A. M. P.

"Il pensiero di P. Bion Talamo e W. R. Bion"
Dedicato a Parthenope Bion Talamo

Luca Caldironi and Mario Giampà

"Dream - like memory"

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke on various subjects, several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason
J. Keats

One could fix a price on thoughts. Some cost a great deal, others very little. And what would we pay for them with? I believe with courage.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

In the seventies Wilfred Bion wrote Attention and Interpretation: a Scientific Approach to Insight in Psychoanalysis and Groups, in which he proposed a sort of scientific psychoanalysis to address the following problem: The importance of the unconscious must not blind us to the fact that in addition to our unconscious memories and desires, dealt with psycho-analytically, there is a problem to solve in the handling of our conscious memories and desires. What kind of psychoanalysis is required for the conscious?

Dream-like memory is the memory of psychic reality and the staff of analysis. That which is related to a background of sensuous experience is not suitable to the phenomena of mental life which are shapeless, untouchable, invisible, odourless, tasteless. These psychically real (in the sense of belonging to psychic reality) elements are what the analyst has to work with. ...the sacrifice of memory and desire is conducive to the growth of dream-like 'memory' which is a part of the experience of psycho-analytical reality. The transformation of the emotional experience into mental growth of analyst and analysand contributes to the difficulty of both to 'remember' what took place; insofar as the experience contributes to growth it ceases to be recognizable; if it does not become assimilated it adds to those elements that are remembered and forgotten. Desire obstructs the transformation from knowing and understanding to being, K ( O.

In 1987 Bion describes this concept with greater intensity: The psychoanalyst should aim at achieving a state of mind so that at every session he feels he has not seen the patient before. If he feels he has, he is treating the wrong patient.

Memory is always misleading as a record of fact since it is distorted by the influence of unconscious forces. Desire interferes, by absence of mind when observation is essential, with the operation of judgement. Desires distort judgement by selection and suppression of material to be judged.

Again in 1976 in On a Quotation from Freud he writes: I want the reader to join me in trying to achieve the same depths of ignorance that I have succeeded in achieving, returning to a mental state of ignorance stripped, as far as possible, of preconceptions, theories, etc. What I'm really asking for is an act of mental acrobatics.

What is needed for these mental acrobatics, according to Bion, is a safety net in the form of a Grid, and we think this has been borne out by recent discoveries in neurological science.

The latest literature on the subject shows that there are various types of memory: procedural and declarative. (Squire, 1986)

According to neurobiologists, even when traumatic experiences are stored in memory systems inaccessible to consciousness - regardless of Freudian repression - unconscious or implicit memory definitely does exist, or rather a number of memories of unconsciously stored experiences functioning within different subsystems. Neurobiological research has produced psychoanalytical data confirming the fact that the emotions have an unconscious life, separate from higher processing systems (i.e. thought, reasoning and consciousness). (De Masi F. 2000)

According to Le Doux, implicit memory is emotional memory, i.e. memory based on the emotion created by fear. This mental process interacts with declarative memory (phylogenetically more recent), i.e. the conscious process by which past experiences are recalled.

In neurological science the unconscious has to do with that of which we are unaware, not that which has been suppressed, and being merely the emotional unconscious, is far removed from the dynamic unconscious Freud speaks about (De Masi F., 2000).

We can imagine dream-like memory as being between the emotional unconscious - situated in phylogenetically older areas of the brain, like the amygdule, and declarative memory as being mediated by the hippocampus and more recent areas of the cerebral cortex.

The 'mental acrobatics' talked about by Bion are found both in Freud - letter to Lou Andreas-Salomè of May 25, 1916: I know that I have artificially blinded myself in my work in order to concentrate all the light on the one dark passage, and in M. Klein's contribution to a symposium on child-analysis in 1927: If one approaches child-analysis with an open mind one will discover ways and means of probing to the deepest depths.

We believe that Bion does not contradict what Freud maintained with regard to dreams in psychoanalysis. In fact we believe that Bion expands on Freud's thinking, adding the concept of 'work-of-dreams (' to that of oneiric work. (*)

Pre-verbal unconscious material must be constantly subjected to work with dreams, which operate outside of consciousness. Bion addresses the birth of emotions, affective symbolization, the bases of psychic life and he considers dreams, and the unconscious to be inter-psychic and inter-relational communication and not a construction to be interpreted (De Masi F., 2,000).

