Home page 

Biblioteca on-line







Recensioni bibliografiche 2003  


by James S. Grotstein
  Recensioni bibliografiche 2004 


This paper has been presented by the author at the 4th International Bi-logic Congress   (Rome, 17-19 September 2004). An italian version of the paper shall be published in the "Frenis Zero" review as soon as possible. Our thanks to the author for the permission.
Recensioni dalla stampa 2003



                 Rivista Frenis Zero

“Her pure and eloquent blood                              

Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,

That one might almost say, her body thought.” 


John Donne, The Second Anniversary



“O que em mim sente,                                        

Está pensando”                                             


“What in me feels,                                             

Is thinking.”                                                


Fernando Pessoa                            



“The heart has its reasons                                

Which reason knows not of.”                       


Blaise Pascal                             



“I suggest Three Principles of Living,                              

First, feeling; second, anticipatory thinking;               

third, feeling plus thinking plus Thinking, The latter is

synonymous with prudence or foresight÷action.”       


Wilfred Bion, 1987                     




In antique times, particularly, the experience of emotions was frowned on. The Platonists, Neoplatonists, Stoics, Cynics, Sceptics, and Pythagoreans aspired to a serenity that was free from the perturbations of emotions. The aspiring Stoic sought to rid himself of emotion through intellectual training. They identified four classes of emotion: pleasure, pain (distress), appetite, and fear. These are what the Stoic sage was supposed to lack. An emotion consisted of an erroneous judgement about matters.


In this contribution I propose to review the psychoanalytic theory of affects from varying pertinent perspectives and the thinkers related to these perspectives so as to establish a line of thinking about affects that paves the way for Matte-Blanco’s contributions. My own ultimate point of view is that affects, which includes both emotions and feelings, constitute the instrument that establishes, vouchsafes, and renews our sense of personalness, the matrix of our subjective being-in-the world. Moreover, I hope to demonstrate that affects possess a unique narrative epigenesis.


Affects, once the poor stepchild of psychoanalysis and subordinated in the primogeniture of Freud’s instinctual drives, have gradually emerged from disparate sources as an imposing entity unto itself, perhaps even more important than the drives. Whereas the sense organs constitute the sentinels to the objects of external reality, affects constitute the sense organ to internal reality in regard to intrusions either from internal forces or the objects of external reality. As a consequence we may be able to hypothesize that the sense organs are the antennae of reality, and emotions the antennae to the truth of psychic reality. We may also think of affects as communicative signals or beacons either of distress and danger or of well-being. They constitute the running diary of our daily lives. The communication may be to an object on the outside or to an internal object. We read in Klein that she thought that envy was a manifestation of the operation of the death instinct. While agreeing with her in part, I think of envy as an emotional signal of alarm about an anxiety (affect) that the infant’s love of its good and gratifying mother paradoxically puts it in danger of realizing how very important mother is, how little, helpless, and vulnerable, it is and thereby causing it to realize its endangering physical and emotional helplessness.

Antonio Damasio speaks of “background feelings.” I immediately thought of how movies are always accompanied by background music–and then, as a derivative thought, how music, art, and poetry are the lingua franca of feelings. To push the matter even further, consider how often we hum a silent or barely audible tune to ourselves in the course of the day or tune on the radio in our cars or homes. What I am getting at is what I believe is the hidden order of affects in our daily lives. They constitute the ongoing “news-reports,” our assessment-monitoring from our nearest sense organ to the farthest coast of our psyche. In short, affects hover on the landscape of our lives as well as deep within and on the surface of our being.     


Speaking of background feelings, Professor Colwyn Trevarthen personally revealed the following to me: He believes that we maintain an affective background and, when a perturbation happens, there occurs a “motion from” (“e-motion”) from that otherwise steady background affect to what is called (to him, erroneously) an “emotional response.” 


