You are on page 1of 869

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page i


Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page ii

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page iii

4 A Dictionary of Concepts
8 P. C. Sandler
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page iv

4 First published in 2005 by
5 Karnac Books Ltd
118 Finchley Road, London NW3 5HT
9 Copyright © 2005 Paulo Cesar Sandler
1 The right of Paulo Cesar Sandler to be identified as the author of this work
2 has been asserted in accordance with §§ 77 and 78 of the Copyright Design
3 and Patents Act 1988.
5 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored
6 in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
711 electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the
prior written permission of the publisher.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1 A C.I.P. for this book is available from the British Library
3 ISBN 978-1-85575-836-0
511 Designed and produced by The Studio Publishing Services Ltd,
6 Exeter EX4 8JN
8 Printed in Great Britain
311 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page v

Introduction 1
The dictionary 21

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page vi


Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page vii

5 To Ester, Daniela and Luiz, and to the memory
6 of my father, Dr Jayme Sandler
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page viii

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page ix

211 To Francesca Bion, whose fortitude, patience with my limitations,
1 devotion, and caring humanity have constituted a peerless source
2 of inspiration to me during the last twenty-three years. Having
3 benefited from such a generosity and availability since 1981, when
4 I translated A Memoir of the Future into Portuguese, this acknow-
5 ledgement could be seen as trivial. However, its inclusion is much
6 more due to the fact that it is easier to plant a tree, to initiate a busi-
7 ness, a marriage, a career, than it is to keep it alive, fit, running,
8 striving and maturing. The help she provided in writing of this dic-
9 tionary far surpassed that of a gesture. She was able to point out
30 seemingly minor, but serious flaws in my quotations, making the
1 text more readable. This effort and generosity cannot be over-
2 estimated, taking into account the hours she spent doing this hard,
3 painstaking work. She granted me the same seriousness and atten-
4 tion to detail that are some of her hallmarks in everything she does.
5 She is the most knowledgeable person I know in the work of her
6 deceased husband, on a level that I have seen in only very few dis-
7 tinguished scholars and scientists.
8 I would also like to acknowledge a few other people. Mr Oliver
911 Rathbone gave life to this book. Without him, it would not even

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page x


111 have the current title, which was his idea, after having discovered
2 its underlying invariance, until then unknown to me: the inspira-
3 tion in Laplanche and Pontalis’s seminal dictionary. I am indebted
4 to his dedicated, serious and patient Publishing Manager, Leena
5 Häkkinen, and her staff.
6 My daughter Daniela, a knowledgeable scholar in arts and a
7 number of languages, gave her time to proof-read the manuscript,
8 which produced hundreds of corrections. My much loved father,
9 who so prematurely met his fate, was a seasoned analyst keen in
10 the English language. He translated some of Bion’s first clinical
1 seminars in Brazil, on the spot; he made me aware of Bion’s exis-
2 tence, and also his seminal importance to psychoanalysis. Drs João
3 Carlos Braga, Antonio Sapienza, Jaques Goldstajn, Francisco
4 Claudio Montenegro Castelo, Almerinda Castelo Albuquerque, and
5 Odilon de Mello Franco Filho made stimulating reading of some
6 entries. I am deeply obliged to my son Luiz, due to his unfailing
711 support; and to my wife Ester, without whom I am nothing.
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page xi

211 The reader is invited to be escorted in the path that Paulo Cesar
1 Sandler fleshes out in this book. In my view, the author embodies
2 seriousness, subtlety and critical independence in his judgements
3 about Wilfred Bion’s instigations and complex contributions. Dr
4 Sandler manages to illuminate the huge labyrinth that characterizes
5 Bion’s work and he offers us a whole listing of comprehensive
6 entries in the form of a dictionary.
7 The dictionary is based on a critical reading that builds up into
8 a genetic–historic study about Bion’s ideas. In these entries, the
9 reader can find Bion’s affinities and roots in his psychoanalytic
30 ancestors, Freud and Klein. Moreover, the author displays the close
1 relations that these three authors maintain with each other. He also
2 copes with the task of displaying with clarity the differentiations
3 and particularities that characterize Bion’s contributions to contem-
4 porary psychoanalysis. He does this as a faithful scientist and with
5 devotion to the psychoanalytic method.
6 I will specifically comment on a single entry in this Foreword:
7 “Dream work alpha”. It can serve as a model and an example that
8 illustrates the author’s gracefulness in making an exhaustive con-
911 cept clearer to the reader’s mind while incorporating it into Freud’s

Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page xii


111 observations. This entry is filtered through bearings in Philosophy

2 and Philosophy of Mathematics and its validation stems from clin-
3 ical facts. One is invited to read this entry as a valuable sample of
4 the dictionary. In this entry, Dr Sandler presents the reader with
5 excerpts from Bion’s texts written from 1959 to 1960, published in
6 Cogitations (1992). He outlines a progressive axis that allows one to
7 follow the growing distinction between dream work alpha and the
8 theory of alpha function. The reader is then able to follow the
9 genesis of Bion’s proposals on alpha and beta elements, which in
10 their turn will support the psychotic and non-psychotic parts of the
1 personality.
2 Reading this entry is a rewarding experience. The author invites
3 the reader to accompany him, step by step, in incursions into
4 heuristic irradiations. He deepens our understanding of the
5 Freudian proposal concerning the issue of “dreaming the session”.
6 Furthermore, he allows for the difference between the ideogram-
711 matic and symbolic activities proper. The latter is founded in expe-
8 riencing the depressive position.
9 During this scrutiny, Dr Sandler ponders the dimensions of
20 space and linking relationships that spring from both the sensuous
1 apprehensible and the psychic reality world. Let us consider an
2 individual, a single person. Some of this individual’s modes to feel
3 and know the Universe are indicated—for the author furnishes
4 those unique modes, which compose this individual’s paths as well
511 as his plans. One may grasp the psychotic and non-psychotic
6 modes of functioning; they keep close relationship with this indi-
7 vidual’s store of alpha-elements, as well as the same individual’s
8 proficiency in storing them. Alpha-elements are bulwarks, which
9 warrant the fitness of that which separates Unconscious from
311 Conscious. The fitness of this system is understood here as its main-
1 tenance, vitality, and lilt.
2 As he finishes this entry, Dr Sandler emphasizes the “naïve idea-
3 list’s” functioning, a definition he proposes as matching to Kant’s
4 “naïve realist”. This is a personality stereotype, crammed with beta-
5 elements. It survives based on his capacity to develop an intense
6 mental activity, the hallmark of which is a prevailing use of projec-
7 tive identification. One may draw an analogy of this kind of
8 personality with an “extruder” of “raw and primitive” thoughts—
911 looking for someone to digest, refine, and think them through.
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page xiii


111 The reader who consults the entries in this dictionary will find
2 it a work of beautiful, thorough, and professional craftsmanship. To
3 quote just one more example, the entry “Real Psycho-Analysis”
4 hurls the reader into Bion’s creative footpaths, which he opened up
5 in his generous Trilogy A Memoir of the Future (1975, 1977, 1979).
6 Some interesting questions are raised in this valuable fragment of
711 this text: is there any relationship between real life and psycho-
8 analysis? If one exists, what are the positive aspects of this? What
9 are the limitations of psychoanalysis in the face of emotional tur-
10 bulence? What is the value of myths and models in the analytic
1 situation? What is the relationship between feelings of suffering and their
2 use as the basis of experimentation? Are there any dangers involved in
3 a real analysis? What are they? Dr Sandler fulfills the reader’s
4 curiosity and invites him to expand on his ideas.
5 This is a worthwhile book to consult, and a good companion to
6 a sophisticated psychoanalytic research. A fertile sowing and a safe
7 crop of personal enrichment will reward the reader of this volume.
9 Antonio Sapienza
Sandler/prelims correx 6/24/05 12:31 PM Page xiv

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 1


711 Introduction
211 “There is a scarcity of time; a scarcity of knowledge; scarcity
1 of availability. Therefore choice becomes of fundamental
2 importance—choice of time, theories, and facts observed”
3 (Bion, 1975)
6 “P.A. A danger lies in the belief that psycho-analysis is a
7 novel approach to a newly discovered danger. If psycho-
8 analysts had an overall view of the history of the human
9 spirit, they would appreciate the length of that history of
murder, failure, envy and deceit”
1 (Bion, A Memoir of the Future, 1979, p. 571)
. . . technical term gets worn away and turns into a kind of worn out
coin which has lost its value. We should keep these things in good
working conditions. [Bion’s Brazilian Lectures II, p. 87]

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 2


111 ALICE From what I have heard, the complacency and ignorance of
2 psycho-analysts makes it difficult for them to take any adequate
3 steps to perfect either themselves or psycho-analysis. [A Memoir of
4 the Future, vol. III, p. 571]
5 The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost
6 nature it is as most unknown to us as the reality of the external
7 world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of
8 consciousness as is the external world by the communications of
9 our sense organs [Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900, p.613;
10 Freud’s bold]
This book is the result of a conjunction of many factors, chiefly,
the constant requests from colleagues, especially Dr Carlos Alberto
Gioielli, whom I cannot thank enough. I should also mention candi-
dates of the local institute of psycho-analysis (Sociedade Brasileira
de Psicanalise de São Paulo) and students of the post-graduate
training course on psycho-analytic therapy of the University of São
Paulo. Another factor in the writing of this book can be understood
with the aid of the following formulation by Bion:
20 PRIEST . . . From what I see of psycho-analysts they do not know
1 what religion is; they simply transfer their allegiance from one
2 undisciplined, desire-ridden system of emotions and ideas to
3 another. I have heard psycho-analysts discussing; their discussion
4 itself betrays all the characteristics which I have recognized as
pathognomic of religion of a primitive, undisciplined, intellectually
unstructured kind. They argue heatedly, adducing national, racial,
aesthetic and other emotionally coloured motivations in support of
7 their particular brand of activity.
9 P.A. I would not deny that we do all these things, but we do in fact
continue to question ourselves and our motives in a disciplined
manner. We may not succeed; neither do we give up the attempt.
2 PRIEST I hate to appear to sit in judgement but I have to judge, to
3 appraise such evidence as I have as it touches my private life and
4 my responsibility for my own thoughts and actions. You have as
5 many sects of psycho-analysts as there are in any religion I know.
You have as many psycho-analytic “saints” with their individual
following of devotees. [1979, 544–5]
8 The phrase, “individual following” brings to light some points to
911 consider. It may reflect—and perhaps in the vast majority of cases
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 3


111 it does reflect—idealistic tendencies. Since the eighties it has

2 presented itself as a trend—perhaps more trendy than anything
3 else. It has been named, “readings”. Its adepts have jumped on the
4 textualist and post-modernist bandwagons. The basis of the ideal-
5 ism is a religious state of mind, illuminated by Freud: one projects
6 one’s omnipotence and omniscience on to a chosen god.
711 It is doubtful that this attitude has been fully accepted by theo-
8 logians—an issue raised from time immemorial by the so-called
9 mystic tradition. There is a difference between the attitude of rever-
10 ence and awe (Bion’s terms, used in 1967; Cogitations, p. 285) and
1 imitation or projected omnipotence. Bion used this differentiation
2 from 1965. In nominally non-religious organizations the same issue
3 presents itself in a special guise: one reads the work written by an
4 author and replaces the author’s meanings with one’s own. The
5 religious aspect is marked by the reader’s blind fanaticism whose
6 allegiance is to his own idiosyncratic ideas assumed to be reflecting
7 a given author’s discoveries. An added complication is when this
8 kind of allegiance is mixed up with writings of authors who also
9 are prey to this tendency. The tendency itself is at least as old as
211 philosophy; at various times through the centuries it has been
1 known as subjectivism, idealism and solipsism. Freud referred to it
2 in his paper, “The question of a weltanschauung” (SE, XXIII).
3 One does not try to assess whether a given concept (and in some
4 cases, a given event) that has been formulated and written in a text
5 has any counterparts in reality. Therefore another factor that contri-
6 buted to the decision to write this dictionary is the author’s obser-
7 vation of the prevalence of an unobserved “idealistic” tendency in
8 the psycho-analytic milieu. By idealism I mean an old omnipotent
9 fallacy: it dictates that the universe and reality itself are products of
30 the human mind. This view proves to be enticing and popular. It is
1 typical of very small children and psychotics stuck in paranoid
2 states. Once installed it seeps faster than water through a rotten
3 wall or through the fingers of a hand trying to hold it.
4 Bion was fond of John Ruskin and especially of one of his works,
5 Sesame and Lilies. He quotes this book in A Memoir of the Future.
6 Ruskin cites examples of the damage done when the reader refuses
7 to seek the author’s original sense and tries to displace it with his
8 or her own. What is lost to sight is that the personal ways of formu-
911 lating a reading—an indispensable act—are mistaken by the act of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 4


111 distorting what the author wrote. “Invariance under literacy”, as

2 Bion warns in Transformations, page 3, cannot guarantee that one
3 will be able to find the author’s sense. But it may help if the
4 educated reader attempts to leave aside his prejudices—even if only
5 momentarily.
8 Apprehension of reality and communication
10 As psycho-analysts, we are entitled to diminish the interference and
1 bias due to “personal equation” as Freud called it. Not only enti-
2 tled, but rather obliged, out of an ethical sense of duty, thanks to
3 personal analysis. The uses that Bion makes of the word “imagina-
4 tion” and its counterparts in reality, as well as its function in
5 psycho-analysis, seem to the author to be widely misunderstood.
6 It often serves to leave aside the respect for a given author’s mean-
711 ings.
8 The author tries his hand at delivering a re-arrangement of
9 Bion’s work, in a form that may be more appropriate to our hurried
20 epoch. From old-time Tractatusto easy-to-find dictionaries: a tale for
1 our times?
3 I am convinced of the strength of the scientific position of psycho-
4 analytic practice (Learning from Experience, p. 77).
6 There is no possibility of scientific communication without a
7 precise system of notation. This includes—as a matter of neces-
8 sity—the clearest definitions of concepts, theories and models, as
9 far as possible.
As an example of an attempt at precise formulation I take alpha-
function and two factors, excessive projective identification and
2 excess of bad objects. Suppose that in the course of the analysis
3 these two factors are obtrusive to the exclusion of other factors the
4 analyst has observed. If psycho-analytic theory were rationally
5 organized it should be possible to refer to both these factors by
6 symbols which were part of a system of reference that was applied
7 uniformly and universally. The Kleinian theory of projective iden-
8 tification would be referred to by initials and a page and paragraph
911 reference. Similarly, Freud’s view of attention would be replaced by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 5


111 a reference. This can be done, though clumsily, by reference to page

2 and line of a standard edition even now. Such a statement could
3 lend itself to mere manipulation, more or less ingenious, of symbols
4 according to apparently arbitrary rules. Provided that the analyst
preserves a sense of the factual background to which such a formu-
lation refers, there are advantages in the exercise in precision and
rigour of thought that is exacted by an attempt to concentrate actual
clinical experience so that it may be expressed in such abstract nota-
8 tion. [LE, 38–9]
General principles of the content of this dictionary
3 The general principles of this re-organization in dictionary form
4 are:
6 (i) Faithfulness to the original text.
7 (ii) Generalizations.
8 (iii) Historicity.
211 (i) Faithfulness to the original text: the definitions included in
1 this dictionary are compiled from Bion’s writings. Most of the work
2 is to reunite many ideas scattered in space and time throughout
3 Bion’s work. The hostile reader will not err if he is tempted to
4 dismiss this attempt as just a compilation that re-organizes Bion’s
5 written work. The sympathetic reader may profit from the
6 attempt—which includes comments about the quotations.
7 (ii) Generalizations: generalizations that encompass particulari-
8 ties are intrinsic to the scientific ethos. They may express them-
9 selves through classificatory systems first devised by Linnaeus and
30 followed by classical and perennial formulations, from Goethe in
1 Botany and the periodical table of elements in Chemistry. These
2 classificatory systems are scientific groupings that try to detect
3 either underlying or overt binding, threading lines. Classification
4 performs the double function of communication and aids the scien-
5 tist to orient his research; often they illuminated the path to dis-
6 coveries. In this dictionary, the thread allows the many quotations
7 to cohere into a whole. Each whole forms an Entry.
8 (iii) Historicity: the entries are developed historically as they
911 appeared in Bion’s work. This author observed that Bion’s concepts
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 6


111 were developed in a way that may be compared to the craft of

2 jewellery. Painstaking, increasingly finer polishing continuously
3 improved them, resulting in transparent luminescence. This gave
4 the impression to many critical onlookers that Bion kept repeating
5 the same old stuff. He agrees with them and even mentioned this
6 aspect in his introduction to Seven Servants (a re-print of his four
7 basic books, Learning from Experience, Elements of Psycho-analysis,
8 Transformations and Attention and Interpretation), using the comment
9 in his characteristic way with humour. He uses it to learn: the
10 comments brought home to him how little he thinks he knows, and
1 how much he felt he owed to Freud, Rickman and Klein (the two
2 latter being his former analysts).
3 Sometimes this criticism had hostile overtones. In the opinion of
4 this writer, these readers or audiences perhaps miss the point about
5 the continuous deepening of the concepts. “More of the same” is an
6 expression that could well be applied to oxygen, water and nour-
711 ishment. One may wonder how fundamental they are and how
8 useful it is if they appear in purified and improved forms.
9 These principles resulted in entries that (I hope) form a “devel-
20 oping whole”—each entry tries to depict this.
3 Obscure and difficult?
Freud opened many broad avenues to research. Few analysts
ventured to push this research beyond the limits established by the
end of Freud’s physical life. Bion tackles the task of trying to do this
in at least four aspects of Freud’s theories: dreams, two principles
of mental functioning, Oedipus and the nature of free associations.
This author’s comments are meant to clarify some issues. They
are built by intertwining Bion’s wording (in italics, using semi-
colons and with the exact page where they may be found) with this
author’s wording. This is an attempt to address a fact derived from
this author’s experience with colleagues around the world for 24
years, namely, that many feel Bion’s written work to be “obscure
and difficult”.
7 Is “Sordello” incomprehensible on purpose to make it difficult,
8 or is it Browning’s attempt to express what he had to say in the
911 shortest and most comprehensible terms? [AMF, I, 121]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 7


111 The following comments must be read as an assessment. They

2 are not intended to criticize negatively the difficulties of anyone’s
3 reading. This would be a peerless arrogant act indistinguishable
4 from disrespect and inhumanity. The fact must be mentioned
5 because it is behind another driving factor for undertaking the task
6 of writing the dictionary. It seems to this writer that some of the
711 factors involved in this attributed obscurity fall into the following
8 categories:
10 (i) Lack of attentive reading, something that has occurred since
1 Freud and was duly emphasized by him (for example, in the
2 latest introductions to The Interpretation of Dreams).
3 (ii) Lack of analytical experience, here defined as the analyst’s
4 personal analysis and experience seeing patients.
(iii) Lack of experience in life itself, which sometimes help the
development of concern for life and truth.
(iv) A constant conjunction of (i), (ii) and (iii).
8 These difficulties are not new in the history of the psycho-
9 analytic movement. Perhaps they are more usual than not. They are
211 manifested often through feelings of abhorrence when reading
1 valuable, real psycho-analytical written works. This kind of writing
2 touches the reader’s innermost aspects in unexpected and
3 unknown ways. Sometimes the reader is led to seek analysis; some-
4 times he (she) is led to hate analysis right from the start. This fact
5 was well documented by Freud, whose works were regarded as
6 pornographic, Jewish, anti-Jewish, atheistic, progressive, reac-
7 tionary, Victorian, pan-sexualist, anti-feminist, romans-à-clef. As
8 occurs in many specialized fields, especially those that depend on
9 experience, to use Bion’s wording again, “invariances under literacy”
30 (Transformations, p. 3) are necessary but they are not sufficient to
1 allow a real apprehension of attempts at communication. Even in
2 much older disciplines such as music, there are from time to time
3 polemical voices about textualist reading of the score versus a kind
4 of “interpretationist” trend. The problem is: it has to be both. A
5 mathematical system of notation is not easily attainable and
6 perhaps is impossible outside the realm of mathematics.
7 Lest the reader feel that this assessment from the author is
8 authoritarian, the scientific outlook may help here. There follow
911 some hard-core facts that may illustrate the issue.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 8


111 Two years ago, a pervasive sense of bewilderment emerged

2 among the twenty-five participants of a seminar. The majority of
3 colleagues who made up the group had been reading the works of
4 Bion for more than ten years; some for thirty years. The seminar
5 was conducted by a colleague who enjoyed a reputation for being
6 a kind of authority on Bion’s works. This enshrining was both self-
7 and hetero-attributed. His willingness to assume the role meant
8 that the emotional climate of the group displayed unequivocal
9 signs of the prevalence of one of the basic assumptions of a group
10 (in the classification proposed by Bion in Experiences in Groups)—
1 that of the messianic leader. All members of the group had the task
2 of reading the first chapter of Transformations prior to the encounter.
3 There was an expositor chosen by this leader of the group.
4 At the first meeting, the chosen expositor failed to show up on
5 time. After a heavy silence, a member of the group volunteered to
6 contribute and began a summary of the chapter. After a few
711 minutes of exposition some in the group displayed signs of
8 disagreement when the expositor said that the concept of invariants
9 was a built-in, inescapable concept of the theory of transformations.
20 He was put into quarantine. Some displayed incredulity and
1 reacted as if it was non-sense. One said that there was no such thing
2 there; he invoked the words of a local “authority” who had once
3 stated, “Everything in the world was transformations”. The discus-
4 sion heated up and the expositor invited everyone to read the first
511 page of Transformations. The “leader” disagreed more strongly than
6 others with the expositor and echoed the view of the majority of
7 members. There was an initial refusal to read the text on the spot.
8 The expositor, responding to the mounting pressure in none too
9 serene a way, pointed out that the first paragraph of Bion’s text
311 already depicted the concept of invariants. The vast majority of the
1 participants, with the possible exception of two, grumbled and then
2 agreed to read the text. Some read it. The result was an unwitting
3 confirmation of the “Emperor’s new clothes” fable. Some said that
4 Bion did not know what he was writing; some said that the point
5 had no importance whatsoever. They continued with their preju-
6 diced reading.
7 In light of the experience of this writer, there are two observa-
8 tions to be made: (i) this particular kind of reading of Trans-
911 formations proves to be popular. It adapts Bion’s text to the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 9


111 acknowledgedly flawed dictum of Lavoisier; it seems enticing to

2 some readers who are prone to over-simplification; (ii) the basic
3 pattern of this experience repeated itself many times in different
4 contexts for more than twenty years, even though many of them
5 were devoid of the hostile personal tone. Some more sympathetic
6 audiences in post-graduate courses at the University and among
711 candidates of the local institute of psycho-analysis where this
8 author has been teaching for the last fifteen years profited from the
9 experience of observation of the prevalent forms of misunder-
10 standing and mis-reading: denials, splits and transformations into
1 the contrary of what was written. The bewilderment proved to be
2 useful to them: how many times does one do this with patients?
3 Therefore the statements this author makes in the entries and
4 the definitions of the terms are always backed by Bion’s writings,
5 from which the definitions derive. The entries have the privilege of
6 hindsight; that is, they try to follow the evolution of the concepts
7 throughout Bion’s entire work.
8 When Bion wrote Learning from Experience he felt the need to
9 state that “The methods in this book are not definitive. Even when I have
211 been aware that they are inadequate I have often not been able to better
1 them. I have found myself in a similar position to the scientist who contin-
2 ues to employ a theory that he knows to be faulty because a better one has
3 not been discovered to replace it” (LE, last page of the Introduction,
4 item 9). This definitely puts his attempts into the realm of science.
5 He would repeat this often, even in the sub-title of one of his books,
6 Attention and Interpretation.
7 Therefore, an effort towards a kind of standardization and preci-
8 sion in expressing Bion’s concepts is not undue. This author can
9 find no way other than to use Bion’s own terms. In adding an Index
30 to Attention and Interpretation he states, “like the rest of the book, (the
1 Index) is the outcome of an attempt at precision. The failure of the attempt
2 will be clear; what may not be clear is the following dilemma: ‘precision’
3 is too often a distortion of the reality, ‘imprecision’ too often indistin-
4 guishable from confusion” (AI, 131).
5 The extensive inclusion of Bion’s texts is an attempt further to
6 enable the reader to reach his or her own conclusions. It is to be hoped
7 that they will serve as an enticing invitation, “Please now go and
8 taste the original in its wholeness”. All quotations are accompanied
911 by the exact work and page of Bion’s writings. The book is designed
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 10


111 to provide a quick guide, provided that the potential reader does not
2 confuse an attempt at speed with superficiality. The entries are meant
3 to spare the reader the work of having to track down the scattered
4 references and their development in Bion’s work.
5 To paraphrase Bion, in his Introduction to Learning from Experi-
6 ence: this dictionary is not designed to be read straight through
7 once. Each paragraph, each entry (in many cases divided into sub-
8 titles) is designed to function as a checking point and to be checked,
9 in the hope that it will dispel the idea that Bion was obscure. Even
10 a single entry is not designed to be read straight through, unless the
1 reader prefers to do this. The entries and comments are designed
2 to be the object of minute thought. The canonical or idolatrous
3 reader will feel, not without reason, that this dictionary’s mode of
4 presentation may run against Bion’s mode of presentation. The
5 author thinks that there is no use dealing with Bion’s works as
6 if there is a “Saint Bion” to be followed and imitated. Imitation is
711 the offspring of fear and rivalry. The helpless little child has no
8 other means of survival; but if it is maintained in adulthood,
9 its outcome is destructive and it shares with hallucination the qual-
20 ity of “unreal-ness”. The analytical movement has had enough
1 of imitators, repeaters, mimicry and aping. Bion’s stature has
2 always enticed this kind of follower, a fact he lamented and that
3 has been emphasized by acknowledged authors such as Ignacio
4 Matte-Blanco, James Grotstein and André Green. In connection
511 with this, this author thinks that no student of Bion’s work—or the
6 work of any great author—qualifies as a self-appointed minister of
7 his scriptures.
8 The experience of obscurity and difficulty in reading Bion’s
9 writings is not something that the present writer is able to share
311 with many readers. At first it was the cause of considerable anxiety,
1 something that happens when the individual finds himself out of
2 tune with the herd. (A fact emphasized by Bion in A Memoir of
3 the Future, Book III. Please refer to the entry in this dictionary,
4 “Establishment”.) This did not diminish this author ’s sympathy
5 towards the difficulties observed in others. Quite the contrary, it is
6 just another factor that motivated the present attempt. In trying to
7 examine the origin of the sense of clarity that Bion’s writings
8 always had on this author, some hypotheses surfaced, all of them
911 linked to practice:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 11


111 (i) Eleven years of continuous psychiatric practice in a traditional

2 mental hospital dealing with so-called psychotics on a daily
3 basis. The experience included “intensive psychotherapy”
4 using Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and John Rosen’s methods;
5 also, work in the psychiatric emergency care service, 24 or 48
6 hour shifts. There was a sense of personal guilt when reading
711 Bion’s Second Thoughts for the first time, regret for not having
8 had them at hand when first dealing with the patients in the
9 hospital.
10 (ii) Nine years in a community mental health centre.
1 (iii) Last, but first in importance, fifteen years of analysis deeply
2 influenced by the contributions of Freud, Klein and Bion.
4 After at least ten years of trying to convey the clarity and
5 usefulness of his works in talks with colleagues; after having writ-
6 ten an Introductory book to A Memoir of the Future together with the
7 translation of the Trilogy into the Portuguese language, this writer
8 realized that perhaps it would be wiser to keep private the sense of
9 clarity that pervaded his own reading. Too many older and experi-
211 enced people felt the books to be obscure; Bion himself felt the need
1 to warn the reader about this. For sure, this was because of reac-
2 tions he witnessed against his writings.
3 Very early on this author became aware that some of those reac-
4 tions were rabid. That is, there are at least two kinds of people who
5 feel Bion’s writings to be obscure: some are sincerely interested but
6 give up reading, and some are hostile. Making part of the hostile
7 critics who felt Bion’s work obscure, one person who was trying to
8 be politically influential in the psycho-analytic establishment once
9 wrote that the book Transformations is “fascinating” and “contradic-
30 tory”. This person, paradigmatically, did not bother to illustrate this
1 easy use of rhetoric with hard facts. That is, this person did not
2 display evidence of any single part that could be seen as fascinat-
3 ing or contradictory. Also, no one of these critics asks if reality is
4 simple, clear and easy—the same, for psycho-analysis, dreams, life
5 itself. Or, as if all of these are given to us as a gift, easily. If Bion’s—
6 or Freud’s—work has anything to do with reality as it is, from what
7 kind of stuff were those works made? Is Bion’s work more difficult
8 than any worthwhile work? Many times the obvious and the simple
911 is the most difficult.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 12


111 Anyone who nourishes interest, love of truth, analytical experi-

2 ence (personal analysis and seeing patients in real analysis) and a
3 faultless attention to the minute detail of his writings can appre-
4 hend Bion’s work. This personal opinion may be mistaken, but no
5 one could level against this writer the accusation that this statement
6 is not born of experience.
7 The compilation was made after approximately twenty years of
8 continuous study of his works. This study comprises:
(i) Attending clinical and theoretical seminars at the local Insti-
tute when I was a candidate, with senior colleagues who had
personal contact with Bion; one of them, who also supervised
some cases, had an analysis with Bion.
(ii) Conducting seminars since this author was accepted as a pro-
fessor of the local institute of psycho-analysis (1987); teaching
a regular post-graduate course about the work of Bion, since
1998—perhaps the first such course to have been delivered in
the academic milieu, world-wide.
(iii) Writing approximately twenty published papers about Bion’s
work, since 1983—two of them were awarded prizes at
Brazilian Congresses of Psycho-analysis; three of them try to
expand his theories of mental functions, basic assumptions in
a group, and links. Also, the Brazilian version of the majority
of Bion’s books (including the first foreign-language version of
A Memoir of the Future).
6 The entries, despite the fact that they respect historicity and
7 underlying threads, were built mainly by using the author’s free-
8 associations at the moment of writing, coupled with annotations
9 made throughout the years. The phenomenon is akin to that which
311 happens when the analyst exercises his free floating attention with
1 a patient. He or she is able to recall in a dream-like state the
2 memoirs of his experiences with that patient, of sessions with him;
3 he or she is able to have the tools, on the spur of the moment, of
4 myths, forgotten personal experiences and so on. They flow spon-
5 taneously to his or her mind. Any writer has this method at his
6 disposal. This means that the compilation is not the result of the
7 currently adopted approach, namely, that of resorting to computer-
8 ized methods of “reading”. The computer was used here just as a
911 word processor.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 13


111 General principles of this dictionary

3 (A) Formal principles
How to resist the temptation to reproduce exhaustively all the parts
that deal with the topics chosen? Some headings were expanded in
this way, namely, those that were considered to embrace polemic
topics, in the sense that they are subject to gross misunderstand-
ings. The reader will also find some quotations being used in more
than one entry.
This method of repetition is linked to a teaching experience
which shows that it functions better in texts whose intention is to
serve as a primer to the neophyte. Eugene Delacroix believed that
in many instances what the so-called geniuses did, or do, is to
present (old) buried truths in a formulation that must make sense
to their contemporaries; Bacon also said something similar; Freud
7 and Bion perhaps did this.
8 Therefore one faces a question of language; this is the sense of
9 the word “neophyte”—of a new language. New languages are
211 learned, even though not exclusively, by repetition and sedimenta-
1 tion. Bion dwells on this in the way an infant learns to turn the
2 word “Daddy” into the unconscious, in Learning from Experience.
3 Bion himself, as Franz Schubert before him, was often accused of
4 repeating the themes either in the same piece or in different varia-
5 tions. He reached the point of registering this in the introduction to
6 Seven Servants already mentioned above.
7 To the reader who cannot grasp the sense the first time, the
8 “repetition method” can serve well. To the readers who are
9 acquainted with Bion’s work it may give the impression of an old
30 friend revisited.
(B) Concepts
4 As far as possible in psychiatry, in psycho-analysis, and con-
5 sequently in Bion’s contribution, no effort was spared to elicit the
6 inner quality (or nature) that some of the entries seem to possess,
7 namely, the quality of a concept. Bion was very cautious not
8 to attribute the status of scientific concepts to his contributions
911 hastily. In this text, we start from the principle that when a verbal
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 14


111 formulation can depict its counterpart in reality, it qualifies to be

2 treated as a concept. To some readers, the verbal formulation does
3 not convey just this counterpart; it also brings with it, immaterially,
4 the very reality it tries to depict. Obviously it will depend on the
5 reader’s experience to intuit that which the words strive to convey
6 (but are doomed to fail). For this reason alone “invariances under
7 literacy” are not enough. Freud and Bion stated that psycho-analytic
8 works should be read by psycho-analysts, which presumes the
9 analyst’s analysis to be as extensive and profound as possible. In
10 this sense, many concepts of Bion’s work, as happens with all
1 successful and valid psycho-analytical concepts, originate from his
2 experiences of life: the bestial, murderous and violent behaviour of
3 so-called human beings and their accompanying sublime and
4 lovely counterparts. He suffered from them in two wars, as a
5 soldier; his physical loss of his first wife; his second chance of a real
6 analysis with two gifted and sincere analysts and above all, a dedi-
711 cated wife. As did Freud with Oedipus and Klein with Envy and
8 Gratitude, Bion made the best of a bad job: suffering turned into
9 contributions to psycho-analysis.
2 The numinous realm and the ethos of psycho-analysis
4 This dictionary is not intended to be a “reading” in the post-struc-
511 turalist and post-modernist sense. Phrases such as “according to
6 Bion”, “according to Freud” raise some problems. Is there any
7 possibility in science other than to be “according to reality”? Even
8 though reality or truth is not something one can understand, know,
9 preview, master, own or see, one may intuit it. One may nourish
311 faith that it exists. One may use it and apprehend it—albeit momen-
1 tarily in fleeting glimpses. One may be “at-one” with it, using
2 Bion’s verbal formulation. He states—not devoid of humour—in
3 Transformations that reality is not something that can be known in
4 the same sense that one cannot sing potatoes. One may plant pota-
5 toes, peel them, cook them, eat them. Nevertheless, their ultimate
6 reality, the immaterial invariance that makes a potato a potato and
7 nothing else—”potatoeness”—cannot be known. It can be intuited,
8 it exists, but what is left to us human beings is to use it, to take
911 advantage or disadvantage of its manifestations.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 15


111 Freud, Bion, Klein, Winnicott, Einstein, Shakespeare, Bach or

2 whoever it be, was or shall be, were able to formulate verbally,
3 mathematically, or musically, that which has a counterpart in reality.
4 We can no more than suddenly, eternal as long as it lasts, have a
5 transient, fleeting glimpse of “it” in an intuitive way. The great
6 authors in science and art made formulations that fleetingly appre-
711 hended some emanations of reality. In this resides also the possibil-
8 ity of a “real analysis”, a term coined by Bion. In the analytic setting
9 the “great author” is the analytic couple.
10 The task of this present writer was greatly facilitated by the
1 extreme precision with which, in the vast majority of cases, Bion
2 formulates his concepts. This is accompanied by a remarkable
3 consistency in the way they are used throughout his entire work.
4 Among one hundred entries that depict concepts, this author spot-
5 ted just two cases of lack of precision. Therefore it is hoped that the
6 phrases “extreme precision” and “remarkable consistency” will not
7 appear laudatory, but a fair depiction of the real situation. The same
8 applies to the quotation of origins of his statements and terms. A
9 “vast majority” includes the very few exceptions. It seems that
211 some of them were due to faulty literary revision. As a writer and
1 translator myself, I must say that that experience shows that despite
2 all efforts of reviewers and the pain involved in such a strenuous
3 task, many publishing houses turn it into a frustrating task. In the
4 end, when a batch of brand-new shiny covers reach the bookshelves
5 of bookstores, some errors that the author or the translator or the
6 reviewer corrected are still there. Sometimes, a fresh crop of errors
7 displays its unwelcome face. The concepts are coherently used in
8 the same way throughout the books; in just four instances they are
9 put differently.
30 The four inconsistencies are linked to the definition of the term,
1 “conception”; to the definition of alpha-function; to the definition
2 of the process of transformations, and one odd attribution to alpha-
3 function. Where his possible intellectual forebears are concerned,
4 Bion leaves aside the precise quotation of their names at just three
5 points of his work (among hundreds).
6 The dictionary includes misuses and misconceptions of his
7 terms. A word must be added about the origins of at least two
8 of them. Perhaps no other work in psycho-analysis, with the possi-
911 ble exception of those of Freud, Klein and Winnicott, was, and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 16


111 continues to be, subjected to attacks from contemporaries, as does

2 that of Bion. These attacks show idolization and misunderstanding;
3 more often then not, a conjunction of both. Rabid criticism also
4 means idolization, even if it is hidden from sight. They provoke
5 precocious dismissal. Even though he is in good company, this state
6 of affairs does not help analysts or patients.
7 The sources of the misconceptions are depicted in the specific
8 entries. Broadly speaking, they originate from two main problems:
9 (i) Bion’s use of borrowed terms; (ii) the reader’s analytic experi-
10 ence.
1 (i) Bion points out that he borrows some terms from other disciplines.
2 He preferred not to resort too much to neologisms and, even less,
3 to indulge in jargon. He makes this preference clear in A Memoir of
4 the Future, for example, Book II, pages 228, 231, 234. He intention-
5 ally does this to profit from the penumbra of associations of some
6 already-existing terms. He usually emphasizes when a specific term
711 is already endowed with some known and widely-accepted mean-
8 ing and connotation. He wants the reader to be reminded of them.
9 For example, “transformations and invariances”, “hallucinosis”.
20 Sometimes he uses the term giving specific warnings that the reader
1 must see that the term is used differently in his work. For example,
2 the non-hyphenated term “preconception”. And sometimes he
3 creates new terms just to avoid any associations with existing ones,
4 such as “O”, “” and “”. Finally, sometimes he stresses some
511 meanings that the term allows and sticks only with them, such as
6 “hyperbole”. Unfortunately, it seems that many do not pay atten-
7 tion to those warnings and explanations of the use of the term in
8 his work and this leads to confusion. Again he is in good company:
9 in the preface of the 10th edition of The Interpretation of Dreams
311 Freud commented that people were not really reading it. The disci-
1 plines that furnished terms and conceptions for Bion are science,
2 mathematics, physics, art and the mystic tradition (mainly the
3 Jewish-Christian Cabbala). The use of those borrowed terms with
4 the specific purpose of facilitating communication seems to have
5 been debased. Some readers cannot see that the use of terms does
6 not mean that Bion used or transplanted models from other
7 sciences. As late as 1975 he warned: “Relativity is relationship, trans-
8 ference, the psycho-analytic term and its corresponding approximate real-
911 ization. Mathematics, science as known hitherto, can provide no model.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:14 PM Page 17


111 Religion, music, painting, as these terms are understood, fail me. Sooner
2 or later we reach a point where there is nothing to be done except—if there
3 is any exception—to wait (AMF, I, 61).
4 (ii) In 1970 he was still trying to make it clear that he hoped that
5 practising psycho-analysts would realize that to read about psycho-
6 analysis differs from practising it. He “could only represent” the prac-
711 tice “by words and verbal formulations designed for a different task” (AI,
8 Introduction). This means that Bion counted on the personal analy-
9 sis of the reader, and his or her analytical experience. The lack of
10 analytic practice makes the reader blind to the value of Bion’s
1 heavy use of analogy. “The psycho-analytical approach, though valuable
2 in having extended the conscious by the unconscious, has been vitiated by
3 the failure to understand the practical application of doubt by the failure
4 to understand the function of ‘breast’, ‘mouth’, ‘penis’, ‘vagina’,
5 ‘container’, ‘contained’, as analogies. Even if I write it, the sensuous domi-
6 nance of penis, vagina, mouth, anus, obscures the element signified by
7 analogy. (AMF, I, 70–71).
8 Those who cannot go beyond sensuously-apprehensible appear-
9 ances, cannot grasp the fact that mystic tradition, as well as mathe-
211 matics, art and philosophy, were earlier modes that expressed human
1 attempts to approach human nature and the mind’s functioning. They
2 tried to serve mankind before the obtrusion of science and psycho-
3 analytic science. The present author cannot dwell on this now,
4 having tried to display the issue in a whole series of books and
5 some papers. It concerns the negative realm of the noumena.
6 This aspect is one of Bion’s contributions to human knowledge.
7 He followed Freud’s hint; Transformations, Attention and Interpret-
8 ation, and A Memoir of the Future represent the climax of his attempts.
9 Bion used to say that people such as Shakespeare were great analysts
30 before there appeared a Freud to think the thought without a thinker,
1 “psycho-analysis”. In Transformations, he plainly states that Plato
2 was a patron of Melanie Klein’s internal object (p. 138). But a failure
3 to grasp the real, albeit immaterial and non-sensuously apprehensi-
4 ble stuff of the unconscious, whose negative nature shares the fea-
5 tures of the noumena, seems to persist. The down-to-earth reader
6 takes Bion’s words as if they were used in their artistic, religious,
7 mathematical or neo-positivist senses per se; as if he were an artist,
8 religious man, mathematician or neo-positivist trying to impinge art,
911 religion, mathematics or neo-positivism on to psycho-analysis.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 18


111 These readers fail to see the analogy. Bion’s reverence and awe
2 before the unknown equals that of Plato, Kant, Diderot, Goethe,
3 Keats, Freud, Einstein, Heisenberg, to quote a few. Many do not
4 hesitate to state that Bion was: (i) crazy, deteriorated, senile (for
5 example, Joseph, 2002); (ii) incomprehensible, non-psycho-analytic
6 (for example, the chairman of the IPAC’s panel on schizophrenia in
7 Edinburgh, 1961 is reputed to have said, “This is not psycho-analy-
8 sis any more!” while throwing away his manuscript containing the
9 study, “A theory of thinking”, just after its public presentation;
10 Bicudo, 1996); or that the concept of thought without a thinker has
1 no psycho-analytical value (Segal, 1989); (iii) just a theoretician
2 whose work had no clinical application (Joseph, 1980); (iv) that Bion
3 had a poor grasp of Freud’s work (Sandler, 1992). Bion himself
4 addressed those critics in some parts of his work (for example,
5 Cogitations, p. 377).
6 Some entries display the chronological evolution of the
711 concepts. For the sake of clarity, on the occasions that an improved,
8 later definition is available, it is given at once.
1 Few theories
3 A final word on the nature of the concepts. With the exception of a
4 theory of thinking, of the theory of container and contained and
511 that which he provisionally named metatheory, Bion did not make
6 new theories in psycho-analysis. He expanded existing theories in
7 order to have them fit the empirical (clinical) data better. He also
8 made many theories of observation for the practising psycho-
9 analyst.
311 There are some concepts that seem to the author not sufficiently
1 developed by Bion. They have been omitted from the dictionary.
2 For example: “vogue” (C, 374). The choice was to include that
3 which Bion wrote in a clear way. As a consequence the attempt does
4 not include personal ideas or interpretation of what Bion was
5 saying or meant or intended to say. In the opinion of this writer. this
6 is at best an exercise in imagination. It often ranges from frivolity to
7 preposterousness. It does not mean, either, that the comments do
8 not include the experience and opinion of this particular writer; the
911 intention is, Ruskin-like, that they do not prevail over the writing.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 19


111 Many entries were illuminated, especially as regards Bion’s fore-

2 bears, through the use of his personal copies of the great authors’
3 works. He used to write in the margins of the books he read, from
4 Plato to Popper. Due to the indescribably generous help provided
5 by Francesca Bion, who sent this writer facsimiles of some of these
6 pages throughout the years after having perused her library to meet
711 my requests, and granted me access to it, the statements made in
8 the entries relating to these origins can be safely regarded as going
9 beyond the status of hypotheses.
10 Is this list of entries complete? This writer would be indebted to
1 the reader who may eventually find missing definitions and
2 concepts from Bion’s work; otherwise, this dictionary and future
3 students will be condemned to bear the burden of this writer’s limi-
4 tations.
5 That this volume can be at least minimally useful and can serve
6 as an invitation to further readings of Bion’s writings is my wish to
7 you, dear reader.
211 EG Experiences in Groups, Heinemann Medical Books, 1961.
1 ST Second Thoughts, Heinemann Medical Books, 1967 and reprinted
2 by Karnac Books.
3 LE Learning from Experience, Heinemann Medical Books, 1962 and
4 reprinted by Karnac Books.
5 EP Elements of Psycho-Analysis, Heinemann Medical Books, 1963
6 and reprinted by Karnac Books.
7 T Transformations, Heinemann Medical Books, 1965 and reprinted
8 by Karnac Books.
9 AI Attention and Interpretation, Tavistock Publications, 1970 and
30 reprinted by Karnac Books.
1 BLI Brazilian Lectures, I, Imago Editora, 1974.
2 BLII Brazilian Lectures, II, Imago Editora, 1975.
3 AMF A Memoir of the Future, Imago Editora, 1975, 1977 and Clunie
4 Press, 1979 and reprinted by Karnac Books,1991.
5 CSOW Clinical Seminars and Other Works, Karnac, 1994.
6 BNYSP Bion in New York and São Paulo, Clunie Press, 1979.
7 C Cogitation, Karnac Books, 1997.
8 TLWE The Long Week-End, Fleetwood Press, 1982 and reprinted by
911 Karnac Books,1991.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 20


111 AMSR All My Sins Remembered, Fleetwood Press, 1985 and

2 reprinted by Karnac Books.
3 WM War Memoirs, Karnac Books, 1997.
In brackets: The first number refers to the page of the editions
mentioned above and the second number refers to the itemized
paragraphs, when available.
Except when indicated, the bold and italics are by Bion himself.
When applicable, the concepts contain:
10  suggested further readings.
1  evolution of the concept within Bion’s work.
2  suggested clarifications or extensions by other authors starting
3 from Bion.
4 Usefulness indications of uses when they are not often seen in the
5 literature.
6 The entries direct the reader to two types of cross-references:
8 1. Recommended—the entries are mutually complementary and
9 the reading of both (or more) is a must.
20 2. Suggested—the entries are mutually enriching and the reading
1 of both (or more) augments the reader’s scope.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 21

711 A
211 Absolute truth: An imaginary, lying entity created by paranoid
1 states. It has at least three factors:
3 (i) An attempt to deal with the animate with methods that are
4 fairly successful in dealing with the inanimate. It is an offshoot
5 of a state of mind that tries to turn dynamic situations into
6 static ones. The static state seems to the “beholder” to be one
7 that is “amenable” to be owned, in phantasy.
8 (ii) An attempt to replace the discrimination of true and false (or
9 reality and hallucination) with moral values, to dictate how
30 things, events or people should be.
1 (iii) Primary envy, primary narcissism and disregard for truth and
2 love.
4 The “beholder” abhors movement, transient evolution, develop-
5 ment and reality. “How” is replaced by “ought to”, “have to”. Autism
6 and “independence” are some of its perceptible manifestations.
7 Suggested cross-references: Analytic view, Atonement,
8 Becoming, Common sense, Compassion, Correlation, Disturbed
911 personality, Enforced splitting, O, Jargon, Lies, Manipulations of

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 22


111 Symbols, Mystic, Philosophy, Real psycho-analysis, Reality

2 Sensuous and Psychic, Sense of Truth, Thinking, Truth, Truth-
3 Function, Ultra-sensuous, Unknowable, Unknown.
5 Ad hoc theorising Please refer to the entries, Manipulations of
6 symbols and Multiplicity of theories.
8 Alpha () An early concept that was discharged in favour of the
9 concept of -function. It was also used as a shorthand notation for
10 dream-work- In consequence, it is part of the development of this
1 theory. Please refer to the entries, -function and dream-work-.
2 It was used almost exclusively as a heading for papers written
3 during the year of 1959. Curiously, after sixteen years it would
4 resurface, in isolated form, in 1975 (AMF, I, 59).
6 Alpha-elements Hypothetical elements belonging to an observa-
711 tional model. The model tries to deal with an unknown chain of
8 events. The chain itself can be known through manifestations of its
9 beginning and ending situations. Sensory stimuli are the beginning;
20 manifestations of the psychic realm linked to the stimuli are the
1 end. How is it that sensory stimuli are transformed, in order to get
2 access to the inner mental realm? The mysterious pathway of such
3 a transformation remains unknown; only the transformation itself
4 is acknowledged.
511 Alpha-elements are defined as the end-product of the action of
6 alpha-function in ultimate reality, the things-in-themselves, which
7 are apprehensible as inner or outer sensory stimuli. Bion called the
8 latter, beta-elements (q.v.).
9 Bion names the model that depicts that such a transformation
311 has occurred alpha-function (q.v.). The process itself remains
1 unknown. One can grasp the meaning of the function using the
2 words, “traduction” or “translation”. It seems to this author that a
3 precise term may be borrowed from physics and neurophysiology:
4 “transduction”. Microphones, loudspeakers, Meister and Paccini
5 corpuscles are transducers. Alpha-function “transforms” Beta-
6 elements—raw sensory impressions—into alpha-elements. Alpha-
7 elements are the transduced products of this operation that could
8 be named, “betalphalization”. Therefore, alpha-elements are trans-
911 duced beta-elements.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 23

A 23

111 In a second phase, hypothetical Alpha-elements are “put into

2 use”. They can be regarded as elementary immaterial particles,
3 building blocks, amenable to be used to dream, to think, to store in
4 the memory.
5 Usefulness: The mystery lingers on. How is it that sensuous
6 impressions can ever gain the status of psychically useful inputs?
711 Bion does not resolve the problem, which borders one of the most
8 mysterious secrets of life itself. It has to do with no less than the
9 transition from inanimate to animate. The most gifted authors from
10 time immemorial tackled the same issue. This was the research of
1 the ancient writers of myths, and of the Bible; Plato, Kant, Goethe,
2 Freud, Dobzhansky, Schrödinger and a list too long to mention
3 made attempts to deal with the issue.
4 To ask how this occurs equals asking, what is life? Many times
5 the answer—if it exists at all—is represented by flights into religion.
6 Bion’s scheme of an alpha-function and alpha-elements is restricted
7 to a specific path, namely, from non-mental to mental. In Freud’s
8 terms, from material to psychic reality.
9 Bion started critically from Freud’s suggestions of consciousness
211 as the sense organ for the perception of psychic quality. He also
1 started from Freud’s theory of instincts. It provides a practical
2 working model for the practising analyst. The analyst who profits
3 from this theory is armed with a tool that enables him to detect
4 some inanimate features in the analysand’s discourse that usually
5 passes for “normal”. Also, it provides a fresh approach to the dream
6 work made when the person is awake.
7  Parthenope Bion Talamo, at the unofficial second meeting
8 of “Bion’s Readers Around the World”, organized by Thalia
9 Vergopoulo at the IPAC, San Francisco, 1995, compared the alpha-
30 elements to “LEGO”™ blocks.
1 Antonino Ferro suggested the existence of narrative derivatives
2 of alpha-elements, as seen in the clinical material (1999).
3 Suggested cross-references: Alpha Function, Bizarre Elements,
Dream-Work-, K
5 Alpha-element oedipal pre-conception An inborn pre-conception
6 of Oedipus. This apparently cumbersome term is shorthand for a
7 precise definition in Bion’s work. It encircles the most profound
8 mystery of mankind, that of procreation, first studied in its psychic
911 sense by Freud. It is a synthetic unification of Freud and Klein:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 24


