PG to MH, 3 October 2005
I'm pleased/flattered that you found "Making the Unconscious ..." helpful, and even more so that it elicited from you a question/concern that helps to crystallize for me some of the next questions that follow from it. No, yours/they are not either small or dumb questions. Are they "too big"? I don't think so, but .... let's play with them a bit and see.
Let's start with "scientists", both so you're duly warned about how I understand the term and because its relevant. Science, for me, IS "fiction writing" in several very important senses (see Science as Story-Telling in Action and Revisiting Science in Culture and Getting It Less Wrong: The Brain's Way). The best science always proceeds "out of ignorance", precisely out of a realization that one doesn't "understand" something, ie that there is some set of observations that one doesn't have a "story" to account for. Which in turn becomes the incentive to tell a new story, not in general to "answer" the question but rather to see where things would go if .... . So happy to welcome you into the realm of scientists if you'll have me in the world of story tellers.
"How does ... unconscious impulse create ... metaphor" is, in these terms, a REALLY interesting question. Its not that there aren't a variety of relevant stories with possible answers to this question but rather that, to my mind at least, none of them have proven to be sufficiently generative to be satisfying in the long run. Yes, of course, your daughter might have been exhibiting signs of one or another "organic syndrome", but even if so the question of how "the passage from meaning to symbol" is, along the lines of this story, being bypassed rather than answered. In fact, the potential significance of metaphor is at risk of being ignored entirely. And yes, of course, you daughter's behavior could have reflected (instead or also) " a sign, of her emotional state. A metaphor, in other words." Using this story, one looks, as you do, to "parse the metaphor". But here too there is something missing, from the opposite direction. The transition from .... something .... to something else is still being bypassed rather than made sense of, and that has potentially significant practical implications.. Why THIS metaphor instead of some other one? How sure can I be that the metaphor has actually been parsed correctly? That there actually is a metaphor involved?
What is needed (I think) is a story that gives equal standing to both aspects of the phenomenon and, in so doing, focuses attention where it would be generative to have it, on the transition from the one to the other (and back) and how that occurs. That's the story that "Making the Unconscious ..." was a step on the path toward, and that your email took me further along. So let me try and expand a bit on that story (without at all being sure its finished, indeed because I suspect it isn't and I'm curious about where it goes next and telling it may help me to see). This may require a little patience while I sketch in some background first.
"Making the Unconscious ... " rests on the notion that the human brain is "bipartite", ie that there is a meaningful distinction between "conscious" and "unconscious" aspects of its structure/function (see The Bipartite Brain for more of the background for this aspect of the story). It also rests strongly, perhaps even more so, on a notion that yes, indeed, "the brain works with the mind". Actually, its stronger than that. In my terms there isn't a "mind" that works with a "brain". There is only a brain (see Who's Afraid of Emily Dickinson? Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Brain") that has within it a particular set of functions that constitute what is often called "mind" . See Does Biology Have Anything to Contribute ... for a graphic illustration of this, copied to the right. The yellow box is "conscious experience", what we sometimes call "mind", other times "self", etc. An important point here is that since consciousness is a part of the brain which is in turn a part of the body, consciousness has no direct information about either the world or the body. Whatever information it has about these things is acquired indirectly from the rest of the nervous system (the unconscious part).
Some important additional features of this architecture are illustrated in a figure from The Emerging Scientific Brain/Mind, copied to the left. The unconscious consists of a large number of different semi-isolated modules, each interacting with the body and through it the outside world in its own distinctive ways. It is the reports of these modules (and only the reports of these modules) that reach "consciousness" and it is the distinct task of "consciousness" to make sense of these reports, ie to come up with a story that accounts for them. This is what consciousness does; indeed this is what "consciousness" IS in the most fundamental way. It is a story teller that tries to make sense of the cacaphony of signals it receives from the unconscious. And everything that we actually experience (perceptions, thoughts, feelings, intentions, etc etc; in contrast to the many things that happen to us or we do without being aware of it) are the product of this story telling process. In short, consciousness is "story" (just as science is): a way of making sense of things (that might always be made sense of in other ways) which in turn generates new questions/observations/stories (for some of the virtues of such an architecture see The Brain: Insights into Individuals and Complex Organization; it also has shortcomings as I'll describe a bit more below).
So much for background (yes, this IS a "scientific" story, in the sense that there are observations that are being summarized by it; at the same time, it is ONE way of making sense of those observations, and not necessarily the way all other scientists would do so). It is this bipartite architecture that I think provides a route into the questions you pose that most intrigue both of us. One's interactions with the world and one's own body are not represented "metaphorically" in the unconscious but instead in a way that is perhaps better described as metonymically, ie associationally rather than categorically/logically/conceptually (cf Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonomy and Story-Telling in (At Least) Three Dimensions). Metaphor is one of the tricks that is used (along with "meaning" and "time" and "causation", among other things) to bring order to the cacaphony of signals from the unconscious, to give it singleness, order, coherence. The upshot is that one actually has, at all times, two influences on one's behavior: the multiplex state of the unconscious and the currrent more or less coherent "story" that reflects an attempt to give coherence to that.
One may, at any give time, behave in terms of the unconscious or in terms of the story or in terms of some combination of the two. There is, I think, not great mystery about this, though many people are still not entirely comfortable with the degree to which behavior reflects the unconscious. Lots of different stories (biological, psychological, theological) acknowledge that people sometimes behave without knowing why they do so and encourage (or discourage) greater understanding of those parts of oneself that one is less aware of/familiar with. So there is in general no particular problem in making sense of someone else (or oneself) exhibiting behaviors that have an origin with which the person themself is not familiar (eg a man who was abused by a red haired woman as a child and who has trouble being comfortable with his otherwise wonderful red-haired wife).
