Open Wound

Closed                               -                      Open
Certainty                           -                      Uncertainty
Solid                                 -                       Liquid
Known                              -                       Unknown 
Actuality                           -                       Potentiality
Rest                                   -                      Motion
Attach                               -                       Detach
Being                                -                       Becoming
Control                              -                       Chaos
Apheleia                            -                       Aporia

[...] life cannot tolerate a standstill [...]

[C.G. Jung]
Psychological Types (CW 6, 1991), p. 479

When we have a wound our bodies work to heal it, to close what is open, so that normality can be resumed. We have a tendency towards healing, closure and completion.

When wounds are left open - words left unsaid, projects left incomplete, problems left unresolved - it can cause tension, or pain. An open wound represents a halting point; it demands attention; demands that the status quo be put on hold for a while, so that something else can take place. Our rhythms and routines may have to change.

In convalescing ("growing strong again") we must come to terms with our vulnerability. Our solidity is brought into question, and we enter a place of weakness, hesitancy, and uncertainty. We enter the unknown.

It can be an awkward place. We find ourselves shunted out of our rhythms, stumbling through no-man's-land: neither here nor there. We're unable to be what we were - or to be anything for that matter. For those who cannot tolerate uncertainty this place is not only awkward, but unbearable. "To hell with all this doubt!" they exclaim, as they tear off their dressing and wince on down the road.

Yet, looked at another way, it is a place of opportunity. No longer caught in the flow of life, we're able to stand back and reflect on things; to ask questions, and consider other possibilities. The wound becomes a womb; a latent and fertile place, from which - provided we can tolerate the tension long enough - new ideas and insights can emerge.

Ego-development can, it appears, be characterised by the increasing ability to tolerate the anxiety of ambiguity.

The magnificatio that wounding brings is a way of entering archetypal consciousness, that is the awareness that more is going on than my reason can hold. One becomes an open wound, hurting all over, as consciousness is transfigured into the wounded condition.

[...] The wound announces impossibility and impotence. It says: "I am unable." It brutally brings awareness to the fact of limitation.

[James Hillman]
Puer Papers

The removal of mystery from the arts is one of the ways in which our society tries to tame the occult and its offence. In all the stories which have been interpreted as bearing upon the presence of the artist in the world, there is a recurring pattern, a motif of strangeness.

[...] the god Heracles gave Philoctetes a bow which was uncannily accurate; it never failed to hit the mark. One day Philoctetes was bitten by a snake. The wound suppurated, and it became so loathsome in its smell that Philoctetes’ companions removed him to the island of Lemnos and sailed off to Troy without him.

He remained banished for ten years; the wound hadn’t healed.

But it was revealed to the Greeks that they would never defeat the Trojans without Philoctetes and his bow. So they brought him back, he defeated Paris in single combat, and Troy was taken.

The story tells of the artist in a world which is alien to him. His gift is uncanny and perhaps for that reason it seems loathsome till it is needed: It tells a truth people don’t want to hear. In the story, the people realise at last that they need this truth, and they are ready to put up with the foul smell to have it.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 12-13

Negative Capability

This is a concept Wilfred Bion developed from an expression first used by John Keats to describe a state of creative receptivity. It can be understood as a capability to hold an empty mental space. This means the ability to live with doubt, ambiguity, uncertainty, and, as Keats puts it, "without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". It is a space to hold back from thoughtless reaction.

The empty mental space is needed to be able to see and feel things clearly. It is a space where something can form, develop and emerge. When there is no solution or prescribed answer, one can be formed and shaped. When we do not 'know' we must learn to sit with 'not knowing'. This is not a kind of attention that is vacant or indiscriminate, this is wide-open attention with a specific focus. If we have Negative Capability, we may be able to stay open and receptive to change and difference. It is only by the accumulation of many such experiences that we begin to recognize the right conditions for creativity.

When trying to communicate Negative Capability we often use a big jar of buttons.

