Subjectivity and Time in Psychic Experience

Angiola Iapoce
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano de Psicologia Analitica


Analytic psychology is in an endless dialogue with the culture of its own time. The most important challenge to analytic psychology comes both from neurosciences and the philosophy of mind.

This paper, which is a part of a larger work in progress, is an attempt to compare the three forms of knowledge, saving the specificity of Jungian theory, but using only one method.

Among the characteristics that analytical psychology must preserve there is the essential unity of all things, especially of the human being: we start from unity and then analytically divide it, but we come back to that same unity.

The unifying method can only be furnished – in my opinion – by philosophy, especially phenomenological philosophy, whose object of research is the presence of human beings in the world.

One of the most revealing phenomena which involves both analytic/ scientific knowledge and philosophical knowledge is consciousness, whichfor centuries, has been assigned the duty of certifying man’s unity.

The neurosciences, indeed, do not refer to consciousness as something singular, but as different mental conditions, whose only common characteristic is that someone can live them and – at least in theory – communicate them to someone else.

Although we refer to consciousness all the time, it is very difficult for us to give a precise answer to the direct question, “what is consciousness?”

Saint Augustine found it equally difficult to give a definition of time. “What is time?” he asked himself. “If no one asks me, I know what it is. But if I want to explain it, I do not know it any longer”1

Freud was also convinced that the sensations of pleasure and pain, which are the ones that affect us more and which we are more certain about, are among the most obscure and inaccessible features of our psychic life.2

1 Agostino, Le Confessioni, Einaudi, Torino 1984, Libro 11, 14.17, p. 328.

2 Cfr. Freud S:, (1920) Jenseits des Lustprinzips, trad. it. Al di là del principio del piacere, Boringhieri, Torino 1986, vol. IX.

Even though they are autonomous and specific, consciousness, time and emotions are the phenomena that best describe the characteristics that we most feel like our own (the untranslatable German word being heimlich) but we are not able – or very little able – to speak about or define. This happens mainly because they are phenomena we experience without any intentionality or will. The phenomenal essence is “aside” and independent of us since the individual builds his/her presence in the world in a cognitive position that is removed from them. Paradoxically, on the one hand we “know” very well what those phenomena are (because we experience them, we feel they belong to us, we “live” them), on the other hand they embody what is most inaccessible to us, the greatest distance from us, the elusive and uncatchable (again the German word Begriff – in Italian, concetto – renders better than other languages the idea of catching, of capturing, of transforming a cognitive object into a logical chain of thoughts). Phenomenology of consciousness, of time and of emotion must move exactly between the two poles of maximum closeness and maximum distance, between the heimlich and the unheimlich.

Consciousness, time and emotions according to neurosciences1

1 For this chapter I am totally indebted to Gerhard Roth’s article “Sincronia nella rete dei neuroni” (Mente & Cervello, 1, 1, 2003).

Each time we speak of consciousness, we are in a displaced position as to consciousness itself. So much so that we must necessarily make a distinction between an object-consciousness (i.e., the object of our inquiry) and a subject-consciousness (i.e., the subject making the inquiry). The relationship between the two, having been a favourite and perennial area of investigation for philosophy, has recently become a favourite one for the neurosciences as well.

The means employed by neurophysiology to locate consciousness are basically two: the study of victims of cerebral lesions (for example, the case of Phineas Cage, as described by Damasio in Descartes’ Error) and brain imaging techniques.

Owing to brain damage, various parts of consciousness can reveal deficiencies relatively independent from each other. The study of various cases has made it possible for neuroscientists to make distinctions inside the patient’s consciousness by singling out the various elements and locating them in a part of the brain. However, thanks to patients with cerebral lesions we can see the “effects” of lesions, but we cannot know anything about the damaged neuronal mechanisms corresponding to consciousness. The cerebral activity concomitant with different states of consciousness can be measured only through brain imaging.

In recent years research has been particularly aimed at pinpointing the cerebral areas cooperating in creating consciousness. It has been found that consciousness starts only if the various data reach the associative areas of the cortex. But, in addition to that, there is some data processing that keeps going on outside the cortex (or in the sensorial areas) and that (although inaccessible to consciousness) must be active to allow the cortex’s processing.

Astonishing results have been furnished by studies and experiments made in San Francisco. Some subcortical centres can influence those areas of the cortex that programme and control voluntary actions. Moreover, basal subcortical ganglia (which determine conscious actions) are in their turn guided by the limbic system. The limbic system is the one that includes, in particular, emotional memory and the organization of cognitive memory.

