Recapturing our Brains


We are presently still living under the spell of Sigmund Freud’s sanctification of the libido. This is despite its counterintuitive logic, unveiled by the Auschwitz-survivor Victor Frankl, which has yet to percolate through the Western cultural elites and media. Frankl rediscovered under the duress of hell the poor value of libido in the struggle for naked survival, very different from Freud’s naked soul. Rather transcendent intangibles such as a faithful spouse, even if far away, were sustaining Frank’s resilience. Alexis Tocqueville once said he believed the family to be the last resort of resistance against tyranny. What does it mean that ever since the Renaissance we seem to have undermined family and therefore religion which depends on it? How did this play out with the rise of Hitler?

It was Edmund Husserl, a contemporary of Freud’s, who analyzed the human mind under the auspices of phenomenology, answering to the crisis of Western sciences with the call “back to objects!” His great accomplishment was to have initiated a new effort for creating meaningfull self-knowledge even if he remained under the Hellenic paradigm of vision. This can be gathered from the fact that he meant the same thing when speaking of transcendental phenomenology and of mathematical metaphysics. In hindsight we may say, he should have reserved the former for human beings and the latter for dead objects. Ultimately this confusion, shared by many at the time, would cost humanity dearly soon thereafter.

Let’s simplify matters for the sake of argument: the Jews in antiquity can be credited with creating the family man, furnished with inwardness, the homo religiosus, whom I call Adam II, the centripetal person of gult-and-forgiveness culture. If I remember right, it was Kant who observed that the centripetal ear turns our attention inward to ourselves while the centrifugal eye directs us outward, more often than not dispersing our attention.

On the other end of the spectrim the Greeks of antiquity shaped the extroverted pagan man of the polis, the outer Adam I who became the centrifugal person of shame and honor culture under the paradigm of visibility. This concept of the human being is meant to be gender neutral and includes Eve even though there are exceptions. For instance: Athenian man tended to be gay and misogynic for he would be mesmerized by power, health and beauty focusing on "cognitive truth". As such he became a champion of the natural world and the sciences with little guidance about right and wrong or for the good life.

Husserl following this path of inquiry would accomplish a perfect design of the outer self. For this purpose he divided his analytical operation into several steps: first he would extract only one aspect of the inner person which he called intention, keen as it were to get a grip on the outer world. Next the image obtained form the outer world would be subject to “eidetic reduction” which comes down to stripping the visible object from the particulars of time and place. Then Husserl would turn to imagination and expose his object would to a variaty of perspectives. In the process of exploring and comparing different possibilities of looking at the thing, Husserl argued, the mind eventually arrives at the notion of an universal or ideal form.

Starting with the “thing as such” Husserl proceeds by way of generalization, as it were liquefying static images into flexible words, and finally arriving at the abstract “thing in itself”. Welcome to the split world of metaphysics!

Just as St Paul created universals out of “living things” or human beings by abstracting from their most salient particulars – “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor master” - Husserl would do the same for dead objects. Both ended up with universals and abstract at that and yet still bound to immanence while being conceived within the aesthetic paradigm. Mathematical abstraction somehow mirrors physical reality, yet remains at the same time withdrawn from the inner person, or Adam II. It also lacks the additional hue of human appreciation for reflecting mere cognitive truth, as opposed to ethical truth.

Linked to subjective intentions as they are, Husserl’s terms look all the more instrumentalist and they often do take on a life of themselves, pertaining to classical centrifugal motives of diminishing guilt in a shame culture. Under the term of positivist science this kind of truth had dominated the West until the romantics came along in the wake of the French Revolution. They ushered in the demise of “mirror thinking” by introducing their own lights, which the great literary critic Abrahms called the “romantic lamp”.

Contrasting all that, Jerusalem had much earlier developed monotheist guilt-and-forgiveness culture based on the inner person or Adam II who is capable of "covenantal cognition" and inner conflict resolution as Jonathan Sacks taught us. By contrast in shame-and-honor-cultures conflicts tend to be resolved by endless cycles of revenge, most of them violent. Unlike Greek shame culture and aethetics, Judaism and Orthodox Christianity operate with a cognition based on judgment which is rooted in transcendental categories. Traditionally this has been known as the religious mind which faded away only gradually with medieval guilt culture. Yet as recently aknowledged it remained fairly influential until the middle of the 19th century, which is why it is presently revenant in Russia and Eastern Europe. According to a new quite spectacular historical periodization antiquity is believed to have lasted till 1000 CE and the Middle Ages until well after 1800 CE. This corresponds with vanishing Eurocentrism and reflects better understanding of Eastern European reality which was reached by the “Reformation” only with the Revolution of 1917.

