The point of view of practical anthropology is that we need to change the
way we perceive ourselves as members of the human species. Anthropology becomes
practical when it is a self-reflective “practice” in which our projections
onto “others” and our assumptions about identity and authority are
explicitly at the center of our study. The
very beginnings of cultural anthropology in the 20th Century suggest such self
inclusivity. For example, Ruth
Benedict’s early concept of “culture consciousness” involved awareness of
the socially conditioned images--our “bias in local forms and techniques”--
that we assume about others. (1)
Practical anthropology might also be called community psychiatry, since
it presupposes psychoanalytic insights applied to the study of group and
community interaction. It could be
called socioanalysis or sociotherapy since it’s goal is to recognize and heal
our “social” (shared) selves. While our individual neuroses manifest in
unique symptoms in each of us, practical anthropology wishes to study those
behaviors we share in common but precisely for this reason consider to be
normal--such as bias, hostility and war. Because it works to develop our
capacity to think and communicate collaboratively, practical anthropology could
simply be called genuine (deep) dialogue or mutual inquiry.
In this essay I will explore the work of three thinkers who have shaped
the discipline of practical anthropology. They
are Trigant Burrow, a pioneering American psychiatrist who coined the terms
“social neurosis” and “practical” (or “dynamic” and “applied”)
anthropology; David Bohm, a
theoretical physicist who developed a process of group meditation in order to
study collective patterns of thought; and Montague Ullman, a psychiatrist who
has evolved a way of working with dreams as social information.
begin with I want to locate practical anthropology in a brief history of social
and political thought so as to express those questions in the philosophy and
method of the social sciences that led me to the study of the social neurosis.
When I was studying political theory in graduate school in the late
1960‘s, there was intense discussion about whether a scientific study of
politics was possible. Much was
made of the natural sciences as providing objective “empirical” models for
the understanding of political behavior--offering the possibility of freeing the
study of politics from values. This
idea of a “value-free” social science stems from the 19th Century positivism
of Emile Durkheim who thought that “social facts” could be isolated from
contamination by the metaphysical assumptions of human subjectivity to the
extent that they were statistical constructs.
Influenced as I was by the historical, interpretive (or
“hermeneutic”) sociology of Dilthy and Max Weber, (3) the behaviorist
approach to social science seemed to be data collection in search of a theory,
driven by the growing availability of computer data bases. If the study of
politics was to follow the history of natural science method, I thought, it
would at least have to be in some sense “experimental.” Quantification in
itself was surely insufficient for understanding political interaction,
involving as it does matters of motive, deliberation and judgment. And so I
became interested in the emerging literature of social psychology, particularly
the pioneering study by Stanley Milgram on obedience to authority.
In order to study the
“authoritarian personality,” Milgram constructed an experimental laboratory
situation in which naive subjects in the role of teachers were instructed to
administer what they thought were severe electric shocks to punish people who
“failed” in their role as students. Scientific
colleagues, dressed in a lab coats, invested with the image of
medical/scientific authority, gave the instructions to obey.
Now, it seemed to me that a science of politics would have to study the
nature of authority, and so Milgram was on the right track. But his experiment relied on common assumptions about
authority. While Milgram could
measure behavior that was appropriate to the situation he created, his own
authority and accountability for the experiment could not be questioned--though
the ethical implications of such study were widely questioned thereafter. (4)
was also interested in the implications of and
Utopia about Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy--that in the
development of the quantum theory in physics, it became apparent that the
experimenter affected the experimental situation--that the measuring instrument
influences what is measured. If
there were to be an experimental laboratory study of political authority, the
experimenter would have to be included as subject to the study.
How could this be, I wondered? In
perusing Mannheim’s bibliography, I discovered Trigant Burrow’s first book, The
Social Basis of Consciousness. (5)
Also at this time Thomas Kuhn had introduced the idea of scientific
paradigms in his study of The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions. (6) Kuhn
studied science from the perspective of the sociology of decision making
of a community of scientists. One
could follow in his work the ways in which scientific authority developed as a
controversial conversation, and changed over time.
Kuhn’s insight that “normal” science developed as a consensus
within the scientific community until “anomalous” observations created
cognitive dissonance raised the possibility that the authority of science was
related to other historically evolving socio-economic norms.
This view seemed to parallel another philosopher of science at Berkeley,
Paul Feyerabend, whose work was bringing philosophy of science into relation
with political theory. He was
developing John Stuart Mill’s
ideas into a view of scientific pluralism, rejecting the assumption of “THE“
scientific method. His critique of
rationalism and positivism evolved into his idea of “epistemological
anarchism”--which he expressed in Against Method. (7)
Feyerabend argued that there was no single principle of scientific
authority that could be affirmed as true prior to experience.
There were other influences. In the early 1960’s English translations
were first made of the early philosophical writings of Karl Marx. They gave
access to Marx’s conception of alienation as the loss of being a social
animal. Marx argued that Thomas
Hobbes, the 17th Century author of Leviathan,
first expressed the modern idea that by nature human beings were not social
animals. Marx thought that this assumption showed the alienation of the
individual person from social or what Marx called (following Feuerbach)
“species” being. Hobbes claimed
that nature “dissociates”--that by nature we are at war with one another.
