Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Science popularising - scientists aestheticise science but deny art

There is a good deal of space in all media given over to science, bringing its intrinsic interest and challenge and significance to all. There are some fantastic resources, free to access.
It is important to bring science thinking and the history of science as it has developed in the West to everybody. Critical thinking is applied in science, and yet examples abound of people of people slipping out of a critical stance into dogmatic assertion, most prominently, perhaps, when it comes to questions of origins (i.e. "creation of species" vs "evolution of species"). 
But I think too much of the thinking that goes into this communication of science thinking and history is uselessly and counter-productively concerned with making scientists appealing. I suppose there is anxiety over falling numbers of young people choosing to study science (at least here in the UK that seems to be the case). And the thinking is that self-conscious young people need to see that scientists too can have TV and media careers.


In January 2011, in a BBC TV programme “Science Under Attack”, nobel-prize-winning biologist Sir Paul Nurse challenged the writer James Dellingpole over the latter’s view that the scientific case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not only questionable on scientific grounds, but also politically motivated.

The twitchy Daily Telegraph journalist Dellingpole latched onto the University of East Anglia Climate Scientists’ massaged presentation of climate data as the clinching evidence that scientists act in favour of their careers no less than in favour of scientific truth. To Sir Paul the “Climategate” scandal was a trivial matter, because the massaged presentation of data did not materially alter the conclusions drawn in the scientific paper in which the data appeared. I have no doubt Sir Paul was right on this. But the scandal had done much to undermine the esteem in which science and scientists are presently held in the general population. Sir Paul (president of the FRS) wanted to take the argument back to the ones discrediting scientists.

But as far as perception of scientists goes, surely he only made things worse?

In conversation with Dellingpole, the scientist was ready, without any real forethought one senses, to draw an analogy between climate change sceptics challenging the scientific consensus and a non-scientist cancer-sufferer’s denial (in favour of his own independent research) of the medical consensus over the best treatment of his cancer.

Paul Nurse's choice of analogy was condescending and mildly insulting. I think Dellingpole was right to object that Nurse was caricaturing those who are critical of the presentation of the climate change case as quacks not able to distinguish between good and bad argument. His choice of analogy was revealing in this respect. Though scientists aim to practice value-free science, we know that science as it has been practised has done so within a value-laden framework, which we can attempt to describe and judge. Our not being mathematicians is no automatic bar to making such judgements. For example, any intelligent and reasonably well informed person wishing to spend some time listening to one or two of the many reputable presentations on AGW available on the internet (here’s one I recommend) can derive a good deal of the detail of the debate within science over climate modelling and so forth, with no specialist knowledge of mathematics or science. Conversely, as Sir Paul Nurse’s example shows, there is clearly a need for scientists to appreciate the kind of learning that can spot the significance of the choice of an analogy in the presentation of an argument.


Examples of scientists venturing out of their areas of expertise have been around a lot in the recent spate of "new atheism".

An intersting moment occurs in the programme “The Case For God” in which Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of British Orthodox synagogues, attempts to engage with prominent non-believers and people who regard themselves as atheist and who write books denouncing faith and religion.
One of his interlocutors is the neuro-biologist and Professor of Neuro-science at the University of London, Colin Blakemore.

Their conversation turns to the limits of scienific explanation, and Rabbi Sacks puts the question to Professor Blakemore:

“Do you seriously believe, Colin, that this entire Professor Colin Blakemore, who takes moral stands on the integrity of science and medical research, is actually a self-flattering myth that you are weaving around yourself, because actually all thise grey cells in your brain have worked this out long before, and you never had a choice, you couldn’t have been other than a professor of science?”

and Colin Blakemore answers:

“Yeah, I do believe it”.

Behind the question is the proposition already made in the conversation by Professor Blakemore, that the phenomenon we call subjectivity is the product of physical processes which it is within the domain of science to explain as law-bound, just as every other phenomenon occurring in the universe is law-bound.

To Rabbi Sacks, the immediate consequence of this view is the absence of free will, and the rendering of subjectivity – the awareness of oneself as an agent – an illusion.

Let's accept that Blakemore really does believe that he had absolutely no choice in the matter of becoming who he is, and that any feeling that he may have had in choosing was an illusion.

(Having spent some time hearing thorough-going materialists put their case, e.g. certain speakers at conferences at the Ian Ramsay Centre for Science and Religion), I also hear Professor Blakemore insisting that there is only stuff in the universe, and a complete account of stuff, on the path of which we are, will render consciousness transparent. As we have looked closer, however, what is observed becomes observer dependent: we can't draw ourselves out of the picture. I don't really warm to these kinds of debates, in which the case for "humanities" is answering to criticisms, or demands for justificsation, that emerge from standpoints that deny common ground. I suppose I find the people unsympathetic. Be with who we like to be with!) 

The interesting moment comes when both Sacks and Blakemore both draw the same conclusions about eachother’s view (i.e. that it is reductive), from their opposing views.

Blakemore takes Sacks’ position, holding to the reality of human subjectivity, as reductive in the Dawkinsian manner of finding any claim to an extra-scientific dimension as a kind of “cop-out”, the positing of something likened to a fairy story in the place of explanation, and so curtailing of the aspiration to know scientifically. Blakemore also stresses that beauty (and, he adds, he uses the term beautiful "advisedly" - by which I think he mean us to understand – as if we might be inclined to doubt it – that he is here using the term "beautiful" in the sophisticated sense of something occurring to the mind and not merely sensuous) resides in the scientific explanation, which he fears others tend to overlook when they claim that scientific explanation is not all there is.

Sacks, on the other hand, holds Blakemores’s account to be “pure reductivism”, reducing humans to “just electrical impulses in the brain”. Blakemore is happy to concede that his view does indeed reduce humans to electrical impulses in the brain, and is reductive in so far as it does away (for him) with any call for faith or religion. But he takes exception to Sacks’ use of the word “just”. Blakemore says “[With that word “just”] You diminish it [us] by suggesting that to believe that we are causal machines, where we are simply caused by events in the past, is trivial, when it is unbelievably complex, very surprising and really quite remarkable”.

So, for Sacks’ Blakemore’s view is absolutely reductive because it renders subjectivity – I really don’t see that this conclusion can be avoided – an illusion. Blakemore qualifies his acknowledged reductivism, saving something one supposes to be uniquely human – the capacity to perceive this, and not that, as beautiful – by pointing to the sheer stupendousness that this agglomeration of organic molecules can give rise to the illusion that “here is Colin Blakemore”. The wondrousness of this fact is the remedy Blakemore proposes to any despair one may feel at having only the illusion of selfhood or of free will, and only the illusion that now I am feeling something to be beautiful. (What basis is there for any moral discernment if the freedom to choose this and not that to be beautiful is absolutely devoid of freedom?). For Blakemore, Sacks’ view is reductive because (he thinks) it forecloses on what will be accessible to human knowing by grasping for stories.