111 Analysts need . . . to consider that the Oedipal material may possi-
2 bly be evidence for primitive apparatus of pre-conception and
3 therefore possessing a significance additional to its significance in
4 classical theory. I am postulating a precursor of the Oedipal situa-
tion not in the sense that such a term may have in Melanie Klein’s
discussion of Early Phases of the Oedipus Complex, but as something
that belongs to the ego as part of its apparatus for contact with real-
ity. In short I postulate an aelement version of a private Oedipus
8 myth which is the means, the pre-conception, by virtue of which
9 the infant is able to establish contact with parents as they exist in
10 the world of reality. The mating of this a-element Oedipal pre-
1 conception with the realization of the actual parents gives rise to
2 the conception of parents. [EP, 93]
4 Procreation is one of the bridges from inanimate to animate.
5 Suggested cross-references: Alpha-Elements, Alpha-function,
6 Concept, Conception, Pre-conception.
8 Alpha-function A mental function that transforms sensuously
9 apprehensible stimuli into elements useful for thinking, dreaming,
20 memory.
But there are no sense-data directly related to psychic quality, as
there are sense-data directly related to concrete objects. [LE, 53]
4 The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost
511 nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external
6 world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of conscious-
7 ness as is the external world by the communications of our sense
8 organs. [Freud, 1900, p.613; Freud’s italics]
311 The theory of functions and alpha-function are not a part of psycho-
1 analytic theory. They are working tools for the practising psycho-
analyst to ease problems of thinking about something that is
unknown. [LE, 89]
4 We do not know what is concerned in the transformation from
5 inanimate to animate though we know, or think we know, some-
6 thing of the change from animate to inanimate. [AMF, I, 129]
8 The verbal formulation “alpha-function” refers to a model that
911 developed into a theory. It was created by Bion around 1960 and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 25

A 25

111 first published in 1961. It was an attempt to deal with a puzzling

2 question: how do sensory stimuli achieve the status of psychic
3 facts? Conversely, why in some cases do they not achieve it?
4 In order to realize what this function is all about, one should
5 keep in mind:
711 1. The concept of function, borrowed from Euclidean geometry.
8 A simple formulation is: a given variable functions in some
9 given way vis-à-vis another given variable. The two have a
10 relationship with each other.
1 2. Alpha-function is a model that tries to deal with a cognitive
2 issue, namely, the apprehension of reality.
3 3. The “port of entry” of reality into us is the sensuous appara-
4 tus.
5 4. Freud’s model of consciousness as the sensuous organ for the
6 apprehension of psychic quality (Freud, 1900).
8 The theory of alpha-function has a philosophical (Kantian) and
9 a biological (neurophysiological) foundation.
211 It is linked to Kant’s work in the sense that it deals with
1 phenomenal manifestations (sensuous impressions, which Bion
2 names beta-elements). It is linked to neurophysiology to the extent
3 that it bridges the Autonomic Nervous System (the receptors and
4 transducers of the sensory apparatus) with the Central Nervous
5 System. The study of this passageway had been neglected hitherto.
6 Bion’s model of alpha-function purports to describe the fact that
7 human beings’ ANS takes raw sensuous apprehensible facts and
8 then couples with the CNS in order to translate them into some-
9 thing else. This “something” is not just a “thing”; it has an imma-
30 terial nature. In brief, we human beings are able to “de-sense-fy”
1 the stimuli that comes from exterior reality and from inner reality.
2 Bion uses the terms “translate” and “transform”. One may borrow
3 from physics and from neurophysiology and use the term “trans-
4 ducer”. Transducers are devices that transform one kind of energy
5 into another, without debasing the invariances conveyed by them.
6 For example, a microphone and a loudspeaker are transducers. The
7 former transforms a mechanically conducted form of energy—
8 sound—into electric energy; the latter does the obverse. The human
911 body’s corpuscles of Meissner and Paccini do the same.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 26


111 The stimuli are things-in-themselves. This means that alpha-

2 function allows for a recognizance that one cannot have a direct
3 contact with ultimate reality. Things-in-themselves are called, in the
4 frame of the theory of alpha-function, “beta-elements” (q.v.). When
5 one is not able to “de-sense-fy” the things-in-themselves, either
6 stemming from the sense apparatus or inner feelings, one is
7 pervaded by sensations of “ownership” with regard to absolute
8 truth. In this case, beta-elements remain undigested.
9  In his first published definition, Bion still did not posit the
10 “existence” of beta-elements:
1 “I have described . . . the use of a concept of alpha-function as a work-
2 ing tool in the analysis of disturbances of thought. It seemed convenient
3 to suppose an alpha-function to convert sense data into alpha-elements
4 and thus provide the psyche with the material for dream thoughts and
5 hence the capacity to wake up or go to sleep, to be conscious or uncon-
6 scious” (ST, 115). To study the development of the definition of 
711 function as well as that of -elements, please refer to the entries, -
8 elements; Dream-work-.
9 One can state that alpha-function is a “de-sense-fying” function
20 of the mind.
1 This definition includes particulars that would be greatly
2 expanded in the ensuing four years: the sense data would be seen
3 as phenomena betraying the thing-in-itself, which would be called
4 beta-elements (in 1962) and thereafter, “O” (1965). The dream-
511 thoughts would be seen as an ongoing daytime activity. Concepts
6 such as contact barrier (q.v.) would be created to deal with
7 consciousness and its relationship with the unconscious. The partic-
8 ulars of the theory were to be expanded and polished like jewels;
9 meanwhile the definition itself remained unchanged (EP, 4).
311 A second definition of it appeared one year later. It augments
the scope of the theory that was created to deal with patients with
disturbances of thought. It was in 1962 that its more general char-
acter was fully recognized:
5 Alpha-function operates on the sense impressions, whatever they
6 are, and the emotions, whatever they are, of which the patient is
7 aware. In so far as alpha-function is successful alpha elements are
8 produced and these elements are suited to storage and the require-
911 ments of dream thoughts. [LE, 6]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 27

A 27

111 This broader range of application coincided with Bion’s grow-

2 ing awareness that a permanent underlying layer of psychosis
3 permeates the so-called “normal” personality. It also coincides with
4 Bion’s movement towards revising his concepts of cure and pathol-
5 ogy. They were made more explicit in 1967—in the Commentary to
6 Second Thoughts. In 1970 they reached a more mature form—with a
711 critical view on using ideas of cure derived from medical goals as a
8 model to analysts—in Attention and Interpretation.
9 An analogy with the functioning of the digestive system was
10 put forward in the second, expanded definition of Alpha-function.
1 If mind can “process”, “digest”, beta-elements, they are trans-
2 formed into “something else” that was called “alpha-elements”
3 (q.v.).
4 Alpha-elements can be used to think, to store in memory and to
5 dream. Alpha-function abstracts the “concreteness” of sensory
6 impressions. Conversely, beta-elements are only suitable for projec-
7 tive identification. The similarity between the metabolism of a meal
8 is striking. Alpha-elements can be compared with glycogen being
9 stored in the liver, or ATP. Beta-elements can be compared with
211 faeces. Both are by-products of a process that transforms raw mate-
1 rial into nourishment and faeces.
2 Alpha-elements are postulated to be present in infant life—if
3 and when a good enough mother is capable of “reverie” (q.v.). The
4 exercising of reverie is a kind of temporary borrowing. Infants, so
5 to say, “borrow” from their mothers’ alpha-function. Therefore the
6 mother detoxifies the child’s beta-elements; they are returned to the
7 infant in a digested form. “Reverie” refers to an ability of mothers
8 to contain their own anxieties of annihilation. A continuous expo-
9 sure to someone who does this may allow learning that such a
30 state—not to become unstructured, fragmented before anxiety—
1 may be achieved.
2 Some personalities have a low capacity to tolerate frustration
3 and the pain associated with it. This capacity seems to be innate.
4 The first frustration to be coped with seems to be the absence of the
5 idealized breast. There is no possibility of abstracting immaterial
6 qualities from a breast. The baby who does this is enabled to use
7 warmth, solace and understanding. Conversely, these personalities
8 cannot apprehend more than, or cannot go beyond the concrete
911 breast, nipple and milk. An enforced splitting ensues (q.v.)
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 28


111 The concept appeared first under the somewhat vague denomi-
2 nation of  It was then, perhaps, too attached to the theory of
3 dreams. In this epoch it was called dream-work-. When Bion was
4 more at peace with Freud’s theory of consciousness, as well as
5 when he was more able to use his findings with psychotics, it
6 acquired its status of a mental function. Please refer to this specific
7 entry, dream-work-.
8 The first time that a published paper mentions  function was
9 placed by Francesca Bion in Cogitations as in about January or Febru-
10 ary 1960 (C, 120). In her own introduction to this book, she describes
1 her careful, quasi-Sherlockian methods used to determine the dates
2 when Bion’s undated papers were written. When translating Cogita-
3 tions into Portuguese, the author gathered data linked to the content
4 of the studies. Actually, this data strongly suggested that this paper
5 belongs to a later time. Francesca Bion agreed—for the inception of
6 this theory as a final replacement of dream-work- occurred at a
711 later time, as can be gathered from the contents of all the papers
8 printed in Cogitations. It more probably took two years to be elabo-
9 rated; in the Brazilian version, with Mrs. Bion’s authorization, the
20 paper was duly moved to a later ordinal position in the book.
1 The concept of -function was to be revived in A Memoir of the
2 Future. The possibility of emerging from states of non-integration
3 and disintegration evolve to the use of dreams. From there, to real
4 thinking in a dialogical form held by imaginary characters. They
511 can be seen as Bion’s part-objects according to his own life experi-
6 ences. The latter perform the function of ß-elements. The books are
7 a product of Bion’s (and the reader’s) alpha-function.
8 Misuses and misconceptions: Many readers mistake alpha-
9 function for thinking itself; and many mistake it for dreaming itself.
311 Perhaps this confusion arises from a persistent difficulty, namely,
1 reading phrases of Bion’s texts excised from the whole.
2 Those readers seem to lose sight of the fact that the model of
3 alpha-function is just a model. It exists in the reality that human
4 minds can construe models. Alpha-function is a model purporting
5 to describe immaterial functions of the human mind. It does not
6 exist concretely. It purports to describe a fact that is a prelude both
7 to thinking and dreaming. It refers to a kind of permeable bound-
8 ary or filter that transforms the unthinkable into building blocks for
911 thinking and/or dreaming and remembering.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 29

A 29

111 Bion’s preparatory papers about alpha-function (1959–60)

2 display his doubts in discerning thinking, dreaming and hallucinat-
3 ing. He named alpha-function differently then, calling it “dream-
4 work-alpha”. In due course he gave up this term; this was possible
5 when he separated alpha from dreams. Those papers were released
6 only in 1992; some readers dismiss the chronology and the fact that
711 Bion revamped the theory. To quote Bion as if he had written exclu-
8 sively about dream-work-alpha equals quoting Freud as a supporter
9 of trauma theory. This would restrict his work to pre-1900.
10 The terms alpha and beta were used in a way that tried to get
1 precision into communication. Bion tried to emulate the mathemat-
2 ical sense of notation (rather than mathematics proper). Like math-
3 ematical unknowns, they had no previous meanings and should be
4 left unsaturated. Anyway, as occurred with Freud’s models, they
5 are often taken as existent-in-themselves, as entities. Bion left many
6 warnings about this. One of them, issued at the end of his life,
7 reads:
9 P.A. These primitive elements of thought are difficult to represent
211 by any verbal formulation, because we have to rely on language
1 that was elaborated for other purposes. When I tried to employ
meaningless terms—alpha and beta were typical—I found that
“concepts without intuition which are empty and intuitions with-
out conceptions which are blind” rapidly became “black holes into
4 which turbulence had seeped and empty concepts flooded with
5 riotous meaning”. [AMF, II, 229]
7 Another misuse is not specific to this theory. It plagues the
8 grasping of theories in psycho-analysis in general. It may be a
9 manifestation of the mythical prohibition of knowledge. Perhaps it
30 is ironical that one concretizes a theory that was planned to mark
1 the “de-concretizing” or “de-sense-fying” ability of mind (Sandler,
2 1997a). Many other theories have met this fate.
3 Another misunderstanding is due to a split reading coupled
4 with a posture of “being more royal than the king”. Namely, some
5 readers refuse to define the concept. The “split reading” seems to
6 be aided by item 7, page 3 of Learning from Experience:
8 The term alpha-function is, intentionally, devoid of meaning
911 . . . Since the object of this meaningless term is to provide
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 30


111 psycho-analytic investigation with a counterpart of the mathemati-

2 cian’s variable, an unknown that can be invested with a value when
3 its use has helped to determine what that value is, it is important
4 that it should not be prematurely used to convey meanings, for the
premature meanings may be precisely those that it is essential to
exclude. [LE, 3]
This paragraph clearly refers to the use of the concept in analy-
tical practice, rather than to the definition of the concept itself. For
this concept forms a theory, and a theory is just a model. Theories
are attempts to present realities—but they are not realities in them-
selves, as Bion writes in the Introduction to Learning from Experience.
Any scientist and practising analyst should know this.
Just after writing the text quoted above, Bion sets out the “area
of investigation” to be covered by the theory. The pre-condition for
using the theory effectively is to know what a mathematical vari-
able is all about. An unknown in mathematics is just this: an
8 unknown, whose value may or may be not determined. Never-
9 theless, the theory that introduces the concept of variables or the
20 unknown is not vague or indefinite. Bion stresses the issue again
1 and again, for example, on page 38 of Learning from Experience.
2 Therefore, those who refuse to define the function mistake the
3 theory with its use.
4  Roger Money Kyrle’s papers “Cognitive development” and
511 “The aim of psycho-analysis” (1968 and 1970, IJPA) can be seen as
6 the earliest investigation of some issues linked to alpha-function.
7 He can be regarded as the first to expand Bion’s work.
8 Imprecision There are exceedingly few places where one is able
9 to spot a lack of precision in Bion’s writings. Up to now the author
311 has been able to spot only four of them.
1 The definition of alpha-function is given precisely in all parts of
2 his work with the possible exception of two. The student can see
3 that in the beginning of chapter 14 (LE). Instead of using the term
4 “sense impressions”, Bion uses the term “emotional experience”.
5 Perhaps this is not exactly an error; as late as 1965 Bion felt that
6 there were no conditions for discriminating between feelings—
7 which he definitely puts, in the very definition of alpha-function, as
8 belonging to the sensuous realm—and emotions. He sees “feelings”
911 as internal sense impressions.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 31

A 31

111 Also, in Attention and Interpretation, page 11, in synthesizing his

2 earlier contributions about a model of “mental space”, Bion states
3 that “In thought I include all that is primitive, including alpha-elements
4 as I have so far described them”. In all his previous descriptions alpha-
5 elements were the raw material that eventually could be used to
6 think. They were never regarded as thinking or thoughts. If taken
711 separately, this text becomes somewhat imprecise; it may give rise
8 to misunderstandings.
9 Usefulness The mystery lingers on. How is it that sensuous
10 impressions can ever gain the status of psychically useful inputs?
1 The fact is that they do; this fact is inferred and constitutes Freud’s
2 first steps towards psycho-analysis. It is the basis of his elaboration
3 of the concept of psychic reality.
4 Bion does not set himself to solve the problem, which borders
5 one of the most mysterious secrets of life itself. It is about no less
6 than the transition from inanimate to animate. The most gifted
7 authors of mankind from time immemorial have been trying to
8 tackle the issue—at least since the epoch of the writers of the myths,
9 of the Bible, and then Plato, Shakespeare, Kant, Goethe, Freud,
211 Dobzhansky, Schrödinger and a list too long to mention.
1 It is necessary to add these authors’ readers to the list; the
2 unsung onlookers of all epochs tried equally to tackle the same
3 issue. In order to do this they listened to myths, to music, to
4 philosophers and mystics, flocked to theatres, and read written
5 works.
6 To ask how this occurs equals asking, what is life? Many times
7 the person who feels that he (she) has the answer—if it exists at
8 all—takes flight into religion and belief. Bion’s scheme of an alpha-
9 function and alpha-elements is restricted to scrutinizing the path
30 from non-mental to mental.
1 It is a theory purposely limited. It was devised to be a non-
2 explanatory theory; it is just an observational theory. This limited
3 theory of Bion’s at least provides a practical working model for the
4 practising analyst. The analyst who profits from his theory is
5 enabled to detect some inanimate features in the analysand’s
6 discourse that usually pass for “normal”. Also, it provides a fresh
7 approach to the daytime dream work.
8 As regards the usefulness of a theory, Bion recommended often
911 that one should not discharge a useful theory, albeit in some aspects
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 32


111 it could well be flawed, when no other that proved to be better was
2 available (for example, T, 4). This seemed to be his own path. He
3 was at first critical of Freud, but afterwards accepted Freud’s
4 suggestions about consciousness as the sense organ for the percep-
5 tion of psychic quality; ditto, for Freud’s theory of instincts. But it
6 is exactly his non-destructive criticism coupled with his final accep-
7 tance of both Freud’s theories that led him to formulate the theory
8 of alpha-function.
9 Suggested cross-references: Alpha Elements, Bizarre Elements,
10 Dream-Work-, Mind, Minus, Reversal of Alpha-Function,
1 Thoughts without a Thinker
3 Analogy: Bion resorted to analogies, metaphors and aphorisms. He
4 wrote in a way that seems to hark back to the great French writers
5 of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, as well as English thinkers
6 of the Enlightenment. Freud did the same in order to depict the
711 mental realm, which is ultimately ineffable and unknowable.
8 In fact, any scientific model is an analogy. It belongs to the “cor-
9 respondence” sense of science, as established by Spinoza and Kant.
20 That is, science tries to construe models that have a correspondent,
1 or counterpart, in reality. Kant called the models “schemes”.
2 Bion was worried about the future of psycho-analysis because
3 of the effects of the establishment. This tends to crystallize the
4 achievement of knowledge, or knowing, in the form of an ossified
511 final knowledge. It seems that the psycho-analytic movement has a
6 tendency to miss the point in taking the analogy as the thing-in-
7 itself. The analogic value of a model or theory is lost; the concrete
8 sense of the analogy prevails.
9 One of the main analogies used by Bion is mathematical. Please
311 refer to the entry, “Mathematization of psycho-analysis”. This
1 matters both scientifically and during a session. To lose sight of
2 what the meaning of an analogy is implies losing sight of the very
3 reality that the analogies strive to depict.
4 The issue at stake is the fact that we perceive phenomena and
5 intuit noumena; analogies belong to the realm of phenomena. This
6 is the same one that characterizes, according to Kant, the “naive
7 realist”—one who believes that one is able to apprehend reality
8 through the exclusive use of one’s five basic senses—and that real-
911 ity is that which is apprehended by the senses.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 33

A 33

111 The psycho-analytical approach, though valuable in having

2 extended the conscious by the unconscious, has been vitiated by the
3 failure to understand the practical application of doubt by the fail-
4 ure to understand the function of “breast”, “mouth”, “penis”,
“vagina”, “container”, “contained”, as analogies. Even if I write it,
the sensuous dominance of penis, vagina, mouth, anus, obscures
the element signified by analogy. . . [AMF, I, 70–1]
8 Suggested cross-references: Atonement, Analytical view,
9 Mathematization of Psycho-analysis, Models, Real Psycho-analysis,
10 Thoughts-without-a-thinker.
2 Analytic view
4 . . . we regard analytic procedure as essential if people are to under-
5 stand what beliefs they hold and by which they are held. [AMF, II,
6 332]
8 It is difficult to conceive of an analysis having a satisfactory
outcome without the analysand’s becoming reconciled to, or at one
with, himself. [AI, 34]
1 In psycho-analytic methodology the criterion cannot be whether
2 a particular usage is right or wrong, meaningful or verifiable,
3 but whether it does, or does not, promote development. [LE,
4 Introduction, 3]
6 An explorer’s knowledge of instruments must be such that he can
7 use them in situations of stress. The analyst must use instruments
8 that are altered by the circumstances they are devised to study.
9 [T, 75]
This entry is a depiction of some views about a frequently asked
question: “What is psycho-analysis?” Bion addresses it throughout
all his written work.
P.A. I try to demonstrate the qualities of the individual. Whether
5 they are assets or liabilities he can then decide for himself. [AMF,
6 III, 541]
8 The hope is that psycho-analysis brings into view thoughts and
911 actions and feelings of which the individual may not be aware and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 34


111 so cannot control. If he can be aware of them he may, or may not,

2 decide—albeit unconsciously—to change them. [AMF, III, 509–10]
4 In New York, 1977
The analytic procedure is an attempt to introduce the patient to
who he is, because whether he likes it or not that is a marriage
which is going to last as long as he lives. [BNYSP, 40]
9 P.A. I have great respect for the individual. Do you think that is
10 wrong?
FIFTY YEARS No, but it is not in keeping with the growth of the
Herd. I can see P.A. will be in serious trouble if the Herd develops
3 faster than he does
5 P.A. If the development of the Herd is incompatible with that of the
6 individual, either the individual will perish, or the Herd will be
destroyed by the individual who is not allowed to fulfil himself. . .
Some of us think that the development of the individual needs care-
ful supervision. [AMF, III, 461]
1 The ethos of psycho-analysis
2 These formulations summarize the ethos of psycho-analysis. The
3 texts depict the clinical situation and its philosophical origins,
4 namely, the highest goals of the Enlightenment, which were contin-
511 ued in part by some offshoots of the Romantic Movement. The
6 defence of the individual being and his caring development has
7 been the ethos of psycho-analysis since Freud discovered it.
8 In other words, there is a lack of subservience to authority; there
9 is freedom, defence of the individual; the use of science and medi-
311 cine as methods developed to help suffering individuals. This un-
1 slavish state includes the recognizance of the unconscious and
2 attempts at knowing something about its functioning and manifes-
3 tations. To know, albeit imperfectly, something about some of the
4 manifestations of the unconscious is a way of not being enslaved by
5 them. It is more than a philosophical recognizance; it is a practical
6 application of it at the service of suffering individuals, in a novel
7 and basic way.
8 To display the ethos of psycho-analysis means also trying to
911 discriminate psycho-analysis from anything else. There is a need to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 35

A 35

111 recognize what it is—and what it is not. In other terms, what are its
2 “qualities”; in the same sense that Shakespeare, through Hamlet,
3 looked for real actors and asked them, “Come, give us the taste of your
4 quality” (Hamlet, II, ii, 408). Both Hamlet and patients in need of
5 analysis are looking for truth.
6 It would not be an exaggeration to state that Bion spent a great
711 deal of his psycho-analytic life, first and foremost, in trying to assess
8 what an analyst does intra-session: “It seems absurd that a psycho-
9 analyst should be unable to assess the quality of his work” (AI, 62).
10 The issues that Bion emphasizes are:
2 (i) human interest, or in his own terms, concern for life and truth
3 (C, 125, 247);
4 (ii) becoming who one really is;
5 (iii) detailed, attentive scrutiny of what is taking place in the here
6 and now of the session;
7 (iv) problems of communication of that which is observed (either
8 to the patient, which implies in the use of colloquial language,
9 models and myths);
211 (v) obstacles to observation, which implies certain problems of
1 perception and cognition;
2 (vi) the immaterial nature of underlying patterns that call to be
3 intuited.
5 Broadly speaking, the analytic view is concerned with a “matter
6 of interest”, as a former analysand of Bion’s, Kenneth Sanders, puts
7 it. Or, compassion and truth (C, 125). It is an amiable, growth-
8 promoting, life-oriented interest in the individual being, in the
9 wake of the achievements of the Enlightenment and Romantic
30 movements. Analysis is a collaboration that “should be healing”
1 rather than “wounding” (T, 25).
2 “Psycho-analysis is concerned with love as an aspect of mental devel-
3 opment and the analyst must consider the maturity of love and ‘greatness’
4 in relation to maturity” (T, 74). The analytic view includes a capacity
5 for “mature compassion” (T, 143).
6 The issue of development is mentioned often: “. . . the analyst
7 is concerned with development of the personality” (T, 169); “We consider
8 the attempt to improve humans both worthwhile and urgent” (AMF, III,
911 528).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 36


111 In less colloquial terms, Bion’s statements do not differ from

2 Freud’s last proposals on analysis as a method of investigation of
3 the mind with therapeutic implications.
5 The task confronting the analyst is to bring intuition and reason to
6 bear on an emotional experience between two people (of whom he
7 is one) in such a way that not only he but also the analysand gains
an understanding of the analysand’s response to that emotional sit-
uation, and does so through an appreciation of the evidence to which
the analyst is drawing attention in the course of his interpretations.
10 It is not enough for the analyst to be convinced that there is evidence
1 for the truth of his interpretations; he must have enough evidence
2 available to afford the analysand the opportunity of being per-
3 suaded, by his reason, of the cogency of the interpretation. [C, 91]
5 There is no trace of an authoritarian or pedagogical posture. The
6 patient’s function is not only stated as seminal in the process of
711 insight, which would be a truism. Instead, there is a description of
8 how or why it is seminal.
20 . . . psycho-analysts do not aim to run the patient’s life but to enable
1 him to run it according to his lights and therefore to know what his
lights are. [T, 37]
P. A. You need not be sheep. We do not aspire to be leaders or shep-
4 herds; we hope to introduce the person to his “real” self. Although
511 we do not claim to be successful, the experience shows how power-
6 ful is the urge of the individual to be led—to believe in some god
7 or good shepherd. [AMF, II, 266]
9 Bion’s posture would remain essentially unaltered throughout
311 his work, albeit improved in some technical details. Compare these
1 quotations with the last phrases of the character “Myself”, in
2 volume I, A Memoir of the Future, which is reproduced below in this
3 same entry. It depicts the act of obscuring something in order to
4 make this same something clear (pages 202–4).
5 The analytic view concerns “what is taking place” (T, 7). It corre-
6 sponds to Freud’s “here and now”; its goal is the achievement of
7 insight into the truth about oneself. An analysis is conceived as a
8 living, unrepeatable life experience impossible to obtain anywhere
911 else. This experience always includes paradox.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 37

A 37

111 We may now consider further the relationship of rudimentary

2 consciousness to psychic quality. The emotions fulfil a similar func-
3 tion for the psyche to that of the senses in relation to objects in
4 space and time. That is to say the counterpart of commonsense
view in private knowledge is the common emotional view; a sense
of truth is experienced if the view of an object which is hated can
be conjoined to a view of the same object when it is loved and the
711 conjunction confirms that the object experienced by different
8 emotions is the same object. A correlation is established.
A similar correlation, made possible by bringing conscious and
unconscious to bear on the phenomena of the consulting room,
gives to psycho-analytic objects a reality that is quite unmistakeable
2 though their very existence has been disputed. [ST, 119]
4 One example, where one may vouch for a humanistic and caring
5 approach, can be seen when Bion was investigating the dream,
6 dreaming during the session, fears of dreaming, presence of cruelly
7 annihilating superego and the possibility of a “dream-work-”:
9 The starvation of the psyche of all elements needed for growth and
211 development gives extreme urgency to the patient’s inability to
1 dream. But this activity is extra-sessional and impregnated with the
2 dangers incidental to a restored super-ego. The fear of this conflicts
with the necessity to restore the capacity to dream, for the fear is of
nothing less than annihilation. Consequently the patient...needs to
restrict these attempts to sessions. Then, and only then, is he sure
5 of the external aid that the presence of the analyst affords. It is this
6 that leads to the events I have already described in which the
7 patient strives to dream in the session. [C, 97–8]
9 This means that analysis will perhaps continue to be a subject
30 that is disparaged by people who have never experienced it. The
1 experience of analysis precludes any learning that does not come
2 from experiencing it. It does not differ from any practical endeavour.
3 The analytic view needs to be put into action in the way the
4 analyst expresses himself. He “should not express himself in any terms
5 other than those used by an adult; theoretically this excludes certain cate-
6 gories (notably column 2) [please refer to specific entry, Grid-column
7 2; in brief, this category expresses statements that are lies] . . . the
8 analyst is under an obligation to speak with as little ambiguity as possi-
911 ble, in fact his aims are limited by the analysand who is free to receive
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 38


111 interpretations in whatever way he chooses . . .The analyst is not free

2 except in the sense that when the patient comes to him for analysis he is
3 obliged to speak in a way which would not be tolerable in any other frame
4 of reference and then only from a particular vertex. The patient’s response
5 would also be intolerable if there were no psycho-analytic indulgence to
6 excuse it, or, if it were not for a psycho-analytic vertex” (T, 145).
7 Bion tries to classify the material that comes as the final views
8 construed by the patient after receiving any stimulus, in order to
9 construe that which he must tell the patient. He names the original
10 stimulus or experience as “O”, ultimate reality (q.v.) and the “mate-
1 rial” (which also comprises an immaterial dimension), the final
2 products of the transformations effected by the patient in “O”, as
3 Tp (q.v.).
5 The problem of classifying the material is complicated because it
6 contains elements of all three: T, Tp and Tp. It is a matter of
consequence because the decision depends on what is most conve-
nient for the analyst . . . The problem is to reformulate Tp in
conversational, but precise, English. [T, 26]
20 Like Freud and other authors such as Reik, for Bion psycho-
1 analysis is impossible without regard for truth, “. . . healthy mental
2 growth seems to depend on truth as the living organism depends on food
3 [T, 38]
6 Correct interpretation
7 Regard for truth implies absence of lies: thus the correct interpreta-
8 tion must be free of lies. A correct interpretation, being an approxi-
9 mation to the patient’s truth-O, a pursuit of truth-O, depends on the
311 evolution of the unknown. It admits no authority and, much less,
1 official speakers. The analytic couple has an opportunity to assess,
2 or to glimpse in a transient way, parts of it. It stems from the non-
3 spoken, the negative or numinous realm. This has a seminal signif-
4 icance for the work of the analyst concerning what he will or will
5 not say, of his choice of issues, of the rationality or lack of it that is
6 involved:
8 Nobody need think the true thought: it awaits the advent of the
911 thinker who achieves significance through the true thought. The lie
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 39

A 39

111 and its thinker are inseparable . . . The only thoughts to which the
2 thinker is absolutely essential are lies . . . Whether the thoughts are
3 entertained or not is of significance to the thinker but not to the
4 truth. If entertained, they are conducive to mental health; if not,
they initiate disturbance . . . Since the analyst’s concern is with the
evolved elements of O and their formulation, formulations can be
judged by considering how necessary his existence is to the
thoughts he expresses. The more his interpretation can be judged as
8 showing how necessary his knowledge, his experience, his character
9 are to the thought as formulated , the more reason there is to
10 suppose that the interpretation is psycho-analytically worthless,
1 that is, alien to the domain O. [AI, 103 and 105]
3 In Bion’s terms, an analytic interpretation must illuminate a
4 relationship that concerns knowledge (or in other terms, apprehen-
5 sion of reality or truth) and must necessarily be far from lies. Bion’s
6 terms focused for many years on one of the links or relationships as
7 specific to the analytic view as well as, in the negative sense, as
8 something to be avoided. Namely, the K link, which means “know-
9 ledge” (q.v.), is specific to the analytic view. In the negative sense,
211 the links H and L and column 2 are specific in terms of being
1 avoided or subjected to a discipline to diminish their influence. In
2 any case they shall not prevail (q.v.):
4 The peculiarity of a psycho-analytic session, that aspect of it which
5 establishes that it is a psycho-analysis and could be nothing else,
6 lies in the use by the analyst of all material to illuminate a K rela-
7 tionship. . . the analyst is restricted to interpretations that are an
expression of a K relationship with the patient. They must not be
expressions of L or H. [EP, 69–70]
Bion changed his view a few years later; even though K has to
do with psycho-analysis, it is still not enough. Analysis belongs
ultimately to the numinous realm and transcends knowledge:
4 Formulations of the events of analysis made in the course of analy-
5 sis must possess value different from the formulations made extra-
6 sessionally. Their value therapeutically is greater if they are
7 conducive to transformations in O, less if conducive to transforma-
8 tions in K . . . The analyst must focus his attention on O, the
911 unknown and unknowable. The success of psycho-analysis
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 40


111 depends on the maintenance of a psycho-analytic point of view; the

2 point of view is the psycho-analytic vertex; the psycho-analytic
3 vertex is O. With this the analyst cannot be identified: he must be it.
4 [AI, 26–7]
6 The symbol “O” (q.v.) stands for the noumena, truth. To be iden-
7 tified with it means either collusion or pretensions to knowing
8 absolute truth.
9 The issue of truth and sincerity obtrudes in the language that the
10 analyst must use too:
ALICE Punning is a very low form of life.
3 P.A. Life fundamentally is really “low life”—cock-roaches, and
4 “bloody cunt” and swimming in a sea of amniotic fluid and meco-
5 nium, and now psycho-analysis. Even the fetus is involved with
non-fetus. One cone intersects another cone. Here the eyes of each
of us can be described as sweeping out an area of space more or less
cone-shaped. But these cones intersect other cones whose focal
8 origin is different. These points of intersection could be pictorially
9 depicted by resorting to geometrical figures. That is an over-simpli-
20 fication which, as Robin said, is complex enough to make any
1 further description redundant. However, I do not see why the
2 universe in which we live should oblige us by being comprehensi-
3 ble to us mere human beings. This is true of our own bodies and
4 minds in which we have to live. Even if we don’t trouble with the
511 “universe”, the not-us, we find that merely trying to know who “I”
am involves an intolerable amount of discovery of what we have
never been able to tolerate and which, as likely as not, we are right
not to tolerate . . .
9 ROLAND You remind me—Britannia reminds me—of the mother
311 who on her death-bed collected her children because she wished to
confess that she had never loved her husband, their father, and had
been constantly unfaithful and promiscuous. The eldest, recovering
first from the stupefying information, announced, “Well, I don’t
3 know about you other bastards, but I’m going to the movies”, and
4 they all fucked off.
ALICE Very amusing. I regret that my facial muscles do not express
my entertainment.
8 ROBIN I expect you are not perceiving how amused you are at
911 being not-amused.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 41

A 41

111 ALICE Though I said it was “very amusing” I did not expect you
2 to believe I meant just that.
3 P.A. Though you do not call it psycho-analysis, you interpret natu-
4 rally and expect others to interpret your behaviour, including the
5 language you talk. These diagnoses, interpretations, are intrusions,
6 outrages perhaps, on your privacy—our privacy.
ALICE If you are right that seems to me to be one more reason for
behaving in a reasonably civil manner.
10 P.A. Certainly. But in reality, as far as I am capable of perceiving
1 reality or truth, the more I am aware that reality is not civilized or
2 reasonable or considerate of our feelings or ideas. This applies to
3 you and me; we are not polite, civilized, considerate only. So, in so
far as we achieve “civilized” character, our capacity for lying,
murdering, robbing, being in rude health, “fusts in us unused”, as
Milton puts it.
7 ALICE Milton certainly did not mean what you say he meant.
8 P.A. I am ready to believe that Milton did not mean to mean that.
9 It requires, at least, considerable training to achieve any idea now
211 of what Milton meant—or Nietzsche, or Newton, or any other great
1 figure of the past. In the present we do not have to bother because
2 there are not perceived to be any great figures. In fact we are learn-
3 ing to regard them as figments or our imaginations.
ROLAND I remember the fashion for “Father Figures”; the mental
5 landscape was such that one could not see one’s genetic father the
6 air was so thick with Father Figures.
8 ROBIN I smell a Father Figure; I see him in the Air; I will nip him
in the Bud.
30 ROLAND Call me Buddy—so much more friendly.
P.A. Technical terms are not safe from de-value-ation; hence my
2 resort to spelling out the word in a hope that the return to that
3 childhood learning difficulty might re-inforce my communication.
4 Must we keep our technical terms in constant repair? The bloody
5 cunt which is not anything to do with anatomical sex, not mascu-
6 line, not feminine, not haematology, not religion but could be said
7 to be sacred, has nevertheless an almost universal—western at
8 least—comprehensibility. It made Alice angry; even articulate. It
911 degrades the user almost as much as the recipient.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 42


111 ALICE Then why use it?

2 P.A. I am not advocating or deprecating its use. Since it is there it
3 seems wise to acknowledge or respect its presence as one should
4 respect any other fact, whether we like it or not.
ROBIN I can see Alice’s point—why go out of your way to look for
6 the unpleasant?
8 P.A. If it were only a matter of pleasant or unpleasant that would
depend on the character or person, and on his or her likes or
dislikes. I suggest it also involves is or is not. If it is then the indi-
vidual should respect the is-ness or is-not-ness of it. You think these
1 “things” are so rare that it is perverse to go out of our way to find
2 them. I say they are so universal that it is perverse to make great
3 mental detours to avoid being aware.
ROBIN But who uses language like that?
6 P.A. I do, for one. So do you. So does Alice.
711 ALICE I beg your pardon—I don’t . . .
P.A. But you said “fucking bastard” a little while back; you reacted
as to the manner born to Roland saying “bloody cunt”. If it were a
20 foreign language I would say you must have been born to it, lived
1 it, loved it as your very own favourite language. I agree with you
2 that you spoke to it as if you had forgotten it and didn’t want to be
3 reminded of it. [AMF, III, pp. 490–93]
511 The issue of Truth in analysis is not exactly an “issue”. It has a
6 meaning that approximates it to the social usage to the extent that
7 it is an ethical posture. Truth in analysis concerns self-knowledge:
8 “. . . self-knowledge is an aim of psycho-analytic procedure. . .” (EP, 91).
9 Psycho-analysis brought home the fact that truth is not a theo-
311 retical problem of the philosopher of science: “. . . the psycho-analyst
1 is concerned practically with a problem that the philosopher approaches
2 theoretically” (AI, 97).
Psycho-analytic procedure pre-supposes that the welfare of the
4 patient demands a constant supply of truth as inevitably as his
5 physical survival demands food. It further presupposes that discov-
6 ery of the truth about himself is a precondition of an ability to learn
7 the truth, or at least to seek it in his relationship with himself and
8 others. It is supposed at first that he cannot discover the truth about
911 himself without assistance from the analyst and others. [C, 99]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 43

A 43

111 I assume that the permanently therapeutic effect of a psycho-analy-

2 sis, if any, depends on the extent to which the analysand has been
3 able to use the experience to see one aspect of his life, namely
4 himself as he is. It is the function of the psycho-analyst to use the
experience of such facilities for contact as the patient is able to
extend to him, to elucidate the truth about the patient’s personality
and mental characteristics, and to exhibit them to the patient in a
way that makes it possible for him to entertain a reasonable convic-
8 tion that the statements (propositions) made about himself repre-
9 sent facts.
It follows that a psycho-analysis is a joint activity of analyst and
analysand to determine the truth; that being so, the two are
engaged—no matter how imperfectly—on what is in intention a
scientific activity. [C, 114]
5 If we—as Bion did—start from Freud, we will pay attention to
6 his coining of the term “psychic reality” vis-à-vis material reality,
7 both being different forms of the same reality—a fact often over-
8 looked. We must consider that psycho-analysis has Platonic-
9 Kantian-Hegelian roots. That is, it deals in practice with the
211 noumena, the “absolute” and its negative, immaterial nature.
1 Psychic reality, which corresponds to the numinous realm, remains
2 ultimately unknowable for our consciousness, if we regard it, as
3 Freud and Bion did, as the sense organ for the apprehension of
4 psychic quality. It is the same case with material reality, which
5 remains ultimately unknowable to the senses.
6 What must be perceived and expressed underlies the phenome-
7 nal realm. We analysts look for underlying, immaterial patterns:
8 “The interpretation given the patient is a formulation intended to display
9 an underlying pattern” (ST, 131). The underlying pattern is uncon-
30 scious: “The psycho-analyst tries to help the patient to transform that part
1 of an emotional experience of which he is unconscious into an emotional
2 experience of which he is conscious” (T, 32).
3 The search for underlying patterns would remain for the rest of
4 Bion’s professional life:
6 I put forward, herewith, a theory of  with a recently proliferated
7 sense organ known as the “end”, in which various functions,
8 usually associated with psycho-analysis (the Oedipus situation,
911 aggression, rivalry) are supposed to be observed (on the model of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 44


111 forms of dis-order, dis-ease, sex, fear, love). In reality they are
2 patterns, configurations, insignificant in themselves but, if delin-
3 eated, indicative of an underlying reality by their perturbations,
4 regroupings, shifts in pattern and colour; they reflect a category
and kind that the human mind cannot formulate or conjecture in
their presence. [C, 121–2]
7 The detection of those patterns is dependent on analytically
8 trained intuition (T, 49); there are immaterial constant conjunctions
9 that can be perceived and confer meaning to something. Bion
10 proposes some terms borrowed from mathematics to depict what
1 composes the underlying patterns: selected facts and invariances.
2 Another ever-present feature underlying appearances is
3 emotion:
5 Superficially, an analytic session may appear boring, or featureless,
6 alarming, or devoid of interest, good or bad. The analyst, seeing
711 beyond the superficial, is aware that he is in the presence of intense
8 emotion; there should be no occasion on which this is not apparent
9 to him. The intense experience is ineffable but once known cannot
be mistaken . . . if such a contact is maintained the analyst can
devote himself to evaluating and interpreting the central experience
and, if he sees fit, the superficialities in which it is embedded. [T, 74]
3 Bion states that all psycho-analysts would agree that “correct
4 analysis” demands that the analyst’s verbal formulations obey a
511 need, namely, to “formulate what the patient’s behaviour reveals; con-
6 versely, that the analyst’s judgement should be embodied in an interpreta-
7 tion and not in an emotional discharge (e.g. counter-transference or acting
8 out.” (T, 35).
9 This is the march into the unknown, the exploration into the
311 unbewußt, which means “not-known” in German. It is usually trans-
1 lated as “unconscious”. Freud, Klein, Bion and Winnicott practised
2 it: the continuous becoming that elicits who the patient in reality is,
3 unknowingly.
4 The numinous or negative nature of the ever-evolving psychic
5 reality dictates that the analytic view is obtained intra-session
6 through the scrutiny of that which one is not but one thinks one is.
8 The supreme importance of transference lies in its use in the prac-
911 tice of psycho-analysis. It is available for observation by analysands
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 45

A 45

111 and analysts. In this respect it is unique—that is its strength and

2 its weakness; its strength, because two people have a “fact” avail-
3 able to both and therefore open for discussion by both; its weak-
4 ness, because it is ineffable and cannot be discussed by anyone else.
The failure to recognize this simple fact has led to confusion.
[C, 353]
One may add that this demands not only concern for life and
truth, but also an ability or willingness to tolerate paradoxes.
Patients come but their willingness to be analysed cannot be taken
for granted:
2 Psycho-analysis tells you nothing; it is an instrument, like the blind
3 man’s stick, that extends the power to gather information. The
4 analyst uses it to gather a selected kind of information: the
5 analysand uses it to gather material that he can use (1) for purposes
6 of imitation, (2) to learn the analyst’s philosophy, (3) to learn how
7 to conduct his life in a socially acceptable manner, and (4) to
8 become acquainted with his Self. Although it is true that it is not his
9 intention to satisfy (1), (2) and (3), or any other desire other than (4),
211 it is impossible to make any statement that gratifies only (4) because
the lack of precision of spontaneous English speech. The analyst
can try not to pollute his interpretation on the one hand, or to speak
as if he were a living computer, stranger to human heartedness, or
the life that the rest of our human companions are familiar with as
4 members of our universe. Certain words and phrases appear to be
5 necessary for the communication of “happenings” recurring in that
6 part of human experience with which I am most familiar, and
7 which happens also to be that part of my life that is my profes-
8 sion—what, for the lack of power to describe adequately, I call
9 “mental suffering”. [C, 361]
1 Also, it is paradoxically an amiable and dangerous activity: “An
2 analyst is not doing his job if he investigates something because it is plea-
3 surable or profitable . . . anyone who is not afraid when he is engaged on
4 psycho-analysis is either not doing his job or is unfitted for it” (AMF, III,
5 516–7).
6 Perhaps the analytic view and its consequent analytic posture
7 are better illuminated in Bion’s late works. Modifying his earlier
8 attempts at clarity and concision through the use of mathemati-
911 cal and philosophical models, his clearer formulations about the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 46


111 analytical view appear in A Memoir of the Futurethrough verbal

2 formulations more akin to theatrical and poetical prose.
3 One may read there a practical application of the fine perception
4 that Bion had regarding the “negative”, that is, the numinous realm
5 and its relationship with insight and the psycho-analytic interpre-
6 tation. The negative realm of the noumena was first described by
7 Plato; insights about it, despite strong denials from Aristotle,
8 Descartes and many others, re-emerged with Hamann, Kant (who
9 delimited it more precisely), Maimon, Von Herder, Goethe, Fiche
10 and Hegel (who perhaps was the first to name it as the “negative”).
1 Freud gave practical use to it, with his formulation of psychic
2 reality, of the unconscious and of the Id. Bion, after Freud and Klein,
3 was able to focus his research on the Id as the pure analytical
4 posture. In this sense, more than thirty years after Bion having writ-
5 ten it, it seems that very few authors worldwide could apprehend
6 the profoundly psycho-analytical ethos of A Memoir of the Future, in
711 terms of the unconscious and of the Id. One of them, albeit belat-
8 edly, is André Green (2002). Not coincidentally, he is one of the very
9 few authors that Bion quotes explicitly in the Trilogy, side by side
20 with Freud, Money-Kyrle, Strachey, Rickman and Klein.
1 The texts of the Trilogy are self-explanatory, but to be grasped
2 they require analytic experience and a discipline over theoretical
3 prejudices about how one ought to write psycho-analytical texts.
BION I don’t understand.
6 MYSELF Perhaps I can illustrate by an example from something
7 you do know. Imagine a piece of sculpture which is easier to
8 comprehend if the structure is intended to act as a trap for light.
9 The meaning is revealed by the pattern formed by the light thus
311 trapped—not by the structure, the carved work itself. I suggest that
if I could learn how to talk to you in such a way that my words
“trapped” the meaning which they neither do nor could express, I
could communicate to you in a way that is not at present possible.
4 BION Like the “rests” in a musical composition?
5 MYSELF A musician would certainly not deny the importance of
6 those parts of a composition in which no notes were sounding, but
7 more has to be done than can be achieved in existent art and its well-
8 established procedure of silences, pauses, blank spaces, rests. The
911 “art” of conversation, as carried on as part of the conversational
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 47

A 47

111 intercourse of psycho-analysis, requires and demands an extension

2 in the realm of non-conversation . . .
3 I have suggested a “trick” by which one could manipulate things
4 which have no meaning by the use of sounds like “” and “”.
5 These are sounds analogous, as Kant said, to “thoughts without
6 concepts”, but the principle, and a reality approximating to it, is
711 also extensible to words in common use. The realizations which
8 approximate to words such as “memory” and “desire” are opaque.
9 The “thing-in-itself”, impregnated with opacity, itself becomes
10 opaque: the O, of which “memory” and “desire” is the verbal coun-
1 terpart, is opaque. I suggest this quality of opacity inheres in many
O’s and their verbal counterparts, and the phenomena which it is
usually supposed to express. If, by experiment, we discovered the
verbal forms, we could also discover the thoughts to which the
observation applied specifically. Thus we achieve a situation in
5 which these could be used deliberately to obscure specific thoughts.
7 BION Is there anything new in this? You must often have heard, as
8 I have, people say they don’t know what you are talking about and
that you are being deliberately obscure.
211 MYSELF They are flattering me. I am suggesting an aim, an ambi-
1 tion, which, if I could achieve, would enable me to be deliberately
2 and precisely obscure; in which I could use certain words which
3 could activate precisely and instantaneously, in the mind of the
4 listener, a thought or train of thought that came between him and
the thoughts and ideas already accessible and available to him.
6 ROSEMARY Oh, my God! [AMF, I, 189–191]
8 Is this the most colloquially written illumination of the realm of
9 “minus”, in the sense that it is constantly conjoined with the realm
30 of “plus”? In philosophical terms, it displays the Hegelian realm of
1 the “negative”, which must, anyway, as Freud showed, remain
2 linked to the material reality, namely, the instinctual endowment.
3 This realm can also be seen as the Platonic realm, or the numi-
4 nous realm later described by Kant, which was later on mapped by
5 Freud in his investigation of psychic reality. Its insight is a conjoint
6 work of analyst and analysand. Let us follow with Bion. His next
7 step seems to follow a hint by Freud, when he realized the halluci-
8 natory realm of transference. (Freud, 1912) This is a need for an
911 immersion in psychic reality and in hallucination (slave of pleasure
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 48


111 or desire and avoidance of pain) which also is part of psychic

2 reality.
3 Or, as the author proposed elsewhere (Sandler, 1997), psychic
4 non-reality, an inseparable companion of psychic reality, in the
5 same sense that the production of nourishing chemical products
6 (such as ATP, adenosine tri-phosphate) is inseparable from the
7 production of faeces, or the storage of oxygen in the blood cells is
8 inseparable from the production of carbon dioxide.
10 P.A. My problem is the relationship when two minds, persons,
1 characters, meet. Freud drew attention to one aspect of that rela-
2 tionship which he called “transference”. I think he meant that when
a man meets his analyst he transfers to him characteristics which
were probably once consciously , and not unreasonably, thought to
inhere in some member of the parental family. These characteristics
5 are inappropriate when felt about a stranger—the analyst.
711 PAUL Why the analyst? Why not other people?
8 P.A. The analyst is typical of these “other people”. In analysis these
9 characteristic “transfers” can be discussed.
ROBIN Only by the patient?
2 P.A. No; the analyst also reacts to the patient. But in so far as he is
3 unconscious of it, it is known as the counter-transference. You can
4 read all about this in the literature, or better still, find out for your-
self by having a psycho-analysis. I do not want to go into that
because here, at best, we can only “talk about it”—not experience
it. [AMF, II. 249–50]
8 To talk about analysis means a splitting of material reality from
9 psychic reality (as defined by Freud in chapter VII of The Interpreta-
311 tion of Dreams). To experience analysis means to live both material
1 reality and psychic reality, or “reality sensuous and psychic” as
2 Bion puts it in Attention and Interpretation.
3 In 1975, he recommended, as an invitation to attaining the
4 analytical view, that analysts should try to avoid formalism, or
5 rational, clever manipulations of symbols, as well as “investigations
6 in psycho-analysis”:
8 SHERLOCK The simple part of it has been dealt with by Watson.
911 You heard that fellow Bion? Nobody has ever heard of him or of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 49

A 49

111 Psycho-analysis. He thinks it is real, but that his colleagues are

2 engaged in an activity which is only a more or less ingenious
3 manipulation of symbols. There is something in what he says.
4 There is a failure to understand that any definition must deny a
previous truth as well as carry an unsaturated component. [AMF,
I, 92]
711 . . . The most profound method known to us of investigation—
8 psycho-analysis—is unlikely to do more that scratch the surface.
9 [BLI, 52]
10 MYSELF The practical point is—no further investigation of psycho-
1 analysis, but the psyche it betrays. That needs to be investigated
2 through the medium of mental patterns; that which is indicated is
3 not a symptom; that is not a cause of the symptom; that is not a
4 disease or anything subordinate. Psycho-analysis itself is just a
5 stripe on the coat of the tiger. Ultimately it may meet the Tiger—
6 The Thing Itself—O. [AMF, I, 112]
8 In his short papers, “Evidence” (1976) and “Emotional turbu-
9 lence” (1977), Bion first adumbrated his hypothesis on the risk of
211 the whole of psycho-analysis becoming “a vast paramnesia intended
1 to fill the void of our ignorance”. In 1979 he would summarize the
2 whole issue:
ROLAND Yes; but is there any evidence for a mind at all? It has no
colour, smell, or any other sensuous counterpart. Why should not
5 the whole of psycho-analysis be just a vast, towering Babel of
6 paramnesias to fill the gap where our ignorance ought to be? [AMF,
7 III, 540]
9 Bion tried to endow psycho-analysis with the scientifically
30 sound foundation that Freud tried to attain. With his observational
1 theories, Bion looked for evidence and ways to refute interpreta-
2 tions. Freud established them in “Constructions in analysis”; they
3 were based on the patient’s reactions before the analyst’s interpre-
4 tations, in terms of free associations.
5 Bion’s attempts at refutations appear in Elements of Psycho-
6 Analysis and Transformations; during his last phase of courtship
7 with his own modified form of neo-positivism. He observed the
8 “truth value” of verbal statements made in sessions, through a
911 precise formulation of the vertexes under which both analyst and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 50


111 analysand’s verbal statements were made. Refutations can be seen

2 as scientific “devil’s advocates”. If an interpretation can survive the
3 refutation, it may undergo a development, or correction.
5 P.A. I do not think that Freud or any psycho-analyst would
welcome such an extension; it is typical of the devaluation to which
the language we use is subjected. I am prepared to entertain the
possibility that any cloud-capp’d tow’rs of human imaginative
8 structures may disappear like the insubstantial vision of a dream. I
9 do not have any difficulty in thinking that the human race itself
10 might disappear in a puff of smoke. Suppose the sun were to flicker
1 as a prelude to its disintegration, would any human survive? This
2 world is only a grain of cosmic dust and our sun an ordinary star—
3 so the astronomers tell us. We know of no other world to which we
4 could fly as a new home.
5 ROBIN On the other hand it would be extraordinary if amongst the
6 many millions of solar systems there were not some other accident
711 similar to that which produced “homo-sapiens”.
8 ROLAND A fat lot of use that would be to us.
20 P.A. In the meantime we should remain true to our nature and
endeavour to make the best of ourselves.
2 ROLAND Is P.A. also among the moralists? I thought you people
3 prided yourselves on being above that.
4 P.A. I am not aware that we pride ourselves or deprecate ourselves
511 on account of our being ordinary members of the human race. Like
6 my fellows I would be gratified if I discovered that I was in some
7 way excellent; in fact I have found no evidence of my “excel-
8 lence”as a psycho-analyst.
9 ALICE Your colleagues think highly of you.
1 P.A. Some do, luckily; I am not unappreciative of the fact, but it tells
me more of the generosity and affection of my colleagues than of
my merits. I think we could discuss something of greater interest
than me and my qualities and defects.”
5 Concerning the too often overlooked issue of the analyst’s
6 prejudices, disguised as morals:
8 ROLAND Doesn’t your working day consist in discussing the
911 qualities and defects of others?
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 51

A 51

111 P.A. I try to demonstrate the qualities of the individual. Whether

2 they are assets or liabilities he can then decide for himself. [AMF,
3 III, 540–41]
5 The analytic view must entertain a critical appraisal of the
6 concept of cure. Freud demonstrated the universality of the
711 neuroses; Klein, the same for the psychosis; and Bion sees the cura-
8 tive model in a critical way (q.v.).
9 One of the deadliest enemies of the analytic view is the use of
10 jargon (q.v.), which enables a pre-patterned mode of non-thinking
1 that passes for real thinking. Jargon is a clothing to feelings of
2 “already known”. In contrast, the analytic view enables one to
3 march into the unknown. Bion simply rescues Freud, who once
4 wrote that we must tell the patient that which he does not know:
PAUL Timidity is a fact of our nature. We cling to anything which
gives us the chance of saying “Thus far and no further”. Any
discovery is followed by a closure. The remainder of our thoughts
8 and endeavours is devoted to consolidating the system to prevent
9 the intrusion of yet another thought. [AMF, II, 265]
1  Bion saw the necessity of keeping his analytic view in the
2 emotional tempest created by the so-called psychotics and border-
3 lines (a fashionable term in the sixties) who were predominantly
4 narcissistic, coupled with disturbances of thought. They resorted to
5 projective identification in order to turn analysis into a game of
6 emotional responses instead of a march towards knowledge. The
7 development of this necessity came when Bion, after Klein,
8 observed how the universality of the psychotic nuclei functions,
9 with a seminal paper on the psychotic and the non-psychotic
30 personalities (1956).
1 This meant that the phenomena he observed in so-called
2 psychotics were present, albeit in a modified form, more subtle and
3 in the guise of hallucinosis, in so-called “normal” or “neurotic”
4 patients—and vice-versa. The subtleties of the presentation of the
5 psychotic phenomena dictated that the analytic view could be even
6 more difficult to attain and to keep. This problem would occupy the
7 rest of his life as a practitioner.
8 First he tried to ensure the truth-value of the analyst’s state-
911 ments through the Grid (q.v.). He came to state that the analyst
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 52


111 must avoid statements belonging to categories of column 2—lies.