In this Hobbes reversed the classical assumptions of Plato and Aristotle
that defined human beings as political animals--animals by nature destined to
live in association. (8) In
Marx’s view, Hobbes’ atomistic psychology evidenced our alienation from
Also in the 1960’s, accurate English translations of the writings of
Frederich Nietzsche’s writings were first made widely available through the
translations of Walter Kauffman. Among
other important insights, Nietzsche argued for a “ multi-perspectival”
concept of objectivity--one that influenced Max Weber. Nietzsche also
articulated a physiological conception of health and vitality, critical of what
he called the puritanical “despisers of the body.” (9)
These works came into English contemporary with the revival of the work
of the maverick Marxist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, whose research on character
armor showed that the stress of alienation was written on the body, a view more
recently expressed by the philosopher Michel Foucault. These thinkers opened to
me the field of “somatic” or
body psychology, suggesting that one could study the “posture” of
authoritarianism experientially within oneself--as an embodied felt sense.
Also during these years
three oddly interrelated practices offered new group standpoints on the study of
political culture and authority Firstly,
Paulo Freire in The Pedagogy of the
Oppressed shared the results of his work in Brazil--a form of social
organizing and literacy education that he called the “culture circle.”
Friere argued that genuine dialogue was revolutionary when it spoke out
of the pain of oppression, and named the culture of domination. Secondly, during
the cultural revolution in China under Mao Tse Tung, groups developed in which
class hostilities were expressed openly. This
was called “speaking bitterness.” Thirdly,
in the beginnings of the “human potential movement,“
Robert Tannenbaum and Abraham Maslow developed what were known as
“T-groups” (sensitivity groups, encounter groups) in which leaderless and
agendaless interaction generated intense emotion and potential confrontation
with one’s own self-image. (11) The
women’s liberation movement of the ‘60’s partly emerged out of such
groups, in which women’s complicity with assumptions of patriarchal authority
were openly questioned.
These forms of group
experimentation attempted to uncover and transform unconscious hostility or bias
as manifested in authoritative assumptions about learning, or embedded in class
or cultural values. Of course, the
projection of unconscious hostility and its relation to authority was first
studied in the psychoanalytic tradition itself.
It is to these developments that I now will turn.
II. WAR AND THE PROBLEM OF PROJECTION
This situation of the projection and counter-projection of hostility
first came under systematic study when Sigmund Freud identified the problem of
transference in the relationship between therapist and patient, in which
unconscious ambivalent feelings are repressed by a “splitting of the pairs of
opposites” and projected onto another. (12)
Freud’s colleague, Carl Jung wrote during World War 1:
Just as we tend to assume that the world
is as we see it, we...suppose that people are as we imagine them to
be...projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings.
In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less
imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.... As events in wartime
have clearly shown, our mentality is distinguished by the shameless naivete with
which we judge our enemy, and in the judgment we pronounce upon him we
unwittingly reveal our own defects: we simply accuse our enemy of our own
unadmitted faults. We see everything in the other, we criticize and condemn the
other, we even want to improve and educate the other. There is no need for me to adduce case material to prove this
proposition; the most convincing proof can be found in every newspaper.
But...what happens on a large scale can happen on a small scale in the
individual...[E]very attempt to bring...projections to consciousness is felt as
irritating. Naturally, one would like to have better relations with one’s
fellows, but only on the condition that they
live up to our expectations.
Yet if we make ourselves conscious of these projections, it may easily
act as an impediment to our relations with others, for there is then no bridge
of illusion across which love and hate can stream off so relievingly, and no way
of disposing so simply and satisfactorily of all those alleged virtues that are
intended to edify and improve others...The individual [would then be] faced with
the task of putting down to his own account, all the iniquity, deviltry, etc.
which he has blandly attributed to others, and about which he has been indignant
all his life. The irritating thing about this procedure [of withdrawing
projections] is the conviction, on the one hand,
that if everybody acted in this way life would be so much more endurable,
and a violent resistance, on the other hand, against applying this principle
seriously to oneself. If everybody
else did it, how much better the world would be; but to do it oneself--how
This situation of the reciprocal projection of images relating and
separating self from other was what Trigant Burrow, a pioneering American
psychiatrist who took his training analysis with Jung in 1909, called the
“social neurosis.“ He developed
a group method of analysis (“social self inquiry”) to study this situation. The discipline of this study he called “practical”
I first encountered the idea of a social neurosis toward the end of
Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its
There Freud said:
I first encountered the idea of a social neurosis toward the end of
Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its
There Freud said:
the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the
development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be
justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges,
some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization--possibly the whole of
mankind--have become “neurotic”? An
analytic dissection of such neuroses might lead to therapeutic recommendations
which could lay claim to great practical interest.