As I re-visit this interesting moment, and Blakemore’s ideas and mode of expression, I am reminded of the comment made by John Stuart Mill of the thought of Jeremy Bentham.

“He had a phrase, expressive of the view he took of all moral speculations to which his method had not been applied, or (which he considered as the same thing) not founded on a recognition of utility as the moral standard; this phrase was 'vague generalities'. Whatever presented itself to him in such a shape, he dismissed as unworthy of notice, or dwelt upon only to denounce as absurd. He did not heed, or rather the nature of his mind prevented it from occurring to him, that these generalities contained the whole unanalysed experience of the human race.” (From “Bentham”, 1838).

Bentham used the term “vague generalities” to stand for the reasons for the reasons people gave for their conduct. In other words, whereas people accounted for their conduct with what they considered to be reasons, Bentham could not see anything underpinning those reasons but “vague generalities”, mere assertions, or cop-outs. One understands Mill to have had real sympathy for Bentham, and admiration for the systmatic nature of his reforming projects in law, for example. Yet, emerging from the crisis of his early twenties, he had to challenge Bentham’s understanding of reasons for conduct. Reason was curtailed to denote something reducible to physical movement. The experience of human kind, what has made human history what it has been, falls out of what is analysable, or even worthy of analysis, in the world view that regards felt experience, subjectivity, as a mere accidental by-product of the random agglomeration of particles. This is what Marilynne Robinson refers to as “the dispelling of inwardness from the modern myth of the self”. But it should not be taken that Sacks (or Robinson) are defending something out of sentimental attachment. Surely they are wanting to acknowledge that there are things which are not humanly knowable, and isn’t this the conclusion that the philosophy of science itself reaches?

The realisation that choice (denoting free will and human agency) are factors in one’s own history, and therefore in how things have turned out - and will turn out - will surely conflict with any view of humanly-knowable (i.e. accessible to science) law-bound processes as ultimately all there is. Attending to how things have turned out, one acknowledges the development of science as being centrally present in it. But the stepping off point into “modern” science, with its mathematical character, occurs within a religious impulse. The early modern “scientists” (the term did not arise until the mid-nineteenth century) were concerned with religion and with God. For them, and for others right down to the time of the publication Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species”  in 1859, and after, “Natural Philosophy” was understanding God’s creation.

One can understand that appealing to subjectivity could appear as a kind of cop-out when the success of one’s science (or maybe even one’s personal contribution to science) has given one to feel vindicated.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Ignorance Reinforces Itself With Respect To History

Being A-historical

In some people close to me (and in me - though I am trying very hard to come through it) there is a strange combination of interest in history and complete historical ignorance.

This comes through in the casual exchanges we are having over the teaching of history and the very funny children’s TV programme “Horrible Histories”.

The “Horrible Histories” sketches are funny. Most of them, maybe even all of them, place our contemporary selves in historical settings. I think of the “Monty Python-esque” gag (I believe they were not the first to do this sort of thing) of having Joan of Arc singing R&B. 

It’s common for us to engage with history by imagining past peoples as like ourselves, only wearing different clothes. This is wrong, but it's a starting point. We know that there haven't always been museums. But we can’t quite work out why there should have ever been a first museum. On the other hand we can readily think of why there might have been a first library (which seems to have come along a very long time before the first museum).

A route into history is making connections to the lives of past people by showing how aspects of the culture of our own day might be present in past cultures, and then seeing that the reverse is true. Wasn’t this the technique employed by Dr David Starkey, when he entered “Jamie’s Dream School” in 2011 and tried to engage with a group of young men and women. Wealth and power and status is very much on display in contemporary urban gang culture. Starkey pointed: “Look! So it was in Rome!”

Yet at some points we start to diverge. After all, the Romans were slave-owning. There were things that separated the people of Rome into very definite and distinct strata. What is our perspective on slavery? Let’s talk about it….

Well, there I am talking to someone close to me, whose habit it is to look upon history as something one has already done. His relationship to history is as something one has already acquired, and condescends to consult once in a while for amusement and edification. For this man feels himself to have climbed to a height so he looks down on the past. This objectifying stance comes across in more or less subtle ways, but really only ever comes out when he speaks about history. It’s there, for example, in his regarding a museum as a “Great place for kids”. But no…. that’s not it. Who would disagree that a museum can be a great place for kids?

The point comes a bit closer when we note that he makes this remark having just returned from a visit to a museum with his nephew, a young man aged sixteen years! Moreover, the visit was to a museum attended by unaccompanied (by kids) adults! Are they kids too? What is going on here?!

Even this doesn’t get close to the style of thinking I really want to convey. Actually this man has only two modes of being when confronting historical information: either paternalistic (it’s good for kids) or as a child himself, unable to critically assess what has been put before him. “A great place for kids and adults?” I reply. Because the tone with which this blank statement is made (“It’s a great place for kids”) suggests – no, it directly communicates to us, that for him the experience was nothing new.

What has mattered most to this man in his life is that he has had power over other men in the world. He is a Bounderby and a Gradgrind in one person.

For him power came through technical-scientific knowledge. The sense of power and complacent ease with which he dismisses the significance of history for him is borne of his having actually experienced and wielded power. (The first of his family to have entered a university, in the late fifties, and free of charge. Emerging from a skilled working class background, he attains professional status. He was upwardly socially mobile. Born in 1938, at the moment of birth of the welfare state, he is of the first generation that came through into adulthood feeling itself to be the very manifestation of rational social life. The harsh conditions of existence that he and his family had known before and during the war were tangibly alleviated with technology and recovering wealth and post-war boom, and the range of possibilities for self-expression expanded, in his life.)

To a young person (I dare say, even the young man of sixteen years who has been taken to the museum), the message taken up in this tone of address is very clear: that there is a way of being in the world such that one can look down on all this history and see it panoramically, laid out below, and that way of being is being in power, and he has it. One can hope and expect and anticipate that sense of omniscience if one can attain power too.

I hope one of my readers will interrupt me here and say “That is the oldest trick in book of the powerful – a “Whig” presentation of history, which makes of history only that chain of events that leads to and justifies us in our power!

