The three paradoxes theory proposes a new paradigm on how the human mind would have formed through the evolution of our species. Naturally, it offers new leads on the formalisation of the psychoanalytic theory. Notably, the definition of the unconscious has to be enshrined in this conception of the mind’s structure. That is what this series of articles is about.
To begin with, we could take some time to analyse its nature.
We know of the unconscious that it is mostly defined by what would be repressed there. It is seen as a reserve of unknown motions – for some but not all of them would be accessed by consciousness, but forclosed to the mind’s eye.
Sigmund Freud’s first topic for the mind (1900) is then rather simple but efficient enough with those three layers : unconscious – preconscious – conscious ; before it comes to the more symbolic display of the second topic (1920) : the ego, the super-ego, the id.
Then we have the three of Jacques Lacan’s phenomenlogical categories of experience : the real, the imaginary, the symbolic.
All have one thing in common, one shared vehicle to operate their study (whether implicitly or explicitly) that is the stream of thoughts. Except for moments of voluntary suspension (in meditation, for instance), we deal with a sustained flow of voices acting out situations of speech in our head. People (including ourselves seen and heard as someone else) are speaking but in the act of speaking is always included the physical attitude and a situation, a context, a position where the speaker is taking the discourse. It is more a scene involved than just a voice and with the scene, a certain meaning in the social and symbolic territory we stand in toward others.
What can we learn from that and the elements set by the three paradoxes theory ?
From anthropogenic setting
First of all, we admit that the sensorimotor paradox (first of the hand) suspends the chain of sensorimotor enaction (the constant interactive feedback between the senses and motor engagement and its neural entailments) and converts its impulse into a contained energy (the action is restrained, the response is delayed and the body awaits for the autorisation to a resolutive motor expression). This energy is thus kept as a potential for the expression of the action and then the link between the object, the action suspended and the me (seen as the conscious of the body existing as a resource for yet unexpressed action and for itself) emerges as a new object in its own term.
But the energy kept is also a source of tension. It is entropic, can only swell or find stasis or behing converted (for instance through calm breathing). Also, the imaginary activity of the mind (being only perception mobilised without the resolution in motor expression) during the process of keeping the action and the energy it requires is treating this emotion convergence as its own proper experience, triggered by entropy. Then it is only for the individual to maintain it or give it up in order to resume a normal activity and interaction with their surroundings.
It means that the distance created between the experience of increased consciousness and the sensorimotor stimulation, the necessity for the action to take place (as the body works as a constant source of interaction with its environments) involves a new perception of space and time where resolution is not the norm, but is limited by the physiological boundaries of the body. The entropy of self-consciousness, provoked by the delay of the responses, has to be derived to another form of realisation, of expression of sensorimotricity, that is its imaginary simulation.
To social conduct
Here we make a leap to now, at a time when the capacities of language, symbolic and social inscription have been learnt and conditioned through the social performance of the symbolic norms. We can argue that the stream of conscious is a constant stimulation of this process of maintaining the gap actual between the impulse of sensorimotor response and the stimulating environments the person relates to (as we learn to behave as social persons and do not authorise ourselves to derive from a certain intelligible and respectable conduct), then filling it in with simulated interactions.
The voices that we hear are formalised, repeated (hence its connections the ethology’s studies of animal behaviour, taking up by Ellen Dissanayake’s neuroaesthetics work) and don’t necessary have to carry a meaning other than their quality of stimulation, of mark and aethetic imprint. They help the mind not to sink in the gap, in the breach opened by the situation of paradox. We are educated to follow a conduct that is mostly based on taming a somehow unregulated, sometimes erratic and free-willing of any wild animal. This education consists in creating a distance from our first impulse to do and react to things, in order to give room to the imitation and reappropriation of the social, symbolic and linguistic patterns. We do that by incorporating those socialisation values through the symbolic and moral teaching, that implies the traumatic experience, even in the slightest interactions with others since we are born.
