It seems I’m in a mood for lists tonight; or maybe it’s just been a long day so I don’t have the energy to compose things more artfully. The unconscious in all its variations calls for an appearance/reality distinction. There is a phenomenon (appearance) that calls for an interpretation at the level of reality. We think it’s one thing, but really it’s another.
The first form of the unconscious is Leibnizian and occurs in region 7 or the imaginary. The ocean is composed of an infinity of infinitesimal drops of water. Unconsciously we perceive each of these drops of water (the real). But mind performs a synthesis and we instead hear the roar of the ocean (the appearance). This unconscious calls for us to reach the infinitesimal of the ocean; that which is the ground of what we hear at the molar or macro level of our perception when we hear the comforting roar of the ocean.
The second unconscious occurs in region 3 and takes two forms: the ethnographic and psychoanalytic. The ethnographic unconscious is the system of signifiers, of categories, thrown over ones body. “You’re a member of the Mouse clan! You’re a member of the Owl clan!” This form of the unconscious is not in our minds. Just as the value of a dollar bill is not up to us, we don’t get to decide how we’re categorized (though we can fight these categories). These categories preside over our destiny in all sorts of ways. There are things Mice can do that Owls can’t do and vice versa. It’s not up to us, even though we can struggle against these webs. We might be done with totemism, but totemism isn’t done with us. That’s how it is with the ethnographic unconscious.
The psychoanalytic unconscious internalizes the symbolic in mind. It isn’t an external set of symbolic determinations or categories deciding our destiny, but rather the way in which we navigate these categories. When I still practiced psychoanalysis, I had a patient that had the following dream:
There were two deer in my brother-in-law’s back yard frolicking playfully. I woke up fully of joy and happiness.
She had spoken on many occasions about how she hated her brother-in-law. It was a repeated theme in her sessions. After she told me her dream I punctuated it: “frolicked?” In previous sessions she’d always used this term for “sex”; with her husband she would say “we had a frolic”. That immediately came to her mind. “Deer”, I asked? Immediately she associated to the homonym “dear”. “Your brother-in-law’s back yard?” “Oh my god”, she exclaimed, “I have a thing for my brother-in-law. That’s why he drives me so crazy!” This was a pivotal point in her analysis where she began to explore the desire that was disrupting her marriage and where she began to explore her unconscious. That’s how it is with the psychoanalytic unconscious and why it’s written like a language. It’s like the New York Times cross-word puzzle where some completely unrelated signifier that’s an “equivoke” (as Lacan puts it in Seminar 22) or set of homonyms, or like a pictogram where you’re supposed to guess the meaning of a boat on top of a house (houseboat) to find what the unconscious is expressing through furtive means. The signifiers always get us in the end. The metaphors we use are saying something else.
Then there’s the neurological unconscious. There’s not much to say about this, though there’s much to learn. You’re a smoker. You’ve quit. Everyone in the world seems to be attacking you, seems to be threatening. But it’s not them, it’s your neuro-chemistry. We experience the neurological unconscious when we’re having a nicotine fit or when we’re in the midst of euphoria caused by Molly where we’re in love with everything. It’s a chemical bath that produces this.
Today we have a new form of the unconscious: the datalogical unconscious. The datatological unconscious resembles the ethnographic unconscious– and is symbolic –in that it consists of the data that we electronically generate through our credit reports, our social security numbers, our web searches and so on. At the conference I was at last week, Neal Swisher discussed the way in which this unconscious works with fitness watches. In the first instance, you use these watches to learn something about yourself that is both yourself and more than yourself. You learn about your heart rates and so on as you’re running and resting. There’s something that is in you that is also not you because it is so foreign. You upload this data, through an app, to a website to find out its meaning. You thereby externalize yourself to know yourself. What is interesting here is that this information is often sold to various companies like health insurance companies. Something about you is traveling about the world, circulating throughout the world, and perhaps leading to decisions about you that you’re scarcely aware of. That’s the datalogical unconscious… An agency that you are, that you are completely unaware of that’s deciding things regarding your life.
This is how it is with Google. You think you’re doing a search like anyone else, but Google decides what to show you based on your past searches and where you’re located in the world. People in Frisco, Texas see something different than people in Macon, Georgia, and both of these people see something different based on what they’ve searched for in the past. Like someone suffering from the psychological phenomenon of depersonalization that sees their image in the mirror but cannot recognize that it is their image in the mirror, everywhere in the datalogical unconscious we’re seeing ourselves without seeing ourselves and that unconscious is making all sorts of decisions about our destiny or future.