I would not say that an attempt of this kind to carry psychoanalysis over
to the cultural community was absurd or doomed to be fruitless.
an individual neurosis we take as our starting-point the contrast that
distinguishes the patient from his environment, which is assumed to be
“normal.” For a group all of
whose members are affected by one and the same disorder no such background could
exist; it would have to be found
And as regards the therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most correct analysis of social
neuroses, since no one possesses authority to impose such a therapy upon the
group? But in spite of these
difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture upon a pathology
of cultural communities. (14)
Freud mentioned this possibility knowing (but not acknowledging) that
Burrow, with whom he had been in correspondence for 20 years, was devoting
himself precisely to such a study. Between 1912 and 1927, Burrow published 15
papers in which he developed the concept of the social neurosis, and sent these
papers to Freud whom he considered to be his true mentor.
Burrow conceived of the social neurosis as a global phenomenon,
independent of culture. He quoted
one of Raskolnikov’s dreams from Dostoevsky’s Crime
and Punishment as an example of this world-wide plague. We might keep in
mind that the name “Raskolnikov” carries the root “raskol,” meaning
split or divided.
...The whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others....They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking one another, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other...The alarm bell was ringing all day long...Men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. Men met in groups, agreed on something , swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further...
Dostoevsky wrote in a letter while he was planning Crime
and Punishment that Raskolnikov denounces himself because of his “feeling
of isolation and separation from mankind.” (15)
Expressing the standpoint that the development of the individual organism
carries within it the logic of the human phylum (Freud’s view that “ontogeny
recapitulates phylogeny”) Burrow
After all we are of one tissue. We have but to look about us at the so-called normal persons composing the community to see that life masquerades no less under the disguise of social make-believes than under the...subterfuges of the neurotic individual. The difference is that the artifices of the social community, being collective, unite its members...by a common language, while the neurotic isolates himself through the extravagance of his metaphors...Society, too, has its elaborate system of defense-mechanisms, its equivocations...its infantile make-shifts and illusions. (16)
Whatever empirical interest the situation may have held for me at the outset was now wholly subordinated to the indignation and pain of the position to which I had been brought...There came gradually to me the realization that my analyst, in changing places with me, had merely shifted to the authoritarian vantage ground I had myself relinquished and that the situation had remained essentially unaltered...With the consciousness of this condition I saw...that in its individualistic application, the attitude of the psychoanalyst and the attitude of the authoritarian are inseparable.” (17)
The first psychoanalytic investigation of the authority principle that included the analytic function of a group process carried out by a group was presented at the Congress of Bad Homburg in 1925 by the then President of the American Association of Psychoanalysis, Trigant Burrow....The group analysis that Burrow defended was different from the group psychotherapies that were beginning to develop at that time...[T]he aim of group analysis is to investigate the obstacles for coordinated group functioning; it is a group method of analysis that implies the subjective participation of all members of a social group, where every investigator is both an observing subject and an object of observation. (18)
Looking back at
this period later in his life Burrow wrote:
...My only serious loss was a quite voluntary one...I refer to my enforced recognition of the existence of a social neurosis and of my own personal share in it. This, I cannot deny, was a serious wrench for me...As will be readily understood, the necessity of reckoning with man’s ineptitudes in feeling and thinking and doing, as these ineptitudes were daily registered within myself, entailed an acutely painful process. (19)
Bias might be depicted by a figure from Roman myth, the “Janus face”
that looks in opposite directions simultaneously, from which we derive
“January”--the month that touches the past and future simultaneously. Our word “bias” comes from the Latin bifax, meaning “looking two ways.”
Literally it means “two faced.”
To study bias means to bring the observer’s projections and
prejudgments from past thought into awareness with the characteristics of the
observed. In the group setting, it involves the challenge and potential
falsification of projection.
As the Lifwynn research community developed, Burrow studied the process
of decision making itself. Bylaws
for the foundation created shared responsibilities that demanded cooperation and
consensus. Collaborative writing
and editing offered opportunities for the group to reflect on and suspend their
tendencies to conflicting interpretation over ever recurring dualisms.
The need for decisiveness manifested the principle of authority between
and within the members experienced as divisiveness and righteous indignation.
Decision making was itself the laboratory for the study of the
authoritarian attitude, and its preoccupation with being “right.”
Burrow and others published numerous books and articles. Artists and
writers were drawn to Burrow’s work because it reflected the artist’s
struggle for authentic feeling and expression.