We usually pour the whole jar into an empty space on the floor. We like people to think that each button is a thought or an incident with an emotional charge. A button could be a criticism, or an unwelcome noise, or a happy thought, but the main point is that they are unprocessed stimuli.

The buttons spill in an uncontained way across the floor (it can be unpleasant to watch this happen) as they might in our minds. To establish a space where there is enough calm for reflection and where there is enough room for something to form, the buttons have to be pushed back.

As space appears between the buttons, Negative Capability emerges. The establishment of this creative space is dependent upon attention and calmness. When working in a group, a mobile phone ringing or somebody working on their laptop is like scattering a handful of buttons into the space that have to be pushed back to the sides again.

[Karl Foster]
Also see: Negative Capability, Wikipedia definition.

Aporia (Ancient Greek: ἀπορία: "impasse, difficulty of passing, lack of resources, puzzlement") denotes in philosophy a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement and in rhetoric a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.

In a reference from 1657, J. Smith's Mystical Rhetoric, the term becomes "a figure whereby the speaker sheweth that he doubteth, either where to begin for the multitude of matters, or what to do or say in some strange or ambiguous thing" (OED).

In William Harmon's A Handbook to Literature [...] aporia is identified as "a difficulty, impasse, or point of doubt and indecision"

[...] critics such as Jacques Derrida have employed the term to "indicate a point of undecidability, which locates the site at which the text most obviously undermines its own rhetorical structure, dismantles, or deconstructs itself."

Julian Wolfreys, in his essay "Trauma, Testimony, and Criticism", characterizes trauma as aporia, a wound with unending trail.

Valiur Rahaman, in his book Interpretations: Essays in Literary Theory (2011), explained aporia as a creative force in both the artist and their art; it is, for the artist, an edgeless edge of the text or a work of art.


[An] important characteristic of perception is the tendency toward closure - that is, toward making meaning about a figure.

Presented with a circle of unconnected dots, for example, the perceiver instinctively fills in the gaps mentally to create a complete, bounded image.

When we do not take actions necessary for closure, our experiences remain “unfinished and uneasy” in the background of our mind, where they disturb present work that needs to be done. In Gestalt, this is referred to as unfinished business.

Change is a function of closing one experience and moving on to a new possibility. But we can only open to new possibilities when “the preoccupation with the old incompletion is resolved” - that is, when closure is reached.

"All experience hangs around until a person is finished with it."

Although individuals can tolerate the internal existence of a number of unclosed experiences, the experiences themselves, if they become compelling enough, will generate "much self-defeating activity," and will essentially demand closure.

Gestalt has a high regard for novelty and change and -- paradoxically -- "a faith-filled expectation that… [change] is inevitable if we stay with our own experiences as they actually form.”  This means not being so quick to impose old meanings on our experiences so we can put them on the shelf and be "done with" them (rush to closure); instead, it means listening, with creative indifference, to what they have to tell us.

[Herb Stevenson]
'Paradox: A Gestalt Theory of Change'

Things that are finished have no changes left to make in themselves. Motivated by smugness or by despair, they 'got it right' or 'gave up' and stopped. The unfinished, on the other hand, constantly seeks new shapes.

Whole cities can feel finished or unfinished. Edinburgh, my hometown, is finished. There's not much left to do there. They got it right. They slapped conservation orders on all the buildings. Voila, bring on the tourists! Park the coaches! Paris, where I was living earlier this year, is finished. Don't litter, don't spoil it! Admire the Baron Haussman's vistas! Build new stuff only on the outskirts! Bring on the tourists!

Tokyo is totally unfinished. A flux, a blur [...] Berlin, where I live now, feels unfinished to me.

I vastly prefer the scaffolding to the stuff it's preparing. I prefer the demo to the final release. I like holes in the road better than smooth roads, and temporary exhibitions better than the buildings that contain them. I like unvarnished wood and stuff that's been hastily patched together with scotch tape. I enjoy not knowing the city I'm in more than knowing it like the back of my hand. I never, ever read handouts before watching the film.

