Inner Circle Seminar No. 235
Sunday 21 May 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
‘The seminar will focus on the idea of a universe, and our lives within it, making sense. There are many dimensions to “making sense”. The comprehensibility celebrated by Einstein is the perceived order of the material world (including ourselves as material bodies). This order can be expressed in equations of increasing generality enabling us to predict its behaviour with ever greater precision and vastly extending our power to act upon it in pursuit of our goals. Religion focusses on the place of human beings in the universe and the God who underpins both its order and the meaning and destiny of human life. Philosophy historically has endeavoured to span both world picture of whatever is current science and the meaning of our lives. The arts and therapy focus very much on the sense we make of our individual and shared lives (or nature seen through the lens of our needs and desires). The seminar will take the form of a series of short (10-15 minute) talks each followed by a discussion.’
The Inner Circle Seminars are a quest for truth in the foundations of psychotherapy. Helping clients ‘make sense of the world’ – or, better, exploring and trying to make sense of the world together – is at the heart of what we try to do as psychotherapists. Or is it? Many ‘existential’ therapists dispute that there is such a phenomenon as the world; they see their task as facilitating clients’ exploration of ‘their’ ‘worlds’. Jaspers, Binswanger, von Gebsattel, Minkowski, Straus, Manfred Bleuler saw the ‘worlds’ of the ‘schizophrenic’, the ‘compulsive’, the ‘manic’ as utterly alien and uncanny. One cannot, declared Jaspers, ‘empathise’ with such people. Buber, despite his talk of the ‘between’, told Rogers, in their famous dialogue, that it was impossible to have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with an ordinary ‘psychotherapy’ patient, let alone a ‘schizophrenic’. Binswanger, while affirming Buber’s account of ‘I-Thou’ relationships, also affirmed Jaspers’s assertion of the impossibility of ‘empathy’ with the ‘uncanny’ people. But even in the absence of ‘empathy’, claimed Binswanger, his ‘daseinsanalytic’ studies of patients such as Ellen West can make ‘scientific’ sense of ‘their’ alien ‘worlds’. Is not this, far from being an existential advance on Freud, a retrogression to the preFreudian, deterministic, binary psychiatry of ‘degeneracy’? But many ‘existential’ therapists still regard Binswanger’s work as exemplary. On the other hand, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Szasz, Laing, Esterson, and I see all of us as living in the one world, striving to make sense of it together. Heidegger’s Dasein is ‘Being-in-the-world-with-others’ [emphasis added], not each being in a separate encapsulated world. Neither the Talmud’s assertion that each person is a world, nor Lévinas’s insistence on the absolute ‘traumatism’ or ‘infinite height’ of the otherness of the other, contradicts this. Who is right? Which is the true existential tradition? Can this seminar contribute to an answer?
It is not reasonable to expect Raymond Tallis to pronounce on questions of psychotherapy: he is not a psychotherapist. But we may perhaps ask him his view on whether we live in the world, or each in his or her world, or whether this is a meaningless distinction. And your view will be warmly welcomed too.
Raymond Tallis was a Professor of Geriatric Medicine and consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly. He has published 200 research articles in the neurology of old age and neurological rehabilitation, as well as a novel, short stories, three volumes of poetry, and 23 books on philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. He has received many awards and honorary degrees. In 2009, the Economist listed him as one of the world’s 20 leading polymaths.
Nicholas Fearn wrote in The Independent:
‘When Kirsty Young was asked to name her favourite guest on Desert Island Discs, the rock star Paul Weller was beaten into second place, for her own luxury item would be the writer Raymond Tallis.’
Raymond Tallis has given three of our best loved and best remembered Inner Circle Seminars. He kindly confirms that our seminar structure, in which dialogue is of the essence, enables him to communicate and reflect on his ideas. He wrote, after his first Inner Circle Seminar, The Intellectual Plague of Biologism, on 2 December 2012:
‘The seminar was for me an incredible experience. I have never previously had the opportunity to discuss the topics we covered in such depth with a group of people who came at it from such different angles but in a way that I found illuminating. I learned a lot. It was a tremendous privilege.’
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