Tuesday, 25 July 2017

explanation and understanding

Richard Bentall and David Bell have rather different psychodynamic theories of paranoia. Not just different theories of what causes paranoia, but different forms of theory - different ways of relating causes to effects - differences which, perhaps, could not unnaturally be said to spread into what is meant here by talk of a 'causal explanation'. I mark these differences with the terms 'empirical' and 'phenomenological'. In calling them that I'm not trying to categorise them in already understood categories, but just to advertise (prior to explicating) a conceptual difference that needs after all to be marked out by using some or other terms.

Thus Bentall the psychologist wants to develop psychological hypotheses and test them. He wants to show us that paranoid people really do process information in the way that his theory suggests. By contrast it never seems to occur to Bell the psychoanalyst to derive general testable hypotheses about paranoia from his Kleinian theory. He proceeds instead by giving us formulations and examples. That is 'all' we get, and it seems reasonable to assume that it is all he takes himself to be required to provide.Why is this? Is Bell a scientific failure - is he not schooled in actually substantiating his claims with empirical evidence? Not schooled in putting a question to nature so that she can as it were now answer all by herself? I think not! Below I explain why.

Here is the general method by which, as far as I understand it, Bentall the psychologist proceeds. Take a state: paranoia. Develop a measure of it. This state is our explanandum: it is what we want to explain. The kind of explanation we seek is: what in the individual's psychology makes her likely to experience paranoia? Next identify some external triggers, internal states and internal traits which may conceivably give rise to the paranoia. The latter two - the inner states and traits - are our psychological explanantia. Develop measures of these inner states (degree of implicit low self-esteem - how the person deep-down feels about herself; the quality of her underlying 'self-representations'; degree of explicit self-esteem - how the paranoid person consciously and explicitly represents herself to herself) and inner traits (habits of information processing such as having a bias toward making external and personal attributions for why the triggers obtained). Finally correlate the measures. If there is a positive relation between the measures of the explanantia (the degree of low self-esteem, the attribution bias) and the measures of the explanandum (the paranoia) then this constitutes evidence for the truth of the psychological model. The character of the theory might be summed up like this: paranoid people are people like this; it is in part because they are like this that they are now paranoid; the data we collect are empirical evidence for the truth of the theory.

By contrast with Bentall, Bell the psychoanalyst proceeds according to what I am calling a 'phenomenological' method. He too has an explanans (A = projection) for the explanandum ( B = paranoia), but he doesn't try to collect evidence of an increased level of projection leading to an increased amount of paranoia. A is not by him conceived of as a psychological trait; it isn't an independent phenomenon which throws up paranoia when triggered. It is rather a psychological process - a defence mechanism. Bell isn't saying that the paranoid person always deals with their distress through projection. He is saying that projection characterises the paranoid reaction to experienced threats to selfhood. (If we wanted we could say that the reference to projection is a way of understanding, rather than explaining, paranoia. What would be important, in saying this, is that we don't take ourselves to have done more than index the phenomenon - we haven't, simply by using this terminology, thereby either explained or understood it better.) What Bell offers us is a way of seeing paranoia: paranoia is, he suggests, the relocating of disturbing feelings from oneself into others-as-one-sees-them. Now, I'm not suggesting that it would be wrong to say that he sees paranoia as caused by projection, but it would be wrong to think of 'caused by' here as meaning 'precipitated by', and wrong to contrast it with 'characterised by'. Yet we might here still describe B as 'a function of' A. We could also, if we wished, describe the differences in terms such as: Bentall is on the whole trying to tell us more about what makes paranoid people vulnerable to paranoia; Bell is trying to deepen our understanding of what it means to be paranoid.

Now, Bentall's method runs into various self-confessed difficulties around testability (p. 339) - perhaps because it is (I suggest) hard to convincingly operationalise, or because it is (he suggests) hard to accurately test for, underlying as opposed to explicitly expressed low self-esteem. But I don't want to go into this here; instead I want to focus on another feature of his theory. This is that whilst his hypothesis-testing is geared up to assess whether paranoia may be an upshot of making external personal attributions when something triggers painful low self-esteem, nothing in his method allows him to test whether paranoia is motivated by the avoidance of painful low self-esteem. (NB I'm not saying that Bentall even thinks he's testing this aspect of his theory.) The method of taking measurements and making correlations does nothing by itself to establish the psychodynamic aspect of either his or Bell's understanding of paranoia, which understanding is of the motivation for the attribution bias / projection. And this is my central point: that the psychoanalytic model helps us understand paranoia - or at least certain forms of it - by seeing how it is motivated.

