Letter to My Friend's Doctor:
Just a few remarks (in what was once a quick note) with regard to
somethings about myself -which may or may not be important within the
context of my "intuiting" (although I'm not sure if, and how, my friend
would like these things to be communicated to her). Progress is very
difficult with all communication channels blocked.
In an email to a Dutch friend (and ex-student of mine) -the dialogue
quoted below spontaneously developed. I'm sure you understand that my
remarks are philosophical and not personal. I assume that it is
possible to trust somebody as a person -but still be suspicious
of their professional attitudes. The term "shrink" is shorter to type
than "psychiatrist" and is not intended in any derogatory way. Perhaps
I should also add that I have had little practical experience of
dealing with Psychiatrists -although I did once participate in sessions
with a clinical pedagogue concerning my daughter's half-brother, his
mother and myself.... Unfortunately, later my daughter's mother felt
that the pedagogue had not reacted sufficiently to her suggestions of
having been sexually abused earlier by her step-father. To be honest, I
too was unhappy with the way the pedagogue rejected out of hand my
attempts to see if my partner or I were (mentally) dysfunctioning -as a
result of the weird dissonances that I was experiencing at the time...
Perhaps the lives of several people would have been different if the
pedagogue had listened more closely and with less prejudice (to both my
daughter's mother and myself, in our different ways -as I learned
afterwards). In fact, my daughter's mother and I have recently renewed
contact -she is now suffering from cancer and old wounds still need to
be healed (almost 20 years later) before she can move on to deal with
yet another challenge.
The email text is "tidied" up a bit for readability but otherwise
unchanged. I guess the context was a weird mixture of philosophical
discussions on the relationship between abstract and concrete as
reflected in "complete" systems (reflecting all possible options) and
the meaning of "infinity" in the context of "counting" -plus some
personal remarks concerning my situation with regard to the friend
referred to in this letter:
> Surely it's nicer to have a choice -rather than just be told -do this or do that.....
> Actually, I realise that I don't like shrinks (on principle -in practice it might be ok)
> because of the way they "manipulate" on the basis of some hidden value system.....
> I wonder what her shrink tells my friend -and how it relates to what she tells me..... the doctor could
> easily be saying contradictory things to us both -just because she believes that it is
> "good" for us to think something at that point..... I'm afraid I don't like that (in theory -
> although I guess in practice it might be required)..... Perhaps that's why I have problems
> with people -because I say what I think and what I know -and not what I think they want
> to hear or what they should hear.....
> -> I guess language is a manipulation system and there are different ways to manipulate.
> Well, I guess it is used like that (in the west) -but I don't believe this is the best way....
> which is why I'm interested in the more "syntactic" approach (even if I don't understand or
> practice it fully perhaps)....
> I see "language" as a construction kit for conceptual models.... Perhaps Asians do have a
> different language system which is more simulation than manipulation.... "The heron flies east
> in winter" is entirely different to "You have to move into an old folks home!"... although on
> some level the same thought (or intention) is being expressed.... but the results are entirely
> -> It is nice to be honest in a way.
> -> My psychologist told me what system he used to manipulate me and he asked what it was that I
> -> wanted to change. he did not make me shrink.
> -> I think it would be impossible for him to explain to me everything he did and
> -> it would be very wrong for him to say everything he thought, I said everything I thought.
> -> The problem is not in explaining things in a rational way but in giving someone confidence
> -> or a safe place or a different view and then for this person to make a choice.
> -> If a psychologist manipulates people into being what he or she thinks is best than there's no
> -> honour in that and you can maybe call him/her a shrink because they make people shrink instead
> -> of letting them grow.
> Yes -I think you have hit upon my key problem.... I really don't know how to deal with these
> system in practice (and perhaps not even in theory).... In this sense -I understand my friend
> completely.... Only, instead of getting angry and upset -it would have been better if she had
> helped me to understand the complexities and my errors better -but I guess we all have our
> problems and imperfections.... :)
> I guess I create my "safe space" for others in my head but not on the ground as it were....
