Psychological Landscape, Timescape, and Symbolscape
Life is complex. We need frameworks to help us organize that complexity. Here are three that I’ve been thinking about.
First, how we represent the world. Jordan Peterson often characterizes the world as having two basic areas, a known area and an unknown area. This is true at several levels. There is the territory that we have explored and the territory that we haven’t explored.
This can be physically true. I have explored the forests in West Michigan quite a lot. I haven’t even been to the Florida Everglades. It is also true in a more general sense. I know a decent amount about literature, but little about chemistry.
Encounters and awareness of the unknown reveal our vulnerability and insufficiency, and thus cause anxiety. It’s important for us to voluntarily confront these vulnerabilities, insufficiencies, and the unknown to the degree that we can.
I want to expand on this a bit. I think that two primary landscapes can be shown that are separate and connected, the self and the world. Within both the self and the world there are five states of knowing: the known known, the unknown known, the unknown unknown, the known unknown, and the unknowable.
I think these are mostly self-explanatory. There are things that we know, that we know we know. There are things that we know that we don’t realize we know. Jerome Bruner, Endel Tulving, and Michael Polanyi have all talked about this type of implicit knowledge. There are things that we are so clueless about that we don’t even realize they exist so we can’t know that we know nothing about them. There are things that we know are there, we are aware of their existence, but we don’t know much about them. These known unknowns seem to me to be where anxiety about confronting the world is primarily encountered. Lastly, there are things that will never be known because they can’t be known.
This inherent lack of knowing seems necessary in some way for the pursuit of value. Inherent vulnerability also seems necessary. Without these there would be no stakes and there could be no pursuit.
Second, how we represent life. Living cannot be a static thing, it has to occur across time.
There are four major existentialist philosophers and four major existentialist psychologists that have dealt with the mind and time, respectively: Husserl, Bergson, Scheler, Heidegger, Minkowski, Straus, Von Gebsattel, and Binswanger. All of this has been way too much information for me to try to digest even though I’ve read these writings on and off for years. Slowly, I think I may have extracted some useful perspectives on it though.
One of the most important and unique things about humans is our imagination. It’s what allows us to time travel. We can dig back into our memories, we can reach forward into our futures. Sometimes our perception and feeling of time gets distorted. This causes all sorts of problems.
Pierre Janet could be considered the founder of modern psychology. He’s where Freud, Adler, and Jung all got their main ideas. (William James and Wilhelm Wundt are also good options as the founders of modern psychology.) (Almost all of what’s useful in Freud he took from Janet. Freud combined it with some stuff he took from Breuer. Freud came up with one useful thing, free association. But, all of that is another story.)
Maybe the most important thing from Janet is the idea of dissociation. That we partition off a part of our mind and allocate it to the realms of the sub- or unconscious. This ability exists for a reason, because it can be useful and helpful. It can also be harmful and cause problems. To resolve these problems you incorporate these dissociated memories, feelings, thoughts, ideas, imaginings, impulses, etc. back into your awareness.
Well, all of these things occur across time. What’s dissociated is who we used to be, who we could have been, who we might be, etc. Maybe viewing dissociations as primarily occurring across a timescape and integrating these pieces would be the optimal way to expand the self to its full potential.
Third, how we represent the self. I already started into this subject at the end of the timescape section.
Carl Jung called these parts of ourselves and our experiences that we partition off the Shadow. Harry Stack Sullivan also focused on the causes and effects of dissociation.
Janet and Sullivan worked less with symbolic systems and more with realistic representations. Jung focused much more on symbol systems. I think both can be useful, and maybe they’re best when combined, whatever naturally presents itself in the mind.
In dreams and dream-like states I’ve encountered four other clear personalities that seem to be unique symbols: a demon, an angel, a scared little girl, and an obsessive manic writer and speaker. I’ve been working on integrating these, and it does seem to be having a noticeable positive effect on my mental and emotional states.
I think that combining this idea of the symbolscape and the timescape may be quite powerful, and almost necessary.
It seems to me that these three frameworks can cover almost all of descriptive and actionable work in the philosophy of mind if one was so inclined to do so.
You can find more of what I’m doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com