To see human behaviour (including inner behaviour - i.e. thought) as motivated is to see it as expressing intelligible desire. When we see it as such we do not do so by separately identifying the behaviour and the desire and then correlating or otherwise conjoining the two in thought. Instead the desire has its life within the action; it is not somehow stored up behind it; it is there in the action that we encounter it. The desire characterises the action, we could say, rather than having the action as its upshot. Imagine: you see someone withdraw her burning hand from a hot stove. You don't here separately identify her action and her desire to relieve pain, and then bring them together in your thought.

Naturally we may imagine strange cases (someone wants to burn his hand to win a dare, but he mindlessly withdraws it from the flame to scratch his itchy nose) but these do nothing to remove the default presumption that a hand withdrawn from the flame is, absent requisite strange defeating conditions, a hand withdrawn because of the burning or pain. And note, too, that we say all of this even if it so happens (Rundle) that the pain and the hand withdrawal are both effects of a common physiological cause (the burning), rather than the latter the upshot of the former. Our understanding that we are motivated to avoid pain is, then, not the understanding that avoidance is caused by pain. That we avoid pain and seek pleasure, rather than vice versa, is one could say not a contingent fact about our lives, and masochism must remain a special case on pain of unintelligibility. We are not to answer why we are motivated to avoid pain! Whilst we must be careful to avoid over-theorising the fact (a la 'simulation theory' etc), we understand the withdrawal of a burning hand from a flame in and by relating to the predicament: it makes immediate sense to us as such, and we are not left trying to make sense of one thing in terms of some other thing already understood. (The concept of 'immediacy' here is not temporal but instead has to do with the non-mediated nature of the understanding: we have here to do with something intrinsically intelligible (because it itself defines a form of intelligibility) rather than to something intelligible in terms of something else, or something made intelligible by doing something else. If it be insisted that we do it 'by empathic projection' (putting oneself in the shoes of another) then all that can be said is that this is: 'ok so long as our immediate grasp and our empathic projection are not to be thought of as two separate things, one done by means of the other'. No: 'empathic projection' is at best the form taken of this immediate grasp of motivational meaning.)

To return to paranoia: Bell aims at what I am calling understanding, whereas Bentall aims at what I've indexed with 'explanation'. But given that Bentall too clearly trades on our understanding what it is he is proposing but not demonstrating - that paranoia is motivationally explicable - then we do better to note that both Bell and Bentall aim at understanding, whereas Bentall aims in addition at explanation. If scientificity comes along with explanation then we may say that Bentall's account is the scientific one. But we cannot judge on that basis that Bell's account is un-scientific. All we may infer is that it is, on this rather limited criterion, non-scientific. And it is, in its reliance on our grasp of the intrinsic intelligibility of motivation, no less or more so than Bentall's. Bell isn't interested in noting how often paranoia is motivated, or in independently identifying features of paranoid people which appear to increases their likelihood of becoming paranoid. That just isn't his project. His project is instead to make the motivational forms of paranoia intelligible to us by providing us with a rich exemplary phenomenology - and what better method do we have for that than the case study?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

hallucination as unrelinquished anticipation

summary notes for talk this week: a phenomenological theory of hallucination 

Posted here to supersede and collate previous musings on hallucination.

1. ontological question of hallucination

What is it to hallucinate? What is the being of hallucination? This not an empirical question about psychological precipitants or associated neurological events.

2. against dualistic answers to the ontological question

If you espouse dualism of inner (mind/brain) and outer (world/body), then you hardly need a theory of the being of hallucination. Your conception of perception will likely already reference an inner mental item of some sort ('inner representation'/'percept'/'sense datum'/'idea'), so: hallucination becomes simply the inner item in absence of outer stimulus. (You'll also be likely to: take seriously the problem of constancy, be drawn to Helmholtzian theorising, talk of unconscious inferences etc; Gibson won't speak to you.)