> i.e.... I seem very aggressive and destructive -but in fact (as I mentioned earlier) in practice,
> the "other" has all the space (to disagree) -although perhaps "agreement" is difficult.....
> but perhaps that is because I've had so little experience of living in a "safe space" myself....
> I certainly think the concept is important... My friend has also used the term (on her projects
> site) -and I was hoping to develop it too (in a post-grad context)....
I guess there are several important points here -some personal and some more philosophical:
Perhaps most important is the principle of "negativity" (as a positive
creative principle). My friend seems fond of the story of the Catholic
priest -who (on principle) didn't look at that which he most wanted to
see.... In theory, she appreciates that -but still seems to reject how
much I might operate within a similar conceptual system: One that is
more concerned with developing new insights rather than "feel-good"
factors.... Not that it isn't important to feel good -but does one
(primarily) develop the "positive" (agreeable) side -or explore the
"negative" (disagreeable) side (including asking why it is disagreeable
and what made it into what it is)?
Perhaps there is a gender issue here too. Strangely enough, My friend
has also written a paper on "conflict as collaboration" -but I guess we
often have conflicts between our theoretical and our pragmatic
positions. These dissonances are probably an important part of the
creative motor: Indeed, in my view, it is the dialogue between the
various components (positive and negative) that is important.... and
(presumably) it is important to find the (personal) aesthetic
balance within this dialogue...
Unfortunately, the dialogue often (but not always) fails -simply
because of (apparently) "false" messages that I seem to send:
Smoke-screens that frighten people off, when really they are extremely
welcome.... Indeed, perhaps like the little boy who pulls the little
girl's hair because he doesn't know (or is scared to say) a better way
of saying "I like you!".... perhaps it is simply a form of stress
induced panic as a result of my not fully understanding the socially
accepted languages -or maybe a combination of both.....
I also notice that I don't like the concept of "psychology" at all -and
prefer to see it as a practical implementation of philosophy (in a
specific personal context).... I guess I don't like looking at things
in purely "human" terms.... because I'm also interested in how a
machine or a dog, for example, might react under similar
circumstances... In other words, from my viewpoint, the issues are
arising (or potentially existing) outside the human brain.... although,
presumably, they are implemented within a specific mental architecture
for each individual case.... This can give the impression of my
"inhumanity'-which to a certain extent is true... but it is (hopefully)
an "inhumanity" -like the Priest's "inversion" or the Buddhist path
-which is also open to a more universal vision which does not exclude
humanity (but perhaps prefers its frailties more than its achievements).
It seems that my language very often means entirely different things to me than it does to the listener.
Incidentally, I had a heart attack when I was about 42 (apparently
entirely due to stress) -however, it required several telephone calls
and a visit to both my own house doctor and a hospital casualty
department -plus eventually going to my ex-partner for help -before it
was finally diagnosed, three days later. This was quite a traumatic
experience. Afterwards, there were extremely worrying problems with the
insurance because an employeee of the company had "tidied up" my
application and entered the wrong data. So I do have a serious
communication problem somewhere. All my contacts with (Dutch)
beurocracy seemed to end in disaster -and I have "form phobia" as a
result (or is it the cause) of these problems.
The bit about "safe spaces" is important too -and has been sadly
neglected by me. This probably relates to my obvious distrust of
authority figures (such as psychiatrists) although this is not manifest
as a distrust of individuals. I guess that, when teaching, we did
create a safe space for the kids -but it was nowhere near safe for the
teachers. The same was true of helping to bring up my daughter before
her mother was diagnosed as being ill (the first time). In fact,
thinking back -I suppose I have been emotionally abused by almost every
authority figure that I've ever came into contact with until now.