At a seminar on dreams held in Rome in 1998 Parthenope argued that what Bion had in mind is an unconscious flow, not in the sense of being unconscious, but in the sense of being unaware, of dreams...Bion theorized on a concept borrowed from the French idea of réverie...He took this idea (maternal réverie) and applied it to psychoanalysis in an attempt to work "devoid of memory or desire". According to Parthenope, this state of being devoid of memory or desire is a result of Bion's childhood in India where he was in contact with a culture having very different rhythms from our own, or in any case very different from English culture of the time. His family was not strictly English but rather a Euro-Asian hybrid, which was to prove a major factor in his development, as he definitely absorbed a great deal of Indian culture.

Bion was born in 1897 in a village known as Mathura in ancient times, now called Muttra. It is a 'holy' city in that it is a place of religious syncretism, important to Hinduism (Krishna), Buddhism, and later on Islam. It is a place where time is measured by monsoons, awaited and feared at the same time. It is a place where the Hindi word "Kal" means yesterday and tomorrow.

We believe that when Bion states that thought does not need someone to think it, he is reflecting the part of Indian culture which strives for total concentration and 'in-centration' of one's attention (samadhi). A propos of this, M. Epstein maintains that when Freud spoke about oceanic feeling as the apotheosis of mystic feeling, and when Fromm spoke so enthusiastically about the feeling of well-being resulting from Buddhist meditation, they overlooked a simple but essential point: meditation is not meant to simply create a state of well-being, it is also meant to destroy belief in one's self as having intrinsic existense. The very title of Bion's triology of novels on psychoanalitic thought, Memory of the Future (Dreams, Presenting the Past and The Dawn of Oblivion) is based on Indian culture.

In India a dream, in its cosmogonical dimension ...encompasses past, present and future, symbolizing suspended time, a spirit within the dreaming god. Dreams pertain to the state of things that are and are not at the same time, called alternatively 'body of illusion' (Mayavirupa) in Brahamian literature, 'body of transformation' (sambhogakaya) in Buddhism and in Taoism expressed by an ideogram meaning change 'LI' (G. Marchianò, 1984).

Indians believe that 'true consciousness' cannot be achieved through rational processes. On the contrary, 'reason' detracts from and saturates the possibility of knowledge. True reality, therefore, can be found only by distancing oneself from the state of vigilance, submerging oneself in a meditative-contemplative dimension much like the dream state.

In Indian culture the dream state is an intermediary state between deep sleep and half sleep: when passing from deep sleep to half sleep through the mediating dream state where virtual shapes are formed, Vishnu realizes that these forms are a projection of self, the opposite of normal perception in which shapes are seen outside of oneself (G. Marchianò, 1984).

Western civilization has disregarded the oneiric dimension as a way to gain knowledge, preferring a state of vigilence.

Freud signalled a return to the oneiric dimension both as a unique instrument for inner research, a way to reach the unconscious, but also as a way to reach the unknown, the unprobable: "every dream at which it is unplumbable - a navel, as it were, that is its of contact with the unknown" and still "there is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure; this is because we become aware during the work of interpretation that at that point there is a tangle of dream - thoughts which cannot be unravelled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream. This is the dream's navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknowm." (S.Freud, 1899)

We realize that the experience of dreaming has fascinated all cultures and civilizations since time began. It is, in fact, a ubiquitous and fundamental experience which Oriental society places alongside the comtemplative dimension and Western society expresses through poetry and art. In the VI canto of the Eneide Virgil declaims: The gates of dreams are twin: they say one is a horn from which true shadows easily slip out; the other, of glossy, delicately carved white ivory, is by which the manes send false dreams to earth.

In 1985 Borges made the following comments on these verses by Virgil: "Judging from his choice of subjects, one could say that Virgil felt that somehow dreams foretelling the future are less valuable than false dreams, spontaneous inventions of human beings in sleep".