Of course, the utterly human problem underlying these studies and experiments is the opposition between determinism and free will. The question is: can human beings consider themselves completely free in their actions, or is freedom to act just an illusion, a self-deception of a sort, since it is conditioned by processes that happen at an unconscious level?

Of course the quest for the neuronal basis of autonomy of action implies the exclusion of human beings’ freedom. But so complex is the relationship between subcortical and cortical processes that we need to be very careful not to jump at too-hasty conclusions. We know for sure that the centres of cognitive and emotional memories work at an unconscious level and that consciousness does not play a decisive role in our actions.

In brain imaging it is necessary to interpret the variation and intensification of neuronal activity in relation to the concomitant variation of the state of consciousness. It is not just a mere increase in the frequency of the nervous impulses, because it happens in a scattered way, with no correlation. According to a bold hypothesis put forward by researchers, the various states of consciousness are “based” on a process of shifting connections in the neuronal system, taking just a few seconds. The contact, the synapse between neurons can click or loosen within seconds, causing an alteration in the local processing of information and making the neurons of some areas of the system undergo the same state of excitation by synchronizing between them. In such a way they make it easier for us to recognise an object among many others or to comprehend the meaning of a sentence. It is possible that during that brief period of synaptic connection the nerve cells make up a meaning unit.

So, each time one makes an effort to learn a new behaviour, one needs a superior quantity of initial concentration, and consequently an increase of attention, which is translated into a particular state of consciousness. Only when the new behaviour has been sufficiently learned can a task be successfully performed in an automatic way, and, especially, metabolism can be more economical owing to the conscious brain’s exclusion from active participation in the learning process.

As to the course chosen by scientists to detect a close correlation between consciousness, some cerebral areas and neurophysiological processes, even if we are still far from the possibility of giving definitive answers, we are now sure that consciousness is strictly linked with physical, physiological and chemical processes pertaining to the cerebral area. Each time those processes are blocked there are evident deficiencies in the performance of cognitive tasks or, in any case, of tasks involving consciousness.

The further question asked by neurobiologists is: why is it that only those processes taking place in associative cortex are accompanied by consciousness? Even though no structural differences are evident between that part and the rest of the cortex, there are so many “retroaction circuits” toward primary and secondary sensorial areas that it is possible to conjecture that they are an important sign of consciousness in associative areas. In practice, working as they do in a “highly integrated” way, they are able to react to sensory stimuli in a differentiated way.

Associative cortex is to a greater extent connected to the area destined for cognitive control (the hippocampus) and to the limbic system which plays a primary role in emotional memory. It seems that consciousness is produced when the cortical and limbic systems combine tightly: each of the approximately fifty billion nervous cells of the cortex is connected with tens of thousands of other neurons. With the numbers so high, even if the cortex is linked with the rest of the brain, the circuit tends to close itself and the cortex to communicate with itself. Rather than look for the physiological nature or the “substance” of consciousness, neuroscientists have addressed their attention to the detection of those dynamic states that produce the states of consciousness, identifying its possible origin in the “synchronization” that occurs between the billions of neurons and the trillions of synapses, and considering it possible that – during these synchronizations – properties of a new kind emerge: first among them, consciousness of the self. In other words, what happens in the case of consciousness is what currently happens in many physical systems where, at a certain level of complexity, some properties are not directly inferable from lower processes, their only obligation being that they do not violate the laws of nature.

After this brief and of course inadequate résumé about neurobiological studies concerning consciousness, let us focus on the following topics:

  1. the fundamental role of the associative cortex in producing states of conscoiusness;
  2. the value of a dynamic condition instead of a localization or, even worse, a substantialization;
  3. the importance of the circuits of retroaction toward primary and secondary sensorial areas;
  4. the necessity for a highly integrated work in order to obtain the necessary differentiation in response to stimuli;
  5. such a high number of possible connections as to make it impossible to “measure” the states of consciousness;
  6. the awareness that, owing to such high numbers, consciousness not only communicates directly with itself rather than with the external world, but, above all, can be experienced only by one individual (in other words, you cannot experience someone else’s consciousness);
  7. the importance of the synchronous activation of the various areas of the brain in order to make new qualities and properties emerge.

