February 3, 2010

Thoughts on the Innovative Mind

Why is there is so much resistance to new ideas that challenge old ways of thinking? Why have great innovators met resistance, often fierce? Jonathan Swift said: “When a true genius appears in the world, you can know him by this sign, that the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Yet there is far more behind resistance to new ideas than lack of intelligence. In fact, even brilliant individuals are often completely closed to innovative ideas that conflict with their established ways of thinking. This fundamental problem has plagued the work of many, including Wilhelm Reich. 

Reich maintained he discovered a real, scientifically measurable force existing in all living things and permeating the cosmos. He performed experiments that confirmed the existence of this energy and many others have replicated his findings.

Yet to the established scientific world, Reich’s contention that there exists a universal energy is nonsense. They would never test his theories with an open mind, if they would test them at all. Why bother? It’s nonsense. As Galileo said: “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.”
Certain established organizations in society gain the stamp of authority and thereafter become the definitive voice in a particular field. In Galileo’s time it was the Roman Catholic Church. Today, in the United States, there are many associations, academies, administrations, and institutes that make pronouncements that become the unquestioned, and unquestionable, truth. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are but a few examples in the medical field. These organizations have set themselves up as authorities and have become perceived by the media and public as having an exclusive hold on the truth. Their pronouncements take on a godlike and unquestionable status. So long as those in the community, or practitioners in a particular field, agree with and follow their accepted way of thinking, they are welcomed with open arms. On the other hand, any deviation from the “gospel” is likely to bring ridicule, or worse.
Respected thinker Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) wrote extensively on the history of science and progress of knowledge. His premise was that those within the ruling theory of science don’t change their basic assumptions and don’t challenge or attempt to test their existing theoretical framework. They explain away anomalies outside their paradigm. Kuhn said those within the ruling theory cannot make the shift to see and, in effect, “think outside the box.” But why? Why do people fail to examine new information with genuine objectivity? I have been considering this question for a long time and my thoughts are as follows. 
Most people think “rationally.” By this I mean they think according to a strict system whereby their past experiences and knowledge dictate the answers they arrive at. While “rational thought” appears to be a good thing, it has the function of preventing true and unbiased observation--that is, just looking and seeing what is before one’s eyes. I would argue rational thinking is largely responsible for the mindset that prevents people from even entertaining that thinking different than their own can be valid. Such “rationally afflicted” individuals are entirely unaware of their own blindness. They cannot, even temporarily, abandon their view of the world. This prevents objective evaluation of anomalous phenomena. I do not feel this blocked perceptual function is directly related to emotional plague behavior, or confined to a particular character type or personality. 
However, not all people think this way. There are those who when presented with a new idea can say that it, and the way they have always viewed the subject, are both possible ways of understanding the matter. They are judgment-free. They see competing ideas as standing side by side, and if they present a contradiction, so be it. 
Then there is the rare individual who is able to look with fresh eyes. This person is able to just observe, without comparing or contrasting. Being able to completely step out of rational thought in this way allows them to make great discoveries. This doesn’t mean that at some point they don’t bring in their education and experience--they do--but for the moment of observation they are just looking and seeing and not refuting. 
The ability to not compare, contrast and judge is unfortunately not the way of scientists stuck in their rigid way of thinking. Some who make new findings remain quiet. They, like Copernicus, know and fear the consequences of going public, understanding their colleagues’ and the world’s ability to attack and destroy them. They therefore, some might say quite wisely, keep a low profile. Others have the gift and speak out. They are often naive (sometimes brave) and are always amazed their discoveries are not investigated and validated by the established authorities. They are shocked, then deeply hurt when they are vilified. Men like Wilhelm Reich--as well as Christ, Galileo, Lister, Semmelweis--suffered greatly and often died because of their remarkable way of seeing.
Reich was able to observe the natural world without bias. This ability enabled him to come into exquisite contact with what he observed, whether it was a bion, a patient, man’s irrationality, or the orgone energy in the atmosphere. Reich was quite possibly the most extraordinary individual ever to have the gift of seeing without comparing and I believe this gift is the reason why he was able to make his remarkable discoveries.


George said...