Presumably, there is a reason for that too..... Perhaps I just don't
trust them enough to give them the degree of control that they desire
-perhaps I simply don't understand their language -or maybe many of
them are indeed abusers of the trust given them.... In this sense, even
the "meek" can inflict pain by their rejection...
However, the "philosophical" bits might be more even more important
than the "emotional" (or at least equally important) -because I see
them as guiding principles which are implemented in daily life
(although I suppose they can be temporally in conflict with what others
might call "psychological" (and I might call emotional) issues)....
later I try to resolve these difficulties by pragmatically modifying
However, there are complex (and unfortunately obscure) philosophical
issues which separate me from others too -because basically I
consciously dislike the cultural implications of western philosophy....
the binary logic, the belief in homogeneous "universal" truth -and the
insistence on "personal expression"....
I guess that the division between "reality" and "illusion/delusion"
must also be fundamental to psychology/psychiatry... but what if there
is no such distinction? Nevertheless, both patient and doctor have
their own experiences of pragmatic realities. So how do these relate to
each other? Is this mapping of "realities" fundamentally different to
any other relationship between people? Both thoughts and emotions are
"real" -and these all need to mapped into the communicating spaces
created by the individual minds.
The email dialogue with my friend reminded me of when I was at school
-and my then best friend asked the science teacher in which "direction"
electricity flowed. I was a bit surprised by his ignorance -but I was
totally shocked by the teacher's reply: He told us that the electrons
moved from negative to positive -which made it look as if electricity
was moving from positive to negative (the electrons move in one
direction -and the "hole" moves in the other)... However, he continued
-it was considered easier not to tell kids the whole complex truth but
to tell them a dishonest simplification and perhaps the truth later if
there was ever a need for them to know....
Having tried to develop my own pedagogical material, I can understand
the practical problems -but I'm afraid I still cannot accept this as a
desirable practice.... In fact, I'm sure that in our modern world (in
combination with other factors) it is a disaster of untold
As a result of these "untruths" being taught at school, kids are taught
that "body and mind" or "space and time", for example, are separate
-and so (in my experience) when somebody later attempts to teach that
these things are related -the intuitive concepts of "ignorant" youth
have already been replaced by such absurd abstractions that a more
complex understanding becomes virtually impossible to construct upon
the previous structures laid down earlier...
What value are headache pills -if mind and body are separate? If time
and space are not related -then why do we suffer from jet-lag? Why do
we consider concepts as "karma" or "yin-yang" interactions so
mysterious -when we know the earth is round (therefore it has bounds
but is without edges or ends)? So if the earth is a sphere -then why
does our (western) logic and our "normal" mathematics only operate on a
(hypothetical) flat surface?
How did our mental constructions become so powerful that they overpower
all evidence that contradicts them? How can we ever have understanding
-if we prefer (illogical) fictions to good empirical evidence? Why does
almost nobody understand the implications of non-Euclidean geometry for
our cultural (cognitive) system? These are truly fundamental questions
-especially in the dynamic, non-linier universe of modern global
interconnected systems: A world which we have created but which our
(western) culture seems totally unequipped to deal with.
In practice, my personal and my professional life has been largely
wasted trying to convince people that they should at least consider
that personal expression is not the most important thing in the world
for an artist -and that perhaps "formal systems" (such as computer
programming -but also other traditional and non-traditional systems)
can provide useful "shamanistic" or "scientific" divinatory devices
that help the individual to transcend their own logical and emotional
In this context, it is indeed painful (on a personal level) to seemy
friend condemning me so vehemently for my actions, which are probably
highly influenced by stress -while happily allowing herself the most
disgraceful behaviour as a result of her own stress.... I don't mind
people adopting either one or the other of these positions -but not
both at the same time (despite my objections to binary logic)... On a
professional level, I find it horrifying that she can publish on her
website that I'm a monster -and that people, without bothering about
any form of validation or proof, can apparently accept this as a given
truth and flock to her aid. Not that I mind compassionate people
helping somebody in need -but I might be in need myself too, so on what
basis is one person vilified and the other deified?