Consciousness, time, emotions for philosophy

Let us leave the field of neurosciences and enter the field of philosophy – my favourite one, by the way. I would like to start by considering the presence of human being in the world and its being the very origin of phenomenological thought. The presence of human beings, Da-sein, entails a relationship Self-World, in the sense of a connection and an original indistinction, an original “being there” that bars the way to an essentially autotransparent Self.

Humankind’s presence in the world implies three fundamental moments: the immediacy with which the existent makes itself visible; the sensorial-perceptive indistinction1 between the object of the perception and perception itself; the need for a synthetic action capable of unifying sensations and perceptions scattered in time and space, and for providing the visibility of an integrated and unitary subject.

1 Although I am not emphasizing the differences between sensations and perceptions, I would like to highlight that particular moment of psychic life that comes before the separation (and the constitution) of an external object, in order to underline the raw nature of all cognitive activity in its very beginning.

These three moments are fundamental to be able to speak of the psyche, of the subject and therefore of consciousness; i.e., in order to comply with that clinical dimension that puts us into contact with that self different from us that we must cure through a process of knowledge which, however, must necessarily have peculiar and specific characteristics. As psychoanalysts we are called to transform a reality that causes suffering and illness: so it is necessary to start from significant facts (the things). I think that these significant facts are:

  1. the existence or the presence that make us perceive the basic unity of things;
  2. the relationship – in a global sense – between one’s Self and the World;
  3. the lack of sensorial-perceptive distinction between perceiving an object and that superior level of perception consisting in being aware of being aware of an object. Indeed, in the very moment we perceive an object we have the simultaneous perception that we perceive the perception of that object. This is because an original indistinction occurs between the two moments along with an original concidence of the subject that perceives and the object that is perceived: a sort of equivalence between the two. It is for this reason that we cannot speak of a Cartesian subject that knows a world outside itself, but we are instead obliged to start from an initial indistinction between Self and World: and so the subject of all forms of cognition is located inside that very process of cognition. If the process of cognition is aimed at the transformation of reality we cannot have a theoretical point of view that follows a linear direction, but must necessarily keep in mind the important influence of personal bias, the inevitable impossibility of the subject to see through itself, and thus the non-transparency of the unconscious dimension: the visible consciousness of something is accompanied by the invisible, but existing, non-consciousness of one’s self to itself.

In Husserl’s phenomenological philosophy, a subject’s consciousness is always the conscious intentionality creating the object ouside itself. At the same time the subject makes a transcendental movement as regards the object. But conscious intentionality, exactly because representing an objective world related to a subject, is also what determines a discontinuous movement in psychic activity: if there were no perceptive discontinuity, there would be no limit; if the intentionality of consciousness stopped with a dot-like psychic act, it would be limitless, eternal and absolute, just because it is lacking that same experience of interruption that is its essential limit and temporality. Experience (and consequently acquisition and transformation) is possible because one of the original qualities involved in the making of the subject is exactly the interruption of continuity. The “visible” intentionality of conscoiusness carries with itself two “invisible” things at the same time, the subject’s past experience, i.e., the specific intentional configuration, and the discontinuity, which, like a metronome, punctuates the rhytm of the subject of that same experience. It was absolutely evident to Husserl himself that psychic discontinuity was the very door to temporality.

The consideration of time has been a constant preoccupation of philosophical thought since its very beginning (just think of Parmenides, who was convinced that “eternity” was a characteristic of being). There are essentially two ways of considering time. One is viewing it as an objective structure, either natural, or ideal, metaphysical, trascendental (among the philosophers having this conception are Bergson, with his idea of time as a flow, a stream in which events are immersed, and Heidegger, who infers wordly time from the “original Temporality of the Da-sein1). The second way is considering time as an “affection” of mankind. According to Saint Augustine time is “a measure of the soul,” since it is not a way of measuring past things in order to create an impression in the soul, but rather that very same impression that things create, and that is still there once they have passed.

1 Heidegger M., Sein und Zeit, trad. it. Essere e Tempo, Longanesi, Milano 1976, p. 452.

Also Husserl – who thinks that the origin of consciousness lies in microstructures of temporality – is convinced that time is neither the original phenomenon of mere present, nor of mere absence, but of the present and, at the same time, of the not being present. Time is structurally duration and continuity. It is in the texture of experience, not in a single phenomenon: but at the same time it is the very essence of that phenomenon. Time coincides with the automodification of the subject in reaction to the modifications produced by the variations of the impressions.

The different views about temporality have important consequences for ways of considering the origin of consciousness and are, moreover, connected with the importance and the place to be assigned to humankind in the world.