Heidegger dropping Metaphysics

More to the point: this new Eastern periodization speaks to much stronger perseverance of the homo religious than previously thought. Among other things this exposes the tragedy of Freud’s gracious appeasement to anti-semitism in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna, which seduced him to create a Protestant version of Judaism called psychoanalysis. For obvious reasons it never took hold in Russia. Orthodox Moscow like Jerusalem has always been anchored in the traditions of ear and voice. In the nineteenth century the Jewish-German historian Heinrich Graetz pointed at the fundamental difference between Judaism and other ancient cultures: “To the pagan, the divine appears within nature as something observable through the eye. He becomes conscious of it as something to be seen. On the other hand, to the Jew who conceives God as being outside of nature and prior to it, the Divine manifests itself through the will and through the medium of the ear... The pagan beholds his god, the Jew hears Him; that is, apprehends His will“.

While the eye, the great historian of ideas Erich Auerbach astutely observed, runs ahead impatiently or anticipates what is desired, the ear patiently follows after. This is because the eye has closer ties with the lower senses and imagination while the ear is hardwired to the tongue, memory and emotion. Upon comparing the classical Greek poets with Hebrew Scripture Auerbach noted: "In Homer’s prose we see the play of light on surfaces. The Odyssey and Iliad are full of visual descriptions. By contrast, biblical narrative has very few such descriptions. We do not know how tall Abraham was, the colour of Isaac’s hair, or what Moses looked like. Visual details are minimal, and are present only when necessary to understand what follows. We are told for example that Joseph was good-looking (Gen. 39: 6) only to explain why Potiphar’s wife conceived a desire for him“.

Spared by the Hellenic Reformation, the Orthodox religious mind remained faithful to the tenets of ancient Christianity thriving on the sublime auricular paradigm of Judaism which militates against the Greek aesthetic paradigm of visibility.

Evidence for this is the restrained Orthodox visualization of the icon. All of this has been the subject of the medieval Christian scholar Duns Scotus, the creator of the first “objectivist” psychology. It caught the attention of the Catholic student Martin Heidegger who went on analyzing the problems of judgment in “psychologism” in what was to become his dissertation. He then followed this up with a PhD thesis, a critical assessment of Duns Scotus’ transcendental categories. It was here that he made use of Husserl’s other seminal methodology called “transcendental reduction”. However thereafter Heidegger drifted away from Adam II while also parting ways with his mentor Husserl. As a Catholic Heidegger conceived of Being as a generic reification which historically originated with the incarnation of God’s son. He has probabaly read it as an anthromorphism reflecting the intellectual proximity between the divine and human mind in the Bible. Heidegger recognized the fulminant consequences of this for it meant that in Christ metaphysics and transcendence overlapped or to put it differently, the visual-aesthetic and the auricular-ethical paradigms were intrinsically intertwined which can be regarded as the nemesis of thoroughly reformed Christianity.

After all Christ was supposed to listen to God in the same way as humans. In his existential analysis and phenomelogogical approach Heidgger in “Being and Time” spoke of events (Ereignis as “it happens” , Sichereignen) suggesting an anthropomorphism after the pattern of Christ’s revelation. This puts living and dead things on a level playing field. Hence Heidgger’s “it” radiating existence is pretty close to Freud’s “Id” which exudes libido. The choice between the two reminds us of Hamlet who was agonizing whether to listen to the inner or the outer self, Adam I or II, by this giving us an early hint at Heidegger’s “ontologcal difference”. Now Heidegger had the feeling that it was Christ who had led people into bondage toward things, which is hinted at by the German word “Hörigkeit”.

Heidegger’s concept in “Being and Time” seems to be shifting the human bondage from “it” or things back to the “Id” and thus reconnect the “Id” with conscience again.

This would amount to hedging libido with transcendent categories. My understanding is that if successful this made a hell of a difference. For it opens anew the posssibility of self-sacrifice by Adam II – as opposed to sacrificing others by Adam I, something the West lost after the Reformation and the insitutionalization of the “holy sinner”. Heidegger in effect reversed Freud’s fatal reduction of social conflict into the family franchise of the rebellious Oedipus. His famous “turn” in my humble reading would be the phenomenological switch from the “thing” as the focus of the visual paradigm to the “Id” as the focus of the audible paradigm. Heideger was looking at the libido from above or transcendence not from below like Freud.

If I see this correctly Heidegger attempted nothing less than correcting the Hellenistic deformation of Christianity. He actually rid himself of Jesus in order to do away with metaphysics. Yet not quite, for it seems his anti-Semtitism seems to have blocked this path which could also be the reason why his opus magnum Being and Time published in 1927 remained unfinished. Instead asking in his famous “turn” of 1929 “What is Metaphysics?” he succumbed later to a short stint of triumphalist rhetoric and Nazi-sycophancy. Had not Hitler himself declared “guilt is an invention of the Jews”? Yet the Nazis did not like him and he ruefully retired thereafter submerging himself into the history of ideas and literature for the rest of the war period. This is not to deny Heidegger’s lifelong antisemitism which fits perfectly with his pantheist “flight from guilt”.