But I want to stay with this on an intimate level.
I volunteer the notion that there seem to be two approaches to the presentation of history. One kind is the kind that regards history as so many episodes of good and less-good behaviour, or good and less-good models of civilisation, from our perspective. The other kind is seeking to understand the objects and artefacts and practices that have come down to us, or are present to us, by  imaginative re-creation of the life of the peoples with whom they originated. I think the latter kind takes as its starting point the contingency of our present mode of life, the awareness that it might have been, and might still be, otherwise, because (Look!) peoples have lived differently in the past. I try to appeal to this way of looking at things: “The Romans were fundamentally different to us, and we might know that by recognising the ways that their deepest needs and hopes and fears were expressed in their customs, laws, dress, writing, buildings, and so on”. With this I also try to appeal to the notion that our deepest needs and fears and hopes might similarly be seen in the way we live now, because we are men and women biologically the same as Roman men and women, confronted by the world and death and disasters, and that is the platform from which we might attain insights into the lives of Romans, and of others, and ultimately of ourselves.

This prompts the following comment, again in that schoolmasterly tone of one speaking as if to a child who has just volunteered an extremely naïve view of about some facet of the world.

“Yes, but the Romans are not like us because they didn’t have our knowledge. They didn’t have science, and they didn’t have to cope with all the knowledge that we have to cope with today.”

What we are to understand is that unlike the Romans, we do cope. There is an implicit sense of having mastered what the Romans could not master, and with this, a notion of the Roman as more primitive in the way of being dim, or dull, or lazy. This comment is offered as a complete answer to my suggestion that there are two ways of receiving or approching history. We have nothing to learn from the Romans (or any other culture) because we know more than them. They are primitive. We are advanced. The comment and its tone manifests the very mode of apprehension of history of the former kind, that regards past peoples and civilisations as good and less good attempts to be as we are now.

I believe this kind of flattening of thinking is common in life. It closes off curiosity, it closes off enquiry (except of the kind that adds to the store fo knowledge), it vaunts what we already know and conceals our ignorance of what we don’t know. Its effects are massively limiting on a personal level. The first scientists were rich gentlemen from England, Scotland, France, Italy, Germany. They took themselves off to observe, but were in religion. As Isaiah Berlin writes in his essay “The Divorce Between the Sciences and The Humanities”, it was not long (well, from the time of Descartes to the time of the french Encyclopaedists) before the invention of a science of history that placed the historian as an observer of history in the same position as an observer of nature. Both regarded themselves as completely neutral. The observer effect was inconceivable to them. They were not historically self-aware, they were a-historical. 

One way of that jolts the kind of complacency on display here is understanding science as a cultural practice.
Living in a multi-cultural society and coming alongside people of other cultures, I think, what is it of me that is my culture?
Science is one such thing I can point to. It had cultural beginnings, and in the past, culture is religious culture and the religious character of science is no less present now.

Slavoj Zizek speaks wonderfully richly about this in a lecture from 2007 at the European Graduate School entitled "Materialism and Theology".

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Learned Ignorance

I think Melvyn Bragg was right when he said, in the "Sydney Institute Annual Lecture" 2012, that self-aggrandisement motivates much of Dawkins' activities as a critic of religion (and not just Dawkins').

Dawkins has written about his science (evolutionary biology) in a way that conveys his excitement about it and made it fascinating to me and hundreds of thousands, or millions of others. (I remember reading the "The Selfish Gene" in my early twenties and finding teh account - the gene's eye view - gripping and profound. Out goes any talk tending to call up advantage to the group; all behaviours are the consequences of the mechanical workings-out of the combinations of genes in individual organisms; but humans are able to get outside this blind working through).

There are moments when we ourselves master the process of speculation and testing and analysis that has been the work of a past great thinker thinking about the natural world (let's leave out the name "scientist" for now). We feel super, as clever as Newton, as clever as Darwin, as clever as Einstein! We are given their work as scientific truths but we can't re-experience, at least not without great imaginative effort, their problem-situations and the enormous leaps they made in the context of the thinking of their day, and the risks they took. We lose a sense of our acquiring philosophy when we take up their thinking and ideas and move straight to "knowledge". It tends to reinforce a sense of completeness in us.

In her book "Absence of Mind" (2010) Marilynne Robinson points to this characteristic "modern" sense of completeness, of having passed a threshold, conveyed in the para-scientific literature that commands so much attention and assent. The one who attains scientific knowledge today feels already vindicated because "Look, Newton was a member of the Royal Society", so if I know what Newton knew, then I too have access to that world. Only what we come to learn is that our equipping ourselves with scientific knowledge has been to adapt us to the modern workplace, to be placed to get a better job. Unlike Newton, I don't attain knowledge of God when my mathematics describes the motion of the satellite. Now I attain a qualification, or a professional accreditation that tells people, say, that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to the motion of satellites. Status accrues, and power and prestige, and this is the platform from which Dawkins and others like him speak. It's not pretty to talk about it, or think about it. One loses sight of the reverence that is the proper response to the profound.

The carelessness, ignorance and complacency with which Dawkins speaks on matters of religion, outside his special area of learning, is, for me, what in 1930 ("Revolt of the Masses"), the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset characterised as "learned ignorance". I don't subscribe to all of Ortega's writing on life in a modern democracy, which contains some dubious vitalist ideas. But Ortega is right that the feeling of having attained certain knowledge (which mathematical science promises) in a specialised field lends to us, or reinforces what is already our belief, the notion that there is nothing to be learned that is not reducible to a scientific account, not reducible, in other words, to terms already understood, clear and unambiguous. It's an attitude which side-steps philosophy. The demand to justify activities not reducible to forms of science (and the very existence of individuals pursuing those activities) is there in the tone of dismissiveness and self-satisfaction. But it is a mistake to give ground and attempt such a justification, because the premises for the demand for justification discredit any platform for a proper response in advance. One is wasting time to bring appreciation that there can be any reasoning on any matter that is yet not converging on science - not aspiring to the model of scientific truth, when the mind one is trying to communicate with so readily relegates one's concern to "mere" matters of opinion. To save this effort, one could direct attention to Karl Popper who was at pains to show to a scientifically-minded and sceptical reader (he addressed the Vienna Circle members promoting and propounding the "scientific world-view") that there are real philosophical problems, i.e. problems that are metaphysical. And Popper was the one to show (and with what assiduous, prolonged effort) scientistically minded philosophers, in  their language, that a project to eliminate metaphysics from philosophy eliminated science too. A metaphysics is taken up when we pursue science, and our knowledge is ultimately conjectural, not proved false yet. Who could ever persuade Dawkins that he has been dealt with? Only Dawkins I think.