Does time come before consciousness, which is immersed in it, or does time coincide with consciousness?

Is it possible for the succession of phenomena (which may appear and be perceived as discontinuous ones) to be comprehended in a purely chronological connection and inside a semantic dimension, or, viceversa, are these phenomena – owing to their irrimediably separate position expressing contiguity but not continuity – to be seen like the single frames of a movie? But life – like a movie, after all – is not just a question of single frames. The problem is in the belief that the phenomenicity of existence is expressed in time, or that time consists in the very fact that existence is phenomenic.

Whether or not there is an extraphenomenic, residual element, is not irrelevant to the outcome of that indistinct relationship Ego- World, in which is to be placed perceptive indistinction. This is because the theoretical courses can considerably diverge whether the original opacity of the subject to itself is considered a final datum or, in its own turn, something resulting from something else, something suffered by the very subject – whether or not, in addition to a visible intentional activity there is a non-visible passivity, a non-intentional pathos.

The problem is about the relationship between the ontology of existence and phenomenological method. So the different philosophical positions can be grouped into two different categories. There are philosophers who give absolutely primary importance to pathos and to the impossibility of it being transformed into a representational and semantic datum. One of these is the Italian philosopher A. Masullo, who is convinced that “the necessary condition for conceiving phenomenality in a critical way is the courage of admitting the unyielding non-cognivity of pathos, i.e., the independence and irreducibility of the hard fact in which it consists”. As a consequence of this “pathos is not a non-knowable, but a non-cognitive”.1

1 Masullo A., Il tempo e la grazia, Donzelli editore, Roma 1995, p. 14.

The second group of philosophers regards the existential datum not as something coming before being formed by an intentional consciousness. They consider existence as the ontological consequence of the phenomenological method. So, according to them, the existential datum coincides with perceptive indistinction; it is a “unique” phenomenon limited by one’s “past experiences” and characterized by non-transmigrability. In other words, it is something very significantly resembling that very experience on which (if meant as a process of acquisition strictly linked, in its central nucleus, with the same irreducibility) is based the same possibility of working “on the” psyche.

In the alternation of these two ways of considering existential pathos there is a continuous intertwining of psychology, neurosciences and philosophy. Also implied is the relationship between the mere existence and the experience and their possible reciprocal precedence/ antecedence.

Husserl’s passive synthesis

Husserl identifies in perception, i.e., in the virtual opacity of the subject to itself, an original synthetic moment necessary for constituting the objectivity of the world. Husserl’s purpose – particularly evident in his Lessons, 1 and in contrast with English empiricism and Kantian idealism – was to trace back sensible data to a perceptive intentionality, which – preceding all cognitive, analytical and definitory procedure – was the starting point of all movement. He was convinced that the validation of the most properly logic area – meaning semantic coherence and, especially, “sense” – could not be found but in an essentially receptive kind of experience which established the first form of objectivity. Among the phenomena considered original by Husserl we do not find sensible data but elements that are already the product of associations: a number of emerging data already connected as far as their content is concerned. He views their association as something coming before the identification of a single datum and impossible to separate from consciousness in general:2 a sort of expression of intentionality.

This association – which (as in the Fechner-Wundt laws) is excluded from all objective and psychophysical causality – becomes for Husserl a phenomenon originally significant for the origin of subjectivity, “especially as far as the inferior strata of pure passivity are concerned”.3

The fact that association precedes the consitution of the first sensible datum is so important for the origin of the subject that Husserl calls the phenomenology of association “a continuation (…) of the original constitution of time”.4 However, the association that Husserl refers to is very different from that of English empiricism, which is concerned with associative syntheses essentially regarding the explanation of the subject’s mental world (i.e., a sort of illustration of “human nature”5).

According to Husserl associations are already in the relationship “between sensible materials thanks to their content oriented nature, independently from their being experienced by a subjectivity”.6

Equally – as regards Kantian idealism – associative synthesis and its related experience of the whole are not dependent on a formal transcendent consciousness, as the formation of a datum is possible only if there is a content link with data already existing.7 If, in the course of perception, Husserl maintains, the object is apprehended as a whole, identical and constant even if we are putting it into a perspective angle, the key for the solution of the problem is not to be found either in one or the other of the two percective moments, but in considering perception globally, as if it were a system, a system strictly connected with a form of dynamics and a process.