D.H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, Sir Herbert Read and the American novelist
Sherwood Anderson were early Burrovians. Lawrence
reviewed Burrow’s first book, The Social
Basis of Consciousness (1927). He
...Dr. Burrow realized that to fit life every time to a theory is in itself a mechanistic process...As soon as man became aware of himself, he made a picture of himself. Then he began to live according to this picture...This is the great image or idol which dominates our civilization, and which we worship with mad blindness. The idolatry of self. (21)
Lawrence wrote to Burrow:
What ails me is the absolute repression of my primeval societal instinct...I think societal instinct much deeper than sex instinct--and societal repression much more devastating. There is no repression of the sexual individual comparable to the repression of the societal man in me, by the individual ego, my own and everybody else’s....Myself, I suffer badly from being so cut off...At times one is forced to be essentially a hermit. I don’t want to be. But anything else is either a personal tussle or a money tussle, sickening: except, of course, for ordinary acquaintance, which remains acquaintance. One has no real human relations--that is so devastating. (22)
But if the norm--the “societal reaction average” as Burrow called it
was not a sure guide to health and sanity, what (as Freud asked) could replace
its authority? Burrow didn’t
know. And for many years, his
inquiry into the social self was a negative dialectic--a stripping away of
defenses to the point at which he finally reached a personal crisis--“a state
approaching interrelational nihilism.” Burrow wrote:
It seemed to me that in these moments,
the sense of frustration had reached the saturation
point....all affective response as ordinarily experienced, appeared to have
become non-existent. It was in this
setting that there occurred the most unexpected
phenomenon. It consisted in a
reaction which at the time I could only describe as a sensation of pressure or
tension in the head...In the unmitigated
frustration of mood coincident with the rigid routine of hourly-imposed
affect negation, and in the complete withdrawal of the customary supports of
convivial social activity, with their quickening tone and impact, there was a
total void of affective interest and incitement.
From this time onward, Burrow’s research attempted to integrate this
stillness and freedom from affect-drivenness into the group process.
A self-taught meditator, working within a bio-physiological tradition, he
coined a name for this state-- “cotention,” by which he meant to express a
mode of attention “with or within, not out or toward” (25).
In the inner sensation of somatic or organismic integration free from
mental distraction Burrow considered that he had found the basis for a principle
of authority of genuine societal health that could be observed consensually
within a laboratory setting uncontaminated by social images and conceits.
Thereafter the group
analytic sessions were interspersed with what he called the cotentive practice,
so as to bring this inner awareness to bear on the emotional intensity of
social-self inquiry. Burrow thought
of this altered standpoint as “proprioceptive,” the biological term for
stimuli produced and perceived within an organism.
The “normal” pattern of attention of the social neurosis Burrow
termed “ditention” or divided attention.
As this research developed, Burrow discovered that bringing the subtle
movements around and behind the eyes to a kinesthetic balance also slowed the
breathing. When no longer “distracted from distraction by
distraction” as T.S. Eliot put it, it was possible, as Burrow said, to
“interrupt the mechanism of projection and instead, observe the mechanism that
Because of our proprioceptive nervous system, if we move any part of our
body, we are aware immediately that we’ve moved, “without time, without an
observer, without having to think.” (27)
But it is possible for the proprioceptive nervous system to malfunction.
Oliver Sachs writes of one such example (in The
Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat) of a woman who woke up in the dark with
a hand on her throat. She was
terrified and struggled against it, finally managing to get it off of her and
turned on the light, only to discover that it was her own hand.
Similarly, the division between what we think we are doing and what is
actually happening to our bodies and our environment indicated to Burrow that we
had lost the sense of what he called our “eco-somatic”
(environment-organism) reality. (28)
For example, I recall once walking along a beautiful beach in a foul
mood. Someone threw a frisbee
toward me, and I watched--totally preoccupied with my thoughts--until it hit me
in the chest. He called out to me:
“That’s the Freudian unconscious.”
Burrow might have said: “That’s the lack of eco-somatic
In Of Water and the Spirit,
Malidoma Some describes his initiation into an African tribe. He is asked to gaze uninterruptedly at a tree until he
notices something. After five hours
he is in torment. An elder tells
him: “You will not get anywhere
if your thoughts are watching one thing and your eyes another.”
(29) In such divided
attention (what Burrow meant by “di-tention”) thought mediates and disrupts
eco-somatic integration. Meditative practices that quiet one’s eyes, breathing
and thoughts are conducive to proprioceptive integration--to thinking
Burrow considered this new somatic framework developed in the 1930’s to
be a form of socio-biology. Whatever
we mean by human consciousness, he thought, it is a social, a shared phenomenon.
Thought is a collective, associated phenomenon.
This is implicit in Aristotle’s definition of the human animal by
speech, and is reflected in Martin Heidegger’s view that language is “the
house of being” within which we dwell. Language, like consciousness is both in
between and within us. If our
consciousness is social and yet embodied within our individual organisms, then
the social neurosis is in our tissues. We
are parts of one another. In this
Burrow returned to the Aristotelean view that human association is prior to
individuality as the whole is prior to its parts, because the individual is not
standpoint meant that it became possible to study the social neurosis
experientially as it was manifested somatically.
Here Burrow’s somatic psychology in some ways paralleled the view of
Wilhelm Reich, for whom to touch the body meant to touch the unconscious. It anticipated the insights of Michel Foucault that political
repression is coded in the body. Though, as Wittgenstein argued, there is no
private language, yet we have come to think of the prejudicial righteousness of
our own private, separate selves as the locus of meaning and authority.