I can't think of a more perfect practical example of why I'm opposed
(in theory) to web-based ICT (propaganda based) systems. Surely, any
simple "simulation" (in the form of a computer programme,
"role-reversal" or even scenario writing) would reveal so many
inconsistencies and logical problems -that a closer examination of the
situation would seem essential.... The really frightening aspect (in my
view) is that my friend is involved in developing a national
festival/competition -which is strongly based on the concept of
"software art" and the kind of procedural systems that she has probably
adopted and adapted from our discussions (as I have indeed adopted and
adapted manuy of her excellent ideas). However, I believe,
unfortunately, these ideas are being implemented with a potentially
dangerous superficial understanding of the principles involved.....(on
one level, simply because these haven't been properly worked out yet
-by anybody. In fact, I was hoping earlier that we would do it together
within our relationship).
Indeed, it seems to me that (valuable) philosophical positions are
being promoted from within an emotional context that actually practices
the opposite. While demanding a "safe space" for herself (and her
friends) -my friend systematically violates any feeling of a "safe
space" that I might have been trying to develop..... She also seems
consistently blind to the way my theoretical positions are often
undermined by others -who also refuse to discuss the issues involved
and then get angry at me if I attack their position in defense. Perhaps
I am indeed paranoid -but it seems to me that this hypocrisy is a
general characteristic of contemporary (western) cultural theory -which
bases itself on extreme subjectivity while simultaneously denying the
value of anything except its own biased viewpoints. Dealing with this
(alone) is a major source of stress for me -which is also why the lack
of dialogue with my friend is so extremely difficult for me.
Of course, it is natural for the youthful to make mistakes and for
elders to be conservative: However, I don't believe this is the real
issue -which (I hope is not just childish jealousy but) has more to do
with the development (as opposed to exclusion) of potential
alternatives in order to develop a more creative dialogue.
At present, I have no idea of the significance (if any) of these
remarks. I simply felt that they needed expressing (intuiting seems to
be my normal mode of expression -which is why I get confused when
specifically asked to do it: I live inside my head -and need to get out
more often!): I'm afraid that it still sometimes feels as if I am the
artist and she is the academic... a perfect combination in principle,
if we had only been able to learn more from each other...
However, I suppose these remarks do demonstrate my almost total
alienation from the world in which we are all supposed to be living
tother (as one big happy family). My friend (and I guess many others
too) seem to believe that most of my remarks are "negative" or "nasty"
or in some way intended to hurt. This is not true (as far as I know).
Indeed, my work is involved with exploring the bits that seem to be
left out of the system -so that they can be included in our
considerations -hopefully, giving us all a wider range of choice:
Somewhat similar to my email friend's therapist (or the strategy of the
Priest). This is why it is so painfully ironic to continually
experience the almost universal rejection of thoughts and concepts that
seem to have served me so well on a personal (and sometimes,
If mental health lies in dialogue and flexible strategies for living,
then it would seem that our current global system is becoming
increasingly sick: What makes it truly pernicious (in my view) is that
this malfunctioning seems to be increasingly promoted by the
educational and cultural systems that should be helping us to build
defenses against the madness that surrounds us. Surely, in this
context, exploring the "negative" is the only way to be positive. By
"negative" here, I don't mean a simple inversion of the "positive" -but
an exploration of that which lies outside the current system (and
perhaps our conciously percieved desires and wishes)....
I still don't know what exactly in my remarks affected my friend so
deeply (and why they did). If I knew that, then I could behave more
tactfully. As far as I can see, the comment that I posted on her
website, which I believe (from remarks she has made later) may have
been the last straw for her -were not based on "pseudo-anarchy"
(whatever that might mean) but simple confusion and panic due to stress
as a result of what I experienced as a very frightening and
"bureaucratic" response to an earlier posting of mine.
