To encourage productive interaction among people who approach issues of mental health from diverse perspectives, and to facilitate the new openings which emerge from sharing of such perspectives.



Conversations ... Archived 3

Mental health is a wide-ranging subject, spanning diverse yet interrelated topics which raise similarly interrelated issues of intellectual, social, practical, and individual concern. This discussion center is intended to encourage thinking and useful sharing of perspectives on topics in mental health. Every few weeks, a link to a relevant on-line paper will be provided here, to serve as the basis for discussion. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to comment on the chosen paper, using an on-line forum area. It is understood that comments are always "thoughts in progress" rather than definitive statements or polished essays, and are made in the spirit of offering perspectives for others to react to, and of learning from the perspectives of others. Sets of comments on particular papers will be regularly archived, so that ideas and perspectives can be developed and inter-related over a number of topics and papers.

Discussed October 2001:

Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain

by Elio Frattarolli, Viking Press, 2001

Forum discussion:

Name:  Douglas Blank
Subject:  Why get rid of science?
Date:  2001-10-10 00:50:34
Message Id:  435
At one point in Elio Frattaroli's talk, science seemed to be thrown out with the bathwater. Rather than ignore science, wouldn't science help determine whether a psychoanalytical method was truly better than a purely biological treatment? Or perhaps a combination is better still?

Certainly science has a specific "world view" full of assumptions and a certain kind of faith, but it makes testable predictions that can be checked for their accuracy. It doesn't seem to me that the talk gave evidence to completely abandon the scientific method.

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  Science and ...
Date:  2001-10-10 09:38:38
Message Id:  440
Elio's talk raised lots of issues, which I'd be delighted to see explored here in the "let's listen to and learn from each other mode". And science, its nature/strengths/limitations was certainly one of them. That, of course, is not a new issue but rather one for which there is an ongoing need to be continually exploring and re-exploring. There's relevant discussion from a variety of perspectives in The Two Cultures: A Conversation, and additional relevant links can be found in Serendip's Science and Culture section. The power and impact of "science" (past and future) is such that everyone needs to be engaged in thinking about what exactly science is and how science relates to the human enterprise of which it is a part.

My own reaction was that Elio seemed to be dismissing "science" in one sense while endorsing it in another (make observations/have experiences, let them change how you see things, think for yourself). The confusion, I think, has to do with whether one thinks of "science" as an end state, a body of "Truth", or as a process, an ongoing and never ending exploration. As a description of "Truth", science is indeed imperfect (as, I would contend, are all other descriptions of "Truth"). In fact, science itself does not and cannot make any claim to "Truth"; it is instead a commitment to the unending process of "getting it less wrong", of examing current understandings and making new observations/having new experiences to test whether the understandings continue to be adequate (which, so far at least, they invariably turn out not to be; "scientific" understandings are, in this respect, no worse than any other kind). It is the process, not the current state, and certainly not the assertion of having reached "Truth", which gives science its power.

Can one, as Elio asserted following Descartes, reach new understandings by listening to things inside oneself? Of course. Are those, as Elio seemed to suggest, more certain "Truth", reached by virtue of a not yet understood (perhaps not understandable) access to the "real thing"? Maybe, but the history of humanity is full of counter examples, of assertions of "Truth" obtained by special, private access which over time prove both contentious and unreliable. For my part, I'm still inclined to the more modest task of continually testing and updating my own understandings, based on both my own experiences and listening to the experiences of others. And inclined as well to explore futher what seem to me significant parallels between psychoanalysis, viewed as a process, and science, as I understand it.

Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  Response from Elio to Douglas Blank about Science
Date:  2001-10-10 11:01:23
Message Id:  445
Douglas, I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to ask that question last nite Part of the strategy of the book is to raise questions like this first and then try to answer them, which I do in great detail later on in the book. I can understand how it might have sounded that way but I wasn't throwing out all of science in what I said last nite. I certainly wasn't saying that scientific method was useless. Rather I was saying that its uses are limited. Some important questions can indeed be answered in a laboratory, but the most complex and interesting questions about human experience cannot. I was specifically referring to the profound limitations of what psychiatry and neuroscience currently accept as legitimate scientific research, because that research invariably leaves out the primary data of psychology; namely, inner experience.
In fact, I am passionately dedicated to showing how psychoanalysis can be a legitimate scientific method for studying predictable patterns and regularities in private subjective emotional experience, both in individual persons and in human nature generally. I discuss this in great detail in my book. I lay out the groundwork for a "science of subjectivity" in chapters 7 & 8, based on Niels Bohr's philosophy of science and his principle of complementarity. The idea is that scientific research as it is currently being done is still based on the outmoded nineteenth century assumptions of positivism -- a) that it is possible to ignore the interaction of the observer with the observed, and b) that science deals only with what can be seen and/or measured. Inner experience of course can be neither seen nor measured and it certainly can't be studied objectively without taking into account the interaction between the observer and the observed. Well, as it turns out, psychoanalysis properly done is based on a careful objective study of the interaction of the observer with the observed: the transference/countertransference interaction. So in chapters 7 & 8 I explain the theoretical basis for this alternative scientific method and then illustrate it thru a detailed presentation of a psychoanalytic treatment in chapters 9 thru 12. It's not like any other case presentation you're likely to come across, but I'm hoping it starts a trend.
As to the idea that science can determine whether a psychotherapeutic approach is better or worse than a pharmacologic approach, I am very skeptical and again I discuss this in great detail in the book. Some of it you can get from the sample chapter (chapter 5) on my website at Most if not all the research that has been done on this question is based on the assumption that successful treatment is treatment that reduces symptoms. That's the ONLY goal of pharmacological treatment and it's the only thing medication is designed to do. But dynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis have a very different goal -- to make the unconscious conscious -- and this doesn't alway coincide with getting rid of a symptom. It certainly doesn't coincide with getting rid of a symptom quickly, as in the typical 6-12 week course of most treatment outcome research. Moreover most of that research doesn't really examine dynamic psychotherapy but rather more short-term, symptom/behavioral focused psychotherapies that must be done following a rulebook, which I personally find dehumanizing and unhelpful.
There is a contingent of psychoanalysts who are trying very hard to do a kind of research that fits within the Procrustean positivist framework of currentaccepted research standards but still manages to examine and quantify variables that are related to specifically psychoanalytic goals, like making the unconscious conscious. In my view this is largely a waste of time. We wouldn't be doing it if we weren't trying to prove a) that what we do is just as legitimate as what pharmacologists do or b)that it deserves to be covered by insurance companies. Both of these are futile hopes. Those who are open to appreciating the legitimacy of psychoanalysis are not going to need statistical outcome research to convince them and those who aren't open to it aren't capable of being convinced: they have bananas in their ears. And of course insurance companies will not be convinced by treatment outcome research (because psychotherapy will always be more expensive than medication). They will only be convinced if we can do research that shows that overall medical costs over a period of at minimum ten years, or perhaps over a lifetime, are significantly reduced for people who have had intensive dynamic psychotherapy. There has in fact been some research like this done.
Thanks for the question.


Name:  Debbie Plotnick
Subject:  an analogy
Date:  2001-10-10 12:30:13
Message Id:  446
While listening to Elio Frattaroli's talk last night I was struck by his concern that the art of psychoanalysis is being lost. I share his concern. The state of mental health care in the United States has lost much of the ability that it once had to truly help those who are suffering. And as he rightfully stated "managed care is an oxymoron." As Dr. Frattoroli pointed out in his talk there no longer exists the therapeutically beneficial safe haven of hospitalization. The care that was afforded to those who need intensive care has been managed out of existence. Psychiatric hospitals are presently triage units intended to hold people for no more than three days, send them out with the bandage of medication (that will not have a therapeutic effect for weeks, if ever) and expect them to "get well" without ever finding the source of their illness, merely treating their symptoms.

As I thought about what has been lost, safe havens and hospitals staffed with psychiatrists trained in psychoanalysis I began to wonder if the art of psychoanalysis might come to be lost forever. With all due respect to the differences of opinions between scientists and doctors, those who engage in medicinal disciplines consider themselves practitioners of that which has historically been considered an art. While thinking about psychoanalysis as a specialized art it occurred to me that the situation is analogous to other situations within medicine where political and economic forces have changed who practices those arts and the ways in which they are viewed.

I believe that the changes that are occurring in the practice of mental health are analogous to the history of midwifery. Historically midwives were those who possessed the understanding of the mechanics of the birth process and who also possessed a highly developed intuitive understanding of the less physiological aspects thereof. Physicians trained in the medical model replaced those who were versed in the intuitive art of attending childbirth. As the medical model gained popularity its practitioners gained prestige, while respect was diminished (if not totally lost) for the practitioners of the art of midwifery. Throughout most of the twentieth century the practice of midwifery was looked upon with distain in the United States. Late in the last century the specialized medical model trained ob/gyns found themselves faced with a demand for a return to what was lost when the art of midwifery was discarded. However, because of economic pressures births attended by those who were highly skilled surgeons/disease specialists rose to levels that were highly prohibitive. Today there is a renaissance in the practice of midwifery, resurgence in their numbers and a renewed respect for their knowledge. This has occurred without diminishing respect for those who are surgeons/disease specialists. Their skills are still highly valued and called for when more chemical/mechanical intervention is needed.

As Dr. Frattoroli discussed, today's psychiatrists are no longer versed in the art of psychoanalysis. They are medical doctors who are being further trained in the management of brain chemistry without the component of psychoanalysis. However, traditionally psychiatrists have not been the only practitioners who possess the intuitive skills and who are versed in the art of psychotherapy. Psychologists and social workers have been the keepers of and are the practitioners of this art. As long as this art is preserved and its effectiveness acknowledged and respected and available then the separation of psychiatrists from the practitioners of psychoanalysis is not something to be feared.