My favourite of my own albums is always the next one, the Work In Progress, still unfixed, still changeable and improveable. I like uncertainty and irresolution.

'1998 Forever'

Indeed, all that we know about human beings in various sorts of simple contests would seem to indicate that this is the case, and that the conscious or unconscious wish for release of this kind [a release of tension, comparable to orgasm] is an important factor which draws the participant on and prevents them from simply withdrawing from contests which would otherwise not commend themselves to "common sense."

If there be any basic human characteristic which makes man prone to struggle, it would seem to be this hope of release from tension through total involvement.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.111

Anyone acquainted with the life of Abelard will know how intensely his own soul harboured those separated opposites whose philosophical reconciliation was for him such a vital issue.

De Rémusat in his book characterizes him as an eclectic, who criticized and rejected every accepted theory of universals but freely borrowed from them what was true and tenable.

Abelard's writings, so far as they relate to the universals controversy, are difficult and confusing, because the author was constantly engaged in weighing every argument and aspect of the case. It is precisely because he considered none of the accepted standpoints right, but always sought to comprehend and conciliate the contrary view, that he was never properly understood even by his own pupils. Some understood him as a nominalist, others as a realist.

This misunderstanding is characteristic: it is much easier to think in terms of one definite type, because in it one can remain logical and consistent, than it is to think in terms of both types, since the intermediate position is lacking.

Realism as well as nominalism if pursued consistently lead to precision, clarity, uniformity. But the weighing and balancing of the opposites lead to confusion and, so far as the types are concerned, to an unsatisfactory conclusion, since the solution is completely satisfying neither to one nor to the other.

[C. G. Jung]
Psychological Types, p. 47

Vaihinger observed that the sense of 'as if' involves a "condition of tension ... a feeling of discomfort which quite naturally explains the tendency of the psyche to transform every hypothesis into a dogma".  

To be rid of the tension of ambiguity, we move toward the insanity of literalism, and into some kind of action.

The acting-out, heroic, "masculine protest" cannot bear the innate tension, elsewhere described by Adler as psychic hermaphroditism. Here we feel close to our inferiority .

This is the condition of tentativeness, where our hypotheses feel less certain and positive and our beliefs are vulnerable. If we can stay with this condition of ambiguity we are less able to be literal about anything, and so less likely to move into the delusion of neurosis and insanity.

Thus psychic health requires remaining within psychic hermaphroditism, because it constellates those feelings of inferiority which prevent literalism.

The image of the hermaphrodite keeps the tension ... an image which, like humour, like metaphor, prevents antithetical literalism.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.112

[…] the amount of uncertainty that an individual will experience in any given situation emerges as a function of the degree of constraint that is placed upon the interpretation of sensory information and the selection of behavioural responses. As indicated by Shannon’s formula, the amount of uncertainty (expressed as entropy) will increase in proportion to the number of competing possibilities that must be selected from.

[...] because individuals will be motivated to reduce the experience of uncertainty to a manageable level, psychological discomfort will increase along with the degree of perceptual and behavioural ambiguity within a situation.

When the affordances of a given situation are equipotential, meaning that no interpretive framework or behavioural response is clearly the most appropriate, there will be a parallel activation of many different perceptual and motor response options.

What this suggests is that situations with the fewest constraints can be the most anxiety producing as a consequence of their inherent uncertainty (reflecting the large number of possible interpretive frames and response options). 

[Jacob B. Hirsh, Raymond A. Mar, and Jordan B. Peterson]
'Psychological Entropy: A Framework for Understanding Uncertainty-Related Anxiety'

There is anxiety in any actualising of possibility. To Kierkegaard, the more possibility (creativity) an individual has, the more potential anxiety he has at the same time.

Possibility ('I can') passes over into actuality, but the intermediate determinant is anxiety.