2 Truth became the criterion; Elements of Psycho-Analysis and Trans-
3 formations mark his attempts inspired by the neo-positivists such as
4 Carnap, who also attempted to establish the truth-value of scientific
5 statements (see entries Grid, and Transformations and Invariances).
6 But he abandoned this; he resorted to other traditions of appre-
7 hension of reality as it is, in order to keep the analytic view, that of
8 the so-called mystics (both the Lurianic movement and the Chris-
9 tian Cabbala). At this moment he states that the numinous realm,
10 which he calls “O”, must be the compass of the analyst; to analyse
1 equals the “pursuit of truth-O”, of becoming, of turning transfor-
2 mations in K into transformations in O. In order to do this one must
3 eschew memory, desire and understanding.
4 This would mark his work Attention and Interpretation, which
5 can be seen as his great attempt towards attaining the analytical
6 view under a commonsensical vertex. The analytic view is closely
711 related to the analyst’s ability to dream the patient’s material (refer
8 to specific entry under this heading). The “trained intuition”,
9 already adumbrated in Transformations, is seen as the analytic
20 tool.
3 Pain
4 The analytic view always deals with pain. Intuition is linked to pain
511 to the extent that it composes a kind of analytical ethics:
7 The emotion to which attention is drawn should be obvious to the
8 analyst, but unobserved by the patient; an emotion that is obvious
9 to the patient is usually painfully obvious and avoidance of unnec-
311 essary pain must be one aim in the exercise of analytic intuition.
1 Since the analyst’s capacity for intuition should enable him to
2 demonstrate an emotion before it has become painfully obvious it
3 would help if our search for the elements of emotions was directed
4 to making intuitive deductions easier. [EP, 74]
6 An analytic view cannot be achieved if one tries to avoid pain,
7 which is inimical to the unknown. Conversely, to avoid pain is the
8 ally of desire, as Freud observed. Explanations are one of the tools
911 for avoiding pain—in illusion, hallucination and delusion.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 53

A 53

111 Pain cannot be absent from the personality. An analysis must be

2 painful, not because there is necessarily any value in pain, but
3 because an analysis in which pain in not observed and discussed
4 cannot be regarded as dealing with one of the central reasons for
the patient’s presence. The importance of pain can be dismissed as
a secondary quality, something that is to disappear when conflicts
are resolved; indeed most patients would take this view. Further-
more it can be supported by the fact that successful analysis does
8 lead to diminution of suffering: nevertheless it obscures the need,
9 more obvious in some cases than in others, for the analytic experi-
10 ence to increase the patient’s capacity for suffering even though
1 patient and analyst may hope to decrease pain itself. The analogy
2 with physical medicine is exact; to destroy a capacity for physical
3 pain would be a disaster in any situation other than one in which
4 an even greater disaster—namely death itself—is certain. [EP, 61–2]
6 To deal with pain in analysis is fundamental to achieving the
7 analytical view. It requires the notion of reversible perspective
8 (q.v.)—a special use of projective identification in order to render a
9 dynamic situation static.
The work of the analyst is to restore dynamic to a static situation
and so make development possible . . . the patient manoeuvres so
that the analyst’s interpretations are agreed; they thus become the
outward sign of a static situation . . . In reversible perspective
4 acceptance by the analyst of the possibility of an impairment of
5 capacity for pain can help avoidance of errors that might lead to
6 disaster. If the problem is not dealt with the patient’s capacity to
7 maintain a static situation may give way to an experience of pain
8 so intense that a psychotic breakdown is the result. [EP, 60 and 62]
30 A good-humoured paper of this time was kept unknown but
1 was published posthumously by his dedicated wife; its title is
2 “Predictive psycho-analysis and predictive psychopathology: a
3 fable for our time” (Cogitations) This paper subsumes and synthe-
4 sizes his warnings about the loss of the analytic view, the dangers
5 that encircled the psycho-analytic movement as a social fact, the
6 attacks the members of the movement made against the analytic
7 view and many expressions of the death instinct. His Trilogy A
8 Memoir of the Future would cap all those attempts and integrate
911 them in a novel form of presentation, where poetry and much more
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 54


111 of the mystics are included in order to show how the analytic view
2 may and must be maintained during the sessions.
3 The analytic view is precluded if the professional tries to replace
4 the need to develop an analytically trained intuition with pre-
5 patterned theories, explanations: “The erudite can see that a descrip-
6 tion is by Freud, or Melanie Klein, but remain blind to the thing
7 described” (AMF, I, 5). Those explanations usually function as pain
8 relievers.
Binocular vision and correlation
2 The analytic view demands an ability to make a couple, or
3 marriage. The concept of container and contained works during the
4 here and now of the analytic session; binocular vision (q.v.)
5 provides the confrontation of at least two vertexes, allowing the
6 formation of a commonsensical view. Kant’s criticism re-emerges in
711 the analytic session; the confrontation—in the sense of vis-à-vis—is
8 the condition for growth. This contrasts with autism. Or, in other
9 words, the idea that there is such a thing as “total independence”.
20 This is perhaps the most profound basis of hallucinosis (q.v.)
1 hitherto observed. Correlation, relationships between objects allow
2 for emotional experiences; they cannot be conceived of in isolation
3 from a relationship (LE, 42). “. . . I assume that correlation is a neces-
4 sary part of confrontation and that confrontation is a necessary part of
511 analysis” (AI, 93).
6 The improvement of the analysis includes the “circular argu-
7 ment” (q.v.). It is a concept destined to gauge the effectiveness of an
8 interpretation given by an analyst vis-à-vis the patient’s statements.
9 The “correct interpretation” (q.v.) must be such that one avoids
311 restricting it to “knowing about” but reaches “becoming” (q.v.).
1 The analytic view would receive a lasting expansion when the

2 concept of O + O , container/contained, was introduced. It would
3 integrate Oedipus and the sexual component in the here-and-now
4 of the evolving session. Refer to the entry, container/contained.
The personal equation
8 That an analytic view is only achieved through personal analysis is
911 beyond any doubt in Bion’s work. There are many mentions and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 55

A 55

111 even recommendations that an analyst should look for the best
2 analysis he can. The same sense is conveyed when he warns that his
3 books are to be read by practising analysts.
4 Freud was the first to coin the expression “personal equation”
5 and the possibilities for dealing with it; it encircles the interference
6 of the observer in the object observed in terms of gauging them and
711 disciplining them—up to a point (1925, “On negation”, SE, XIX;
8 1938, “An outline of psycho-analysis”, SE, XXIII). Ferenczi would
9 return to the issue (1928, “The elasticity of the psycho-analytic
10 method”) but it seems that up to 1965 no other analysts would
1 emphasize this factor that is fundamental to an analytical view.
3 The first requisite for the use of a theory is proper conditions for
4 observation. The most important of these is psycho-analysis of the
5 observer to ensure that he has reduced to a minimum his own inner
tensions and resistances which otherwise obstruct his views of facts
by making correlation of conscious and unconscious impossible.
The next step is for the analyst to bring his attention to bear.
8 Darwin pointed out that judgement obstructs observation. The
9 psycho-analyst however must intervene with interpretations and
211 this involves the exercise of judgement. A state of reverie conducive
1 to alpha-function, obtrusion of the selected fact, and model-making
2 together with an armoury limited to a few essential theories ensure
3 that a harsh break in observation of the kind Darwin had in mind
4 becomes less likely; interpretations can occur to the analyst with the
5 minimum disturbance of observation” [LE, 86–7]
7 I shall ignore disturbance produced by the analyst’s personality or
aspects of it. The existence of such disturbance is well known and
its recognition is the basis for analytic acceptance of the need for
analysts to be analysed and the many studies of counter-transfer-
30 ence. While other scientific disciplines recognize the personal equa-
1 tion, or the factor of personal error, no science other than psycho-
2 analysis has insisted on such a profound and prolonged investiga-
3 tion of its nature and ramifications . . . I shall assume an ideal
4 analyst and that Ta  and Ta  are not distorted by turbulence—
5 though turbulence and its sources are part of O” [T, 48]
7 Usefulness It may sound disposable and pleonastic to state the
8 possible usefulness of such a concept. In simpler terms, to establish
911 the analytic view is to establish the borders between psycho-analysis
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 56


111 and anything else. The pursuit of such an improvement is the basic
2 reason for the existence of the analyst’s own analysis (the so-called
3 training analysis). This effort was made first by Freud himself in
4 many well-known papers. Thereafter some distinguished and expe-
5 rienced analysts such as Karl Menninger tried to establish a theory of
6 technique, and others such as Reik tried to establish the purely
7 analytic posture; in the nineties, the outstanding attempts of André
8 Green. Many others tried to transplant other models to analysis;
9 even though I do not do justice in this text both to all involved and
10 the many ways they tried to do it. For example, James Strachey’s
1 attempt was through a careful translation of Freud, Winnicott tried
2 to warn Klein about politics interfering in science, Clifford-Scott and
3 Wisdom in respect to the clinical posture, and many “good enough”
4 analysts in more isolated countries—I refer to the attempts at a
5 purely analytic posture.
6 An analytic view would enable one to attain a specific success,
711 an analytic success. This is in entire agreement with Freud: “If
8 analysis has been successful in restoring the personality of the patient he
9 will approximate to being the person he was when his development became
20 compromised” (T, 143). Judgement does not belong to analytic prac-
1 tice, except when a judgmental posture is part of the patient’s
2 personality.
3 What is at stake here? The possibility of making analysis a real,
4 truthful and useful activity for patients in the first place, and
511 analysts and mankind. In the long run, it means survival or obliv-
6 ion.
7  Bion tried to unearth Freud’s pure psycho-analysis. On the
8 basis of his work in the Trilogy, it can be said that he avoided by
9 every means two kinds of splitting, which the author named else-
311 where the “naïve realistic” and the “naïve idealistic”. “Naïve real-
1 ism” is the concretization that favoured and still favours material
2 reality. It was initiated with Broca’s and Penfield’s highly specula-
3 tive schemata fitting rationally with Freud’s models of mind, and
4 returned in the guise of the more recent “neuro-psycho-analytic”,
5 “neuro-scientific” and positivistic minded research. “Naïve ideal-
6 ism” comprises the disordered flights of imagination that plagued
7 the psycho-analytic movement from its inception. The famous
8 warning of Freud, namely, “that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”
911 addresses this issue. Since the late seventies “naïve idealism” mani-
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 57

A 57

111 fests itself in textualist, semantic, post-modernistic trends and

2 many other kinds of “evidenceless”, improbable, brainy, param-
3 nesic manipulations of symbols and imaginary causal chains
4 framed in quasi-psycho-analytical wording. It is a characteristic of
5 written works from the thirties to the seventies. Such writing imag-
6 ines a disembodied mind (Sandler, 2001, b, c)
711 Suggested cross-references: Atonement, Becoming, Circular
8 Argument, Compassion, Container/Contained, Cure, Disaster,
9 Disturbed personality, Dream the patient’s material, Dream-work-
10 , Intuition; Jargon, Judgmental values, Mind, “O”, Principle of
1 Uncertainty, Real analysis, Thoughts without a thinker, Truth,
2 Ultra-sensuous.
4 Animate and inanimate: Already in his earlier papers Bion had
5 noticed that people try to deal with the animate with methods that
6 are appropriate to the inanimate realm. He observed people who
7 could not go to sleep or be wide awake; who could not dream or
8 think; their state could neither be described in terms of being alive
9 nor dead.
211 Having killed, from the violence of their emotions, the living
1 aspect of the breast (love solace, understanding), the truthful nature
2 of the breast was denied and split off; all that remained was the
3 concrete milk (LE, 10). The issue is important not only from a theo-
4 retical point of view. It may discriminate between real analysis and
5 imitative practices. This may explain the present tribulations of the
6 psycho-analytic movement, which was not able to profit, as a
7 whole, from Bion’s attempts to rescue Freud and Klein’s contribu-
8 tions, which are not concrete. The psycho-analytical movement is
9 lost in the search for concrete, neurological, inanimate or social
30 causes and solutions. In this sense the psycho-analytical movement
1 functions just like patients. For, during analysis, the patient cannot
2 deal with interpretation without a craving for love that remains
3 unsatisfied; it “turns into overweening and misdirected greed” (LE, 11).
4 The patient tries to force the analyst to furnish concrete cure,
5 solutions, answers, wisdom, counsel, and more and more interpre-
6 tations that are swallowed as if they were truth-in-themselves or
7 things-in-themselves, with no working through. The patient “does
8 not feel he is having interpretations for that would involve an ability to
911 establish with the analyst the counterpart of an infant’s relationship with
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 58


111 a breast that provides material wisdom and love. But he feels able only to
2 establish the counterpart of a relationship in which such sustenance can be
3 had as inanimate objects can provide; he can have analytic interpretations
4 that he feels to be either flatus or contributions remarkable for what they
5 are not rather than for what they are” (LE, 11–12).
6 The issue has consequences for science and epistemology. Bion
7 borrowed formulations from the philosopher. The object of study of
8 psycho-analysis and of philosophy is sometimes the same, namely,
9 the human mind. Bion stressed the fundamental difference between
10 the philosopher’s and the analyst’s tasks; namely, the practical
1 objectives of the analyst.
2 With regard to science, there are difficulties for the positivistic-
3 minded person who mistakes science for that which Kant called
4 “naïve realism”. The problem obtruded and carried on obtruding
5 with Darwin and Einstein in the fields of biology and physics. It
6 emerged with full force with Freud in the field of medicine.
711 To the same extent that Freud’s discoveries are misunderstood,
8 forgotten and debased, the issue obtrudes again within the psycho-
9 analytic movement:
The scientist whose investigations include the stuff of life itself
finds himself in a situation that has a parallel in that of the patients
I am describing. The breakdown in the patient’s equipment for
3 thinking leads to dominance of a mental life in which his universe
4 is populated by inanimate objects. The inability of even the most
511 advanced human beings to make use of thoughts, because the
6 capacity to think is rudimentary in all of us, means that the field for
7 investigation, all investigation being ultimately scientific, is limited,
8 by human inadequacy, to those phenomena that have the charac-
9 teristic of the inanimate. We assume that the psychotic limitation is
311 due to an illness: but that that of the scientist is not. It appears that
our rudimentary equipment for “thinking” thoughts is adequate
when the problems are associated with the inanimate, but not when
the object for investigation is the phenomenon of life itself. Con-
3 fronted with the complexities of the human mind the analyst must
4 be circumspect in following even accepted scientific method; its
5 weakness may be closer to the weakness of psychotic thinking than
6 superficial scrutiny would admit. [LE, 14]
8 One may see that Bion was circumspect in criticizing directly
911 that which he names, “accepted scientific method”. Max Planck
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 59

A 59

111 faced the fierce opposition of Ernst Mach in the same way that
2 Freud faced the opposition of the medical establishment. More of
3 the same, with Klein, who faced the opposition of the self-entitled
4 “Freudian” establishment. Bion’s work faced the opposition of
5 many parts of the psycho-analytic establishment during the eight-
6 ies—this fact had already crept in during the attempts to co-opt him
711 during the sixties, as well as in the attempt to exclude him in the
8 ensuing years. Green mentioned the last occurrence in his book
9 review of Cogitations in the IJPA [1992]
10 Learning and Experience was written around 1960–61. One may
1 consult the various chapters on “Scientific Method” published in
2 Cogitations, which date from 1959. They were preparatory studies to
3 that text. During 1964–65, in Transformations, Bion would put the
4 issue in a slightly different manner—with regard to the human
5 equipment for knowing reality. That which is animate came to be
6 equated with the immaterial realm of psychic reality.
7 In order to get a model for discussing the situation, Bion
8 resorted to Kant’s terminology: noumena and phenomena. Bion
9 now more confidently puts the phenomena into the realm of the
211 concrete, sensuously apprehensible facts. They can be seen as
1 emanations of ultimate reality: the latter (including psychic reality)
2 is a negative realm. Once one had attained a glimpse of its exis-
3 tence, there is no need to search, to prove, or to multiply the
4 concrete formulations of it:
6 It can be represented by terms such as ultimate reality or truth. The
7 most, and the least that the individual person can do is to be it.
8 Being identified with it is a measure of distance from it. The beauty
of a rose is a phenomenon betraying the ugliness of O just as ugli-
ness betrays or reveals the existence of O . . . O, representing the
unknowable ultimate reality can be represented by any formulation
1 of a transformation—such as “unknowable ultimate reality” which
2 I have just formulated. It may therefore seem unnecessary to multi-
3 ply representations of it; indeed from the psycho-analytical vertex
4 that is true. But I wish to make it clear that my reason for saying O
5 is unknowable is not that I consider human capacity unequal to the
6 task . . . [T, 139–40]
8 Truth may be the most synthetic formulation that marks that
911 which belongs to the immaterial, animate reality. The animate is
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 60


111 ineffable. The inanimate can equally express truth and untruth. The
2 inanimate can be put into words.
4 Arrogance: Bion observed that a triadic behavioral conjunction
5 appears when one feels prevented from making projective identifi-
6 cation. The person may feel that he is prevented. It can actually be
7 prevented. The triad is made of arrogance, stupidity and curiosity.
8 Clinically, every time that a psychotic personality cannot function
9 through projective identifications, he or she resorts to this triad or
10 to a variation of it in which one or two of each of these behaviours
1 prevails (ST, 86, 92).
2 Suggested cross-references: Curiosity, Stupidity, Projective
3 Identification.
5 Atonement, at-one-ment:
P.A. I do not think we could tolerate our work—painful as it often
is for both us and our patients—without compassion (AMF, III,
8 522).
20 The central postulate is that atonement with ultimate reality, or O,
1 as I have called it to avoid involvement with as existing association,
2 is essential to harmonious mental growth. [ST, 145]
4 An observational concept belonging to the realm of the psycho-
511 analytic posture, psycho-analytical view (q.v.) and formulations in
6 the decisive moment of the here and now of the session. It borrows
7 a term from the mystic tradition (especially from the Jewish and
8 Christian Cabbala, as well as from some of the Reform postures).
9 This is done in order to depict a mental state. It is a tool for attaining
311 “real psycho-analysis” (q.v.). To grasp the meaning of the concept
1 one must have an idea of that which Bion named “O”, a quasi-math-
2 ematical notation for the realm of the noumena, the unconscious, the
3 id (q.v.). Bion proposed the symbol “O” to denote “ultimate reality,
4 absolute truth, the godhead, the infinite, the thing-in-itself”.
5 At-one-ment is a verbal (written) indication describing situa-
6 tions that are experientially alive and truthful, with no taints of lies.
7 It formulates an evolving ultimate reality during the here and now
8 of the session. It is not a tool to know one’s own psychic reality, but
911 to apprehend it in a transient way. A given reality as it evolves and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 61

A 61

111 becomes amenable to be formulated under a series of guises: liter-

2 ary, musical, among others. This is done, partially, as a glimpse. At-
3 one-ment is a passageway to insight.
4 It is not a tool for knowing psychic reality due to the fact that
5 psychic reality, as any form in which that reality eventually may
6 present itself, “is not something which lends itself to being known. It is
711 impossible to know reality for the same reason that makes it impossible to
8 sing potatoes; they may be grown, or pulled, or eaten, but not sung.
9 Reality has to be ‘been’: there should be a transitive verb ‘to be’ expressly
10 for use with the term ‘reality’ ” (T, 148).
1 Reality-O, or “truth-O” (AI, 29) is the leitmotiv of analytic
2 pursuit (AI, 29). It can “become”, but it cannot be “known” (AI, 26).
3 The analyst “becomes O” (AI, 27), being expressions of O, the
4 emotional experience as experienced by the analysand and analyst,
5 towards the reality of the patient as he or she really is.
6 In so far as the analyst becomes O he is able to know the events that are
7 evolutions of O” (AI, 27). Therefore the experience of atonement or
8 at-one-ment cannot be described. It can be lived. It is not a matter of
9 mere feelings—that Bion ascribes as appertaining to the realm of
211 inner sense impressions. As a preparation for the concept of atone-
1 ment, he paves the way: “. . . people exist who are so intolerant of pain or
2 frustration (or in whom pain and frustration is so intolerable) that they feel
3 the pain but will not suffer it and so cannot be said to discover it” (AI, 9).
4 This quotation allows the introduction of a factor of at-one-
5 ment: pain and its dialectical pair, nourishment. Bion had previ-
6 ously illuminated this in Transformations.
7 This was one of his first forays into the observation of methods
8 to make approximations to “O”. The tolerance of frustration and
9 pain allows experience of the “No-(something)”, or the negative by
30 means of which reality as it is emerges. From the renouncing of
1 achieving whatever it is, there emerges the truth or reality-O of that
2 which was the object of nourishment of that which was regarded as
3 nourishment. I’m proposing to differentiate nourishment, which
4 includes frustration, from fulfilment or satisfaction (see below on
5 atonement and satisfaction).
7 To qualify O for inclusion amongst the column 1 categories by
8 defining its definitory qualities I list the following negatives: Its
911 existence as indwelling in an individual person or in God or Devil;
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 62


111 it is not good or evil; it cannot be known, loved or hated. It can be

2 represented by terms such as ultimate reality or truth. The most,
3 and the least that the individual person can do is to be it. Being
4 identified with it is a measure of distance from it. The beauty of a
rose is a phenomenon betraying the ugliness of O just as ugliness
betrays or reveals the existence of O. [T, 139–140]
The experience of “to be at-one” is strictly linked to the moment
of the analytic interpretation. It is not an act of knowing but of
being: “Formulations of the events of analysis made in the course of
analysis must possess value different from that of formulations made
extra-sessionally. Their value therapeutically is greater if they are con-
ducive to transformations in O; less if conducive to transformations in K
. . . the analyst must focus his attention on O, the unknown and unknow-
able. The success of psycho-analysis depends on the maintenance of a
psycho-analytic point of view; the point-of-view is the psycho-analytic
711 vertex; the psycho-analytic vertex is O. With this the analyst cannot be
8 identified: he must be it . . . the psycho-analyst can know what the patient
9 says, does, and appears to be, but cannot know the O of which the patient
20 is an evolution: he can only ‘be’ it . . . the interpretation is an actual event
1 in an evolution of O that is common to analyst and analysand” (AI, 26,
2 27).
3 “To be” and “become” depends on having regard to truth:
4 “There can be no genuine outcome that is based on falsity. Therefore the
511 outcome depends on the closeness with which the interpretative appraisal
6 approximates to truth” (AI, 28).
7 The state of at-one-ment is described thus: “To put it in more
8 popular terms, I would say the more ‘real’ the psycho-analyst is the more
9 he can be at one with the reality of the patient”. This experience is real,
311 but it does not rely on split factual, concrete, and sensuously appre-
1 hensible situations such as the universe of the patient’s discourse,
2 statements and the like: “Conversely, the more he [the analyst] depends
3 on actual events the more he relies on thinking that depends on a back-
4 ground of sense impression” (AI, 28) The already known, or the
5 tendency to state “thus far and no further” (AMF, II, 265) precludes
6 the at-one-ment: “The impulse to be rid of painful stimuli gives the
7 ‘content’ of the memory an unsatisfactory quality when one is engaged in
8 the pursuit of truth O . . . an analyst with such a mind is one who is incap-
911 able of learning because he is satisfied ” (AI, 29).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 63

A 63

111 “O” stands for the absolute truth in and of any object; “it is
2 assumed that this cannot be known by any human being; it can be known
3 about, its presence can be recognized and felt, but it cannot be known. It
4 is possible to be at one with it. That it exists is an essential postulate of
5 science but it cannot be scientifically discovered. No psycho-analytic
6 discovery is possible without recognition of its existence, at-one-ment with
711 it and evolution”(AI, 30).
Atonement and truth
1 “It may be wondered what state of mind is welcome if desires and memo-
2 ries are not. A term that would express approximately what I need to
3 express is ‘faith’—faith that there is an ultimate reality and truth—the
4 unknown, unknowable, ‘formless infinite’” (AI, 31). The issue is not the
5 particular truth(s); even less “the truth”; but truth itself. There is a
6 hope that truth is strong and shall prevail. Faith, here, is faith in the
7 existence of truth and reality.
Atonement and interpretation
1 The interpretation should be such that the transition from knowing
2 about reality to becoming real is furthered . . . The interpretations that
3 effect the transition from knowing about O to becoming O are those
establishing . . . the material through which the argument circu-
lates. [T, 153]
Bion examines the properties of the number “one” and at the
same time he states that mystics are people who seem to have had
some kind of contact with O. They rest in a capacity to tolerate
paradoxes, as in the example of St John of the Cross, whose descrip-
tions of “repellent” qualities “may be an unconscious tribute to his
identification of absolute real evil with absolute real good” (T, 139). Isaac
Singer describes the same in many of his novels, such as in The
3 Moskat Family. The main character, Asa Herschel, discovers that the
4 Jewish people’s Messiah is Hitler.
5 In 1967 Bion resorts to Wordsworth to express the posture:
7 If psycho-analysts can abandon themselves to analysis in the
8 psycho-analytical sessions, they are in a position when recollecting
911 the experience in tranquillity [this is Wordsworth’s wording to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 64


111 convey his “sense of poetry”; Wordsworth, (1798, p.171)] to discern

2 their experience as part of a greater whole. Once that is achieved,
3 the way is open for the discovery of configurations revealing yet
4 other and deeper groups of theory. But the discoverer must be
prepared to find that he has started another round of group oscil-
lations. PersecutionDepression. [Cogitations, 285]
The practical point is—no further investigation of psycho-analysis,
8 but the psyche it betrays. That needs to be investigated through the
9 medium of mental patterns; that which is indicated is not a symp-
10 tom; that is not a cause of the symptom; that is not a disease or
1 anything subordinate. Psycho-analysis itself is just a stripe on the
2 coat of the tiger. Ultimately it may meet the Tiger—The Thing
3 Itself—O. [AMF, I, 112]
Atonement and science
711 The failure to apprehend the use of analogy may hamper the realiz-
8 ation of the scientific nature of atonement; and by extension, of
9 psycho-analysis:
1 The scientific approach, associated with a background of sense
2 impressions, for example the presence of the psycho-analyst and
3 his patient in the same room, may be regarded as having a base. In
so far as it is associated with the ultimate reality of the personality,
O, it is baseless. This does not mean that the psycho-analytic
method is unscientific, but that the term “science”, as it has been
commonly used hitherto to describe an attitude to objects of sense,
is not adequate to represent an approach to those realities with
8 which “psycho-analytical science” has to deal. Not is it adequate to
9 represent that aspect of the human personality that is concerned
311 with the unknown and ultimately unknowable—with O.
The criticism applies to every vertex, be it musical, religious, aes-
thetic, political; all are inadequate when related to O because, with
the possible exception of the religion of the mystic, these and similar
4 vertices are not adapted to the sensually baseless. The realities with
5 which psycho-analysts deals, for example, fear, panic, love, anxiety,
6 passion, have no sensuous background, though there is a sensuous
7 background (respiratory rate, pain, touch, etc.) that is often identi-
8 fied with them and then treated, supposedly scientifically. What is
911 required is not a base for psycho-analysis and its theories but a
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 65

A 65

111 science that is not restricted by its genesis in knowledge and sensu-
2 ous background. It must be a science of at-one-ment. It must have a
3 mathematics of at-one-ment, not identification. There can be no
4 geometry of “similar”, “identical”, “equal”; only of analogy. [AI,
6 Atonement is linked to dream-work; refer to the entry “Dream
711 the patient’s material”.
8 Misuses and misconceptions: Bion makes explicit that he
9 borrows some terms from other disciplines. Sometimes he does this
10 intentionally to profit from the penumbra of associations of the
1 terms.
2 Many of the terms he borrowed already had known, widely-
3 accepted meaning and connotation. He wants the reader to be
4 reminded of them. For example, “transformations and invari-
5 ances”, “hallucinosis”. Sometimes he uses the term giving specific
6 warnings that the reader must see that the term is used differently
7 in his work when compared with the common usage. For example,
8 the non-hyphenated term “preconception” (q.v.). Sometimes he
9 creates new terms to avoid any associations with existing terms
211 such as “O” and “”. Finally, sometimes he stresses some meanings
1 already ingrained in a given term and sticks with them, such as
2 “hyperbole”.
3 Does lack of attention to these warnings and explanations of the
4 use of a term arouse confusion and polemic? Do prejudices hamper
5 the full realization of Bion’s use of terms derived from mystic expe-
6 rience, such as faith and atonement?
7 The use of a known term facilitates communication without
8 resorting to neologisms. Concrete-minded people cannot grasp the
9 fact that the mystic tradition, as well as art and philosophy, were
30 early human attempts to approach human nature and mind’s func-
1 tioning before the obtrusion of science and psycho-analysis. Some
2 of the mystic’s insights gained durability, to the extent that they
3 were truthful, quite independent of time and the forms in which
4 they were first couched and then conveyed. Does the concrete-
5 minded reader take these words literally as if Bion had used them
6 in their religious sense, or with religious purposes? Was he trying
7 to impinge religion on psycho-analysis?
8 Bion did not attack religion—nor did Freud. This statement runs
911 contrary to the current prevailing (religious) belief that attributes to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 66


111 Freud an anti-religious posture. This belief turns the psycho-

2 analytic movement into another form of religion. It would suffice to
3 read with real attention that which Freud says about religion in
4 “The question of a Weltanschauung”.
5 Bion had described the religious states of mind that characterize
6 human mindlessness:
8 . . . I wonder how many plausible theories have been used and
bewildered the human race. I would like to know. I am not sure of
the ease with which “plausible” theories are produced. In this
context of “plausible theories” about which we are talking, the
1 plausible theory, or “convincing interpretation”, may be hard to
2 come by. It can be plausible and false. Witness the idea that “the
3 sun rises”—what trouble that has caused! We do not know the cost
4 in suffering associated with the belief in a Christian God, or the god
5 of Abraham’s Ur, or Hitler’s Germany, or peyotism—or god of any
6 kind. [AMF, I, 172]
8 And the danger that religious states of mind represented a real
9 capacity for faith or belief that truth exists:
20 BION If all else fails you could rage, as I too can, against yourself,
1 your youth or your age, your strength or your weakness. It is one
2 of the uses you can make of God—if you can believe in God.
ROBIN Well, can’t you?
511 BION Which god are you referring to?
6 ROBIN Allah Akbar!
BION I don’t think you are being serious. I shall use psycho-
analytic licence to take jokes seriously. To start with, you show you
are aware that you have a choice.
1 ROBIN You think of me as joking. It would not be so easy to
2 suppose that, if I were in fact a member of a Muslim culture. Nor
would you suppose that you could “choose” to take it seriously
“because” you are a member of a psycho-analytic group. You
would be compelled to take it seriously. It has nothing to do with
5 being a member of a particular group, profession or culture, but
6 that particular “culture” has a great deal to do with some underly-
7 ing, unobserved, constant conjunction of beliefs; an actual God of
8 which the various religious formulations are only approximations
911 to the underlying configuration of facts.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 67

A 67

111 BION You are asking me to suppose that there is a “thing-in-itself”,

2 noumenon, Godhead, which, using Kant’s terminology for my
3 purposes, becomes “manifest” as a phenomenon; “God” as
4 contrasted with “Godhead”, “finity” as contrasted with “infinity”;
“won”, as Milton says, “from the void and formless infinite”; a
geometrical, Euclidean figure, a triangle with sides of 2, 4 and 5
units, as contrasted with an algebraical deductive system. But a
711 rational fact gives no scope for “belief”. Belief itself is destroyed if
8 it is transformed to find a “reason” for belief. [AMF, I, 179–80]
10 Bion respected the contributions that some people who were
1 nourished by religious tradition gave to mankind. He differentiated
2 between the mystic tradition and bigotry. The dialogues between
3 the characters “Priest” (first called “Paul”) and “P.A.” in volumes II
4 and III of A Memoir of the Future plainly shows this. Please refer to
5 the entry, “Science versus Religion”.
6 All the references to St John of the Cross, John Ruysbroeck (in
7 Transformations), Isaac Luria (after Georg Scholem, in Attention and
8 Interpretation), the Bhagavad Gita (especially A Memoir of the Future,
9 I, p. 69, 79, 140, 147; II, 333; Cogitations, p. 371), Israel’s God (A
211 Memoir of the Future, I, p. 80) and Christ (A Memoir of the Future, I,
1 p. 140) indicates his way: a respect for the wisdom contained in
2 mystic tradition, outside of religious rites or submission.
3 Bion’s reverence and awe before the unknown equals that of
4 Einstein, Freud and Heisenberg, to quote a few. On this basis some
5 have accused Bion of being a deteriorated man, gaga. They try to
6 base their accusation, in part, on Bion resorting to these models (for
7 example, Meltzer, 1981; Segal, 1989; Joseph, 2002). The fact was
8 reported, albeit talking about religion rather than mystics, by Joan
9 and Neville Symington. Do they fail to see the analogic value of
30 models (q.v.) in psycho-analysis?
1 Bion tried to use other models, such as mathematical notation.
2 Also, he tried to formulate the analytic experience in more collo-
3 quial terms. In this he was influenced by the British Romantic poets,
4 such as Wordsworth.
5 Analytic communication was degenerating into jargon (q.v.) and
6 controversy (q.v.). But to be colloquial is not enough: there is the
7 issue that analysis includes, and is, an emotional experience.
8 Therefore Bion uses some terms that are derived from realms that
911 take emotional experiences into consideration. The religious realm
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 68


111 is one of them. Words such as intuition, mystics, faith, were brought
2 to the fore.
4 If the psycho-analytical situation is accurately intuited—I prefer
5 this term to “observed” or “heard” or “seen” as it does not carry the
6 penumbra of sensuous association—the psycho-analyst finds that
7 ordinary conversational English is surprisingly adequate for the
8 formulation of his interpretation. Further, the emotional situation
9 serves to make the interpretation comprehensible to the analysand
although resistances require some modification of this statement as
too optimistic. [ST, 134]
3 The verbal formulation “atonement” derives from religious
4 experience. Taking into account the scarcity of better terms, made
5 more scarce after the way that the psycho-analytical movement
6 debased the original psycho-analytical formulations of Freud and
711 Klein, it is no wonder that one resorts to verbal formulation derived
8 from other realms. They are no indications of Bion’s alleged mystic
9 religiosity. As concerns O, “the religious mystics have probably approx-
20 imated most closely to expression of experience of it” (AI, 30). The key
1 here may be that one must differentiate mysticism from the mystic
2 tradition.
3 If one reads it in a respectfully Ruskinian way, one will notice
4 “expression of experience”. This definitely encircles the issue as a
511 matter of verbal formulation, of analogic expression intended to
6 communicate something. This something is the ability to appre-
7 hend reality. One may verify this when Bion specifically quotes the
8 so-called mystics.
311 Verbal expressions intended to represent the ultimate object often
1 appear to be contradictory within themselves, but there is a surpris-
ing degree of agreement, despite differences of background, time
and space, in the descriptions offered by mystics who feel they have
experienced the ultimate reality. Sometimes the agreement seems
4 close even when, as with Milton, the individual seems to know of
5 it rather than to have experienced it.
7 The rising world of waters dark and deep
8 Won from the void and formless infinite” [Milton, Paradise Lost,
911 Book 3]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 69

A 69

111 . . . The process of binding is a part of the procedure by which

2 something is “won from the void and formless infinite”; it is K and
3 must be distinguished from the process by which O is “become.’”
4 [T, 151]
6 This is not a question restricted to theoretical issues:
The psycho-analyst accepts the reality of reverence and awe, the
possibility of a disturbance in the individual which makes atone-
9 ment and, therefore, an expression of reverence and awe impossi-
10 ble. The central postulate is that atonement with ultimate reality, or
1 O, as I have called it to avoid involvement with as existing associ-
2 ation, is essential to harmonious mental growth. It follows that
3 interpretation involves elucidation of evidence touching atone-
4 ment, and not evidence only of the continuing operation of imma-
5 ture relationship with a father . . . Disturbance in capacity for
6 atonement is associated with megalomaniac attitudes. [ST, 145]
8 Atonement is incompatible with greed, fantasies of satisfaction,
9 idolization, or religious “contact with God” as a father or an
211 omnipotent incarnate God.
1 Suggested cross-references: Analytic View, Correct
2 Interpretation, Dream the Patient’s Material, O, Real Analysis,
3 Religion versus science, Thoughts without a thinker,
4 Transformations in O, Ultra-sensuous.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 70

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 71

711 B
211 Basic assumptions: In dealing with small groups, Bion observed
1 some expressions of the paranoid–schizoid position. They corre-
2 sponded to a kind of prejudice that shaped the outcome of the
3 group’s functioning, in a specific sense: these assumptions pre-
4 cluded the formation and/or development of a work group.
5 Bion, influenced by his analysis and further collaboration with
6 John Rickman, who in turn profited from Klein’s work, was enabled
7 to exercise that which he would later name the “analytically trained
8 intuition” (q.v.).
9 The author has proposed elsewhere to specify the exercise of
30 “analytically trained intuition” as belonging to the posture of
1 psycho-analytic “participating observation”. Bion used it in group
2 settings. Psycho-analysis is a “two-body psychology” in the terms
3 coined by Rickman; therefore it qualifies to be seen as a group
4 setting. Moreover, in the fullest sense of the Aristotelian dictum,
5 “man is a political animal”, there is no humanity in isolation or in
6 abstractio. Psycho-analytically speaking this would correspond—at
7 its best—to autism, depression or masturbation. Conversely, the
8 sense of solitude (Alves, 1989) differs from the sense of loneliness.
911 In the sense of solitude, the person is with him/herself. Therefore

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 72


111 even if we consider a single person, when he or she realizes the

2 existence of his or her mental life, this “whole entity”, a single
3 person, can also be regarded as something endowed with a “two-
4 ness” (Bion, 1977) Aristotle perceived this and wrote about the
5 nous—the mind thinking about itself. Therefore, these group func-
6 tions and modes of functioning also occur in a single mind, in terms
7 of introjected objects.
8 In his early studies, Bion’s analytic intuition allowed the detec-
9 tion of three underlying modes of organization/disorganization of
10 groups, which he named “basic assumptions” of a group:
2 i. Fight/flight: the group splits itself in mutual destruction of its
3 members; the aggression is often overt and there is a hostile
4 search for and choice of culprits.
5 ii. Pairing: the fragmentation consists of the members forming
6 pairs that would bring forth a saviour; those pairs have a
711 “Homo” nature. The members of the group, frozen in the para-
8 noid–schizoid position, cling to each other due to features they
9 attribute to each other that are felt (invariably in a hallucina-
20 tory way) to be similar or identical.
1 iii. Messianic or dependence: the group agglutinates itself around a
2 leader felt to be a saviour, a superior being. Those attributes are
3 hallucinated products of shared projective identifications of
4 the members of the group, who feel they are able to divest (in
511 a phantastic way) themselves of their self-responsibility. Mind
6 itself is extruded, in phantasy, and “placed” into another
7 person, the “saviour”. This messianic leader is felt as the —and
8 not only a—source of wisdom, authority and knowledge.
311 The three basic assumptions occur many times in succession;
1 sometimes the pairing group paves the way to the messianic group;
2 sometimes flight/fight groups are a prelude to the pairing group.
3 The messianic group can lead to renewed fight/flights. The cycles
4 follow on in a kind of feed-back with no possibility of change. The
5 group can die, starved of truth; it cannot nourish itself through
6 work, because it forms no work group, just “basic assumptions
7 groups”. Therefore the self-feeding cycles are characterized by a
8 primitive (emotionally speaking) destructive intra-group relation-
911 ship, almost wholly based on hallucination and delusion. This
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 73

B 73

111 contrasts with work-groups, who can change and make thrusts into
2 the unknown.
3 The psychotic nature of the three basic assumptions was clear in
4 Bion’s original writings in the forties. Thanks to his later advance-
5 ment in grasping of the facts of the herd, especially after his books,
6 Transformations, Attention and Interpretation and A Memoir of the
711 Future, we can now see that the three underlying modes of func-
8 tioning are the stuff of hallucinosis.
9 It is its hallucinated character that hampers or precludes the
10 formation of “work groups”, whose existence is dependent on
1 regard to truth. “The assumption underlying loyalty to the K link is
2 that the personality of analyst and analysand can survive the loss of its
3 protective coat of lies, subterfuge, evasion and hallucination and may
4 even be fortified and enriched by the loss. It is an assumption strongly
5 disputed by the psychotic and a fortiori by the group, which relies
6 on psychotic mechanisms for its coherence and sense of well being” (T,
7 129).
8 Bion hoped that further observation could lead to the descrip-
9 tion of basic assumptions other than these three. The possibility of
211 a more mature functioning corresponds to the diminishing alle-
1 giance to the basic assumptions.
2 Synonymy: Basic groups (not often used).
3  Some later authors have tried to describe other basic
4 assumptions. The extent that they succeed will depend on a more
5 effective replication or refutation of clinical observations. In 1974,
6 P. Turquet stated that there is a fourth basic assumption, “oneness”:
7 “a mental activity in which members seek to join in a powerful union with
8 an omnipotent force, unobtainably high, to surrender self for passive
9 participation, and thereby feel existence, well-being, and wholeness . . . the
30 group member is there to be lost in oceanic feelings of unity or, if the
1 oneness is personified, to be a part of a salvationist inclusion” (Turquet,
2 1974, pp. 357, 360).
3 Starting from Turquet, W. Gordon Lawrence, Alastair Bain, and
4 Lawrence Gould named a fifth basic assumption group, “Me-Ness”.
5 According to them, this fifth basic assumption is the opposite of
6 Turquet’s “One-Ness”. It consists of an anti-group group mentality.
7 The authors “do not want to explain away baM (basic assumption Me-
8 Ness) in terms of individual narcissism, as can be found in analysands
911 and patients, because we are focusing on baM (basic assumption
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 74


111 Me-Ness) as a cultural phenomenon”. They hypothesize that this basic

2 assumption is becoming “more salient in industrialized cultures”; an
3 individualist tendency that they detect in different ages of western
4 civilization (Lawrence, Bain & Gould, 1996, p. 28).
5 The discussion of those authors’ ideas is not within the scope of
6 this dictionary. Anyway, only to hint at possible discussions that
7 could strengthen their contributions, as far as my grasp of their
8 writing goes, it is not clear to what extent they are depicting mani-
9 fest phenomenal expressions of Bion’s “messianic leader” and/or
10 “dependence” basic assumption.
1 The author observed phenomena that allowed for the possibil-
2 ity of the existence of a sixth “basic assumption”, which was provi-
3 sionally to be named “Hallucinosis of Exclusion/Appertaining”
4 (Sandler, 2001). A quasi-symbolic notation may be, Groups {“A”
5 and “Outside A”}. I suppose that people hallucinate that they
6 belong to a given group (or subgroup within a group) and/or hallu-
711 cinate that they are excluded from the given group they aspire to
8 be part of. The very group is a product of the mind and has no
9 counterpart in reality, its “materialness” notwithstanding. This
20 sixth assumption has a psychotic and a non-psychotic nature: the
1 latter is to be found in the Oedipus situation. There is a possibility
2 of existence of “natural groups” that may qualify to be endowed
3 with realness. They were adumbrated by Durkheim: he observed
4 two kinds of “solidarities” that cohere people in groups:
511 “mechanic” and “organic”. The latter can foster a real “inclusion
6 attitude” towards, and in its members. It is a matter of interest
7 (Sanders, 1986).
8 There are some differences between my hypothesis and the
9 ideas of these authors. Firstly, I deal with it as a hypothesis to be
311 discussed. Secondly, they make a sociological study drawn from
1 analogies of some socio-economic and political facts that may now
2 be dated. Thirdly, their experience is drawn primarily from their
3 “roles as consultants to and directors of . . . working conferences” about
4 group relations and education “in addition to” their “practices as
5 social scientists, organizational consultants, psycho-analysts, and univer-
6 sity teachers”, and mine is drawn from clinical psycho-analysis
7 proper, as well as an active involvement in community psychiatry
8 and in the observation of movements within some psycho-analytic
911 institutions.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 75

B 75

111 Become, becoming:

3 ROSEMARY . . . I feel I am “becoming” it even if I do not, and never
4 shall, “understand” what I am “becoming” or “being”.
5 BION In short, “being” something is different from “understand-
6 ing” it. Love is the ultimate which is “become”, not understood.
ALICE (looking at Rosemary) I have “become” something and this,
8 if I could say it, would depend on my saying, “I love”. [AMF, I, 183]
10 This term is defined in the entries “At-one-ment”, “Trans-
1 formations in O”, “Transformations in psycho-analysis”. Refer to
2 these specific entries.
3 The verbal formulation, “becoming”, is an early attempt by Bion
4 (1965) that pays respect to the severe constraints imposed both by
5 sensuously apprehensible and sense-based methods of verbal com-
6 munication. It refers to the communication in the analytical setting
7 and among psycho-analysts. Words both convey and disguise
8 meaning.
9 Terms such as “to know oneself” are seen in Transformations,
211 Attention and Interpretation and A Memoir of the Future as belonging
1 to the realm of philosophy. Analysis is a practical, living experience:
2 “Herein lies one advantage that the psycho-analyst possesses over the
3 philosopher; his statements can be related to realizations and realizations
4 to a psycho-analytic theory” (T, 44).
5 In order to emphasize this with its built-in ever changing nature,
6 Bion resorts to the term, “becoming”. In A Memoir of the Future there
7 are three fictitious characters who are named, “Bion”, “Myself” and
8 “Psycho-analyst”, who may be seen as steps towards becoming
9 who one is. In the last volume they are called Somites, Body,
30 Psyche, Mind, Soma, Term, Boy, and various ages (Eleven, Twenty-
1 One, Thirty-two, Fifty, up to Seventy-Eight).
2 All of them correspond to Bion’s memories of his own learning
3 from experience. They may be regarded as fictional expressions of
4 his part-objects, reflecting his own trajectory in life. To a certain
5 extent they are manifestations of himself, the man and the profes-
6 sional. There are many parts of the text that offer opportunities to
7 see the integration and the disintegration of a whole life, being
8 lived in a moment—the moment one “becomes”. Life, after all, only
911 exists in the moment it is being lived. Facts are “presented”.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 76


