in different multicultural societies, which requires cultures to cede the public realm to a common neutral ground.
Incompatible cultures which are reluctant to adapt, especially when the incompatibility is seen as a reflection of authenticity, and/or are reluctant to cede the public sphere, would come to see multiculturalism as a threat and they would in turn become a threat for the multicultural culture.

 

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