  1. 1 Husserl E., Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, Kluwer Academic Publishers B. V., Dordrecht 1966, trad. Lezioni sulla sintesi passiva, Guerini e Associati, Milano 1993.
  2. 2 Husserl, Lezioni … cit., p. 169.
  3. 3 Husserl, Lezioni … cit., p. 170.
  4. 4 Ibid.
  5. 5 See P. Spinicci’s preface to Husserl’s Lessons (Husserl 1993, p. 23 e sg.).
  6. 6 Husserl, Lezioni … cit., 1993, preface by Spinicci, p. 24.
  7. 7 What is meant is the generalizations being part of the associative principles of similarity /non-similarity, homogeneity / non-homogeneity which, in their generalization, play the role of a legality with universal value.

According to Husserl, what makes it possible to identify a whole subject notwithstanding the variation of perspective, is the fundamental temporal constitution of the subject organizing the perception into a structure whose single instant “reaches out” to the future and “holds” in itself the past; the synthetic activity of the subject, also originating from a piece of experience, involves the very subject in a passive way. The original moment is obtained thanks to the flow of temporality. This already contains in itself a direction of its own, which precedes the subject and is part of the “materiality” of the experience itself.

We can truly say that for Husserl temporality and association are the original ingredients of which subject and experience consist. These data can only be separated a posteriori because, owing to perceptive immediacy (i.e., at a perceptive level), they are synthetized in a unique unity. In the indistinction of perception is contained a system that, reaching out “by retention” to the past and “by protention” to the future, prevents directional indefiniteness in favour of a predelineation1 that is present in the content as well. In such a way a movement starts that is not only formal but material and “objective”. Within this framework, psychic discontinuity is possible insofar as it is “disappointment of the waiting”, disappointment which is in its turn legitimized by a present characterized by a unitary “style” forerunning the perceptive process.

Automatism of Whitehead’s causal effectiveness

The complexity in perceptive synthesis and the naive reflection on the immediacy of presence also have been investigated by that talented mathematician, Whitehead.2 Whitehead highlights the great spontaneity with which one moves from a single sensation to the perception of the whole object – a spontaneity that the human world shares with the animal world, where humans and animals are made similar by the “experience of the causal effectiveness through which their functioning is conditioned by their environment”.3 By “causal effectiveness” he means a stimulus capable of causing the alteration that is seen as the act/fact of perceiving. Whitehead draws a distinction between two different perceptive registers: one “objectifies” present things in the form of the immediacy of presentation; the other “[objectifies] them in the form of causal effectiveness”4 (Although different, the two registers “have common structural elements, which precisely identify them as patterns of presentation of the same world”.5

  1. 1 Husserl’s predelineation can be seen as a “prefiguration of meaning” concerning perceptive synthesis.
  2. 2 Whithead A.N., Symbolism. Its Meaning and Effect, Cambridge University Press, London 1928, trad. Simbolismo, Raffaello Cortina editore, Milano 1998.
  3. 3 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 6.
  4. 4 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 17.
  5. 5 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 27.

The two different perceptive modes are merged into perception through that synthetic activity Whitehead calls symbolic reference. The outcome of the operation “is what for us is our present world, i.e., a datum of our experience which gives life to sentiment, emo tion, satisfaction, actions and, finally, an instrument for conscious recognition, when our mental activity intervenes with its conceptual analysis”. “[Direct recognition]”, Whitehead concludes, “is the conscious recognition of an entity perceived in a pure way, devoid of any symbolic reference”.1

Whitehead thinks that symbolic reference is the most important contribution to the organization of perceptive experience. He defines it as “the organic activity thanks to which it is possible to move from symbol to meaning”.2 Symbolic reference also makes you understand the perceptive error which would not be possible in a world made up exclusively of signs. At the same time, it warns you against a naive reflection on “events”.

Two examples will help us to clarify this point. The first is from Aesop’s fable, of the dog with some meat in his mouth who, as soon as he sees himself reflected in the water, drops his meat to snatch the “other” dog’s meat. The second example is again about a dog – the one of Pavlov’s experiment. Accustomed to associating food with a ringing bell, while he initially started to drool at the sight of food, at a certain point he began to do it at the mere ringing of the bell. By so doing he triggered in himself a “status” that was not followed by the extinction of the need.3 Aesop’s dog was not capable of making a comparison between the form of experience deposited in memory (the experience of reflection) and the form presented by the specific situation (the dog reflected in water). So, what prevailed in him was the (voracious) association aimed at getting not just one piece of meat but two. As for Pavlov’s dog, being duly conditioned, he made an incongruous association as far as the satisfaction of his need was concerned. Both dogs carried out disastrous policies and so were left empty-handed. Even a simple “need”, according to Whitehead, has a form of its own (in the examples above, food), so the error is one concerning the symbolic reference that “fosters freedom of imagination”.4