111 Becoming may be seen as a continuous process during a life-

2 cycle. It is becoming who one is in reality; a marriage of an internal
3 couple. This couple is made up of the person and its true self.
4 A Memoir of the Future offers many formulations of “becoming”;
5 the books themselves are a “becoming-in-themselves”. They are not
6 amenable to being understood, but rather as “becoming-evoking”
7 devices. For example:
9 BION You do not regard them as historically distributed?
10 MYSELF I do, but not exclusively. In fact, I would find it helpful to
1 borrow from a schizophrenic patient a capacity for a transference
2 relationship which was alternatively penetrating and planar; deep
3 and confused, or superficial and of great “spread”, like a monomol-
4 ecular film. At the same time these states, though apparently mutu-
5 ally exclusive, are reconciled and co-existent—like wave motion
6 and quanta, objects in a pattern conforming to a Poisson distribu-
711 tion displayed on two planes—one temporal, one spatial—at right
angles to each other. Seen from the temporal plane the other “trans-
ference” spreads monomolecular-wise: seen from the vertex of the
spatial plane, the “transference” is penetrating.
1 BION I don’t think I understand. You mean that from an historical
2 vertex events are distributed sequentially one after another in what
3 we call time, but that is possible to regard them, by ignoring the
temporal vertex, as distributed in space, not time?
511 MYSELF Yes, but then two views are obtained, one which is very
6 narrow and extremely penetrating, the other very broad and spread
7 out without depth or penetration.
8 ALICE So what? Is this any different from what I and my girl
9 friends have always known? Our boy friends are all the same—
311 either for ever pawing us about though it’s clear it doesn’t mean a
1 thing, or “poking” us, having what they call sex, which doesn’t
2 mean a thing either.
3 BION Or both—and calling it schizophrenia.
5 MYSELF And that means nothing whether it is spread out over the
6 whole of psychiatry or concentrated to apply to a particular,
specific “thing” or “person”.
8 MAN You could say the same about “psycho-analysis” or “sex” or
911 “hate” or any other verbalization.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 77

B 77

111 MYSELF Or “feelings” or names of feelings. They don’t mean a

2 thing. Or, as Kant said, “concepts without intuition are empty and
3 intuitions without concepts are blind”.
4 BION I know the quotation to which you refer, of course, but—is
5 that what he meant?
MYSELF I have no idea what he meant, but I am using his
“concepts” to match with my “intuitions”, because in this way I can
8 bring together a concept and an intuition, making it possible to feel
9 that I know what I mean. If I could also juxtapose you and myself,
10 the two together would be meaningful.
ROSEMARY You certainly sound as if you get on very well. So well
indeed that I almost wondered if you were not the same person.
4 BION & MYSELF (together) So do I. [AMF, I, 193–4]
6 Belief: Refer to Analytic View, Facts, O, Psycho-analytic paramne-
7 sias, Science versus Religion, Scientific Method, Sense of Truth.
9 Beta-elements
211 In the model of alpha-function (q.v.) this quasi-mathematical
1 symbol, “beta-elements”, sometimes written as -elements, stands
2 for things-in-themselves, when they are felt to be such by the
3 beholder.
4 They are suitable for projective identification but not for think-
5 ing. They constitute the raw material that is amenable to be sensu-
6 ously apprehended and decoded into elements suitable for
7 thinking, dreaming and remembering, called alpha-elements (q.v.).
8  They were first defined in 1960, as objects that are felt by the
9 infant in its earliest phases of development as dead and non-
30 existent—due to the fact that before the inception of the reality prin-
1 ciple, “objects are felt to be alive and to possess character and personality
2 presumably indistinguishable from the infant’s own . . . the real and the
3 alive are indistinguishable; if an object is real to the infant, then it is alive;
4 if it is dead, it does not exist”.
5 Bion wanted to discuss objects in a pre-verbal state that are not
6 felt as alive due to being, so to speak, “extinguished” by the infant’s
7 rage. “If the object is wished dead, it is dead. It therefore has become non-
8 existent, and its characteristics are different from those of the real, live,
911 existing object; the existing object is alive, real and benevolent”. Bion
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 78


111 proposes “to call the real, alive objects -elements; the dead, unreal
2 objects I shall call -elements” (all quotations, C, 133).
3 He calls both primitive objects proto-objects; “It is therefore, in so
4 far as it [the infant] feels pleasure, surrounded by these proto-real objects
5 felt to be real and alive. But should pain supervene, then it is surrounded
6 by dead objects destroyed by its hate, which, since it cannot tolerate pain,
7 are non-existent” (C, 133–4).
8 The -elements seem to constitute the bulk of the infant’s mental
9 life as well as the stuff of the psychotic functioning, when they
10 remain in an “undigested” state. Why undigested? Because if the
1 intolerance of these objects is prevalent, the infant attacks the
2 mental apparatus, which continuously receives sensuously appre-
3 hensible stimuli that inform the baby that the objects felt as dead
4 are still there.
6 The existence of the real objects can be denied, but the sense
711 impressions persist . . . The next stage, imposed by yet more power-
8 ful intolerance, is the destruction of the apparatus that is responsi-
9 ble for the transformation of the sense impressions into material
suitable for waking unconscious thought—a dream thought. This
destruction contributes to the feeling that “things”, not words or
ideas, are inside. [C, 134]
3 The reader can see in this quotation that Bion defines -elements
4 in conjunction with the earliest definitions of -function (which was
511 not called such at this time) that is attacked and cannot function.
6 The infant depends on the mother’s alpha-function to digest its
7 beta-elements, and the adult may revert alpha-elements into a
8 special kind of beta (c.f. bizarre elements). The adult may never
9 transform them into alpha-elements.
311 Bion defined -function more precisely, and, still considering
1 the possibility of the non-functioning of -function, he improves
2 the definition of beta-elements:
4 If alpha-function is disturbed, and therefore inoperative, the sense
5 impressions of which the patient is aware and the emotions which
6 he is experiencing remain unchanged. I shall call them beta-
7 elements. In contrast with the alpha-elements the beta-elements are
8 not felt to be phenomena but things-in-themselves. The emotions
911 likewise are objects of sense. [LE, 6]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 79

B 79

111 To “own” and to “know” ultimate reality or take phenomena as

2 if they were ultimate reality is the mental state of a person whose
3 beta-elements remain undigested. Kant named it “naïve realism”;
4 psychiatrically speaking, it corresponds to deluded states of omni-
5 scient grandeur. In due time, Bion associated this state to splitting of
6 material from psychic reality (especially in chapters IV, V and VI of
711 Learning from Experience), which he called, “forced splitting” (q.v.).
8 Beta-elements, therefore, must be regarded under two different
9 vertexes. From the point of view of the person, he or she may have
10 feelings of owning absolute truth. Or he (or she) may in fact be
1 deluded, displaying paranoid features. There is an invariance that
2 permeates beta-elements and bizarre objects, in so far as they share
3 the characteristics of beta-elements: “the moral component” (T, 64).
4 From the point of view of the scientist they are realities-in-them-
5 selves whose manifestations can be apprehended through the living
6 being’s sensuous apparatus.
8 I therefore suggest provisionally that the -element categories of
the grid should not be dismissed off-hand as non-existent, but
should be thought of, in the domain of expressions of feeling, as
related to phantasies that are felt to be indistinguishable from facts.
1 [EP, 97]
3 The analyst must take care not to fall on either side. One must
4 not display contempt towards delusional manifestations in the theo-
5 retical sense, that is, as grid categories to guide him. Also, one must
6 not fall into the witchcraft apprentice’s syndrome of hyper-valuing
7 the patient’s productions as if they were truth in themselves, in a
8 distorted, idealistic view of Freud’s notion of unconscious phan-
9 tasies and Klein’s extensions of it.
30 Misuses and misconceptions: Beta-elements are often seen as
1 pathological. This view is a persistent distortion that encircles the
2 understanding of many psycho-analytic theories. Their primitive,
3 basic nature is again denied when people talk of a “beta-function”,
4 something that Bion never defined. If it existed, it would have a
5 teleological or religious outlook. For the beholder would entertain
6 the idea that he knew how ultimate reality was created, originated
7 and maintained.
8 Suggested cross-references: Absolute truth, Alpha function,
911 Alpha-elements, Bizarre elements, Dream-work-, K.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 80


111 Beta screen: Bion defined a “beta screen” when he was faced with
2 patients who had some disturbances of thought and were unable to
3 sleep or to wake, to be either conscious or unconscious. The ensuing
4 mental confusion, elicited through unsuccessful interpretations both
5 under Freud and Klein’s vertexes, was also visible through out-
6 pourings that resembled dreams. The outpourings were disjointed
7 phrases and images, or were something that resembled one who
8 feigned dreaming; outpourings that evidenced presence of halluci-
9 nations or the patient hallucinated he (or she) was dreaming. All of
10 this seemed to prevent the emergence of the depressive position in
1 an emotional experience with the analyst, of murderous nature.
2 This state precludes the formation of a “contact barrier” (q.v.).
3 Beta-screen is a special kind of device that replaces contact barrier.
4 It is formed from beta-elements rather than alpha-elements; there-
5 fore the patient is unable to separate conscious from unconscious.
6 The purpose is to preclude the consciousness of the analyst; the
711 analyst, when confronted with a patient whose beta screen is func-
8 tioning, sees himself with “a plethora of interpretations”, based on
9 common places. Usually those interpretations are collusive or made
20 of reassurances of the patient’s goodness. “The beta-screen . . . has a
1 quality enabling it to evoke the kind of response the patient desires, or,
2 alternatively, a response from the analyst which is heavily charged with
3 counter-transference” (LE, 23).
4 The beta-screen replaces the contact-barrier (q.v.) in a “living
511 process” (LE, 24) that can be seen in analysis. “Thanks to the beta-
6 screen the psychotic patient has a capacity for evoking emotions in the
7 analyst; his associations . . . evoke interpretations . . . which are less related
8 to his need for psycho-analytic interpretation than to his need to produce
9 an emotional involvement” (LE, 24).
311 Bion warns that this has nothing to do with counter-transference.
1 Misuses and misinterpretations: Usually in this part of the
2 work of Bion it is seen as if patients could provoke certain reactions
3 in the analyst. Probably the reader mistakes the expression “evoking
4 emotions in the analyst” with “provoking acting-out”. The emotions
5 that are evoked—depending on the analyst’s personal analysis—
6 are subjected to scrutiny. It is this scrutiny that matters, in furnish-
7 ing the analytic vertex to the analyst. He must detect the emotions
8 evoked in order to realize the function of the beta-screen; namely,
911 to create an emotional climate “less related to his need for psycho-
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 81

B 81

111 analytical interpretation than to his need to produce an emotional involve-

2 ment”. Readers who do not consider this are prone to take the beta
3 screen as an endorsement of the already existing distortion of
4 Melanie Klein’s concept of projective identification, a distortion that
5 tries to divest it of its phantastic character. This tendency tries to
6 extract the analyst’s self-responsibility and tries to put this very
711 same analyst’s responsibility for his own shortcomings or lack of
8 personal analysis into the patient.
10 Binocular vision: Although the binocular vision model pervades the
1 whole of Bion’s work from 1944 (a group’s “Basic assumptions” are
2 binocular), its first explicit definition dates from 1962, when it was
3 linked to Bion’s observation of psychotics with thought distur-
4 bances (LE, 54). For example, the obese patient who sheltered a
5 greedy, skinny inner self; or the shy, pale patient who was unable
6 to blush sensuously. The bulk of clinical observations that form the
7 empirical basis of the concept appeared in Cogitations. They seem to
8 correspond with intra-session data obtained from 1959 to 1960. The
9 clinical data suggested to Bion the need to amend—rather than
211 reject—a specific aspect of Freud’s theory of consciousness as a
1 sensuous organ for the perception of psychic quality. He found that
2 the Pleasure/Displeasure principle and the Reality principle were
3 to be regarded as genetically non-sequential, simultaneous events:
4 “the conscious and the unconscious thus constantly produced together do
5 function as if they were binocular therefore capable of correlation and self-
6 regard. Because of the manner of its genesis, impartial register of psychic
7 quality of the self is precluded: the ‘view’ of one part by the other is, as it
8 were, ‘monocular’’’ (LE, 54) . . . “The model is formed by the exercise of
9 a capacity similar to that which is in evidence when the two eyes operate
30 in binocular vision to correlate two views of the same object. The use in
1 psycho-analysis of conscious and unconscious in viewing a psycho-
2 analytical object is analogous to the use of the two eyes in ocular observa-
3 tion of an object sensible to sight” ([LE, 86). “The analyst is therefore in
4 the position of one, who, thanks to the power of ‘binocular’ perception and
5 consequent correlation that possession of a capacity for conscious and
6 unconscious thought confers, is able to form models and abstractions that
7 serve in elucidating the patient’s inability to do the same” (LE, 104, n. 19.
8 2.1). The possibility of making a correlation seems to depend on the
911 existence of a difference of vertices (AI, 93).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 82


111 Philosophical origins

Bion was able to integrate seemingly different but in fact mutually
complementary philosophical achievements from Locke, Hume
and Kant (Sandler, 1997b). “Binocular” refers to obtaining a discrete
image through the constant conjunction (Hume, 1748) of two
images by the two human eyes or two sets of lenses, along an imag-
inary longitudinal axis. The revival and improvement of Aristotle’s
9 concept of “common sense” (Locke, 1690) allowed the establish-
10 ment of a fundamental epistemological method of apprehension of
1 reality, brought to psycho-analysis by Freud and Bion. It is
2 constructed from pairs, or counterpoints. For example, in a dark
3 room one has the tactile impression of fur. A second sense, hearing,
4 informs us that a “meow” is present too (C, 10). The overall percep-
5 tion, and consequently the apprehension of reality, is enhanced.
6 This reality to be apprehended is beyond the spectrum covered by
711 the human sense apparatus; it is the realm of noumena (Kant, 1781),
8 or psychic reality, latent contents in Freud’s terms, the psycho-
9 analytic realm (Freud, 1900).
1 Psycho-analytical roots
3 In an innovative way, Bion integrated Klein’s observations on split-
4 ting processes with Freud’s theory of the unconscious, specifically
511 concerning their effect in the area of perception (both of the analyst
6 and analysand) and of thinking. He disclosed what Freud himself
7 had already prefigured: the coexistence of the conscious with the
8 unconscious through a dynamic functional in-between, the contact
9 barrier (c.v.).
311 Some Implications The model is an epistemological tool to be
1 used in the psycho-analytical session. It provides a way to enlighten
2 previously existent, but hitherto unobserved, clinical facts. Whether
3 it is a concept or a personal way of dealing with clinical matters is
4 open to debate. In my experience it sheds light on some general
5 epistemological issues, to the extent that it can constitute a step
6 forward from what is called “dialectics” in philosophy. Rather than
7 dealing with a pair of competing opposites, under the aegis of
8 Death instincts, it elucidates by operating with a creative couple,
911 taking into account the product of the antithetical pair: Oedipus
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 83

B 83

111 (Sandler, 1997b). Regarding “correlation and self-regard”, “binocular

2 vision” is an unattainable ideal mode of functioning that makes
3 allowances for neither conscious nor unconscious predominance.
4 The correlation and self-regard refers to the levels of psychic func-
5 tioning but also refers to a capacity for self-apprehension of one’s
6 own self. In other words, to apprehend whom one really is. It paves
711 the way to awareness of whatever it is, up to a point. Binocular
8 vision allows insight; the patient and the analyst are a binocular.
9 When functioning intra-psychically, binocular vision means learn-
10 ing from experience and self-observation. It cannot be done with-
1 out the help of others; in the first instance, from mother.
2 “Monocular”, in contrast, refers to the “view” that one system,
3 either conscious or unconscious, “holds” of the other. “Binocular”
4 thus applies to integration, while “monocular” refers to splitting in
5 cognitive processes (the realm of perception) as well as in thought
6 processes. In clinical practice this model helps to elicit the latent
7 content from the unfolding conscious material, not unlike a musi-
8 cal counterpoint. By way of correlation and contrast it highlights
9 the patient’s inability to bring to bear his/her own binocular vision.
211 The model generated further clarifications of notions that had been
1 lurking in Freud’s original insights: “nothing can be conscious without
2 having been unconscious” (C, 71; LE, 8). Any analytic session displays
3 a dream-like nature, so far unobserved; through binocular vision
4 the analyst may “dream the session” (C, 38, 39, 43). The patient’s
5 consciously verbalized material is akin to the manifest dream
6 content, and can be dealt with as such.
7 I suggest that “binocular vision” helps the analyst to tolerate
8 paradoxes without rushing into an attempt to solve them (Sandler,
9 1997b, 2000a,b, 2001a,b,c). In psychic reality it expresses a basic fact
30 of human life as it is: the fundamental “supremely creative couple”
1 (Klein, 1932; Money-Kyrle, 1968). A baby is “monocularly” hungry;
2 a breast provides a “second view”. A good (or bad) breast is the
3 experiential binocular outcome of a matching non-sensuous pair,
4 i.e. mother-baby. Binocular vision provides two points of view
5 susceptible to being integrated, through common sense, into a kind
6 of “son” or “daughter”. This is a transient act dependent on the
7 data then available; a living process, bound to develop. A bad breast
8 can be seen as the former “binocular outcome” of the matching of
911 a mouth and a nipple. Now it is the “monocular” component on
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 84


111 standby, waiting to be matched with yet another counterpoint

2 provided by a further experience. The “former bad breast” can turn
3 into a good breast; or lead to a more integrated view, in a ceaseless
4 cycle of matching pairs. The marriage of two points of view
5 produces a third that is neither the first nor the second, which
6 creates something new and, thus, unknown. This can be observed
7 in all areas of human activity: the formation of thought processes;
8 the mother-baby relationship; the creative sexual couple; the per-
9 ception of reality; the marriage between an artist and his/her
10 media, a psycho-analyst and his/her patient’s conscious/uncon-
1 scious material. The unknown, new “product” of binocular vision
2 is, respectively, the apprehension of thoughts without a thinker,
3 maternal love for a son or a daughter, “percepts” of facts; a work of
4 art, an insight in an analytical session and so on. This insight is the
5 product of the meeting of the person with him/herself: an elemen-
6 tary “two-ness”, the internal basic group.
711 As always occurs in Bion’s strictly scientific and analytic out-
8 look, there is no judgmental value involved. The useful, but risky,
9 use of binocular vision, coupled with the alleviating but dangerous
20 prevalence of monocular vision, or of one vertex, is depicted in the
1 approaching end of his life in many parts of A Memoir of the Future.
2 For example, the talks in Book III, between pre-natal somites and
3 post-natal boys, grown ups and old personalities that are parts of
4 himself. A compacted whole that depicts the analyst at work, limi-
511 tations of analysis and of the human being who practises it and the
6 observational theory of binocular vision is offered in Book I. This
7 includes Dodgsonian mathematics and the place of dreaming and
8 alpha-function:
311 And what seductions, treasures remain to be unveiled, concealed
1 (though betrayed) by Memory and its binocular, Desire?. . . the
2 range is microscopic from one vertex, and yet too enormous to be
likely to be bridged by anything so trifling, so trivial as the prod-
ucts of the human animal. Even so stupendous (on one scale of
measurement) a mind as that of Pascal, when face to face with what
5 he and others cooperatively can reveal in the domain of the space
6 of visual capacity alone, was only able to arouse fear and cravings
7 for omnipotent power. Ces espaces infinies m’effraient. Newton’s
8 vertex, whether employed in the religious or the scientific domain,
911 cost him the disintegration of his mind. Henry IV, limiting himself
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 85

B 85

111 to the ambition to possess Paris, could do so because its cost

2 appeared to correspond to the smallness of his ambitions—a Mass
3 “only”. He, like Pascal and Newton, made his vertex “binocular”,
4 but with one eye relatively blind. Nelson, a man of action like
Henry IV, could achieve his ambitions so long as he used an eye
that was “blind” for purposes of “not” seeing (which is different
from “seeing”; that activity he left to the “better” half . . . The reve-
latory instrument, if used, could be employed by the object scruti-
8 nized to look at the scrutineer in the other sense (direction). The
9 poet or genius can look at the scientist or genius, and the revela-
10 tions, as at the opposite ends of the telescope, are too large and too
1 small to be tolerable or even to be recognizably related. It is felt to
2 be the “fault” of the instrument that brings such different objects
3 together. But it might be the “fault” of the objects for being so
4 different—or is it the human animal that has to “use” its accumu-
5 lations of facts, that it has not the experience that would enable it
6 to “understand” what it sees, blind or sightful? Time I went to
sleep. Excuse me . . . (Exit to . [AMF, I, 55–7]
8 Suggested cross-references: Atonement, Analytic View,
9 Constant Conjunction, Invariances, and Selected Fact.
1 “Bionian”:
3 P.A. We are all scandalized by bigotry. We are none of us bigot-
generators; that is, we none of us admit to being the spring from
whom bigotry flows. As a result we do not recognize those of our
offspring of whose characters we disapprove. [AMF, II, 228]
7 A term much used after Bion’s death, corresponding to the
8 phenomena that he described as the ways the group deals with the
9 mystic.
30 The counterpart in reality to which this term refers, corresponds
1 to a group’s shared hallucination. Out of despair, there is a perva-
2 sive feeling in the group that the group itself or some of its
3 members have found a saviour.
4 The same had happened with Freud, who prohibited the use of
5 the term “Freudian” (see Jones’ biography of Freud). Klein experi-
6 enced the same thing; she became perplexed when she heard
7 people saying “Kleinians”. According to Bion (AMF, II, 259), she
8 was warned about the impossibility of doing anything to counter
911 her group’s deluded functioning.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 86


111 Bion left some remarks on idolization in some talks between the
2 characters P.A. and Priest (AMF, II and III). At the end of his life—
3 scarcely two months before he met his fate—he left a testimony that
4 leaves no margin for doubt:
6 Comparing my own personal experience with the history of
7 psycho-analysis, and even the history of human thought that I have
8 tried to sketch out roughly, it does seem to be rather ridiculous that
one finds oneself in a position of being supposed to be in that line
of succession, instead of just one of the units in it. It is still more
ridiculous that one is expected to participate in a sort of competi-
1 tion for precedence as to who is top. Top of what? Where does it
2 come in this history? Where does psycho-analysis itself come?
3 What is the dispute about? What is this dispute in which one is
4 supposed to be interested? I am always hearing—as I have always
5 done—that I am a Kleinian, that I am crazy. Is it possible to be inter-
6 ested in that sort of dispute? I find it very difficult to see how this
711 could possibly be relevant against the background of the struggle
8 of the human being to emerge from barbarism and a purely animal
9 existence, to something one could call a civilized society. [C, 377]
1 His remarks on wars among psycho-analysts (AMF, II, 273) are
2 relevant to the idea of “-ians” of any kind. One may also enjoy or hate
3 his descriptions of the behaviour of groups of analysts (C, 303, on a
4 typical “scientific meeting” and 327, on candidates of the institutes).
511 Taking into account that Bion makes at least two references to
6 Dr Samuel Johnson on truth, one is reminded of other ideas of this
7 outstanding Englishman of the Enlightenment. Namely, the latter’s
8 remarks on Nationalism. He thought that it constitutes the “last
9 refuge of the scoundrel”. All “-isms” and “-ians” in the psycho-
311 analytic movement can be regarded as aping reflections of the
1 macro-social fact, “Nationalism”, in the micro-cosmos of the
2 psycho-analytic establishments. Both share the nature of hallucina-
3 tion (q.v.)—perceptions devoid of an object in reality.
5 ROBIN At least we have so far avoided forming ourselves into an
6 Institution with a doctrine and a uniform—not even a mental
8 P.A. So far. I have been surprised to find that even my name
911 has been bandied about. I used to think Melanie Klein was a bit
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 87

B 87

111 optimistic and unrealistic—though sincere—in deploring the idea

2 that people would call themselves Kleinian. Freud was alert to the
3 danger that many would want to climb under the umbrella of
4 “psycho-analysis”, but I did not expect to find myself included
amongst the brightly, but rapidly fading, coloured ephemera of
spiritual refreshment. [AMF, II, 259]
He had more to warn about himself as analyst, placing in subtle,
colloquial ways the widespread tendency to nurture narcissism and
paranoid nuclei, with its concomitant abhorrence of analysis:
1 P.A. I am not aware that we pride ourselves or deprecate ourselves
2 on account of our being ordinary members of the human race. Like
3 my fellows I would be gratified if I discovered that I was in some
4 way excellent; in fact I have found no evidence of my “excellence”
5 as a psycho-analyst.
6 ALICE Your colleagues think highly of you.
P.A. Some do, luckily; I am not unappreciative of the fact, but it tells
me more of the generosity and affection of my colleagues than of
9 my merits. [AMF, III, 540–41]
1 Suggested cross-reference: Kleinian.
2  “Why we cannot call ourselves Bionians”, by Parthenope
3 Bion Talamo.
5 Bizarre objects: Bion first described bizarre objects when he stud-
6 ied schizophrenic thought (q.v.) (ST, 39). He observed that in the
7 same sense that the infant phantasizes sadistic attacks on the nour-
8 ishing breast, psychotics direct such attacks to its apparatus of
9 perception. Taking into account that Bion accepted Freud’s hypo-
30 thesis about consciousness—as a sense organ for perception of
1 psychic reality—these attacks result in damages to consciousness.
2 Bion integrated Freud and Klein’s contributions. In this case, he
3 was able to observe that the apparatus used to achieve conscious
4 awareness of internal and external reality is dealt with as an unde-
5 sired fragment. Therefore it is phantastically expelled from the
6 personality. The apparatus is felt as if it were an “expel-able” frag-
7 ment. As such, its fate is to be lodged outside.
8 Deprived of conscious awareness, the patient “achieves a state
911 which is felt to be neither alive nor dead” (ST, 38). These three situations,
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 88


111 namely, an attack on the breast, on the perceptual apparatus up to its

2 ejection, and the ensuing mental confusion about death and life
3 creates a proneness to deal with the animate with methods that
4 would be more successful if applied to the inanimate.
6 In the patient’s phantasy the expelled particles of ego lead to an
7 independent and uncontrolled existence outside the personality,
8 but either containing or contained by external objects, where they
exercise their functions as if the ordeal to which they have been
subjected had served only to increase their number and to provoke
their hostility to the psyche that ejected them. In consequence the
1 patient feels himself to be surrounded by bizarre objects . . .
3 each particle is felt to consist of a real external object which is
4 encapsulated in a piece of personality that has engulfed it. The
character of this complete particle will depend partly on the char-
acter of the real object, say a gramophone, and partly on the char-
acter of the particle of personality that engulfs it. If the piece of the
711 personality is concerned with sight, the gramophone when played
8 is felt to be watching the patient. If with hearing, then the gramo-
9 phone when played is felt to be listening to the patient. The object
20 . . . suffuses and controls the piece of personality that engulfs it: to
1 that extent the particle itself is felt to have become a thing. [ST,
2 39–40]
4 Therefore, to grasp the concept of bizarre object one must, as
511 Bion did, tolerate a paradox, here expressed simultaneously as
6 to engulf/be engulfed, that occurs between the phantastically
7 expelled fragment of personality and the hallucinated factual object
8 “findable” in external reality.
9 This object “carries”, in the feelings of the beholder, real parts of
311 this same beholder’s personality. It has a concrete, factual existence.
1 Due to these two factors, its real nature—that of an hallucination—
2 is often overlooked. For hallucination is a perception devoid of the
3 object. In this case it seems that there is an object; in fact there is not,
4 but to realize this, one must grasp Klein/Bion’s illumination quoted
5 above.
6 Further investigation (in “On hallucination”) allowed an even
7 more summarized formulation: “. . . the patient felt he was surrounded
8 by bizarre objects compounded partly of real objects and partly of frag-
911 ments of the personality ” (ST, 81). Bion now defines the bizarre
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 89

B 89

111 objects. This formulation adumbrates a novel kind of psycho-

2 analytic writing, resorting to quasi-poetical metaphors:
4 The patient now moves, not in a world of dreams, but not in a
5 world of objects which are ordinarily the furniture of dreams. These
6 objects, primitive yet complex, partake of qualities which in the
non-psychotic are peculiar to matter, anal objects, senses, ideas,
superego, and the remaining qualities of personality [ST, 40]
To grasp this concept, as others in analysis, one must bear firmly
in mind that all of this is phantastic. It is felt as if it were real. The
person under the sway of this kind of mental functioning undergoes a real
impoverishment or distortion in the area of thought.
. . . The reversal of alpha-function did in fact affect the ego and
5 therefore did not produce a simple return to beta-elements, but
6 objects which differ in important respects from the original beta-
7 elements which had no tincture of the personality adhering to
8 them. The beta-element differs from the bizarre object in that the
9 bizarre object is beta-element plus ego and superego traces. [LE, 25]
1 This split, enforced by starvation and fear of death through starva-
2 tion on the one hand, and by love and the fear of associated
3 murderous envy and hate on the other, produces a mental state in
4 which the patient greedily pursues every form of material comfort;
5 he is at once insatiable and implacable in his pursuit of satiation.
6 Since this state originates in a need to be rid of the emotional
complications of awareness of life, and a relationship with live
objects, the patient appears to be incapable of gratitude or concern
either for himself or others. This state involves destruction of his
concern for truth. Since these mechanisms fail to rid the patient of
his pains, which he feels to be due to lack of something, his pursuit
1 of a cure takes the form of a search for a lost object and ends in
2 increased dependence on material comfort; quantity must be the
3 governing consideration, not quality. He feels surrounded by
4 bizarre objects, so that even the material comforts are bad and
5 unable to satisfy his needs. [LE, 11]
7 The interpretations are likewise swallowed as inanimate bizarre
8 objects. They are taken at their face value and appearance. The
911 patient increasingly demands more and more of them because they
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 90


111 are taken for what they are not, so that they are destroyed in the
2 bud; they carry no wisdom or love. The latter are animate features.
3 The patient “uses an equipment suited for contact with the inanimate to
4 establish contact with himself”; confusion ensues when he becomes
5 aware that he is alive. When the production of bizarre objects is
6 prevalent, there is a search-for-concreteness, but there is always a
7 neurotic part of the personality functioning too: “the patient does
8 ultimately grasp some of the meaning of what is said to him” (LE, 12).
9 The enforced splitting creates a situation where material reality
10 prevails at the expense of psychic reality. It differs from states that
1 are “idealistic”, hallucinated and deluded, where the flights into
2 imagination seem to be less amenable to being dealt with through
3 psycho-analysis.
4 The bizarre object partakes of the features of hallucination; it is
5 a building block of delusions, which are clusters of hallucinations
6 linked by rational constructs where reason is a slave of memory (in
711 neurotics) and desire (in psychotics). Bizarre objects have often had
8 a built-in feature: “something analogous to a capacity of judgement” (ST,
9 81). This is easily seen if one remembers that the situations that are
20 well known in analysis as fetishism and collectionism are founded
1 by bizarre objects. They are usually accompanied by guilt or a kind
2 of financial sense of profit.
3 Finally, Bion correlates cure and explanations to the analyst’s
4 constructions (in Freud’s sense of the term), to bizarre objects. “It
511 appeared to me, during this period of the analysis . . . that some of his delu-
6 sions were attempts at employing bizarre objects in the service of thera-
7 peutic intuition” (ST, 82). In this we see that the “pathological”
8 vertex was being dispensed with. Bion was already taking Freud’s
9 posture about symptoms to its last consequences. Freud regarded
311 symptoms, or that which was hitherto regarded as “illness”, as a
1 kind of court of last-resort, a last attempt towards an equilibrium or
2 homeostasis that had health itself as its goal.
3  The area encompassed by bizarre objects was expanded with
4 Bion’s increased realization about the lack of utility of the “pathol-
5 ogy” vertex. His view that the psychotic personality and the non-
6 psychotic personality operated in tandem continuously is an
7 expression of his change.
8 Thanks to Bion’s contributions one may state today that bizarre
911 objects are the hallucination of everyday life. They form the social
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 91

B 91

111 fabric of most human “non-mutual” relations, of inanimate inter-

2 ests, of the hypocrisy of social life. Bion would characterize bizarre
3 objects and the permanent underlying layer of hallucinosis when
4 establishing the concepts of alpha-function, beta-elements and
5 transformations (q.v.).
6 Bizarre objects appear in an illustrated and vivid form in the
711 Trilogy A Memoir of the Future. Consumerism, fetishism, fanaticism,
8 and politicking may be activities in which the basic tool is bizarre
9 objects. In all of Bion’s work, there is an invariance that permeates
10 beta-elements and bizarre objects, in so far as they share the char-
1 acteristics of beta-elements: “the moral component” (T, 64).
2  The author once suggested that the realm of bizarre objects
3 could be expanded if one could detect seemingly comprehensible
4 beta-elements (Sandler, 1990,1997). In this view, collectionism and
5 fashion may be regarded as composed of bizarre objects. Also, in a
6 session of analysis, there can be prejudiced shared values—even a
7 shared language that remains unchecked would belong to this area.
9 Breast, good and bad: Bion starts from Freud and especially from
211 Klein concerning the basic function performed by the relationship
1 of the infant with the breast. Namely, how it contributes to shaping
2 of the personality (or mind, psyche, character, whatever name one
3 may prefer to give to it). The word “basic” is used here in the sense
4 of something necessary, inescapable and fundamental.
Unpublished (or posthumously published) theory
8 Bion displayed a distinct preference for developing observational
9 theories for the psycho-analyst’s use, rather than for creating new
30 theories to add to the already huge apparatus available. One of
1 the few exceptions, which would remain unpublished during his
2 lifetime, was a paper entitled “Metatheory”. It was an attempt to
3 describe scientificallysome elementary basics of psycho-analysis.
4 One of its terms is “Breast”. Like “penis”, “splitting” and “violent
5 emotions” it was devised as a “class of interpretations” (C, 253).
6 Bion seems to have attempted to formulate a stopgap when a
7 fully scientific theory and method were not available in psycho-
8 analysis: “I propose to improvise temporary solutions of our problems
911 by these short interjections of metatheory between the discussions of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 92


111 successive elements of theory” (C, 254). The “interpretation breast” is

2 made in conjunction with the “interpretation penis” (refer to the
3 entry, Penis).
4 He treats the “name given to the word ‘breast’”, as a hypothe-
5 sis, following Hume’s view “that a hypothesis is the expression of a
6 subjective sense that certain associations are constantly conjoined, and is
7 not a representation corresponding to an actuality”. Breast is a conden-
8 sation “into the verbal counterpart of a visual image. . .” (C, 250). Breast
9 is not treated as a symbol nor as a thing-in-itself; it is “a definitory
10 hypothesis that can be used by the analyst to provide the patient with the
1 selected fact that he cannot find for himself” (C, 251).
The theory that was published during his lifetime
5 Bion scrutinizes the role of the infant-mother relationship as a func-
6 tion in the formation and development of thought processes. The
711 inception of consciousness and all processes of cognition and
8 contact with inner and outer reality are seen under this vertex.
9 Bion values in a hitherto unavailable manner the function of the
20 emotional experiences (q.v.) as seen in relationships. He offers a
1 way out of the excessive and violent valuing of feelings, affects and
2 so on. This overvaluing is visible in patients and professionals alike.
3 They take feelings, affects and emotions as things-in-themselves,
4 which would be amenable to be studied per se. Academic psychol-
511 ogy and superficial psychology already do this.
6 The way out appears with the aid of Descartes, albeit in a nega-
7 tive sense. One may refer to the entries under the headings on
8 “Thinking” in this dictionary. In the present entry we will examine
9 more minutely, as Bion did, how things occur. There he described
311 what the things were that occurred; now we will follow him to see
1 how they occur.
2 There are soft-humanist and paradisiacal phantasies that
3 marked and still mark strong tendencies of the psycho-analytic
4 movement. These tendencies ape the paradisiacal phantasies stem-
5 ming from the Principle of Nirvana, as Freud called it. In other
6 terms, hate directed to the principle of reality or hate of truth, as
7 Bion puts it. These tendencies form an ideological cosmology and
8 shape the understanding of psycho-analytic theories that already
911 exist and obviously form a specific kind of theory too. The views on
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 93

B 93

111 cure, mothering and the good breast can be influenced by the
2 Nirvana principle, which may prevail in the mind of the profes-
3 sional.
4 Bion reverses this tendency. He proposes to examine the
5 hypothesis that what really matters is not the good breast, or more
6 precisely, the breast that is felt as good, in the sense that Klein
711 described it. Quite the contrary, what allows the inception of think-
8 ing processes and symbol formation—first and foremost, the
9 symbolization of the breast itself—is its un-materialization or
10 “psychic-ization”, with the experiencing of the no-breast (see also
1 the entry, Circle, Point, Line). One gets an idea of a real breast
2 through the absent, frustrating breast, rather than through the posi-
3 tive, “satisfying” concrete breast:
5 This breast is an object the infant needs to supply it with milk and
6 good internal objects. I do not attribute to the infant an awareness
7 of this need; but I do attribute to the infant an awareness of a need
not satisfied. We can say the infant feels frustrated if we assume the
existence of some apparatus with which frustration can be experi-
enced. Freud’s concept of consciousness as that of “a sense organ
211 for the perception of psychical qualities”, provides such apparatus.
2 . . . We can see that the bad, that is to say wanted but absent, breast
is much more likely to become recognized as an idea than the good
breast which is associated with what a philosopher would call a
thing-in-itself or a thing-in-actuality, in that the sense of a good
5 breast depends on the existence of milk the infant has in fact taken.
6 The good breast and the bad breast, the one being associated with
7 the actual milk that satisfies hunger and the other with the non-
8 existence of that milk, must have a difference in psychical quality
9 . . . Let us suppose the infant to have fed but to be feeling unloved
30 . . . It if it is correct to suppose that the central question rests on
1 discrimination of psychical quality and if consciousness is legiti-
2 mately regarded as the sense-organ of psychical quality it is diffi-
3 cult to see how consciousness comes into existence . . . We must
assume that the good breast and the bad breast are emotional expe-
riences. [LE, 34–35]
8 Is the baby aware of the necessity of milk as well as of good objects?
911 Or is it race, biology-dependent? This necessity simply is; in a
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 94


111 certain sense, it is the thing-in-itself that cannot be known cons-

2 ciously. Is it life itself, or is it the instinctual basis of life itself? The
3 sheer factuality by means of which this necessity manifests itself
4 may correspond to the unknowable mystery of life. The breast is a
5 source of the maintenance of life. Conversely, if a necessity is not to
6 be satisfied, to use Bion’s wording, a negative feeling towards the
7 good breast may ensue. The absent breast is equated to the bad
8 breast. If the bad breast can be tolerated, this allows for the incep-
9 tion of the thought, “breast”. Or the bad breast cannot be tolerated
10 and this ignites hallucination akin to the Paradise described in
1 Genesis, an autistic or religious state.
2 A great many of Bion’s efforts were devoted to elaborating theo-
3 ries of observation in psycho-analysis, destined to enhance the
4 scientific validity of the psycho-analytical method. Nevertheless,
5 Bion once used the term “breast” as part of one of his rare attempts
6 at a theory in psycho-analysis.
711 It must be noticed that he uses the term to do it; the term and the
8 theory must not be confused with their counterparts in reality. It is
9 advisable to take into account that the term “breast” already has a
20 long history in the psycho-analytical movement; it has acquired a
1 strong appeal for analysts. This fact determines that the term
2 embodies a sizable penumbra of associations around it.
3 Bion called his attempt at a comprehensive theory of psycho-
4 analysis, metatheory. It was an attempt to add precision to the then
511 existing theories in psycho-analysis. This attempt was probably
6 made between 1962 and 1964; Francesca Bion made it public in
7 1992. It seems to precede Bion’s theory of Transformations.
8 In this theory, the term “breast” is used to mark a constant con-
9 junction—Bion uses Hume’s terms, that is, facts felt as reuniting in a
311 subjective sense; or as a condensation—here Bion uses Freud’s terms.
1 Indeed, Bion uses the term “breast” as a means for the analyst
2 to provide a selected fact (q.v.) to the patient who cannot obtain it
3 for himself, in the here and now of the session. The term “breast”
4 seems to fulfil a function of knowledge to the infant, to the analytic
5 couple in the here and now of the session and to the analyst as a
6 valid theory (formulated by Klein, after Freud) It conveys, albeit
7 imperfectly, its counterpart in reality as it is.
8 The reality here, of the “breast” being the selected fact and
911 furnishing a selected fact, is seen as the ever-evolving event,
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 95

B 95

111 life-like, sharing with the numinous realm some of the living
2 mysteries of life itself. In advancing the theory of the breast, Bion
3 uses all his earlier theories of thinking, formation of concepts, and
4 the nourishing effect of the breast in helping to cope with the first
5 and foremost fact of life; a frustration-ridden, ever-evolving fact—
6 life itself.
8 Why is such a word used? In what sense is it illuminating to
9 employ a term with such a penumbra of associations (many of
10 which are physical, concrete, primitive and sensuous) to provide a
1 definitory hypothesis, functioning as a selected fact, for the situa-
tion in analysis which, on the face of it, bears no resemblance to the
historical meaning of the breast? The situation in the analysis that
requires the use of the term, “breast”, requires it precisely because
it has become so divorced from the penumbra of associations
adhering to breast that it bears superficially no resemblance to
6 them. It requires it because breast, if the interpretation is correct, is
7 a hypothesis in the Humean sense which fixes a constellation of
8 associations that are constantly conjoined but have lost their
9 connection with the material expressed by the free associations of
211 the analysis, these last having become conjoined with material now
1 alienated from, or never in contact with, the penumbra of associa-
2 tions of breast. The juxtaposition, by interpretation of breast, to the
3 events of the analysis can be seen to resemble, as I have already
4 said, a provision by the analyst of a selected fact that the patient
5 cannot find for himself, but there are also important differences.
6 The selected fact is a discovery made by the patient or individual
7 and is the tool by which he ensures the constant progression, the
very essence of learning and therefore of growing. This is repre-
sented by the sequence: paranoid–schizoid position, selected fact
(precipitating coherence of the elements of the paranoid–schizoid
position) ushering in the depressive position, which then instanta-
neously reveals yet vaster areas of hitherto unrelated elements
2 belonging to domains of the paranoid–schizoid position which
3 were previously unrevealed and unsuspected—a revelation that
4 contributes to the depression peculiar to the depressive position.
5 The selected fact then is an essential element in a process of discov-
6 ery. The interpretation—employing definitory hypothesis, such as
7 breast, which have many resemblances to, and in some respects are
8 identical with, the selected fact—is concerned not with the discovery
911 so much as with repair. [C, 252–3]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 96


111 Suggested cross-references: Pre-conception, Conception,

2 Saturation, Psycho-analytical objects, Elements of psycho-analysis,
3 Penis.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 97

711 C
211 Caesura: An event that simultaneously unites and disunites.
1 Bion took a few broad avenues opened by Freud and developed
2 them, namely, Freud’s theories of dreams, thinking and instincts.
3 More often than not, analysts did not realize them as broad; instead,
4 much like Shakespeare, who would often put some of his immortal
5 insights in the words reserved for seemingly minor characters, Bion
6 realized the full potential ensconced in seemingly minor observa-
7 tions made by Freud, which can be regarded as casual, made “en
8 passant”.
9 The concept of caesura is one of them. In Freud’s work it was a
30 penetrating observation. It was elevated to the status of a concept
1 by Bion. As an annex to his paper delivered in 1977, “Emotional
2 turbulence”, which Bion called, “On a quotation by Freud”, he uses
3 the concept; perhaps thanks to his emphasis Freud’s observation is
4 well known today.
5 It deals with a paradox; Bion, as Freud before him, does not try
6 to resolve the paradox. He tries to apprehend it and to use it. The
7 paradox is the caesura itself. Caesura marks something that embod-
8 ies simultaneously something that flows continually, and at the
911 same time, because of its “formidable” sensuously apprehensible

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 98


111 appearances, it seems to undergo a total change. There are changes,

2 but they are not all-encompassing as they seem to be. Again and
3 again, outward appearances are deceiving; after all, beauty is more
4 than skin deep. The same underlying truth functions in PSD; in
5 the two principles of mental functioning; in the interplay between
6 conscious and unconscious; reality sensuous and psychic; container
7 and contained. This “truth” can be apprehended if one tolerates a
8 paradox.
9 The concept of caesura is well-suited for displaying some of the
10 difficulties in communicating real psycho-analysis in written form.
1 Also, it displays some difficulties intrinsic to actually doing real
2 analysis in the analytical setting, to the extent it depends on verbal
3 formulations. Verbal formulations are almost impervious to
4 expressing the tolerance of paradoxes that is needed to make analy-
5 sis and to live life as it is.
6 The concept can be seen as the mode of functioning of the
711 contact barrier (q.v.) and of transformations and invariances (q.v.).
8 Freud’s now classical example dealt with the perception of the
9 formidable continuities between pre-natal and post-natal life. This
20 perception can be hampered if and when one mesmerizes oneself
1 with the “formidable caesura of birth”. Bion would expand the
2 concept in the essay “Caesura”—also from 1977.
3 Again in 1977, in A Memoir of the Future’s dialogues, there is a
4 specific one between the fictitious-real characters “Paul” (who
511 stands for a priest); “Roland” (the foolhardy common man who acts
6 out instead of thinking); “Alice” (a weak but sensitive woman), and
7 “P.A.” (who stands for a psycho-analyst). The characters may be
8 regarded as part-objects of Bion, subsuming his life experiences. In
9 this dialogue, which is in the form of free association, one of the
311 characters, “P.A.”, makes a kind of ironic exhortation, inspired by
1 John Ruskin. Namely, that some people “of course had read the
2 classics”. The character “Roland” says, “Touché”, signalling that he
3 had not read them properly but had got the message to go and read
4 them. The free associations follow on, centring in a most clear defi-
5 nition of caesura:
7 PAUL I don’t know why, but you reminded me of a cartoon which
8 I once saw in the New Yorker in which a duellist, having just
911 delivered a mortal stroke, says “Touché”.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 99

C 99

111 ROLAND I saw a horrible photograph of a duel between two

2 people armed with sabres in which one had decapitated his oppo-
3 nent in one stroke. I was not really claiming to have been so
4 completely separated from my nervous system, or the seat of my
5 intelligence.
6 ALICE You often talk as if, because I am a woman, I can’t ever have
711 had an intelligence from which to be separated.
P.A. Perhaps that is because he has never been completely sepa-
9 rated from his primordial mind and is still dominated by the belief
10 that as a woman has not got a penis she cannot have a capacity for
1 masculine thinking.
ALICE Does the caesura connect or separate? He often behaves as
if he were not a male sexual animal.
5 ROLAND That’s not fair! You’re behaving like a female sexual
6 animal and I can hardly be blamed if I am cautious—sometimes.
7 PAUL This is not an occasion for display of matrimonial experi-
8 ence. But if I say so, it will be assumed that I and my nominally
9 saintly predecessor are opposed to sex. The biological creator does
211 not appear to be on good terms with the creator of morals. Verbal
1 intercourse is not granted the freedom that sociologically we are
2 supposed to have.
3 P. A. Freedom often seems to be driven “underground”—or should
4 I say “subterrane”?
ALICE Please yourself; but suppose both the dictator and liberator
go underground and meet there.
8 P.A. I shall avail myself of your permission to say “infra-conceptual”.
9 PAUL Well, that is horrible enough to escape durability as an artis-
30 tic expression. The world of thought shrinks its boundaries in
1 inverse proportion to the length of the verbal weapons it uses; the
2 shorter the “bayonet” the wider the empire it sways. [AMF, II,
3 248–9]
5 Thanks to splitting and concretization we usually think in terms
6 of the mind/body conundrum. Hence Paul’s first phrase in the
7 dialogue. “Day life experiences” would constitute P.A.’s talk on the
8 classics. As happens with free associations, in a way not unlike that
911 of a bricolage, the cartoon of the American weekly magazine
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 100


111 furnishes the form, the “carcass” that clothes and thus expresses his
2 thinking. It is meaningful that it is reserved to a “Priest” to assume
3 the careful posture of trying “not to put asunder that which God
4 reunited”. The cartoon’s duellist kills—the factual actuality, the
5 concrete, material existence ceases to be. Life’s immaterial nature is
6 not separable from material survival; in the cartoon it may express
7 a kind of gentleman-like aplomb that would sound ridiculous and
8 misplaced if life itself is at stake; “Touché”. The common man,
9 “Roland”, takes the clue: he remarks on how difficult it is not to
10 separate mind and body.
1 “Alice” enters into the debate. This debate may be seen, up
2 to that point, as a “male” affair. Or, in other terms, the caesura
3 between male and female “cannot be stable” (AMF, I, 196). Her contri-
4 bution seems to be enlivening, as only females can be with male
5 issues. It is now that analysis comes to the fore: the envy of the
6 breast, the contempt towards women, displays its face. The dialogue
711 goes on, displaying the caesura as an event that is characterized by
8 simultaneous union and dis-union. Its earliest roots—Freud’s three
9 essays on sexuality—are resumed in “P.A.’s intervention: “Perhaps
20 that is because he has never been completely separated from his primordial
1 mind and is still dominated by the belief that as a woman has not got a
2 penis she cannot have a capacity for masculine thinking.”
3 “Alice” goes on, making the issue explicit: “Does the caesura
4 connect or separate? He often behaves as if he were not a male sexual
511 animal”. Now we enter into the area of two-person relationships:
6 female and male and the mystery that encircles (pro)creation.
7 “Paul”, the “Priest”, intervenes now and quotes Christ, warning
8 about super-ego and morals. “P.A.” supposes that freedom—sexual
9 freedom, mental freedom—is a manifestation of psychic reality. It
311 is more than skin deep. “Freedom often seems to be driven ‘under-
1 ground’—or should I say ‘subterrane’.” Freud, after all, suggested that
2 the unconscious and the id were “deep”. “Alice” is now able to
3 furnish a kind of social counterpart of the apparent split between
4 the dictator and liberator. In reality this is a caesura: both meet
5 in the “underground”, meaning, in their minds. It is a well-known
6 fact that the worst dictators thought highly of themselves. They
7 thought they were just liberators (or benefactors, etc.). Significantly,
8 both leftists and rightists buy their weapons from the same
911 vendors.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 101

