The Root of all Evil, sometimes

Yes, It’s a grandiose title for a post.  And it does not refer to my book.  And let me quickly remind everyone: the book will be out in the next few weeks on Kindle, hardcopy edition to follow.

But I didn’t write it.  It comes from Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel Escher Bach”.  It’s been on my mind because of several recent conversations.  First, a patient was describing what’s wrong with our service economy.  Whether you agree with her or not, she had a point that we are very heavy on marketing and light on manufacturing, and worse that there is a dearth of substance and a great deal of hype.

My own association to that was for a moment the awful description of movies you now see on your channel guide or even in the major newspapers.  Where you used to get an immediate, engaging, and welcoming sense of the movie’s content, tone, attitude, and so on, now you get advertisement – a description of the basic plot you might read in advertising 101, designed to inform in the safest, dullest terms so the most naïve and inexperienced of us will dutifully sit at the screen at the appointed time.  That brought to mind the reviews I have read of the latest James Bond movie.  Same problem, the critics say:  endless reference to previous Bond movies, short on substance, short on anything that sticks with you.  It seems to me that was the problem with the last two Bond movies and with the Star Trek reboot.  Looking at the latter, it took by comparison with the source material 79 episodes and 15 years for us to see our heroes grieving unabashedly for each other and shouting with rage.  In the recent movies, these characters have hardly met and already all this hyper drama happens.  You have great bombast, endless “money shots” (ultra dramatic camera angles and moves), but little or nothing holding it up.  As a result these things run out of gas very soon and seem quickly forgettable when you leave the theater.

In the introduction to his famous book, Hofstadter articulates the dangers of self reference.  He concludes with the illustration “I am lying”, which leads to an endless paradox, a Mobius loop that cannot be resolved.  It’s a dead end.  The critics – and we thoughtful fans – who comment that the comic book driven sensibility of many films leaves one feeling deadened, bored, vaguely depressed, are I believe responding, if only intuitively, to what Hofstadter has identified more explicitly as a dead end.

Why is this all important – apart from the hope that we’ll get better movies?  The thrust of so many healing workshops in so many disciplines is this issue.  It’s often about breaking out of self-consciousness, out of overthinking, out of self reference.  Anyone who has studied acting or improvisation – or taken classes in these as part of their personal development – knows that this is often the single greatest goal:  simply to drop self-consciousness, to focus on the other person, turn one’s attention, energy, and anxieties outward, away from yourself; in this way, you combat inhibition, constriction, self-consciousness, and ultimately indecision or even immobility.

Most important is how this plays out in life and in psychotherapy.  More often than you might think, people enter therapy understandably self-conscious and a bit shy, and thus harboring and even hanging on to sometimes drastically mistaken ideas about who they are, what is wrong with them, what they need.  We’ve seen many examples of this in recent entries on this blog:  here, here and here in the main website, and it’ll be in the book (again: Coming out soon!)  I’ve emphasized the importance of starting your therapy with an open mind, the importance of not diagnosing yourself.  The reflections above lead us back to this point.  Hofstadter may be right as he speculates in his book – self reference may indeed be the root of all evil.  It certainly is a stumbling block in psychotherapy.


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