On Psychology

[These are Jupp’s complete notes for his talk “On Psychology”, held in 1941, slightly modified for better readability.]

My Former Attitude:

‘Psychology’ is something dark, a foreign territory that was dangerous to tread, with ‘the Unconscious’ as something working on us by itself without our knowing it.

To-day’s Attitude:

I lost the feeling of helpless awe towards what is called ‘the Unconscious’.  Earlier I thought of dark forces which were playing all kinds of tricks on me, never approachable, something I ought to be ashamed of possessing, not daring to look it into the face.

But the Unconscious is not something to be wholesomely afraid of.  To a large extend, it is a friend and helper.”

What does “The Unconscious” mean?

The Unconscious is a manner of existence of psychic processes in relation to consciousness (Freud), i.e., psychic processes of which we know nothing, or say: of which we know nothing while they are happening.

This does not sound very big.

But what do we know of psychic processes that are supposed to be conscious?

Now, to ask: What do we know? means:  What do we know of our own thoughts, sensations, perhaps even of wishes, desires, feelings etc. while we are having them?  Nothing.

All we have is recollection, getting them out of the mind after we had them, and contemplate them as things of the past – i.e., that I had these thoughts.  Conscious are the contents of thoughts, not the thoughts themselves.  We are not conscious of having thoughts on, say, psychology, while we are having them.  We can only be conscious of such thoughts afterwards, in retrospect.

Can we honestly call it Consciousness, if we don’t know what we are thinking, but can only know by interrupting the flow of thoughts on a subject + directing them onto ourselves?

The difference between The Conscious and The Unconscious lies in this:

Consciousness is easily attained – a switch and we know what we are thinking or doing.  Not so with unconscious psychic events.  These are not known as to their contents.

So the real difference is that we can make the ones easily conscious which we cannot do with the others.  At the time of thinking, doing – we are not conscious of either of them.

Consciousness is a very slow kind of mechanism.  If you do not properly command a certain language, for example, and have to take in every word consciously to consciously fit the appropriate meaning and images to it, that’s very slow work.

The Unconscious, on the other hand, is mighty quick.  How else can you explain the understanding of a book or speech, typing, car-driving and the like.

To know what we are doing or thinking, we must switch our attention to the self-same thing, i.e., think:  What am I thinking?, or rather:  What was I thinking?.  The self is a subject of consideration for our thoughts, as is a problem, a book or a tree.  We have to look at ourselves as if we were looking into an internal mirror.

This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to know one’s own self.  Others can do it better, they can watch us and have more symptoms to go on, face, manners, expressions, hands etc, which we have not.

All this is not so important for the thing we are doing or talking about, but for our own motives.  Conclusions can be drawn from our appearance, our way of saying things, emotions connected with them which we are not aware of, and which we ourselves might never be able to notice.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  Let me try to make this clear.

Everybody knows what we understand by ‘interests’.  We can easily discern interests in others, their interest in poetry or politics, horse racing or housekeeping, girls or boys.

Now, how do you know your own interests?  Think.  Can anybody tell me?

Difficult, isn’t it?  And interests are comparatively simple!  We have even more trouble if we endeavor to make out the powers, the forces that are behind those interests.  We’d have to find answers to questions like:  Why this interest?  Why that interest now, in these circumstances?, in other words:

We’d have to find our motives.

So the question of motives…  Let’s start with motives in others.

We find them – or believe we do – from observation and inferences.  We are mostly sure about them,  some people are, ordinary people mostly are.  Forgetting a birthday or an appointment, a name, or distorting a name, are instantly put down to some motive:  Loss of love, lack of interest, desire to hurt the other, or whatever it is.

These motives are not directly observed though.  They are inferred!, and not always with precision.

We had observing/ inferring motives in others.  How about our own motives?

There is no way of observing them directly.  We can only infer them from observation of ourselves.

Consider the possibility of self observation though.  It’s very limited.  We never see our own eyes, face, manners, attitude of the body etc.; we must go on feelings and sensations, and not those we have, but those we have had, i.e. we can only observe them from memory.

So we have two disadvantages here:  1) We have a limited field of observation, and 2) We have to observe from memory – but we have a knack for forgetting unpleasant circumstances!