  1. 1 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 17.
  2. 2 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 9.
  3. 3 The example of Aesop’s fable is made by Whitehead himself, the one of Pavlov’s dog is taken from Giorello’s preface to the same book by Whitehead (Whitehead 1998). Giorello himself compares Whitehead’s symbolic example with René Thom’s concepts of meaningfulness and salient form. For the application of Thom’s concepts to a clinical case and their ripercussion on the dimension of temporality, see Mauro La Forgia’s article Che mi accadrà tra un istante? Catastrofi temporali e mnesiche nella riflessione su un caso clinico (La Forgia 2003).
  4. 4 Whitehead, Simbolismo cit., p. 18.

If, between the immediacy of presentation and causal effectiveness (what causes an alteration) intervenes a discontinuous segment (i.e., the moment of the symbolic reference), this means that the movement – at a perceptive level as well – is not sufficiently expressed by the dyad stimulus-response. This is because a response is possible that is not deterministically conditioned by the material presence of the very stimulus, but by its being saturated with the characteristics of satisfaction of the need that the stimulus must contain in itself. Pavlov’s dog’s drool is saturated with food and it happens in the presence of the associated ringing bell, which is also saturated with food, thanks to the symbolic reference.

To sum up, even if there are theoretical differences, it is possible to see points of contact between Whitehead’s symbolic reference and Husserl’s passive synthesis. Both view perceptive synthesis as the outcome of underlying strategies. Both associate the form of the presentation of a piece of experience with its content. Both consider experience, with its “material objectivity”, an antecedent which allows the subject to be ready for that experience. Both pick out an associative moment as a previous condition to the activity of the subject. Both think that association is outside the laws of psychophysical causality: it becomes expression of intentionality in Husserl, moment of symbolic reference in Whitehead. For both Husserl and Whitehead the moment – which is unitary and synthetic – of experience contains in itself a “predelineation” or a “form” that anticipates the constitution of the perceptive object.

Both for animals and human beings the temporal factor becomes paramount as a linkage between past, present and future. What are the roles and actions going on between the forms deposited in the past, the possibility of using them in the present, their use in the future?

Whitehead’s reasoning about the relationship between the immediacy of perception and causal effectiveness makes us think of the link between causal antecedents and the constitution of directional time.1 If, in current usage, we establish a temporal priority of cause towards effect, in a perceptive perspective that same cause is postponed as regards its effect: it comes after it because the before is represented by a variation of the perceptive level, a discontinuity that stands for an absolute alterity in the relationship Self-World or subject-environment. Events in themselves are unbound, discontinuous, one in place of the other. Only our living them, our experiencing them puts them in connection. So, it is only afterwards that we are able to detect in them a causal relationship, that the temporal relationship between a “before” and an “afterwards” is made possible by the existence of a mnestic reservoir that is part of the identification of the second event. Under a perceptive point of view to establish a causal link between two different perceptions and to establish a direction in temporality are conceptual skills that happen simultaneously. On the other hand, however, it is possible to speak of perceptive discontinuity only when it is preceded by a temporality that is to be understood, in general, as a “stream” – a flow that, in any case, is part of a form (if only embryonal) of consciousness; a flow, a continuum that makes experience possible, as Husserl had intuitively known.

  1. 1 For further information on these issues, see S. Tagliagambe’s article “L’identità è il destino dell’uomo” (ATQUE, 16, 1997-98). Further discussion of the matter is to be found in M. Dorato’s beautiful book, Futuro aperto e libertà. Un’introduzione alla filosofia del tempo (Dorato 1997).

Discontinuity, Affect, Time

If perceptive indistinction represents the background of human existence, the experience that a human being gains in the course of life will allow him/her to acquire a greater and greater clearness and distinction between self and the other at all possible levels (outside and inside, subject and object, whole and particular, etc.) and in an endless process. In this movement, pathos represents the very movement of experience; it is involved, at all levels, with that perceptive variation, that discontinuity that is the very origin of time, of limits and, after all, of the subject itself.