Unfortunately, these remarks can't be checked because everything has
been removed from the relevant web-site (in a Stalin like purge) and
history has been once again been successfully re-written.
So there are clearly many things which must have caused my friend great
pain because they resulted from my own painful experiences and were
unmediated by more positive things -because these were overshadowed by
However, perhaps the least obvious aspect of this is the fact that I
suspect that my "cognitive map" is radically different from most other
people's maps that I come in contact with (including her's). The world
that I live in (both physically and mentally) apparently means
different things to me than it does to others. My "negativity", for
example, is not so negative for me as for others. My "criticisms" are
not intended to undermine others -but to help us move on to better
solutions in a world where so many dreams have failed and disaster
seems to be coming closer. I guess, the feeling of being constantly
under attack from those who do not understand how I think and feel and
those who insist on judging me by their own standards and not mine,
does make it difficult for me to always express my underlying openness
and sympathy (however much I might wish to).
Indeed, it was quite a shock for me when you asked what I called my
friend in private: It confronted me with the problems that I have with
names (and faces) generally: It seems that I think in terms of
processes and relationships and that "labels" confuse me. I know who
people are -but do not think of them in terms of names -but what they
signify.... The woman I love, the guy with the funny hair, the woman in
a weird dress, etc.... and yes, this does give problems when they
change their appearances.... even watching a film is difficult without
somebody telling me which characters are the same and which are new
ones (especially women, who change their appearences so easilly).... It
seems that when I do try to use people's names to adress them, I often
get it wrong -with bizarre associations taking over from the
appropriate ones: Her's is likely to become Philippa... and for some
reason, Ramon has a tendency to become Raoul -and is that secretary's
name Cindy or Candy?. Sometimes I seem to suffer from a strange form of
"conceptual dyslexia" -which easilly confuses conceptually symetric
things: Which is left/right -or even what symbols are for hot/cold....
even going to a public restroom requires careful concentration not to
get the symbols confused (short skirts can look so much like a jacket
and trousers). This is not a question of dementia growing with age....
in fact as I get older (perhaps as are a result of experience with the
nitpicking computer) the effect seems to have grown less. Of course,
I'd be happy to try and conform to her wishes, if my wierd tendencies
were causing her pain.
Something else that worries me, is that perhaps the effects of stress
(or maybe natural tendencies) have narrowed the focus of my mental
processes -so that once I get involved with a certain issue it is very
difficult to let it go and get involved with other things. Even basic
bodily functions get ignored until the current the task is completed
(and when is it ever complete?)..... Then, if completed: The world is
iether full of other essential things that should have been done in the
meantime -or is empty because nothing is visible outside the original
point of focus. In this context, I (and my friend too) do indeed need
to "get a life"!
So perhaps the real problems arise when people fail to understand how
different my world is to theirs -and so they assume that any dissonance
in functioning must come because I am mentally or emotionally
dysfunctional in some way -or being nasty to them:
However, perhaps they are right -for example, is my "philosophy" the
result of an emotional dysfunction (in which case, why do I feel so
many resonances in non-western cultures?) -or are my emotional
responses simply the result of a different cognitive process based on a
different set of (philosophical) assumptions?
But why do so many people insist that I become like them -without any thought about themselves moving towards my position?
If only my friend and I could have learned to discuss and modify things
creatively -instead of exploding when hitting a hidden mine or finding
something we didn't like.
On my side, the space was always there -although perhaps the path to
the space was overgrown and difficult to find. The understanding of how
I locked people out is now (hopefully) increasing.... but how can this
be expressed if all communication with her is blocked?
So where (and how) do we go from here?
My life is here, literally packed up in boxes around me: At present, it seems, I have everywhere and nowhere to go.....
I would be happiest, just cuddling my friend and giving her the well
deserved support she needs. I'm so sorry that I made her feel so
unloved because I felt exactly the opposite -but somehow, it seems,
never managed to express it well enough.
Manila, October 06 2006