As for the rivalry between affects and drives in terms of psychoanalytic interest, it is lamentable that the former had to wait so long to become noticed, and it is equally lamentable that the drives had become so misunderstood. Only now have we come to realize that we are motivated by affects. What Freud really meant by the drives was the origin of psychic determinism and, by derivation, psychic reality. Psychoanalysis had been so long a prisoner to a linear science that it could not remember its non-linear origins. It took Bion and the development of a non-linear science of complexity, chaos, and emergence to fathom a mind in which affects, agency, and truth were all one, and it took Matte-Blanco, the mathematician-psychoanalyst, to present us with a unique view of affects in the unconscious and introduce us to the origin of their power.


In ancient times received wisdom knew that emotions resided within the body. The Greek notion of the humors is a testament to that realization. It was only in the Enlightenment that received wisdom changed the venue of emotions to the mind–along with the emergence of the concept of the second self, the “stranger within thee,” from which psychoanalysis ancestrally sprung. I can only briefly refer to the ancient texts of the Greeks and allude to how they regarded emotion beyond the humors. They also thought of them as gods and/or “daemons” which fatefully, preternaturally haunted us. In front of me as I write these lines are E.R. Dodds’ The Greeks and the Irrational, Bennett Simon’s  Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece and W.B. Stanford’s (1983) Greek Tragedy and the Emotions. I shall cite Stanford:


Before considering the emotions presented in tragedy and felt by audiences it should be emphasized that apparently they were much more strongly visceral than is normal in more northern latitudes now. The tragedians describe the strongest of them, grief and fear, as being felt in the entrails, womb, liver, heart, midriff, lungs or head, like a stab, or a sting, or a bite, or a fire, or a chilling frost. They cause people to tear their flesh or hair (which stands on end in extreme emotion), to tremble and shudder, to fall prostrate, to become dumb, or to utter inarticulate cries in a shrill voice–besides weeping, sobbing, groaning and wailing...(p.21).




The affect that Freud studied most was that of anxiety, although he did discuss melancholia, disgust, and mania as well, but only in terms of their psychodynamic implications. Of importance was his shift of his concept of anxiety as an excess of libido to one in which it constituted a signal alarm mechanism to alert the organism to danger. He also discussed the “actual neuroses,’ neuroses that were characterized by “realistic” anxiety in the present. Today, they would be thought of as panic disorders. What Freud did do, however, true to his background as a neuroanatomist, was to remind us that our mind was inescapably rooted in its body, following in the footsteps of Darwin, who stated, “Man still carries in his body frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”




We know from Damasio’s contributions that affects consist of emotions and feelings. His distinction between them is of critical importance. “Emotions” literally are “from motions”  within the body, whereas feelings are their mental counterpart. The task of psychoanalysis is to help the analysand “feel” his/her “emotions.” Unfelt emotions, that is, unaccepted emotions, form the nucleus of symptoms. We have recently become familiar with such entities as alexithymia and Asperger Disorder in which the patient has no or little awareness of his/her emotions. One of the accompaniments of this lack is that of another, the absence of empathy, an affect that makes us human. Today, most analysts and psychotherapists treat patients who do not feel, who refuse to feel, or who experience intolerable pain when they do feel, in any case avoiding contacting their emotions. Thus, emotions and their mental counterpart, feelings, constitute the principal content of therapy and analysis. Perhaps we can visualize affects the way a neurologist views the function of the brain’s reticular activating system, as standing astride the neuronal network mediating the flow of incoming stimuli and activating or deactivating the central nervous system when necessary. Thus, affects stand astride the entirety of the operations of our being, yielding its communicative verdicts to the mind-brain’s headquarters.


In his three major works, Descartes’ Error (1994), The Feeling of What Happens (1999), and Looking for Spinoza (2003), Damasio has filled in the missing gaps in our conception of the intimacy of the relationship between body and mind, first, by reinstating the importance of the body and its mental representations as mappings as the referral base for emotion; second, that feeling was an integral component of reasoning; and third, for distinguishing emotions, which arise in the body, from feelings, which arise in the mind, and, fourth, for assuming that “the lower levels in the neural edifice of reason are the same ones that regulate the processing of emotions and feelings, along with the body functions necessary for an organism’s survival” (1994, p.xiii).