In its difficulty, or better, impossibility of being represented as utter pathos or as intentional pathos, it embodies that dark background, totally fortuitous and unverifiable, that puts humankind in the existential position of “life”, but at the same time in the condition of being an active subject of experience and to emerge as subject by changing mere existence into accumulated experience. Pathos expresses the original datum that determines the perceptive variation, the psychic alteration, the discontinuity, but it is pathos again that accompanies them. In this sense, it is possible to find the original pathos in all the different affective forms that are experienced by a subject in the course of life, that pathos whose destiny has been to transform the naturalness of mere life into the experience of conscious intentionality, that affect that is irretrievably involved in the constitution of a subject of experience.

But, what is pathos, affection? Is it just a mere drive to be channelled, or is it the original datum where all definition of sense is to be referred to?

If, according to Bleuler, affectivity, in its autonomy and independence from the function of feeling, is the basic element of the psyche, coming before any specific process of acquisition determined by experience,1 according to Jung, between feeling and affection “there are no precise boundaries”, then all difference is exclusively due to the level of intensity.2 From the perspective of a psyche of complexes and a complex psyche, Jung has no doubt defining affection as a “condition of feeling characterized on the one hand by perceptible corporeal innervations, on the other hand by a peculiar disorder of the representative process”.3 His emphasis is on the pre-existence of a representative process where affection, through a variation in intensity, is that very perceptive variation (that disorder) which determines the movement and the discontinuity.

  1. 1 “Affectivity does not need any content or material coming from external sources. Experience is just an occasion used by affection to express itself” (Bleuler, quoted in Gullotta 1989, p. 85).
  2. 2 For a deeper analysis of the passing from Bleuler to Jung as far as affection is concerned, see Concetto Gullotta’s article Affettività e tempo. Dalla psicopatologia alla psicologia analitica (Gullotta 1989).
  3. 3 Jung C:G., 1921 “Psychologische Typen”, trad. it. “Tipi psicologici”, in Opere complete vol. VI, Boringhieri, Torino 1969., p. 415.

If for Bleuter mere life can change itself into past experience each time that affectivity uses experience as a fortuitous “occasion of which affection avails itself to reveal itself”, for Jung, experience, in the form of one’s accumulated experience, is what determines the representational course of affection.

Husserl describes affection as “the consciousness stimulus, the peculiar urge (Zug) that a conscious object produces on the ego. It is an urge that is given satisfaction by the ego’s turning and that from there unfolds towards the originally offering intuition that more and more reveals its objectual itself, then towards the recognition, towards a more detailed observation of the object”.1 Not considering the technicalities of the phenomenological language of the quotation, what is clear in it is the essential dependence of receptivity on an intentional consciousness. Worth noting is that word, “satisfaction”, that lends its colour to the act – on the part of consciousness – of aiming at an object: a satisfaction that becomes greater as the original perceptive indistinction moves towards a greater clarity and distinction of the ego and of its object; a clarity that becomes greater as the “originally offering intuition” (which, under some aspects, resembles the perceptive act/fact) is “spread” thanks to an emotional-cognitive process, “spreading itself” along the whole duration of the life of a subject.

  1. 2 Husserl, Lezioni … cit., p. 205.

In Whitehead’s hypothesis, con-formation puts together instinct of self-preservation and a representation, if generic, of what is necessary for it; moreover it re-includes in itself both the gratifying action and the modulation and variation as far as the biological “error”

In any case they are affective movements, provided with characteristics of passiveness (pathos) and activeness (intentionality) that are contained in the unity of perceptive synthesis; pathos can be influenced by experience as it is what specially causes the transformation of that subjectivity (which is basically unity) into a kind of experience that is not mere automatism.

Let us remeber that in his first associative experiments made at Burghölzli, Jung had viewed the error in the answer not as much as “distraction” but as “attraction” (so stressing its “active” nature); moreover, the inconsistency of an answer was considered as an “indicator” of complex.1 A few decades later, while better investigating the link between affection and what could be represented he maintains that – as far as the complex is concerned – emotional “tonality” is the central element, adding that “considered in terms of energy, this tonality is a quantity of value”.2 In the very expression “quantity of value”, it is possible to detect the evaluating character of affection, whose evaluation – considering the distance from the more sophisticated levels of feeling and thought – cannot but be attracted by that pathos and by the related strategies to make it intentional.