I think there are similarities between the conditions that have elevated the grand-standing of prominent "New Atheists" and those that elevated CP Snow and his 1959 Rede Lecture "The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution", so brilliantly criticised by F R Leavis in 1962.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

"Closet-narcissistic" mum - abandonment

Poor self-image, unrealistic self-image, broken or un-formed self-image, dependent on others' confirmation of oneself (one's idea of oneself) for any kind of continuity. Other-focussed. Compelled to mirror others. Fragmented. Have difficulty concentrating. Completely lost self. Mum lacks dimensions because she too was not met and held by mother's eyes. Her kids play the parts of her own drama, one idealised, another denigrated. Unable to feel connected to the world. There is no compensation! Just have to manage the frightening gaps in one's mind.

The abandoned child finds some way of soothing self-destructive feelings.
Wanting mum, but confronted by her loss, (s)he imagines being looked upon and loved and cherished.
The persistent imagining stifles real enagagement with life, real learning, real development. One fails to develop a realistic idea of how one appears to others. Perhaps one comes to feel that one's failures to be this or that for others is a tremendous let-down for them (as if their lives or work or goings-on are somehow dependent on me).

How does the idealised self really start, this idea of oneself who is recognised (in one's imaginings) as ideal? It can be there in a healthy way, as something I feel myself to be that is me, who can confront reality and take knocks and survive and grow. Or it can be a crippling fantasy which one spends one's whole life trying to preserve at the cost of denying reality.

There are accounts of the omnipotent phase of an infant's life, our lives, when there are no boundaries between self and world: for him mum comes when there is crying like his arm comes before his face. That's an important part of the answer.

Freud talks of "ego", "superego" and "id". Of course, we are able, through practise and help, to separate these things in ourselves. The power of self-reflection that can do this, as it were, stepping back from the self to regard it, is not "ego" then. As, for example, Andrew Bowie points out in his books on aesthetics and German romantic philosophy, there remains some self-consciousness that can step back from "ego", "id", and "superego", and twhich remains even when these three things (whatever they are) come back together. Kant called it the "synthetic unity of apperception", a spontaneous self-giving.

Little infants need the bond with mum, in order to achieve self. Mum smiles at me, she looks into me and finds me, and I become what she finds in me. I practise being recognised by her. But if one's spontaneity is not met with acknowledgement and a containing reponse from mum, and instead abandonment or simply blankness, then the fragile self is threatened. I think at that point the little self is lost, always trying to be what mum wants, to meet her need. "I" hate in me what mum does not love (that causes her to go away). I try to be what mum loves, and yet it leaves me empty and depressed. I am ashamed to assert my desires. Guilty to demand of others what I want.

Please read my previous post in this topic.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Getting to Writing by John Gray

I came to philosophy in the process of committing myself to a painting project. Commitment to a kind of life, a way of engaging with the world, was the anti-dote to a militant utilitarianism inherited from my father. A phenomenology of technology had formed in my thinking, without knowing of “phenomenology”. At least for that period when I was developing painting practice I was a "phenomenologist". I regret that my engagement with philosophy was not tutored, although I had the marginal advantage of being a student of painting at the when literature came alive to me, and where I came into contact with artists and writing on art informed by philosophy. Philosophy was of constant reference to and among the people who I studied alongside, and that made it valid for me too.

I worked over four or five years to learn where phenomenology fits in to the wider arena of modern Western philosophy, and became aware of the long-standing division between so-called “continental” and “analytical” traditions. This learning inevitably affected the - how to describve it? – heightened nervous awareness I had lived in and which had made me sensitive to phenomena.I admit this was a kind of depressed, anxious mode.

At some point, when I had started to lose touch with the person in me who had responded strongly to work of Martin Heidegger, I came across a trio of writings in the liberal philsophical tradition: Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “Revolt of the Masses” (1930), J S Mill’s essay “Bentham” (1838) and John Gray’s “Isiaiah Berlin” (1991).

Whereas I came to read Heidegger via Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard, John Gray approached Heidegger from within British academic philosophy, i.e. from within a community that was presumably (especially in the 1960s when Gray was a student) as unsympathetic to Heidegger and phenomenology as any could be.As a kind of naive Heideggerian, I was for a long time gripped by the rival perspective that Marxism gave to the things that interested me, in particular the role of technology in society. Instinctively baulking at Hegelian-Marxist ideas, I pored over Georg Lukacs essays and - in trying to trace links between phenomenology and such things as "reification" - re-traced a few steps walked by post-war philosophers like Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Always feeling the need to juxtapose opposing views (feeling so inadequate) I also engaged with the work of Karl Popper, principally because of the claims that Marxism made on materialsm and "science". Eventually I came to John Gray's writing, at the end of this obsessive period, simultaneously stumbling over Gray's "Straw Dogs" (2002) and the transcript of Isaiah Berlin's 1965 lectures on "The Roots of Romanticism".

(I took Berlin's lectures on Romanticism with some caution, and had had the benefit of hearing and reading contemporary philosopher Andrew Bowie's account of the Romantic tradition before I found them. (By the way, here is a link to a very natty critique of Belin's published lectures by Andrew Bowie from the journal "Radical Philosophy"). However, the passages from Berlin that stood out for me, however, had already surfaced as I read - or tried to read - Bowie, for example when I thought about the character of writers in the Romantic tradition, such as Hamann, and Kierkegaard. Berlin's broad characterisation of the Romantic moevement, at least in Germany, is that it emerged out of a state of collective humiliation and defeat at the hands of the rational, post-Revolutionary French. This broad characterisation may be insupportable on close inspection, as Bowie would assert, I think. But I believe the deep reflection on subjectivity found German philosophy is, or at least can be, stimulated by hurt esteem. I believe Protestant conceptions of moral good, loading a tremendous amount of responsibility on the individual to justify himself before a scornful judge, can demand introspection and searching of purity of heart to the extremes seen in Kierkegaard and others.)

I then read Gray's short study of Isaiah Berlin (1991) and all of a sudden I had arrived at where Gray is - a compelling post-progress, Ballardian vision that is a bit stark and unpleasant but also clear and refreshing and even sometimes dimly optimistic. Berlin recognises that some human values are rationally incommensurable. We commit to living, make choices for ourselves through which certain values are realised. But in doing so we find other values denied or contradicted. For one example, which seems to have been a conflict for me, the good of organising to achieve "greatest happiness for all" tends to eliminate the possibility of self-realisation. That appeal to the principle of self-realisation is what I believe Berlin associates with "positive liberty", and organising around it being the source of movement towards the rational state, or the state that is humanly natural or naturally human (I forget Marx's formulation), derived in Hegel.