Observing from memory is most difficult in emotional states.  Remember:  We must detach our mind from that emotion and direct our attention to the fact that emotion + to the circumstances where we are having it.   This needs a large amount of self-control.

In short:  It is very difficult to detect our real motives by examining the content of our thoughts, relation of feeling etc.

We don’t know what the motive-powers are.  Some certainly are those we call instincts and their powers are bodily needs, self-preservation and the like.  Then there is the social instinct, shown in the craving for communication etc..  Some, I suspect, are needs of the soul – all impersonal love, for instance the love of beauty, truth, righteousness, and the feelings connected with them.  These powers have to be discussed and sought after.

For the point I am trying to make here, the motives themselves are irrelevant.  The point is this:  If we recognize a motive in somebody’s action, may it be ever so obvious to us, don’t make the mistake that is so very common:

Don’t assume the other one knows his own motive.

What you detect might very well be the motive.  I am inclined to believe that in many cases it really is.  But it is a different question whether the other one is conscious of his motive.  The two do not coincide; to have a motive and to be conscious of it are two different things, independent of one another.

So if you think you know the other’s motive from his reactions, it does not necessarily follow that he knows about it consciously.  He will deny any such motive, and quite honestly, as it is in reality foreign to his consciousness.  Yet if he denies with fervor, your belief will even be strengthened to absolute certainty.  And very probably quite likely so.

So you will think the other a hypocrite, or a deceiver, or even a liar, and perhaps contemptuously turn your back on him.

The other, in turn, will think you a person that thinks everybody is a villain; he might even conclude that you yourself carry such motives as you insist on him having, and that from such a poisoned mind you always suspect others to be as bad as you are yourself.  And he will feel – quite rightly will he feel you treated him unjustly.  So he will equally contemptuously turn his back on you.

A sorry sight.  For both of you are right and wrong at the same time.

You are right – or say, very probably right – in inferring the motive.  You are wrong in assuming the other was conscious of his motive.

The other one is right in rejecting your condemnation.  It really is unjust as you cannot charge him with something that is foreign to his mind.  He is wrong however in denying the motive to be there.  He can only deny the consciousness of the motive.

Your pointing to the suspected motive should have made him sit up + talk it over with you.  You might have been able, in telling him your observations, to help him realize he actually had that motive.  This, of course, takes a good deal of tact and mutual understanding, of confidence in the first place.  But it is the only way to find out one’s own self.

Two things we ought to keep in mind:

  • Others can see more of our inside than we do, things that we do not see.
  • Not everything that is going on in our mind is conscious.  In fact, much more is unconscious than is actually conscious.

Even when we think we are perfectly sure of our motive, there might be other motives blended in with the one we know, motives of which we know nothing.  And they can be very strong.  They might manifest themselves in the way and manner we push a certain issue or carry out a certain intention, fervor or hesitation, enthusiasm or sulky slowness.

Obstacles when you are trying to help others confront themselves:

  1. We cannot be definitely sure in detecting motives or intentions in others.  Wrap your observations in suggestions, and avoid making definite statements.
  2. Jealousy, on the part of the observed, who is inclined to feel resentment against others claiming they know more of his mind than he himself knows, has to be expected.
  3. Feelings deceive.  “Love and Sympathy make blind”, but also benevolent; “Hatred and Anger make sharp eyed”, but also malevolent.  Interest in the other’s motives has to be objective as much as possible.
  4. The inner willingness to know one’s own mind is essential.  Maybe only between friends is it possible to help each other in this process.  If there is no friendship, at least confidence is necessary.
  5. This confidence must not only include the trust that the other is free of personal motives, but also the trust that he won’t peddle your heart around.  Somehow we all resent being discussed by others, a feeling we can only control by trusting the other one won’t do it unless he considers it necessary from an impersonal point of view, say in the interest of our own development or of the organization.
  6. Don’t start telling everybody what you did perceive in him, or what you think you perceived.  And if you do, don’t do it in the heat of battle.  For then you won’t find a ready response.  Wait until the storm of feelings has abated, both in yourself and the other, and then go over it again.  And realize that you yourself need the same sort of help from the other to learn to know your own mind.
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