The constant flow of thoughts thus authorises us to carry on this conduct while regulating the entropic distress from contained energy, meaning that we contain it in order not to act whatever would pop up in our mind and body (we are not supposed to climb on tables, for instance). The stream of the conscious inscribes in the body the very thing that makes us human : the integration of imaginary others into the maintaining of a coherent and intelligible identity of our own (as it is an ensemble of identifiable and codified traits).
Implications to the description of the unconscious
Then, what does it make of the unconscious ? It simply states that the unconscious can only be defined in counter-relief of this activity : some voices, some situations, some experiences and memories synthesised into symbolic contractions, are too difficult and painful to let out. They are repressed, but the unconscious is not precisely the source of their being there. There is no matter to the unconscious, but it is merely a gate to destabilisation.
That means that it is not by itself ordering or being ordered by, for instance, the preconscious or the super-ego. It is somehow a reserve as it can be described from the outside with an overall look (even from the judgement of the individual on its own mental and emotional experience) but it is in fact quite hollow.
There is in fact no ontology of the unconscious, to say. As the individuals are constantly sollicitating, maintaining and even conjuring up the stability of their own conscious breaking down and destabilisation of the sensorimotor process, we could never take those categories as passive topologies and the circulation between them. Sigmund Freud’s conception could only have been possible because of the static hierarchy he occupied as a white male thinker in the early 20th century, penetrating the Western vision of the world and science.
Even with a mere resistance from the subject to the access of trauma, their roots and stories, the activity of the mind could never be calm and passive, for it is always sourced by a tension – being the paradoxical sensorimotor prescription that generated the very possibility of such a space to open inside of the penomenological fabric of experience. This constant, sustained and obligatory activity (except for a specific training to stabilise physiological entropy through breathing exercise) turns to the function of a filter, trimming and inhibiting forbidden symbolic situations.
For instance, the fear educated to cisgender men since early youth that they would show any sign that may lead to the suspicion of homosexuality is also deeply connected and a main factor of the increased performance of virility. Not only, it cannot be expressed physically but also in thought. What Judith Butler’s queer theory of gender taught us is that the active patterns of conduct that we enact through socialisation to stabilise our identity out of entropic chaos orders the relativity of such a notion as identity or gender. It is thus the very thing that makes the unconscious in the end as the negative side of what is not allowed to be shown or expressed in the chain of the active pattern.
As well, Jacques Lacan’s development of the sexual symbolics of power (notably through the concept of the phallus) can only be efficient when applying to such an active structure. It is then deeply cultural and advocates for its own relativity. Eventually, the active pattern can as well exclude the sexual tension (even though this is not the centre of Lacan’s theory). Lacan’s category of the imaginary maybe is the most interesting because it is not glued in some conceptions about gender that do not allowed him to get out of their binary dialectics. The unconscious, in Lacan’s terms, is dependant on symbolic formalisation, though the symbolic is too active and engages too intensely the subject into concentration and enactment to pass through the chain of the signifier. Though the necessity of this chain is that the body is desperate to situate itself even when its main system is broken.
I think very seriously that queer theory should be very useful to psychoanalysis, precisely because it is train to de-code, specificly to break the code of anguish-driven enactment of language (whether verbal, body language or graphic). At the time Freud or Lacan experimented their theory, the social and cultural relativity induced by gender theory was not yet formally expressed to show that the Western heterosexual, heteronormative and priviledged male oriented perspective was not an irrevocable norm but only a relative one that as much as any other needs to be sustained by an active effort to deny and ignore any one else, being centred in its own certitude – that is why the variety of languages and cultural forms is capital in any pertinent society.
Today, even beyond the sole question of gender relativity, we can add that the structure of the conscious is in itself highly relative and unstable. Therefore, it requires that we always protect it from collapsing out of meaning. It is reasonably driven by fear, and that is why we are restless in our thoughts.