But perception and experience are not just caused by their worldly objects; they take them in. Not hybrids of i) non-mental causal outer interactions with a world (the mechanics of vision and audition etc) plus ii) mental upshots of 'loud and glowing sense data' in an internal world. Instead perceptual experience is our openness to the world; it is 'originary transcendence'. In this sense of 'perceptual experience' a hallucination is precisely not a perception or experience; paradoxical/meaningless to talk here of 'an experience of a horse in the absence of a horse'.

'Inner representation', 'sense datum', 'inner image' etc are simply philosophical inventions which themselves cry out for explication before they themselves can feature in explanations. What use is a visual representation if one can't see it? Doesn't the concept of a 'representation' - e.g. of a picture - presuppose rather than explain the capacity to see what is thereby pictured? Such notions need explaining before being put to use to 'explain' perception. But why do we even need an explanation? The felt need had better not be a result of a theoretically contrived dualism between mind and world (the unnecessary explanation being of how it is possible for such an alienated subject to reach the world; ... dude, we're not world-alienated subjects, it's ok).

Non-disjunctivism says: the visual perception of a horse, and a hallucination of a horse, have something psychological/inner in common. 'Psychological': not just that they have in common the atemporal fact that the right way to describe their content is 'a horse'. Instead: they (allegedly) have in common something experiential and episodic. They are not just both experiences of horses; they are both - in some or other allegedly illuminating sense - experiences of horses. 

Disjunctivism says: it is no more illuminating to say this than to say that a real horse and a plastic horse are both horses, or that a standing bridge and a bombed out bridge are both bridges. We can say that a hallucination is a perceptual experience, just as we can also say that a bombed-out bridge is yet a bridge. But in both cases what is essential to the being of the perceptual experience (openness to the world) and the bridge (forging a connection between two sides of a river) has been lost. The reason why we identify the broken bridge as a bridge, the plastic horse as a horse, the hallucination as an experience, has to do with their ontological dependence on real bridges, horses, perceptions. We can call both veridical perceptions and hallucinations 'experiences', but this is not because they share something episodic in common, but instead merely because additive mention of all such phenomena gives us the extension of our broadest concept of 'experience'. 

3. differences to hallucinators of hallucinations and perceptions

Not elucidatory to say that in both real and hallucinatory cases it seems to us that there is a horse in front of us. For it may not seem to the hallucinator that there's a horse in front of her. Perhaps it seems to her that she's hallucinating a horse. 

Merleau-Ponty: examples of hallucinators being able to tell the difference between hallucinations and his perceptions. Early 20thC French and German psychiatrists playing tricks on psychotic patients with mock-ups of hallucinations, and reporting how taken aback the patients were, and how differently they related to their real and hallucinatory experiences with the same object.

Also: unclear what it means to say of someone who clearly sees a horse that it seems to him that he sees a horse. (And it may be true of someone who doesn't clearly see a horse that it seems to them that they see a cow.) This because part of the work that the concept of 'seeming' does is to distinguish between, for example, when something 'really is' the case and when something 'just seems' to be the case. To say that there is a 'seeming' alive in both cases sublimes the logic of 'seems'.

4. existential phenomenology - thinking form and content together

Value of existential-phenomenological theory is that it thinks hallucinatory form and content together. Dualistic theories, by contrast, typically chalk up form to neurological factors alone, and view content as epiphenomenal or to do with psychologically intelligible preoccupations, traumas, complexes, self-esteem, etc.

In thinking form and content together we also aid rapprochement of psychiatric understanding of form with psychoanalytic understanding of content.  (Thinking them together: we can ask: why would that be the content of a hallucination? The form of our embodiment is central to answering this.)

I will call hallucination: an embodied expectation of hearing (or seeing, being touched, etc.) uncancelled by (unrelinquished despite) the absence of a stimulus; a 'negative' (quasi-photographic) or 'anti-'experience, an ungraspable absence registered as a presence. This an existential-phenomenological characterisation, not a reductive explanation. Merleau-Ponty: We need to understand - to 'live' - hallucination without reductively 'explaining' or psychologically reducing it. 