Richard, you have hit on an age old question. Man's ability to simply see. Goethe said: "What is the most difficult thing of all? That which seems the easiest. For your eyes to see that which lies before your eyes." What enables a person like Reich to be able to keep switching paradigms? Freud for all his creativity and intelligence got caught up in the establishment. Still Reich did not desintegrate into chaos but stayed on track and continued to produce and build on his work. I think this limitation in seeing must have to do with the armor. I believe that as has been mentioned, gifted people have holes in their armor that allows for exceptional functionig but still leaves them armored. Perhaps this explains why many people can function at high levels in some areas but only once in a thousand or two thousand years does someone like Reich come along.

rich schulman said...

Dr Schwartzman,
Sean Haldane wrote an important book based on Dr. Reich's work. The book Emotional First Aid has helped me understand how trauma (stress) blocks appreciation of new ideas. In summarizing Dr. Reich's ideas Mr. Haldane writes;
"The way a person mainly blocks emotion depend.....on all kinds of emergencies during childhood." ...."Depending on when in the child's life such events occur, a basic emergency reaction tends to become established."
I believe that restricted breathing and cutting contact with the eyes becomes an unconscious habit when encountering a stressful situation. Revolutionary insights like Dr Reich's are so stressful that one freezes in a return to a childhood pattern
that provides a form of previous safety. Though there are many variables freezing becomes an established emergency reaction stopping one from becoming fully conscious. Truly seeing the present is a task that must be freed from armored habits.

Richard Schulman

Psychiatric Orgone Therapy

One of Wilhelm Reich’s most important and lasting contributions is a unique treatment for emotional disorders called psychiatric orgone therapy. Reich began as a psychoanalyst and was a member of Freud’s inner circle, but moved away from Freud’s method of free association when he developed a more effective verbal approach he called character analysis. Later he came to recognize the existence of a specific biologic energy in living organisms that he called “orgone,” which was coined from the word “organism.” With this discovery Reich was able to combine his verbal method with a technique that could normalize a person’s energy. The result was an entirely new approach to treating emotional disorders that he named orgone therapy.

Reich’s work with patients convinced him the disturbance in an individual’s energy state is caused by contractions in the body, especially in the musculature. He called these contractions “armor,” and established that they begin to develop in infancy as a way to block out emotionally painful events.

Past traumatic experiences are locked in the body--and they remain throughout life. How this happens is not fully understood, but there is no question that anxiety, anger and sadness, as well as the other upsetting feelings and emotions from childhood are not forgotten. Armor not only holds the disturbing past, causing it to remain alive but out of consciousness awareness, but it also affects how one feels and functions. Because living a natural healthy life depends upon whether a person’s energy flows freely or is blocked, the aim of psychiatric orgone therapy is to free up energy by breaking down armor. As these areas of holding dissolve, patients release their long buried feelings and emotions in the safety of the therapist’s office. They most usually surface spontaneously with the specific method Reich innovated, without the need of urging or any intervention on the part of the treating psychiatrist. However, occasionally, pressure needs to be applied to spastic muscles, or other techniques used to normalize the body. Because this treatment combines a verbal approach with a physical technique, it addresses both the mind and the body to bring about profound changes in how one thinks, feels and functions.

Today almost all people seeking treatment from a psychiatrist are given medications to reduce their symptoms. However, with psychiatric orgone therapy it is usual that patients, over time, find themselves able to wean themselves off medication and function without pharmacologic treatment. Reich’s therapy is unique in that it not only relieves distressing symptoms, but also does much more. It enables individuals to expand and feel pleasure, and better enjoy the many satisfactions life has to offer.

There are people who claim to practice some form of “Reichian” or “orgone” therapy, even though they have had no formal training in medicine or psychology. Often the techniques used by these self-proclaimed therapists have little or nothing to do with the very specific methods Reich developed and taught. The value of such therapies is questionable and may even harm those who get involved in them.

Qualified psychiatric orgone therapists have extensive training. They are physicians who have gone on to specialize in psychiatry and then in the very unique subspecialty of orgone therapy. They practice in much the same way as Reich did more than a half century ago. Ph.D. Psychologists who have had proper training can practice a form of orgone therapy safely and effectively. However, it is crucial they have supervision by a qualified psychiatric orgone therapist.