He further states, “In turn, these lower levels maintain direct and mutual relationships with virtually every bodily organ, thus placing the body directly within the chain of operations that generate the highest reaches of reasoning, decision making, and, by extension, social behavior and creativity...The lowly orders of our organism are in the loop of high reason” (1994, p.xiii).


I cite these representative samples of Damasio’s work to demonstrate the nature of his reasoning. Whereas others who write about affects link them up with attachment theory and with recent neurobiological findings in an empirical manner, Damasio, to my mind, presents a holistic, integrated perspective. His outlook reminds me of the concept of vitalism, an idea that descends to us from Aristotle and coursed through Leibnitz. It comes closest to my own thinking. If I read him correctly, I believe he is suggesting that when we speak of an emotion, we must think irreducibly of an “emotional human being,” an indivisible biopsychosocial entity whose body cells as well as his mind and soul are indistinguishably involved in every transaction of feeling, thinking, and being. Thus, Descartes was in error in separating mind from body, whereas Spinoza was correct in assuming, “The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body” (In Damasio, 2003, p.211).


In that regard I wonder if Dr, Damasio would go a step farther in his critique of Descartes and say that the very difference between mind and body that Descartes hypothesized is itself a fallacy. In other words, may we not hypothesize that “mindbody” or “bodymind” is always indivisible. We mortals are compelled to differentiate them for perceptual and conceptual simplification, i.e., for practical reasons. Put another way, we think of them as differentiated, but do they?  


Damasio (2003) states:


I would say that...what made the feeling deserve the distinct term feeling and be different from any other thought, was the mental representation of parts of the body or of the whole body as operating in a certain manner. Feeling, in the pure and narrow sense of the word, was the idea of the body being in a certain way...Its contents consisted of representing a particular state of the body...Feelings ...arise from any set of homeostatic reactions, not just from emotions proper. They translate the ongoing life state in the language of the mind” (p.85).


He goes on to state:


The Construction of Reality: This perspective has important implications for how we conceive the world that surrounds us. The neural patterns and the corresponding mental images of the objects and events outside the brain are creations of the brain related to the reality that prompts their creation rather than passive mirror images reflecting that reality.... There is a set of correspondences, which has been achieved in the long history of evolution, between the physical characteristics of objects independent of us and the menu of possible responses of the organism (pp.199-200). 


I found this passage in his work to be profound, and I agree with it profoundly. In other words, we do not introject; we recreate from the genetically-endowed pigments in the menu of our inborn pallette. The fountain of empathy springs freshly within us and simulates the feelings and emotions of the other. In very recent contributions, Singer et al. (2004) and Iacobini (2004) stated that every human contains brain centers that support spontaneous feelings of empathy with others. They conclude that we simulate the other’s emotional or physical pain from within our own imagination. The implications for our conception of projective identification are profound. 


Damasio’s (1999)’s linking of feelings and emotions with the emergence of consciousness is both of interest and importance. He states:

I could see that overcoming the obstacle of self, which meant...understanding its neural underpinnings, might help us understand the very different biological impact of three distinct although closely related phenomena: an emotion, the feeling of that emotion, and knowing that we have a feeling of that emotion (p.8).




....[T]he first problem of consciousness is how we get a “movie-on-the -brain,” provided we realize that...the movie has as many sensory tracks as our nervous system has sensory portals...[T]he second problem of consciousness...is the problem of how...the brain also engenders a sense of self in the act of knowing...Beside s those sensory images there is also the other presence that signifies you, as observer of the things imaged, owner of the things imaged, potential actor on the things imaged....I shall propose that the simplest form of such a presence is also an image, actually the kind of image that constitutes a feeling. In that perspective, the presence of you is the feeling of what happens when your being is modified by the acts of apprehending something (pp.9-10).     


I find these ideas illuminating, helpful, and profound. Here I can only hint at connections with Freud’s (1900) twin theories of consciousness, the first being the sense-organ for the perception of sensory qualities and the second the sense-organ for the perception of psychical qualities–and also Bion’s (1970) theory of consciousness as mediated by alpha-function’s processing of beta-elements into consciousness–as well as of Fonagy’s notion of mentalization. 