Talk of 'embodied and cancelled expectations' is not straightforwardly perspicuous. We instead arrive at sense through analogies, disanalogies and examples. (Similarly for perception - to say it is our 'openness to the world', that it 'takes us out to the objects', that it involves an 'originary transcendence', hardly conveys positive information. Instead: what we have here are reminders not to make a travesty of our concept of perception by espousing dualism of inner mental domain enjoying merely external relation to an external world.) Of course one can have unrelinquished anticipations which do not constitute or coincide with hallucinations! I am truly aiming at an identity claim, but the particular meaning of 'unrelinquished' and 'anticipation' will emerge as we proceed.

5. hallucination as uncancelled anticipation

Hallucination: an embodied expectation of hearing, seeing, being touched, etc., uncancelled by the absence of a stimulus; a (quasi-photographic) 'negative' or 'anti-' experience; an ungraspable absence registered as a presence.

Anticipation: Merleau-Ponty follows Husserl in describing how perception has built into its structure a large array of 'promises' - if I move over there, and my vantage changes, or if I pick this up and turn it over, that I will encounter this or that. An interconnected protentive structure of experience constituting our normal perceptual world. Objects offer what Gibson calls sensori-motor affordances. M-P: 'I can feel swarming beneath my gaze, the countless mass of more detailed perceptions that I anticipate, and upon which I already have a hold'.

Merleau-Ponty on hallucination: 'The illusion of seeing is ... much less the presentation of an illusory object than the spread and, so to speak, running wild of a visual power which has lost any sensory counterpart. There are hallucinations because through the phenomenal body we are in constant relationship with an environment into which that body is projected, and because, when divorced from its actual environment, the body remains able to summon up, by means of its own settings, the pseudo-presence of that environment.'

Walk along - expect the floor to stay still. Get onto an escalator, expect it to move thus and so. Turn an object over in your hand: expect it to appear thus and so. Self usually rapidly and automatically adjust to various environmental changes. 

Selfhood and perceived object are two correlative moments in perception. What belongs to whom - this is what must be divvied up by the intentional arc which subtends and (at the 'chiasm') divides the two subject and object poles: e.g. is it that I've moved further away? Or that: it's got smaller / moved away?

Spinning: spin around a lot - then stop - the world appears to spin. You've set up certain expectations of self/world movement in your lived body. These expectations are not visually met with (because you stopped spinning). They're not immediately relinquished/cancelled. So then, instead, the world appears to move in opposite direction. In intoxication we have the same difficulty. Expectation and world are not so tightly coupled. Maximal grip is degraded.

Broken escalator: your body carries expectations of movement even if you can see escalator is static. Get on the escalator - it appears to lurch in the opposite direction. Your body stumbles. Why isn't it like getting on a normal staircase?!

Jewellery removed: take off a watch or bracelet before swimming or before doing the washing up. Normally you don't feel it there. But now you feel an anti-bracelet around your wrist!

Sensory deprivation: nothing to entrain the web of anticipations; nothing to cancel them (no staircase fully visible where a person would otherwise occlude it). Hallucinations spring up from fleeting unrelinquished sensory anticipations.

Phantom limb: the expectations that constitute the body schema can't be readily relinquished. 'Knowing that your limb is gone' is not a neurological unity - various disjunctive criteria for that, some of them verbal and some motor-habitual. (Harder to adjust if unconscious when amputation happened.) 

Rubber hand illusion: disturbance of sensory integration. Tickling of feather is not where body expects it when body takes rubber hand for own hand. So position of hand in body schema is adjusted. (Can cause OBEs in schizophrenics.)

Hallucinatory palinopsia: Wikipedia: "persistent recurrence of a visual image after the stimulus has been removed." The expectation is formed, yet not relinquished after the 'stimulus has been removed'  - so one has a 'recurring visual image'.

Ghosts: my beloved has died but this understanding has not propagated through my set of reactive dispositions. That is: I still expect her to come through the door. She does not. Yet the expectation does not immediately relinquish: instead I 'see' a 'negative' of her - I 'see' her 'ghost'.

Succubi, incubi, old hags, alien visitors: sleep paralysis undermines ability to update the body schema. Corollary discharge of the motor intention plus no change of retinal stimulation due to paralysis naturally gives rise to hallucinatory experience - projection of body image. Sense of evil - self-disintegration (terror - see below) and hallucinated body shape combine in the night terror. 

