Sunday, September 29, 2013

Freud vs. Cantor


In his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1904, Freud gave an early expression to his naturalistic outlook on religion and allied topics.  “I believe in fact that a great part of the mythological view of the world, which reaches far into the most modern religions, is nothing other than psychological processes  projected into the outer world.  The obscure apprehending of the psychical factors and relationships of the unconscious  is mirrored -- it is hard to put it otherwise; one has to use here the analogy with paranoia -- in the construction of a supersensible reality.”
-- Ernest Jones, Freud: The Last Phase (1957), p. 353

As for the actual existence of this or that supersensible reality, I shall have nothing to say here.  As a matter of mere logic, Freud, having assumed (A) their non-existence (on principle), seeks to explain their prevalence in people’s belief, and finds the answer in psychological projection.   (I have myself attempted a similar explanation, in the related case of penguins.)

Very well.  But what of that vast, enduring, ever-evolving, and richly articulated  suprasensible reality  known as mathematics ?   A Naturalist (or, in our terms Nominalist, as opposed to Platonist or Realist) account  must either hopelessly scumble the actual distinctness, variety, and logical interrelation of its explicandum, or reduce to absurdity (which part of the Oedipal complex gives rise to the Urysohn Metrization Theorem?).
[We’ll refrain from writing yet another anti-naturalist satire, and merely point the reader who has an appetite for such things, to the following, directed against the overreachings of ultra-Darwinism/evolutionary-psychology:  The Urysohn MetrizationTheorem:  an Adaptationist Account. ]

The real point of that observation has, of course, nothing to do with Freudian psychology per se, for we count ourselves (on many points) among its defenders, but rather takes aim at Assumption A -- the axiomatic non-existence of suprasensible realities.   If that assumption is infirmed in the case of mathematics, other questions are re-opened as well.
(In actual fact, I believe that even coffee-cups -- and certainly rabbits -- are largely supersensible, ourselves having access to but the intruding tip here below;  but that is a matter for a later seminar.  For the nonce, consult our discoveries concerning the elusive snow bunnies, who are uncontroversially supersensible.)

We have expounded and defended the Platonist account, in a long series of essays beginning here:

            Theologia mathematica

We hold -- to make the point precise -- that psychology has nothing whatever to say, nor ever could, about the transcendental organon -- timeless, independent of species and even of embodied consciousness -- of abstract mathematics itself.   Where psychology may have something to say, is about the vicissitudes of mathematical discovery, as a human (or Venusian) activity:

So far, however, no-one but mathematicians themselves (as opposed to professional psychologists) have had anything of interest to say on the subject; and even they, not much.


  1. Is assumption (A) actually required in order to believe that people's understandings of supersensible realities are mere projections of their internal psychological processes?

    The thing about supersensible reality is that there is no way to obtain any feedback about whether one's understanding of it is correct, so organized religions end up saying things about God that make parishioners feel good (and willing to tithe), rather than things about God that are actually "true" (whatever that might mean in a supernatural context).

    Even if you believe that some religion (Orthodox Christianity, for example) actually manages to capture some truth, its rites and trappings will contain much chaff along with the wheaten truths because there is no reliable way to thresh them apart. And the particulars of the "chaff" will be based on the nature of people and how they think.

    Why did the Catholic church used to believe that the world was flat, that God abhors a vacuum, etc.? Because that is how people instinctively believe that the world works, so they projected their own instincts onto God.

    There is no need to cite the Oedipal complex to explain the Urysohn Metrization Theorem; it can be interpreted simply as a projection of our need to see God's universe as a fundamentally ordered place, regardless of whether He actually made it that way. A similar projection occurs in Neoplatonism, which holds that "math circles" are real and "physical-universe circles" are mere imperfect shadows of the divine forms. This allows one to believe in a more orderly universe, while ignoring the pesky problem that God's design for this universe does not permit perfect circles to exist, implying that He doesn't actually like them, so in what way are they "divine"?

    1. > much chaff along with the wheaten truths because there is no reliable way to thresh them apart.

      And indeed, it is largely for this reason, that my starting-point is math, and not theology.