Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Forget hell

The Times reports the latest discovery from the burgeoning field of neuroscience. It’s a chemical that may prove¬† helpful in erasing harmful memories that, say, relate to trauma, addiction and learned behavior. It may also be useful in enhancing memory.

The Times story makes this observation in its general commentary about the growth of the neuroscience field:

Artists and writers have led the exploration of identity, consciousness and memory for centuries. Yet even as scientists sent men to the moon and spacecraft to Saturn and submarines to the ocean floor, the instrument responsible for such feats, the human mind, remained almost entirely dark, a vast and mostly uncharted universe as mysterious as the New World was to explorers of the past.

There’s the usual implication here that the work of artists is less important than that of scientists. The paragraph notes that art has “led the exploration of identity” for centuries. Then it says, basically, that because scientists haven’t involved themselves, the mind has remained “almost entirely dark”… despite the work of those artists.

This same prejudice had a huge impact on Jung and Freud in the early development of depth psychology (psychology of the unconscious). Both men freely admitted later in their lives that their work was largely inspired by writers like Goethe and (in Jung’s case) spiritual traditions.¬† But, in order, to have credibility, they called themselves scientists.

In the last two decades or so of the 20th century, Freud’s work was largely rejected by science. (Jung’s was never much taken seriously because of its spiritual components.) Indeed, in the professional schools of psychology Freud is treated dismissively and, according to friends, the unconscious itself is viewed as a historical artifact.

As it happens, though, neuroscience seems to be corroborating a good bit of what Freud and those who influenced him observed about unconscious process, dreams and psychological outcomes of parenting style. This is being hotly debated, especially between psychoanalysts and cognitive-behavioral types.

I’m not going to attempt to resolve the difference — both sides have good arguments — but I did want to note how deep the prejudice is, even underlying the simple paragraph cited above.

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