AVHs: perhaps not so easy to generalise to 'hearing voices'? The model would be: I have a latent anticipation of hearing my name being called. And in cases of mental illness, a latent anticipation (in the complexes) of receiving hostile criticism, of being talked about, etc. I do not manage to experience silence - in other words my latent anticipation is not relinquished. I then 'hear' an 'anti-voice' saying what I expect to hear. AVHs are auditory ghosts. Why expect criticism? This is the 'introjection of the bad object' to form persecutory superego.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome - visual hallucinations - in some of those with significant retinal damage - i.e. with partial blindness. Standard theory: impairment of normal visual stimulation unconstrains the brain from producing 'images' (of little people, of objects, landscapes, and repeating visual patterns). Alternative: hallucination here too is result of 'anticipations' uncancelled by normal sensory input. Question remains: why does person have such anticipations - of encountering people etc.? Well: of course we have expectations of encountering people, objects, landscapes, etc. And if we experience a little bit of a pattern it may be natural to expect this to continue as well (in the absence of the cancelling effect of regular visual input). Elaboration of a partial visual stimulus into a face, person, object, pattern ought to happen, and is what subtends normal protentive dimension of visual experience.

6. hallucination as failed grieving 

Failing to smoothly update body schema: caused by identificatory failures of mourning, by intoxication, by tricking the body (psychologist's rubber hand illusion etc), by schizophrenic fragility.

Easy to update, to 'grieve', when the lost phenomenon not really a part of who one is. 

Grieving: not an emotional experience that sits on top of the letting go of reactive dispositions to encounter the departed other / the amputated limb. Grieving is the embodied relinquishing of these expectations. Grieving tears at the fabric of our self, allowing it to adjust to new situation without the lost object. (You can't ask: 'why does mourning (letting go) involve feelings like that (grief)?' because the feeling is the experience of the adjustments within the mourning process.) 

Ghosts: intrinsically mournful phenomena. Beckon to the living from 'another world'. They still have something they want to say. They can 'haunt' - won't leave you or this world alone, trapped between the worlds. All of these properties in fact belong to the bereaved: it is we who can't let go of the beloved, we who want to say something to her, we who can't relinquish our expectations. The ghost is the reverse of these - rather than grieve we hallucinate. Ghosts - so-called presences - are, in fact, unmanageable absences.

This is not wish-fulfilment. It is a direct product of the non-relinquishment of the anticipations. It is no more wish-fulfilment than our lurch on the static escalator. 'Ghosts' are visual lurches on the static escalators of our animal souls.

7. the identity of hallucination

If one is reluctant or unable to relinquish the expectation of theorising hallucination in terms of 'inner images occurring in the absence of their normal cause' - if one is reluctant or unable to relinquish a conception of consciousness as an inner realm of inner representations - then the theory of hallucination as a failure of expectation will look unpersuasive.

One will be likely to think that a theory based on anticipation is either insufficiently sensory or is at best not an ontological account but instead merely a theory of what causes hallucination. The hallucination itself, one might think, will be an inner image upshot of the failure to relinquish the anticipation.

This is not our theory. It is one of the being of hallucination. If we have to think of hallucination in terms of 'images', then the claim is that the inner image is the anticipation unrelinquished despite the unencountered stimulus. However why think in terms of images at all? We have to see images (e.g. oil paintings or photos), and hallucination is not seeing. 

This talk of 'inner images' is a metaphor; one might as well say that auditory hallucination involves 'inner recordings', or that olfactory hallucination involves 'inner scratch-n-sniff cards'. Images, recordings, and smelly cards can all obtain in the absence of what the images depict, tapes record, and cards smell like - and hallucinations also obtain, of course, in the absence of that of which they are hallucinations! The theory of 'inner images' seems to suppose that because there is no outer stimulus in hallucination there must be an 'inner' one! (Error theory regarding 'inner image' talk proclivity.)

8. hallucination, terror and self-dissolution in schizophrenia

Self and perceptual object are correlatively enacted structures.

If we can't achieve self-world stability - grip (as in maximal grip) - then disintegrative terror looms. Not being able to attain object-stability is also disturbing. Because of their correlative enactment, not two alternative scenarios.