Later, I shall synopsize Bion’s relevant transformational concepts and compare with Damasio’s. For the present let me restate what I believe the latter’s point is: emotions arise from and remain in the body. Feelings originate and remain in the mind and are orthogonal to emotions. The royal road from emotion to feeling is not transformation but induction, i.e., the experience of an emotion induces an impression in the mind which the mind’s transcendental (inborn) capacities simulates as feelings. 






Dr. Schore reminds us that we are now approaching the Zeitgeist of “neurodevelopmental psychoanalysis.” In particular, as a full-time diligent reviewer of the vast resources of neuroscience, attachment, and development and their ongoing research, he has become a bridge-builder extra ordinaire between those disciplines and psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Let me summarize what I believe he wants us analysts and therapists to become aware of:


                                               The right cerebral hemisphere is the locale of the affective mind and of the unconscious.


                                               The unconscious, rather than being a seething cauldron of untamed drives, is a coherent, implicit self that is the seat of affects and the generator of emotional meaning.


The right hemisphere houses an implicit self system.            


The unconscious regulation of the self is at the center of current psychoanalysis.


Early social experiences give rise to the neural mechanisms implicated in self-regulation.


The right hemisphere stores facial expressions, prosody, and gestures, the components of attachment.


                        These data suggest that the visual image of the loving mother’s positive emotional face as well as the imprint of her regulatory capacities are inscribed in the circuits of the infant’s right orbitofrontal cortex.

“The right-lateralized self system is a 3 tiered hierarchical system with an outer layer developing orbitofrontal-limbic regulating core, an inner early developing cingulate-limbic core, and an earliest developing amygdala core that lies deepest within, like nested Russian dolls.”


Psychotherapy works because it is “an attachment relationship capable of regulating neurophysiology and altering underlying neural structure.”




Let me cite Lichtenberg (1983) on Tomkins:


Emotion, in contrast to affective response patterns, may or may not be conceptualized as a feature of the experiential life of the infant in the first year. We have seen that a series of affective response patterns (observable as body reactions with characteristic facial expressions) already exist in the neonate. The birth cry, hunger distress, startle reaction, smiling, and capacity to mimic facial expressions–all are affective manifestations present within the first week or ten days of extrauterine life....I have already mentioned Tomkins’...view that these manifestations indicate a separate affect system, in which specific affect responses can be activated both innately and as a result of learning. Tomkins identifies a series of affective-behavioral groupings recognizable by muscular responses: surprise-startle, interest-excitement, enjoyment-joy, distress-anguish, anger-rage, fear-terror, contempt-disgust, and shame-humiliation. Each affect is conceived of as controlled by an inherited program of neuronal firing, which in turn controls not only the facial muscles, but also the autonomic, blood-flow, respiratory, and vocal responses. Each affect is capable being activated innately or via learning by a stimulus from a drive, a perception, a movement, a thought, a memory, or another affect....Tomkins regards the primary function of affect to be the amplification of urgency–making one care by feeling....affects are not motives themselves, but they can be the core of any or all motives (pp. 73-74).


The above citation is rich in ideas that deserve further discussion, but I should like only to emphasize only two: (a) that affects are inheritable patterns, and (b) that the primary function of affect is the amplification of urgency-making one care by feeling. It us only a step to apply the latter to Matte-Blanco’s notion of the initial quantum of the infinity matrix from which affects spring, and the former with Plato’s conception of inherent preconceptions (Ideal Forms), Kant’s idea of the noumenon and primary categories, Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, and Bion’s notion of inherent preconceptions, “memoirs of the future,” and O. I shall now only mention the connection with Matte-Blanco, who informs us that, at their source, affects are infinite in quantum, thus the danger they portend for those, like psychotics and borderlines, who do not possess semiotic containing systems to diminish their intensity to permit mentalization and reflection. This idea can be related to Tomkins’ idea about the need for the organism to have the capacity for “amplification of urgency” to be superimposed on the innate or acquired firing patterns that we call affects. I shall discuss the need for the diminishment of intensity of affects later when I refer to Bion’s contributions. Second, I suggest that Tomkins is hinting that there may be such a concept as inherent or primary unconscious phantasies–or myths–which are ways of storing affects. In other words, phantasies, myths, and dreams mediate emotions so as to render them safe for us to experience and to feel.



