Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Logic of Turmoil: Some Epistemological and Clinical Considerations on Emotional Experience and the Infinite

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Logic of Turmoil: Some Epistemological and Clinical Considerations on Emotional Experience and the Infinite

Article excerpt

The idea of the infinite has its origins in the very beginnings of western philosophy and was developed significantly by modern philosophers such as Galileo and Leibniz. Freud discovered the Unconscious which does not respect the laws of classical logic, flouting its fundamental principle of non-contradiction. This opened the way to a new epistemology in which classical logic coexists with an aberrant logic of infinite affects. Matte Blanco reorganized this Freudian revolution in logic and introduced the concept of bi-logic, which is an intermingling of symmetric and Aristotelic logics. The authors explore some epistemological and clinical aspects of the functioning of the deep unconscious where the emergence of infinity threatens to overwhelm the containing function of thought, connecting this topic to some of Bion's propositions. They then suggest that bodily experiences can be considered a prime source of the logic of turmoil, and link a psychoanalytic consideration of the infinite to the mind-body relation. Emotional catastrophe is seen both as a defect - a breakdown of the unfolding function which translates unconscious material into conscious experience - and as the consequence of affective bodily pressures. These pressures function in turn as symmetrizing or infinitizing operators. Two clinical vignettes are presented to exemplify the hypotheses.

Keywords: affect regulation, Bion, body-mind relation, bodily turmoil, catastrophic change, infinite, Matte Blanco, primitive mental states

... like the mythological two-faced Janus. Look at it from one side. You will see the patients, their emotions, their thoughts, their actions, their bi-logical structures. Look at it from the other side and you will find that all these examples are also illustrations of fundamental philosophical questions which psychoanalysis is bringing to the fore.

(I. Matte Blanco, 1988, p. 71)

The story of the infinite is rooted in the very origins of philosophical and scientific thought. As is well known, Aristotle's position, in response to Zeno's paradox, was that the infinite could never be realized (actual infinity) but had to remain potential (potential infinity). This is because the reality of infinity exceeds the finite capacity of thought which can only proceed bit by finite bit towards infinity without ever being able to attain it as an entity.

Only with the 'new science' would thinkers of the stature of Galileo and Leibniz in the modern age again pose the problem of actual infinity. They proposed infinity as a totality, as a number, as a 'determinate quantity'. But in so doing, they came up again against those terrible paradoxes with which its structure is riven. Borges (1932, p. 399) poetically called them 'the interstices of the absurd', testimony, he went on to say to the 'undivided divinity which works within us': the indivisible reality without parts, and yet infinitely divided.

In the masterpiece of his old age, Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences, Galileo (1638) confronted the paradox that takes his name whereby the 'squares', a proper part of the infinite set of natural numbers, are as many as the natural numbers. Meditating on this paradox which is implicit in 'counting' infinity, Galileo concluded that:

These are among the difficulties that we encounter in talking about the infinites using our finite intellects, giving them those attributes that we give to things that are finite and determinate; this is, I believe, an error in that such attributes of being greater or less or equal are not applicable to the infinites of which it cannot be said that one is larger or smaller or the same as another.

(Galileo, 1638)

In an interview shortly before his death, called An infinity within us, Matte Blanco said:

What mathematical logic hadn't managed to work out, Freud intuited with the discovery that the unconscious does not respect the laws of classical logic, and in particular that it fails to respect its basic principle, that of non-contradiction. …

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