Schizophrenia - especially coenaesthopathic schizophrenia - involves a fragility to slippage of body schema - and by implication a vulnerability to disturbed self-world enactments (hallucinations, autoscopies, passivity experiences, coenaesthopathies, OBEs).

Parts of body schema become sheared off. Transitivism, appersonation, passivity experiences, alien hand, coenaesthopathies develop as body is no longer 'lived', alien invasions, electrical experiences, kundalini, etc.  Or displacement of point of perception - autoscopies, OBEs.

Terror is the experience (the undergoing - i.e. non-transitive experience) of self-dissolution. (The identity claim matters - now you can't say 'but Richard why is that so scary?') 

Delusionality: the relinquishing of the attempt to solve for self-world discrepancies, the retreat into autism / detachment from reality / disconnection of sensori-motor feedback cycles / diminished fonction du reél. Delusion is a way to not experience terror of self-dissolution (persecution is better than disintegration).

9. hallucination and therapy: between identification and grief

Compared to perception (reality contact) and self-world adjustment, hallucination is failure.

Compared to introjective identification with bad object, hallucination is a success!

That is: the hallucinator who 'hears' a persecutory voice is at least now not completely identified with it.

Hallucination can be seen like psychoanalytic symbolism (in dreams, images, preoccupations, obsessions, delusion-like ideas, etc): as a stage between illness and health. Both regressive and progressive moments possible. Recognition and encouragement of it's progressive dimension is the therapeutic task.

Therapeutic task is: relinquishing the anticipation! This may be updating the body schema with mirror boxes etc for phantom limb sufferer. It may be grieving the beloved, realising what one oneself wants to say to him or her, in those who see ghosts. It may be taking care to stabilise body schema, and sharing understanding about this, in schizophrenia.  

This contrasts with a conception of hallucinations as 'inner images'. On that conception we're likely to see them as psychologically unmotivated brain events, or as wishfully motivated (since imagination is often under control of the will). By contrast the anticipation account provides a clearer therapeutic direction.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

a ghost is a failed goodbye

Ghosts, I want to say, are intrinsically mournful phenomena. Their very form speaks essentially of loss. They seem to beckon to us from another world. They might reach out to touch us, but are yet pulled back into their spirit realm. A realm that is out of the reach of the quick. (They always come to us.)

I offer such thoughts not because I or you 'believe in' ghosts. Of course we don't. Instead I'm trying to find some words which attach themselves naturally to the very idea of the ghost. I go on below to ask into the significance of such natural attachments.

Another important concept here is that of 'haunting'. The ghost is a departed spirit who won't leave the living alone.

I wrote before that a ghost is a failed goodbye. A phantom limb is another example of this: this leg or arm that the brain can't mourn, this body schema that can't be updated despite the patient's best conscious efforts. (Two other examples already given: the habitually worn bracelet taken off, or the broken escalator mounted: we feel a phantom bracelet on our arm; we feel a disconcerting lurch on embarking the static escalator.)

In certain conditions absence is experienced as haunting presence. Which conditions? Conditions when the expectations which structured our relationship with the departed are not extinguished, not worked through. Conditions of failed mourning. These expectations are scattered across the gamut of our bodily anticipations, and do not belong properly simply to what we can verbally express. The criteria for mourning are diverse and dissociable.

So a ghost is generated by the clash between latent expectation and the reality of absence. They speak essentially of loss because of this. We have a folklore and the folklore has ontological significance. The folklore is that ghosts aren't, say, simply beings from 'another realm', nor gaseous beings from this 'realm'. Instead they are most definitely the spirits of the departed. The spirits have not managed to let go of this world. Perhaps they still have something to tell us. Perhaps they still have a grievance against us. Perhaps they beckon to us from beyond the grave.

The question is what all this means. Freud had a thought about melancholia which we can adapt here. The thought was that the depressed bereaved may find it hard to mourn when they had unresolved (unconscious) ambivalent feelings toward the departed. There is something that we have or need to say to the departed, something which our relationship (in its positive elements, say) and their demise have thwarted. We want to call out to them. We want to summon them.