But this is idiotic, in the root sense of the word (Gr. idiotes,
private, separate person).
Such idiocy is the social neurosis.
“To get square with” our prejudices, Burrow wrote, we “must learn
to suspect ourselves.” (30)
was influenced by another tradition of group analysis, started in England by
members of the Frankfurt School (the “critical theorists”) from Germany who
settled in London after the second world war, and attempted to integrate
Freudian psychology with social theory. One
of these analysts, Patrick deMare, developed a “median group” process ( 20
people and above) in which open dialogue stimulated expressions of hate and
panic, which if contained by the group could potentially transform into an
“impersonal friendship.” (32)
was also influenced by his collaboration with J. Krishnamurti, one of the first
of the great Eastern teachers to come to the US.
Bohm saw relationships between the theory of knowledge of quantum physics
and Krishnamurt’s view that the observer is the observed.
What Burrow discovered about slowing down thought by focusing on the area
behind the eyes was consistent with the mindful, choiceless awareness of the
great traditions of meditation. Beginning in the 1950’s, yoga and Zen
practitioners related Burrow’s cotentive practice to these traditions. (33)
considered fragmentation as but one case of rigidly held patterns of
that created divisiveness and disharmony and were at the root of dominance,
aggression and violence. As someone
who was closely involved with the exchange between Albert Einstein and Neils
Bohr over the interpretation of the quantum theory, Bohm concluded that their
different ways of determining value were irreconcilable, and that despite their
good intentions, they were led to an impasse that became acrimonious through
aggressive attempts to establish the authority of their points of view.
So Bohm started to study thought as a system.
He considered genuine thinking an exceptional experience--because we are
so preoccupied and identified with “thought.”
Bohm emphasized that thought is the past tense of the verb to think.
Thought runs through our minds habitually, and we follow and enact its
patterns. We also feel thought. The
feelings and moods that accompany thoughts Bohm called “felts.”
He coined this word to describe the habitual emotional tone (Burrow’s
“affect”) that accompanies our thought.
We dwell and identify ourselves in bodies of thought. We are postmodernists or capitalists or evangelicals.
As such the words reason, liberty, prayer have specific uses and meanings
in the bodies of thought that define these identifications, and locate us within
different, often warring, camps. We
are used to thought telling us that we are at war.
Thought also projects past into future in anticipation and worry. Thought
creates what Bohm called the “self-world image.”
Analogous to what Burrow meant by the I-persona, Bohm considered this
image to be “so pervasive and powerful that it tends to be confused with a
reality independent of thought.” (34) For
Bohm, like Burrow, we have come to be as Larry Spence expressed it “the
image-conditioned animal.” (35)
Bohm observed that a
fundamental factor in the self-world image was a tendency to maintain a
disharmony between intellect and emotion. This
leads to self-deception in thought and the projection and proliferation of
destructive emotions, and to an escalating feedback cycle of dominance,
aggression and violence. Like
Burrow, Bohm argued that
Thought usually moves so quickly, that even within us when we sit still
and listen to our inner conversation with ourselves, it is difficult to catch
our first thought. Thought is a
“know it all” that conveys a sense of security, a sense of our being
“right.” Thus “mind is caught up in what appears to be a rather mechanical
process in which there is little intelligence or real insight” because this
protects us from uncertainty. (36) Normally,
we do not know what we’re thinking. If
we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that in everyday conversation,
even with intimate friends, we are often aware that we are not being understood
and do not really follow what is being said to us.
This led Bohm to think that neurophysical processes of a relatively
subtle nature may be playing a part in this.
It was at this point (1988) that he became interested in Burrow’s work.
Because he considered that there is an addiction in the thought process
itself, he was receptive to participating in an experiential research project on
addiction as a socio-cultural phenomenon organized by the Lifwynn Foundation.
key point ...is that in the suspension of the outward activity of anger, for
example, a whole pattern of tensions and sensations arises all over the body
which is intimately connected with the arousal of the
neurophysical system as a whole. It
is crucial to pay attention to how this pattern moves and to how it is related
to other factors, such as thought, which at first sight seem to have no
connection to it. All this is in fact a display of the overall process
in awareness (38)
Like Burrow, Bohm concluded that the main problem with thought is that it
lacks proprioception. Thought cannot perceive its own movement.
We may say we are concerned about global warming, but thought tells us
that prosperity and pollution belong necessarily together.
If we can maintain the tension of such contradictory assumption within a
situation in which we can feel the movement of thought neurophysiologically,
then might we be able to recognize that being unwilling to restrict our carbon
dioxide production is like our own hand choking ourselves in the dark?
DREAM APPRECIATION AND THE REVERSAL OF PROJECTION
I first met the psychiatrist Montague Ullman at Lifwynn Camp in 1976 when
I participated in a week long experiential workshop he gave there on dreams as
social information. I had read
several of his publications and corresponded with him about a concept I was
developing regarding what I called the “political unconscious.” In a book I was writing (see note 23) I had used dreams of mine to illustrate certain aspects of
political identity and culture. Ullman
was conversant with the work of both Bohm and Burrow, and had evolved a way of
working with dreams in groups that he called “dream appreciation.”