Name:  Duffy McHugh, L.S.W.
Subject:  ocd
Date:  2001-10-10 20:53:40
Message Id:  458
Is Dr. Yadin familiar with the work in Palo Alto of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz as recounted in his book "Brain Lock?" I have tried using the program he outlines with three clients in my clinical practice, with small success.
Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  Response from Elio to Debbie Plotnick
Date:  2001-10-10 22:29:38
Message Id:  459
Debbie, I very much agree with your point about psychologists and social workers being the most likely practitioners who will carry the flame of psychoanalysis forward in the 21st century. In fact over the last 5-10 years or so most new psychoanalytic candidates at our training institutions have come from the ranks of social workers and psychologists, very few from psychiatry.
I hope I didn't give the impression that I thought the future of psychoanalysis depended on psychiatrists waking up and discovering the emptiness of their world view. It would be wonderful if that happened of course, but I don't think it's likely until perhaps they wake up and find, to their chagrin, that psychiatry as a specialty no longer exists because primary care physicians and nurse practitioners have taken over ALL the prescribing of psychotropic meds. (This is already happening more and more).
I was thinking that the professional audience for my book would much more likely be social workers and psychologists than psychiatrists but I am concerned that these groups too are in danger of being co-opted by the quick-fix symptom-oriented behavioral-goal-oriented philosophy of medical model psychiatry.


Name:  Douglas Blank
Subject:  I think I understand, therefore I am
Date:  2001-10-11 13:05:34
Message Id:  462

I think I understand your position now. It seems the point of conflict can be summed up in one question: "Does consciousness exist?" Here, you can substitute "mind", "inner self", "subjective experience", or whatever you want for "consciousness".

Science would have to claim that consciousness is beyond its reach as mind is composed only of subjective experiences. Science can only reach the brain. As scientists, we are left with two options: either deny consciousness' existence (which means there is nothing left to explain), or extend science so that it can include this new base property called consciousness.

My good friend Dave Chalmers is a scientist that has taken the latter approach, defined in his books The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, and Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem. This argument is only necessary, of course, if you believe that there is something that needs explaining.

The only evidence that you mentioned during your talk (other than the subject of your talk) that suggests that there is something that needs to be explained was the placebo effect. If this effect is truly "mind over matter" then we have something that science can and should test. However, the placebo effect appears to be far from well-established (see above link, for example).

Thoughts can, of course, have physical effects (chemical or behavioral changes in the body, for example). As I sit here with my banana-colored glasses, it seems that one could be a proponent of pyschoanalysis and still keep the requirement that "science only deals with what can be seen and/or measured."

Personally, I believe that mind is an emergent property of the brain. On the one hand, there is nothing left to explain ("it's in the brain" as Paul said). On the other hand, there are many things left to explain: how can such a property emerge? how does the emergent property effect the underlying brain's properties? I am hopeful that science can make progress toward these questions.

Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  Another response from Elio to Douglas Blank
Date:  2001-10-11 21:57:52
Message Id:  469
Douglas, I think if you read my whole book, especially chaps 7 & 8, you will see that I advocate a science of consciousness that is in the same spirit as the kind of science David Chalmers advocates. It would start from accepting as given that consciousness -- experiencing -- is a fundamental fact of nature, not reducible to physical elements or quantities and not explainable in terms of anything simpler than itself. As Chalmers says, this amounts to dualism with conciousness and matter having an equal ontological status. I am referring to his paper, "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness" which can be found at
The problem I have with Chalmers is that having admitted this much, he clearly wants to circle back and find some way of explaining consciousness in terms of physical entities like "information." (Even though he rightly and elegantly sends up so many other similarly inadequate claims to explain consciousness) However, as I argue in my book (chapter 16), both the concept of information and the concept you espouse, "emergence," entail a kind of magical thinking designed to make it SEEM as if consciousness is somehow caused by physical processes even though there is absolutely no evidence that it is. But we WANT to believe it is caused by something physical because it make us nervous to think there is something spiritual.
I think that through the systematic exploration of subjective experience, as in psychoanalysis but not necessarily limited to psychoanalysis, we can find many correlations between experience and brain processes and probably determine regularities of both the mind-over-matter and the matter-over-mind variety. But we won't be able to show how consciousness "arises" or "emerges" from the brain. Because as Rupert Sheldrake rightly points out, it makes just as much sense to say that it descends into the brain.
By the way, I read that link on the placebo effect and I have to say that it makes no sense to me. They seem simply to be describing the placebo effect in different, behavioral terms, again trying to deny that there could be something mental that can't be explained in terms of something physical. But it's still the same phenomenon and still defies physicalistic explanation. So their critique seems much like that of the editor I described in my talk.
Hope I'm not seeming too contentious. I was actually happy you pointed out that Chalmers paper to me. Despite my quibble, I think it's quite excellent. And I very much enjoy the opportunity to have a dialogue about consciousness and science.


Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  exploring ... consciousness
Date:  2001-10-14 12:50:04
Message Id:  478
Elio and Doug have been playing back and forth with what is, of course, a long standing question. One way to phrase it is "does one need something more than matter to account for human behavior and the experience of it, or is matter, in some form, all there is?". Another related way to phrase the question follows a poem of Emily Dickinson's, which includes the stanza:

  The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-

Emily's assertion is that the brain (maybe we should say nervous system, of which the brain is a part) is big enough to contain not only all we see and do but also all we are and experience. Is it true that the nervous system is THAT big, so that one can find within it not only self but mind, spirit, soul, and all other needed concepts as well?