C 101

111 “Priest”, the mystic, is a character more prone to have glimpses

2 of the “infinite”, the invariance, the transcendence. Transcendence
3 is that which gives the immaterial “substance” to formulations that
4 prove to be valuable. They are valuable if the meaning that they
5 convey is truthfully real. But to be so, they must be immaterial.
6 They must transcend the factual form or formulation; the shell,
711 the phenomenon. “Priest” (sometimes Bion called this character
8 “Paul”) seems to be more able to warn about the limitations of
9 verbal formulations to express “O”. His warning begins with an
10 admonition towards the character “P.A.”. Namely, that his attempts
1 at scientific formulations lack elegance. The caesura proceeds to
2 splitting when it is not tolerated.
3 Misuses and misconceptions: Despite the clarity of Bion’s text,
4 it seems to many readers that it is just the sensuous bombardment
5 of changing appearances that counts. Usually the concept is taken
6 as if it simply meant a break, an interruption. Its double, paradoxi-
7 cal nature of inner [continuity]  [sensuously] apprehensible break
8 is thus denied.
9  Parthenope Bion Talamo attempted a clinical application of
211 the concept.
1  The author proposes to name the basic psycho-analytic
2 posture “tolerance of paradoxes”.
4 Catastrophic change, catastrophe: Broadly speaking, the term cata-
5 strophe is used by Bion to depict a sudden perturbation or change
6 in a given real or hallucinated status quo. This perturbation leads
7 to the destruction of the status quo. It marks a resistance to growth,
8 especially as regards experiencing the depressive position.
9 It was gradually endowed with the qualities of a concept, which
30 was developed throughout the whole of Bion’s work. It does not
1 depict an external world event. Therefore one must avoid using the
2 term as if it were a commonplace—which it is in common language.
3 Many times Bion uses terms with the same meaning they have in
4 common language, but this has exceptions and “catastrophe” is one
5 of them. The term must not be debased, as it is if it is mistaken for
6 trauma. Many times Bion wants the reader to be reminded of the
7 common usage, but the sense of the phrase must convey something
8 more. This is the case here, for it is used to depict a mental config-
911 uration. There is no causality implicated.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 102


111 It is more easily seen in certified psychotics; this was Bion’s

2 pathway to eliciting the existence of this particular configuration.
3 Nevertheless, even if it must be seen as a psychotic state, it is not
4 confined to the province of certified psychotics. It is detectable in
5 everyday occurrences and in dreams. It marks a resistance to
6 growth.
7  It was outlined from the time of Bion’s first papers; its final
8 formulation and illumination appears in A Memoir of the Future, The
9 Long-Week End and War Memoirs.
10 In A Memoir of the Future the concept of catastrophic change can
1 be regarded as the one of underlying selected facts that character-
2 izes the whole Trilogy. Many of the multiple descriptions of these
3 changes are linked to at least two of Bion’s experiences: war and
4 disillusion, namely, the loss of his fellows-in-arms; the loss of confi-
5 dence in politicians and officials. For example, after his return from
6 war his mother became unable to address him with the previously
711 customary treatment (“Dear”). In The Long Week End, the cata-
8 strophic change appears as the aftermath of Bion’s posture with his
9 daughter Parthenope as a baby, and his first wife Betty’s pregnancy
20 (TLWE, II). It was subsumed by a quotation from Shakespeare’s
1 Hamlet: “Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered”.
2 In War Memoirs, it is depicted in Bion’s quasi-suicidal reaction
3 when under heavy fire in precarious shelters (WM, 94 and 106). In
4 brief, catastrophic change, or changes that are felt as catastrophic,
511 are wholly dependent on working-through of the depressive
6 position.
7 As with any really useful psycho-analytic concept, it has a foot
8 in the possibilities that outstanding analysts had to work through
9 some of their life experiences, as representative samples of the
311 human mind. For example, Oedipus and Freud’s personal experi-
1 ences with his mother and father; Manic states, Envy/Greed and
2 Melanie Klein’s experiences with her progeny.
3 Catastrophic change can be regarded as a resistance to natural
4 change, which is felt by some people as catastrophic. The “habit to
5 habits” seems to express reactions against change. Its basis is a kind
6 of constitution of the personality whose motto could be “Thus far
7 and no further” (AMF, II, 237); when clung to it equals autism. To
8 deny it construes a catastrophe; to face it risks another kind of cata-
911 strophe—at least in the eyes of the beholder.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 103

C 103

111 The feeling that a catastrophe had occurred is linked to cravings

2 for pleasure, intolerance of frustration and, above all, intolerance of
3 the absence of meaning of phenomena. Meaninglessness is felt as
4 intolerable. Ultimately, facts of life such as hate, slaughter and
5 death itself are felt as impossible to face and to deal with: “. . . the
6 patient’s intolerance of meaninglessness is not interpreted: he will pour
711 out a flood of words so that he can evoke a response indicating that a mean-
8 ing exists either in his own behaviour or in that of the analyst. Since the
9 first requisite for the discovery of the meaning of any conjunction depends
10 on the ability to admit that phenomena may have no meaning, an inabil-
1 ity to admit that they have no meaning stifles the possibility of curiosity
2 at the outset” (T, 81). The perspective of a catastrophic change is
3 present when the analyst faces psychotic strata of his own person-
4 ality which were not worked through.
5 This term tries to encircle a complex emotional experience as a
6 reaction before some kinds of stimuli. This reaction may be realis-
7 tic or not. In any case it conveys a sense of catastrophe. This sense
8 of catastrophe may obtrude as a premonition, as a hallucinated
9 reaction or as a realistic reaction.
211 Catastrophic change is linked to attempts to deny some facts,
1 namely:
3 (i) Natural change.
4 (ii) The unknown and uncontrollable nature of emotional reality
5 as it is.
6 (iii) Violent inception of feared inner truths.
7 (iv) Peculiarities of reaction to external sudden, unexpected,
8 denied and/or violent stimuli. They may provoke—to many
9 people—a situation that the person is left “naked, incongruous,
30 alien, without a point of reference that made sense” (AMF, I, 27).
2 The violence may either be real or not. As examples of change,
3 Bion quotes apparently changing behaviour that is easily appre-
4 hended by the senses. This is the case of a psychotic breakdown as
5 it is seen in classical psychiatry. This kind of change is described in
6 Transformations. The change shelters the un-change: psychosis was
7 already present in the pre-catastrophic phase as psycho-somatic
8 complains; in the post-catastrophic phase it reveals itself by a
911 changed outward appearance, as autism.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 104


111 Another kind of change is that of facts external to us. They form
2 a very broad range: from stellar movements that provoke the
3 extinction of beings that were developed during trillions of years,
4 to social events such as that depicted in the opening chapters of A
5 Memoir of the Future—the invasion of an “English Farm”. Modelled
6 after the attempts of the Nazi invasion of the British Islands, it
7 states explicitly, “True, there was defeat, but this was on a scale of defeat
8 so disastrous that it would be necessary to suppose that something analo-
9 gous to the Norman Conquest had taken place” (AMF, I, 27).
10 Nevertheless the change produced is not necessarily cata-
1 strophic, as a matter of fact. This sense is conveyed by the colloquial
2 meaning of the word, but the development of the concept gradually
3 brought it near to the intrapsychic situation. It occurred after Bion
4 had proposed the theory of container and contained (1962). It came
5 to mean a catastrophe to a container that will be destroyed by the
6 contained. Birth and death are this kind of event; it can be linked to
711 growth.
Points of view
1 It is necessary to observe the point of view under which the term is
2 used:
4 (i) It can be the point of view dictated by judgmental values; the
511 change will be feared. It always implies that change—any
6 change—is wrong due to the pain involved. It is pain before
7 the unknown when omniscience prevails, but it is not
8 restricted to that. Changes are unavoidable when a situation of
9 loss exists. To the greedy and omnipotent characters this is a
311 seemingly unbearable fact.
1 (ii) It can be an observational point of view: there is an apprecia-
2 tion of the event quite independently of the pain involved or
3 any judgmental value.
5 Therefore it is always felt as catastrophic by the individual who
6 fears change and growth, who fears contact with his or her psychic
7 reality as it is. If it shelters hate, the patient’s reaction resembles
8 depression; if it shelters love, the patient may become persecuted.
911 “Mental evolution or growth is catastrophic and timeless” (AI, 108). This
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 105

C 105

111 is seen in the most basic human achievements. It was first observed
2 in certified psychotics:
4 From the patient’s point of view the achievement of verbal thought
5 has been a most unhappy event. Verbal thought is so interwoven
6 with catastrophe and the painful emotion of depression that the
patient, resorting to projective identification, splits it off and pushes
it into the analyst. The results are again unhappy for the patient;
lack of this capacity is now felt by him to be the same thing as being
9 insane. On the other hand, reassumption of this capacity seems to
10 him to be inseparable from depression and awareness, on a reality
1 level this time, that he is “insane”. This fact tends to give reality to
2 the patient’s phantasies of the catastrophic results that would
3 accrue were he to risk re-introjection of his capacity for verbal
4 thought . . . The analyst’s problem is the patient’s dread, now quite
5 manifest, of attempting a psycho-analytic understanding of what
6 they mean for him, partly because the patient now understands that
7 psycho-analysis demands from him that very verbal thought which
8 he dreads. [ST, 32]
In a group, catastrophic change is seen as such when a basic
assumption must be abandoned. The group nourishes these
feelings of abhorrence towards change in a particularly marked
The assumption underlying loyalty to the K link is that the person-
5 ality of analyst and analysand can survive the loss of its protective
6 coat of lies, subterfuge, evasion and hallucination and may even be
7 fortified and enriched by the loss. It is an assumption strongly
8 disputed by the psychotic and a fortiori by the group, which relies
9 on psychotic mechanisms for its coherence and sense of well being.
30 [T, 129]
Clinical situation
4 In Transformations, pages 8, 9 and 10, Bion describes the psychotic
5 breakdown of a patient and its accompanying set of acted-out
6 events. Those events occur in tandem with the patient’s skilful
7 manipulation of feelings and emotions destined to provoke some
8 emotional states in the encircling milieu—which includes the
911 analyst. The patient performs this through projective identifications
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 106


111 destined to rid him of certain feelings. It will depend on the

2 analyst’s ability to maintain an analytical posture whether or not
3 this fact constitutes a problem.
4 Part of these appearances is constituted by the analysand’s
5 emotionally charged behaviour. He or she performs a role, namely,
6 the role of a fool. To be fooled by outward appearances was some-
7 thing that Freud did not do. Not to be fooled by the violent impo-
8 sition of them will determine the outcome.
9 The analyst, Ulysses-like, should become impervious to the
10 siren of propaganda. In a certain sense if he or she divests himself
1 of memory, desire and understanding, he or she becomes immune
2 to the make-believe situations the patient tries to impose. This is
3 especially true of the situations that are presented as catastrophic.
4 The analyst bestows names that make psycho-analytic sense to
5 some events; for example, physical pains and even illnesses, or
6 hypochondriacal symptoms. The analyst does not take them at their
711 face value when he or she can see that these names reflect the state
8 of the patient’s internal objects. If this recognition is possible, a
9 more adequate name can be attributed to them.
20 The patient, his or her relatives, friends and also the doctor who
1 made the referral, are prone to resort to acting-out: “impending law-
2 suits, mental hospitals, certification, and other contingencies apparently
3 appropriate to the change in circumstances, are really hypochondriacal
4 pains and other evidences of internal objects in a guise appropriate to their
511 new status as external objects” (T, 9).
6 Bion describes the ensuing catastrophe: it is catastrophic to the
7 maintenance of analysis, which necessarily includes self-contain-
8 ment, insight and some degree of contact with one’s psychic reality
9 in a responsible way. This is replaced by a mounting crisis involv-
311 ing people other than the analytic pair. The crisis is an extrapolation
1 of the limits of the analytic consulting room: “It is catastrophic in the
2 restricted sense of an event producing a subversion of the order or system
3 of things; it is catastrophic in the sense that it is accompanied by feelings
4 of disaster in the participants; it is catastrophic in the sense that it is
5 sudden and violent in an almost physical way . . . there are three features
6 to which I wish to draw attention: subversion of the system, invariance
7 (q.v.), and violence (q.v.)” (T, 8).
8 I would stress the word “feelings”, which must be taken in its
911 exact sense. To feel is not necessarily “to be”. The same issue is the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 107

C 107

111 crux of a problem with Melanie Klein’s writings on projective iden-

2 tification.
The pre- and post-catastrophic moments
6 A fundamental difference is the emotion that is or is not easily
711 apprehended by the senses. Hypochondriacal elements may lack
8 ideational counterparts of violence. This can be seen as theoretical:
10 Analysis in the pre-catastrophic stage is to be distinguished from
1 the post-catastrophic stage by the following superficial characteris-
2 tics: it is unemotional, theoretical, and devoid of any marked
outward change. Hypochondriacal symptoms are prominent. The
material lends itself to interpretations based on Kleinian theories of
projective identification and internal and external objects. Violence
5 is confined to phenomena experienced by psycho-analytical insight:
6 it is, as it were, theoretical violence. The patient talks as if his behav-
7 iour, outwardly amenable, was causing great destruction because
8 of its violence. The analyst gives interpretations, when they appear
9 to be appropriate to the material, drawing attention to the features
211 that are supposed by the patient to be violent.
1 In the post-catastrophic stage, by contrast, the violence is patent,
2 but the ideational counterpart, previously evident, appears to be
3 lacking. Emotion is obvious and is aroused in the analyst. Hypo-
4 chondriacal elements are less obtrusive. The emotional experience
5 does not have to be conjectured because it is apparent. [T, 8–9]
7 The discrimination calls for a clinical search for invariances in
8 the domain represented by theories of projective identifications and
9 internal/external objects (q.v.): “. . . the analyst must search the mate-
30 rial for invariants to the pre- and post-catastrophic stages . . . restating
1 this in terms of the clinical material, he must see, and demonstrate, that
2 certain apparently external emotionally-charged events are in fact the
3 same events as those which appeared in the pre-catastrophic stage under
4 the names, bestowed by the patient, of pains in the knee, legs, abdomen,
5 ears, etc., and, by the analyst, of internal objects” (T,9).
6 One may see that by catastrophe is meant an event where
7 violence intervenes. Truth emerges when one focuses on “the invari-
8 ants or the objects in which invariance is to be detected”. A main invari-
911 ance is violence itself. From the pre- to the post-catastrophic, “the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 108


111 change is violent . . . and the new phase is one on which violent feelings
2 are violently expressed”.
3 Violence was there in the pre-catastrophic moment, albeit in a
4 non-sensible form. There were violent feelings, but they were not
5 violently expressed. Truth is robust and will prevail: it emerges in
6 the post-catastrophic moment. One faces a fact that is not only one’s
7 feelings but also one’s violence. Violence is not a feeling; it is a fact.
8 It can be a violence of emotions, for example. Facing the violence
9 one shelters may be felt as catastrophic: the truth of one’s violent
10 feelings or violence of feeling (C, 249).
1 The encircling milieu’s response may be catastrophic when
2 doctors, relatives, law officers and psychiatrists become good
3 containers for the patient’s projective identification. The phrase
4 “good containers” may give the impression of a misprint. If the
5 reader is surprised or disagrees, this can be due to simplified read-
6 ings of Melanie Klein’s concepts that currently prevail—such as a
711 direct transposition from her descriptions that apply to mothers of
8 little babies. In that particular instance, mothers accept, as part of
9 their motherly function, their babies’ projective identification as a
20 means of communication. The problem is, the doctors, relatives,
1 law officers and psychiatrists, are not mothers of little babies any
2 more—even though a mother can be involved in this mêlée. The
3 situation is described in an adult setting:
. . . the patient’s state of violent emotion sets up reactions in the
analyst and others related to the patient in such a way that they also
6 tend to be dominated by their over-stimulated internal objects thus
7 producing a wide externalization of internal objects. [T, 9; my
8 italics]
311 This is the catastrophe: due to a kind of generalized, crossed
1 projective identification among all involved there is an overall crisis
2 of responsibility. All involved try to get rid of painful stimuli. The
3 encircling milieu uses the stimulus provided by the patient to
4 become “dominated by” its own “over-stimulated objects” too. The
5 analyst has to rely solely on his own analysis. He risks being the
6 object of the hate of the group to the exact extent that he persists in
7 maintaining his analytic posture.
8 Bion warns that even though the analyst “hardly” can concern
911 himself with the cultural background against which analytic work
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 109

C 109

111 must be done, “the culture may concern him”. Today (2005) this
2 sounds a foresight. If only his warnings could be heard, perhaps the
3 psycho-analytical movement would not face the problematical
4 issues it now faces.
5 In the end, the change that is feared is the creative birth of what-
6 ever it is. There is a fear that the contained will destroy its container,
711 or vice versa, and this is the catastrophe to be avoided. This also can
8 mean that a baby or a thought cannot be born (AI, 95).
9 Bion’s clinical example is that of the stammerer, who tries unsuc-
10 cessfully “to contain him” (AI, 94); earlier he suggested that the
1 stammerer evacuated (did not contain) awareness itself (C, 77). The
2 stammerer offers an example of a catastrophe in the sense that he is
3 “so overwhelmed by emotion that he stammers and becomes incoherent”.
4 There is a rift between meaning and its expression, between emotion
5 and its expression. “If the man remained coherent, this could correspond
6 to an overwhelming of the content by the container: his speech would in
7 this case be so restrained that it could not express his feelings. But suppose
8 he expressed himself ‘perfectly’: one could then imagine that his emotions
9 had served to develop his ability for well-chosen speech and that his capac-
211 ity for speech had helped his emotional development” (AI, 95–6).
1 The example of the stammerer is an illustration of the failure of
2 a “parasitic” relationship between container and contained. Con-
3 tainer and contained produced a third object—incoherence—which
4 makes both expression and its means impossible; this would be a
5 catastrophic change.
6 His final works emphasize that the change is felt as catastrophic
7 to the extent the individual has a lessened or lesser tolerance to the
8 unknown. In 1971, he writes that it “. . . seems reasonable to suppose
9 that our somewhat insignificant speciality, psycho-analysis, has already
30 exhausted its impetus and is ready to disappear into limbo, either because
1 it is a burden too great for us, as we are, to carry, or because it is one more
2 exploration destined to display a blind alley, or because it arouses or will
3 arouse fear of the unknown to a point where the protective mechanisms of
4 the noösphere compel it to destroy the invading ideas for fear that they will
5 cause a catastrophe in which the noösphere disintegrates into the no-
6 amorph. This catastrophic change could be brought about by advances in
7 astronomy, physics, religion, or indeed any domain for which there may as
8 yet be no name. The principles of psychical growth are not known” (C,
911 319–20).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 110


111 The invasion of the “English Farm” in the first chapter of A

2 Memoir of the Future and the denial of change by the characters
3 seems to provide a more vivid expression of the fear of change that
4 characterizes a catastrophe. Closing a cycle, it may be considered
5 that “English Farm” was also the bitter, sarcastic name given to the
6 no-man’s land of the fields of Flanders in the First World War. That
7 is, the place where Bion met one of his own catastrophic changes:
8 from adolescent delusions of grandeur to impossibly fast and
9 precocious facing of reality.
10 Often the perspective of abandonment of the hallucination
1 system or the allegiance to hallucinosis is felt as catastrophic. The
2 issue is explored more in Transformations, pp. 130ff; also, chapter
3 eleven, p. 147, on the belief that a “curtain of illusions” could have
4 protective powers.
5 Less obvious are the changes linked to Bion’s two analyses and
6 his relationship with his second wife. Still less obvious was the co-
711 option that was an attempt to bring an end to Bion’s proposals of
8 change. According to him the British Psycho-Analytical Society
9 offered him a succession of prestigious administrative posts that
20 menaced his creative activity—and avoided the BPS’s potential
1 changes that were felt to be potentially catastrophic. His moving to
2 Los Angeles seemed to offer this opportunity of catastrophic
3 change to himself and to this society; this was also refused.
4 The catastrophic change can be produced by experiencing real
511 free associations and dreaming:
7 P.A. One of your prophets, Isaiah, who was the kind of person to
8 whom you religious people pay attention—forgive me if I don’t
9 know what your brand of religion is—
311 PRIEST (bows slightly) I am flattered. May I congratulate you on
1 your discriminatory integrity in not having “labelled” me with a
2 particular “brand” of religion .
3 P.A. Let us leave out the introductory courtesies. I was referring to
4 Isaiah who describes his contact with the Lord in matter-of-fact
5 terms, precisely dated. Of course, we cannot know what happened,
6 but we may have opinions. My object is not to discuss that past
7 experience but to illustrate the unlimited possibilities when you
8 say, “a queer dream”; possibilities which are limited in this discus-
911 sion only by my ignorance. The experience is not “limited” by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 111

C 111

111 “finite” considerations of our capacity though our “discussion” of

2 it is.
3 PRIEST I dreamed of an explosion of vast, tremendous and majes-
4 tic proportions. It was terrifying. It was black as night; not night
5 that I might understand in the solar system, but dark night of the
6 soul—
P.A. As described by Saint John of the Cross perhaps?
9 PRIEST I am not Saint John of the Cross, nor yet Isaiah; that itself
10 contributes to the sense of queerness that it should be my dream.
P.A. I am familiar with reports of terrifying experiences described
2 in terms of varying inadequacy—as you have just been doing. We
3 are both aware of the awe-ful experience. Many are not; they fear
4 “going mad”, some indescribable disaster, “break-down”; they may
5 express themselves by bringing about disaster. We psycho-analysts
6 think you do not know what a dream is; the dream itself is a picto-
7 rial representation, verbally expressed, of what happened. What
8 actually happened when you “dreamed” we do not know. All of us
9 are intolerant of the unknown and strive instantaneously to feel it
211 is explicable, familiar—as “explosion” is to you and me. The event
itself is suspect because it is explicable in terms of physics, chem-
istry, psycho-analysis, and other pre-conceived experience. The
“conception” is an event which has become “conceivable”, the
“conceivable” it has become is no longer the genetic experience.
4 Pre-conception, conception, birth—what a shock it must have been
5 to know that a woman has a baby! How absurd to suppose that it
6 could have any connection with sexual intercourse! I have found
7 those who think it ridiculous that a woman could initiate an idea or
8 have a thought worthy of consideration. [AMF, II, 381–2]
30 Misuses and misunderstandings: As far as this author’s obser-
1 vation goes, the majority of misunderstandings encircling the usage
2 of this concept are due to an over-simplification. It debases the
3 concept into a cause-effect relationship (q.v.)—something that Bion
4 always avoided. Perhaps it must be remembered that cause-effect
5 formulations are disposable tools used as provisional steps. Many
6 try to use it in its easier-to-grasp commonplace usage, that is, as if
7 it could be equated to trauma. This posture disparages the psycho-
8 dynamic nature of psycho-analysis itself. Also, the oversimplifica-
911 tion is apparent when the phenomenon is seen as if the word
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 112


111 simply reproduced the sense of the word that became a social
2 common place. For a comparison between catastrophic change and
3 emotional turbulence, please refer to that entry.
4 Suggested cross-references: Commensal, Container/
5 Contained, Controversy, Parasitic, Symbiotic, Emotional Turbu-
6 lence, Transformation in Hallucinosis.
8 Cause (cause-effect): Bion remained critical of simplistic, positivis-
9 tic cause-effect linear relationships throughout his work, from the
10 beginning (one may consider Experiences in Groups as one of his
1 earlier works). His general view of causes is that of an idea that is
2 false—but despite this it can be useful in certain conditions, as a
3 step to further knowledge. He considers the patient’s building of
4 causes, the analyst’s use of it and the theoretical status of causes.
5 Bion does not dwell on philosophical considerations but he
6 leaves no doubt about the works of philosophers who influenced
711 him. He seems to take for granted the reader’s familiarity with the
8 work of Hume, Kant, Bradley, Braithwaite and Prichard.
9 In the earlier phases of his work, Bion’s approach to the so-called
20 traumatic and war neuroses clearly challenged the non-critical or
1 hypocritical acceptance of external causes of a soldier’s disability.
2 This cause was and still is socially understood as corresponding
3 exclusively to unfavourable external conditions. Bion and Rick-
4 man’s approach to the wounded soldiers at Northfield produced
511 almost immediate practical results: the soldiers were put back to
6 work, albeit light tasks, in a comparatively short time compared
7 with customary practice.
8 In a posthumously published paper that is undated but seems
9 to belong to the years when he was developing the ideas that would
311 be reunited in Learning from Experience, as is clear from its content,
1 Bion dwells on causes and selected facts. Certainly the paper was
2 written after his seminal study on psychotic and non-psychotic
3 personalities.
4 He seems to have been reviewing critically the concept of cause.
5 Hume’s influence on him is apparent. He tries to discern selected
6 facts and causes and at the same time he tries to verify the similari-
7 ties between them. His psycho-analytical (meaning, clinical)
8 approach ties the cause and the selected fact to psychosis and neuro-
911 sis in an original way. He states all the time that both appertain
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 113

C 113

111 to the realm of belief. There is a remarkable tolerance to paradoxes,

2 as one can see from the text:
4 The cause and the selected fact are alike in that they are both ideas
5 that have the power of being associated with an emotional experi-
6 ence that at one moment gives rise to a sense of creative synthesis
and awareness of still un-synthesized discrete objects. [C, 275]
To sum up, there are two uses of the idea of cause: (i) one may
use it with an awareness of its limitations, as a provisional tool to
enable the thinker or researcher to further investigate; (ii) one may
use it as a truth-in-itself, an unquestionable belief; it is the manifes-
tation of intolerance to the unknown and denial of that which is
ultimately unknowable.
The use of an idea known to be false can be useful to the extent
that one is aware of its falsity. An example often quoted by Bion is
the idea that the sun rises. In some parts of his work (as in “The
cause and the selected fact”, in Cogitations) this example is used to
display the usefulness of a false idea; in later works the same idea
is used to display the damage it made to knowledge (A Memoir of
the Future):
2 I am not sure of the ease with which “plausible” theories are
3 produced. In this context of “plausible theories” about which we are
4 talking, the plausible theory (or “convincing interpretation”) may
5 be hard to come by. It can be plausible and false. Witness the idea
6 that “the sun rises—what trouble that has caused!” [AMF, I, 172]
8 Some ideas and emotional experiences give rise to the sense that
9 a creative synthesis or integration—in Klein’s terms, the integration
30 of the whole object—is possible, as well as awareness of discrete
1 objects. Ideas—and this includes the idea of cause and the idea of a
2 selected fact—belong to the realm of something that does not neces-
3 sarily exist in the sense that it does not necessarily have a counter-
4 part in reality. The idea furnishes a sense. This sense is what
5 matters: the sense allows for an emotional experience in transition,
6 that of creation, synthesis and awareness of singleness—the idea—
7 and coupling—with reality itself.
8 The idea of cause may include the resistance to change and to
911 growth, a manifestation of life and death instincts:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 114


111 Every emotional experience of knowledge gained is at the same

2 time an emotional experience of ignorance unilluminated. The
3 sense of creative success with its accompanying elation is therefore
4 inseparable from a sense of failure to synthesize the discrete objects,
5 the elementary particles, which are revealed by the success. [C, 275]
7 Or as Bion puts it later: any solution to a question opens a space
8 for still more questions. Bion was fond of André Green’s quotation
9 of Blanchot’s aphorism, “La réponse est le malheur de la question”. The
10 issue is, to tolerate or not to tolerate the unknown, the march of life,
1 the absence of final answers. This view of cause differs from the
2 positivistic view.
3 “Dominance of the life instincts carries with it the continued repeti-
4 tion of this experience. In extreme form, fear of this experience can lead to
5 repudiation of the life instincts, and the reinforcement of the death
6 instincts that are idealized and libidinized” (C, 275). Which is to say, to
711 cling to causes as if they were final, instead of experiencing the
8 detection of provisional causes, is a manifestation of the prevalence
9 of death instincts. This includes rationality and logic.
20 The Kantian sense of cause—that is, the succession of phenom-
1 ena in time—is elicited when Bion differentiates the cause from the
2 selected fact: “The selected fact relates to synthesis of objects felt to be
3 contemporaneous or without any time component. The selected fact thus
4 differs from the cause that relates to the synthesis of objects scattered in
511 time and therefore with a time component” (C, 275).
6 The psychotic use of cause is characterized by the attribution of
7 realizations in the material realm:
9 Though cause has no realization corresponding to the concept, the
311 patient regards cause as having an existence as a thing in itself, not
1 independent of thought but as a part of his personality possessing
independence in the sense that he cannot control it . . . There is
therefore no possibility of his feeling that he has discerned the link
that brings phenomena together, and therefore cannot have the
emotional experience that the non-psychotic personality recognizes
5 under the name of “cause”. His experience is quite otherwise:
6 he feels that various objects have cohered; they are felt to have
7 done so voluntarily, and independently of his volition [or in Bion’s
8 previous terms, and as any experienced psychiatrist, anthropologist
911 or a person who takes care of children knows, the primitive mind
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 115

C 115

111 attributes animate qualities to inanimate objects]; yet since the

2 objects are part of his personality, he is responsible for their volun-
3 tary and independent concatenation. (C, 276).
5 Causes and the arrow of time
711 In many fields an enthroning of causation theories occurred. Some
8 of them abandoned the idea. Development, growth, usefulness or
9 lack of it brings the issue of causation again and again. What about
10 examining the evolution of time? Causes are seen, in the Kantian
1 scheme that Bion adopts, as successions of certain events in time—
2 as growth also is. What does promote growth? What are the causes
3 of it? In discussing the intolerance of frustration, intolerance of the
4 no-breast, Bion hypothesizes that the obtrusion of mathematical
5 thinking occurred in the form of the point, as reflecting the toler-
6 ance of the no-thing:
8 Why, then, to revert to the point and line, do these visual images
9 lead in one case to the efflorescence of mathematics and in the other
211 to mental sterility? And is it certain that “mental sterility” is a
1 correct assessment? The question implies the validity of a theory of
2 causation which I consider misleading and liable to give rise to
3 constructions that are basically false; if it is fallacious we may
4 discard it for one as fallacious—which may be true of the formula-
5 tion, by Heisenberg [Heisenberg, W.: Physics and Philosophy], of the
6 problem of multiple causation. Both views have proved of value in
the development of science, but developments of physics by the
Copenhagen school appear to have made the theory irrelevant. If
so, the logical step would be to bother no longer with causation or
its counterpart—results. In psycho-analysis it is difficult to avoid
feeling that a gap is left by its disappearance and that the gap
1 should be filled. Over a wide range of our problems no difficulty is
2 caused by regarding the theory of causation as fallacious but useful.
3 When it comes to problems presented by disturbances in thought
4 the difficulty cannot be met in this way . . . The proposed chain of
5 causation can then be seen as a rationalization of the sense of perse-
6 cution. Furthermore, if the patient is capable of seeing that his
7 proposed chain of causation is nonsensical he may use it to deny
8 the persecution and thus evade any explanation that would reveal
911 the depression that he dreads. [T, 56–7]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 116


111 Bion’s interest in searching for factors in the platonic realm, that
2 is, in the unconscious or the numinous realm, and his empirical
3 approach, led him naturally to the Humean notion of causality:
4 “Hume’s objection to a theory of causation supposes that since neither
5 a hammer nor a nail can feel force it is not correct to speak of a nail being
6 forced into position by the hammer, the term ‘force’ being properly applic-
7 able only to the sense-experience of a human being who exerts force or on
8 whom it is exerted. He supposes therefore that to speak of force as an exter-
9 nal reality is a projection of human feeling . . . I think Hume’s argument
10 has validity for psycho-analysis . . . It follows from the theory of transfor-
1 mations that whenever I see one element of the equation O, Tp , Tp  +
2 L, or H or K, the others must be present. But I shall not assume that one
3 causes the other, though for convenience I may (as I have already done
4 when I used the phrase ‘because of the hatred’, etc. p. 68)” (T, 64–9). [On
5 page 68, Bion writes: “The patient entertains a transformation (Tp ) (it
6 might be of a loved object) because of the hatred he feels for the person O
711 of the analyst”.] For a detailed discussion of Humean causality, one
8 may consult Hempel (1962) and Ruben (1993).
9 Hume observed that there are psychological needs that led
20 human beings to “find” causes in constant conjunction of observed
1 facts. If we use Kant’s puzzled view, we may state that Bion was not
2 afraid to immerse himself in the “shame of philosophy”. Namely,
3 that in psychology one should look for the root of the idea of causes
4 as well as the origin of the search for causes. Using a graphical
511 device he often resorted to, he created a quasi-mathematical, short-
6 hand graphical symbol to help the student of the issue. He hyphen-
7 ated the term. Hence, “psycho-logical”, in order to enhance the fact
8 that reason is a slave of passion. That is, the mind creates causes in
9 a rational way. Rational stems from mathematics and meant origi-
311 nally to extract roots; philosophically it had debased itself in the
1 search for essences; and causes are regarded as essences, having
2 been used by St. Thomas Aquinas to serve some interests of the
3 Roman Catholic Church.
4 Even though it may be said that Bion used the Kantian concept
5 of cause (a succession of phenomena in time) he used it from clini-
6 cal observation, rather than from philosophical brooding:
8 Patients * show that the resolution of a problem appears to present
911 less difficulty if it can be regarded as belonging to a moral domain;
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 117

C 117

111 causation, responsibility and therefore a controlling force (as

2 opposed to helplessness) provide a framework within which
3 omnipotence reigns. [* Bion’s Footnote: And not only patients. The
4 group is dominated by morality—I include of course the negative
sense that shows as rebellion against morality—and this
contributed to the atmosphere of hostility to individual thought on
which Freud remarked”]. [T, 64]
One must be prepared to find it an everyday occurrence. People
use it as a commonplace way of (non)thinking that passes for real
thinking. This can be seen in phrases such as that reproduced
above, in which Bion warned: “But I shall not assume that one causes
the other, though for convenience I may (as I have already done when I
used the phrase ‘because of the hatred)’”.
The cause-effect reasoning is typical of schizophrenic thinking.
It builds rational schemata relied on in causes. Freud, as did Kant
before him, intuited the fallacies and pitfalls of pure reason. Freud
called it “rationalization”, a fact he first observed in Schreber’s case.
In other words, rational schemata of cause and effects are psychotic
phenomena. Any experienced psychiatrist can vouch for that. The
psychotic paranoid delusion is endowed with an internal logic that
is rationally impeccable.
Causes are devices intended to disburden the personality of self-
responsibility. Reasoning along the cause-effect schemata precludes
the psycho-analytic view (q.v.). Networks of relationships, mean-
ings and functions cannot be elicited by the mind that believes in
causes: “A proper use of the oedipal elements is obscured by a tendency
to allow the narrative form of the myth to impose a cause-and-effect
outlook on the investigator” (T, 96).
There seems to be confusion between causes and the act of
1 naming a constant conjunction:
The name, in its function of binding a constant conjunction, partakes
3 of the nature of a definition; it commences by being significant, but
4 meaningless, till experience gives it accumulations of meaning; it
5 derives negative force both by virtue of its genesis as part of thought
6 and by the necessary logic of its coming into existence precisely
7 because the constant conjunction it binds is not any of the previous
8 and already named constant conjunctions. Dislike of it is therefore
911 derived from its genesis and from fear of the implications of its
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 118


111 “use”. [Fn: Cf. Aristotle and definition. Topics, VI, 4, 141b, 21.] As
2 naming and definition are inescapable this contributes to dislike of
3 the unknown and the challenge it presents to the learner. The inten-
4 sity of the dislike depends on other factors. As what point the dislike
of the unknown and its impact on the development of procedures
which are a part of finding out must be regarded as pathological is
an academic question; it is decided for the analyst whenever there is
evidence of a desire to learn and an inability to do so. In such a situ-
8 ation primitive levels of thought are stimulated to discover the
9 “cause” of the obstruction. [Fn: Cf. Hume, D: Enquiries Concerning
10 Human Understanding. Q 43–45.]. Evidence of the employment of a
1 theory of causation is evidence of the operation of a theory that is
2 not adequate. I shall consider the genesis of a theory of causation
3 and its use with the aid of the grid and its two axes. Appearance in
4 a given situation—inquiry obstructed either by analyst or patient—
5 must be assessed on the category in the grid to which it should be
6 relegated. If it appears to belong to column 2 categories the
presumption of a pathological origin will be strong. If it belongs
to column 4 it is evidence, especially in a K link such as an analysis
ought to be, for something compatible with healthy growth.
[T, 63–4]
1 The belief in causes differs from using them as steps towards the
2 illumination of functional relationships. It is a way of formulating
3 something to be investigated. One may be aware of their false
4 nature. It is the bizarre objects of the pseudo-scientist. The issue in
511 science is to establish some relationships between objects in order
6 to elicit their respective functions. Religion in its turn looks for
7 “why?” Science looks for “how”.
311 Cause and morals
Invariant to beta-elements and bizarre objects, in so far as they share
the characteristics of beta-elements, is the moral component of such
objects. The moral component is inseparable from feelings of guilt
4 and responsibility and from a sense that the link between one such
5 object and another, and between these objects and the personality, is
6 moral causation. The theory of causation, in a scientific sense in so
7 far as it has one, is therefore an instance of carrying over from a
8 moral domain an idea (for want of a better word) into a domain in
911 which its original penumbra of moral association is inappropriate.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 119

C 119

111 The observation of constant conjunction of phenomena whose

2 conjunction or coherence has not been previously observed, and
3 therefore the whole process of Ps⇔D interaction, definition and
4 search for meaning that is to be attached to the conjunction, can be
destroyed by the strength of a sense of causation and its moral
implications. [T, 64]
In 1967, reviewing his clinical study “Attacks on linking”, Bion
would put the issue in a more explicit way:
10 I regard the idea of causation, implicit throughout the paper, as
1 erroneous; it will limit the perspicacity of the analyst if he allows
2 this element in Attacks on Linking to obtrude. The “causal link” has
3 apparent validity only with events associated closely in space and
4 time. The fallacious nature of reasoning based on the idea of
5 “causes” is clearly argued in Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy,
6 Allen & Unwin, 1958, p. 81, in terms which should evoke an under-
7 standing response in any psycho-analyst. Provided the psycho-
8 analyst does not allow himself to be beguiled into searching for,
9 and proposing, except in conversational terms, “causes”, the paper
211 may stimulate enquiries of his own. The discovery of a “cause”
1 relates more to the peace of mind of the discoverer than to the
object of his research. [ST, 163]
 Pages 56–59 of Transformations offers a comprehensive and
detailed scrutiny of causation; even though it is fallacious, it is
6 useful, because its detection allows the analyst to track the patients’
7 use of it. A patient can use a nonsensical theory of causation in
8 order to “deny the persecution and thus evade any explanation that
9 would reveal the depression that he dreads” (T, 57). Therefore, one must
30 separate the epistemological use of a criticism of causation theories
1 and a directive, authoritarian view that can infiltrate during an
2 analysis when the analyst observes the patient using such a
3 “device”. To believe in causes points “to a conflict between omni-
4 science on the one hand and inquiry on the other. Further steps will show
5 that the logical causal approach produces a circular argument” (T, 58).
6  The author of this text has tried to show elsewhere how
7 Bion’s experiences as a tank commander seem to have enabled him
8 to acquire a non-authoritarian view on this specific “cause”, “war
911 trauma” (in Pines and Lipgar, 2002).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 120


111 Circle, point, line: Bion used the developments of mathematics

2 over centuries as an analogic model to scrutinize the development
3 of thinking processes and some of its disturbances. The disturbance
4 being, in some aspects, a necessary step to the processes of devel-
5 opment. This entry intends to synthesize the use of one of these
6 mathematical analogies. Bion proposes regarding mathematics as
7 an early attempt by mankind to deal with psychosis. Mathematics
8 as well as geometry seems to be implied in the inception of thought
9 processes.
10 He starts from two main contributions:
(i) That of Freud, mainly as regards the disturbances of contact
with reality as it is, when the pleasure/displeasure principle
prevails. Freud’s inference that some babies hallucinate a
breast when the breast is not physically available is a root of
Bion’s observations.
(ii) That of Klein, as an outgrowth from Freud, as regards the
prevalence of greed and envy, which fuels feelings of frustra-
tion in the relationships of the baby with the first reality that is
endowed with features of the animate—the mother’s breast.
This is a task to be tackled during post-natal life. Other obser-
vations by Klein relating to the characteristics of the “para-
noid–schizoid position”, mainly the tendency to equate, rather
than to symbolize, and projective identification, are the other
roots of Bion’s observations.
6 From these main guidelines Bion proceeds to examine minutely
7 the emotional development that is consequent to specific ways of
8 dealing and not-dealing with frustration. These ways are, at the
9 inception of post-natal life, exclusively dependent on how each
311 person experiences the absence of the breast; or, in other words, the
1 way that frustration is felt.
2 It is a kind of prototype of all further feelings of frustration.
3 They assume, throughout a life cycle, increasingly complicated
4 forms. Bion proposes the terminology “no-breast” to describe the
5 experiencing of the absent breast. This terminology already
6 borrows an arithmetical model, that of negative numbers, derived
7 from the theory of numbers.
8 Bion examines the outcome of innate or acquired excessive
911 intolerance of frustration. This outcome corresponds to that which
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 121

C 121

111 was known since pre-psycho-analytical days, and amended by

2 Freud and Klein’s contributions, such as psychosis. Bion observes
3 clinically that the excessively intolerant being, so-called psychotic,
4 cannot put up with the no-breast. He (she) equates the no-breast
5 with noughtness. Or, to use some synonyms Bion proposes, the No-
6 thing is equated with noughtness. In still other terms, the extent
711 that each individual tolerates or does not tolerate the negative, frus-
8 tration—in the first place, the no-breast—will determine that
9 psychotic mechanisms predominate.
10 Bion proposes to regard geometry (as a development of mathe-
1 matics) with its conceptions of point, circle, line, as a manifestation
2 that indicates the existence of tolerance of frustration. The point
3 refers to the place where the breast was.
4 The first time that Bion appealed to the history and philosophy
5 of mathematics is in his now classical paper from 1961, “A theory
6 of thinking”. There is an intimate relationship between primitive
7 emotions and the ability to develop mathematical thinking. This
8 was reflected by a well-known fact: children with emotional diffi-
9 culties have notorious difficulty in learning mathematics.
211 The relationship between an ability to abstract and to reach the
1 reality beyond, and the fitness of the apparatus to think, was and is
2 well known. One may say that “to abstract” is an ability to extract
3 a real, albeit immaterial, quality or existence out of concreteness. In
4 other terms, to borrow from Aristotle, an ability to “go beyond
5 physics”. From this, Bion relates the development of mathematical
6 thought, as expressed in the ability of the mathematician and the
7 geometer to deal with issues that became known as numbers and
8 the theory of numbers—among many other mathematical develop-
9 ments. His paper on thinking uses Gotlob Frege’s theory of
2 Mathematical elements, namely straight lines, points, circles and
3 something corresponding to what later becomes known by the
4 names of numbers, derive from realizations of two-ness as in breast
5 and infant, two eyes, two feet and so on. If intolerance of frustra-
6 tion is not too great modification becomes the governing aim.
7 Development of mathematical elements, or mathematical objects as
8 Aristotle calls them, is analogous to the development of concep-
911 tions. [ST, 113]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 122


111 During the ensuing two years Bion would deal more with the
2 development of concepts and conceptions in general (q.v.)—and
3 comparatively less with the primitive formation of specific concep-
4 tions such as the breast and the intolerance of the no-breast. The
5 development of a more detailed study was, so to say, postponed.
6 Meanwhile he continued using mathematical models drawn from
7 Aristotle’s metaphysics and meta-mathematics, in the suggestions of
8 “psycho-analytical object” and “elements of psycho-analysis” (q.v.).
9 He would return to his own suggestion contained in the text
10 quoted above. In Transformations, p. 2, he warns: the descriptions of
1 Euclidean geometry are too “closely wedded to marks on paper”. This
2 was unhelpful to the onlooker or student who tried not to appre-
3 hend geometry as a thing-in-itself, or the symbols of the Euclidean
4 system of notation as things-in-themselves. Perhaps the difficulty is
5 not entirely due to Euclid’s contributions, but it may rather be due
6 to centuries of concretized misuse. It is true that when many chil-
711 dren learn Euclid’s geometry, they often fail to grasp its ethos.
8 Many feel the whole issue to be useless and boring. Was this the
9 case with the ancient Greeks? Probably not: one may be reminded
20 that they were studied by grown-up people. Is infancy an age not
1 well-suited for learning these concepts? Or the issue is, as some
2 mathematicians interested in pedagogy put it during the sixties, the
3 way mathematics is taught.
4 The mathematician was able to dispense with the “concrete-
511 ness” of his objects. Therefore he was able to think about and use
6 those objects in their absence. This fact seems to have intrigued
7 Bion. As an experienced clinician, he observed that one of the foun-
8 dations of psychosis was a difficulty in doing exactly that which the
9 mathematician seemed able to do. Moreover, even a not too pro-
311 found study of the history of mathematical concepts displays how
1 this mathematician’s ability was improved, as mathematics devel-
2 oped. Mathematics grew in a way that seems well suited to express
3 the emotional growth from psychosis to neurosis (using Freud’s
4 definition of both, in his classic paper, “Neurosis and psychosis”).
5 Or, in more descriptive terms, the “journey” from almost absolute
6 lack of tolerance of frustration to a more marked degree of tolerance
7 to it. This means an ability to postpone an imperial satisfaction of
8 desire. Primary narcissism and primary envy establish the limit of
911 such a journey.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 123

C 123

111 Bion would expand this in A Memoir of the Future. For example,
2 the following dialogue depicts the evolution of mathematics from
3 “visual” Euclidean geometry to “mental” Cartesian algebraic
4 models. A man of action who has difficulties in thinking (Robin)
5 contrasts with the more perceptive female who is intuitive
6 (Rosemary) as well as with a servant (Tom) who learned by experi-
711 ence. The use of this dialogic form seems to add a good-humoured,
8 if subtle and serious humane tone to the issue:
10 TOM He means it as a mental aid to insight; as a circle or a line or
1 a triangle aids Euclid, or Thales before him.
2 DOCTOR These corporeal aids become limitations; the asset
3 becomes a liability. The anatomical and physiological structure is
4 an asset to the baby who grows to be mobile.
5 P.A. Becomes “auto-mobile” in short.
7 TOM But Euclidean geometry, aided by space, geo-metric space,
8 grows so powerfully that in a couple of thousand years it becomes
irked by its visual frame. At this point the demands of the mind are
imprisoned in the corporeal structure.
1 DOCTOR Enter the fairy prince to release the sleeping beauty.
2 P.A. Namely? I think you should introduce the characters as they
3 come on the stage.
TOM Cartesian Co-ordinates.
6 ALICE What a pretty name.
7 ROSEMARY Mr Robin ma’am.
9 ALICE Hello Robin. We were just thinking of Cartesian Co-ordinates
30 ROBIN Good Heavens! I hope you aren’t suggesting that I should
1 use those. I would have my farm overrun with co-ordinates—they
2 would grow much faster than the seeds of thought would germi-
3 nate in my mind. [AMF, II, 224]
5 Or, in a more abridged way, coining a metaphor: “The mind that
6 is too heavy a load for the sensuous beast to carry” (AMF, I, 38).
7 The reference to this part of the history of mathematics appears
8 in Transformations and in A Memoir of the Future. It seems to have
911 been inspired by Alfred North Whitehead’s history of mathematics.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 124


111 Both Whitehead and Bion point out that algebraic calculus frees
2 mathematics from the sensuous limitations of pictorial, concrete
3 representations. The issue is that of formulation. When it is neces-
4 sary to make “public” a given insight, verbal, artistic, musical and
5 scientific formulations are also a matter of necessity. The same issue
6 is at stake with a patient who must make his emotional experience
7 “public”. Also, with the analyst who must “publicize” his findings
8 either to his patient or to his colleagues. Mathematical notation
9 seemed to have been successful in overcoming the psychotic alle-
10 giance to satisfaction of desire, to the extent that this satisfaction is
1 precluded when the concrete object must be dispensed with.
2 Bion dwells on psycho-analytic communication: “the difficulty of
3 the ‘public’ to grasp that an analogy is an attempt to vulgarize a relation-
4 ship and not the objects related. The psycho-analytical approach, though
5 valuable in having extended the conscious by the unconscious, has been
6 vitiated by the failure to understand the practical application of doubt, by
711 the failure to understand the function of ‘breast’, ‘mouth’, ‘penis’,
8 ‘vagina’, ‘container’, ‘contained’, as analogies. Even if I write it, the
9 sensuous dominance of penis, vagina, mouth, anus, obscures the element
20 signified by analogy . . .” (AMF, I, 70–71).
1 This entry is limited to quoting parts of the Trilogy A Memoir
2 of the Future that seem to this writer to develop an earlier attempt
3 by Bion in Transformations. Unlike the latter, even though he
4 used mathematical models, in the Trilogy it is done in a way
511 that resorts more to history and concepts and less to quasi-
6 mathematical formulations. It seems to this writer that for the
7 reader who feels uneasy with the use of quasi-mathematical sym-
8 bols, to rely on A Memoir may facilitate the apprehension of Bion’s
9 earlier attempts.
311 Anyway, before trying this dialogic, quasi-artistic way, Bion had
1 already resorted to conventional, verbal formulations, even when
2 he used mathematical analogies: “The point and straight line have to
3 be described by the totality of relationships which these objects have to
4 other objects” (T, 2). One gathers that the important part here is not
5 the mathematical analogy but the analogy used to introduce the
6 issue of relationships. That, after, all is what mathematics is all
7 about. Earlier, in making use of the model of relationships, he
8 defined that “An emotional experience cannot be conceived of in isola-
911 tion from a relationship” (LE, 42).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 125

C 125

111 His next analogy is with music, in two ways. In one of them he
2 warns that to some people, the little black marks in a pentagram
3 can be seen just as that, black marks. In contrast, an experienced
4 musician can “extract” music from them (AMF, I). In the other he
5 returns to the realm of the minus field, retaking the lead first intro-
6 duced in Learning from Experience—his model now depicts the value
711 of pauses in a musical score and in music itself.
8 He uses these analogies to talk about the breast, thinking, and
9 the experience of the no-breast: “The state of mind I have described is
10 represented for me by a model—that of an adult who violently maintains
1 an exclusively primitive omnipotent?helpless state. The model by which I
2 represent his vision of me is that of an absent breast, the place or position,
3 that I, the breast, ought to occupy but do not. The ‘ought’ expresses moral
4 violence and omnipotence. The visual image of me can be represented by
5 what a geometer might call a point, a musician the staccato mark in a
6 musical score” (T, 53).
7 In other words, the lack of tolerance of frustration of the no-
8 breast leads to omnipotent claims; the place where the breast used
9 to be is abhorred. Absence is abhorred. Denial of wish fulfilment is
211 felt as absence and equally abhorred. In some cases, real necessities
1 that demand to be satisfied cannot be so; the reaction may be
2 equally violent. There ensues no realization of the point; the point
3 is equated with frustration; this is irreducible. “In the illustration the
4 problem centres on the fact that the absent breast, the no-breast’, differs
5 from the breast. If this is accepted, the “no-breast” can be represented by
6 the visual image of the point” (T, 54).
7 This seems to be fundamental to grasping Bion’s mathematical
8 model as an aid to thinking about intolerance of frustration. The
9 point is used as a visual representation of the “no-breast”. This is
30 not mathematics, even though it can be seen as a representa-
1 tion of an emotional experience borrowed from, and inspired by
2 geometry.
3 Bion includes in the text some discussions between Plato, the
4 Pythagoreans, Euclid and Archimedes. This discussion centres on
5 the inadequacies of representing the point as a perforation. The
6 ancient Greeks argued whether it was to be called a shmeton or a
7 stigma (
or ( ): “I shall have reason to quote illustrations
8 that strengthen the impression of the sexual component in the mathemat-
911 ical investigation . . .” (T, 55–6). Bion also quotes Aristotle’s
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 126


111 seemingly rational discussions about the indivisibility of the line.

