Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part Two (Method)
Method and Presentation
In part two, we need to take a closer look at the method of exposition and presentation.
As with any dialectic we need a beginning. The problem of the beginning . The category from which we depart (the “cell” so to speak) can only be a category which articulates the “cell” of the psyche today. But which is also found in undeveloped form in the ancestral primate. A category which expresses, in previous, non-conscious form, the awareness of the ancestral animal primate.
This category needs to be a higher form of this ancestral relation in the human psyche today which is thereby found in undeveloped form (embryonically so to speak) in the awareness of the pre-conscious ancestral primate. Any logical exposition and presentation can then be linked to the historical development itself. The key to the relation in the ancestral primate must therefore be found in the fundamental “cellular” relation of the human psyche today. And this ‘cell’ must point back towards this primitive embryonic form.
The most basic relationship in the human psyche is the relation between the conscious and the unconscious? And this relationship is articulated in thinking, in every thought. Is ‘Thought’ itself the category ab initio – the cell of the human psyche? The ‘preliminary notion’ out of which the dialectic commences. All thought has a socio-historically determined conceptual content. Every single thought expresses this intrinsic unity of the conscious and the unconscious and so is it the category of ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’ with which we must start in the exposition of our dialectic of the psyche?
Not only is thought intrinsic to the psyche in every human historical period but thought itself – as identity of the conscious and the unconscious – is found in embryonic form, in potentio, in the ancestral primate in the form of its natural sentience as the relationship between the instinctual and its conditioned learning, as expressed exponentially in its pre-conscious, non-conscious forms of awareness.
If we start with this ‘cell’, this embryo, then the exposition must become increasingly richer and increasingly more concrete but always returning, in one developing way or another, to this cell, to ‘thinking’ itself.
The question which looms over the horizon? Is the dialectical relationship between the conscious and the unconscious transcendable into a higher form of the human psyche so that this resultant ‘psyche’ will not be the ‘psyche’ as we know it? This absolute relation in the history of the psyche becoming transcended – its relative character so to speak being simultaneoulsy revealed – in the course of the onward evolution of classless humanity. This becoming increasingly realised in the unfolding de-alienation of humanity, in the deepening and ‘concentration’ of the “true realm of freedom” (Marx, Volume 3, Capital).
This being a negated negation. A spiralling movement in human psychic history. The first negation being the transcendence of the non-conscious animal awareness into the conscious awareness of humanity and then, in ‘absolute negativity’, the return to a mode of human awareness which returns into a consonance with the natural awareness of the animal but incorporating within itself the wealth of all the previous historical development of the human psyche??
What results is a ‘transconscious’ or even ‘supraconscious’ form of human awareness?? As if the whole of human psychic evolution since the emergence from the animal primate has only been a psychic crucible in which the conditions for this higher ‘psyche’, this higher form of awareness which is a return to and yet an irreversible advance beyond the animal awareness, have been slowly in the process of formation.
If ‘thought’ is the cell then where lies the social repository of that cell? The human individuality in its “universal” character as the ensemble of the social relations of bourgeois society? Because the conceptual content of thought is its socio-historical creation. Therefore, can we not find the commencement, at least, or perhaps the structures and correlates, of this dialectic in the psychic development of the individual of bourgeois society from birth to adult life?? In the course of this individual social development, is replicated, in condensed form (??), the psychic origination and evolution of humanity from the ancestral primate to the modern man of bourgeois society?? (For example, the ‘non-conscious’ animal needs and demands of the newborn? i.e. not, as yet, consciously expressed as in later adult life?). Recapitulationism?
Thus, do we observe, in the child, this embryonic form of the later psyche in the behavioural articulation of the ‘demand’ for its immediate needs to be realised? And these ‘demands’ and their articulation, so to speak, being mediated through the operation of the relation between the instinctual in the child and its conditioned learning??
We can, perhaps, use dialectics to organise and develop all this material handed to us by scientific research in order to start and unfold a dialectic of the psyche?
So we have a preliminary/provisional working approach to the whole question? We start with the category of ‘thought’ (as ‘cellular’ identity of the conscious and the unconscious) and we unify the logical and historical approach by bringing together the emergence and development of the psyche in the individual of bourgeois society with the historical origins and development in the transition from ancestral primate to this individual of bourgeois society. In this way, the exposition articulates both the logical development in the individual and the historical development in the species as a whole. The bringing of the two into relation with each other – through continuous contact and interrelation – to give as concrete an exposition as is possible.
Of course, all this requires a continuous, concrete and intimate contact with all the specific discoveries in scientific thought and research – anthropology, ethnology, developmental psychology (Piaget, Vygotsky, etc), human cultural origins, etc. Only through this contact and interchange could an adequate expostion be started and developed.
Of course, consciousness cannot exist without society but likewise it cannot exist without neurological processes. This actively implicates the materiality of the brain itself in the formation and development of consciousness. So “mind” or the psyche becomes articulated as a social product of neurology (or a neurological product of society??) or both simultaneously?
We would need to be clear on terms. Thought, consciousness, psyche, the unconscious, etc. Demonstrating their discreteness within their continuity. The distinctions within the identity.
Is the “psyche” merely “consciousness” without any qualification. In which case, one word will be sufficient. There is also the term “mind”. Are they all merely different terms for the same complex phenomenon? And then there is the unconscious. And which is the more concrete of the terms in their distinction? “Consciousness” or “psyche”? If we consider these two terms as both describing the totality of psychic phenomena then we need to stick to a term and not move around. Is there a ‘Consciousness’ (the whole psyche?) with an upper case ‘C’ and a consciousness with a lower case ‘c’? (one aspect of the totality of the psyche?)
