Existential Roundup

flying%20carpet - Existential Roundup
Illustration by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin.

Welcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

As we approach the summer solstice, we leave you with one more spring potpourri before the heat intensifies.

A visit to a museum or art gallery will often provide a nice respite from the heat so we start this roundup with visit to view a new collection of photographs. “In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch” is a series of portraits by Mark Gerald, a photograph and a psychoanalyst, who wanted to show the many varieties of modern analysis setting. Gerald said he wanted remove some of the mystery—expose some of the stereotypes but also revisit the variations of the familiar, for instance, the couch. It’s a fascinating look into worlds where the analysts are clearly as complex and individual—as evidenced by their surroundings—as are their patients.

However, maybe a trip to the library is more likely to be on the agenda. If so, perhaps Scott Samuelson’s article in the Huffington Post proposing that we read “7 Philosophers You Should Know (And Probably Don’t)”  may provide some suggestions. Of course, the article begins with a reference to one of the greatest Monty Python sketches of all time—philosopher football—in which the Greek philosophers face off against the German philosophers on the soccer pitch. After such a great start, of course, one can’t help but want to read his suggestions. And yes, there are names on the list that you may not recognize, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, along with some of the familiar ones, including Epicurus, Epictetus, Montaigne, and Pascal. Samuelson also advises us to read William James, so maybe it’s time to catch up on some of James’s work you haven’t read.

However, while you are at the library, Richard Dawkins advises us NOT to check out any fairy tales, as he warns that they are harmful to children. The kerfuffle arose after he spoke at a meeting of a scientific group in Cheltenham but then claimed that his comments were then taken out of context on Twitter. He said, “Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog—it’s statistically too improbable” (¶ 6). He suggested to this group that children should learn scientific rigor and skepticism from an early age. The question is would this inhibit children’s creativity and imagination.

One answer comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which published an article entitled, “Visions of the Impossible,” in which the author, Jeffrey J. Kripal, suggests that in order to expand consciousness and creativity, one must open to “fantastic” stories. Kripal began the essay with two stories, one from Mark Twain and one from Janis Amatuzio, a forensic psychologist, which both describe so-called “impossible” situations. Of the stories, Kripal wrote:

We are not very good at such paradoxical ways of thinking today. We tend to think of the imagined as imaginary, that is, made up, fanciful. But something else is shining through, at least in these extreme cases. … Both stories are about a kind of traumatic transcendence, a visionary warping of space and time effected by the gravity of intense human suffering. (¶ 16-18)

Kripal said that our culture seems to have a problem opening to the study of the possibilities of such “impossibilities”:

Because we’ve invested our energy, time, and money in particle physics, we are finding out all sorts of impossible things. But we will not invest those resources in the study of anomalous states of cognition and consciousness, and so we continue to work with the most banal models of mind—materialist and mechanistic ones. While it is true that some brain research has gone beyond assuming that “mind equals brain” and that the psyche works like, or is, a computer, we are still afraid of the likelihood that we are every bit as bizarre as the quantum world, and that we possess fantastic capacities that we have allowed ourselves to imagine only in science fiction, fantasy literature, and comic books. (¶ 25)

Opening to possibility requires opening to these so-called “impossibilities.” When someone says something is impossible or unbelievable, that is exactly the place of blockage. What would happen if you let a tiny bit of space in? A little bit of room for doubt? If the only existential givens are that we are born into a human body and that we die, isn’t everything else open to possibility?

I invite you to challenge a belief and see how it feels. Even if you just choose to welcome tomorrow’s Summer Solstice. Happy Summer!

Thanks to Erica Stanton for her research assistance.

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