[Rollo May]
The Meaning of Anxiety, p. 27

Positive - move forward
Negative - get away
Indeterminate - stop

STOP! That’s anxiety. Stop! You’re not where you think you are. Your map isn’t producing the desired outcome.

[Anxiety is] very, very demanding psychophysiologically, and that’s something that’s really worth knowing. Anxiety isn’t just a psychological state, it’s unpleasant; you’re revved up, and you’re burning resources like mad, and you’re in a biochemical state that’s optimised for quick action, but is toxic if you inhabit it for any length of time.

So not knowing what to do, that is not good. And it isn’t just that it makes you feel bad - it hurts you, it damages you, it can kill you; it will make you age; it’ll make you fat; it’ll give you diabetes; it’ll suppress your immune system so you’re more likely to develop cancer; it’ll damage your brain, your hippocampus; it’ll increase the probability that you have altzheimers

[…] you’re running your machinery faster than you can replenish it, so its not a state that you can be in [or] tolerate [or] live in.

“I don’t know where I am” means everything’s relevant and I have to ramp up my capacity for action to deal with that […] people do not like that, do not like not to be where we think we are.

[…] and we structure almost all of our environments constantly so that never happens […] we’re all dressed the same, with tiny variations; we all follow the same traffic laws; everybody is behaving according to the proper code in this room, and everyone is this building is doing the same thing - we’re doing everything we can to make sure that everyone knows exactly where they are and what they’re doing all the time.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'2017 Maps of Meaning 6: Story and Metastory (part 2)'

To some degree, it is human nature to feel stressed when we aren’t sure what to do or when faced with making a difficult or frustrating decision.

Experiencing something unusual or surprising causes stress.

Researchers studying chimpanzees found that familiar and unfamiliar objects generally did not cause stress. But familiar objects shown in unfamiliar ways scared them. This reaction appeared to be innate; it was not based on a previous experience.

[Ben Martin]
'Stress and Personality'

[...] we define stress as a state of threatened homeostasis (physical or perceived threat to homeostasis). During stress, an adaptive compensatory specific response of the organism is activated to sustain homeostasis.

Psychological stressors profoundly affect emotional processes and may result in behavioral changes such as anxiety, fear, or frustration.

[Karel Pacák & Miklós Palkovits]
'Stressor specificity of central neuroendocrine responses: implications for stress-related disorders'

There’s plenty of bullying that goes on behind the scenes amongst women. It can’t manifest itself in naked physical aggression, and I actually think that’s hard on women in some ways.

My daughter, for example, is always mad at my son because he’d have a dispute with one of his friends, and maybe it would get physical - and that would be the end of it, and they’d be friends again. There was a way of bringing it to a conclusion. And without that, things can smolder on forever.

Sometimes the simplest solution is a fight.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'Joe Rogan Experience #958 - Jordan Peterson'

Blue [Spiral Dynamics]

[Blue] follows tradition, convention and policy; values certainty, structure and order; is motivated by duty; is loyal; is responsible; is careful; and promotes fairness and  traditions.

Stress is caused by ambiguity and uncertainty; chaos is feared; and change is avoided.

[Maretha Prinsloo]
'Consciousness Models in Action: Comparisons'

Conformist (E4)

Loevinger describes this stage of having 'the greatest cognitive simplicity. There is a right way and a wrong way and it is the same for everyone...or broad classes of people [...]'

Autonomous (E8)

Loevinger described this stage as marked by the freeing of the person from oppressive demands of conscience in the preceding stage'. People at this stage are "synthesizers" and are able to conceptually integrate ideas [...] The stage might also see a 'confrontation with the limitations of abilities and roles as part of deepening self-acceptance'.

'Self-fulfillment becomes a frequent goal, partly supplanting achievement', while there may well be a wider 'capacity to acknowledge and to cope with inner conflicts', such as between needs and duties.

