Introspection vs extrospection, and psychoanalytic epistemics

by Snav

Response to Signal privilege vs. representation privilege in introspection.

The signal privilege vs representation privilege frame seems to well represent the epistemological issues involved in introspection. Namely, you have access to greater raw experience” of your own psyche, which includes personal history as well as transient nervous system states, but you may not be in the best position to render this experience meaningful in terms of understanding, compared to an external” observer. As an introspector, you already have your own explanations for the meaning of your subjective experiences, whereas an external observer is not burdened with this additional context, and thus might be able to evaluate your problem more accurately.

As an analogy, consider you’re reading a good novel. You sit down and rapidly read through the chapters, enjoying it as you go. Once you’ve finished, you have a sense of what happened”, in terms of key conflicts, but you might not be able to articulate this to someone else. I’ve had many experiences personally of reading (or watching) something, yet being utterly unable to communicate the story” in a coherent way. It feels like the story was something that happened to me”, rather than something I observed and synthesized into a summarizable compression. This is not necessarily bad! Much of the richness of literature and film is that experience of being in the media. I posit that this is also how introspection tends to operate.

On the other hand, consider reading the same novel out loud to someone. You might not have the same degree of immersion in the story, as you were focused on speaking rather than reading, and yet you might find that, once finished, you have a far better grasp of the overall arc of the plot and the main character conflicts. The listener also tends to have a different experience than if they were reading it themselves: they can’t glaze over paragraphs, and the words take on a sort of embodiment lacking in quiet” reading.

Is this not how the psychoanalytic situation operates, as well as personal practices like journaling? In telling the story of yourself”, without thinking about it, you can come back later to the things you said and evaluate them as if” you were an external observer, hearing your own story. In the moment, while speaking, you may experience the recollections as if you were there, fully charged with energy, but since you are also speaking them, you can come back later and think over what you said, as if you were hearing it for the first time. This places the introspective activity outside of yourself”, in a way. Call this activity of returning to your own utterances with an observational, objective eye extrospection”.

The capacity to properly extrospect requires one important thing: that, when speaking, the speaker is free associating. This means, effectively, not imposing conscious narratives into their words. Rather, the speaker should relate exactly what pops into their head, at the moment it pops into their head. Free association also gives the listener a privileged position with respect to the speaker, in that they gain access to the immediate thought-patterns of another person. This is highly intimate, so it is no wonder that in most of our relationships, we do not free associate. Rather, we act with respect to our conceptualization of the other, and play games together, communication as manipulation.

Alternatively, free associative therapy can be thought of as a special sort of game, where the speaker conceives of the listener as having a certain special knowledge which can fix the speaker’s problems, insofar as the speaker is able to speak openly and reveal themselves, i.e. free associate. In Lacanian parlance, the listener takes on the position of the subject supposed to know”. Know what? Precisely the thing that the speaker wants or needs them to know. To sustain this link, the listener in a psychoanalytic situation reveals as little about themselves as possible, attempting to act like a blank screen” or mirror for the speaker. The process of the speaker projecting some character or feelings onto this blank” listener is called transference”, and it often takes the form of love”. This love” is completely a quirk of the formal structure of the game”. On this topic, Žižek writes (The Metastases of Enjoyment, p. 153):

because of its automatic’ character, transference love dispenses with the illusion that we fall in love on account of the beloved person’s positive properties - that is, on account of what he or she is in reality’. We fall in love with the analyst qua the formal place in the structure, devoid of human features’, not with a flesh-and-blood person.

Love is, in this sense, itself a by-product of a particular kind of intimate game. But love is only a side effect of this particular therapeutic game, whose ulterior” goal is to have the speaker speak themselves” into existence, so that they can then reverse positions and hear” themselves, eventually coming to know” themselves. As Lacan claimed, the end of analysis is when the analysand (speaker) can say I am this”.

In other words, extrospection is how one changes oneself on a purely formal level: one’s idea of self” (“I”) changes, when you witness yourself speaking and realize oh shit (hahaha), this is actually me”. This often happens at specific moments of insight, akin to the paradigm-breaking function of scientific discoveries which cannot be incorporated into the theories from which they emerged. Introspection, on the other hand, proceeds through pure thought via a single, undifferentiated subject, and ultimately produces structures of justification. Mathematics instead of Science. Which you choose depends on what you want to do, where you want to end up.