Bion revises Freud’s conception of the unconscious by assuming that “evolutions of  O,” which I shall immediately explicate, constitute the principle force within the unconscious, not the libidinal or death or aggressive drives. O is ineffable. It represents the Absolute Truth about Ultimate Reality, infinity, infinite sets, chaos, noumena, things-in-themselves, inherent preconceptions (“thoughts without a thinker,” “memoirs of the future”), raw circumstance, or life as it really is before we encode it. “Evolution” means that it is always happening within us and outside us and is relentlessly and inexorably with us. As evolving O intersects or impinges across our emotional frontier (here I picture the emotional frontier as subjective sentinels or antennae), it makes an indentation, which is emotionally felt as what Bion (1962) terms a “beta-element,” which “affects the subject, but which is still non-mental. In another contribution I interpret our encounter with the evolutions of O as the workings of our “truth drive,” the true irruptive force of our unconscious.


The infant experiences this emotional indentation made by evolving O, whether stimulated by hunger or restlessness within the internal milieu or stranger anxiety or the like on the exterior, and communicates (to be explicated later) it to its mother, who, in state of reverie, employs her alpha-function, which is her “dreaming” or “becoming” process (to be explicated later) in which she intercepts, contains, processes, and diffracts her infant’s input into a veritable color-spectrum of emotional meaning. This is then sent back to the infant in one form or another as useful emotional information about him/herself for him/her to feel or for corrective actions to be taken by the mother on his/her behalf. The analyst or psychotherapist performs a similar function. This is the Bion’s version of emotional attunement.      


Once alpha-function “digests” (processes) the beta-elements, “alpha-elements” emerge which are mentalizable and suitable for mental digestion.1 The beta-elements represented the initial non-mental proto-emotion, and the alpha-elements, the initial mentalized emotion proper. Once transduced into alpha-elements, the latter become dream elements, memory, thoughts which can be felt by feelings, and building blocks for the contact-barrier, an extension of alpha-function, which maintains the boundary between the unconscious and consciousness. In the course of transducing O from beta- to alpha-elements, alpha-function must dream, i.e, create phantasy images (on the C Column of Bion’s Grid) to act as necessary intermediaries, filters or lens, if you will, to allow for human individual tolerance.


Bion states that the mother must dream her infant’s emotions and the analyst must dream the analytic session. What he seems to mean is that the mother must convert the ineffable, infinite, and thus intolerable stimulus into a tolerable fractal of its ineffable source. When we look at the sun to see a solar eclipse, we shield our eyes with a dark filter. Dreaming or phantasying constitutes that filter, whose product is a dream, phantasy, or image of O. The next step is rarely undertaken without analysis, that of destroying the image (seeing “through a glass darkly”) so as now to see “face to face.” O, as beta-element, is converted into an alpha-element emotional phantasy-dream in the paranoid-schizoid position from the vertices of “L” and “H” (love and hate) and then into emotional knowledge (“K”) in the depressive position. In other words, there seems to be cycle which begins with O, continues through beta-element and then alpha-element, which becomes “K,” emotional knowledge about oneself, which then undergoes a transformation in O where K, knowledge, leads to wisdom beyond knowledge in the transcendent position. In other words, initial indifferent O undergoes a transformation into personal subjective O, which represents the ultimate transformation of one’s feelings about one’s emotions. The outcome of being able to feel one’s emotions, to have been able to have conducted the cycle of transformations from O impersonal to O personal, affords one the legacy of becoming an ever-evolved and evolving self, one who is now privileged to have “become O,” similar to a mystic, one who feels without having to know the name of the emotion.