All the same I do not mean to minimize Heidegger’s epochal discovery of “the ontological difference”, a concept which probably remains one of the most influential philosophical concepts the 20th century. For it succeeds in explaining the existential gap in our mind between the inner or transcendent perspective and the outer or immanent perspective later to be analyzed by Joseph Soloveitchick as selfconfrontation between Adam I and II and more recently popularized by David Brooks. Theodor Adorno’s vain comment in the “Minima Moralia” of 1951 on Heidegger’s “jargon of authenticity” missed completely the point. Unlike the inveterate universalist Frankfort School, Heidegger was “mugged by reality” and rediscovered particularism, which helped him to penetrate the PC cover up for “conscience” in his time: the German generic “man”, representing the modern vehicle for escape from guilt.

Among the many contributions inspired by Heidgegegrs seminal notion of “ontological difference” is the tremendous experimental study by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahnemann, who could demonstrate that Adam I stands for the “fast system” or automatized operations of our brain like cycling, shopping, swimming and Adam II for the “slow system” responding to new challenges and situations requiring an intellectual appraisal. As we saw above the slow Adam has historically been rooted in transcendent categors of the auricular paradigm, listening to divine authority or the voice of personal conscience. Its considerable natural power even Husserl respected as intentionalism and it has been an essential driver of the arts and sciences. However Western innovation already peaked long ago. According to Charles Murray as early as the French Revolution. His conclusion is that monotheism and in particular the “cognitive difference” was the wellspring of the arts and science. Yet it help also to understand the limitations of positive science and mere “cognitive truth” as distinguished from religious or “covenantal truth” acessible only to Adam II. This would suggest that innovation depends on transcendence enabling freedom of spirit and tolerance.

Making up the intellectual furniture of the Western mind under the reign of monotheism, transcendental categories had been fairly common as late as the 19th century until they were bluntly rejected by Friedrich Nietzsche. He would not be the last to draw heavily on the intricate reception of Hellenism which since the early 18th century kept tyrannizing the minds of intellectuals. Sophisticated Graecophily reigned in Germany over tow centuries and literally maddened luminaries such as Heinrich Winckelmann, Friedrich Hölderlin and Nietzsche himself.

Now let me elaborate a bit more on the religious side of the Western mind. In many a passage the Bible uses first, second and third personal pronouns as changeable. This would suggest that the human and divine mind overlap or are at times considered congenial but only if the human mind operates in the mode of “covenantal cognition” under the sublime auricular paradigm, enabling cognition as judgment. Historically this faculty was almost dormant after the “fictional turn” (Phillip Rieff) of Friedrich Nietzsche who put imagination and eidetic reduction before transcendental reduction in the late 19th century.

Nietzsche has been the trail blazer and Freud’s psychoanalysis with its bias towards fantasy, reflecting its fondness of the sensualist paradigm of visibility and the assumption of hidden instincts. This amounted to a reckless embrace of shame-and-honor culture. In effect the decisive “flight from guilt” was shared by so unlikely bedfellows as Freud and Hitler, something Freud only realized to his own dismay in his last days. As already mentioned it took an Auschwitz survivor to return the transcendental categories which he not for nothing derived from memorizing his wife in the troughs of hell.

For unlike dead metaphysics, the origin of transcendence is the realization of a necessary bridge over that existential abyss between male and female, a bridge that informed Moses intellectual synthesis of montheism and monogamy at Sinai.

In the work of Victor Frankl we encounter the cul-de-sac of Western Jewish assimilation, giving eventually birth to religious or normative revival and also the foundation of the state of Israel. This experience is still destined to derail modern infatuation with globailsm, immanence and romantic infinitude or existentialism, all of which represent the “shame end” of Heidegger’s “ontological difference”. It is particularly powerful today in the Anglo-Italian Mafia culture that hailed from the deeply Hellenized Mezzogiorno of Southern Italy. It has survived in the Hollywood pop industry where it put on the blessings of celebrity. It was recently on display with the crypto fascist Robert de Niro who could not resist publicly threatening to “beat up” the presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

All of this captures the fallacies of contemporean liberalism and its naive imitation of the "aesthetics of cognition" and the ongoing fad of naturalist self-misunderstaing. Replete with the mentality of revenge and retribution, which manifest in liberal habits of character assassinations and sacrifcing “the other”, it offers little in the way of self-knowledge and conflict resolution which is the realm of guilt culture. Honor goes a long way with liberal claims to the moral high ground while contending themselves with political correct posturing and globalized PC. Liberal brains apparently have fully absorbed the performance of Adam I that more often than not reduces complex reality to Husserlian fiction or wishful thinking. Rabbi Soloveitchikc says it best: In essence liberals tend to operate under the visual paradigm and “think what they feel” while conservatives more often gravitate toward the sublime auricular paradigm and “feel what they think”.