Black Holes of the Human Mind
Exploring Emptiness and Its Relation to Psychological Trauma (Vol. 3; Issue 6)
When watching a beautiful sunset over a seaside landscape, your mind-brain ignores the blind spot occluding your actual perception of the scene. A physiological dead zone, known as a scotoma, prevents full visual awareness. Where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc, your eye lacks light-detecting photoreceptors. Processes in the mind-brain use surrounding details to fill in missing information.
By analogy, we humans—wired to create instantaneous narratives—miss out on perceiving much of the world around us. Our perceptual acuity is blocked, in part, because it might create madness. The emptiness might overwhelm. In this week’s missive, I discuss psychoanalytic insights into this omnipresent, self-protective mental block. The mental blind spot also contributes to understanding trauma, and it deserves further, extensive discussion in future newsletters.
Persons regularly practicing meditation, or experimenting with high doses of psychedelics, will fleetingly experience an emptiness behind what Buddhists call the delusion of the self. The delusion dissolves. They encounter a startling linguistic lacuna. We can barely tolerate such a literal emptiness. Efforts to capture it prove elusive unless, as noted, one takes extraordinary measures.
Psychoanalysis offers two primary ways to conceptualize these gaps. Wilfred Bion’s (1965) concept of “O” or the “no-thing” (p. 82) is one. Bion (1970) defines O as “the unknown and the unknowable” (p. 27). In the same vein, Lacan’s (1979, 1991, 1992, 2004, 2008) idea of the Real is similar.
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