So I'm constantly asking myself, "How did I get here? What have I brought with me, a lay reader, that Gray - a professional philosopher - has not?" (This is my way of trying to value my responses to all this reading with the knowledge that I will never be an academic engaged in live philosophical disputes, philosophy having long-since become a professionalised and academicised pursuit.)

Karl Popper’s work is one powerful strand of thinking that denies certain knowledge. His work makes space for imagination as a source of meaningful discourse that lies outside science (in Popper’s terms the kind of discourse we call “metaphysical “ – and any talk about art or religion, for example, is metaphysucal) may speculate about the world but its speculations are irrefutable and un-scientific.

The idea of a “science” of history or politics that identifies “laws” of historical development was a principal target of Popper’s work and, from a different trajectory, of Isaiah Berlin’s work too (despirte his erstwhile involvement in the early days of Oxford linguistic analysis and logical empiricism, Berlin seems to have arrived at his stance on this without the need to engage in epistemological dispute, like Popper, but more by an engagement and - to a certain degree - identification with what he called the “counter-enlightenment”). His trajectory was such as to oust quasi-scientific methods from social sciences and introduce methods to those fields of research that could be open to critical questioning (his critical rationalism).

But the concept of (at least) political science remains.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reasoning from Feelings

When we make choices over our actions we are reasoning.
It is sensible to reason from one's feelings.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

"Narcissistic Psychopathology" - Mother and Sons

Some mums were not mirrored when little tiny children, and to keep love, they were bound to mirror their mums, to keep her there, to have the framework around which t become "I".

Fragile, they need, in their turn, to have their children look after them too, in this way: "I'm a perfect mum, and my perfect child won't cry or be demanding, which would destroy my idea of myself."

All more or less sub-consciously.

From Terry Eagleton's LRB review of Peter Conrad's "Modern Times, Modern Places" (1998, which I don't intend to read):

"To judge, for Conrad, would presumably be to court the perils of political radicalism, which fondly imagines that things might have been different and cannot accept that the world is simply what ever is the case."

I wish we could grow up in an atmosphere where we can learn to form judgements without the fear of going mad, in the confidence that by paying attention to our feelings about things, we are developing ourselves and our ability to be compassionate. We make judgements all the time, choosing this over that. How can we learn to respect our wishes and act with commitment, be different from others even while we appreciate difference? It is a very mixed society.

A person with a self-esteem problem (who has not been mirrored) may come  to depend on continuity of self by always stimulating in others an "I need you", "I desire you", "I accept you" response. They have survived by tuning into others' needs in order to become needed and wanted by that other. They have not been allowed to be themselves. No platform has been given to their voices. To express oneself is fraught with enormous risk.

It is very important for babies and tiny children to be faithfully mirrored, acknowledged, given to understand that they are understood!

Painting and projective identification

There are people for whom coping inter-personally requires (and there is no way out of this unless they can benefit from psychotherapy) a constant putting-out of un-wanted parts of themselves in order to maintain integrity of self.
It's the kind of claim that I would have been unable to interpret, or might simply have rejected, some years ago.

One way I have of describing this is to think of people who are constantly (sub-consciously) turning others - all others - into their parents, their ways of relating frozen at a moment when their actual parents were not available to receive them and acknowledge them. A little child is their emotions.
I think of the beautiful description of projective identification, due to Melanie Klein, that it is a pre-verbal communication, and as such it is communication of feeling, of affect, in which the infant "projects" or creates an intolerable "bad" feeling in(to) the parent and then "introjects" the parent's response. It is kind of symbiotic mechanism for self development, a very deep kind of learning, of acquiring self. "Symbiotic" because there needs to be a very deep bond between the infant and the parent to enable the infant to take over ("introject") the attributes of the parent that, if all goes ok, can show how to tolerate the destructive feeling. Becoming an "I" is something like this process of taking over attributes. There is a very fragile self. The infant's state is one of omnipotence, with no sense of boundaries between self and the world. Mum is that world.

In this way of becoming, which we are calling "projective identification", the bad feeling is carried by the other person and, through what we are calling "introjection", the other's way of carrying the feeling becomes part of "me", who "I" am.

But there are problems when the bond is not present and when the infant is compelled to carry really intolerable feelings. Painful feeling, depression, neediness, feelings that say "I want you mummy" may not be met with parental acceptance and care. A raging infant might be simply ignored, no less than a needy infant.

Without that other, it may not be possible to integrate a self-soothing part of into "me" so that I too can self-soothe, or tolerate threats or aggression. If "I am sad", or "I am great", or "I am angry" is not met with acceptance and empathy, but abandonment. What then?!
The unacceptable, rejected part of the self is "split off" and denied as being part of me. It's still there, but now I locate it outside me. Ok mum can't contain this feeling, then the world has it, anything has it that is outside me, so I do not have to contain it. What I cannot stand in myself, I now locate and fear (or nurture) in the other. That is the way of projective identification. The identification part is, what?....

I place the feeling in you, and then I am free of the bad feeling. It is yours now, "You are attacking", "I am under attack". Or there may be a complementary wave of projection "You are unacceptable!", "You are feeble!", "You are weak!". The other person may be such that he identifies with the projection. Some distant deep feeling is re-lived, of "I am bad" or "I am weak" or "I am guilty". And I, the one who was projecting, am vindicated. I identify too, now that he has received my projection. He really is weak! I really am strong! And the two are locked into a way of relating that props up the (false) "strong" self-image of the damaged person. They relate to each other in a damaging way.

So, for the damaged person, the person who cannot contain "bad" parts of himself, now an adult, there is a relentless projecting of his (sub-conscious) inward state of "I am weak and helpless" into others. He is scary or aggressive towards others, puts them in a state of fear and helplessness (and he can then adopt a pose of magnanimity towards them, of being a carer, borne of feeling superior) or he behaves in a way that makes of the other person an attacker.

I have been able to witness myself doing these things to avoid exposure, avoid being known, and to protect a fragile self. It is a way of being that is durable, possibly lasting a lifetime.

In my way of coping, it had become an automatic thing to behave towards the other person in such a way as to make them less threatening by rendering them (in my own mind) somehow in need of help, or in some way contrive (sub-consciously) to impose imaginative limits on them, and place them in a position of being in need of approval from some external, objective power, in order to make them understandable and less threatening to me.

