Some Subjective Ideas on the Nature of Object

Dunn, M., 1993. Some Subjective Ideas on the Nature of Object. Reformulation, ACAT News Autumn, p.2.


Some Subjective Ideas on the Nature of Objects
Mark Dunn

Having given the matter some thought it seems to me that CAT theory should be called the Procedural Sequence Reciprocal Role Repertoire Model rather than the PSORM. There does seem to be a problem with objects even if it is only a problem of language rather than their reality (object relations vs reciprocal role relations). To boil it down swiftly before fattening it up again, the question might better be asked ‘are there entities in the mind, yes or no?’ Other questions swiftly follow. If one rejects them, perhaps it is sometimes helpful to the patient to suggest that they do exist to explain the patients actions? Can one have a role without an actor? There is dream evidence to suggest that objects do exist in the mind as representations of real objects and are animate in the mind like the animate objects of the real world that they are mentally constructed from. An object does not simply consist of what you can do with it. Reciprocal role relating may be a better description of intra and interpsychic processes but that doesn’t mean that object representations of important attachment figures are unnecessary or cease to exist. To throw away objects in favour of roles may well be throwing the baby out with the murky bathwater.

Perceiving a thing as an ‘object’ is a mental developmental process, whether it is a thing such as a box or a person. It seems to me that the idea of ‘person’ is the frame or boundary that contains the role procedures - corrals them as belonging to a certain class of objects eg known as ‘mother’ and later on ‘care givers’ etc.

In the same way that inanimate objects have properties and procedures for using and interacting with them so also do animate objects. I can’t see why the developmental process of internalising an animate object (mother) is any different from the process of internalising an inanimate object (box). It has to be a perceptually recognisable object first. Perceptual recognition is hardwired genetically into the sense organs (ducks following the first moving thing they see etc) but it is also environmentally driven (babies learn who is mother and who isn’t). How does an infant recognise a box as a box? It Is generally understood to be through a combination of a) sense perception, ie a box is square and has corners, b) interaction, a box can be carried and can carry things in it, and c) through being named, it’s a ‘box~ because it has that name and other things don’t

Because human memory for objects is relational, ie perceptual, interactive and nomenative at the same time, how can the properties be held together without the idea of abjectness? It is possible to know a thing without remembering its name but it is not possible to ‘know’ the name of a thing without remembering the shape and properties of the thing (one can say the name but not know what it means). Mother, of course, is an object like a box (she has a certain shape, she can carry things and have things put inside her, she has a certain name) but she is somehow different by being animate.

Inanimate objects do become entities in the mind; you can imagine them, you can dream about them but you have to have the idea of the object to hold its perceptual, interactive and nomenative properties together. In the world of computers the word ‘icon’ stands for these bundles of properties and they usually have a picture on the front to show what they are (I feel it is debatable whether icons become hardwired or remain as software in the human mind. The particular property of inanimate ~ the box does not become alive. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or hallucinations might be defined by inanimate objects becoming animate (walls or TVs talking to one etc).

I see no reason why animate objects cannot be internalised or treated in memory and in the mind in the same way as inanimate objects. The animate object ‘Mother’ is perceived to have a certain facial shape, voice sound, smell etc is interacted with for care and attention; is called ‘mummy because that is what she names herself; and is stored ‘iconically’ in memory to hold these properties together, In my experience with some patients, such icons are seen to behave as animate objects or entities in the mind where they can be imagined, brought to mind, fantasized about and often dialogue with the patient in a critical or demanding way. There is no reason to suppose that internalised animate objects should become active entities in the mind as opposed to passive ones such as boxes except that there is plenty of awkward dream evidence that they do, and being active in reality, why should they not be active mentally? Computers are now perfectly capable of creating 3d images that can be made to move in real tine, so it is wrong to suggest that the mind cannot do this. Conscious imagination can make a fantasy move, the unconscious can make a dream move. The question is whether the self has control over the thing that is moving. This raises the additional question of whether one believes the unconscious mind is a) trying to expose our defences and egotistical vulnerabilities orb) help us with our maladaptive procedures or c) neither, it is simply enacting and inviting enactment of generally maladaptive reciprocal role procedures by internal and projectively identified external objects a-la-CAT.

I am curious as to how the internalised icons of animate objects relate to re4xocal role procedures. For me this seems to relate to a process of generalisation that takes place to do with categories of objects. As one acquires more experience of the world I environment one learns that mummy’s car which is blue, carries the shopping and is called Fort, is only one within larger categories of all blue cars, all vehicles which carry things and all Fords. This process also occurs with animate objects as one learns that Mother who has brown hair and blue eyes, who is caring and attentive and who is called ‘mummy’ is only one within larger categories of all Mothers, who are of different shapes and sizes, differentially caring and attentive and who may be called ‘mummy’ but may be called other things. Given the potential confusion it would be logical for the interactive aspects of animate objects to become emphasised at the expense of the perceptual and nomenative aspects, not just because the objects can be of any shape, size or colour, or any name but because the animate object, generally parental insists upon interaction (and there is evidence that the animate child also insists!). Separation from mother whether by natural developmental process or unnatural process leads to a situation where the perceptual and nomenative aspects of the mother icon are de-emphasised in favour of interactive aspects (though it is not surprising how many choose partners who perceptually resemble their parents or who are the opposite [Jung’s anima shadow] idealising the opposite of what they disliked in their own parents).

This then raises the difficult business of predictability in interactions and whether procedures for interacting with animate objects of primary attachment can be generalised to all animate objects in a similar category. Inanimate objects are more predictable, don’t have a life of their own, don’t take on life in the mind or haunt one in one’s dreams. Perhaps this is also why one gets upset when they are unpredictable, ie when the bottom falls out of the box and dumps the shopping on the pavement or the car refuses to start. Animate objects being much more unpredictable require more complex interactions, necessarily defensive. The child (and adults) seeks to render animate objects (adults) predictable and thereby less anxiety-provoking by eliciting predictable responses by repeating / inviting the known reciprocal role repertoire for the class of animate object it is interacting with. In intimate, close or dependent relationships this will be the repertoire learned in interaction with the animate object of primary attachment. One might also argue that If the repertoire is mainly an abusive one it cannot easily be revised, even though it is maladaptive for the survival of the individual, because predictability is a higher or more essential function of adaptation than revision.

Is the self capable of unpredictability? Yes, but it tries not to be, even to the extent of maintaining the integrity and coherence of individual reciprocal role objects in the mind at the expense of the disintegration of the controlling / integrating self function. The self attempts to be constantly internally predictable and consistent which is why it repeats procedures, adaptive or maladaptive and splits off what is inconsistent. As a result self-to-self procedures are likely to be more about controlling arousal-soothing processes in response to the predictable I unpredictable environment of animate others whereas self-to-other procedures will be more about getting or falling to get emotional and physical needs met and then accessing self-to-self procedures to cope with the results.

Does anyone else have any animate or inanimate thoughts or feelings on this matter?

 

Mark Dunn

Full Reference

Dunn, M., 1993. Some Subjective Ideas on the Nature of Object. Reformulation, ACAT News Autumn, p.2.

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