In passing from the consciousness of the ego to the consciousness of the complex, and in the Jungian evaluation distraction/attraction, it is possible to see an important consequence as far as the time phenomenology is concerned: rather than giving a cause to distraction, Jung makes a rotation, reversing the order of values and the same perspective of the point of observation. In consequence of this, there is a passage from a subjectivity characterized by specific conscious intentionality to a subjectivity with a different intentional relation, through a variation that emphasizes its discontinuous character. As a matter of fact, the world-environment of the complex can be seen as “suffered”, as “passively experienced” exclusively by another observer, because the subject of the experiment automatically lives a different dimension, without realizing the difference with its previous condition other than a posteriori and if properly oriented, association is possible only when there is an interval between two elements: and it is in passing from “distraction” to “attraction” that starts the temporal inversion that makes it possible to move from an explanation per causas to the comprehension of a complexual world-environment that establishes a new relationship Self-World.

The Symbol

The symbol as well – as considered by Jung – is nourished by the original tension between an asemantic pathos and the semanticity of the representations of existence.

I would like to mention Mario Trevi3 as the one who has unflaggingly underlined the profound difference between the Freudian sign and the Jungian symbol. In Trevi’s own thought, however, both the sign and the symbol belong to a larger symbol-sign universe “of which man is both the master and the prisoner”, so that “it is not possible to exclude a semiotic dimension for the Jungian symbol itself, in the same way as the Freudian symbol is not just a sign, at least in the reductive sense that Jung gives to this word”:4 it seems that you can speak of symbols only when you are in the presence of an existential “fact” (which is the immediacy of the presence as characterized by perceptive indistinction).

  1. 1 Jung C.G., “Ricerche sperimentali”, in Opere complete, vol 2* e 2**, Boringhieri, Torino 1984, 1987.
  2. 2 Jung C.G., (1928) “Über die Energetik der Seele”, trad. “Energetica Psichica”, in Opere complete, vol. VIII, Boringhieri, Torino 1976, p. 18.
  3. 3 From M. Trevi’s rich production I would like to remember the following works: Metafore del simbolo, Raffaello Cortina editore, Milano 1986. Saggi di critica neojunghiana, Feltrinelli, Milano 1993. L’altra lettura di Jung, Raffaello Cortina editore, Milano 1988.
  4. 1 Trevi, Metafore … cit., p. 7.

Here is Jung’s definition: “A symbol implies that the chosen expression is the best possible description or formulation of a fact relatively unknown, but whose existence is recognized or considered necessary”. 1

A symbol is unknown as its reference is not contained in the antecedent term, but it is relatively so because the reference is conditioned by the antecedent term: that very term which is inscribed in the moment of the unique experience of that single subject. On the other hand a symbol is also the “best” possible formulation for an unknown fact, i.e., it implies the whole spectrum of the original relationship Self-World implicit in the automatic, but not necessarily natural, perceptive evidence.

The condition necessary for a symbolic psyche and a symbolic knowledge is an essential discontinuity. On the nature of this discontinuity Jung himself is uncertain: if, in its definition, the adverb “relatively”softens the antinomic view of the question, bringing the symbol back to its semantic area and restricting it to the psychological level of what can be represented, Jung himself, in the same writing a few pages later, admits the possibility and existence of the symbol only when there is a “total opposition”, “a contrast with ourselves of such a violence that thesis and antithesis deny each other”2 On the one hand the residuality to the phenomenological method might represent that “unknown” element that most characterizes a symbol (or, better, is, more than other features, its distinctive element). On the other hand, by opposing an absolutely unbridgeable radical discontinuity between any phenomenal element and pathos (which would be transformed into a sort of extra-existing entity, into a “ni-ente-logia”, a “no-thingo- logy”),3 it might be possible to meet substantial difficulties when justifying all automorphic determination.

My focussing on this problem does not mean I intend to resolve it, but just to suggest two indications. In fact, on the one hand it identifies a suitable place for the practice of psychotherapy (which, in the transformation of the mere existence into experience has one of its important features); on the other hand – within the specific existential limit of the single subject with whom all kind of psychotherapy is concerned – the basic philosophical question about the intranscendibility and insignificance of the occurring and happening of the datum keeps constantly open all work on the psyche, rescues it from a sterile verbal exsercise, makes psychotherapy appear as an Existenztragend,4 a form of help in the existence of which both the patient and the psychoanalyst are a part.

  1. 1 Jung 1921, Tipi … cit., p. 488-89.
  2. 2 Ibid.
  3. 3 Masullo, Il tempo e … cit., p. 22 (italics mine)
  4. 4 Loch W., Psicoanalisi e Verità, Borla, Roma 1996.