'A high toleration for ambiguity... [and] conceptual complexity' - the capacity to embrace Polarity, Complexity, Multiple Facets, and to integrate ideas - is a further feature of the Autonomous Stage [...]'

'Loevinger's stages of ego development'

What can we say, if something is called for, about an anxious object?

Of course, the object is not anxious, but it is such that we, looking at it, feel anxious and project our anxiety upon it. We feel anxious not so much about the status of the object as about our helplessness in its vicinity. It is dismal to feel that our mind is disabled.

One answer is: if you feel anxious, well and good, keep on feeling so, don’t indulge yourself in the opportunism of clarity. Anxiety, according to that admonition, corresponds to moral scruple; we may not be clear in the head, but at least we are conscientious.

A critic, thus admonished, would accustom himself to living in doubt; either he would assume that at some level of existence everything coheres, or he would postpone indefinitely the question of coherence and live meanwhile with the doubt of appearances.

Another answer is provided by the tour de force; we think of the work as a purely picturesque event which doesn’t call for judgement. Observation is enough. Otherwise put: we think of it by analogy with a force of nature which calls for acknowledgment but not for evaluation. We distance ourselves from the event, and wonder at it.

But it is a hard question how long we can continue in this stance. Can we remain in such a relation to the event that it never stops being spectacular, a matter of awe or wonder; or, at some point, are we bound to look for a category, a genre of such events, so that we can release ourselves from it?

Much of our understanding is a determination to be done with its object.

The normal way of being done with it is to find for it an appropriate slot or bin, even if it is called the sublime or the uncanny. The uncanny is a genre we maintain by keeping our distance from the object. We know that we don’t really dispose of an event by assigning it to a category; it may be different in some way or ways from the other events in there same category. But the mind is assuaged by consigning it to the slot.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 110-11

[...] the left hemisphere needs certainty and needs to be right. The right hemisphere makes it possible to hold several ambiguous possibilities in suspension together without premature closure on one outcome.

[...] The right hemisphere is able to maintain ambiguous mental representations in the face of a tendency to premature over-interpretation by the left hemisphere.

The right hemisphere's tolerance of uncertainty is implied everywhere in its subtle ability to use metaphor, irony and humour, all of which depend on not prematurely resolving ambiguities.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 82

Why is it hard to avoid interpretation?

It is key that […] brain functions often operate outside our awareness. You interpret pretty much as you perform other activities deemed automatic and outside your control, like breathing.

What makes nontheorizing cost you so much more energy than theorising? 

First, there is the impenetrability of the activity. I said that much of it takes place outside of our awareness: if you don’t know that you are making the inference, how can you stop yourself unless you stay in a continuous state of alert? And if you need to be continuously on the watch, doesn’t that cause fatigue?

It takes considerable effort to see facts (and remember them) while withholding judgment and resisting explanation. And this theorising disease is rarely under our control: it is largely anatomical, part of our biology, so fighting it requires fighting one’s own self. So the ancient skeptics’ precepts to withhold judgment go against our nature.

[...] it is impossible for our brain to see anything in raw form without some interpretation. 

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 64-7

Empiricism is not about not having theories, beliefs, and causes and effects: it is about avoiding being a sucker, having a decided and present bias about there you want your error to be - where the default is.

An empiricist facing series of facts or data defaults to suspension of belief (hence the link between empiricism and the older skeptical Pyrrhonian tradition), while others prefer to default to a characterisation or a theory.

The entire idea is to avoid the confirmation bias (empiricists prefer to err on the side of the disconfirmation/falsification bias, which they discovered more than fifteen hundred years before Karl Popper).

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 311

When you look at a system it is easier to perceive the conflict than it is to perceive the co-operation [...]

[If there is] an interruption of flow, then you’re going to perceive where that interruption is happening because it’s creating a barrier of sorts; and the barrier becomes an object, which makes it possible to perceive it.

Whereas when things are flowing easily you can see through them, they become transparent.

[Forrest Landry]
'Human Collaboration w/ Forrest Landry'