I suspect so, as I said at Elio's talk. But I freely and happily admit that, as a scientist and hence for the reasons given above, I cannot prove my suspicion to be so and doubt that such a proof could ever be given. One has, at any given time, only a set of observations which one is trying to make sense of and no way of knowing whether future observations will or will not fit the summary of observations with which one is currently comfortable.

This is not, however, to say that I regard Emily's suggestion (that it is all in the brain/nervous system) and Elio's/Descartes' (that there is some essential, additional, as yet to be recognized, non-material kind of stuff) as equally likely or useful. There are certainly "observations" (including many aspects of internal experience) which it is as yet difficult to make sense of in terms of the nervous system. On the other hand, the "trend of the evidence" over any reasonable length of time, has been one of a dramatic and progressive decrease in the number and range of things which it is difficult to account for in these terms. Epilepsy, to cite one obvious example, was once generally understood to result from the intrusion into the individual of non-material "spirits". No one ever proved that such things do not exist, but it emerged as more useful to think of epilepsy in terms of material things going on in a material structure, the brain. There are a host of similar examples, so that the terrain still apparently requiring "non-material" entities has been steadily shrinking.

Is there any reason to think that "consciousness" will inevitably be left as a unique and inviolate space requiring an appeal to "non-material stuff"? Not, I think, in terms of the "trend of the evidence". In this more specific realm, there has also been a progressive recognition of the usefulness of thinking of things in terms of matter and the brain. In the late 1800's, for example, it was discovered that "thought" takes time, a finding which made much more sense in terms of a material entity than an ethereal one, and one which made available valuable techniques for further inquiry into "thought". "Thought" in turn became "cognition", and was accordingly subtracted from "consciousness", leaving still less for which "non-material stuff" seemed necessary.

So, what about the rest of "consciousness", including "internal experience" and "self" and "spirit" and "soul"? Are those fundamentally different? Perhaps, but I don't yet see any reason to think so (Descartes' "story" predates an enormous array of subsequent observations, and I don't find Elio's abstract arguments on this point any more compelling than Chalmers'). In addition, we are really only at the bare beginning of asking the right questions of the brain. As Elio appropriately notes, scientists interested in the brain have been to a large extent reluctant to admit as legitimate observations those based on "internal experience", and correspondingly disinclined to explore the brain from the perspective of issues related to "self" and "spirit" and "soul". This is (happily) beginning to change, and so I, at least, am inclined to wait a few years before concluding these are questions not explorable in terms of the brain.

Relevant here as well is a set of explorations entirely different from those based directly on observations of the brain, the inquiry into what has been called complex systems. Elio's concern notwithstanding, there is nothing "magical" about "emergent properties". With the advent of high speed computing, it has become quite easy to show that simple things interacting in simple ways yield remarkable outcomes, outcomes which no one could predict in advance yet which have no mystical element whatsoever. New properties and new forms of organization clearly CAN emerge from simple things interacting in simple ways. This is newly demonstrable but not new: assemblies of neutrons and protons and electrons can (and do) yield atoms with quite different properties; assemblies of atoms yield molecules with quite different properties ... who is yet to say that assemblies of molecules can't yield living things, and that assemblies of living things (cells) can't yield consciousness?

All this is, of course, the perspective of a "scientist" (in the sense of science I described above): let's see what sense we can make of things in terms of material things we know something about, can manipulate and measure in ways that others can see as well. But, what about Elio's argument that exploring things this way is itself constraining and dehumanizing? Along a "science" approach, won't we necessarily lose something, either by failing to notice it or by noticing it and then "explaining it away"? I don't think so ... not if we take the scientific task seriously. Instead, science will need to change somewhat (if for no other reason than we will have to take reports of "internal experience" seriously as significant observations). And, I suspect, "scientific" conceptions of the brain will have to change as well. If Emily is right, the brain cannot be the mechanistic, invariant system which "controls" behavior as it has been portrayed in many "scientific" contexts. It must instead be matter organized in such a way as to BE behavior, including having feelings, making choices, being unpredictable/creative, and having the potential for what Freud called "oceanic experience." All of this has to be made sense of, and "making sense" of it won't make any of it "go away". Instead, as with epilepsy, the increased understanding should free us from constraints not of our own making, and hence enhance our abilities to be responsible for our own lives.

On the other hand, if Emily turns out to be right a few things WILL disappear. One is the notion that "non-material entities" are a useful explanatory construct. And that, in all honesty, seems to me a good thing, not a bad one. The problem with appealing to "non-material entities" is that they are inevitably "mystical", the personal constructions of individuals not subject to question or exploration by others. They end exploration, rather than inviting it (and so inevitably lead to argument and conflict rather than to the shared creation of new ideas). What may also disappear is the idea of "Truth". If all there is is the brain, with no non-material, mystical entity out there, then we can all stop looking for (and arguing about) "Truth", and get on with the much more interesting and productive activity of sharing among our brains the explorations and creations that each of our brains is good at doing.