As far as calling Bion a mystic, in our opinion he is a thinker who, as an historian thinks in terms of past memory and as a psychoanalyst thinks in terms of primordial memory (**), protomental memory (***) and the C elements of the grid (oneiric thinking, myths, dreams). What Bion thinks needs to be looked for in the mental approach of a mystic, genius or scientist is Psychic Reality 'O', which is as asensorial as can be.

We feel that Gargani's reaction in 1999 to a statement by Wittgenstein on 'truth' also applies to Bion: ...The truth is not immediately apparent (otherwise it would present no problem), yet we must constantly find the truth in order to know ourselves ...The truth in which we must find ourselves and live, if we want to be able to express it, is a state acquired through ruthless inner discipline -- not, therefore,through a passive, ecstatic approach, but by working toward inner subjugation of self.

We can say then that Bion's idea of scientific psychoanalysis contemplates 'exercizing the mind', setting aside memory, desire, even understanding and caring in order to be able to experience whatever the encounter may bring, searching for the innermost being in oneself and the other (at-one-ment) ( "O".

Does 'scientific psychoanalysis' scare psychoanalysts?

We think that what A. Green affirmed in 1973 in a review on Attention and Interpretation. A Scientific Approach to Insight in Psychoanalysis and Groups still holds true: "Without any doubt the psychoanalytic groups will put up quite a show of resistence before they recognize themselves in Bion's descriptions".

Can psychoanalysis be considered therapy even when it does not have this aim? Can psychoanalyst and analisand tolerate the fear of insanity that an approach of this kind inevitably produces? It becomes an ethical question, then, and we can state that only psychoanalysts who have undergone rigorous 'initiation' in the field should practice this discipline; only those whose own psychoanalysis has led them to recognize states of schizo-paranoia and depression.

Bion's suggestion (abstention from sensorial perception and anything related to it) is reminiscent of suggestions found in the Indian Yoga tradition in which one tends to 'con-ju-gate', to join together, the various parts of one's self in order to overcome 'catastrophic' moments and fear.

In the 1.15 Yoga sutra ...detachment is a result that can be achieved only by those who cease to long for objects seen and heard and who control objects (of the senses).

In the 1.43 Yoga sutra the (highest) samadhi (ecstasy) without verbal thought is achieved when memory is purified of all (material) attributes (and) is concentrated on ideas (universal in themselves) without personalized additions. Patanjali, 1st Century A.D. Yoga Philosophy, 1984.

The entireYoga system is based on the concept of the mind as the main factor binding us to the earth and at the same time freeing us from slavery in all its forms. That is why it is centered on the art of mental control, purification of the mind and the mental science that enables us to reach gnosis. Various forms of meditational ecstasy are reached at different levels, the lowest being the verbal, vibrational, rational level and the highest a state of contemplation of pure idea without language, beyond words, names and shapes, the kind of pure idea described when one reaches Nirvitarka: meditational ecstasy (non argumentative) (A. Elenjimittam, 1984).

In Yoga Sutra, Yoga is the suppression of modifications in consciousness in order to have access to samadhi: identification, complete union between the conscious, the act of knowing and the object known. Samadhi (meaning union) is only possible if the conscience "is progressively permeated by the instant in which its own activity stops". In other words, truth is not located in thought, but in the void between thoughts, and in this void, in this silence, it is possible to be more-than-conscious (G. Comolli, 1994).

In Hindi (one of the modern Indian languages) there are many ways of saying silence, two of the most notable being sannata and món, both from the Sanskrit.

Sannata is a term that besides meaning 'silence' also has a connotation of fear, terror, shock and consternation, and is expressed by a penetrating sound that has the same kind of hypnoidal effect as wind or rain.

Món is a derivation of the Sanskrit word mauna, a neutral noun, and denotes the condition in which union in Yoga can truly take place, the all-encompassing silence of Self, the silence that symbolizes and expresses Absolute Consciousness, i.e. awareness of identity with Brahman-nirguna (without attributes), who is one of the three attributes of the Knower or Samnyasin (the Renouncer: he who vows to renounce the world's illusions).

Mauna derives, in turn, from Muni (masculine noun, "ascetic who practices silence", he who understands the value of silence). This state of mauna silence is one of three attributes, according to Sankara, of the three functions belonging to Samnyasin, Knower (jnanin) and possessor of Knowledge.