The essence of Bion’s Thinking on Emotions

I should now like to epitomize what I believe is the quintessence of Bion’s message to us, the Ariadne’s thread that coheres all his works. When Bion contemplated O and conceived of the mystic who was to “become” it–without resorting to memory, desire, understanding, or the icons and symbols of quotidian knowledge, he was contemplating infinite man, the immanent “godhead” that rest within us which we are, through our transformations and transcendence, to incarnate, to become. The “godhead,” our infinite self, needs to become integrated with our common, ordinary, needy self. The “godhead” represents the infinite wisdom of O, but more importantly is the source of all emotion. The “godhead,” in other words, is our ultimate emotional self who patiently awaits our feeling him/her. The task of the human being is to transduce impersonal O into personal O through “becoming” O. Paradoxically, when one becomes personal O, one no longer takes O personally. I shall continue this theme when I discuss Matte-Blanco’s contributions. 



Now, at last, Matte-Blanco. An analysand of mine once humorously stated, “My anxieties are larger than I!” When he stated that, I first thought of Hanna Segal’s (****) concept of the “symbolic equation,” then of Bion’s concept of the quality and quantity of O that informs all emotions, and then of Matte-Blanco’s (1975, 1981, 1988) concept of bi-logic, symmetry, and the infinite nature of the unconscious. Matte-Blanco (1988) states the following in regard to affects and emotion:


It seems that the stronger an emotion is, the more clearly does it contain infinite experiences (p.40).


You can examine for yourself the experiences of other extreme emotions, such as hatred, anger, fear, and grief. By introspecting we think you will quickly see how these emotions can irradiate out so that all things conceivable can get infused with the emotions. To coin a word, “infinitization” is taking place (pp.40-41).


If it proves to be the case that any feeling , even a muted one, contains these extremes as nuclei, but has them contained by relating them to other feelings and ideas, then we may conclude as follows: all affects contain elements of infinity. This in turn means that all affects contain symmetrization of thought (p.41).


I...have pointed out the similarity between the unconscious and emotions. Further reflection leads to the awareness that some psychological aspects of emotions are, like the unconscious, bi-logical structures (p.62).


The concept of the infinite is the expression of the desperate efforts of the heterogenic mode and its logic to try to understand the indivisible (p.96).


Freud’s five characteristics of the Unconscious:

            (a) The absence of mutual contradiction and negation.

            (b) Displacement.

            ©) Condensation.

            (d) Timelessness.

            (e) The replacement of external reality by internal reality.

Matte-Blanco’s Principle of Symmetry assumes that if A acts on B, then B acts on A. The Principle of Symmetry, which prevails in the unconscious, reverses all the distinctions in time, space, and causality that characterize classical Aristotelian (bivalent) thinking. Time, space, and distinction collapse in ultimate indivisibility. Matte-Blanco suggests that actually symmetrical logic enters into a binary-opposition with asymmetrical logic in a structure known as “bi-logic” and occurs in descending ratios between them, with hegemony in favor of symmetry, as one descends from the level of consciousness to the depths of the unconscious. He defines five discrete levels, but one can also seem them as infinite in the subtlety of their changes. Matte-Blanco believes that his concepts of symmetry and bi-logic apply especially to emotions and goes so far as to state that emotions are bi-logical structures and are laced or suffused with infinity.



If Matte-Blanco is correct that the unconscious is dominated by a negative form of logic which stands oppositionally to our conscious logic, then what can be its adaptive purpose? It occurred to me as I was reading him that emotions are the unconscious–or they are felt extensions or pseudopods of it. It also occurred to me that we as humans constitute a binary-oppositional structure, much like bi-logic and bivalent logic. In other words, we always need to be in touch with our grounding in absolute indivisibility, where we disappear into the matrix of universal oneness as we once dwelled long ago in the womb. Once, I wrote a paper in which I defined the strata of experiences of psychic space and brought forth the notion that the fetus, being surrounded by a watery moat where any external impingement would be equally felt around its whole body, dwelled in the zero dimension of psychic space which was characterized by infinity and total symmetry.


It was this paper that introduced me personally to Matte-Blanco in a letter correspondence over many years. Another aspect of this grounding is our confrontation with the simultaneity of opposites and the absence of negation or contradiction about them. These opposites adumbrate our future emergence into asymmetrical separateness, but for the moment, the opposites remain unopposed, as if frozen. They are at rest for the moment in the meridians of their unity, O. We can now see that Freud was indeed correct when he described the unconscious as a “seething cauldron” but not because of the libidinal or death drives. It is seething but perhaps not a cauldron because it is infinite an symmetrical–without boundaries-- but seething with O, beta-elements, the objects which contain them, and infinite sets of all entities. The unconscious seethes between the infinity and chaos of the Absolute Truth about an Ultimate Reality that exists in the zero dimension of psychic space. 