Perhaps, in closing this set of thoughts, its worth making explicit one other thing that I would not expect to disappear: the importance of approaching a subject of shared interest from a variety of perspectives and using a variety of tools/methodologies. "Experiencing" is indeed a "fundamental fact of nature", as Elio contends (though whether it is "not explainable in terms of anything simpler to itself" is open), and the "systematic exploration of subjective experience" has been and continues to be an important source of insights into ... what it is that we are all interested in. So too has been psychology, cognitive science, philosophy, and ... studies of the brain. As exemplified by the blind men and the elephant, we're all better off using the supposition that there is actually an elephant there, and that each of us has a useful contribution to make in describing it. Whether we end up calling the elephant the brain or the mind or the soul, the complexity of the elephant is such that that the need for exploration of it from multiple perspectives will always be there.

Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  Responding to Paul takes thought, which takes time
Date:  2001-10-14 13:57:31
Message Id:  479
Paul, I don’t think you’re successfully answering my argument. Let me just respond briefly to three passages from your post:

>This is not, however, to say that I regard Emily's suggestion (that it is >all in the brain/nervous system) and Elio's/Descartes' (that there is >some essential, additional, as yet to be recognized, non-material kind of >stuff) as equally likely or useful. There are certainly "observations" >(including many aspects of internal experience) which it is as yet >difficult to make sense of in terms of the nervous system. On the other >hand, the "trend of the evidence" over any reasonable length of time, has >been one of a dramatic and progressive decrease in the number and range >of things which it is difficult to account for in these terms.

I disagree. The evidence whose trend you are noting is evidence about the “functions” of the mind, and, as Chalmers argues, it is easy and appropriate to explain functions in terms of neurological processes. Thinking makes use of words and impressions that are encoded in the brain, and something like it can be done by an unconscious machine. It is a mental/neurological function. So it makes sense that thinking takes time. But experiencing— the becoming conscious of the neurologically based contents of thinking, feeling, sensing, imagining, dreaming etc.— cannot be described or defined in space/time or neurological terms. This isn’t something that can change with any trend of evidence. It’s in the nature of experiencing consciousness as opposed to the nature of neuronal activity.

>So, what about the rest of "consciousness", including "internal >experience" and "self" and "spirit" and "soul"? Are those fundamentally >different? Perhaps, but I don't yet see any reason to think so >(Descartes' "story" predates an enormous array of subsequent >observations, and I don't find Elio's abstract arguments on this point >any more compelling than Chalmers').

On this point I wouldn’t expect my argument to be more compelling than Chalmers’ because his argument IS compelling. Not surprisingly, it’s the same as mine – the one I just gave. Where I personally find Chalmers less than compelling is where, after accepting that consciousness is irreducible, he circles back and sort-of-tries to reduce it.

>On the other hand, if Emily turns out to be right a few things WILL >disappear. One is the notion that "non-material entities" are a useful >explanatory construct. And that, in all honesty, seems to me a good >thing, not a bad one. The problem with appealing to "non-material >entities" is that they are inevitably "mystical", the personal >constructions of individuals not subject to question or exploration by >others

I don’t invoke non-material entities because they are useful. I invoke non-material entities because they are essential. Material entities are HOPELESSLY limited in their explanatory power. They can’t even explain your feeling about Emily’s poem, and why it is different from your feeling about my story of a mystical experience at a Phillies’ game with which I begin my book. Come on admit it, you know they can’t. Sure, they can explain something about why you might prefer materialistic stories to mystical stories based on your unique neurologically encoded history of personal experiences. But they don’t fully account for that special, dare I say mystical, feeling you have about Emily’s poem And while we’re on that subject, what’s inherently the matter with mystical concepts. There is such a thing as mystical experience, after all, and in the course of history I suspect far more people have had that kind of experience—and have been questioning and exploring it with each other since the time of Homer at least—than have had the experience that neurological science offers a satisfying explanation of the mind.

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  taking time ... consciously
Date:  2001-10-14 21:42:08
Message Id:  480
It ain't an "argument", its a story, a way of trying to make sense of the world ... both yours about dualism and mine about the brain. And there are lots of them, yours and mine and a million others. Sometimes the stories differ because they are based on different sets of observations; in that case, the story tellers, if inclined, can jointly create a new story by combining their observations and accounting for the bigger set of observations they now hold in common. Other times, they are different stories which in different ways make sense of the same observations. Then there is no point whatsoever in arguing: one uses the different stories as incentive to make new observations which will, inevitably, result in a new story anyhow.