There is, though, a subtlety here that is important, and recognized within the psychoanalytic story telling tradition (among other places?): why is it that the earlier experience is not consciously accessible, ie part of the story? The psychoanalytic tradition would typically attribute that to "repression" or, perhaps more meaningfully, to "conflict", ie to something that actively prevents that aspect of the experience from becoming part of the story because it ... is unacceptable by some criterion (the abusive woman was the man's mother, and so the man would have to acknowledge his own involvement in violating a social proscription against incest?). I think there are some useful insights that feed into in this sort of story telling, but that it misses some obvious things and in so doing overlooks some critical issues. In the bipartite brain story, things that happen to one are FIRST in the unconscious and only become conscious if/when they become part of the story telling process itself. Hence, a simpler interpretation of the behavior of the man in relation to red hair is that the things that happened to him altered one or another part of his unconscious without ever being fully reported to the story teller, ie there is no "repression", the things that happened resulted in a part of the unconscious signalling dread in the presence of red without the story teller having had or having any information about the events themselves (its worth noting that the red signalling dread phenomenon could also have an explanation in genetic information, ie with no actual events involved at all). My point here is that the psychoanalytic story telling tradition PRESUMES everything is story before it becomes unconscious, and that too begs the question that we're interested in: what is the nature of the transition between ... the darkness, without stories/metaphors (the unconscious), and the story teller? Why/how do we get particular stories out of that darkness (rather than others) and how is that transition influencing a person's behavior?
Its right at this point that not only your questions but your motivating cases seemed to me particularly apt/generative. Let's start with the "left behind jacket". It is, of course, possible that it wasn't, ie that the meaning/metaphor of "left behind" didn't exist until after the fact, that it was only after returning and finding something one needed but had also forgotten, that the "left behind" came into existence, as a way of making sense of realizing one was cold, returning for a jacket puzzled over why one didn't expect it to be cold, finding the envelope that one had also (meaninglessly) not brought but needed later. See the trick that the story teller is doing? Taking a lot of disconnected things and creating a unitary story about them. One that may or may not actually be "true". There are "things" (in the darkness, not actually verbalizable) before there is "story".
Could it also happen differently, in ways closer to what your story of the "left behind jacket" is intended to convey? Of course. And these are the interesting cases for me, because they seems to involve/point to an interesting and subtle intersection of the unconscious and the story telling processes. Let's say that one part of the unconscious didn't want to bring the envelope (because the recipient has red hair?), and another part did (for whatever reason; here's one example of "conflict", between two parts of the unconscious). The story teller now has to mediate the conflict and, being a little distracted, neglects to update the current story using the weather forecast so doesn't activate the "get jacket" part of the unconscious while opting to accept the "don't bring the envelope" part of the unconscious cacaphony. There actually is in this case something appropriately described as a "left behind" jacket that resulted from the involvement of the story teller . It wasn't though actually a part of the story until after one went returned home, saw the envelope, acted differently about it, and had to make sense of all THAT.
Closer still to your intention (I think) with the "left behind jacket" story would be the following. The story teller has from the unconscious several feelings/intuitions/emotions that include "bring envelope", "don't bring envelope" AND bring jacket. Now the story teller has its own problem, a coherence problem: a story can't accommodate frank contradictions so ... it opts tentatively to leave out "bring envelope" while accepting "bring jacket". It ships this tentative story back down to the unconscious which does a quick set of calculations on the consequences of the actions associated with this story and gets back an even stronger "bring envelope" message. Now there is a serious conflict developing between the unconscious and the story teller, so the story teller starts fiddling the story to try and reduce THAT conflict. The story teller still can't deal with both bring and don't bring envelope so it starts playing with the bring jacket part of the story and eventually discovers that the unconscious reports greater satisfaction if it drops the "take jacket" part. Bingo .... the "left jacket" because of the need for story coherence and the conflict negotiating exchanges between the unconscious and the story teller (none of which are included in the final conscious "story").
I'm actually not entirely happy with this (I think there are some problems with what the particulars of what the unconscious can and cannot reasonably be expected to do in the way of consequence calculations) but do you see where I'm going? There is no "repression", there is only the issue of what does and doesn't become part of the story, and a reciprocal exchange between the unconscious and the story telling process that allows the constraints of story telling to become significant not only in the final story but also in how one acts unconsciously.
Could something like this have been going on with your daughter, more or less as you suggest in your piece in progress? Of course. Her unconscious was reporting both worry about your closeness and and worry about your increasing distance. The two reports couldn't be accommodated in a single story so they came to be expressed one a time in two sequential experiences/stories with each report being reduced in its salience in the cacaphony by their successive expression. After which the story teller, for a time, didn't have to deal further with the conflict or its own inability to resolve it. And, with longer time, as the unconscious reshaped itself with age/experiences, the need to create stories along these lines waned.
Is that what ACTUALLY happened? I don't and can't know. And, of course, neither can a doctor or a therapist. Or, for that matter, you either. There IS a downside to the bipartite brain story at least for some people: you can't know ANYTHING with certainty (see Writing Descartes). On the flip side, though, the bipartite brain architecture gives us the capability to conceive and try out a very large range of stories to see which ones work best in particular cases. "One achieves along this path the freedom to become, and, in becoming, to be oneself the agent of new territory to explore and inquire into." It sounds to me like you (and your daughter) have done pretty well along these lines.