I now have the notion that we must consult the unconscious to ground ourselves in our other, our unknown and unknowable being, the fetus, the “godhead,” our ultimate emotional self in order to become emotionally calibrated as feeling and sentient beings. Perhaps this is the ultimate purpose of the dream, the promise of a “pit-stop” in eternity so that we can return to the sorrows and joys of our asymmetrical adventures with hope.


Let me now sharpen the focus on this theme. Man is destined to return to symmetry from his sojourn in asymmetry in emotional breakdown and be become regressively pulled backwards and downwards into the symmetrical domain because symmetry allows for non-differentiation, non-confrontation with the emotional politics of difference. We lick our wounds and heal in symmetry in order to be prepared to face another day in asymmetry. This concept inescapably emerges when one reads Matte-Blanco’s formulation about the five strata of symmetrical-asymmetrical relations, in which the presence of psychopathology is positively correlated with the descent from asymmetrical relations to symmetrical, ultimately to the point of absolute indivisibility. Perhaps in more clinical terms we can say that symmetry an be correlated with bonding and attachment, whereas asymmetry can be correlated with weaning and differentiation. Poor bonding and attachment augurs poorly for differentiation and predicates regression. Symmetry is the emotional factor that, like the double helix and the caduceus, entwines itself around asymmetrical thinking to lend it substance, dimension, and infinite connectedness. It turns the ordinary books we read into Borges’ infinitely expanding “Book of Sand” and our familiar libraries into his “Library of Babel.” In other words, the flexibility of the bi-logical structure of the unconscious allows the tap roots of our conscious asymmetrical to extend to infinity so as to anchor us in a plentitude of associations, as we are nightly reminded in dreams. The infinity of our unconscious and its connection with absolute indivisibility constitutes the reassuring silent ballast of our being–thus, or need to undertake occasional regressive pilgrimages to them. 


Freud and Matte-Blanco both emphasize that the unconscious is characterized by the mutual presence of opposites without contradiction or negation. Once any of these elements, such as an emotion, becomes conscious, it automatically negates its opposite, i.e., the feeling of love would negate hate (and indifference). On the other hand hate defines love. In other words, opposites are binary opposites; they belong to the same class isomorphically in the unconscious but are destined to oppose (not conflict) with one another to give definition to each other. Perhaps we can now understand one of the motives of projective identification–to project oneself concordantly, symmetrically into the differentiated (asymmetrical) object to render it symmetrical.          


I promised to sharpen the focus on the theme of Matte-Blanco’s contribution on the Principle of Symmetry and its significant interrelationship with Bion’s concept of O–in regard to the phenomenon of emotions. O has two faces. It is both the sensory stimulus, ultimate external or internal mental life itself, that produces an emotional reaction as a beta-element on the individual’s receptive emotional frontier and the inherent formatting hardware that is in place to process it. Bion calls the latter inherent pre-conceptions or “memoirs of the future” (Plato’s Ideal Forms) and Kant’s noumena or things-in-themselves and primary categories. O corresponds to infinity (infinite sets of all categories) and total symmetry, Matte-Blanco’s Absolute Indivisibility. I am adding an entity that I believe Matte-Blanco omitted: “Absolute Divisibility” or “Asymmetry.” In other words, in the deepest aspects of the unconscious, just as there exist God and No God, binary opposites, there exist absolute indivisibility and absolute divisibility. In the Lurianic Kabbala, ultimate binary opposition is expressed as “Keter Ayn Sof “ (“everything and nothing”). 