By totality I mean the complex unity of the conscious and the unconscious, instinct and learning, thinking and feeling (emotion), moods and anti-moods, so-called “mental illness” and neurophysiological disorders like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, etc. If we were to consider writing a dialectic, were would we start? Would such a dialectic of the psyche even be scientifically valid with historically viable and legitimate categories? Which relation, category, would we start with? We have suggested earlier with ‘thought’. What is awareness in man today and what was it in our primate ancestors? What is the nature of the relationship between learning and instinct?
The paramount question is this : Is a dialectic of the human psyche logically (scientifically) legitimate and therefore possible in terms of the development of its possible categories? Is it a logically viable and legitimate venture? Anyone who attempts it would need to work out, survey, whether or not it is valid or legitimate before making a start. But it would be a highly rewarding study if possible.
Re : the Gestaltists and CT/MRI scanners. Trying to “find” consciousness in the brain is akin to trying to “find” value in a packet of washing powder by subjecting it to microscopic and chemical analysis. Which, surely, implies the fundamentally social character of consciousness as does the said investigation of washing powder imply the social character of value itself. And that neurological processes are the means through which the social character of the conceptual content is expressed, articulated, modulated, etc. We cannot “find” consciousness in brain-matter anymore than we can “find” value in a packet of soap powder.
On any possible dialectic of the psyche. I think we need a discourse on the Ethology of the ancestral primates of hominids. Of course, in a dialectic, we cannot start with this discourse. We must start with the “cell” of the human psyche as it exists today in the interpersonal relations of bourgeois society. (Marx starts with the “cell of bourgeois society” in the commodity.)
Hegel starts with ‘Being’ in the Logic. Everything has ‘being’. Everything ‘is’. He ascends to the absolute idea as the highest, richest, most concrete, form of being. The most concrete in its determinations and relations.
Marx starts with the commodity in Capital. The commodity has been around in every historical period for 5-7 (?) thousand years or longer and is the ‘cell of bourgeois society’ as the unity of value and use value.
The “cell” of the psyche must predate the human psyche in its primordial ancestral primate form. And this ancestral form as a relation which both embraces and expresses both instinct and learning : the category of non-conscious, pre-conscious awareness in our animal primate ancestry?? Actually, what is the ethological term itself for the unity of instinct and learning in which each intermediates the activity of the other? name, term ? (NOT instinctual learning or learning instinctuality). Each intermediates the other to produce a third, a relationship between the two, which is?? [the category ‘commodity’ as a relationship between value and use-value] This primordial, relationship of animal awareness is intermediational (intermediative) process in which both (instinct and the animal’s conditioned learning) mediate each other to constitute the whole which is a unity [synthesis] of both whilst being higher than both as a process. It is a dialectical relation between the two out of which the dialectic of the psyche unfolds over millions of years. (cf : ‘commodity’ in Marx, ‘Being’ in Hegel)
This to be found in operation in humanity’s ancestral primates. In their ethological forms.
This “cell” contains both (learning and instinct) active within it but only in their dialectical relation to each other which, taken as a whole, is higher than its intermediating elements.
This synthesis, this category, is the starting point for a dialectic, but only in its human form as it exists today in the psyche (relation between the conscious and the unconscious). The ‘cell’ (Lenin) of the human psyche. Marx begins with the commodity. In our psychic dialectic, we must begin with this synthesis, this psychic unity (between the conscious and the unconscious in ‘thought’), this form of transcended animal primate awareness. The undeveloped, in potentio, form of this psychic relationship arising in the course of man’s animal primate ancestor’s behavioural relationship with its conditions of life (Ethology). The natural-material conditions of its life cannot be presupposed and assumed but must be explained as part of the dialectic.
Instinct>> reproductivity (sex), hunger, thirst, ‘drives’, sense organs [senses, sensation in animal primates], production of animal and human life itself biologically.
Learning >> Production of the means of life in humans; in animals their relations with their natural conditions of life to acquire the means to survive. Activity. Primate learning in the course of their activity and evolution.
In man, labour, co-operation, production, technology, the hand. Use of tools, Emergence and development of human culture. Language and origination of consciousness and the transformation of the instinct-learning relation in the ancestral primate into the unconscious-conscious relation in human beings. Knowledge. Religion. (‘consciousness of the transcendental’ – Marx)
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>increasing role of learning, decreasing role of instinct
decreasing role of learning, increasing role of instinct<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
primordial animal forms——————————————————->>hominoids/hominids/Homo
In the study of the human psyche, we must always be asking ourselves if the “cell” we have started with is truly its “cell”. A difficult question to address. Moreover, we need to consider if the category of ‘psyche’ or ‘mind’ is indeed a historically legitimate category. If we can deploy this category as a defensible, legitimate category and discover the ‘cell’ of it, then perhaps we can begin to address its development, not as a discrete form separate and discontinuous from socio-historical development but rather as an intrinsic yet distinct, discrete aspect of this same development which has taken place as an outgrowth of the ‘antediluvian’ activity of humanity’s primate and, even pre-primate, ancestry. Humanity’s socio-historical development being ‘distinctly humanity’s development’ and yet contained superseded within it all the ancestry in one form or another which preceded it in this natural pre-history. This, of course, is not to ‘abstract’ mind from society but to seek to grasp it in close relation to its development and in relation to the legacies of pre-human ancestry. Implicitly here – and this may be somewhat controversial – to acknowledge ‘psyche’ as both a social product [continuous with the social] and yet – because of the legacies of natural prehistory – to recognise it as a discrete form of development which is also imbued with a certain distinctness from this social development. That is, to recognise the discreteness within the continuity, the distinctions within the relation, the autonomous aspect within its intrinsic and inseparable relation to and with this socio-historical totality.
All these rough notes, of course, preliminary and provisional. Subject to discussion and modification.
December 2013 (revised February 2014)