In this he was influenced by Carl Jung’s approach to dreams.
In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
I was never able to agree with Freud that the dream is a “facade” behind which its meaning lies hidden--a meaning already known, but maliciously, so to speak, withheld from consciousness. To me dreams are a part of nature, which harbors no intention to deceive, but expresses something as best it can, just as a plant grows or an animal seeks its food as best it can. These forms of life, too, have no wish to deceive our eyes, but we may deceive ourselves because our eyes are shortsighted. (39)
Ullman developed what he termed a “social
vigilance” theory of dreaming. (40)
Dreams are like a sort of night watchman, watching over the sleeping city.
Since humans had developed a social brain (about the last 50,000 years of
evolution), our dangers were increasingly of our own creation, embedded in our
shared relationships, associations and collective decisions.
Just as the dream can survey and incorporate sounds and occurrences
within the dreamer’s immediate environment and internal physiological states,
so it surveys the larger social environment of the dreamer as well.
Goethe expressed this view of dreams in a fanciful way in Faust:
Ye who surround his head with
Here prove the noble elfin way of healing,
Soothe now the wearied heart’s contention dire
Withdraw the searing arrows of remorse,
Four are the vigils of the night’s dim course...
From Burrow’s perspective, like most things of value, in our
preoccupation with the I-persona, we have privatized our dreams.
We think of dreams as one of the most intimate, private, subjective of
our experiences. We can share dreams with professional therapists or perhaps
with close friends. But surely not in public, not with strangers. However, if
dreams are natural expressions of what concerns us, and if our consciousness is
social, then our usual incomprehension of our dreams reflects the fact that we
have “de-socialized” them, and therefore cannot appreciate them.
It is as if we need to learn another language, more poetic and
metaphorical--more social--in order to comprehend what dreams are saying to us.
But in order to do this we
must reverse our normal assumptions about social interaction.
We must enable projections to emerge freely in dialogue, and to be
recognized and appreciated. Here,
the logic of social-self inquiry moves beyond the negative dialectic of Burrow.
It is not necessary to challenge and attempt to falsify
In the dream appreciation group, after the projections into feeling and metaphor have unfolded, the dreamer is invited back into the dialogue. The dreamer is considered to be the ultimate authority regarding the meaning of the dream. Whatever we might say about idiocy and privatization, it is clear that meaning must reflect insight into an integral reality that the dream manifests within us. After swimming in the projections of others, the dreamer can feel resonance with some and also lack of contact with others. Projections can be falsified.
But the situation is not designed to falsify or reject projections.
Whatever can be incorporated into revealed meaning is accepted by the
dreamer. This process is based on
the observation that the dream has what Ullman calls a “bi-directionality.”
A dream is oriented toward the personal concerns of the dreamer, but it
does so in relation to and
Social in origin, our dream imagery has an intrinsic bidirectionality that points inwardly to the innermost and often hidden aspects of our personal being and outwardly to the source of their origin and to their possible connection to prevailing social realities that otherwise tend to be obscured from view. (42)
as we have forgotten the ancient awareness that we are social beings, so we
forget that we need others in order to gain insight into our dreams.
Ullman puts it this way:
If the dream experience is a private articulation of a social issue, the substantive content of the dream is discovered through a social transformation, a process in which others have an essential function...[I]nsight into the significance of the dream generally eludes the dreamer in the absence of a suitable facilitating social setting. It is the dreamer’s task to read the metaphorical image that embeds the dream’s message. To do that requires that the dream be socialized, i.e., that it’s content be shared and explored with others. It is only natural that if the dream speaks to social issues, to relationships with others, the discovery of the particulars requires the presence of others in a supportive context in order to unfold. (43)
In fact it could be said that our dreams must be “re-socialized.” Dreams are images of our social being that are unintelligible and mysterious to us precisely because we do not recognize or organize ourselves as if we were social beings. Thus dialogue in which we open shared meaning to one another is an important aspect of sociotherapy--our reintegration as socio-cultural beings.
When the purpose of dream appreciation is explicitly directed at social
meaning, then there is a dialogue that completely reverses our normal patterns
of discourse. In such a dialogue,
the focus is not simply on personal meaning.
Rather, it is a matter of what can be learned about our social condition
and shared experience from the structure and development of the dream images.
As an example of this sort of integration, I want to close now by sharing
a dream I had when I was working at the Lifwynn Foundation (1989-92).
In taking on the job of starting a new stage of social self-inquiry
there, I entered into a research relationship with an 82 year old woman, Alfreda
Galt, who was then President of the Foundation.
We attempted to recreate the sort of mutual inquiry that Burrow and
Shields experienced at the beginning of their study of the social neurosis.
How often I felt I wanted to jump out of my skin!
How often we found ourselves at points of impasse.