How does all the above impact emotions? It means that, when we first experience O’s impact on our emotional frontier as a beta-element, our sense organ of “unconscious consciousness,” which monitors the internal world, meets it halfway and assigns its inherent and acquired pre-conceptions to it for formatting. The first assessment of this incoming stimulus is that it could be everything is divisible (no connectedness) and everything is indivisible (everything is everything, i.e., everything is only connected, i.e., infinity with the former and chaos with the other. Thus, the imprint of our inchoate emotional stimulus falls on two frightening frontiers, infinity and chaos. We see this clinically with psychotics, borderlines, and other primitive mental disorders. These reactions represent the polarization between displacement and condensation, respectively. 

In terms of ego psychology these patients suffer from bearing unneutralized (untransformable) “proto-emotions,” inchoate emotions that have not yet or may never undergo a “change in function” with neutralization (deaggressivization and delibidinization) to become “affect representations” in the symbolic representational world. The patient who can bind his/her proto-affects–or his/her anxiety about them experiences them chaotically and infinitely. Recall the patient who once mentioned to me, “My fears are bigger than I am!” Another patient exclaimed, “ I have an endless scream in me!”


From the Bionian perspective alpha-function and dreaming or phantasying transform the beta-elements of O into dreams and phantasies prior to their becoming transformed by alpha-function and the application of the L, H., and K vertices (drives employed as emotional categorizations) into knowledgeable thoughts, reinforcement of the contact barrier, and corrective action. Put another way, proto-emotions can be likened to Segal’s (1957, 1981) “symbolic equations.” At the stage of the proto-emotion the infantile aspect of the personality is cyclopean, that is, it is on-tracked and is experienced as being omnipotent and absolute.  


Projective Identification, Emotions, and Symmetry

Time and space limitations constrain me only to hint at a vast and fascinating subject, the relationship between projective identification as the elemental vehicle of communication between aspects of the self in one person, projective transidentification as the vehicle in two or more individuals, and their role in producing symmetry. If patient A hates analyst B, then, according to the laws of symmetrical thinking, analyst B automatically hates analysand A–but this is exactly what we would expect analysand A to believe when he employs projective identification to project his hatred into his image of analyst B. Thus, projective identification is the agent of Matte-Blanco’s homogenic mode to produce a cosmogonic, symmetrical world-view, which constitutes a more primitive world-view as a regression from the heterogenic, the world of asymmetrical differences.           





The Ariadne’s thread that seems to run through the entirety of Bion’s works is the quest for truth and the transformation of the Absolute Truth about Ultimate Reality into tolerable truth, and Matte-Blanco’s contributions have created the mathematical template for the origin and evolution of the truth of our emotions.

In two recent contributions I hypothesized that Bion hinted at a truth instinct or drive and that the truth he was addressing was always emotional truth. The truth, he often stated, did not require a thinker, only lies and falsehoods do. I f we use alpha-function to transduce Absolute Truth into tolerable truths via dreams, phantasies, and thoughts, we must not stop there. We must allow ourselves to proceed to the next station of our mission, progress in shedding our defensive icons of thought images so that we can attain the transcendent position.



Now we are prepared to hazard an answer to this too infrequently asked question. An emotion is an assay of emotional truth which is wrapped in the covering or container of myth, dream, or phantasy (“alpha-function”)–as neurons are wrapped in myelin–to allow for truth’s transformation from the Absolute impersonal, infinite Truth about the Ultimate symmetrical and asymmetrical Reality of the moment to the personal, finite truth, from “beta-element” to “alpha-element” for us to “wrap our minds around,” to accept our feelings about it, and to “become” it as our emotional truth–so that we can evolve and “we can learn from our experience” with that truth.      



Every emotion is truth’s envoy. Every feeling is truth’s realization. We must learn to become tolerant of ourselves as we occasionally fall by the wayside into the ravines of error and pettiness while ascending the North Face of Truth. We must then pick ourselves up and continue to rappel it. We must have faith that the effort is worth it.  

            1 One is here reminded of the money changers in ancient Hebrew temples who changed holy or sacred money for secular money to purchase lambs for ritual slaughter.





                  Maitres à dispenser





Copyright- 2003-2004-2005  A.S.S.E.Psi.- Ce.Psi.Di.

Editor del sito web e responsabile editoriale: Giuseppe Leo