2 The point is indivisible; how could a junction of points be divisible?
3 This serves as an attempt to illuminate the origins of mathe-
4 matics itself. Bion proposes to regard mathematics as a primitive
5 way to deal with psychosis, for psychosis in the adult ensues when
6 intolerance of frustration is too great. “I have sought to show that
7 geometrical constructions related to, and strove originally to represent,
8 biological realities such as emotions . . . mathematical space may represent
9 emotion, anxiety of psychotic intensity, or repose also of psychotic inten-
10 sity—a repose more psychiatrically described as stupor. In every case the
1 emotion is to be a part of a progression, breast ? emotion (or place where
2 the breast was) ? place where emotion was” (T, 105).
3 “. . . tolerance of frustration involves awareness of the presence or
4 absence of objects, and of what a developing personality later comes to
5 know as ‘time’ and (as I have described the ‘position’ where the breast used
6 to be) ‘space’” (T, 54, 55). In other words: Kant’s “a priori” are not
711 possible at all if intolerance to frustration is too great. Kant
8 proposed to regard space and time as two innate a priori categories
9 in human understanding—or mind as we may call it today.
20 If the patient tolerates the “point”, meaning, the no-breast, he
1 may make visual images of it; the same applies to the line. The
2 process is akin to dreaming; the patient can “think them, that is, use
3 thoughts in accordance with rules which are acceptable to, and under-
4 standable by, others (T, 56). This produces “the efflorescence of mathe-
511 matics” (T, 57), here understood as a capacity to think. A divergent
6 course, expressed by the inability to make visual images out of
7 intolerance to frustration and abhorrence of the experience of the
8 no-breast “leads . . . to mental sterility” (T, 57). Even though Bion uses
9 the phrase, “leads to”, he warns that there is no causation involved
311 here, causation itself being related to the issue of not tolerating frus-
1 tration conjoined with other factors, such as a harsh super-ego
2 (please refer to the entry “Cause”).
3 The analyst who deals with disturbances of thought also deals
4 with the difficulties with the no-breast; “The appearance in psycho-
5 analysis of black-heads, spots, dots, staccato marks in musical scores,
6 points, etc., can all be represented by the geometer’s point; similarly the
7 variety of supposedly phallic symbols can be represented by the geometer’s
8 line”. Now, “. . . certain patients, who believe others do the same” use the
911 point and the line “as if they or their signs were things”.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 127

C 127

111 This seems to be a fundamental issue. The model of points and

2 lines seems to help the fundamental underlying issue in that which
3 the author proposes to call the “sense-fy-ing” and “concretizing”
4 tendencies of mind. These tendencies prevail in those who feel they
5 cannot tolerate frustration. If the patient hears or feels that there
6 emerged a “point” or a “dot” either said or seen by himself or by
711 the analyst or whoever it is, “however it is signified or represented”, he
8 (or she) concludes that the utterance or the visual image “marks the
9 place where the breast (or penis) was . . . this ‘place’ seems to be invested
10 by the patient with characteristics that less disturbed people might
1 attribute to an object they would call a ghost. The point (.) and the term
2 point are taken as sensible manifestations of the ‘no breast’ . . . ‘the place
3 where the breast was’ having many of the characteristics of a breast that is
4 hostile because it no longer exists . . . It is in this way that a certain
5 class of patient ‘concludes’ that a thought is a thing . . . such a view
6 contrasts with that which enables a mathematician to use a point,
7 however represented, to elaborate a geometric system. Similarly, it
8 contrasts with the ordinary view of the word ‘breast’ or ‘point’ that
9 enables it to be used to elaborate anatomical or physiological or
211 artistic or aesthetic (in the philosophical sense) systems” (all previ-
1 ous quotations, T, 76, 77; my bold).
2 The patient becomes “backward looking”, prone to function by
3 making transference in Freud’s sense of the term. It is an unending
4 search for “what has been lost”. This contrasts with a capacity to
5 march into the unknown, which Bion calls “ordinary view”. This
6 capacity leads to mathematics, science, and commonsensical life,
7 which is “forward looking and relating to what can be found”. Perhaps
8 Freud’s study on mourning and melancholia as well as Klein’s
study on the depressive position, are the forerunners of Bion’s
research. Bion expands these contributions specifically to the pro-
cesses of thought involved. He thought that the history of geometry
could help to apprehend the problem; it seems that it helped him
and he had put it at the disposal of the psycho-analytic movement.
5 The geometrical elaboration proceeds as follows: commencing with
6 a point, line or any more complex figure such as those associated
7 with the theorem of Pythagoras, the proposition is read off the
8 figure, that is to say, it seems to be regarded as self-evident from
911 the nature of the figure. Inspection of the figure may be followed
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 128


111 by a formulation in terms other than pictorial. Plutarch gives a

2 fanciful and oedipal description of the 3, 4, 5 triangle. [T, 78]
4 It must be emphasized that in the text quoted above, when one
5 takes a “geometrical elaboration” that “proceeds as follows: commencing
6 with a point, line or any more complex figure”, it must not be regarded
7 as a concrete object despite the sensuous apprehension that is the
8 first step in this proceeding, and despite the imagery that is kept in
9 mind. Otherwise, it would not be possible to apprehend what is
10 conveyed by the growing complexities “such as those associated with
1 the theorem of Pythagoras”. Identically, it would not be possible to
2 realize that “the proposition is read off the figure”, nor to apprehend
3 something that “seems to be regarded as self-evident from the nature of
4 the figure” In other words, to grow mathematically may be, and may
5 have been ontogenetically, a counterpart of growing from psychosis
6 to neurosis, or from part-objects to Oedipus, or from material to
711 psychic reality. Bion is not mathematicizing psycho-analysis but
8 rather he is using the history of mathematics as a model.
9 The problem also belongs to the area of communication. This
20 communication is needed in at least two realms: the intrapsychic
1 communication one must perform with oneself; the communication
2 with others. Mathematicians can communicate with themselves
3 and with other mathematicians through their systems of non-visual
4 and non-verbal symbols. Should we analysts be enabled to do the
511 same? And what can be said of a patient with his (her) analyst?
6 What can be said about words, which also are symbols? After all,
7 they are in many instances invested with a myriad—Bion calls it,
8 “penumbra”—of associations. Is it valid to look for more precise
9 methods of communication? Where was Bion led when he resorted
311 to the aid of the concepts of points and lines?
I have described the point or line as an object indistinguishable
from the place where the breast or penis was. Owing to the diffi-
culty of being sure what the patient is experiencing I resort to a
variety of descriptions, each of which is unsatisfactory. The spot,
5 for example, seems to be part conscience, part breast, part faeces,
6 destroyed, non-existent yet present, cruel and malignant. The inad-
7 equacy of description or categorization as thought at all has led me
8 to the term -element as a method of representing it. The spoken
911 word seems significant only because it is invisible and intangible; the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 129

C 129

111 visual image is similarly significant because it is inaudible. Every word

2 represents what it is not—a “no-thing”, to be distinguished from
3 “nothing”. [T, 78–79, my italics]
5 In other words, Bion’s resorting to mathematical analogies led
6 him to the realm of minus—Kant’s numinous realm, or Freud’s
711 unconscious realm. The importance of this to the genesis of the
8 thinking processes and the capacity to dream cannot be over-
9 stressed. Plato, Kant, Freud and now Bion show that the uncon-
10 scious apprehension of reality as it is has a necessary preliminary
1 step. Namely, to tolerate what it is not, that which is not what we
2 wish it to be. The wish is important, but is not to be fulfilled. Every
3 meaning springs from the tolerance of the no-meaning; all commu-
4 nication springs from tolerance of that which is not communicated;
5 all light springs from tolerance of periods of no-light. Midas-like,
6 the alternative is “nothing”: an endless, greedy search for concrete,
7 material things that try to deny the existence of the no-thing.
8 Let us turn to the circle:
211 The thought, represented by a word or other sign, may, when it is
1 significant as a no-thing, be represented by a point (.). The point
2 may then represent the position where the breast was, or may even
3 be the no-breast. The same is true of the line, whether it is repre-
sented by the word line or a mark made on the ground or on paper.
The circle, useful to some personalities as a visual image of “inside
and outside”, is to other personalities, notably the psychotic,
evidence that no such a dividing membrane exists.
8 Intolerance of a no-thing, taken together with the conviction that
9 any other object capable of a representative function is, by virtue of
30 what the sane personality regards as its representative function, not
a representation at all but a no-thing itself, precludes the possibility
of words, circles, points and lines being used in the furtherance of
learning from experience. They become a provocation to substitute
3 the thing for the no-thing, and the thing itself as an instrument to
4 take the place of representations when representations are a neces-
5 sity as they are in the realm of thinking. Thus actual murder is to
6 be sought instead of the thought represented by the word
7 “murder”, an actual breast or penis rather than the thought repre-
8 sented by those words, and so on until quite complex actions and
911 real objects are elaborated as part of acting-out. Such procedures do
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 130


111 not produce the results ordinarily achieved by thought, but

2 contribute to states approximating to stupor, fear of stupor, hallu-
3 cinosis, fear of hallucinosis, megalomania and fear of megalomania.
4 [T, 82]
6 The concept of the circle is a step forward to the extent that it
7 expresses the capacity of the mind to tolerate paradoxes without
8 hasty attempts to solve them. (This writer proposed elsewhere,
9 based on Freud, Klein, Bion, and Winnicott’s achievements, that a
10 discipline of tolerating paradoxes marks the analytic posture.)
The association of the circle with “in and out” contributes to the
2 difficulty of understanding the concepts of the line that cuts a circle
3 in points that are conjugate complex. The difficulty arises from the
4 supposition that the line that does so lies “outside” the circle; as
5 opposed to the line that cuts it in two points, whose roots are real
6 and distinct, and is supposed to lie “inside” the circle. The difficulty
711 is diminished if there is no intolerance of the no-thing to contend
8 with and therefore no opposition to a term of which the meaning is
9 undetermined.
20 The simple example I have taken of the straight line that may cut a
1 circle in two points that are (i) real and distinct, or (ii) real and coin-
2 cident (if the line is a tangent), or (iii) conjugate complex (if the line
3 lies entirely “outside the circle’) poses a problem that the mathe-
4 matician has been able to solve by taking a mathematical point of
511 view, but I use it to illustrate the nature of the psychological prob-
lem. I shall state this as follows: in the domain of thought where a
straight line can be regarded as lying within, or touching, or wholly
outside, a circle, a transformation has been effected whereby certain
characteristics, lending themselves to mathematical manipulation,
9 have been manipulated mathematically to adumbrate and then
311 solve a mathematical problem. The residual characteristics however
1 retain their problem, un-named (un-bound) and so uninvestigated.
2 Hallucinosis is a domain, analogous to that of mathematics, in which a
3 solution is sought. [T, 83]
5 The reader may consult the entry “Hallucinosis”. In brief, a state
6 where hallucinations and delusions can appear albeit the rest of the
7 personality—or ego functions—are comparatively fit. Again, the
8 intolerance of the no-thing, of frustration, can be seen as the anti-
911 scientific (or anti-musical, or anti-analytic) function of the mind that
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 131

C 131

111 functions under the aegis of death instincts. The obverse is to nour-
2 ish regard for the principle of reality (or truth).
4 The mathematical problem resembles a psycho-analytic problem in
5 that it is necessary that the solution should have a wide degree of
6 applicability and acceptance and so avoid the need to apply differ-
ent arguments to different cases when the different cases appear to
have essentially the same configuration. Any analyst will recognize
the confusion that is caused, or at best the sense of dissatisfaction
9 that prevails, when a discussion by members makes it quite clear
10 that the configuration of the case is apprehended by all, but the
1 arguments formulated in its elucidation vary from member to
2 member and from case to case. It is essential that such a state of
3 affairs should be made unnecessary if progress is to take place. The
4 search must be for formulations that represent the essential simi-
5 larity of the configurations, recognized by all who deal with them,
6 and thus to make unnecessary the ad hoc nature of so many
psycho-analytic theories. [T, 83–4]
211 The importance of points, lines and circles starts from the toler-
1 ance/intolerance of the breast and proceeds to the development of
2 vertexes. The point is the origin of vertexes. The latter are amenable
3 to be dealt with as senses, or, to use a term borrowed from physics:
4 a vector. Each one of the basic five human senses can be regarded
5 as one vertex: we have a visual vertex, an aural vertex, a smell
6 vertex, and so on. Bion deals with the mental counterparts of some
7 vertexes, as the reproductive system, which is “related to premoni-
8 tions (q.v.) of pleasure and pain” (T, 91).
9 The various vertexes, stemming from points—the no-breast and
30 the place where the breast used to be, originally—generate multi-
1 farious, perhaps infinite, possibilities. This fact has consequences
2 for an analysis. In order to facilitate the presentation of the issue we
3 will resort to the supremacy of the visual vertex. The infinite possi-
4 bilities are available both to hallucinatory production as well as to
5 dream work. In the former the infinite has a meaning, that of a
6 greedy, chaotic production of everything that equals nothing; in the
7 latter the seemingly infinite possibilities converge on truth, or infin-
8 ity: “The point/line may be transformed by central projection from any one
911 of a number of vertices, or it may be transformed by parallel projection by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 132


111 a single point at infinity” (T, 91). Both are parallel developments. The
2 supremacy of the visual vertex occurs in any mind and contributes
3 to the construing of dreams into visual images—a fact that deeply
4 impressed both Freud and Bion.
5 At this time Bion began his efforts to stress the importance of
6 putting colloquial language at the service of analysis, as Freud did.
7 It had definite advantages over the use of jargon, which prevailed
8 at that time. But at the same time he thought that mathematical
9 notation should confer precision to communication. This precision
10 seemed to be such that the use of colloquial language could never
1 even aspire to offer.
2 Bion uses colloquial terms such as hot-point, clouds, in order to
3 depict his visual images when seeing a patient (chapter nine,
4 Transformations). Simultaneously he points out the limitations of
5 using this kind of terminology, vis-à-vis the use of concepts derived
6 from mathematics:
The combination of terms such as “hot-point” with other terms such
as “cloud” and “probability” denied the model any variety of applic-
ability but restricted its usefulness to one context. Terms such as
20 “probability” and “cloud” are not homogeneous. Can they be
1 replaced by signs that are? Yes: if they are replaced by points. [T, 121]
3 Misuses and misconceptions: In trying to elucidate Bion’s use
4 of mathematical analogies, the author bows to the fact that they
511 were grossly misunderstood. The failure to grasp the value of anal-
6 ogy seems to be a hallmark of the psycho-analytic movement.
7 Bion’s warnings about this failure and his attempts to avoid it
8 suffered the same fate.
311 P.A. We are all scandalized by bigotry. We are none of us bigot-
1 generators; that is, we none of us admit to being the spring from
whom bigotry flows. As a result we do not recognize those of our
offspring of whose characters we disapprove. Indeed, Melanie
Klein discovered that primitive, infantile omnipotence was charac-
4 terized by fantasies of splitting off undesired features and then
5 evacuating them.
ROLAND I am sure you don’t mean that children think like that?
8 P.A. It would be inaccurate and misleading to say so. That is why
911 Melanie Klein called them “omnipotent phantasies”. But although
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 133

C 133

111 I found her verbalization illuminating, with the passage of time and
2 further investigation which her discoveries made possible, her
3 formulations were debased and became inadequate. These primi-
4 tive elements of thought are difficult to represent by any verbal
formulation, because we have to rely on language that was elabo-
rated later for other purposes. When I tried to employ meaningless
terms—alpha and beta were typical—I found that “concepts with-
out intuition which are empty and intuitions without concepts
8 which are blind” rapidly became “black holes into which turbu-
9 lence had seeped and empty concepts flooded with riotous mean-
10 ing”. [AMF, II, 228–9]
2 The mathematical analogy was subjected to an oversimplifica-
3 tion; Bion’s appeal to the history and philosophy of mathematics
4 was seen as if he was appealing to mathematics-in-itself. His writ-
5 ings that use mathematical models are usually quoted—with the
6 possible exception of Matte-Blanco—as a “proof” of a so-called
7 “attempt of Bion to mathematize” psycho-analysis.
8 These readings ignore or dismiss phrases such as: “I hope that in
9 time the base will be laid for a mathematical approach to biology, founded
211 on the biological origins of mathematics, and not on an attempt to fasten
1 on biology a mathematical structure which owes its existence to the math-
2 ematician’s ability to find realizations, that approximate to his constructs,
3 amongst the characteristics of the inanimate” (T, 105).
4 This can be compared with his clinical studies on psychosis and
5 schizophrenic thinking, where he states that some patients deal
6 with the animate realm through measures that would be successful
7 if applied to the inanimate.
9 Intolerance of a no-thing, taken together with the conviction that
30 any object capable of representative function is, by virtue of what
1 the sane personality regards as its representative function, not a
2 representation at all but a no-thing itself, precludes the possibility
of words, circles, point and lines being used in the furtherance of
learning from experience. They become a provocation to substitute
the thing for the no-thing, and the thing itself as an instrument to
5 take the place of representations when representations are a neces-
6 sity as they are in the realm of thinking. [T, 82]
8 The rules governing points and lines which have been elaborated
911 by geometers may be reconsidered by reference back to the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 134


111 emotional phenomena that were replaced by “the place (or space)
2 where the mental phenomena were”. Such a procedure would
3 establish an abstract deductive system based on a geometric foun-
4 dation with intuitive psycho-analytic theory as its concrete realiza-
tion. [T, 121]
It seems that the difficulties in profiting from Bion’s analogies
started from the first public presentation of a paper that contained
such a proposition (“A theory of thinking”). A common reaction is,
10 “why would an analyst talk about maths in an analytic paper?”
1 Also, the absence of psycho-analytic jargon did not appeal to some
2 readers. Bion himself commented on the idea that a book that does
3 not mention Oedipus or repression or any known theory is consid-
4 ered as non psycho-analytical. The question, if made under the
5 aegis of scientific curiosity, may lead to development; if made
6 under the aegis of already existent ideas, it leads to decay.
711 Deep-seated motives illuminate the objection. They may be
8 related to the same kind of intolerance to frustration that Bion tried
9 to encircle with his analogy. The reader who “finds” him(her)self in
20 this situation could still resort to his experiences of life or with
1 patients to get some help; in some cases, the difficulty cannot be
2 addressed outside the realm of the analyst’s personal analysis.
3 Recommended cross-references: Function, Hyperbole, Mathe-
4 matization of Psycho-analysis.
511 Suggested cross-references: Hallucination, No-breast, Frus-
6 tration.
7  On the expanding of the theory of numbers and Euclidean
8 geometry: A Memoir of the Future, volume I p. 71–72.
9 There are books written by professional physicists and mathe-
311 maticians as primers for young mathematicians and for the inter-
1 ested layman. They may be useful for grasping Bion’s background.
2 His forebears are Aristotle, Euclid, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisen-
3 berg, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell. Other authors also
4 wrote primers that may interest: A. Eddington, Roger Penrose,
5 Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, among others.
7 Circular argument A concept destined to gauge the effectiveness of
8 an interpretation given by an analyst vis-à-vis the patient’s state-
911 ments. The “correct interpretation” (q.v.) must be such that one
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 135

C 135

111 avoids restricting it to “knowing about”. It must reach a state that

2 Bion describes as “becoming” (q.v.). The circular argument is the
3 stuff that an analytic session is made of.
4 The concept of circular argument seems to demand a grasp of
5 previous concepts formulated by Bion. All these concepts are
6 reviewed in this dictionary. The concept of “circular argument”
711 embodies a concise summary of these concepts.
8 “Circular argument” reunites the following concepts that Bion
9 formulated in his book Transformations: O, ultimate reality, becom-
10 ing, incarnation, reminders of ultimate reality as well as the Grid
1 categories; also, ideas of causation, the theory of Forms according
2 to Plato, deity according to Jewish and Christian Cabbala, the
3 theory of incarnation, Freud’s practical use of the idea of the uncon-
4 scious, the two principles of mental functioning, Klein’s theory of
5 evacuation and projective identification, Bion’s theories of con-
6 cretization and hyperbole.
7 It is necessary to have in mind some basic, intuitive concepts
8 from mathematics and physics. In doing this we may well be
9 following that which this writer presumes was Bion’s pathway. This
211 can be done through using colloquial language and common sense.
1 One may start from elementary geometry: the idea of a circle and
2 the idea that it has a diameter. The diameter of the circle is infinitely
3 variable (quantity). The concept, variation of diameter, is qualita-
4 tive. A visual, dynamic view of a circle according to its variations in
5 diameter displays an enlarging or contracting circumference.
6 If one keeps this enlarging and contracting figure in mind, one
7 may now proceed with the aid of Bion’s formulation, which refers
8 to an interpretation given by an analyst:
30 The interpretation should be such that the transition from knowing
1 about reality to becoming real is furthered. This transition depends on
2 matching the analysand’s statement with an interpretation which is
such that the circular argument remains circular but has an
adequate diameter. If it is too small the circular argument becomes
a point; if too great it becomes a straight line. The point and straight
5 line together with numbers are representatives of states of mind
6 which are primitive and unassociated with mature experience. The
7 profitable circular argument depends on a sufficiency of experience
8 to provide an orbit in which to circulate. To re-state this in terms of
911 greater sophistication, the analytic experience must consist of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 136


111 knowing and being successively many elementary statements,

2 discerning their orbital or circular or spherical relationship and
3 establishing the statements which are complementary. The inter-
4 pretations that effect the transition from knowing about O to
becoming O are those establishing complementarity; all others are
concerned with establishing the material through which the argu-
ment circulates.
8 The transition from “knowing about” to “becoming” O can be seen
9 as a particular instance of the development of the conception from
10 the pre-conception (row E from row D) (q.v. Grid). [T, 153]
2 The phrase, “The point and straight line together with numbers are
representatives of states of mind which are primitive and unassociated
with mature experience. The profitable circular argument” summarizes
the proposition of the psychic function of representations and
abstractions such as points and lines and numbers. This occupies a
good deal of the book, Transformations.
Mathematics is seen as an early attempt to deal with psychosis,
during the pre-psycho-analytic era—which constitutes almost the
whole of the history of mankind.
The terms orbital, circular, spherical, pertain to the actual expe-
rience of the analytic session. Sometimes we analysts furnish hints
to our patients that are “orbital” to the patient’s O. The concept of
“complementarity ” is seminal. It demands elaboration of the rela-
tionship between breast and mouth, baby and mother, femininity
and masculinity. In Bion’s later terms (1970), it is a commensal rela-
tionship (q.v.) between container and contained (q.v.). The “elemen-
tary statements” are the building blocks of a session, the experience
of conversing and talking.
The diameter of the circle in a circular argument marks the
possibility of having a real talk with the patients. The American
Indians encircle through diminishing increments of diameter, the
2 area that allows them to get nearer a Mustang until they can mount
3 it. The process may take years.
5 The complexity of a statement whether made by analyst or
6 analysand imposes a choice on the analyst: he must decide what
7 dimension of the patient’s statement he is to interpret and in what
8 terms he will interpret it. To a great extent the choice is already
911 determined by the analyst’s personality and historical development
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 137

C 137

111 and with those factors I do not intend to deal; I am concerned more
2 with the immediate circumstances and those factors which are
3 under the analyst’s conscious control. He must beware of interpre-
4 tations for no better reason that that the interpretation is one he can
make. He cannot “win” it “from the void and formless infinite” of
the analysand’s personality, but only from the elements of the state-
ment that the analysand won from his own “void and formless infi-
nite”. Nothing is to be gained from telling the patient what he
8 already knows unless what he “knows is being used to exclude
9 what he “is” (K opposed to O). Such an interpretation is part of the
10 circular argument of which the “diameter” is too great. How is the
1 “diameter” to be measured? If the interpretation is made mainly
2 because it is available it is a column 2 statement intended to prevent
3 “turbulence” in the analyst. The abstruse interpretation relates to
4 desire in the analyst, a wish to feel that he can see further than his
5 analysand or some other who serves as a rival. It belongs to the
6 domain of hyperbole. Too small and too large diameters indicate
defence against and projection of hyperbole: defence is against
hyperbole originated by the analysand. [T, 166–7]
9 Suggested cross-references: Analytic View, Atonement, Correct
211 Interpretation and Hyperbole.
1  The author proposed an extension of Bion’s theory of think-
2 ing that integrates the digestive and reproductive models into a
3 model of complementarity of analyst and patient, in terms of exer-
4 cising femininity and masculinity (in W. R. Bion between Past and
5 Future, ed. Parthenope Bion Talamo, Silvio Merciai and Franco
6 Borgogno. London: Karnac Books 2001).
8 Classical analysis: Please refer to the entries, Classical Theory, K
30 Classical theory: Bion’s use of the term defines the traditional
1 guidelines to analysis. The sense conveyed by the word “classic” in
2 the work of Bion is that of a perennial, transcendent form discov-
3 ered as a constant conjunction, selected fact or invariance. It
4 expresses an ultimately unknowable fact (or counterpart) in psychic
5 reality as it is. These formulations had, have and will have “dura-
6 bility and extensibility” (AI, Introduction, page 1). This was a perma-
7 nent concern of Bion. He puts it in terms of the lasting effects of a
8 real analysis (see specific entry). How can analysis turn into a “clas-
911 sic” in each analysand’s life?
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 138


111 Bion sees his own contributions to the theories of Freud and
2 Klein as “additional”. These contributions were given to (i) the
3 theory of dreams, (ii) the free interchange between conscious and
4 unconscious, (iii) the free interchange between paranoid–schizoid
5 and depressive position, (iv) pre-conceptions of Oedipus and the
6 breast. They are not meant to replace Freud or Klein’s theories. The
7 differentiation between Bion’s contributions and those of the classic
8 authors is caused by the requirements of scientific communication.
10 How does she come to waste all her treasures like this? . . . Does she
1 not know what the value of her gifts is—the education, the health,
2 her beauty, our beauty? Does she not know that we were
3 Penelope’s suitors? That Homer celebrated us? That we died even
4 before there was a poet to confer immortality upon us? Ronsard
5 knew of us when we were beautiful?. . .
6 “But tell me who you are; I shall wrestle with you from dawn to
711 dusk, from dusk to dawn, from O to God, from God to science;
8 from science to God; from security to the infinite that is man’s infin-
9 ity; from the infinite confines of stupidity, from stupor to the
20 bigotry of certitude; from infinite hate to infinite love; from infinite
1 coldness, indifference of the absolute, to the intolerable infinitude
2 of absolute love. Show me.” “No”. “Show me”.
3 “Because of your importunity I will lift the veil. I will not give you
4 sight, but I will give you insight so your greatest will be able to see
511 me in a glass darkly, me in whom there is no shadow cast by turn-
6 ing. You will pay as even your greatest had to pay—”from that time
7 on the balance of his mind was disturbed”. He was condemned to
8 live imprisoned in everlasting sanity.”
9 “Who are you?”
“I am compassion.”
2 “Who are you?”
“I am your maid—but even then you did not see.”
5 “Open my eyes.”
6 “No—I sent the prophets but you would not listen.”
“Open my ears.”
911 “I sent you Bach.”
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 139

C 139

111 “He had perfect pitch.”

2 “He tempered the clavier well.”
“Send me a better one.”
5 “No. I sent you Mozart.”
6 “You took him back too soon.”
“I sent you Beethoven.”
9 “He was flawed.”
10 “You flawed him; you would not look at the flaws I made.” [AMF,
1 I, 34–5]
3 Poetic and religious expressions have made possible a degree of
4 public-ation in that formulations exist which have achieved dura-
bility and extensibility. To say the same thing differently, the carry-
ing power of the statement has been extended in time and space.
Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona multi and “Not marble, nor the
7 guilded monuments/Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme”
8 . . . [AI, Introduction, pages 1 and 2]
211 The reference to the Greeks includes a real wife, Penelope,
1 menaced by sexual beasts disguised as suitors. The reference to
2 Ronsard concerns his appreciation of women. Newton, according to
3 Lord Keynes and some historians, lost his sanity when he was on
4 the verge of making new discoveries; he turned religious and
5 almost killed himself in a mysterious fire. Bion became impressed
6 with these facts, which he also records in Transformations (T, 156).
7 The text brings a sharp differentiation between the transcendence
8 of truth and beauty, as expressed in the classics, and the feeling of
9 the absolute, be it love or hate, which are fused in those paranoid
30 and narcissistic states. This links with Christ “seen in a glass darkly,
1 a reference to St Paul”.
2 Or, still: “What part of England or Shakespeare was it that forged the
3 England that is eternal and will be for ever England?” (AMF, I, 43).
4 The issue of classics is subsumed by the idea that psycho-analy-
5 sis was a thought without a thinker until there appeared a Freud to
6 think it.
7 Misuses and misunderstandings: Many use Bion’s comments
8 about classical theory as if he was against it. To mark differences
911 and to make expansions differs from ideas of superiority.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 140


111 The same situation occurred with certain interpretations of

2 Einstein’s extensions of Newton’s theories. Lest any doubts remain
3 about the sense of the word “classics” in the work of Bion, they can
4 be dispelled by A Memoir of the Future. The newness is never sepa-
5 rated from the transcendence of truth itself. The issue matters to the
6 extent it touches creation, procreation, beauty, femininity (“Truth is
7 beauty, beauty truth”, in the words of Keats, a poet of whom Bion
8 was very fond).
10 If psycho-analytical intuition does not provide a stamping ground
1 for wild asses, where is a zoo to be found to preserve the species?
2 Conversely, if the environment is tolerant, what is to happen to the
“great hunters” who lie unrevealed or reburied? [AMF, I, 5]
Commensal: Bion introduces this term, borrowed from biology, in
Learning from Experience, page 90. The term can be seen as an exten-
sion of his theory of links; and indeed it depends on that, as well as
on the theory of container/contained. Soon after having introduced
the concept of container and contained (q.v.) he reconsiders the K
link (q.v.) under the vertex of the container and the contained. Or,
more precisely, he considers that K is a factor of (therefore it is
subordinate to) the function container and contained. It is just at
this moment that he defines “commensal”:
4 In K, L and H being factors and therefore subordinate, ? is projected
511 into ? and abstraction, of a type that I shall use the term commen-
6 sal to describe, follows. By commensal I mean ?and ?are dependent
7 on each other for mutual benefit and without harm to either. In
8 terms of a model the mother derives benefit and achieves mental
9 growth from the experience: the infant likewise abstracts benefit
311 and achieves growth. [LE, 90–91]
2 The phenomena that present themselves in material reality have
3 a biological nature. They also have an immaterial counterpart in
4 psychic reality. These counterparts are amenable to being dealt with
5 psycho-analytically. The model of a commensal relationship is a
6 way to put these facts into an integrative trans-disciplinary, multi-
7 level approach. It detects invariances common to different modes of
8 observation. “Commensal” seems to be one of them. There are some
911 impediments to establishing a commensal relationship, among
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 141

C 141

111 them, envy (LE, 96). Eight years later, the definition was presented
2 in a more developed form: “By commensal I mean a relationship in
3 which two objects share a third to the advantage of all three” (AI, 95).
4 Suggested cross-references: Container/Contained, Parasitic,
5 Symbiotic.
711 Common sense: Bion used this term to indicate that more than one
8 point of view must be used in order to increment apprehension of
9 reality and facts as they are. “As a criterion for what constitutes a
10 sensible experience I propose common sense in the meaning that I have
1 given it elsewhere, namely some ‘sense’ that is common to more than one
2 sense. I shall consider an object to be sensible to psycho-analytical scrutiny
3 if, and only if, it fulfils conditions analogous to the conditions that are
4 fulfilled when a physical object’s presence is confirmed by the evidence of
two or more senses . . . The correlation thus established entitles one to
claim the term ‘common sense’ to characterize one’s view that a given
object is a stone: and that the view that it is a stone is common to one’s
senses and therefore a common sense view” (EP, 10–11).
The term has social implications: “I propose that we may now say
that common sense is a term commonly employed to cover experiences in
which the speaker feels that his contemporaries, individuals whom he knows,
would without hesitation hold the view he has put forward in common with
each other. Common sense, the highest common factor of sense, so to speak,
would support his view of what the senses convey” (C, 10).
The senses are the port of entry of all stimuli, whatever they are.
Their conjoint action and integration is provided by the central
8 nervous system. The earlier denomination of the impressions con-
9 veyed by the sensuous apparatus was, “sensible experiences”. The
30 term was created by philosophers. Common sense is a very old
1 concept that has a history which mixes with the history of science;
2 it was first defined by Aristotle; Spinoza, Descartes, Bacon and
3 Locke used it to define the basic tenets of science; “empiricism” was
4 founded with the basis of knowledge acquired by the use of senses.
5 Hume and Kant’s criticism of that which the latter named “naïve
6 realism”, served also to improve its uses, as can be seen in the work
7 of modern scientists such as Planck and Einstein, and epistemolo-
8 gists such as Bradley, Braithwaite, Prichard, Russell (please refer to
911 the entries, Scientific Method, Scientific Deductive System).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 142


111 In Scientific Method (C, 10) Bion furnishes a good humoured

2 example of common sense: “I may cite the experience in which a tactile
3 impression of, say, fur—sudden and unpredicted—gives rise to the idea of
4 an animal, which then has to be confirmed or refuted visually; and so, it
5 is hoped, the common-sense view is achieved”. The matching of two
6 different senses—touch and sight—allows a more precise idea of
7 reality.
8 Two senses are needed. The meaning of the term “sense” is of
9 direction. The physicist called it vector. Later Bion introduced the
10 term vertex. Therefore it is necessary to have at least two vertexes
1 in order to get a commonsensical view, or an approach to reality.
2 This forms the basis of scientific inquiry. “It follows that the scientific
3 law is closely related to, and an epitome of, experience” (C, 8).
4 Let us figure out that more than two senses are used. Add to this
5 a repetition of the experience throughout a period of time. In a
6 certain way, four days a week, year after year, may allow the forma-
711 tion of a commonsensical view of a specific mind as it is (C, 10).
8 Common sense was an early way to regard reality as synony-
9 mous with truth, and to see the situation in terms of an instinctual
20 basic need of the human being: “The failure to bring about this
1 conjunction of sense-data, and therefore of a commonsense view induces a
2 mental state of debility in the patient as if starvation of truth was some-
3 how analogous to alimentary starvation” (ST, 119).
511 Logic, common sense, induction, deduction are terms that often
6 represent mechanisms for bringing an intuition within reach of a
realization should one exist. [T, 109–10]
A senseless realm?
311 Is it possible to use the concept of common sense, which is
1 restricted to the use of senses, in other realms? Is there any realm
2 which is beyond the senses? This area is covered in another entry
3 in this dictionary; please refer to the entry “Ultra sensuous”. With
4 the narrower focus on common sense, it may be useful to remem-
5 ber that many are prone to consider psychic reality as a sense-less
6 realm. It was defined by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams as an
7 immaterial form of existence. Is the word “immaterial” expressing
8 a realm that is independent of the senses? Many also tend to see
911 consciousness as a non-sensible realm.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 143

C 143

111 A careful scrutiny of Freud’s definitions of psychic reality and

2 consciousness in The Interpretation of Dreams may throw some light
3 on the issue. They continue to be the only definitions available, one
4 hundred years later.
5 The “sense-less” view would be unwarranted if one remembers
6 that psychic reality has a built-in characteristic of some senses
711 (vectors). They are given by the instincts and their psychic repre-
8 sentatives, unconscious phantasies. The immaterial form of exis-
9 tence (to use Freud’s words), psychic reality, is different from the
10 other form of existence, material reality. Also, the sensuous appara-
1 tus is just a differentiated “brain”. They are just forms; the existence
2 is a discrete one—ultimately unknowable and ineffable. Psychic
3 reality, so to say, has a “foot” in material reality, given by the
4 instincts, which are of biological origin. Conversely, material reality
5 has a “hand” in shaping psychic reality, also via instincts and the
6 sensuous apparatus. Therefore, our search for Freud’s definition led
7 us, again, to common sense. It is given by the internal—instinc-
8 tual—senses that each guide one’s life and above all, by the
9 common sense obtained through the paradoxical matching of mate-
211 rial and psychic reality. Both, constantly conjoined, furnish common
1 sense.
2 Consciousness is seen by Freud as a sense organ, which appre-
3 hends psychic qualities. Thus it would not be seen, psycho-analyt-
4 ically speaking, as “sense-less”. And what about feelings? They can
5 be regarded—and Bion effectively regards them as such—as inter-
6 nal sense impressions. We say, “I feel cold”; but we also say “I feel
7 hate”. Bion quotes an example of a person who is entitled to state
8 that a stone can feel heat, for its temperature varies if the external
9 temperature varies too.
30 Do emotional experiences, links, relationships lie outside the
1 range of the sensuous apparatus? Certainly anxiety and depression
2 have no colour or smell, as Bion writes in the Commentary to
3 Second Thoughts and in Attention and Interpretation. But have they
4 any sense? Again, how can we conceive them without the port of
5 entry, the senses?
6 In fact it seems that there are events that are not sensuously
7 apprehensible, at least by the human sensual apparatus. They are
8 dealt with in the entry “ultra-sensuous”. There are many instances
911 when the use of the senses is impossible; how can we get a
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 144


111 commonsensical grasp of a given reality in those cases? For exam-

2 ple, there are instances when there are no mechanical, optical or
3 other inanimate devices that can help, such as telescopes, smoke
4 drums and the like (as Bion says in Attention and Interpretation and
5 A Memoir of the Future).
7 There is nothing new in the criticism of lack of objectivity in
8 psycho-analysis, and I am not proposing to waste time on it . . . in
9 order to convey to the reader an impression of the psycho-analyti-
10 cal experience (which cannot in fact be seen or smelled or heard, for
one is not listening to what the patient thinks he is saying), a
description is given in terms of what can be sensuously experi-
enced. No wonder psycho-analytical interpretations give rise to
5 Although no one doubts the reality of, say anxiety, it cannot be
6 sensuously apprehended. [ST, 132]
8 Our search seems to indicate that the concept of common sense
9 is applicable to psycho-analysis, up to a point. It is relevant to
20 analysis concerning the communication of the patient with himself,
1 with his analyst, of the analyst with the patient, and among ana-
2 lysts. It is relevant as a method that is necessary but not sufficient
3 for apprehending reality.
Common sense and the correct interpretation
7 Common sense being a basic scientific tool to apprehend reality
8 with less error, Bion, at the time that he was interested in neo-posi-
9 tivism, tried to construe commonsensical ways to verify the truth-
311 value of analytic interpretation. He devised the conjunction of three
1 senses, which he named dimensions. From these dimensions the
2 analyst could draw different vertexes: the dimensions of senses, of
3 passion and of myth (EP, 11).
4 Bion seemed to be an intuitive person with an uncanny ability
5 to grasp the messages conveyed by patients who resorted to seem-
6 ingly irrational talk and seemingly minor acting-out. In a paper
7 published posthumously, Bion shows a psycho-analytic application
8 of the concept. He differentiates between a kind of “lost common
911 sense” that characterizes the patient under a superficial view and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 145

C 145

111 another kind of “common sense”, non-rational, which emerges

2 when analysis happens (C, 9).
3 This shows that Bion was prone to make use of the concept of
4 common sense—provided it could be cleansed from its macro-
5 social applications. The latter are put at the service of the group’s
6 well-being. When this occurs, common sense can be mistaken with
711 good sense—the tool of hallucinosis. Good sense is the product of
8 common sense mixed with judgmental values. Good sense relies on
9 logic; it tames wild thoughts. Good sense is seen as the right sense;
10 from there, it proceeds to being the only sense. The “neurological
1 sense” of the word as well as its dual nature is lost.
2 At the end of his life, Bion would leave a clear warning about
3 this alternative:
5 . . . & EPILOGUE
6 . . . FUGUE
8 . . . MANY
211 All my life I have been imprisoned, frustrated, dogged by common-
1 sense, reason, memories, desires and—greatest bug-bear of all—
2 understanding and being understood. This is an attempt to express
3 my rebellion, to say “Good-bye” to all that. It is my wish, I now
realize doomed to failure, to write a book unspoiled by any tincture
of common-sense, reason, etc. (see above). So, although I would
write, “Abandon Hope all ye who expect to find any facts—scien-
tific, aesthetic or religious—in this book”, I cannot claim to have
7 succeeded. All these will, I fear, be seen to have left their traces,
8 vestiges, ghosts hidden within these words; even sanity, like
9 “cheerfulness”, will creep in. However successful my attempt, there
30 would always be the risk that the book “became” acceptable,
1 respectable, honoured and unread. “Why write then?” you may
2 ask. To prevent someone who KNOWS from filling the empty
3 space—but I fear I am being “reasonable”, that great Ape. Wishing
4 you all a Happy Lunacy and a Relativistic Fission . . . [AMF, III, 578]
6 Pepe Romero, the great guitar player, reports a good humoured
7 comment from Joaquin Rodrigo a few months before the
8 composer’s death: “See, Pepito, I will go and you will visit me. We
911 will enjoy a good ‘Puro’ [cigar], looking at all those guitar players
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 146


111 so busy with all this score and fingers stuff . . . we will have good
2 laughter!” (History Channel, 2003).
3 Misuses and misconceptions: There are two frequent confu-
4 sions: to mistake common sense with “good sense” and “common
5 place”. The former confusion was discussed above; common sense,
6 even though it can indicate a shared vision of whatever it is in a
7 group, cannot be mistaken for good sense, which is a socially
8 elected judgmental value.
9 The latter confusion seems to have arisen from the work of an
10 outstanding thinker: Gaston Bachelard. He proposed an ideological
1 view of Kant’s criticism of “naïve realism”: the idea that the
2 universe and facts can be adequately apprehended by the sensual
3 apparatus. That ideology underrated dismissively something that
4 was labelled “British empiricism”. He mistook the concept of
5 common sense with the popular, socially shared view of facts.
6 Bachelard was aware that the popular view is usually based on the
711 sensuously apprehensible appearances of things. That view could
8 be named, “commonplace”. It seems that in dating, “sociologising”
9 and “ideologising” the issue, Bachelard initiated a gross misunder-
20 standing that confused common sense with commonplace.
1 Recommended cross-references: Analytical view, Binocular
2 view, Establishment, Scientific deductive system, Scientific method,
3 Sense of truth, Truth.
Communication: Please refer to the entries, Correlation, Contro-
versy, Realistic Projective Identification.
9 P.A. I do not think we could tolerate our work—painful as it often
311 is for both us and our patients—without compassion. [AMF, III,
1 522]
3 The words compassion and passion (q.v.) are used by Bion in
4 some seminal texts. Nevertheless, they did not attain the status of
5 concepts. Bion uses the word “compassion” in its vernacular, collo-
6 quial sense. It was brought to the consideration of the practising
7 analyst from Bion’s experience with psychosis. It has to do with the
8 limits, limitations and predicaments of the analytic method in the
911 treatment of certain patients, namely, those who harbour excessive
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 147

C 147

111 envy and narcissism, resulting in rivalry and willing abeyance to

2 the “rules of hallucinosis” (q.v.). The rules of hallucinosis are
3 expressed by two tendencies: to be “the top” and to act out instead
4 of thinking:
6 When the presenting problem in analysis is the hallucinations of the
711 patient a crux has been reached. In addition to the problem that the
8 patient is attempting to solve by transformation in hallucinosis is
the secondary problem presented by his method of solution. This
secondary problem appears in analysis as a conflict between the
method employed by the analyst and the method employed by the
1 patient. The conflict can be described as a disagreement on the
2 respective virtues of a transformation in hallucinosis and a trans-
3 formation in psycho-analysis. The disagreement is coloured by the
4 patient’s feeling that the disagreement between patient and analyst
5 is a disagreement between rivals and that is concerns rival methods
6 of approach. When it has been made clear the disagreement still
7 continues but it becomes endo-psychic: the rival methods struggle
8 for supremacy within the patient . . .
9 The “rules” according to which he manipulates these elements are:
211 (i) He needs no analyst because he provides the material for his
1 own cure and knows how to obtain the cure for it . . . (iv) The rela-
2 tionship between the contestants is designed to prove the superior-
3 ity of the patient and hallucinosis over the analyst and
4 psycho-analysis . . . Following those “rules” certain anomalies arise:
5 any benefit achieved as a result of analytic cure is vitiated by its
6 being indistinguishable from “defect” of the analysand. Any
7 victory of the analysand is vitiated by perpetuating the painful
status quo. The painful element is due to the obtrusion of the
analyst—“the analyst’s fault” . . . all his interpretations are psycho-
analytic elements designed to prove the superiority of himself and
psycho-analysis. In so far as he is guilty of (i) his actions as a
1 psycho-analyst are “acting-out”; and of (ii) his actions as a psycho-
2 analyst are acts (as opposed to acting-out) and are expressions of a
3 capacity for compassion. But a capacity for compassion is a source
4 of admiration and therefore envy in an analysand who feels
5 incapable of mature compassion. [T, 142–3]
7 It must be emphasized that the analysand feels incapable of
8 mature compassion. As Bion pointed out often (just as Freud and
911 Klein did), feelings may or may not be realistic. To mistake “to feel”
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 148


111 with “to be” seems to be a persistent habit in the psycho-analytic

2 movement. It is especially remarkable when the professional faces
3 persons who floridly display florid manifestations of florid feelings.
4 Is it a kind of “witchcraft apprenticeship” that precludes going
5 more than skin deep? Which means, precludes the adoption of the
6 psycho-analytic vertex. Even though “to feel” may be employed to
7 denote a kind of intuitive hunch, I propose to leave narrow its
8 semantic field in psycho-analysis in the sense Freud, Klein and Bion
9 used it.
10 Feelings, through their links with hallucination, are more often
1 than not unrealistic. The exercise of a pseudo-compassion may lead
2 to some non-analytic aftermaths: (i) collusion; (ii) reassurance; (iii)
3 despising of the patient’s real potential; (iv) corny pseudo-psycho-
4 analysis; (iv) psycho-babble; (v) false humanity, soft-humanism.
5 The analyst will be entrapped in the same unending circle of a
6 raging nothingness based on created feelings to which the patient
711 was prey.
8 Bion, very early in his work, quotes Freud in his paper
9 “Neurosis and psychosis” (1924). Based on his experience with
20 psychotics, Bion makes a closer scrutiny of the statement, “. . . the
1 . . . ego in the service of the id, withdraws itself from a part of reality”
2 (Freud, quoted by Bion, ST, 45).
3 He proposes “two modifications in Freud’s description”. He does
4 this in order “to bring it into closer relation with the facts. I do not think,
511 at least as touches those patients likely to be met in analytic practice, that
6 the ego is ever wholly withdrawn from reality” (ST, 46), One may argue
7 that Freud—and Bion quotes him—also made allowances for
8 “insufficient knowledge” and warned that he would describe the
9 processes “very cursorily”. Freud also leaves a door open when writing,
311 “parts of reality”. That is, the patient withdraws from parts of reality and
1 does not withdraw from other parts of reality. Even though it is clear that
2 for those parts from which the patient withdraws the withdrawal is
3 complete. What does this mean?
4 It means that Bion had constant touch with, and was constantly
5 monitoring both the more mature and the more primitive aspect of
6 personality. He did not embark on the easy choice of condemning
7 people to illness. Perhaps this is compassion, because it leads to
8 confidence in the hard work to be done and being careful with
911 appearances of cure or appearances of worsening states when there
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 149

C 149

111 is the realization of insanity (ST, 33; T, 8). He had earlier warned
2 against reassuring patients and pointed out the necessity not to be
3 crushed by the patient and his family’s acting-out (ST, 44; T, 8).
4 Later (1965) this view would be the origin of the concept of cata-
5 strophic change (T, chapter 1). And later still (1967), he would speak
6 about detachment, or the necessity to limit confusion between
711 patient and analyst: “The psycho-analyst must be capable of more
8 detachment than others because he cannot be a psycho-analyst and disso-
9 ciate himself from the state of mind he is supposed to analyse” (ST, 146).
10 In any case, a way out from being seduced by ideas of pathol-
1 ogy or total madness is to use an analytical vertex. That is, what is
2 at stake is a relationship between analyst and analysand who seem
3 to be rivals, but the true rivalry is originated by an intrapsychic
4 conflict of rival methods within the analysand’s mind.
6 It follows that it is a matter of difficulty for the analyst to conduct
7 himself in such a manner that his association with the analysand is
8 beneficial to the analysand, The exercise, in the patient’s view, is the
establishment of rivalry, envy and hate over compassion, comple-
mentation and generosity. The crux to which I referred is found in
the character of the co-operation between two people and not in the
problem for which the co-operation is required. The nature of the
2 co-operation may be determined by the disturbances in the person-
3 ality of the patient, but the situation may be presumed to be
4 amenable to psycho-analysis; it differs form the situation produced
5 by the inborn disposition of the patient. If analysis has been
6 successful in restoring the personality of the patient he will approx-
7 imate to being the person he was when his development became
8 compromised. [T, 143]
30 A seminal preparatory paper that depicts how to deal psycho-
1 analytically with the idea of compassion was published post-
2 humously. It illuminates some issues linked with compassion as
3 well as some issues linked to “reported feelings”. This seems to be
4 important in nourishing hallucination and belief, and in the “witch-
5 craft apprenticeship syndrome” that befalls the practising profes-
6 sional who is caught unaware in an environment full of feelings.
7 One risks collusion with the analysand’s feelings instead of
8 analysing them. If real, analysis occurs, it often displays their
911 belonging to the realm of hallucination. Conversely, no compassion
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 150


111 but rather counter-transference and collusion are possible in this

2 context of undetected hallucination. This can be linked to a hidden,
3 unconscious under-estimation by the analyst of the patient’s abili-
4 ties. Disguised as patience, forbearance and “humanity”, a lenient
5 or indulgent activity in fact means lack of compassion.
6 Bion proposes to differentiate compassion as a sense from
7 compassion as an impulse. Even though compassion can be
8 expressed as a feeling, it appertains to the realm of instincts and nature.
9 Bion’s paper is very short from a visual point of view, but it brings
10 forth seminal concepts: among them, the idea of primary narcissism
1 and primary envy and their influence in the outcome of an analy-
2 sis. It seems to have served as a motto to his whole work thereafter.
3 Compassion and Truth
1. Compassion and truth are both senses of man.
2. Compassion is a feeling that he needs to express; it is an
impulse he must experience in his feelings for others.
711 3. Compassion is likewise something that he needs to feel in the
8 attitude of others towards him.
9 6. Truth and compassion are also qualities pertaining to the rela-
20 tionship that a man establishes with people and things.
1 7. A man may feel he lacks a capacity for love.
2 8. A man may lack capacity for love.
3 10. He may in fact lack such a capacity.
4 11. The lack may be primary or secondary, and may diminish
truth and love, or both.
12. Primary lack is inborn and cannot be remedied, yet some of
the consequences may be modified analytically.
7 13. Secondary lack may be due to fear or hate or envy or love.
8 Even love can inhibit love. [C, 125]
311 A serious clinical situation is that of rivalry aroused by a
1 compassionate analyst. In those cases the focus must not be the
problem presented as content. Conversely, the sadistic professional
uses the truth he observes but has little respect for truth; he creates
unnecessary suffering (e.g., guilt) in the analysand; the high-brow
or intellectualized analyst acts to impinge feelings into the patient
as if he was an ad-man. In all there is a definite lack of compassion.
Summing up:
8 (i) Compassion must not be mistaken with feelings and much less
911 with overt demonstrations of them.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 151

