“Outside the invisible walls of psycho-analytic thought it is probably generally accepted, again unthinkingly I would say, that the brain is a giant computer and the mind is the brain, any other description being mere metaphor. But of course that is exactly the point: the mind is the metaphor-generating function which uses the great computer to write its poetry and paint its pictures of a world scintillating with meaning. And meaning is in the first instance the fundamental manifestation of the passions of intimate relationship with the beauty of the world.
Once one has taken on board Bion’s description of ‘an emotional experience’ as the primary developmental event, it becomes clear that his ’empty’ concepts of alpha-function and beta-elements make, essentially, a distinction between symbol formation and thought on the one hand, and a computation using symbols and signs and simple modes of extrapolation from past experiences and received ideas, on the other. The creation of idiosyncratic symbols as opposed to the manipulation of conventional signs, marks the watershed between growth of the personality and adaptation.
The tension between the two is the essence of what Freud labelled as ‘resistance to enquiry’. Bion’s distinction between ‘learning from experience’ and ‘learning about’ the world – is precise. It is likewise marked by the distinction we make between narcissistic forms of identification (projective and adhesive) which produce an immediate and somewhat delusive alteration in the sense of identity, and the introjective process by which our internal objects are modified, setting up gradients of aspiration for the growth of the self.
Our lives are greatly occupied by relationships which are not intimate. Rousseau’s Social Contract well describes the way in which we move about the world, using the lubrication of manner and custom, of conformity and social invisibility to minimize the friction and thus the wear and tear on our psyche-soma. And it is probably in this area that the majority of psyche-somatic dislocations take place. The ‘hostages of fate’ aspect of our posture towards the casual world of ‘teeming humanity’, where ‘everything threatens the head that I love’, intimidates us beyond our wildest imaginings. We strive to create, through our apparent docility to the requirements of the community, a private space in which to enjoy the usufruct of our inheritance without ‘let or hindrance’. These manoeuvres create the social armour which Wilhelm Reich described so wonderfully. But we are confronted with the problem of removing it when ‘at home’ and donning it again in time to sally forth. We dread to send our little children naked into the world of the nursery and the school, and, later to see them swallowed up by the great combine harvester of the adolescent community.
Of the people who do not manage the enclosure of this space of privacy and intimacy, two distinct classes, at the antipodes of the body of the community, can be distinguished. The first of these, comprising the mentally and socially ill, are cut off from intimacy by the severity of their delusional ideas: either from living in states of projective identification; or from such a gross failure of development of the personality; or from such perseverance in infantile modes of relationship that intimacy of an adult sort cannot develop. The second class are the artists (philosophers, musicians, poets etc.) whose pained perception of the inhumanities daily in force about them, juxtaposed to a vision of the beauty of the world being vandalized by these primitive social processes, forbids them to squander the huge blocks of life-time required for adaptation. If lucky they are spared by the community from total neglect or persecution, but at the expense of having their work appropriated and misused, ridiculed and imitated, all at the same time. At best they are treated as members of the amusement industry.
The huge majority of caring parents, seeing all about them the misery of maladaptation, cannot help being primarily concerned in their methods of upbringing, with armouring their children, against the inhumanities inflicted on both the poorly adapted and on those whose naked sensitivity makes them vulnerable to the grossness of inconsiderate behaviour in casual and contractual relations. Similarly our schools cannot resist the pressure from parents and government alike to direct their efforts toward producing employable grown-ups. One must see the facts without seeming to pretend that any alternative is close at hand. We wish to prepare our children for the beauties of intimacy but our anxieties for their survival overcome our judgment so that we find ourselves joining in the training process, knowing quite well that it will dampen their thirst for knowledge and constrict their openness to the wonder and awe (beauty) to which they stand heir.”