24. Empathy in 1, 2, 3 – Part 3: ‘Beyond the Conceptual’

September 28, 2018 Empathy, Mind-Body Column No Comments

“Where two of you are together, I am present”.

The human mind: rather a chest of drawers or rather a cloud?

One could see the human mind as a collection of boxes and each box is filled. So, a kind of chest of drawers in which one can store all kinds of things. There is a clear subdivision. In each tray, there is a concept. What is stored in one tray, is not at the same time half and half in 30 other trays. If one opens a tray, one expects to find what one has left behind there the last time the tray was closed. The human mind can be seen as an immensely complex chest of drawers.

Another analogy is that of a cloud. No boxes here. It’s not possible to grab a content. A cloud cannot be divided into clear-cut pieces. A cloud is constantly changing. Every time one looks, the cloud looks somewhat different.

The reality has something of both analogies.

We think in clear concepts. Behind this (or below or whatever you want to call it), however, there is also a lot of content (mental, spiritual, psychological…) that is not present in the form of concepts. We are closer to a cloud than to a chest of drawers. We are also closer to neurophysiology. There are no cabinets or boxes in the central nervous system. There is also no cloud of course. It is an analogy. The aim is to identify what can be meant by ‘beyond the conceptual’.

Between ‘being’ and ‘not being’

People often rely on the idea that ‘what is’, is equal to ‘the conceptually knowable’. This is part of ‘being’. All the rest is part of ‘not being’. During an anamnesis, one asks information that is then written down in the file. The things that are difficult to express by the patient, are considered to be just that, namely: that what is fundamentally expressible, but is hard to be expressed by this patient at this time. But what if the things that are difficult to express are just that, namely: that what is fundamentally difficult to express in principle? Not by this patient, not by that patient, not by anyone else? To the extent that the human mind rather acts like a cloud, we get closer to this. Problem: If one is trying to grasp a cloud in a pool, this might seem to succeed. But it is not a cloud any more. It is qualitatively different. One reduces the reality to the conceptually knowable and in the process one loses the reality itself.

… lies a world of meaning

In previous texts I have already partially discussed the how and why of ‘empathy beyond the conceptual’. The focus deserves to be placed above all on the fact that this is the ultimate source itself of ‘meaning’. I do not mean dictionary-meaning, but deep meaning, sense. In the sense of: what does the health of someone you care about mean to you (so: someone who means something to you)? The latter is not just falling out of the sky.

Nothing has deep meaning, other than what a signifier gives to it

Well, this signifier (sense giver) doesn’t act from a chest of drawers. The fact that something has meaning to someone is not the result of a conceptually manageable decision. It’s a cloud-event. That what has deep meaning to someone, is what that someone finds important. ‘Being important’ and ‘having deep meaning’ are even synonymous to each other. This goes infinitely far. We are dealing here with the meaning of existence, and so of anything that anyone does. Empathy is not the conceptually knowing of the conceptually unknowable. Empathy is: two clouds that meet and ‘understand’ each other… as cloud. Each time again a miracle.

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