C 151

111 (ii) Compassion is an innate ability bound to ignite aspects of envy

2 and greed. This is a built-in paradox of psycho-analytic prac-
3 tice and entails real dangers to the honest and gifted profes-
4 sional.
711 Concept: In “A theory of thinking” (1961), Bion establishes a theory
8 about the genetic development of thought processes. This theory
9 would be expanded clinically and detailed in Elements of Psycho-
10 Analysis (1963). The basic tenets would remain unchanged. Bion
1 classifies thoughts according to the “nature of their developmental
2 history”: pre-conceptions, conceptions (which in that paper are
3 synonymous with thoughts) and concepts.
4 In 1961 he defined concepts as “fixed conceptions or thoughts”.
5 And why are concepts fixed? Because they were “named”. Bion
6 would soon change this somewhat loose and imprecise definition.
7 It was replaced by the view that even concepts can be unsaturated.
8 It was later to be amended by the idea that they must be unsatu-
9 rated, in order to avoid ideas of having attained absolute truth. But
211 the concept of “O” and a broader use of Plato and Kant’s formula-
1 tions were still in the future.
2 The concept of saturation (q.v.) and lack of it were already
3 implicit in the concepts of pre-conception and conception, to the
4 extent that they were dependent on frustration and tolerance of it.
Concepts and science
8 In 1963 he would assign an important, if perhaps overlooked, func-
9 tion to concepts: “The concept is derived from the conception by a process
30 designed to render it free from those elements that would unfit it to be a
1 tool in the elucidation or expression of truth” (EP, 24). In other words,
2 the concept belongs to the realm of scientific formulations. Oedipus
3 as well as e=mc2 may qualify as concepts.
4 Concepts can be used as compounds of a scientific deductive
5 system. It “means a combination of concepts in hypotheses and systems
6 of hypothesis so that they are logically related to each other. The logical
7 relation of one concept with another and of one hypothesis with another
8 enhances the meaning of each concept and hypothesis thus linked and
911 expresses a meaning that the concepts and hypotheses and links do not
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 152


111 individually possess . . . the meaning of the whole may be said to be greater
2 than the meaning of the sum of the parts” (EP, 24).
3 This is conveyed with another concept, that of saturation. Bion
4 again changes his former definition of concepts as fixed thoughts:
5 “A capacity for negative growth is needed partly to revivify a formulation
6 that has lost meaning. . . . perhaps most important of all to achieve naiveté
7 of outlook when a problem is so overlaid by experience that its outlines
8 have become blurred and possible solutions obscure” (EP, 85–86).
9 The A–H axis of the Grid depicts the evolution that character-
10 izes the formation of a concept. It is the genetic axis, which involves
1 growth that depends on particularization, generalization, and
2 successive saturation. The cycle renews itself after a concept is
3 created: a concept can be used as a new pre-conception, in a
4 renewed cycle. Later he would call these cycles, “transformations”.
5 The pre-conception was given the formula of a constant () that
6 combines itself with an unsaturated element ().
711 Suggested cross-references: Pre-conception, Conception.
9 Conception: Because of inborn pre-conceptions the baby searches
20 and eventually finds realizations in the outer world. This finding is
1 essential to survival. When a pre-conception finds a realization, a
2 conception is born. Conception is the outcome of a mating between
3 a pre-conception and its realization.
511  In “A theory of thinking” (1961), Bion published a compacted,
6 completely summarized version of a lengthy series of observations
7 and their elaboration stemming from his experience with patients
8 suffering from severe disturbances of cognitive and thought pro-
9 cesses. This experience spanned from the late forties to the early
311 sixties. Part of it, from the late fifties, was published in 1992 by his
1 dedicated wife Francesca, in Cogitations. It comprises the clinical
2 papers and his attempts to correlate the psychotic’s tribulations in
3 dealing with reality with the philosopher’s vicissitudes when he
4 tackled the same task.
5 The final summary that Bion achieved to convey his elaboration
6 in the form of a short paper (“A theory of thinking”) is seemingly
7 theoretical. Nevertheless it is embedded with the clinical ethos. Its
8 clinical usefulness is recognizable to the reader with analytical
911 experience. Its philosophical bearings are to be found in the work
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 153

C 153

111 of Plato, Hume and Kant. Through living experiences with people
2 who could not form concepts, Bion gave a practical application to
3 that which was hitherto known as a philosophical problem.
4 The Kantian concept that Bion uses is that of “pre-conceptions”
5 (q.v.). It corresponds to a priori knowledge quite independent of
6 pure reason or dogma. The human being seems to be endowed with
711 inborn notions that Kant proposed to call, “a priori”. Bion hypoth-
8 esizes that due to inborn pre-conceptions the baby searches and
9 eventually finds realizations in the outer world. This finding is
10 essential to survival. When a pre-conception finds a realization, a
1 conception is born.
3 The conception is initiated by the conjunction of a pre-conception
4 with a realization . . . When the pre-conception is brought into
5 contact with a realization that approximates to it, the mental
outcome is a conception. Put in another way, the pre-conception
(the inborn expectation of a breast, the a priori knowledge of a
breast, the “empty thought’) when the infant is brought into contact
8 with the breast itself, mates with awareness of the realization and
9 is synchronous with the development of a conception . . . Con-
211 ceptions therefore will be expected to be constantly conjoined with
1 an emotional experience of satisfaction. [ST, 111]
3 Satisfaction: fulfilling?
The issue of “satisfaction” seems to demand consideration in the
light of the totality of Bion’s work. “Emotional experience” was
then a fumbling concept; even in 1965 Bion still warned about the
impossibility that he felt to define with more precision emotions,
affects, and emotional experiences. Even though his research
enabled us to do this, the concept must be seen in the context of his
time. This context demands a sharp differentiation between feelings
of satisfaction and real satisfaction.
3 Conceptions, that is to say the outcome of a mating between a pre-
4 conception and its realization, repeat in a more complex form the
5 history of pre-conception. A conception does not necessarily meet
6 a realization that approximates sufficiently closely to satisfy. If frus-
7 tration can be tolerated the mating of conception and realizations
8 whether negative or positive initiates procedures necessary to
911 learning by experience. [ST, 113]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 154


111 Bion’s growing perception of the importance of the “No”

2 stemmed from his experience with people who seemed to be unable
3 to tolerate this “No”. “No” may be regarded as shorthand for frus-
4 tration. Two years later, when devising the Grid (q.v.) the definition
5 of conception was enriched by findings previously unavailable such
6 as the psycho-analytical object (q.v.) and the issue of saturation.
7 Therefore the concept was modified accordingly; it may be regarded
8 “as a variable that has been replaced by a constant. If we represent the pre-
9 conception by () with () as the unsaturated element, then from the real-
10 ization with which the pre-conception mates there is derived that which
1 replaces () by a constant. The conception can however then be employed as
2 a pre-conception in that it can express an expectation” (EP, 24).
3 The emphasis in the cycle of pre-conceptions and their way to
4 conceptions was now seen not exactly as illuminating the whole
5 process of thinking, but rather as a part of it: the “genetic” part of
6 it. The processes seemed much more complex due to Bion’s accep-
711 tance (at the beginning, a bit critical and perhaps reluctantly) of
8 Freud’s proposal of consciousness as the sense organ for the percep-
9 tion of psychic quality. He integrated the models of Kant into those
20 of Freud.
1 From then on, the Grid (q.v.), or “Idea” as he called it, the whole
2 process, the genetics of thinking, was enriched by Sylvester and
3 Cayley’s concept of transformations and invariances. The satura-
4 tion of a conception and its use as a new pre-conception would be
511 used in broader terms: cycles of transformations (q.v.) Immobilizing
6 in conceptions is a manifestation of death instincts; it is the refusal
7 to go further into PS. PS shelters experiences of disarray, disorder,
8 persecution, fear, helplessness. In brief, the human condition.
9 The conception lies within the conscious (secondary process)
311 domain. Bion’s latest view on it can be gauged by examples such as:
All of us are intolerant of the unknown and strive instantaneously
to feel it explicable, familiar—as “explosion” is to you and me. The
3 event itself is suspect because it is explicable in terms of physics,
4 chemistry, psycho-analysis, and other pre-conceived experience.
5 The “conception” is an event which has become “conceivable”; the
6 “conceivable” it has become is no longer the genetic experience.
7 Pre-conception, conception, birth—what a shock it must have been
8 to know that a woman has a baby! How absurd to suppose that it
911 could have any connection with sexual intercourse! I have found
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 155

C 155

111 those who think it ridiculous that a woman could initiate an idea or
2 have a thought worthy of consideration. [AMF, II, 382]
4 Bion posited the existence of two innate pre-conceptions and
5 therefore, conceptions: that of the breast and that of Oedipus:
I postulate an -element version of a private Oedipus myth which
is the means, the pre-conception, by virtue of which the infant is
able to establish contact with the parents as they exist in the world
of reality. The mating of this -element Oedipal pre-conception
10 with the realization of the actual parents gives rise to the concep-
1 tion of parents. [EP, 93]
3 Misuses and misunderstandings: Bion’s writing requires care-
4 ful scrutiny; the emphasis is in the awareness of realization rather
5 than in an alleged whole satisfaction of the pre-conception. In terms
6 of the evolution of Bion’s theory, it may be useful to be reminded
7 that during this epoch he was—from clinical experience—paving
8 the way to grasp the movement between conscious and uncon-
9 scious (c.f. contact barrier). This point—awareness, perception of
211 reality and its vicissitudes—is fundamental. If it is not taken into
1 consideration it will give a distorted reading of Bion’s contribution.
2 Is the distortion of leaving aside the issue of awareness of a
3 given reality—the term that Bion used is “realization”—a repro-
4 duction of an earlier distortion of Freud’s theory from which these
5 contributions of Bion originated? Perhaps the problem is the idea
6 of satisfaction. Is there any realization that approximates to it? Or is
7 it a word that just expresses a hallucination? Many readers think
8 that the whole issue is to satisfy the pre-conception. Bion’s text indi-
9 cates an utterly different situation. When an “awareness of realiza-
30 tion” occurs, there also occurs—”synchronous”—the “development of
1 a conception”.
2 There is a catch here. The following phrase associates concep-
3 tions with an expectation (namely, of “an emotional experience of satis-
4 faction”) in a constant conjunction. One may fail to grasp that Bion
5 writes about conscious feelings, about a constant conjunction in the
6 strictest Humean sense; and finally, about “an emotional experience of
7 satisfaction” that differs fundamentally from factual fulfilment.
8 Many readings transform Bion’s observation as if it depicted the
911 actual fulfilment.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 156


111 The rationale underlying this is a kind of reading and appre-

2 hension of psycho-analysis that displays many a reader’s ideology
3 or Weltanschauung. What is at stake is the very old human alle-
4 giance to the pleasure/displeasure principle. Freud’s concept of
5 instincts and the act of looking for their satisfaction seems to be one
6 of the first distortions of this kind that was made. The goals of
7 instincts have been persistently mistaken for a search for fulfilment
8 of desire. The philosophically informed reader would be trained to
9 avoid this pitfall; Hume’s constant conjunction meets a psycho-logi-
10 cal need of the observer.
1 Imprecision There are exceedingly few places where one is able
2 to spot any lack of precision in Bion’s writings. Up to now this
3 writer has been able to spot just four. One of them is with the defi-
4 nition of conception. All definitions are given precisely and are
5 used in the same sense throughout his work. Nevertheless, one may
6 see that in Learning from Experience, page 91, one of the imprecise
711 formulations occurs. There Bion states that the conception is “that
8 which results when a pre-conception mates with the appropriate sense
9 impressions”. At this point he was just defining container and
20 contained (q.v.) and it seems that the concept of realization is
1 confused here with the concept of sense impressions. Sense impres-
2 sions are a most primitive form that harbour realizations, but they
3 are not realizations.
4 Also, sense impressions are the raw data used to form alpha-
511 elements, after the digestion of sense impressions by alpha-func-
6 tion. The reader may realize the confusion if he compares this
7 specific definition with both earlier and latest parts of Bion’s work.
8 In all of them he uses the same basic definition, that dates from 1963
9 (reproduced above) and 1965 (see page 40 of Transformations). It
311 seems safe to consider that:
2 1) This definition is not used anywhere else in his work.
3 2) It does not fit precisely either into the concept of alpha func-
4 tion or into the theory of the genetic evolution of thinking. In
5 the first case, alpha function refers to taking in of the sense
6 impressions and in the second, there’s a string of events,
7 namely, pre-conceptions mating with realizations rather than
8 with sense impressions, as this phrase states, leading to
911 conceptions.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 157

C 157

111 One may well leave it aside and adopt the one that is consis-
2 tently repeated throughout his earlier and later writings.
3 Suggested Cross-references: Catastrophic change, Concepts,
4 Container/contained, Controversy, Myth, Pre-conceptions; Psycho-
5 analytical objects; Reverie; Transformations.
711 Confrontation: Intrapsychically and in the relationships one main-
8 tains with other people, how can we cope with different views
9 without turning them into conflict but into respect for the differ-
10 ences involved? Biologically this expresses itself in the reality
1 of sexual reproduction, male and female. Oedipus, newness,
2 unknown and the prevalence of life are one possible outcome. Dis-
3 ruption, impossibility of marriages and extinction of life are their
4 contrapuntal matching pairs, which marks another possible
5 outcome.
6 Confrontation may mean, “vis-à-vis”, to be in front of whatever
7 it be. Socrates’ maieutics and Kant’s criticism seem to be earlier
8 manifestations of confrontation; psycho-analysis one of its later
9 forms. Manifest and latent contents, the two principles of mental
211 functioning, PS and D seem to be basic formulations of this basic
1 confrontation. The analysand confronts the analyst with that which
2 is unknown to both; the analyst confronts the patient with that
3 which the patient had himself turned into unknown to him.
4 Is it true to state that confrontation, in the sense of a difference
5 of vertexes, is the stuff that real analysis (q.v.) and real life is made
6 of? The difference must be tolerated; false compliance or war are
7 signs of intolerance to it. For the insecure or seductive professional,
8 confrontation is ever seen as the mark of rude conflict and is
9 actively avoided. No search for truth is possible in this case.
. . . there must be a difference of vertex to make correlation possi-
ble. It must ultimately take place in the individual. (For the moment
2 I assume that correlation is a necessary part of confrontation and
3 that confrontation is a necessary part of analysis). Schizophrenic
4 defences are mobilized against confrontation: violence makes
5 confrontation impossible because both sides of a confrontation are
6 annihilated. [AI, 93]
8 One may remember that there is no growth without a contrary
911 force.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 158


111 Suggested cross-reference: Controversy.

3 Constant conjunction: A term that Bion borrows from Hume, with
4 no modification. Hume observed that some facts can be observed
5 as constantly conjoined, but this conjunction may have no counter-
6 part in reality. There are flaws in observation, especially when the
7 constant conjunction or association is seen as having causal effects.
8 He states that the constant conjunction is drawn from the
9 observer’s psychological necessity, convenience or belief.
10 Kant felt that Hume’s observation is the scandal of philosophy.
1 At first he attacked his forebear but in due time (in the “Prolego-
2 mena”) he stated that he owed his greatest moves to Hume. Bion
3 stated that reason is the slave of passion, and therefore reason is
4 psycho-logically necessary (T, 73). This also corresponds to Hume’s
5 awareness, perhaps the first in Western philosophy since Plato, that
6 the observer interferes with the object observed.
8 Contact barrier: An active and living filter that regulates the rela-
9 tionship between the conscious and unconscious. It both links and
20 separates the conscious and the unconscious.
1  More often than not the work of Bion comes from the work
2 of Freud. Here he uses a term that Freud coined in the Project.
3 The psycho-analytic establishment usually regards this term as
4 exclusively mirroring Freud’s foresight about the neuronal
511 synapses. It is a way to use Freud’s contribution with an emphasis
6 on material reality. Bion does not follow this lead from the psycho-
7 analytic establishment. Without detracting from it he uses the same
8 term as a model for describing the relationship between the
9 conscious and unconscious.
311 In studying patients with severe disorders of thought, he real-
1 ized a weakness in Freud’s theory of consciousness for dealing with
2 those patients. Freud’s theory of consciousness states that the
3 unconscious precedes the conscious, in terms of succession in time.
4 Bion observes in psychosis an intermingling of unconscious
5 with conscious, suggesting that they function simultaneously on
6 psychotic levels (please see the entry, Beta-screen). This is the first
7 weakness that Bion sees in Freud’s theory. It is important to state,
8 as Bion states explicitly, that weakness does not imply falsity. Bion
911 does state that Freud’s theory is true, not false. [LE, 54]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 159

C 159

111 Also, Freud’s theory of consciousness as the sense organ of

2 psychic quality seems to make no allowances for registers of
3 psychic quality that are not “impartial” (LE, 54). Thus terms such as
4 primary and secondary processes would be unsatisfactory. Bion’s
5 proposal of a contact-barrier allows for simultaneity of both—
6 conscious and unconscious, primary and secondary with no
711 primacy at all.
8 Those patients have an inability to dream and therefore an
9 inability to sleep or wake, to be either conscious or unconscious.
10 Therefore, one may see that Bion was taking Freud’s theory of
1 unconscious and of conscious to its extreme. The timelessness of the
2 unconscious is at stake in Freud and is rescued in Bion’s theory. Was
3 Bion “out-Freuding” Freud?
4 There would be no time succession between conscious and
5 unconscious, but a kind of filter that allows a movement to and fro
6 between the two instances. This filter is called “contact barrier”. It
7 is a paradoxical concept, as it both links and separates. Therefore
8 one may say that we deal with a monistic unit [conscious and
9 unconscious]. Or, in other words, the concept of contact barrier
211 makes clear that the situation is simultaneously conscious with
1 unconscious and conscious separated from the unconscious. This
2 concept may be considered as an ancestor of that of caesura (q.v.)
3 “The term contact-barrier emphasizes the establishment of contact
4 between conscious and unconscious and the selective passage of elements
5 from one to the other. On the nature of the contact-barrier will depend the
6 change of elements from conscious to unconscious and vice-versa” (LE,
7 17). The concept of contact barrier is part of the theory of alpha-
8 function, in which “the powers of censorship and resistance are essential
9 to differentiation of conscious and unconscious and help to maintain the
30 discrimination between the two” (LE, 16).
1 After examining the function of the dream, helping to “explain
2 the tenacity with which the dream, as represented in classical theory,
3 defends itself against the attempt to make the unconscious conscious” (LE,
4 16), Bion transfers what he said about the “establishment of conscious
5 and unconscious and a barrier between them a supposed entity” that he
6 designates, a “contact barrier”.
8 A man talking to a friend converts the sense impressions of his
911 emotional experience into alpha-elements, thus becoming capable
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 160


111 of dream thoughts and therefore of undisturbed consciousness of

2 the facts whether the facts are the events in which he participates
3 or his feelings about these events or both. He is able to remain
4 “asleep” or unconscious of certain elements that cannot penetrate
the barrier presented by his “dream”. Thanks to the “dream” he can
continue uninterruptedly to be awake, that is, awake to the fact that
he is talking to a friend, but asleep to elements which, if they could
penetrate the barrier of his “dreams”, would lead to domination of
8 his mind by what are ordinarily unconscious ideas and emotions.
10 The dream makes a barrier against mental phenomena which might
overwhelm the patient’s awareness that he is talking to a friend,
and, at the same time, makes it impossible for awareness that he is
talking to a friend to overwhelm his phantasies . . . the ability to
“dream” preserves the personality from what is virtually a
4 psychotic state. [LE, 15, 16]
6 The contact-barrier “is made” of “alpha-elements”. Therefore
711 the soundness of “alpha-function” (q.v.) is seminal in the formation
8 of the contact-barrier. It “may be expected to manifest itself clinically—
9 if indeed it is manifest at all—as something that resembles dream. As we
20 have seen the contact barrier permits a relationship and preservation of
1 belief in is as an event in actuality, subject to the laws of nature, without
2 having that view submerged by emotions and phantasies originating endo-
3 psychically. Reciprocally it preserves emotions with endo-psychic origin
4 from being overwhelmed by the realistic view. The contact barrier is there-
511 fore responsible for the preservation of the distinction between conscious
6 and unconscious and for its inception. The unconscious is thus preserved”
7 (LE, 26–7).
8 Suggested cross-references: Alpha-function, Alpha-elements,
9 Beta-elements and Beta-screen, Dream the session.
1 Container/contained: This double term contains a paradox: some-
2 thing that contains and something that is contained perform the
3 functions of containing, and being contained vis-à-vis each other.
4 It is derived from Melanie Klein’s theory of projective identifi-
5 cation and maintains a close kinship with it. It defines both a func-
6 tion of the personality and an “element of psycho-analysis” (q.v.). It
7 is a form of relationship from the inception of life that allows
8 emotional growth and growth of thinking processes. It is the
911 process through which accrual of meaning is obtained; therefore
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 161

C 161

111 container/contained is equated to thinking itself. It represents the

2 most developed form of Bion’s theory of thinking, which took
3 approximately nine years to achieve. The deepest and most secret
4 mysteries of human life are explored within this theory.
Emotions and thought processes
8 For many years there was a loosely-stated relationship between
9 emotional and intellectual growth. Freud, Klein and Winnicott
10 made it clear that this relationship did exist. Spitz and Bowlby
1 began to display the proofs of this relationship, in specific “priva-
2 tion settings”. Montessori’s methods as well the Summerhill experi-
3 ment were early attempts to give a practical form to it. It may be
4 thought that among pre-psycho-analytic contributions Rudolf
5 Steiner’s ideas and Piaget’s studies were also some forms that
6 expressed awareness of this link. Bion’s theory furnished insight
7 about how this relationship functions at its inception. Emotional and
8 intellectual growth are put into terms of the relationship between
9 the infant and the breast in its most minute features. It does not
211 state the relationship as a matter of principle, postulate or imagi-
1 nary construct of an authority.
5 Container/contained forms a theory of psycho-analysis, one of the
6 few that Bion formulated. It is “the essential feature of Melanie Klein’s
7 conception of projective identification” (EP, 3). Bion, together but inde-
8 pendently from Rosenfeld, had earlier observed the communicative
9 function of projective identification. Now he displayed another
30 function of this mechanism—relating growth and learning. Bion
1 uses a quasi-mathematical symbol derived from genetics to denote

2 the evolving relationship between container and contained: O

+ O
3 “Growing O + O provides the basis of an apparatus for learning from expe-
4 rience” (LE, 92).
5  Bion began to work with the idea of a container, developing
6 from Klein’s observations about the result of processes of denial,
7 splitting and projective identification. It seems, as he indicates later,
8 that his experiences in war also provided him with an experien-
911 tial background that gave sense to Klein’s observations; more
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 162


111 specifically, the idea of a warring army containing the enemies. As

2 late as 1970 he would use the metaphor in the clinical depiction of
3 the container and containment: “. . . a man speaking of an emotional
4 experience in which he was closely involved began to stammer badly as the
5 memory became increasingly vivid to him. The aspects of the model that
6 are significant are these: the man was trying to contain his experience in
7 a form of words; he was trying to contain himself, as one sometimes says
8 of someone about to lose control of himself; he was trying to ‘contain’ his
9 emotions within a form of words, as one might speak of a general attempt-
10 ing to ‘contain’ enemy forces within a given zone” (AI, 94).
1 This first use of the term dates from 1955–56, in “Development
2 of schizophrenic thought” and “Differentiation between the
3 psychotic and non-psychotic personality”. It deals with the fact that
4 expelled fragments of personality exert a function of containment.
5 The patient feels he is able to expel parts of his ego that were
6 attacked. Why were they attacked? Because they “would make him
711 aware of the reality he hates” (ST, 47)—the reality of his fear, pain, and
8 sadism; also, the pain that the human condition inflicts on infantile
9 omnipotence. He feels that those fragments are spread around him,
20 put into objects or people. To put this into terms of hate towards
1 reality, so clearly expressed, means that Klein’s illumination about
2 projective identification received an emphasis from Bion: the epis-
3 temological aspect.
4 The “patient experiences a failure in his capacity for perception. All his
511 sense impressions appear to have suffered mutilation of a kind which would
6 be appropriate had they been attacked as the breast is felt to be attacked in
7 the sadistic phantasies of the infant. The patient feels imprisoned in the
8 state of mind he has achieved and unable to escape from it because he feels
9 he lacks the apparatus of awareness of reality, which is both the key to
311 escape and the freedom itself to which he would escape. This sense of
imprisonment is intensified by the menacing presence of the expelled frag-
ments within whose planetary movements he is contained . . .
4 In the patient’s phantasy the expelled particles of ego lead to an
5 independent and uncontrolled existence outside the personality,
6 but either containing or contained by external objects, where they
7 exercise their functions as if the ordeal to which they have been
8 subjected has served only to increase their number and to provoke
911 their hostility to the psyche that ejected them. [ST, 39]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 163

C 163

111 Therefore something exists that is felt as meriting to be expelled

2 as undesirable, hostile, potentially annihilating. It would later be
3 named, in Transformations, “nameless dread”, and in A Memoir of the
4 Future, “sub-thalamic fear”. This “something” struggles to find an
5 adequate container. But this something is mind itself, full of fear
6 and hostility. At this point in Bion’s work, it is already clear that
711 such a containment should be made originally by the breast in the
8 sense that it can either refuse or agree to receive those phantasies.
9 The refusal heightens the predicament. As often happens with
10 psycho-analysis, those findings were first seen in severely disturbed
1 patients. Later it was realized that those phenomena emerge in any
2 person; they are typical of the newborn, and encircle its relationship
3 with the breast.
4 The lack of capacity to contain those fragments of ego jeopardize
5 at the outset all the features of the personality “which should one day
6 provide the foundation for intuitive understanding of himself and others”
7 (ST, 47). Bion furthers the description. It is not just some unwanted
8 parts of the ego that are expelled, but also those functions of the ego
9 that provide contact with reality. Namely, consciousness of sense
211 impressions, attention, memory, judgement, thought. They “have
1 brought against them, in such inchoate forms as they may possess at the
2 outset of life, the sadistic splitting eviscerating attacks that lead to their
3 being minutely fragmented and then expelled from the personality to pene-
4 trate, or encyst, the objects” (ST, 47).
5 Bion would make the definition more explicit some years later
6 (1962), in Learning from Experience. The concept of container and
7 contained is now given as a new theory in psycho-analysis. This is
8 a remarkable difference if compared with most of Bion’s contribu-
9 tions to psycho-analysis. He uses his earlier clinical findings,
30 amended by an important aspect, namely, that of “saturation”. This
1 amendment seems to allow him to see that those issues encompass
2 something beyond pathology.
3 In scientific terms, Bion has an acute awareness of the nature of
4 theory, that is, of a model (after Kant, who called it “scheme”;
5 Sandler, 1999):
6 5. Melanie Klein has described an aspect of projective identifica-
7 tion concerned with the modification of infantile fears; the infant
8 projects a part of its psyche, namely its bad feelings, into a good
911 breast. Thence in due course they are removed and re-introjected.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 164


111 During their sojourn in the good breast they are felt to have been
2 modified in such a way that the object that is re-introjected has
3 become tolerable to the infant’s psyche.
4 6. From the above theory I shall abstract for use as a model the
5 idea of a container into which an object is projected and the object
6 that can be projected into the container: the latter I shall designate
7 by the term contained. The unsatisfactory nature of both terms
8 points the need for further abstraction.
9 7. Container and contained are susceptible of conjunction and
10 permeation by emotion. Thus conjoined or permeated or both they
1 change in a manner usually described as growth. When disjoined
2 or denuded of emotion they diminish in vitality, that is, approxi-
3 mate to inanimate objects. Both container and contained are models
4 of abstract representations of psycho-analytic realizations. [LE, 90]
6 Bion relies on Klein’s seminal paper from 1946 and refines the
711 study of paranoid–schizoid mechanisms.
8 His next step was to resort to quasi-mathematical symbols. The
9 first attempt was to use well-known symbols drawn from biology:
+ for the abstraction representing the container and
“I shall use the sign O
1 O for the contained” (LE, 90).
2 The borrowing of the symbols hitherto used by the geneticist
3 denotes natural facts that can be depicted verbally: penetration,
4 lodging, insemination, growing and experience. At the same time it
511 divests the situation of the pleasure principle. It conveys the

6 natural, biological nature of the mind. Bion states that O has a
7 power of “penetrability” in “elements O +” (LE, 93).
8 It also brings with it the indication that container and the
9 contained are amenable to being dealt with as functions. As is
311 explained in the entry “functions and factors” of this dictionary, the
1 idea of function presumes that something or someone functions. It
2 is a dynamic activity: “The activity that I have here described as shared

3 by two individuals becomes introjected by the infant so that the O+ O appa-
4 ratus becomes installed in the infant . . . a model is provided by the idea of
5 the infant who explores an object by putting it into his mouth. What talk-
6 ing was originally done by the mother, possibly a rudimentary designatory
7 function, is replaced by the infant’s own baby talk” (LE, 91).
8 The theory of container and contained is part of the theory of
911 alpha-function (q.v.) and had a model in the area of thinking: the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 165

C 165

111 mating of a pre-conception with a realization (that has as its origin,

2 sense impressions) to produce a conception. As stated above, the

3 model is represented by O + O.
4 The container and contained, the mating of pre-conceptions and
5 realizations, in their repetition (LE, 91, item 14) “promotes growth in
6 + O ”. Bion would later assume a “benign operation” of O
O + O (EP, 33).
711 This benign operation is in 1963 seen as an evolution in genetic
8 terms of the lettered axis in the Grid. “The benignity or otherwise of

9 change effected by the mechanism O + O depends on the nature of the
10 dynamic link L, H or K”.
1 The growth is not necessarily “good” or constructive, for there
2 are no judgmental values in analysis. For example, a container/
3 contained link can evolve in the minus sense: “the infant feels fear
4 that it is dying, and projects its feelings of fear into the breast together
5 with envy and hate of the undisturbed breast. Envy precludes a commen-
6 sal relationship. The breast in K would moderate the fear component in the
7 fear of dying that had been projected into it and the infant in due course
8 would re-introject a new tolerable and consequently growth-stimulating
9 part of its personality. In K the breast is felt enviously to remove the good
211 or valuable element in the fear of dying and force the worthless residue
1 back into the infant. The infant who started with a fear he was dying ends
2 up by containing a nameless dread” (LE, 96). The growth of this
3 process is inextricably associated with violence of emotion. Its
4 increased sophistication is conveyed “by saying that the will to live,
5 that is necessary before there can be a fear of dying, is a part of the good-
6 ness that the envious breast has removed” (LE, 97). (To see the defini-
7 tion of “commensal” see below, in “the quality of the link between
8 container and contained”; also, the specific entry, “commensal”.)

9 The possibility of a (O + O ) (minus container contained) is
30 expanded. It possesses a growing morality. There emerges a “super-
1 superego” that asserts the moral superiority of undoing and un-
2 learning and the advantages of “finding fault with everything”. “The
3 most important characteristic is its hatred of any new development in the
4 personality as if the new development were a rival to be destroyed. The
5 emergence therefore of any tendency to search for the truth, to establish
6 contact with reality and in short to be scientific in no matter how rudi-
7 mentary a fashion is met by destructive attacks on the tendency and
8 the reassertion of the ‘moral’ superiority. This implies an assertion of what
911 in sophisticated terms would be called a moral law and a moral system
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 166


111 superior to scientific law and a scientific system” (LE, 98). This is
2 growth, even though it occurs in a reversed form. Socially the issue
3 appears in a peaceful or destructive use of nuclear energy, or
4 consumerism.
5 In fact in some cases it seems that the person feels that his mind
6 is unbearable, especially when there is a defusion of life and death
7 instincts: “The mind is too heavy a load for the sensuous beast to carry. I
8 am the thought without a thinker and the abstract thought which has
9 destroyed its thinker Newtonwise, the container that loves its content to
10 destruction; the content that explodes its possessive container” (AMF, I,
1 38). The reference to Newton was that, according to Lord Keynes
2 and some historians, he lost his sanity when he was on the verge of
3 making new discoveries. He turned to religion and almost killed
4 himself in a mysterious fire. Bion became impressed with this
5 comment, which was recorded in Transformations (T, 156).
6 The perverse growth in the realm of minus is made more
711 explicit when Bion formulates transformations in hallucinosis (q.v.)
8 “The ability of 0 [meaning, zero] to increase thus by parthenogenesis
9 corresponds to the characteristics of greed which is also able to grow and
20 flourish exceedingly by supplying itself with unrestricted supplies of noth-
1 ing” (T, 134). The final result seems to be, “a raging inferno of greedy
2 non-existence”. Bion would expand the issue considerably in many
3 parts of A Memoir of the Future. See for example the entry “Contro-
4 versy” in this dictionary and the first five chapters of vol. I, The
511 Dream, of a swelling experience of nothingness in the false marriage
6 of “Alice” and “Roland”.
7 The annotations of Bion’s copy of Freud’s The Future of an Illu-
8 sion illustrate the issue. It faces truth quite independently of the
9 pain involved in this act: “Too much of the thinking about psycho-analy-
311 sis precludes the possibility of regarding as good a theory that would
1 destroy the individual or the group. Yet there will never be a scientific
2 scrutiny of analytical theories until it includes critical appraisal of a
3 theory that by its very soundness could lead to a destruction of mental
4 stability, e.g., a theory that increased memory and desire to a point where
5 they rendered sanity impossible” (C, 378).
6 An often overlooked observation seems to have been made clear
7 in A Memoir of the Future—see for example chapters 12 and 23 in
8 volume I, also the “liberation” of the character “Rosemary”; also,
911 the “marriage” of the characters “Rosemary” and “Man” in volume
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 167

C 167

111 II chapters 1 to 5. The observation here is that the paranoid–

2 schizoid phenomena are as fundamental to thinking as the depres-
3 sive phenomena are; Bion rescues the analytical posture. He
4 followed Freud’s footsteps concerning the death instincts, life
5 instincts and their fusion and defusion. He did the same with
6 Klein’s elucidation of the paranoid–schizoid and depressive posi-
711 tion; it is an eternal tandem-like movement. At the same time he
8 also integrates Freud and Klein into a unified theory of thinking.
9 This new evaluation of PSD is not a praise of folly (such as many
10 do when they praise the “imaginaire”). Much less would it be a
1 eulogy of D two different forms of denying the advancement into
2 the unknown that this idea represents.

3 In Elements of Psycho-Analysis Bion would propose that O + O
4 qualifies for that which he calls an “element of psycho-analysis”.
5 This implies that it is an elementary particle of the psyche itself. “It
6 is a representation of an element that could be called a dynamic relation-
7 ship between container and contained.” Bion was gradually rescuing
8 the dynamic ethos of Freud’s conception of psycho-analysis. It
9 seems that it was at this time—especially after Melanie Klein’s
211 death—that analysis was becoming progressively static, impris-
1 oned in manipulations of symbols. Theories were subjected to
2 learning by heart; therefore they were applied mechanistically, both
3 as a priori and ad hoc patterns. In consequence they were gradually
4 denuded of their stuff—of life itself.
Learning, thinking and sexuality

8 Still in Elements of Psycho-Analysis, O
+ O his, so to say, “upgraded” to
9 the status of thinking itself, where it concerns construing of mean-
30 ing: “I propose provisionally to represent the apparatus for think-

1 ing by the sign O + O . The material, so to speak, out of which this
2 apparatus is manufactured is I . . . We must now consider I in its

3 + O operation, an operation usually spoken of in ordinary conver-
4 sation as thinking. From the point of view of meaning thinking . . .”
5 (EP, 31). “I” stands for Idea—it is the growth of thinking processes
6 as well as its backward movement and can be “seen” through the
7 Grid.
8 Tolerating doubt and the unknown is the essence of a succession

911 of O+ O in a loosely connected and “perforated” reticulum. (Bion
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 168


111 borrows the concept of reticulum from Elliott Jaques) In other

2 words, thinking is regarded as a thrust into the unknown, rather
3 than a “deposit” of logic and rationality.
4 He proposes a graphic symbol, a mixture of maths and biology,
5 to represent the growing container: O + : “Learning depends on the
6 capacity for O+ to remain integrated and yet lose rigidity” (LE, 93). One
7 may visualize it through some models drawn from its counterparts
8 in external reality. Their concrete aspect may facilitate the appre-
9 hension of O + : a uterus with a growing foetus, a theoretical system
10 that accepts new empirical data. “This is the foundation of the state of
1 mind of the individual who can retain his knowledge and experience and
2 yet be prepared to reconstrue past experiences in a manner that enables
3 him to be receptive of a new idea” (LE, 93).
4 That which commenced primitively as “preconceptions probably
5 related to feeding, breathing and excretion” evolves in growing sophis-
6 tication of tolerated doubt. The very sophisticated systems of
711 hypothesis of science “though hardly recognizable in their origins
8 nevertheless retain the receptive qualities denoted by O + ” (LE, 94). To
9 grow, to think and to learn are at base an evolving experiencing of
20 penetration into the unknown: “Tolerance of doubt and tolerance of a

1 sense of infinity are the essential connective of O n if K is to be possible”
2 (LE, 94)

3 The sexual nature or Oedipal component of O + O is implicit in
4 the usage of the genetic symbol. Anyway, the term “sexual” may
511 impart a sensuous and concretized sense that is alien to the theory
6 (AI, 106). The unification of Freud and Klein in this theory of Bion
7 performs a function in psycho-analysis that is analogous to that the
8 physicists would like to see in a still non-existent theory in their
9 own field—one that would integrate the quantum and relativity
311 theories. Perhaps Bion obtained it because he was not looking for it
1 as the physicists are—clinical facts and experience led naturally to
2 it. The bisexual nature of the human mind is made clear:
I [Idea] develops a capacity for any one of its aspects to assume
indifferently the function O or O
+ to any other one of its aspects O
or O . We must now consider I in its O O

operation, an operation
6 +
usually spoken of in ordinary conversation as thinking. From the
7 point of view of meaning thinking depends on the successful intro-
8 jection of the good breast that is originally responsible for the
911 performance of -function. On this introjection depends the ability
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 169

C 169

111 of any part of I to be O to the other part’s O
+ . . . briefly, explanation
2 may be seen as related to the attitude of one part of the mind to
3 another, and correlation as a comparison of content expressed by
4 one aspect of I to content expressed by another aspect of I. [EP,
5 31–2]
711 That is, the breast may be the container of the baby but the baby
8 is also the container of the breast. In terms of functions, there is no
9 mother-in-abstractio, or a mother-in-itself. The entity “mother”
10 exists because there is a baby that propitiates an environment for
1 “motherness” (Winnicott is the other author who realizes this).
2 Ditto, for a penis and a vagina, for masculinity and femininity as
3 existent in any person irrespective of the biological or sensuous-
4 concrete sex. It can be said that in the same way a PSD exists, a

+ O has in its interior a functioning that is an ever-changing . It

6 can be subsumed as “expulsioningestion” (EP, 42). Some of its
7 realizations can also be stated by models other than the digestive
8 system. “Of these the most suggestive are (1) the respiratory system, with
9 which is linked the olfactory system; (2) the auditory system with which
is linked transformations such as music noise, and (3) the visual
system” (EP, 95).
How can one state that O + O is an “element of psycho-analysis”?
The answer is important clinically. It must be duly weighed in the
analytic session. Some apparently familiar statements display an
unfamiliarity that is the clue to their emotional significance.
“Judgement of the importance or significance of the emotional event
during which such verbalizations appear to be apposite to the emotional

experience depends on the recognition that container and contained, O+ O,
is one of the elements of psycho-analysis. We may then judge whether the
element O + O is central or merely present as a component of a system of
elements that impart meaning to each other by their conjunction.
3 Considering now whether it is necessary to abstract the idea of a
4 container and contained as an element of psycho-analysis I am met with a
5 doubt. Container and contained implies a static condition and this impli-
6 cation is one that must be foreign to our elements; there must be more of
7 the character imparted by the words ‘to contain or to be contained’.
8 ‘Container and contained’ has a meaning suggesting the latent influence
911 of another element in a system of elements” (EP, 7).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 170


111 In Attention and Interpretation Bion furnishes a précis of his theo-

2 ries on thinking, container–contained in terms of their emotional
3 origins:
5 In the primitive phase, which Freud regards as dominated by the
6 pleasure principle and from which he excludes the operation of
7 memory, this last being dependent on the prior development of a
capacity for thought, the prototype of memory appears to reside in
one of the aspects of projective identification. This mechanism,
employed to fulfil the duties of thought until thought takes over,
10 appears as an interchange between mouth and breast and then
1 between introjected mouth and introjected breast. This I regard as
2 reaction between container O

+ and contained O . O
+ seems to be the
3 element which is nearest in this phase to the memory . . .
O evacuates unpleasure in order to get rid of it, to have it trans-
formed into something that is, or feels, pleasurable, for the pleasure
6 of evacuation, for the pleasure of being contained. O
711 + takes in the
evacuations for the same motives. The nature of the relationship
8 needs investigation. O +, which may evacuate or retain, is the proto-
9 type of a forgetful or retentive memory, Pleasure may be retained
20 if possession is the dominant concern; grievance if a store of ammu-
1 nition is the main concern. Evacuation may be forcible as if to
2 convert the evacuated object into a missile; introjection likewise as
3 fulfilment of greed. [AI, 29]
511 Further expansion

7 The theory O + O was expanded in 1970 and 1975. Bion suggested 
8 new possibilities for the nature of the link between O + and O .
9 Hitherto it was described as “commensal”. Now it is seen within a
311 realm that admits more possibilities, thanks to insights into (K).
1 The new possibilities are called parasitic and symbiotic.
2 The whole issue is centred on the possibilities of the container
3 being destroyed by the contained or vice-versa. There are many
4 consequences to the group. Bion resorts again to the concept of
5 “mystic”, as an evolution of his observations that mystics have
6 contact with truth in Transformations. Truth is seen as a potentially
7 explosive container.
8 It seems that Bion relies, as ever, on his clinical experience, but
911 his personal experience of having been subjected to co-option by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 171

C 171

111 the establishment is added. His words seemed prophetic: the estab-
2 lishment was unyielding and after his exclusion it decayed. The soil
3 of England, which was able to contain “mystics” of the calibre of
4 Freud and Klein, expelled local mystics such as Alan Turing, Oscar
5 Wilde and Bion—to its own impoverishment.
6 Even a married couple can be uncreative if “the sexual relationship

711 + O plays such a part that there is no room for any of the other activities
8 in which the married couple might engage” (AI, 107—the same motto
9 was to be expanded in A Memoir of the Future). The dynamic sexual

10 intercourse represented by O + O is the actual analytic session when
1 the unknown is considered and doubt tolerated: “The clue lies in the
2 observation of the fluctuations which make the analyst at one moment O +

3 and the analysand O , and at the next reverse the roles” (AI, 108).
4 The evolving, transient, elusive nature of life itself is the next

5 step in the evolution of the O + O concept, as observable and “live-
6 able” in the analytic session. In order to elicit it Bion resorts to a
7 discrimination of “memory” and “remembering”; it also serves to
8 display in here the flexible and dynamic use of the theory:

211 + or O may represent memory. The container O
O + is filled

1 “memories” derived from sensuous experience . . . The O memory
2 is saturated accordingly. The analyst who comes to a session with
3 an active memory is therefore in no position to make “observa-
tions” of unknown mental phenomena because these are not sensu-
ously apprehended. There is something that has often been called
“remembering” and that is essential to psycho-analytic work; this
must be sharply distinguished from what I have been calling
memory. I want to make a distinction between (1) remembering a
8 dream or having a memory of a dream and (2) the experience of the
9 dream that seems to cohere as if it were a whole, at one moment
30 absent, at the next present. This experience, which I consider to be
1 essential to evolution of the emotional reality of the session, is often
2 called a memory, but it is to be distinguished from the experience
3 of remembering. [AI, 107]
5 The theory of container and contained has some offshoots in
6 groups and in some senses of inclusion and exclusion of the
7 members of a group, as well as the possibility of some of the
8 members of a group that glimpses reality as it is (the “mystics”).
911 More considerations of the theory of the container/contained in
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 172


111 regard to its usefulness in the practice of analysis can be found in

2 the entry, “Real Analysis/Correct Analysis/Correct Interpretation”.
The nature of that which links container with contained
6 The final development of the theory focused on the nature or qual-
7 ity of the link between container and contained. The first one was

8 adumbrated in 1962, “commensal”: “By commensal I mean O and O +
9 are dependent on each other for mutual benefit and without harm to either.
10 In terms of a model the mother derives benefit and achieves mental growth
1 from experience: the infant likewise abstracts benefit and achieves growth”
2 (LE, 91). Eight years later, the definition was presented in a more
3 developed form: “By ‘commensal’ I mean a relationship in which two
4 objects share a third to the advantage of all three” (AI, 95).
5 The hasty reader or the concretized reader may feel a discrep-
6 ancy. It is more apparent than real; the first definition already
711 includes the third, albeit an immaterial one: it is called “mental
8 growth”; it also has a materialness, it is called, “milk”. The later
9 definition is more true to the biological definition as well as more
20 psycho-analytically explicit.
1 To the commensal Bion now adds, from clinical observation,
2 two links: “symbiotic” and “parasitic”. “By ‘symbiotic’ I understand a
3 relationship in which one depends on another to mutual advantage. By
4 ‘parasitic’ I mean to represent a relationship in which one depends on
511 another to produce a third, which is destructive to all three” (AI, 95).
6 In A Memoir of the Future Bion would develop the concept
7 further. Book I deals extensively with many disrupted and non-
8 disrupted containers; at the end of the book, the characters of the
9 book (Myself, Bion, Man, etc.) are put into his earlier theoretical
311 terms of container and contained:
2 MYSELF Terms like “mistress” and “maid”, “husband” and “wife”,
3 are all “sensuously” meaningful and in the domain of sensuous rela-
4 tionships A + B can be meaningful in a macroscopic way. Even rela-
5 tionships which can be mathematically expressed, as the “pure”
mathematician says they are in pure mathematics, become sensuous.
7 BION Is that not saying that the mere fact of being able to formulate
8 the relationship A+B makes it a macroscopic relationship? But does
911 it? Is it more true to say that we are so used to formulate statements
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 173

C 173

111 only when they are macroscopic that we instantaneously assume

2 that what is formulated must, by the fact of formulation, be macro-
3 scopic?
4 MYSELF The converse is thought to be true: that if we cannot
5 formulate it, “it” must be ultra- or infra-sensuous; that concepts that
6 are “empty” and intuitions that are “blind” must lack completion
711 and that the “completion” which is not “complete”, or is “unful-
8 filled”, nevertheless exists. O+ has O , and O has O +. In short, O

9 [apart from] O cannot be stable. It is the function of a discipline, any
10 discipline, to fill or complete; it is the “job” of the link or synapse to
join; it may be apart from a substitute used as a “link”, but no substi-
tute can do what the link does. Addiction in place of “marriage O”
or “divorce O” fails; sooner or later any substitute for the real thing
is bound to fail through instability. [AMF, I, 196]
5 That is, the emphasis is more and more in the “negative” as
6 representing instability; “apart from”, the realm of minus.
7 The container/contained relationship is exemplified, as in 1970
8 (in Attention and Interpretation), through some of its manifestations
9 in the history of scientific ideas:
1 BION . . . If the “universe of discourse” does not facilitate the solu-
2 tion of 3 minus 5, then real numbers are no good, but must be
3 enlarged by “negative numbers”. If the mathematical “field of
4 play” is not suitable for the manipulation of “negative numbers” it
5 has to be extended to provide conditions for “games” with negative
6 numbers. If the world of conscious thought is not suitable for play-
ing “Oedipus Rex” the “universe of discourse” must be enlarged to
include such plays. If serious psycho-analytic discussion cannot
take place in the domain Freud found adequate, it must be
9 enlarged. In fact, Freud enlarged it when he found that he could not
30 believe what his experiences with patients seemed to suggest—that
1 they had been assaulted sexually. He had to entertain the idea that
2 events which had never taken place could have serious conse-
3 quences. [AMF, 1, 176]
5 And finally he proposes a novel symbol for the container/
6 contained that perhaps illustrates more aptly the sequence of the
7 evolving life itself. The reader who followed the attempt to depict
8 the evolution of the concept will see it in a most compacted form
911 now, encompassing the genesis of thought in the movement of Ps
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 174


111 to D and backwards: the realization of cruelty and the menace to

2 life that life itself represents and the ensuing possibility of the
3 inception of processes of thought. The novel symbol depicts
4 Oedipus. It also includes a good deal of humour.

