As many on this listserv know, Wilfred Bion hypothesized that all people have both psychotic and non-psychotic aspects of their personalities. This seems to be somewhat congruent with the current viewpoint of many psychoanalysts and neuroscientists that the self is not unitary (multiple self-states), as Bromberg (2006) and others have explicated. I thought I would post some observations and theories proposed by Bion which some of our members may find relevant.
There are some who believe that Bion’s theories about thinking are a link between Freud and neuroscience (Da Silva, 1997). There are parallels between Edelman’s theory of the embodiment of mind and Bion’s idea of the mental digestion of emotional experience. Edelman, a Nobel Laureate for
his work in immunology, applied the latter as a model for what happens within the brain using a Darwinian framework, i.e., his theory of neuronal group selection (TNGS). Edelman’s view of memory is that it is a dynamic process of continual recategorization (similar to Freud’s concept of Nachtraglichkeit). Memory is present not once, but several times over; memories can be recalled differently with repetition and change of context. At the level of brain development, Edelman noted that it is the stimulation of new experience that makes a difference: brain and mind develop and function by selection, and one of the conditions for selection being great diversity. Bion also noted the importance of the stimulation of new emotional experience in psychic growth and development. For Bion, undigested facts, i.e., beta elements, are stored in the form of bodily sensory traces. These are unavailable for thought and memory unless they are transformed through reverie, containment and understanding by an other. Undigested facts (e.g., emotional experiences) are unrememberable as well as unforgettable. Emotional experiences which are left uncontained and transformed by the understanding of an other, can be evacuated into the body--Bion’s theory of psychosomatic or somapsychotic. For Edelman, mind and brain compose a seamless web. Bion also had a monist view, suggesting that the process of mentation develops by analogy to the process of bodily digestion. Thus Bion (1978) can say:
“It is a matter of the greatest possible urgency that the human animal should discover what sort of animal he is before he has blown himself off the earth.”
Wilfred Bion (2005) has made contributions to psychoanalysis in general, and to the field of psychosis in particular. In his last paper (Bion, 1979), Bion speaks of the “emotional storm” created by the meeting of two persons, in which the latter, if in psychoanalysis, can decide whether to sit with the storm and decide to “make the best of a bad job.” Bion (2005) notes that the analytic situation stimulates very primitive feelings, such as intense dependency and isolation. He (2005) speculated:
“There is one fundamental experience which I can put in this way: the patient is aware of two very unpleasant experiences-being dependent on something not himself and being all alone-both at the same time.” (p. 52).
Bion (2005) refers to the ‘dangers’ in the analytic situation, from which the analyst may flee, for example, into absence of mind. The patient is terrified that her or his terror will cause the analyst to run away. Bion believed it was important to interpret the patient’s relationship with her-or himself:
“He isn’t simply frightened of being eaten up by the analyst or the hospital; he is frightened of being eaten up by himself” (p. 22).
Bion (2005) points out how few patients actually believe that any relief of their suffering can be had. The same applies to analysts. Yet, he notes: “It takes a long time before it becomes clear that, in fact, the analytic intercourse is yielding an experience which is nourishing to both parties” (p. 20).
One of the ‘penalties’ paid by the analyst in doing this work, is constant observation by the patient--one of the reasons why the work is so tiring. We analysts struggle to make the ‘right’ interpretation, the Freudian or Kleinian interpretation, yet, the only thing that matters is a ‘true’ interpretation. For Bion, there are ‘facts’ which our metapsychologies come up against. The analyst must be wide open in order to receive what Bion calls “wild thoughts,” which are evacuated by the patient, and “...if you allow them to lodge in your mind, however ridiculous, however stupid, however fantastic, then there may be a chance of having a look at them” (p. 44).
In his Italian Seminars, Bion (2005), Bion notes:
“No one should set up as an analyst or doctor unless he is prepared to pay the price...Once you want to help your fellow men and women, you are in trouble. It doesn’t matter how ill you are, how tired, how mentally or physically sick, you have to preserve your discipline...[the analyst] can be so overwhelmed with noise--putting it again metaphorically--that it is difficult to hear. The noise comes from within-- hypotheses about physical illnesses, hypotheses about analytic theories...They all make such a noise
that it is difficult to hear what the patient’s body and mind are saying. I have tried to put this crudely as divesting our minds of memory and desire so that the noise made by our learning, training, our past
experience, is at a minimum. In that way you get as wide a view as possible. Then you can begin to hear or feel...this spot which is painful. If your patient will allow you to see him often enough, if he will allow
you to remain silent, if he will allow you to be ignorant, then you may be able to see what this painful spot is-whether it is in the mind or the body” (pp. 40-41).
Bion, W. R. (2005). The Italian Seminars. London: Karnac.
Da Silva, G. (1998). The emergence of thinking: Bion as the link between Freud and the neurosciences. In M. Grignon (Ed.) Psychoanalysis and the Zest for Living: Reflections and Psychoanalytic Writings in Memory of WCM Scott. Binghamton, NY: ESF Publishers.