The three attributes of Samnyasin, in fact, are:

Balya, or mental childlike-ness (in the positive sense), purity, non-expansion, we could say 'an unsaturated mind';

Panditya, or wisdom: in reference to the role of teacher inasmuch as qualified to impart instruction (upadesha) in Knowledge;

Mauna, or perfect silence of mind, world and action (Sanskrit Glossary, 1988).

We do not consider this an erudite digression but, as Lorena Preta put it, "...indispensable at a time when acquired knowledge needs to consult contiguous areas of research, and more even those further afield, without being afraid of creating confusion -- delighting, in fact, in this 'contamination' which seems to be very advantageous at first.

Corrao, in his comments on the first volume of Memory of the Future - Dreams, considers the enigma of knowledge within the mitologhema of the labyrinth, a contradictory area, even a symbolic emblem of contradictions, beyond divergences and literary digressions and their interpretative nuances, revealing a logical 'grid' of meaning, both metaphorical and mythical, that enables us to experience a disturbing Egriffenheit, i.e. an enigmatic, obscure feeling of being taken hold of, overcome, attracted and guided by a truth that is beyond intellect and conscience.

We can imagine Bion's 'grid' as a sort of compass, a lantern lighting the way, but what does it hold within it, what is its meaning-flow? It is very much like a labyrinth (a stone edifice worthy of admiration), in which channels of coreic movement highlight its dynamic and transformative elements.

One does not return from the labyrinth, according to Massimo Raveri, but is transformed by it. He maintains (1992) that the ascetic understands that the monster is really the specters, the anguish, of his own mind, awakened during meditation by the unconscious.'void'. If we can control our horror, we can actually 'see' them. Thinking is equivalent to entering the labyrinth - or more exactly, it allows the labyrinth to be and to be seen...One does not lose oneself in the labyrinth, one finds oneself. "I am my own labyrinth" is, then, the solution to the challenge of knowledge, but this truth, so essential and evident, takes on the form of a 'strange circle', it is a self-referential proposition that produces a vicious, infinite cycle. It is another enigma.

"...We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep..."

W. Shakespeare, "The Tempest"

(*) Dream - work - _ is a continuous night and day. It operates on the receipt of stimuli arising within and without the psyche. (Bion, Cogitations, p. 82)
(**) Primordial thought is layered on embrionic thought (that which links various sensorial impressions to the conscious).
"Our primordial mind is a relic of our ancestral heritage, like gills, evidence of a fish-like anatomical structure or a rudimentary tail." (Bion, 1978, "Discussions with W. R. Bion", p.16, Loescher editore, Turin, 1984)
Primitive preverbal thought, on the other hand, that of newborn babies, is linked to vision and is expressed in terms of what we could define as ideograms. This kind of thought is closely linked to the capacity to introject and project objects in a balanced way, implying consciousness of having them.
(***) Proto-mental. "To explain what happens to dysfunctional basic assumptions I have postulated the existence of a proto-mental system in which physical and psychic activities are in an undifferentiated state outside of the field generally considered useful in psychological research." ( Bion, 1961, "Group Experiences ", Armando Rome 1971, p. 164).
(****) The Grid "is analogous to a law of physics and is based on a matrix of theories aimed at enhancing observation, not substituting it ". (Bion, 1970, p. 10) The Grid is organized according to the principle of ordering elements used in Mendeleev's table.. Single elements are aligned vertically - from the simplest protomental items (beta elements) to the most abstract (algebraico calculus); horizontally the functions of judgement go from the simplest to the most complex - from the first steps (definitory hypotheses) to effective conclusions reached through judgement (action). ( Gaburri E and Ferro A., Vol. I, p. 336, Treatise on Psychanalysis, edited by SemiA., Raffaello Cortina Publishers, Milan, 1990)


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Paper presented May 13th, 2000 at a conference entitled "The Thought of Parthenope Bion, Talamo and Wilfred R. Bion held at the Department of Neurological Science at the "La Sapienza" University, Rome.

Luca Caldironi, E - mail:
Mario Giampà, E - mail: