Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dialogue: Dreams vs. Philosophy

Zach: So I was trying to think of a topic for the Jung Interest group, and I decided to go with "Dreams" because of its likely popularity and approachability. Then it occurred to me that Philosophy, in its most common form, does not deal with dreams. The "philosophers" who dare to take drams seriously aren't even accepted as philosophers, but rather mere "psychologists". There seems to be an inherent resistance to taking dreams seriously in philosophy.

Since the definition of philosophy is so broad, I don't mean to say that it's inherently impossible for philosophy to deal with dreams. Rather, what has come to be called philosophy; the people today who are called philosophers; and the general type of people who are attracted to a "Philosophy" meetup, are in general unlikely to be interested in the analysis and significance of dreams.

My basic thesis is that Philosophy is Masculine, and dream analysis Feminine. The Masculine is associated with Consciousness, whereas the Feminine with the boundary between Conscious and Unconscious. As such Consciousness, in an effort to defend itself against the forces of Chaos, resists taking seriously things like dreams, which admit of too much commerce with Chaos and the Unconscious. The power and the limitation of this approach depends on the inherent power of consciousness itself. When consciousness fails, Philosophy in its modern context fails.

Ethan: Of course the first thing we have to do here is account for the ways in which philosophy and dreams have actually had a rather vibrant coexistence. There is a nice summary of this here:
I would also highly suggest reading the beginning of Foucault's History of Sexuality Vol. 3 (attached).

So dreams and philosophy are clearly not mutually exclusive. And yet you do make a good point. The very first mention of dreams in the IEP article involves Descartes, who thoroughly distrusted dreams and used their very presence to inject doubt into his philosophy. So you are right to point out a historical distance between dreams and philosophy. The first thing we have to do is to discover why this distance exists. You are definitely tapping into an important part of it. Philosophy is supposed to be grounded in reality. The move from classic to modern philosophy was, among other things, a move from the speculative "head-in-the-clouds" philosophy to a more earthly one. And the figure of Jesus played a prominent role in all of this, quite literally becoming the God of the earth. Dreams have always posed a threat to philosophy, and likely to Christianity as well, because what happens inside a dream is somehow outside the normal moral sphere. 

But does this story account for the move to post-modern philosophy? Beginning with Nietzsche, philosophy took a decisive turn toward the chaotic as a foundational principle. Without a doubt, Nietzsche paved the way for Jung and Freud to approach dreams more effectively, to form both a psychology and a philosophy of dreams. Has 20th century philosophy failed to recognize the gauntlet that was thrown by these two psychoanalysts? Perhaps... I will have to consult my Deleuze to see if/where he mentions dreams. I also wonder if Zizek mentions them? In any case, I do have a dispute with what you are saying. I think that Freud and Jung grounded dreams by electing sex, symbols, and the collective unconscious as their forebears. I think they essentially masculinized dreams. A truly feminine approach would cease trying to reason out dreams, and instead let them happen. It is man who seeks utility even while he sleeps.

But there is something else afoot here as well. I often say that psychology lies at the cutting edge of philosophy. This is where we have arrived. The two fields are doomed to become one. That is, unless we can knock philosophy out of the wheel-rut it is stuck in. I believe that philosophy is the only field that can effectively shift the discourse around knowledge. To arrive at a place where we no longer seek understanding, but rather accept experience. A place where science and psychology can exist without the domineering presence they hold right now. A place where concepts exist within a plane of immanence as opposed to a place of transcendence. A place where logic is only one tool in the belt of the renaissance man, who once again achieves greatness in every realm. A place where greatness itself is judged against the future instead of the past. A place where truth is shed in favor of poetry. 

But I digress...

Zach: I think you're right about dreams existing in the morally grey zone. I would say it's certainly Masculine consciousness which yearns for the Good at the expense of the Evil. I haven't found Zizek talk about dreams, but I only am halfway through a single one of his books. It doesn't seem like his area of focus though. You say Freud and Jung masculinized dreams. You may be right about Freud, and it may be my bias towards Jung which makes me say the following, but it seems like you really don't know much about Jung at all. I'd highly recommend reading ANYTHING AT ALL by Jung before saying things about how he masculinized dreams. I would correct you by saying that Jung's focus was on what he called the Archetype of the Self, which represents a hybrid between the Masculine and Feminine principles - he fully admitted this archetype to be a paradox, but he wrote several entire books on it nonetheless.

I somehow feel that "Philosophy" as it is normally used attracts mainly men, who are looking for Certainty in an uncertain world. Hold any Dream Analysis group and I suspect you will see mainly women showing up.

My way of distinguishing Philosophy from Psychology is that Psychology is dependent on the study of what humans say and do, while Philosophy is technically free to do anything it pleases. But I also have a certain conclusion about people, which is that their egos are so fragile that their attempts to study Psychology objectively are usually so clouded with projections that they can't do it reliably. I come to this conclusion through personal experience of myself and others. So how can Philosophy help me here? If my experience tells me that the human ego is too weak to be reliably counted on to study the truth as regards other human beings, what good is Philosophy? Different people always seem to hear different things when confronted with the same message. How might Philosophy deal with this?

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