The ghost is the inverse of our unconscious desires. It is easy to say something lazy like: 'it is the projection into the world of our unconscious desires (to see, to harangue, the person again)'. But it just isn't a 'projection' in any meaningful sense. (This is to think like the cognitivist who says that we 'project' the 'colourful visual image' into the world where we then 'see' it.) What it is, I claim, is the admixture of uncancelled anticipation with null sensory fulfilment. And the ghost's 'negative' character - in the sense of a photographic negative - is manifest in all these ways: the ghost is lighter than its surroundings whereas the quick would be darker; it calls to us when we want to call to it; it beckons when we wish to beckon; it won't leave us alone when we can't let it go; it can't leave the world of the quick when it is really we who can't let it depart; it beckons to us from its 'other world' when we impossibly want to beckon to it from within this world. It is an intrinsically mournful phenomenon - whilst we are struggling to mourn.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

ontology of hallucination

When thinking of hallucination I'm drawn to a set of questions which we might summarise with 'What is the being of hallucination?' The question itself naturally invites another question, which is: 'What is it to ask into the being of a thing?' And: how does this differ from an empirical-psychological inquiry?

An empirical theory of hallucination might have it that hallucinations are caused by stress, have a symbolic content related to the hallucinator's complexes, involve abnormal activity in the superior temporal gyrus, etc. Such theories are all well and good, but here I note them only to provide a contrast to the kind of enquiry I'm instead inclined to pursue. They are answers to a different question (to a question individuated differently at the level of sense if not at the level of surface expression). They tell us, one might say, what happens when you hallucinate, but not what it is to hallucinate.

An empiricist might show impatience with the question of the being of hallucination, and propose a definition, after which we can (it is suggested) move swiftly on to the more important empirical matters at hand. You know the kind of thing: 'A hallucination is a perception / sense datum / inner experience / inner representation - in the absence of / not caused by - an outer object'.

Yet our question has its place precisely because of the futility of those kinds of answers, because of how wedded they are to a bankrupt inner/outer picture which reifies the inner and correlatively constitutively divorces experience as such from our world-involvement. For perception and experience are not just caused by their worldly objects; they take them in. They are not hybrids of i) non-mental causal outer interactions with a world (the mechanics of vision and audition etc) plus ii) mental upshots of 'loud and glowing sense data' in an internal world. Instead perceptual experience is our openness to the world; it is the originary form of intentionality. In this sense a hallucination is precisely not a perception or an experience of anything. For there is, one could say, something simply paradoxical in talking of 'an experience of a horse in the absence of a horse'.

Furthermore the concepts of 'inner representation', 'sense datum' etc are simply philosophical inventions which themselves cry out for explication before they themselves can feature in explanations. After all, one could say, what use is a visual representation if we can't actually see it? Doesn't the concept of a 'visual representation' - e.g. of a picture - presuppose rather than explain the capacity to see what is thereby pictured? (Consider our ability to see the pictures hanging on the wall, and how derivative this ability is of our ability to first see, directly, the kinds of things the pictures picture.) So we can't just help ourselves to such notions to explain perception. We need first to explain them. It won't do to say that an inner representation is self-perceiving or self-interpreting, since to say such things is far less perspicuous than talk of perceptual experience itself.

Consider too the arguments for disjunctivism in the philosophy of perception. The non-disjunctivist, to rehearse, has it that the visual perception of a horse, and a hallucination of a horse, have something psychological in common. The term 'psychological' there is doing the work of: they don't just have in common the atemporal fact that the right way to describe their content is 'a horse'. It is saying: they have in common something experiential and episodic. They are not just both experiences of horses; they are both - some or other allegedly illuminating sense - experiences of horses. Yet the disjunctivist will demur that it is no more illuminating to say this than to say that a real horse and a plastic horse are both horses, or that a standing bridge and a bombed out bridge are both bridges. We can of course say that a hallucination is a perceptual experience, just as we can also say that a bombed out bridge is a bridge. Yet in both cases, the disjunctivist insists, what is essential to the being of the perceptual experience (openness to the world) and the bridge (forging a connection between two sides of a river) has been lost. The reason why we identify the broken bridge as a bridge, the plastic horse as a horse, the hallucination as an experience, has to do with their ontological dependence on real bridges, horses, perceptions.