During one of those times I dreamt that I was in a row boat with Alfreda,
rowing across “Clear Lake“--a lake where I had vacationed as a young boy. I
was rowing toward a “pier,” but the “oar locks” that held the oars in
place were rotten, and I had great difficulty getting there.
Working with the dream, I came to appreciate that Alfreda and I were
trying to get to a “peer” relation, but the divided attention of our
dichotomous “Or locks” (as in either/or) were making that quite difficult.
“Or Locks” is an apt metaphor for the problem social self-inquiry
faces. This dream also expresses a metaphoric dichotomy having to do with
direction and intent in the double meaning of “row.”
How often when we feel we are of good will, merrily rowing our boat, are
we also starting a “row” (disturbance, commotion) ? With regard to the phenomena of our social neurosis, we’re
all in the same boat.
CONCLUSION: ONE DAY IN THE NEWS
It might seem that practical anthropology as I have characterized it is
profoundly impractical. Why would
anybody want to transcend bias? Who
wants to be told that our thoughts and actions are incoherent?
Still, is it possible that we might by means of meditative,
self-reflective group practices shift the balance of insight toward a more
collaborative social order? I do
not know. When I look at a random
sample of the defining “issues” that orient our social dynamics today, the
malaise of our shared neurosis appears to be deepening. As evidence of its
contemporary characteristics--of the normal, everyday contradictions in our
self-world images--we might contemplate the following news stories--all from one
day in the news, April 14th, 2005:
A California jury awards $2 million in a priest abuse case. Though the plaintiffs consider the sum minimal, they are pleased that the Catholic Church is called “despicable” on the record.... In Iraq, a U.S. “contractor,” (he has been there selling water) is being held hostage. He begs for his life, urges a troop pullout. The President’s spokesman says there will be no negotiating with terrorists.... After being teased, a 13-year-old baseball player clubs a boy to death with a baseball bat at a game: A father says: “I don’t think his intention was to start a fight, but when you know other baseball players, you give them a hard time. It’s called ‘razzing.’ What happened? What did we miss as a community?”... U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay apologizes for “barbs“ directed against the Federal Judiciary. He has denounced Federal judges as “arrogant, out-of-control and unaccountable.” DeLay himself has been rebuked three times by the House Ethics Committee for violations of their rules.... Eric Rudolf issued an eleven page public statement to the effect that he was “bloodied but emphatically unbowed” after admitting to a series of abortion clinic bombings, an attack at the 1996 Olympic Games and on a gay club in Atlanta, GA. He has killed two and wounded 150 people. He wrote: “Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified...in an attempt to stop it.”
it has been unable to confront the basic contradictions in our experience of the self or to offer a transformative reembodiment...[W]ithout such a pragmatic approach to the transformation of experience in everyday life--especially within our developing scientific culture--human existence will remain confined to the undecidable choice between objectivism and nihilism. (44)
The tradition of practical anthropology I have outlined
above--evolving out of psychoanalysis--fits Varela’s requirements. Both Burrow
and Bohm worked to shift the science of conflict management and public health
from preoccupation with ideation or mental imagery toward an experiential
neurophysiology of conflict, and to develop such awareness in the present moment
in a public dialogue so that ulterior motives and unconscious assumptions could
be honestly acknowledged and suspended and separated from thinking and
feeling--so that a fuller, more balanced, collaborative decision making might be
Both Burrow and Bohm sought, in the context of an evolving Western
scientific epistemology informed by the sociology of knowledge and the
uncertainty principle, a resolution of the dualisms of subject and object, self
and other, observer and observed. Both
wished to bridge the gap between past and future, by integrating
present-centered, meditative experiential insight into the heart of
socio-political opinion and decision making.
Both wished to heal the split between theory and practice through a focus
on the “social-self” (the self-world image) as the field of both inquiry and
If it is true that we have increasingly lost an awareness of human
interdependency and are densensitized to the ways in which thought and emotion
are shared phenomena, if our alienation from our species being has developed to
the point that ecological and military destructiveness, post-traumatic stress
and triage are hidden from us, then forms of practice that will integrate our
“anthropological” identity are most needful--most practical from the
standpoint of human survival and quality of life.
Suspending image projections and beliefs about others and opening bias to scrutiny and evaluation, can alter our “forward leaning” posture of divided attention and create the possibility for shared meaning and insight to develop between us. Burrow’s social self-inquiry and Bohm’s dialogue groups are ways of deconstructing the impediments to coordinated interaction. These practices--like mediation or non-violence training--can be taught.
Still, such a species wide educational public health program would have
an enormous amount of work to do in order to address our personal and
socio/political forward leaningness. Preemptive,
first strike military preparedness is only the most ominous of its current
manifestations. And even if forward
leaning can be suspended by cotentive practices, it continues to display ever
anew at more sophistocated levels. This
is because the depth of analytical evaluation of mutual bias and divided
attention is for all practical purposes infinite. Therefore, the suspension and deconstruction of authoritarian
self-righteousness is an on-going, self-reinforcing process:
cotention will always discover ditention. This is most valuable and
necessary for the interests of truth in Heidegger’s sense as that which is
But it remains a “rational” process in that our recurrent either/ors
are still experienced as some “ratio” or other.
Nonetheless, such a process offers great benefits to our social bodies if
it is so that the truth will make us free.
However, to move beyond the suspension of affect projection, we must
experience the sociality of metaphor itself. We must, as Monte Ullman puts it,
recognize that we swim in the same social sea.
To feel genuinely connected with others and our shared world, to
recognize the interdependence and collectivity of thinking and feeling is a
wonderful experience. In doing so
we can even sense the depth and meaning of our mutual biases as a shared
structure and appreciate projections by allowing them to structure dialogue
itself. This reversal of our normal
attitude developed through group dream work offers the possibility that we may
reintegrate our social being. Without
appreciating the meaning of the “Clear
Lake” dream I had, I may have imagined I was working toward a peer relation
with another, intentionally practicing and aspiring to a more “cotentive”
relationship, but I would not have actually felt that we were in the same boat.
But even this promising transformation of our projective identifications
and biases into an appreciation of our interconnectedness still faces the deep
marks of our isolation from species being.
At the root of appreciation is the verb “appretiare,”
to set a price upon. This
points to the unconscious, collective bias we share when we say that the dreamer
is the “final authority” for “appreciating” the meaning of the dream.
The deconstruction of authoritarianism and the creation of more
meaningful scientific and political authority involves an understanding of what
is an “author,” what authorizes. It
was Hobbes who argued that the worth of a man is his price--whatever the market
will pay for his power. But who
will pay to overcome the authority of individual bias? It is precisely such
biases to which we are most deeply attached.
In the field of apparent scarcity of our divisive and dichotomous values
and meanings, we can search for ways in which to see through what Ullman calls
our “disconnects” from others. We
are not the “authors” of our dreams. They
come to us. What they reveal we cannot know so long as we maintain the myth of a
privileged, privatized subjectivity. We cannot know without others. Truth is in
between us, is inter-subjective. To work toward increasing epistemological
collaboration seems to me an obvious necessity if we wish to mitigate triage and
evolve a more democratic, inclusive and humane world.
Ullman put it this way:
Our dreams are organized by a different principle...more concerned with the nature of our connections with all others. The history of the human race, while awake, is a history of fragmentation, of separating people and communities of people...nationally, religiously politically; our dreams are connected with the basic truth that we are all members of a single species. (46)
Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture.
Boston, Houghton Mifflin. 1959, pp. 10; 48.
Of course, each of these fields have developed specialized meanings and methods
different from what I’m calling “practical anthropology.”
I refer to these disciplines here to indicate that in the tradition I
will outline below, anthropological “practice” implies building therapeutic
community. Socratic “dialectic”
is surely the earliest philosophical model for “deep” dialogue.
Plato contrasted dialectic (friendly conversation directed toward
agreement) with “eristic” (from “Eris,“ goddess of conflict).
See, Plato, The Republic, Bk. 5, 454a. But such a separation is academic.
In practice dialogue in the strong sense and the war of words or debate (desbattere,
“of battle“) are interdependent. In the Socratic spirit, Bronson Alcott
one of the 19th Century American transcendentalists, held
public dialogue groups which he termed “mutual inquiry.”
See Geraldine Brooks, “Orpheus at the Plough,” The
New Yorker, January 10, 2005. For
reference to the contemporary “cointelligence” movement, see
See Bottomore, T.B. (Ed.) Karl
Marx: Selected Writings in
Sociology and Social Philosophy, McGraw-Hill, 1964;
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan,
Pt. 1, CH. 13;
Plato’s argument for natural human association is that “each of
us isn’t self-sufficient but is in need of much“ (Republic,
Bk. 2, # 369a). Aristotle
argues from the character of human speech that association in the polis
(city-state) is “by nature clearly prior to the family and to the
individual” (Politics, Bk 1, CH. 2,
For this argument see Wikse, John R.
About Possession: the Self
Bohm, Deeper Structure, p. 14.
cf., Ullman, Montague. “Vigilance Theory and Psi. Part II:
Physiological, Psychological and Parapsychological Aspects,” J. Of the
American Society for Psychical Research Vol. 80, October 1986 and “A Theory of
Vigilance and Dreaming”...
Goethe, Faust, Pt. 2, Act 1.
Ullman, M., “Dreams and Society,” in Ullman, M. and Limmer, C., The
Variety of Dream Experience. Albany,
1999, State University of New York Press, p. 257.
also my essay “Nightrule: Dreams
as Social Information” in this volume (pps. 141-159).
Ullman, M. “Dreaming and the Dream:
Social and Personal Perspectives.”
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, V. 7, 1986, p. 301.
Varela, F., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E.
The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA and London.
1991. MIT Press, p 244.
cf. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. (Translated
by Macquarrie and Robinson) Harper San Francisco, 1962, p. 57.
46. Ullman, Montague, “Psi Communication through Dream Sharing,” in Parapsychology Review 12, No. 2, 1981.
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