I am very far from this state of being now. But it has been a very difficult journey.

One of the reasons for writing this is because I don't want to forget from where I have come, and how far. I think it is possible to relapse. One only has to be in the workplace, exposed to the pressure of performance and competition, to have the old defensiveness stirred.

Forces that were in me have so dissipated that I actually feel a sort of anti-climax. The struggle to break free of damaged and damaging relationhips is not there any more and I feel sort of directionless.

I don't experience or show the psychpathological behaviours I used to because I have changed.
(I am still in what has become a very long state of withdrawal.)

So what has all that to do with painting?

Painting my inner state of siege, isolation, fear.
Making the painting is a positive statement. It is out there in a form that is not itself threatening. But the qualities of the painting (everything abut it, scale, colour, gesture the way the paint is applied, the forms, the whole thing), the way I relate to it as its maker, these may all be contained by, or be an extension of, the inter-personal style that is projective identification. The large scale of the painting, and the boldness of gesture or colour may be uncontrollable precisely because it is a psycho-pathological mode of communication, unknown to oneself (unless one has been able to receive psychotherapy). Merely making the statement, confronting others with it, is a kind of demand to be looked at. It is (if I am making of myself an artist) a drawing attention to myself. And that narcissistic impulse may well be one of the "bad" things I can't tolerate in myself. I am ashamed of my "grandiose" propensities. ("Look at me mum! I'm great!" - "Stop showing off!" Abandonment.) Yet I am also envious of you who are being looked at an admired. ("Look at me! Pay attention to me!", "I can do it as well as he!")
Paintings offer a medium through which one can do all the things with projective identification (setting up states of feeling in others) but without the attachment and dependency that represents (to the pathological painter) only the risk of loss. And all this can be done in a socially acceptable way. Of course many artists have been prickly, wary, detached, withdrawn people. Cezanne did not want people to get their hooks into him. He was a marvellous painter.

I really don't want to labour this. Sure there is psychopathology, and painting is a means to outgrow it, such that it may be like a ladder one climbs then discards, especially if (as in a therapeutic setting) it is the meeting point for two persons and a relationship can offer the intimacy and trust that will defuse the aggression and hurt and loss which projective identification might enable us not to be aware of. Anthony Storr writes about this in his book "The Dynamics of Creation". But painting is not exhausted by Psychoanalytics. It is mysterious.

On Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"

I can reflect on being one of the thousands, if not millions, of men who have been passionately moved by this play.

I saw it when I was the age of the character Biff (34 yrs), older son to the Salesman, Willy Loman.

I had no inkling, before the play started, of how much I would identify with Biff's plight. By the play's end, Biff has struggled to put into words some of the many painful moments of his existence, pitching them against the self-image of his father, which Willy refuses to yield even at the cost of his life. It was a shattering experience.

One of the many moments that has remained in my mind is Biff's description of having been filled with hot air:
“And I never got anywhere cause you blew me so full of hot air that I could never stand taking orders from anybody”.

The need to be shining (“a star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!”, says Willy of his imagined hero son) is sustained in Biff’s mind and body. The moment when a setback happens, his being failed in mathematics at high school (denying him the opportunity to attend college, and along with it, his chance in college sports), Biff is thrown into a depression and with only questions in his mind he seeks out his father, who is away on a business trip. Thinking Willy will tell the teacher something, reassure the teacher, get him through, get him off, Biff genuinely believes his father ro be someone who has that power in the world. With what complete shock, then, does Biff realise that his father is in his hotel room with a young woman.

Moments when Biff encounters circumstances that contradict the self-image have led him to walk out of jobs and then to thieving suits, maybe feeling entitled to break rules as he had been encoraged to do as a boy.

I think Biff undergoes a crisis that can form in many people, especially men, of finding oneself unable to sustain mentally, inwardly, what has become one’s physical being and expression.
Sex might prop up the fantasy that one’s self has become, but real closeness can result only in the self being exposed, in all its despair and rage and depression.

How and why could I have moved from this visceral, existential recognition to an idea that surfaces in the work of Karl Popper, of biological expectation.
Of course it is to do with the source of power in my father’s life, which I took to be scientific knowledge. (Later I could understand that being given to feel confident in oneself – childhood experience – is the deeper and more important thing. Before we ever make a scientific reduction, there is some sort of active self-conception against which to perform the self-negation that an ideally pure objectivity requires. This is the Cartesian move.)

Monday, 3 June 2013

F R Leavis's Criticism of the 1959 Rede Lecture "The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution"

The 1962 Richmond Lecture by F R Leavis is cultural criticism of a confrontational kind. It confronts a mentality - captured I think in Ortega's term "learned ignorance" - that assumes there can be no grounds for convictions (of how I might live and what I might cherish) that can't be re-stated in terms it already understands. This amounts to a sense of omniscience or at least a conviction that what is not yet known will be more of the same type as what is already known.

Aware of this in advance, Leavis moves straight to the only form of communication that could cut through this mentality and into consciousness, by enacting the opposing argument. As Leavis writes in the preface to the published text of his lecture "my argument is, very largely, the criticism". The act of criticising Snow's "performance of a lecture" as a piece of writing, with the critical attention to writing-as-thinking that Leavis brings, is the argument.

Here is a link to a presentation by Professor Stefan Collini, a British academic and intellectual historian, talking about the possible merits (in terms of effectiveness of criticism in getting attention and changing minds) of the style of cultural criticism exemplified in F R Leavis's 1962 Richmond lecture "Two Cultures?
The Significance of C P Snow". The central criticism Leavis makes so forcefully is of the cultural conditions, increasingly dominated by instrumental reason, that can elevate a man like C P Snow to the position of "sage". The response Collini gets from fellow academics seems to be cautious: polemical confrontation like Leavis's alienates the reader whose sympathy for humane learning one is trying to elictit; a similar effect is had by appealing to ineffable truths; better results can be got through Raymond Williams’ approach of showing in detail how the cultural "superstructure" is linked to the economic "base".

Here is Stefan Collini introducing Leavis's criticism of CP Snow's lecture.