To put it differently, I don't usually find philosphical arguments about the natural world compelling, and particularly don't in this case. Yes, it is easy to account for all sorts of "functions" mechanistically and neurologically. Yes, that is clearly NOT the same thing as accounting for the EXPERIENCE of "functioning"; the experience is indeed different from what we can currently easily account for. But that, for me at least, doesn't require postulating the existence of something other than organized material entities; that's the leap I deny any philosphical argument can compellingly make. There is a long history of successfully making sense of things in terms of organized material entities, and no way to know whether there are fundamental limitations to the process except by pursuing it. Or by showing that some other way of making sense of things is equally or more effective. In the present case, I encourage everyone to see what they can make with their stories. We're all betting, no more and no less, and my bet, based on all the observations available to me (including observations of things like anesthesia, and drugs, and brain stimulation and trauma which clearly show that material manipulations of the material brain CAN affect the "experience" of functioning), stays with Emily and the brain.

"Mystical" experiences are indeed common (even I have them) and need to be made sense of, and, yes, people have been trying to do so for thousands of years. Is it perhaps relevant that they haven't had much success other than appealing to various different external non-material entities the validity of which they end up fighting over? Perhaps its worth taking a different approach to mystical experiences, maybe one that roots them in human characteristics we all share? Maybe or maybe not; time will tell.

Name:  Debbie Plotnick
Subject:  communication reception
Date:  2001-10-15 13:10:33
Message Id:  482
With thanks to Anne Dalke, for offering me a framework within which to discuss my point of view regarding mind, body and soul, I’d like to offer another one of my stories. For many years now I have been admitting (although not quite so publicly) to what many would describe as mystical experiences. During the panel discussion that followed Elio Frattaroli's talk last week, Anne spoke about her c-sem class writing about how they viewed their bodies. As she was speaking I was reminded that I have literally viewed my body from some unusual perspectives, ones that might be considered mystical. And I also thought about how if asked to describe how I figuratively viewed my body, I would reply that I think of my body as the place where I live. I would explain that I think of my body in a similar vein as do my house. My body is where what is mine is kept. It is were I dwell, a place to which I come home. Implicit in my view is that while I usually am there, I am not (without the obvious pun) always home.

Many times I have been aware of viewing a scene in which I have appeared to myself from outside of myself. I have observed myself from an outside place in the present. I have looked at myself from outside myself in a time/space I have believed had taken place in the past. And I have viewed myself taking part in scenes that had not yet but would soon occur.

A certain brain scientist (familiar to many of us) has made a compelling augment that my experiences are common and can be understood as originating and taking place only within my brain. However, while I can follow and even accept this explanation, it only works for the experiences that I had believed were taking place in the present or as having occurred in the past.

What makes me doubt the scientific, skeptical view (although I have really wanted to believe that my experiences were literally only all in my head) is that it is possible to verify that sometimes people do understand and know about events that will occur in the near future. My story is that many times I have known about events that had not yet come to pass but that I believed soon thereafter would and then they did. It is easy to claim that I only thought that I knew; only believed that such things would happen. What is not so easy to dismiss is that others have also been party to my foreknowledge. On a number of occasions there have been individuals who have independently verified that I have told them about places that I had previously not seen but would, and about events that had not yet but that would soon occur. Without regard to whether they believed me at the time, they were able to corroborate that they had been informed of scenes and events that I came to be in, described fully by me, which occurred sometime after the telling.

I don’t claim, or even believe, that my experiences are evidence that there are external non-material entities or such. No, my view is merely that the self, soul, consciousness or whatever one wants to call it, is not contained solely within the body. My working theory, (because as Paul contends, “we are all scientists, and I’m trying to get it less wrong”) is that consciousness can act as a means by which information is conveyed from outside as well as inside of the body. According to my view, it is akin to types of other molecular communications, which emanate from bodies and communicate information between bodies, such as pheromones. Therefore, I have come to think of so-called mystical experiences as messages that can be received when one steps outside of the interference of one’s dwelling.

Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  suggestive experiences
Date:  2001-10-15 20:31:03
Message Id:  483
There have been many reliable observations of paranormal experiences of the kind that Debbie Plotnick describes, that defy ordinary scientific explanation. Perhaps the most famous was the extremely well-documented clairvoyant experience of Emanuel Swedengorg at a dinner party in 1759 where he described a fire happening simultaneously near his home 300 miles away. For the story, see
Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist who specializes in studying biological problems that seem to transcend the categories of ordinary physicalistic explanation.
I believe Aldous Huxley's theory (in "Doors of Perception")of drug-induced mystical experience was that the brain ordinarily acts to restrict the awareness of higher consciousness and that psychedelics poison the brain so that previously restricted channels of awareness open up.
And then there was Hamlet who said "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your neurons"
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Keeping Multiple Stories in Play
Date:  2001-10-16 11:18:32
Message Id:  484
I'm finding this stand-off between Paul and Elio a little tiring, finding myself wanting to intervene by talking a little more (as I talked on the mental health panel last week) about the necessity of keeping multiple languages in play in any conversation of this sort. I find myself heartily resisting Paul's teleological-sounding claim that the "trend of the evidence over any reasonable length of time, has been one of a dramatic and progressive decrease in the number and range of things which it is difficult to account for in [non-material] terms," that "the terrain still apparently requiring 'non-material' entities has been steadily shrinking"; I find myself resisting as well Elio's counter-claim that "material entities are HOPELESSLY limited in their explanatory power." My understanding of these matters is neither sequential and linear, like Paul's, nor insistent-on-Truth like Elio's, but rather one of putting multiple stories in conversation, w/ one of them never-EVER replacing another.That is: rather than an argument between two stories (which is what seems to be going on so far), rather than Paul's counter-suggestion that a new story might be produced by combining several accounts, I'm proposing rather an openness to a multiplicity of stories, each one of which describes some aspect of the phenomena we are struggling to comprehend, none of which can be co-opted by or incorporated into the other.

