Other TitlesRe-enchantment beyond words.
AbstractThere is a modern tendency to attribute all experiences that are mysterious, intuitive, unusual, or simply not understood to the workings of an unconscious mind. Yet an understanding, or even a good definition, of the “unconscious” is lacking. For example, a typical definition1 of the unconscious describes processes which “do not influence subjective experience in a way that [a person] can directly detect, understand, or report the occurrence or nature of these events”. This conflates the notion of subliminal stimuli, self-reflective processes, and the ability to articulate (usually linguistically) such processes. While it's relatively easy to demonstrate that subliminal stimuli rarely reach conscious awareness, I question whether “unconscious” is a good term to describe either a lack of self-understanding or an inability to articulate some aspects of mental life. Instead, I suggest that the confusion arises because of the focus on linguistic aspects of thought, along with the implicit notion that something that cannot be expressed in words is therefore inaccessible to the conscious mind. I think a better model is to consider that we have two discrete modes of thinking, both conscious, both operating and interacting in parallel. One mode is the language-based thinking that we tend to think of as being the conscious mind: “outward” looking and structured by learned syntax and social interaction. It has become the dominant mode, associated with science, rationality, and “civilised” ways of being. The other is a non- (or pre-) linguistic mode: “inward” looking and structured on the way our body communicates directly with itself and with its environment. It is associative, idiosyncratic, non-linear, more fluid and dynamic. While this mode of thinking has generally seen as part of the unconscious, it is still conscious and accessible – many of us have just been taught to neglect it, to devalue it except in its socially acceptable forms: creativity, artistic expression, and so on. Yet there are specific circumstances in which the two modes become more balanced, providing evidence for, and demonstrating the benefits of, recognising both. One of these is the way in which humans respond to natural environments, where the fractal patterns we sense resonate within us to trigger powerful, unlearned states of mind that are associated with enhanced cognitive abilities, increased creativity, and therapeutic effects. Another is in the realm of hypnosis, where beneficial change is brought about within the twilight zone where linguistic and non-linguistic modes meet. The hypnotisee allows the hypnotist to take on the role of the linguistic mind, allowing them greater focus on the non-linguistic. Then, the hypnotist, by playing with rhythm and tone, using the language of childhood (those early learned words which map more directly into the pre-linguistic mode) and associative suggestions, encourages a journey inward to an imagined otherworld in which transformation is possible. Using both of the above examples, I will highlight some of the techniques that can encourage a rebalancing of linguistic and non-linguistic modes, whether these are used for experiential explorations, within a therapeutic context, or as educational tools.
CitationStevens, P. (2017) 'Engaging the non-linguistic mind: Re-enchantment beyond words.', in Angela Voss and Simon Wilson (eds.) 'Re-enchanting the Academy', Auckland, Rubedo Press.
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