I read Stefan Collini’s “What are Universities For?” recently, about resisting commodification of arts and humanities learning (or any learning) in universities. From what I understand he has come to regard it as a wrong move on the part of humanities educators to rise to the demand of education funding bodies to justify learning in arts and humanities in the prescribed quantitative terms. I agree, the move is wrong because even to begin to answer in such terms yields to “Benthamite” utilitarian philosophy a right to claim that the benefits of education in arts and humanities disciplines are quantifiable. It is a defensive move which immediately strengthens the challenging position. If that utilitarian philosophy insists on truth and reasoning on the model of science, i.e. universal truth, proveable, quantifiable, demonstrable, then yielding any ground to it on this question is assenting to its claim to universality. The proper response (or maybe Collini would say, a response that can be successful) to the demand to justify arts and humanities education in quantitative terms is to refuse and carry on, and if absolutely pushed into it, to press in the strongest possible terms the opposing philosophy which holds some questions as valid which have no one “true” answer. This is what Leavis did with his Richmond Lecture. If the challenge is received, then the utilitarian philosophy will be forced to confront the consequence of its demand, namely to deny the validity of any expression or practice not conforming to it.

The confrontational challenge risks two fairly unpleasant outcomes. Firstly it could leave the utilitarian philosophy in stunned bafflement, because the limited sensibility the philosophy presumes to satisfy is limited, lacks range of affect or lacks the capacity for enjoyment of ambiguous states. It's bafflement is that there are any grounds for dispute, because the sensibility satisfied by utilitarian philosophy cannot imagine being unsatisfied by it. The kind of limitation or lack I refer to here is that "one-eyed" quality that J S Mill finds in the thought and person of Jeremy Bentham, such that Bentham failed to ascribe to others (not out of error but out of imaginative incapacity) anything beyond the range of feeling that he found in himself. 

This points to the second unpleasant outcome, that the confrontation will jolt the the limited sensibility into awareness of the lack in itself that makes utilitarian philosophy adequate. If it does become aware of that lack, it may also become aware of the urge to dictate limits, to be dictatorial, present in its insistence that all practices and expressions be justified in terms of their utility and, implicit in that insistence, the belief that they are all of the same basic type such that every expression or state of being is translatable into every other state, with no loss of meaning. (That urge to dictate limits is what I used to call “militant egalitarianism” – you will be equal! – and for many years it formed my idea of fairness). I think there is a good chance that being seen to be dictatorial in this way would conflict with the underlying desire of utilitarian philosophy that people achieve happiness, because in effect it is setting limits on what others can be happy in. Who has the right to determine such limits? Wishing not to be taken as dictating limits, the response may come that it is not “I” who wishes to dictate limits. In other words, in order not to be seen to be dictating limits (by insisting that all human expressions and practices be reducible to the same kind) then it is necessary to distance oneself from the principle “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, disown it, by placing it outside oneself, in the world, such that no person actually holds the principle to be true for them. The reasoning might be “Individuals are not called on to hold this principle as true for them personally because it just is true, objectively”. Then the penny might drop, that this is a philosophy and only people can hold a philosophy. We do not find them in the world, alongside birds and rocks and people. We are responsible for what we believe that informs our actions, and it is an evasion of responsibility to distance onself from our beliefs by claiming them to be facts of the world.

The insistence that every expression and practice is essentially translatable into every other (of the same basic kind) is really a consequence of not wanting to be conscious of lack in oneself. It is a kind of psychological defence. The unpleasantness of this outcome is the considerable hurt and despair experienced when we recognise (what) we cannot feel.

Alongside these two unpleasant and, perhaps, negative outcomes is the greater positive value of a demonstration that the whole signifies beyond the parts, and failure to attend to the whole is a falling short of our capacity to be amazed, awed, reverential, not only of what may inspire awe in us, but of the being (ourselves) that can experience amazement, awe and reverence. Instead there is complacency and self-satisfaction, a feeling of completeness. In his criticism, Leavis constantly draws attention to Snow's performance of his "Two Cultures" lecture, which betrays the absence of the qualities Snow presumes to possess to the degree that he feels he can speak with authority on literature. Snow is unaware: "He doesn't know he doesn't know". Cliche, the appearance of thinking, is there. 

I became aware of Collini’s work because I read his introduction to a re-edition of C P Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution”. At the time I was a student in arts and humanities. But commitment to art instigated personal crisis for me and what space I had made to create was taken over by a struggle to overcome the voice in my own mind which nullified art and artists (myself included). That voice was a rigidly utilitarian philosophy. The nullification happened not in any direct, focussed criticism of an artist or an art work, but in the very style of thinking, which ruled out in advance any basis for appreciation (valuing) of wholes. The overwhelming forcefulness of this voice, the sense of completness and rightness that could allow it to be so insistent, invoked an immediate defensiveness in me. One felt bound to justify oneself before it, under the terrible threat of being cast as irrational (opening the door to being demeaned, marginalised, treated as unserious etc., etc.). I was so needing the support of this voice, I worked extremely hard to try to communicate in its terms, to try and achieve common understanding. I battled with this voice for a long time, always on the defensive, before I discovered Leavis’s Richmond Lecture. In the battle I was drawn into the error of attempting to communicate in its terms, which took science as its model of knowledge method of reasoning. How is knowledge attained through science which makes of it true knowledge and of everything else mere opinion? That was the basis of the tone of condescension and assumption of power that put me on the defensive. The philosopher of science who successfully opposed Logical Positivism (advocates of the “scientific world-view”) was Karl Popper. He was at tremendous pains to communicate with philosopher-scientists knowing that he was challenging their confidence that scientific knowledge is "true" knowledge (which was likely to put them on the defensive) and that his opposing philosophy of science amounted to a non-foundationist epistemology. He was seeking to impress on them that in seeking to elimintae metaphysics from science, they also eliminated science. In my extreme defensiveness and need to maintain the support of the sceptical utilitarian voice, I resorted to an appeal to Popper's philsophy of science, which preserves the meaningfulness of metaphysical statements precisely because it casts science as itself metaphysical. (I really wanted to point my opponent to Martin Heidgger’s work, in particular his essay “Modern Science, Mathematics and Metaphysics”, but I knew that if Popper’s work was going to be almost impossible for my strongly utilitarian and empiricist opponent to accept – because of its basically Kantian character – then Heidgger’s had no chance of being taken as other than irrational).

I wish I had not had to take this route to communication. I came to realise that it is much better not to ever attempt to answer the challenge of utilitarian philosophy to justify metaphysics, only oppose it and carry on. If I had been aware of it, and able to grasp the basis for his criticism (of the conditions that elevate a man like C P Snow to the position of "sage"), I would simply have reached for Leavis's Richmond Lecture and pointed to that. When I did find it, I knew it was the most powerful and brilliant weapon to combat the benevolent technocratic dictator in me. But I also knew that if I presented Leavis’s book to the original source of that utilitarian voice, my father, then he would in all probability have been baffled. Of course he would have been baffled because, unlike me, art had not become a preoccupation for him, so the disdain Leavis shows for the art of C P Snow would not have been understandable. It would have seemed excessive. This is evidently how many people reacted to Leavis's cultural criticism.