In this light, I'd say we very much need to hold on to the concept of the "mystical" precisely BECAUSE it is elusive/NOT definable. To make this claim is to build on the conversation we were conducting last spring in the Two Cultures forum about the broad range of different uses of language: "from scientific texts, which intend-to-be-precise, through the sort of ordinary language intending to 'communicate information,' to literary language, which is intentionally more ambiguous, playful, productive of interpretation and dialogue." It is the latter playground where I spend most of my time. I've just finished reading (there) the most recent issue of the Publications of the Modern Language Association (October 2001), which begins w/ Wolfgang Iser's essay on "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach":

"If the reader were given the whole story, and there were nothing left for him to do, then his imagination would never enter the field, the result would be the boredom which inevitably arises when everything is laid out cut and dried before us. A literary text must therefore be conceived in such a way that it will engage the reader's imagination in the task of working things out for himself, for reading is only a pleasure when it is active and creative...boredom and overstrain form the boundaries beyond which the reader will leave the field of author worth his salt will ever attempt to set the whole picture before his reader's eyes. If he does, he will very quickly lose his reader, for it is only by activating the reader's imagination that the author can hope to involve him and so realize the intentions of his text."
Name:  Sharon Burgmayer
Subject:  my bet: not with science
Date:  2001-10-16 23:19:48
Message Id:  485
I have felt strongly compelled to add some of my own thoughts and ideas to this forum, in particular in regards the apparent major controversy: the existence of soul (and all the attendant verbiage) and whether or not science is up to task of saying any meaningful about that. These thoughts were a swirling mess of non-sequitors until something in Debbie's contribution suddenly caused a sub-set of them to spontaneously self-organize. Anne's subsequent addition caused a reverberation among the remaining ideas that shook them into place. So listening to my intuition which advised me to wait before writing was well-founded.

At the end of Debbie's description of her mystical experiences, she concludes with stating her working theory that the soul, etc., are outside of the body and that consciousness can assimilate information from outside, as well as inside, the body. What struck me was the question "why does it have to be either inside or outside?" Was the problem rooted in the limitations of our language? (brain-referring language, incidentally, as derived from science.) Maybe it's not a question of inside/outside, maybe what is needed is another (or multiple) dimension(s). Maybe the soul is "inside the brain" but not simply within the matter and associated neurological events, nor constrained by the three dimensions to which humans naturally reduce all physical nature. Maybe it's there in another dimension, a dimension science has no language (yet, if ever) to describe.

Anne's plea for an "openness to a multiplicity of stories" resonated with my evolving response to something Paul added most recently. Paul said: "But (experience), for me at least, doesn't require postulating the existence of something other than organized material entities." This sounded to my ears like a nice use of Occam's razor: why invoke that messy non-material stuff if it's not explicitly needed? Why not keep it simple (i.e., all in the brain)? But note, the greater value attached to simplicity --the principle of Occam's razor--is a by-product of the same cranial system that created science, which is already highly questionable as a suitable tool for dissecting the unscientific non-material mysteries. Why not accept/choose complexity over simplicity? And that is where, for me, Anne chimed in. A multiplicity of stories/approaches are needed and this multiplicity of stories has been one of the means used for generations to help guide each individual who wishes to undertake the inner journey, identify the guideposts and understand the adventures awaiting her therein.

With regards to the mystical, Paul suggests that the (study) "of organized material entities" might show if "some other way of making sense of things is equally or more effective". But isn't this "other way" already available in the ways of knowing the non-physical world? The mystical experiences that Paul says "need to be made sense of", are _already_ understood. There are well-established paths to enlightenment that have been confirmed over and over again for _thousands_ of years. These paths are so well-established that some persons have referred to their methodology as a "science of contemplation" so as to make the analogy between the reproducibility of the spiritual method to reproducibility required by the scientific method in material studies. These paths to enlightenment may--or may not--involve an "(appeal) to various different external non-material entities" but, indeed, all these paths _are_ very much rooted in "in human characteristics we all share", to borrow Paul's words.

As I write this I am in Tucson (ahh!). Today while on the University of Arizona campus, I walked by the Campus Health Center. I noticed two large banners on the building with abstract designs in a typically southwestern palette. On one banner was "Mind" and one the other banner was "Spirit". Given the topic of Elio's talk that subsequently generated this forum, the sight of "Campus Health--Mind--Spirit" on that brick building jarred me, hard. I took a picture of it; maybe it would add a visual component to the on-going debate here.