A hallucination, on this natural understanding, is a particular kind of disturbance in a perceptual modality. There is no more an experience left to it than there is a bridge left in the case of the bombed out bridge, or a horse in the plastic horse. We can call both veridical perceptions and hallucinations 'experiences', but this is not because they share something episodic in common, but instead because reference to all such phenomena gives us the extension of the concept of 'experience'. It wouldn't be elucidatory to say, for example, that in both real and hallucinatory cases it seems to us that there is a horse in front of us. For first of all it may not seem to the hallucinator that there is a horse in front of her. It may instead seem to her just that she is hallucinating a horse. (Merleau-Ponty is very clear on this.) And second it isn't clear what it means to say of someone who clearly sees a horse that it seems to him that he sees a horse. And this is because part of the work that the concept of 'seeming' does is to distinguish between, for example, when something 'really is' the case and when something 'just' seems to be the case. To say that there is a 'seeming' alive in both cases sublimes the logic of 'seems'.

It is for reasons such as these that I consider it important to ask 'what is being of hallucination?' In spelling this out it will naturally be fine to say things like 'It's kind of like seeing something but that something isn't actually seen'. In such cases we often talk about 'hearing things' and 'seeing things'; more specifically we talk of 'hearing voices' and 'seeing visions'. In doing this we indicate that other sensory modalities are not involved. That is the force of talk of 'hearing voices'. After all it could be said that in one sense we all hear voices everyday; or, at least, we listen to what people are saying. But the talk of hearing voices indicates that the talker is not visually or otherwise present to us. It is in the spirit of this question that I propose my answer: to hallucinate is to have an embodied expectation of hearing (or seeing, being touched, etc.) uncancelled by the absence of a stimulus. I do not offer that as an empirical theory but as a phenomenological characterisation. I do not imagine for a moment that such talk of 'embodied and cancelled expectations' is straightforwardly perspicuous. Instead I illustrate it with examples (such as the static escalator appearing to lurch when we embark it, or the world appearing to still spin around after you've stopped spinning around).

What I am not doing is providing necessary and/or sufficient conditions for 'hallucinate'. Such an analytic approach would, I believe, radically underestimate the fundamental nature of hallucination as a disturbance of experiential world engagement. As for perception itself, to take the question of the being of perception as a request for necessary and sufficient conditions for perception is to tacitly imagine that there are floating about some more fundamental concepts which we can independently grasp and then put to use in our characterisation of what it is to perceive. That, I submit, is self-evidently absurd. If one says that 'perception is our originary openness to the world', that it 'takes us out to the objects', that it involves an 'originary transcendence', I hope it is clear how these can hardly be taken as statements conveying positive information. Instead they are reminders not to make a travesty of our concept of perception by closing us in to an inner mental domain in a merely external relation with the world about us.

No, we mustn't here try to achieve an illuminating definition, but instead accommodate to, find our way about with, the concept of 'perception' in practice. The same goes for 'hallucination'.

risky dreams

Telling and listening to a dream is a curiously intimate business. On the one hand it's part even of our pre-Freudian understanding of dreams that they can reveal more about us than we realise. Still, as it were, dreaming the dream, still caught up within its interiority, we tell it to someone, only to realise that we might have well have just blurted out our most intimate wishful fantasies, might have well have called a current lover by the name of a lost but unrelinquished love. Caught up still within the dream we don't notice until too late the latent meaning which then bangs us on the forehead as we clothe it in words which are not under our omnipotent control, as we are forced now to mean - to acknowledge the previously unevident implications in - what we say. A meaning which bangs us on the forehead in the same way in which a fish finally comes to understand it has been swimming in water only when for a moment it jumps out of the pool. Here the intimacy is part function of the inherent riskiness of the dream.

Yet telling a dream is also intimate just because it truly does speak to our ownmost preoccupations. And the risk we take here in telling the dream is not the negative one of exposing our shameful fantasies, but the positive one of someone welcoming us, accepting us, in our anxieties and longings.  This, I think, is the most powerful dimension of psychoanalysis or person-centred psychotherapy: a therapist listens to the patient's productions without judgement, accepting them as moments in the evolution of their soul. This loving attitude then becomes internalised in the patient's mind's fabric. Then they can allow themselves to be at the developmental level, or to have the preoccupations, they really are at and do have. And so, because of that, sequestered regions of the psyche start to rejoin the gang, and become once more live components of its self-becoming.