It may not be impossible to persuade the "mindblind" of the existence of mind, but any success will be hardly worth the pain and effort. (Here is a link to a 2006 paper in the "Journal of Bentham Studies" by two British academics who claim Jeremy Bentham was a person exhibiting characteristics associated with "Asperger's Syndrome".) 
On the other hand, for the one who makes the effort, a mind, or at least mindfulness, may be wrested from a state of "mindblindness", which is acquired no less than (a pre-disposition to it is) endowed by genetics.
For anyone who doubts that "mindblindness" is acquired, then consider the writing of Spanish liberal philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. While his 1930 book "Revolt of the Masses" contains some dubious vitalist ideas, there is a chapter given over to the "learned ignorance" of the technical specialist, who adopts a tone of completeness bolstered by the experience of having attained certain (i.e. scientific) knowledge in his or her special area. The sense of completeness blots out awareness of the possibility of expertise in any area of enquiry that does not appear as scientific. What damagingly recreates itself is the tone of address, which is so closely bound up with the style of writing that accompanies scientific enquiry, which seeks to eliminate the subjective in order to be as objective and neutral as possible. But when it strays into areas outside narrow scientific enquiry, that tone is radically misplaced. Only omniscience (or "genius" as Leavis says) could justify the adoption of such a tone, and one can easily imagine someone impressionable witnessing the performance believing the speaker to actually be omniscient. That impression can stay if it is not challenged. Ortega writes: "To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed."

I read Leavis’s Richmond Lecture when I was a student of fine art. Shortly afterwards, I read Leavis's introduction to two essays by J S Mill "Bentham" (1838) and "Coleridge"(1840), as well as Mill's essays. Through the reflections they inspired, I was helped to see that my art, and my artist self-project, were mis-cued and had to stop. This was not a happy experience. But the insights I gained that enabled me to see the mis-cuing of my art also enabled me to see what value arts education can have in developing self and responsiveness and awareness of limitations.

It was a coming up against limitations that I now regard as the value of my time in arts education. 
Leavis's lecture challenges the attitude that takes “standard of living” as the measure of human well-being.
In its performance as much as its content it is also a defence of the things that are valued in arts education.

In my home-life, growing up, arts education was not understood, was not accessed, was not esteemed and was generally mistrusted. This was going to be a big problem for someone who had facility in painting and drawing, and I have spent fifteen years living out those problems, getting a perspective on their sources and an appreciation of what can lead someone to call Leavis's Richmond Lecture "the finest polemic of the twentieth century". (Martin Dodsworth essay "mid-twentieth century literature", in The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature edited by Pat Rogers, 1987, OUP)

Fear of Affect, "Mindblindness" & "Autism Spectrum"

"Mindblindness" is a term sometimes used by neuroscientists and psychologists. People are around who exhibit Mindblindness, which is to say that they are not able to attribute to others that they have minds. There is a large scientific enquiry going on into the physiology of mindblindness, and there is an idea that mind (or a "theory of mind module", for example) is contained in specific parts or part of the brain, which can be more or less developed, and more or less damaged. "Asperger's Syndrome" and "Autimsm Spectrum Disorders" are names given by psychologists to the structure of thinking and behaviour that exhibits mindblindness.

Is it possible for a person to become aware of their own mindblindness? I think so. And I think it is with extreme caution that any route to this is taken by looking at brains. I don't think it will be a good thing for people, one day, to observe their brain activity as a means to test their mind-sightedness.

What it means for one to be mindblind is a blindness to one's own mind as well as others' minds. It is a state that invites devaluing of oneself and others in their human-ness. It invites incompassion.

And it is characteristic, perhaps, to sub-consciously defend against awareness of one's limitedness in the mind department by, again sub-consciously, denying the existence of mind in others. I mean that something like Freudian ego-defences like denial may be necessary for the maintenance of self. How does this show itself?

I think one of the ways is in the lack of ego boundary that is associated with arrested states of development. It is possible for some people to be unable to conceive of others' states of mind as independent of their own. So a person might find themselves compelled to act in such a way that presumes the other to be in need of him, and will hold beliefs about the other to support this conviction. This thinking-behaviour is motivated by the need to maintain integrity of self-image, e.g. "powerful", "indispensable". The other may receive the "projections" and behave in a way that conforms to them, perhaps in order to cement an attachment or maintain a love relation. Mutual self-regard, impaired or fragile self-esteem, may drive these ways of relating. And here again, what is it to hold oneself in low regard? It is the same thing, in my view, as lacking self.

If lack of self is something we associate with disrupted parent-child attachments, it is also something we can be induced to experience (even with a jolting violence) when we interact with a "mindblind" person. There is an interesting distinction made between the lack of empathy displayed by a person on the Autism Spectrum Disorder and the lack of empathy displayed by a a person with a self-esteem disorder like narcissistic personality disorder, which is that the lack of empathy of the ASD person contains no ill-will. For the ASD person, the lack of empathy is a by-product, so to speak, of the drive to deal with matters of fact, to be fair, to be objective, to be honest, to be impartial, to be seen to be dealing with things even-handedly, justly, without prejudice, etc.. Underneath this, I believe, is the need, on the part of some benevolent ASD types, to feel that they can adequately deal with all questions, implicit in which is the idea (a belief) that all questions are reducible to simple terms. I think this is often borne out of a fear of affect, or a need to keep feelings familiar.
Problems arise when the strived-for objectivity strays into areas where awareness of self, a developed subjectivity and awareness of limitations, is the hoped-for qualification. Here the limitations are in qualities of, or complexity of, feeling.
The lack of empathy in narcissistic personality disorder is accompanied by envy and denigration of the other. There is a need (to compensate for hurt) to preserve an all-good or perfect or special self-image. But others have qualities one lacks, awareness of which shows one to be imperfect, invoking envy which is too painful to contain. So it is necessary to disparage the qualities of others to contain or eliminate the envy. Such envy is, I think, not present in ASD, I think, because a feeling of completeness is already present. The need is to reduce stimulation. Reduce affect. Keep feelings familiar.

It is interesting to consider these things alongside a work like "Absence of Mind" by Marilynne Robinson (2010), which looks at the ways in which style of expression and reasoning in what she calls "para-scientific" literature implicitly diminishes or devalues or degrades the qualities in ourselves that support understanding, that enable us to see ourselves (and our science) as human. I am tempted to