Name:  Elio Frattaroli
Subject:  Responses to Anne and Sharon
Date:  2001-10-18 13:17:16
Message Id:  486
Anne, I thought sure that Paul would be the first to respond to you by saying that your "multiple stories in conversation" approach was exactly what he meant. In a way it's exactly what I mean too. But all stories are clearly not created equal, so we are left with the issue of how to evaluate the merits of different stories. It feels like just as much of a problem to me to have no criteria of evaluation as it does to insist that my story is the only valid story. There is an "insistent-on-Truth" quality to my story which I don't apologize for but which I should probably explain. The insistence in my tone is a dialectical reaction to the truth-claims of modern science. The truth I insist on is in fact multiple. As Niels Bohr put it, "There are two kinds of truth, the trivial truth and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true." So scientific truth and mystical truth can be framed in equally valid, equally objective, equally subjective stories. As you say, they require different languages, because the truths they deal with are inherently different. My story owes a lot to Niels Bohr's principle of complementarity which was Bohr's attempt to find a bridging principle between the natural sciences and the human sciences. Also to Robert Waelder's principle of multiple function, which holds essentially that there always eight good stories to be told about any psychological experience, each story representing a different point of view on the experience. Both Bohr and Waelder were or course committed to the goal of scientific objectivity. But even if one doesn't care about science, it seems to me that there is still a pursuit of some kind of definable truth implicit in any act of conversation. We wouldn't be satisfied, after all, to tell our stories to an empty room. We need to tell them to each other, in the hopes of reaching a meeting of minds, hearts, souls. One way of thinking about it is that the stories through which most minds, hearts, souls can meet -- those that describe or embody truth(s) in a way that is closest to being universal -- are the best stories.
Which brings me to Sharon's comments. Sharon, you captured something in a few words that I spent a whole book trying to articulate, without ever summing it up as nicely as you have. I'll quote you again just to emphasize it:

The mystical experiences that Paul says "need to be made sense of", are _already_ understood. There are well-established paths to enlightenment that have been confirmed over and over again for _thousands_ of years. These paths are so well-established that some persons have referred to their methodology as a "science of contemplation" so as to make the analogy between the reproducibility of the spiritual method to reproducibility required by the scientific method in material studies. These paths to enlightenment may--or may not--involve an "(appeal) to various different external non-material entities" but, indeed, all these paths _are_ very much rooted in "in human characteristics we all share", to borrow Paul's words.

One of the fascinating experiences I had while writing my book was reading philosopher of religion, Jacob Needleman, and discovering that he was telling essentially the same story I was -- namely, that we become fully ourselves (achieve enlightenment/self-actualization/wisdom) by becoming fully conscious, able to fully feel and accept our deepest conflicting emotions (our dark side, our Jungian Shadow)-- only he had gotten to that story starting from Eastern religious traditions and practices while I had gotten to that story starting from Western scientific (specifically, Freudian) traditions and practices. The person who reviewed my book for the "New Age Journal" singled out the following passage: "by generating anxiety, shame and guilt...consciousness gives us the knowledge of good and evil that makes us human and helps us grow."

As Hippolyta puts it in Act V of Midsummer Night's Dream, effectively countering Theseus's skepticism:

"But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images,
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable."

Name:  Susan Levine, LCSW
Subject:  Knowing/Not Knowing
Date:  2001-10-19 12:03:55
Message Id:  487
I would like to pick up on Anne's mention of the indefinable by saying something about my experience as an analyst/therapist listening to patients. I can sense my mind and those of my patients as surely as if they were tangible entities, with structures, shapes, and textures -- sometimes they feel like chessboards and players complete with pieces and strategies. But, at the same time, the mind feels to me like pornography (to follow a former Supreme Court Justice) -- I know it when I see it but I can't define it or locate it. This doesn't particularly worry me, and it does not seem to get in the way of my abilty to listen. I seem to have a working model that contains both a hight degree of certainlty and a high degreee of uncertainlty. Although I can certainly understand what Elio related in his talk about the difficulty of listening evaluatively/diagnostically vs. empathically (medical model vs. psychotherapeutic model), I don't find it problematic in my daily life as a clinician. By monitoring the patient's level of pain and his/her ability to manage this pain and contain impulses in words (both criteria that I evaluate by empathic immersion in the patient's experience and in my own responses to the patient), "medical" solutions (medication, hospitalization) seem to derive from this understanding rather than from a different body of knowledge. So in the end I feel comfortable not knowing what the mind is and that it doesn't matter to me whether it is a particle or a wave in terms of what I do. Perhaps this means that I am subscribing to Elio's view that the neurological elements are subordinate to a larger self or soul -- or perhaps there is a larger grand theory. I am grateful for Elio's plea and argument for the validity of a science of subjectivity and for Anne's emphasis on the importance of using many languages.
Name:  Charles T. Wild
Subject:  ADHD - Dyslexia
Date:  2002-05-24 11:46:47
Message Id:  2132
For your info, here's a new ADHD - Dyslexia resource site:

| Conversations | Mental Health | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:06 CDT