6 MAN . . . God threw these presumptuous objects O + O out of Eden.
7 The Omnipotent opposes the extensions of the human ability to
8 have intercourse. Babel opposed the extensions of power to the
realm of mind. So extensions of plus-K are certain to reveal obsta-
cles if extended to minus-K. The immortality achieved through
reproduction by cell division leads to the mortality achieved by
1 nuclear fission.
3 BION What else?
4 MAN I am not going to do your thinking for you. Sooner or later
5 you will have to pay the price of deciding to think ±; whether, in
6 Freud’s formulation, to interpose “thinking” between impulse and
711 action; or to interpose the two as a substitute for action; or interpose
8 it between the two as a prelude to action.
9 BION Oh, all right—let’s get on with this enthralling and spectacu-
20 lar spectacle.
1 (The darkness deepens. The skull-crushing and sucking object is
2 overwhelmed by depression at the failing supply of nutriment from
3 the dead O

O and the failure to restore it to life. He formulates in
4 +
stone an arti-factual representation, easily seen by Plato to be a
511 lying representation of, a substitute for, pro-creation, a substitute
6 for creation. The lying substitution is transformed into a prelude to
7 action This whirling, swirling chaos to infinite and formless dark-
8 ness becomes luminous and Leonardo da Vinci robs the hair, the
9 brooding waste of waters, of its formless chaos.
311 BION Disgusting! Mawkish! [AMF, I, 160–1]
2 Content of the patient’s communications: This entry is wholly
3 dedicated to commenting on that which may be seen as frequent
4 distortion of Bion’s texts. Some argue that Bion was not interested
5 in the content of dreams and other verbalizations stemming from
6 the patient. The same readers argue that he was not interested in
7 the patient’s life history and in the content of interpretations given.
8 The argument hardly sustains itself if one pays attention to texts
911 that clearly refer to the matter in some parts of his work. Namely,
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 175

C 175

111 those where he is dealing with a theory of observation in psycho-

2 analysis, as different from theories of psycho-analysis. When he
3 recommended a halt in the erection of hundreds of improbable
4 theories of psycho-analysis, and emphasized a need to illuminate
5 “the psyche it betrays” (AMF, I, 112), he was not deprecating existing
6 theories that proved to be useful, such as Oedipus, which may or
711 may not refer to contents.
9 The content of the communication, so important in analysis, will be
10 touched on only incidentally in discussion of transformations; it
1 will depend on O as deduced from the material in the light of the
psycho-analyst’s theoretical pre-conceptions. Thus, if the content is
oedipal material I do not concern myself with this but with the
transformation it has undergone, the stage of growth it reveals, and
4 the use to which its communication is being put. The exclusion of
5 content is artificial, to simplify exposition, and cannot be made in
6 practice. [T, 35]
8 The text is clear in stressing that the shift in emphasis is to
9 purposes of exposition of just a theory—the theory of transforma-
211 tions. The wealth of clinical cases in his books displays an analyst
1 keen on a number of theories that are clearly stated.
3 Controversy: Many entries in this dictionary display Bion’s efforts
4 to contribute to the study of the human being’s struggle to make
5 approximations towards reality (“inner” and “outer”) as it is.
6 The attempts to apprehend reality soon made clear that differ-
7 ent views and conclusions emerged. Like fingerprints, they varied
8 as much as there were individuals. One’s view of reality could
9 differ from another one’s to such an extent that it seemed that
30 the two beings could not be talking about the same thing. In philos-
1 ophy, this became known as the divergences between “subjec-
2 tivists” (also called, “idealists” and “solipsists”) and “realists”. The
3 use of the senses, defended by Aristotle and a long lineage after
4 him, was criticized by Hume, Kant and also a long lineage after
5 them.
6 In Bion’s work, concepts such as common sense, constant
7 conjunction, selected fact, invariances, the numinous realm of “O”,
8 scientific and artistic modes of apprehension of reality, also
911 emerged as contrapuntal challenges to the subjectivist or idealistic
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 176


111 tendency to privilege that may also be labelled as the “fingerprint

2 view”.
3 The “fingerprintians” tend to forget that the reality-O-”finger”
4 is one and the same for any human being; the “fingerprintians”
5 tend to forget that transformations and individuality are ensconced
6 intrinsically in each fingerprint; but the transcendent reality, the
7 quality of to-be-a-fingerprint, is quite independent from the infinite
8 transformations of its outward appearance. The “realists” rely too
9 much on outward appearances, identically to their seeming oppo-
10 nents. These controversies linger on and they are typical of theo-
1 reticians—science itself develops quite undisturbed by the musings
2 of people who have no practical experiences. The fact that both real-
3 ists and idealists rely on outward appearances, and that one
4 defends the mind’s creative and imaginative superiority over facts
5 (recent tendencies, called post-modernist, argue that there is no
6 such a thing as facts) and the other one defends the superiority of
711 external reality as it is apprehensible by the sense apparatus over
8 anything else, displays some paradoxes. Many try to resolve these
9 paradoxes by partisanship. The latter is a main manifestation of
20 controversy.
2 Controversy and judgmental values
4 Bion’s work allows us to state that a psychic factor of controversy
511 is the election of patterns. The pattern seems to be natural, but it is
6 not. It is man-made. It depends on phantasies of superiority. Bion
7 examines the origin of judgmental values in the human mind; he
8 relates it to non-thinking. The issue can be seen as the triumph of
9 paranoia, an abhorrence of reality as it is to the extent that it
311 includes frustration of desire.
1 As early as 1961, he would illuminate this profound psycholog-
2 ical issue:
If intolerance of frustration is not so great as to activate the mecha-
4 nisms of evasion and yet is too great to bear dominance of the real-
5 ity principle, the personality develops omnipotence as a substitute
6 for the mating of the pre-conception, or conception, with the nega-
7 tive realization. This involves the assumption of omniscience as a
8 substitute for learning from experience by aid of thoughts and
911 thinking. There is therefore no psychic activity to discriminate
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 177

C 177

111 between true and false. Omniscience substitutes for the discrimina-
2 tion between true and false a dictatorial affirmation that one thing
3 is morally right and the other wrong. The assumption of omni-
4 science that denies reality ensures that the morality thus engen-
dered is a function of psychosis . . . There is thus potentially a
conflict between assertion of truth and assertion of moral ascen-
dancy. The extremism of the one infects the other. [ST, 114]
In other words, when one loses sight of what true and false are
all about, the lack of this kind of discrimination creates an unbear-
able vacuum. The vacuum itself is abhorred by the personality that
puts fulfilment of desire above all else. This posture fuels a vicious
circle. More hate of reality ensues. Truth seems to be exceedingly
unattainable. Therefore one tries to resort to judgmental values in
order to fill the vacuum.
The achievement of correlation, which would enable the psyche
to tolerate the fact that paradoxes admit no resolution but forbear-
ance, is hampered or precluded. The forbearance is of the very
9 paradox, which excludes omniscience and demands tolerance
211 towards the unknown that would remain as such, or the uncon-
1 scious, id, “O”.
Patients show* that the resolution of a problem appears to present
less difficulty if it can be regarded as belonging to a moral domain;
causation, responsibility and therefore a controlling force (as
5 opposed to helplessness) provide a framework within which
6 omnipotence reigns. In certain circumstances, to be considered
7 later, the scene is thus set for conflict (reflected in controversies
8 such as those on Science and Religion). This situation is portrayed
9 in the Eden and Babel myths. The significance for the individual
30 lies in its part in obstructing the PS ⇔ D interaction. [T, 64–65]
[* Bion’s Footnote: And not only patients. The group is dominated
by morality—I include of course the negative sense that shows as
3 rebellion against morality—and this contributed to the atmosphere
4 of hostility to individual thought on which Freud remarked.]
6 In 1969, Bion would write on controversy:
8 Much psycho-analytic “controversy” is not controversy at all. If
911 listened to for any prolonged period, say a year, but preferably two
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 178


111 or three, a pattern begins to emerge, so much so that I can write a

2 chairman’s address suitable, with the alteration of a phrase or two,
3 for practically any paper by anyone at any time. Thus:
4 “Ladies and Gentleman, we have been listening to a very interest-
5 ing and stimulating paper. I have had the great advantage of being
6 able to read it in advance, and though I cannot say I agree with
7 everything Dr X says” (chiefly because I haven’t the faintest idea
8 what he thinks he is talking about, and I am damned sure he hasn’t
9 either), “I found his presentation extremely—er—stimulating.
10 There are many points that I would like to discuss with him if we
1 had time” (thank God we haven’t) “but I know there are many here
2 who are anxious to speak” (in particular our resident ex-officio
3 permanent bores whom no one has succeeded in silencing yet) “so
I must not take up too much of our time. There is, however, just one
point on which I would like to hear Dr X’s views if he can spare the
time.” (At this point I prepare to give one of the favourite bees
which reside in my own bonnet its periodical airing. It does not
711 matter in the least how irrelevant it may be, or how unlikely Dr X
8 is to have any views whatever on the subject, or how improbable
9 that I would want to hear them if he had—the time has come and
20 out it goes.) “It has often occurred to me” (and only the poor devils
1 in my Society know how often that is) that . . . etc . . . etc. [C, 303]
3 This good-humoured record of reality was supposedly written
4 in Los Angeles with no intention of seeing it published at the time
511 it was laid down on paper. Twenty-three years later seemed to be a
6 less delicate time to have it published, at least in the view of
7 Francesca Bion. It embodies illumination about the fact that contro-
8 versy itself demands to be viewed from a judgement-free vertex. At
9 about the same time of that writing he would write the same thing
311 in other terms, perhaps more palatable to the audience then.
1 “Controversy is the growing point from which development springs . . .”
2 (AI, 55).
3 There is a paradox to be coped with, to the extent that contro-
4 versy seems to be a natural and necessary condition. But the para-
5 dox lingers on; it is necessary but not sufficient. The continuation of
6 the phrase makes it clear:
8 . . . but it must be a genuine confrontation and not an impotent
911 beating of the air by opponents whose differences of view never
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 179

C 179

111 meet. What follows is a contribution to bringing different psycho-

2 analytic views together in agreement or disagreement.
3 Hearing psycho-analytic controversy I have felt that the same
4 configuration was being described and that the apparent differ-
5 ences were more often accidental than intrinsic; different points of
6 view are believed to be significant of membership of a group, not
711 of a scientific experience. Yet everyone knows that what is impor-
8 tant is not the supposed use of a particular theory but whether the
9 theory has been understood properly and whether the application
10 has been sound.
1 It may be objected that to establish this would involve considera-
2 tion of every individual analyst and of the circumstances of every
3 individual interpretation. [AI, 55]
5 Bion suggests a way out: “Even so, many difficulties could be obvi-
6 ated by more precise definition of the point of view (vertex)” (AI, 55).
7 Years earlier, in 1962, he suggested a way to precision. Parts of
8 the controversies were seen as a lack of precision in quoting the
9 great authors. Once he thought that it was important to simplify
211 communication between analysts. He recommended that it was
1 preferable simply to quote a specific page and line of a standard-
2 ized edition of a book instead of quoting theories or resorting to
3 their verbal formulations and labels (LE, 38).
5 PAUL (soliloquizing) Anyone would think psycho-analysts never
6 quarrelled. When the Wars of Psycho-analysis start we shall see
7 something—and no holds barred. Santayana feared the day when
8 the scientific beasts and blackguards would get hold of the world.
9 What made him speak of the English as “sweet boyish masters?”
30 [AMF, II, 273]
2 Manipulations of symbols
4 Perhaps much of the controversy stems from losing sight of the
5 psycho-analytic vertex and ethos. This leads to a disarrayed situa-
6 tion of “one psycho-analysis or many” as Robert Wallerstein once
7 considered. This leads to that which is known in mathematics as
8 formalism, which almost destroyed mathematics at the beginning
911 of the 20th century:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 180


111 SHERLOCK . . . You heard that fellow Bion? Nobody has ever
2 heard of him or of psycho-analysis. He thinks it is real, but that his
3 colleagues are engaged in an activity which is only a more or less
4 ingenious manipulation of symbols . . . There is a failure to under-
stand that any definition must deny a previous truth as well as
carry an unsaturated component. [AMF, I, 92]
8 Invariances and controversy
When Bion devised the application of the theory of transformations
and invariances to psycho-analysis, he observed that “invariances
2 under literacy”, that is, the fact that a reader is alphabetized, does
3 not suffice. He quotes Freud’s example, of being regarded as a
4 writer of romans-à-clef (T, 3). The theory of transformations and
5 invariants seems to offer a different way to deal with controversies.
6 Analysts could realize that much of the controversy stems from
711 a difficulty in realizing that the vertex or point of view influences
8 the possibility or impossibility of realizing which invariance, or
9 underlying pattern, flows “behind” the overt manifestation of
20 whatever it is. Therefore the controversy, scholastic controversy,
1 would be seen as based on tackling differences under the vertex of
2 superiority. That is, a vertex that dictates that one vertex (and its
3 consequent invariance) is superior to another vertex (and its conse-
4 quent invariance): “Kleinian transformation, associated with certain
511 Kleinian theories, would have different invariants from the invariants in
6 a classical Freudian transformation” (T, 5). This statement has a reveal-
7 ing footnote, which bears out the issue: “In practice I should deplore
8 the use of terms such as ‘Kleinian transformation’, or ‘Freudian transfor-
9 mation’. They are used here only to simplify exposition.”
311 There is a difficulty in realizing that a different vertex may fill a
1 gap left by another vertex. A point of view that admits mutual co-
2 operation would replace the point of view of mutual destruction.
3 There are some vertexes that reunite different vertexes. For exam-
4 ple, the vertex of hallucinosis allows one to realize that transference
5 and projective identification cover different ranges of hallucination.
6 That is, projection of a desired state to repeat patterns of infancy in
7 one case and projective identification of unwanted states into other
8 people in the other. This would show that no real controversy exists
911 at all: “Since the invariants would be different so the meaning conveyed
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 181

C 181

111 would be different even if the material transformed (the analytical experi-
2 ence or realization) could be conceived of as being the same in both
3 instances” (T, 5–6).
4 The invariances can be conceived of as “configurations”. Loss of
5 perception of the underlying configuration causes feelings of
6 controversy; this can be seen as the loss of the scientific outlook,
711 which construes general statements that encompass individual
8 cases: “The mathematical problem resembles a psycho-analytic problem in
9 that it is necessary that the solution should have a wide degree of applica-
10 bility and acceptance and so avoid the need to apply different arguments to
1 different cases when the different cases appear to have essentially the same
2 configuration. Any analyst will recognize the confusion that is caused, or
3 at best the sense of dissatisfaction that prevails, when a discussion by
4 members makes it quite clear that the configuration of the case is appre-
5 hended by all, but the arguments formulated in its elucidation vary from
6 member to member and from case to case. It is essential that such a state of
7 affairs should be made unnecessary if progress is to take place” (T, 83).
8 And also: “Most analysts have had the experience of feeling that the
9 description given of characteristics of one particular entity might very well
211 fit with the description of some quite different clinical entity” (EP, 2).
Controversy and ad hoc theorizing
4 The texts quoted above contain perhaps the only point where Bion
5 profits from Popper. This concerns his warnings about ad hoc theo-
6 rizing: “The search must be for formulations that represent the essential
7 similarity of the configurations, recognized by all who deal with them, and
8 thus to make unnecessary the ad hoc nature of so many psycho-analyti-
9 cal theories” (T, 84). The similarity of configuration is the underlying
30 invariance.
1 The abandonment, dismissal or pure lack of the grasping of
2 existing theories seems to contribute to controversy:
In practice, it is undesirable to discard established theories because
they seem to be inadequate to particular contingencies; such a
5 procedure would exacerbate a tendency to the facile elaboration of
6 ad hoc theories at times when it were better to adhere to established
7 discipline. It is therefore advisable to preserve a conservative atti-
8 tude to widely-accepted theories, even when it has became clear
911 that some adjustment needs to be made. [T, 4]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 182


111 But how is one not to discard an already available theory when
2 one cannot grasp it right from the beginning? “The erudite can see
3 that a description is by Freud, or Melanie Klein, but remain blind to the
4 thing described” (AMF, I, 5).
5 This can be seen in the dismissal of Oedipus, the sexuality of
6 children and metapsychology by the psycho-analytic environment
7 of the post-sixties era. Perhaps due to the fact that many are unable
8 to experience it in their own analysis, many among the members of
9 the movement created a controversy about Freud’s work. André
10 Green, who was much respected by Bion, stated that in some parts
1 of the world many institutes of “psycho-analysis” forbade the
2 teaching of Freud’s work. This was not Bion’s attitude, even though
3 he actively made some adjustments to Freud’s theories of the two
4 principles of mental functioning and of dreams: “The advantage of
5 using the Oedipus myth to represent the row C category version is econ-
6 omy and avoidance of a whole series of ad hoc models and theories for
711 different problems that have the same configurations” (T, 96). In the
8 above quoted text on erudition, the paragraph continues: “Freud
9 said infants were sexual; this was denied or reburied. This fate could have
20 befallen the whole of psycho-analysis had there been no one to confer, as
1 Horace said of Homer, immortality” (AMF, I, 5).
2 The issue of dismissal of the most basic discoveries of Freud
3 seems to warrant the question: are there deep-seated roots of
4 controversy?
6 I am the discoverer of and inventor of homo alalu. I and my fellow
7 homines with our opposable thumbs learned how to give birth and
8 life by opposing penis to penis, vulva to vulva, till one of us began
9 to swell up and up till the whole earth and sky was filled with the
311 swelling and the roaring. It was decided that the monster should be
1 destroyed. But some were lying and deceitful and resolved by their
2 lying and deceit to continue their evil practices in secret and
contribute their knowledge of pleasurable feelings to each other by
rubbing. Some resolved to find this secret by learning from the
secretive ones to do likewise, and others resolved likewise to
5 deceive and lie so they could learn who and what they were that
6 did those things so they could kill those who practised and taught
7 these practices, and so confusion grew and it became impossible to
8 tell good from evil. Some learned to talk, but again the same thing
911 happened, for the language was used by some to perfect the arts of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 183

C 183

111 lying and deception and others to increase pleasure, but they could
2 not agree which was which nor which was the sign by which what
3 thing should be known. The monstrous swelling and roaring grew
4 till the world was almost about to come to an end, but then it
ceased. There came peace and quiet and the man was seen to be
holding a deformed “thing”. And he lied and said it came from
inside him. And some said this was so and some said it could not
be so and some sought to destroy the evil thing and some said, “Let
8 us wait and then we shall be able to tell whether it is as they who
9 say it is evil are right, or whether they who say it feels nice are
10 right?” But no one could say because sometimes even those who
1 said it was good admitted it was an evil brat, but they were not
2 constant and the decision became so late that the brat, if it were evil
3 enough, could slay those who came to kill it and so again confusion
4 grew until even the confusion of tongues, even the counsel, was
5 darkened until it covered the earth. And fear made men worship
6 what they did not know and some said—Let us worship it in igno-
rance and fear—and some said—Let us worship it in daylight when
we do not fear—and some said—Let us make ourselves afraid or
we shall not fear—and some worshipped the sun and some the
moon. Some likewise worshipped fear itself and some happiness
211 and joy and light. And again they could not agree. And some
1 worshipped what they made and some worshipped their clever-
2 ness, saying—We are the highest and best of all animals because we
3 are tool-making animals—and some worshipped that part of them-
4 selves which they thought enabled them to make tools, the tools
5 that made tools, but again they could not agree what that part was
6 or how it should be treated. [AMF, I, 41–2]
8 Perhaps to keep controversy fit and ongoing—rather than using
9 it as a starting point or jumping board—one must apply the rules
30 of hallucinosis at work:
I do not believe that what separates scientists is their difference in
theory, I have not always felt “separated” from someone who
differs from me in the theories he holds; that does not seem to me
to afford a standard of measurement by which the gap can be
5 measured. Conversely, I have felt very far separated from some
6 who, apparently, hold the same theories. Therefore, if the “gap” is
7 to be “measured” it will have to be in some domain other than that
8 of theory. The differences in theory are symptoms of differences in
911 vertex and not a measure of the differences. [AI, 86]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 184


111 Suggested cross-references: Transformations in hallucinosis,

2 Vertex.
4 Correct analysis/correct interpretation: Refer to the entry Real
5 Psycho-Analysis.
7 Correlation, relation, relationship: Correlation, the basic linking
8 possibility of the mind, seems to be made between objects, persons,
9 and persons and objects. Goethe called it “elective affinities”. They
10 seem to compose the stuff of that which we do not know what it is,
1 but which we call life.
2 If the primitive particles of ammonia are in fact the birth of life
3 on Earth, they represent a possibility of combination and correla-
4 tion between that which we nowadays call nitrogen and hydrogen.
5 The correlation—NH3—seems to embody one (1)—(N); one (1)—
6 (H), which composes two entities, (2)—N and H which in its turn
711 makes for the third (3), (NH3)—which is none of the former and is
8 both. In psycho-analysis, Oedipus.
9 Correlation embodies an unresolved paradox: the mystery of
20 life. It is manifested by music and mathematics, and by links (q.v.).
1 It seems to allow a commonsensical view of reality as it is and of
2 the sense of truth (q.v.).
3 At first Bion dealt with correlation through his investigation into
4 the issue of communication in its most profound origin, that of the
511 communication between baby and mother, or better, the infant and
6 the breast. He elicited the existence of a primitive form of projective
7 identification that is outside the realm of pathology and normalcy,
8 namely, projective identification as a means of communication
9 between the baby and its mother. He called it “realistic projective
311 identification”.
2 In its origin communication is effected by realistic projective identi-
fication. The primitive infant procedure undergoes various vicissi-
tudes including as we have seen debasement through hypertrophy
of omnipotent phantasy. It may develop, if the relationship with the
5 breast is good, into a capacity for toleration by the self of its own
6 psychic qualities and so pave the way for alpha-function and
7 normal thought. But it does also develop as a part of the social
8 capacity of the individual. This development, of great importance in
911 group dynamics, has received virtually no attention; its absence
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 185

C 185

111 would make even scientific communication impossible. Yet its pres-
2 ence may arouse feelings of persecution in the receptors of the
3 communication. The need to diminish feelings of persecution
4 contributes to the drive to abstraction in the formulation of scientific
communications. The function of the elements of communication,
words and signs, is to convey either by single substantives, or in
verbal groupings, that certain phenomena are constantly conjoined
in the pattern of their relatedness.
9 An important function of communication is to achieve correlation.
10 While communication is still a private function, conceptions,
1 thoughts and their verbalization are necessary to facilitate the
conjunction of one set of sense-data with another. If the conjoined
data harmonize a sense of truth is experienced and it is desirable
that this sense should be given expression in a statement analogous
to a truth-functional-statement. The failure to bring about this
5 conjunction of sense-data, and therefore of a commonsense view
6 induces a mental state of debility in the patient as starvation of
7 truth was somehow analogous to alimentary starvation of truth.
8 The truth of a statement does not imply that there is a realization
9 approximating to the true statement.
We may now consider further the relationship of rudimentary con-
sciousness to psychic quality. The emotions fulfil a similar function
for the psyche to that of the senses in relation to objects in space and
3 time. That is to say the counterpart of commonsense view in private
4 knowledge is the common emotional view: a sense of truth is expe-
5 rienced if the view of an object which is hated can be conjoined to
6 a view of the same object when it is loved and the conjunction con-
7 firms that the object experienced by different emotions is the same
8 object. A correlation is established. [ST, 118–19]
30 This text matters to psycho-analysts, to philosophers and to
1 mankind. It embodies an integration between Plato, Kant, Hegel,
2 Freud and Klein. The text brings a comment that capacity for toler-
3 ation of the self is that which in future works Bion would name as
4 “atonement” (q.v.), to be one who one really is. This demands the
5 inception of the depressive position. It seems that a Hitler-like
6 personality, or an innate prevalence of death instincts, or violent life
7 instincts, means that the beholder of such a tendency cannot toler-
8 ate its own self. Awareness of this paves the way for suicide or
911 homicide. Oedipus-like blindness determined the impossibility of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 186


111 achieving correlation. Auschwitz’s motto (Arbeit machts frei) sub-

2 sumes the resolution of the dilemma through lies and denial.
3 The reader may ask, what is a “truth-functional-statement”? Per-
4 haps its name was first given by Freud: “insight”. The concept of
5 sense of truth implies a total absence of judgmental values, imply-
6 ing emotional maturity, tolerance of paradoxes, diminishing omni-
7 science and omnipotence, taming of envy and greed, forbearance
8 and an enlightened humanity that perhaps marked the birth of
9 psycho-analysis itself with Freud. It perhaps marked the inception
10 of art, science, and humanity of man to man—hundreds and thou-
1 sands of years earlier, together with its counterpart, man’s inhu-
2 manity to man.
3 Correlation would be re-emphasized in Transformations: “The
4 theory of transformations is intended to illuminate a chain of phenomena
5 in which the understanding of one link, or aspect of it, helps in the under-
6 standing of others” (T, 34).
711 Suggested cross-references: Alpha-Function, Atonement,
8 Controversy, Links, O, Sense of Truth, Truth.
9  Sir Isaiah Berlin’s The Sense of Reality.
1 Counter-transference: This term is included in this dictionary
2 solely because of the misunderstanding that encircles its usage in
3 many quarters around the world. Many readers try to enlist Bion’s
4 work (and in some writings, the person “Bion” himself, despite the
511 fact that he has not been alive since 1979) as a supporter of the
6 “counter-transference” movement. This is an undeniably influential
7 movement, sometimes the basis of a kind of “pax romana” among
8 parties who earlier waged true wars. For example, the self-called
9 “annafreudians” and “kleinians/neo-kleinians”, who, after the
311 death of Anna Freud stopped quarrelling and reunited around
1 some ideas. One of them is the idea of counter-transference. It was
2 transformed into a common ground of belief. This movement can
3 be seen as a trend, a fashion or perhaps as a bandwagon in the
4 psycho-analytic movement. Many non-psycho-analytic schools,
5 such as the so-called Jungians, also endorse it. It is outside the scope
6 of this dictionary to study its real nature. It touches delicate politi-
7 cal issues, alien to the realm of psycho-analysis. It is mentioned
8 only to state in the clearest way possible that Bion never was part
911 of this movement, as we shall soon see using his own writing.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 187

C 187

111 The analyst’s state of mind during the session

Bion seems to have been, after Freud and Ferenczi, the author who
left the most remarkable contribution to the scrutiny of the analyst’s
state of mind during the session. His motivation was to improve
the scientific status of psycho-analytic practice. This is also in the
wake of Freud and Ferenczi; his attempts are contemporary with
those of the Menninger brothers, who tackled the issue of trying to
assess a theory of technique, and Theodor Reik.
The attempt is to improve the analyst’s conditions to achieve at
10 least some acquaintance with that which Freud called “personal
1 factor” or “personal equation” (Freud, 1926, 1928). If this is possi-
2 ble at all, the analyst would be enabled to perceive his influences in
3 the phenomena observed—namely, the patient’s state of mind. This
4 is as an ultimately unattainable goal. Nevertheless it may be feasi-
5 ble as a purposive attempt. The conditions worsen when primary
6 narcissism and primary envy prevail.
7 The introduction of the analyst’s analysis was a bold attempt to
8 tackle the issue and have workable results, furnishing minimal
9 conditions to the psycho-analytic endeavour. It is similar to the
211 knowledge of the behaviour of certain particles in the realm of post-
1 Planck and post-Einstein physics. One knows something about
2 them and measures the interference that occurs when unknown
3 particles are exposed to them.
4 Freud was somewhat ahead of the physicists in realizing the
5 interference of the observer on the fact observed. That interference
6 is also known as counter-transference. That is, the analyst’s mistak-
7 ing his patients with relevant figures from his (the analyst’s) past.
8 It can be dealt with, up to a point, exclusively in the analyst’s own
9 analysis. Findings about counter-transference belong to that analy-
30 sis, from the unexpected and the unknown.
1 Counter-transference was defined by Freud. It differs from the
2 conscious attempt to discipline a scrutiny of the analyst’s mind as
3 Bion presented it in his books Elements of Psycho-analysis,
4 Transformations and Attention and Interpretation. The discipline that
5 Bion proposes in those books includes:
7 (i) some tools, such as the Grid (q.v.);
8 (ii) recommendations for attaining a posture, such as a discipline
911 on memory, desire and understanding;
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 188


111 (iii) descriptions of consequences of this posture, such as:

2 ● to be able to “dream the session”,
3 ● to train the intuition analytically,
4 ● to discern the presence of transformations in hallucinosis
5 during the session as a prelude for discriminating the dream
6 from hallucination
7 ● to perform acts of “faith” (q.v.)
8 ● to get a “Language of achievement” (q.v.), which must
9 necessarily be colloquial, in the sense of a colloquialism
10 custom tailored to the listener, the patient,
1 ● an ability to be seen or be called “mad”.
3 All of this, though partially conscious, ought to reach, at least,
4 the unconscious level. This is akin to the musician’s exercises of
5 scales and the sportsman or woman’s off-competition exercises.
6 There is a continuous movement between the analyst’s unconscious
711 and conscious, described as the functioning of the “contact barrier”
8 (q.v.) (in Learning from Experience). It must include an ability to allow
9 a free movement between PS and D and vice versa as well as toler-
20 ance for exercising an interaction between container and contained.
1 These processes of learning from experience and continuous
2 exercising of the analytically trained intuition allow the develop-
3 ment of the self-scrutiny of the analyst’s state of mind. None of this
4 has to do with counter-transference, which is, in a certain sense, a
511 more general and complex issue. The counter-transference refers to
6 the analyst’s personality as a whole. It influences the analyst’s state
7 of mind during the session as it influences it in any instant of his
8 life. But it is not the object of Bion’s study. We shall soon see that
9 counter-transference should be dealt with during the analyst’s
311 analysis.
1 The misunderstanding seems to be linked to the fact that for a
2 few years Bion worked closely with some followers of Paula
3 Heimann. He never explicitly espoused the “counter-transference
4 bandwagon”, as the author proposes to call this formidable move-
5 ment of denial of the analyst’s unconscious. Shades of it can be seen
6 in the first version of Bion’s paper on the language of the schizo-
7 phrenic (then named, “Language and the schizophrenic”), pub-
8 lished as chapter 9 of the book, New Directions in Psycho-analysis.
911 In re-publishing the paper, twelve years later, whole sections of it
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 189

C 189

111 that dealt with counter-transference in the typically heimannian/

2 hackerian way were omitted and modified (especially those of
3 pages 224 and 225). The modifications appear in the newer and
4 definitive version of the same paper, as published twelve years later
5 in Second Thoughts. They leave no doubt about his abandonment
6 of what seems to have been an initial interest in this fashion. Even
711 in 1953 he had reserves about it: “I would not have it thought that I
8 advocate this use of counter-transference as a final solution; rather it is an
9 expedient to which we must resort until something better presents itself”
10 (New Directions in Psycho-analysis, Tavistock Publications, 1955,
1 p. 225). It is explicit in his later writings that for him the “something
2 better” is still the analyst’s analysis.
3 Lest any doubts be left, perhaps Bion’s own words can be used
4 to dissolve them. A useful text starts from the attempt to get near
5 the numinous realm, or as Bion called it, “O”:
7 I . . . postulate that O in any analytic situation is available for trans-
8 formation by analyst and analysand equally.
9 I shall ignore disturbance produced by the analyst’s personality or
211 aspects of it. The existence of such disturbance is well known
1 and its recognition is the basis for analytic acceptance of the
2 need for analysts to be analysed and the many studies of counter-
3 transference. While other scientific disciplines recognize the
4 personal equation, or the factor of personal error, no science other
5 than psycho-analysis has insisted on such a profound and
prolonged investigation of it nature and ramifications. I ignore it
therefore so as to keep an already over-complicated problem down
to its simplest terms. I shall assume an ideal analyst and that Ta
8 and Ta are not disturbed by turbulence—though turbulence and
9 its sources are part of O [T, 48]
1 A distinction must be made between the genesis of thought in the
patient’s life history and the genesis of expressions of thought in a
given contingency. The emergence of the column 2 dimension may
be observed in the contingency of the analysis as a step in the
4 evolution of the statement and from it the analyst can judge that
5 the conditions for interpretation have arrived; but it does not mean
6 that an interpretation can be made; for the analyst’s thought also
7 must reach maturation. When he can see the column 2 element in
8 his thoughts the conditions for interpretation are complete: an
911 interpretation should be made. In terms of analytic theory it is
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 190


111 approximately correct, but only approximately, to say that the

2 conditions for the interpretation have arrived when the patient’s
3 statements provide evidence that resistance is operating; the condi-
4 tions are complete when the analyst feels aware of resistance in
himself—not counter-transference which must be dealt with by
analysis of the analyst, but resistance to the reaction he anticipates
from the analysand if he gives the interpretation. Note the similar-
ity of the analyst’s resistance to the response he anticipates from the
8 patient to his interpretation and the patient’s resistance to the
9 analyst’s interpretation [T, 168]
2 Freud, Bion and counter-transference
3 Counter-transference is a technical term, but as often happens with
4 the technical term gets worn away and turns into a kind of worn
5 out coin which has lost its value. We should keep these things in
6 good working conditions. The theory about a counter-transference
711 is that it is the transference relationship which the analyst has to
8 the patient without knowing he has it. You will hear analysts say,
“I don’t like that patient, but I can make use of my counter-
transference. He cannot use his counter-transference”. He may be
able to make use of the fact that he dislikes the patient, but that is
not counter-transference. There is only one thing to do with
2 counter-transference and that is to have it analyzed. One cannot
3 make use of one’s counter-transference in the consulting room; it is
4 a contradiction in terms. To use the term in that way means that one
511 would have to invent a new term to do the work which used to be
6 done by the word “counter-transference”. It is one’s unconscious
7 feelings about the patient, and since it is unconscious there is noth-
8 ing we can do about it. If the counter-transference is operating in
9 the analytic session the analysand is unlucky—and so is the analyst.
311 The time to have dealt with it was in the past, in the analyst’s own
1 analysis. We can only hope that it does not use us too much and
2 that we have had enough analysis to keep the number of uncon-
3 scious operations to a minimum. [BLII, 87–8]
5 This does not mean that Bion was against anyone who wanted
6 to study counter-transference. Up to the end of his life he tried to
7 make clear his opinion on how to deal with it. This opinion is coher-
8 ent with his overall attitude, which differentiated “to talk about”
911 from “to be” or “to experience”:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 191

C 191

111 ROLAND You seem to suggest that as a psycho-analyst you are

2 compacted of the best of both sexes
3 P.A. Would it were true. I hope that that desire does not obscure
4 my inheritance of weaknesses. I have noticed a prejudice in favour
5 of my patients and a related desire to share their excellences.
ROBIN Counter-transference?
8 P.A. Do not forget that “counter-transference” is by definition
9 unconscious; it follows that I do not know the nature, in reality, of
10 my counter-transference. I know theoretically, but that is only
1 knowing about counter-transference—that is not knowing the
“thing itself”.
3 ROBIN Presumably, knowing “about” counter-transference is help-
4 ful. Isn’t it inevitable that one learns much of which one has no
5 direct experience? I learn about a trip to the moon, but shall
6 certainly not experience it. It must have some value unless we are to
7 believe that the process of the education is unrealistic [AMF, III, 515]
9 Freud thought it was—he included education among the three
211 impossible professions.
2 Counter-transference, L and H
4 If the path towards an interpretation includes, linked to human
5 frailty, aspects of L and H, the “analyst is assumed to allow for or
6 exclude L or H from his link with the patient, and Ta  and Ta  are
7 assumed for purposes of this discourse to be free from distortion by L, H
8 (i.e. by counter-transference.) Tp  and Tp , on the contrary, are assumed
9 always to be subject to distortion and the nature of that distortion in so
30 far as it is an object of illumination through psycho-analytic interpreta-
1 tion, is the O of the transformation that the analyst effects in his progress
2 from observation to interpretation” (T, 49).
3 To be acquainted with the necessity of .Tp , Tp , L, and H, see
4 the respective entries.
5 Suggested cross-references: Analytical view, Real Psycho-
6 analysis, Scientific method.
8 Cure: In his first papers from the fifties Bion resorted to the tradi-
911 tional medical model of cure. In due course he left it aside, not
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 192


111 unlike seasoned surgeons and the vast majority of clinicians, who
2 also leave it aside. Medicine takes care of people; cure is a rare
3 exception. The model of cure is replaced by those of “growth”
4 (1962) and “becoming” (1965); from 1975 onwards another model is
5 introduced: usefulness to life.
6 Bion’s dismissal of the model of cure is a result of his scientific
7 outlook. It demands respect for truth and real facts. Bion realized
8 the hallucinatory nature of ideas of cure. It is an idealized goal that
9 indicates a predominance of the pleasure principle. It may turn that
10 which could be an analysis into colluded parasitic associations.
1 These associations may be described as of mutual admiration; often
2 they are indistinguishable from wishful thinking, panglossian reas-
3 surances and exercising of suggestion. To cure is an expression of
4 hate of analysis in so far as it extinguishes investigation into the
5 unconscious.
6  1950–57 The studies published in Second Thoughts rely heavily
711 on models of cure, even though they contain the seeds of doubt.
8 1959–61 These doubts are allowed to flourish in his previously
9 unpublished paper that surfaced in 1992, in Cogitations.
20 1963–66 The issues of truth, growth, mental functioning are
1 brought to the fore.
2 1967 In “Commentary” to Second ThoughtsBion dwells on the
3 inadequacies of the model of cure. In this text and in the short paper
4 “Notes on memory and desire” cure is linked to desire.
511 1970 The ideas of cure are examined intra-sessionally.
6 By definition and by the tradition of all scientific discipline, the
7 psycho-analytical movement is committed to the truth as the
8 central aim. If the patient constantly formulates L and K state-
9 ments, he and the analyst are, in theory at least, in conflict. In prac-
311 tice, however, the situation does not present itself so simply. The
1 patient, especially if intelligent and sophisticated, offers every
2 inducement to bring the analyst to interpretations that leave the
3 defence intact and, ultimately, to acceptance of the lie as a working
4 principle of superior efficacy. In the last resort he will make consis-
tent progress towards a “cure” which will be flattering to the
analyst and patient alike . . . Some forms of lying appear to be
closely related to experiencing desire [AI, 99–100]
8 The idea of growth in emotional terms, identical to that of
911 Freud, as a replacement to the ideas of cure, is offered:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 193

C 193

111 “Since the experience of learning from which the patient is thus
2 debarred is that of the parental relationship, the importance for the
3 patient’s development and for a successful outcome of analysis, depending
4 on resolution of the Oedipus complex, are gravely prejudiced” (EP, 94);
5 “The psycho-analytic conception of cure should include the idea of a trans-
6 formation whereby an element is saturated and thereby made ready for
711 further saturation. Yet a distinction must be made between this dimension
8 of ‘cure’ or ‘growth’ and ‘greed’” (T, 153).
9 Later on (1965) he would add the vertex of knowledge and
10 truth. In commenting on the value of interpretations: “Their value
1 therapeutically is greater if they are conducive to transformations in O;
2 less if conducive to transformations in K” (T, 27).
3 In fact this was an idea that he was pursuing much earlier,
4 having proposed a criterion of mental health:
The man who is mentally healthy is able to gain strength and
6 consolation and the material through which he can achieve mental
7 development through his contact with reality, no matter whether
8 that reality is painful or not . . . The reciprocal view is that no man
9 can become mentally healthy save by a process of constant search
211 for fact and a determination to eschew any elements, however
1 seductive or pleasurable that interpose themselves between himself
2 and his environment as it really is. [C, 192]
One may conceive of mental disturbance as an incapacity to face
truth; a continuous habit of lying brings decay: “If analysis has been
successful in restoring the personality of the patient he will approximate
to being the person he was when his development became compromised”
(T, 143).
This leads us to his mention of treatment by psycho-analysis
and the limiting factors presented by innate characteristics: “Does it
matter if intolerance of frustration, or any other dynamic characteristic is
primary or secondary? The distinction indicates the limitation of any
treatment effecting changes in the personality to secondary factors for
primary factors will not be altered” (LE, 29).
4 These conceptions must be duly weighed with everyone’s toler-
5 ance of pain and frustration, which composes a paradox of the rela-
6 tionship of man with truth:
8 By contrast it may be said that man owes his health, and his capa-
911 city for continuous health, to his ability to shield himself during his
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 194


111 growth as an individual by repeating in his personal life the history

2 of the race’s capacity for self-deception against truth that his mind
3 is not fitted to receive without disaster. [C, 192]
5 Oedipus seemed to face this dilemma and was awarded with
6 blindness; a woman who lost her 15-year-old boy fainted. “O”
7 carries with it a potentially explosive load of truth to some people.
8 The idea expressed circa 1960 would be developed in 1965, but with
9 no deviation in the experience of the nourishing effect of truth:
My theory would seem to imply a gap between phenomena and the
thing-in-itself and all that I have said is not incompatible with Plato,
2 Kant, Berkeley, Freud and Klein, to name a few, who show the
3 extent to which they believe the curtain of illusion separates us
4 from reality. Some consciously believe the curtain of illusion to be
5 a protection against truth which is essential to the survival of
6 humanity; the remainder of us believe it unconsciously but no less
711 tenaciously for that. Even those who consider such a view mistaken
8 and truth essential consider that the gap cannot be bridged because
9 the nature of the human being precludes knowledge of anything
20 beyond phenomena save conjecture. From this conviction of the
inaccessibility of absolute reality the mystics must be exempted.
Their inability to express themselves through the medium of ordi-
nary language, art or music is related to the fact that all such
3 methods of communication are transformations and transforma-
4 tions deal with phenomena and are dealt with by being known,
511 loved or hated. [T, 147]
7 This means that the capacity to grow implies intuiting O; the
8 reality of personality. To intuit it is far from rational knowledge but
9 it is near to living it, to living life as it is: “. . . it is not knowledge of
311 reality that is at stake, nor yet the human equipment for knowing. The
1 belief that reality is or could be known is mistaken because reality is not
2 something which lends itself to being known. It is impossible . . . to sing
3 potatoes: they may be grown, or pulled, or eaten, but not sung. Reality has
4 to be ‘been’: there should be a transitive verb ‘to be’ expressly for use with
5 the term ‘reality’.
6 When, as psycho-analysts, we are concerned with the reality of the
7 personality there is more at stake than an exhortation to ‘know thyself,
8 accept thyself, be thyself’, because implicit in the psycho-analytic proce-
911 dure is the idea that this exhortation cannot be put into practice without
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 195

C 195

111 the psycho-analytic experience. The point at issue is how to pass from
2 ‘knowing’ ‘phenomena’ to ‘being’ that which is, ‘real’” (T, 148).
3 Or, “O, representing the unknowable ultimate reality can be repre-
4 sented by any formulation of a transformation—such as “unknowable
5 ultimate reality’ which I have just formulated. It may therefore seem
6 unnecessary to multiply representations of it; indeed from the psycho-
711 analytic vertex that is true. But I wish to make it clear that my reason for
8 saying that O is unknowable is not that I consider human capacity
9 unequal to the task but because K, L or H are inappropriate to O. They are
10 adequate to transformations of O but not to O” (T, 140).
1 Bion gives due consideration to the possible relationship
2 between pain and cure: “Pain cannot be regarded as a reliable index of
3 pathological processes partly because of its relationship with development
4 (recognized in the commonly used phrase “growing pains”) and partly
5 because intensity of suffering is not always proportionate to the severity
6 of the disturbance . . . Implicit in the discussion of reversible perspective
7 as a means of preserving a defence against pain is the concept of growth.
8 Growth is a phenomenon that appears to present peculiar difficulties to
9 perception either by the growing object or the object that stimulates it, for
211 its relationship with precedent phenomena is obscure and separated in time
1 . . . Difficulty in observing it contributes to the anxiety to establish
2 “results”, e.g. of analysis” (EP, 62).
5 Bion’s later view
ROBIN Doesn’t your working day consist in discussing the quali-
ties and defects of others?
9 P.A. I try to demonstrate the qualities of the individual. Whether
30 they are assets or liabilities he can then decide for himself.
1 ROLAND I thought you were supposed to cure them.
ROBIN So did I.
4 P.A. “Cure” is a word which, like “illness” or “disease’’, is
5 borrowed from physicians and surgeons to account for our activi-
6 ties in a comprehensible manner. [AMF, III, 541]
8 Suggested cross-references: Analytic view, Becoming, Correct
911 analysis, Development, Mathematizing psycho-analysis, Truth.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 196


111 Curiosity: Bion regards curiosity under two vertexes that imply
2 two different meanings.
4 1) A first sense of curiosity is akin to that described by Freud and
5 Klein. It is regarded as a manifestation of the development of
6 the epistemophilic instinct. Infantile curiosity towards the
7 sexual organs transforms itself into a curiosity about one’s own
8 mind. It may, in the next step, undergo a process of sublima-
9 tion, and proceeds to a curiosity towards the external world, as
10 a scientific or artistic curiosity. This kind of curiosity is linked
1 to life instincts; it has a function in preventing senility. It is a
2 specific manifestation of the K link (EP, 46, footnote)
3 2) A second sense corresponds either to a regression to or to a
4 fixation of infantile sexual curiosity. It manifests itself as an
5 arrogant, stupid curiosity that emerges when one feels that
6 resorting to projective identification is hampered or impeded.
711 In the clinic, this curiosity is displayed through an exaggerated
8 interest in the analyst’s private life. The patient behaves as if
9 the most important person in the room is the analyst. The
20 papers, “On arrogance” and “Attacks on linking” introduce
1 the issue.
3 Suggested cross-references: Arrogance, Reversion of perspec-
4 tive.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 197

711 D
211 D: A quasi-mathematical, shorthand symbol for the depressive
1 position, first proposed in Elements of Psycho-Analysis, p.4. See entry
2 PSD.
4 depressive position Bion uses this term in exactly the same sense
5 that Melanie Klein created it (see “Notes on some schizoid mecha-
6 nisms”, and Envy and Gratitude).
8 Misunderstandings: Depressive position and thinking processes—a
9 whole tendency was created in a gross over-simplification of the
30 term and especially in some readings of Bion’s correlations of the
1 depressive position and thought processes. Some authors attributed
2 to Bion the idea that thinking occurs in the depressive position, and
3 the paranoid–schizoid position is characterized by the lack of
4 proper thinking. Trying to trace the origins of such a misunder-
5 standing, it seems that it harks back to the days when psycho-
6 analysis was tainted by ideas of pathology and cure. That is, the
7 simplification and banalization happened when one equated the
8 paranoid–schizoid position to pathology and the depressive posi-
911 tion to cure. Please see the entry, PSD, where his contribution to

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 198


111 rescue Melanie Klein’s ethos of the concept includes a living move-
2 ment, to and from. An ethos apparently lost after Klein’s death, in
3 some published works about her writing. As early as 1955 (see the
4 final part of item 41 in Second Thoughts), when Bion still thought in
5 terms of pathologies of the mental apparatus, there is a statement
6 about the development of thinking processes in the depressive posi-
7 tion. He gives a very extensive review of his ideas on pathology and
8 cure in the 1967 Commentary to this item. The text, consequently,
9 starts from the fact that Bion’s idea was that thinking already
10 existed in the paranoid–schizoid position.
1 Both the apprehension of reality—and therefore thinking—and
2 all ego-functions, albeit embryonic, already exist there, as is clear in
3 Melanie Klein’s suggestion of early phases of the Oedipus complex.
4 In Metatheory, when examining the paranoid and the delinquent
5 ways of dealing and not dealing with reality, Bion states that some
6 persons are able to perceive truth just to avoid stumbling into it by
711 accident—these people couple an ability to apprehend truth and
8 reality with no respect for love and life. Such a paranoid use
9 displays that highly sophisticated thinking does exist in someone
20 functioning under the paranoid–schizoid position. It will suffice to
1 intelligent people to find a suitable social locus to keep this way of
2 life seeming “normal”, in a successful use of the neurotic part of the
3 personality by the psychotic part of the personality (q.v.). No
4 depression, in the sense of an insight into the damage done to the
511 object that is felt as good, is needed here; in fact it is abhorred, care-
6 fully avoided and circumvented.°
7 Suggested cross-references: P, PSD.
9 Desire: Please refer to the entry, Discipline on Memory, Desire and
311 Understanding
2 Development: Together with “usefulness”, growth (or develop-
3 ment), it composes the double criteria to gauge if analysis is
4 happening.
5 Development and usefulness to life replaced the criteria of cure
6 (q.v.). The latter are based on ideas of unrestricted and stable
7 achievement of paradisiacal states whose description is clothed by
8 psycho-analytic wording—such as the prevalence of conscious over
911 unconscious, the achievement of the depressive position at the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 199

D 199

111 expense of a demonized paranoid–schizoid position, the achieve-

2 ment of pleasure over anything else, the acquisition of “empathic”
3 self-objects or whatever theory of cure it may be. For example:
5 The name given an object . . . is similar to a theory in that both
6 imply that certain qualities are constantly conjoined; therefore, it
711 cannot be properly described as true or false in its relationship to
O; these terms express judgements on the health-giving effect of the
theory to which they are applied, upon the personality entertaining
the theory. The differentiation to be made to the name, or theory, is
10 between “useful” and “not useful”. . . [T, 53, 54]
2 Development is seen as the development of thinking (q.v.) and
3 emotional development according to Freud and Klein’s observa-
4 tions: (i) the inception of the principle of reality, which translates
5 into tolerance of frustration and pain; (ii) the integration of the
6 Oedipal situation into the framework of the interplay between the
7 paranoid–schizoid and depressive positions. That is, the develop-
8 ment of the mental apparatus in Bion’s work is an integration of
9 Freud and Klein’s discoveries.
1 In psycho-analytic methodology the criterion cannot be whether a
2 particular usage is right or wrong, meaningful or verifiable, but
3 whether it does, or does not, promote development.
4 I do not suggest that promotion of development provides a crite-
5 rion without reservation; psycho-analytic theory and practice, in
6 cases where thought shows serious disturbance . . . [LE, Intro-
7 duction, end of item 7 and beginning of 8]
9 The papers and books written between 1942 and 1963 deal,
30 without exception, with issues of social and emotional growth, in
1 terms of mental and thought processes. They also deal with the
2 hindrances to it. They take for granted the reader’s acquaintance
3 with Freud and Klein’s theories of emotional development. Bion
4 focuses on the realm of the development of thinking and know-
5 ledge.
6 A whole new instrument, the Grid (q.v.), can be regarded as a
7 tool potentially useful to analysts and to psycho-analysis, in order
8 to enhance the latter’s scientific value. It can gauge the develop-
911 ment or non-development of thinking. The establishment of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 200


111 categories is designed to measure “degrees of growth”. This develop-

2 ment is seen as an increased ability to apprehend reality as it is; it
3 seems to be possible to assess the truth-value of verbal statements
4 through the use of this tool. The categories of this tool are specifi-
5 cally construed to assess development of thinking, either geneti-
6 cally speaking or in terms of its functions: “. . . it is useful for
7 psycho-analysis to be able to signify degrees of growth and to represent
8 these by stages with their proper sign. Hitherto I have spoken of ‘growth’
9 and ‘increased sophistication’ . . .” (T, 43).
10 There is an endeavour: to choose useful theories in order to
1 advance knowledge. The importance of this criterion is more
2 outstanding even than the criterion of truth when applied to theo-
3 ries. A theory may be false but it may have a useful function in the
4 development of science. The references to this are so numerous in
5 Bion’s work that to quote them extensively would overburden the
6 reader.
711 In brief: hallucination is useful for the growth of cognitive
8 processes or apprehension of reality. It provides a contrapuntal
9 frame of reference, namely, that of error. Bion develops his earlier
20 views of the phantasy of projective identification as a means of
1 communication along these lines. They are now valued again in a
2 non-pathological way and as an epistemological tool: “The growth of
3 insight depends, at its inception, on undisturbed functioning of projective
4 identification” (T, 36).
511 In the terms created by Shakespeare, “By indirections, find
6 directions out” (Hamlet II, 1, 64).
7 In practice it is undesirable to discard established theories because
8 they seem to be inadequate to particular contingencies; such a
9 procedure would exacerbate a tendency to the facile elaboration of
311 ad hoc theories at times when it would be better to adhere to estab-
1 lished discipline . . . For my present purposes it is helpful to regard
2 psycho-analytical theories as belonging to the category of groups of
3 transformations, a technique analogous to that of a painter, by
4 which the facts of an analytic experience (the realization) are trans-
formed into an interpretation (the representation)” (T, 4); “. . . we
must be prepared to find the model of the painter misleading
though still useful. [T, 36]
8 What does promote growth? In discussing the intolerance of
911 frustration, intolerance of the no-breast and hypothesizing that the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 201

D 201

111 obtrusion of mathematical thinking in the form of the point as

2 reflecting the tolerance of the no-thing, Bion writes:
4 Why, then, to revert to the point and line, do these visual images
5 lead in one case to the efflorescence of mathematics and in the other
6 to mental sterility? And is it certain that “mental sterility” is a
correct assessment? The question implies the validity of a theory of
causation which I consider misleading and liable to give rise to
constructions that are basically false; if it is fallacious we may
9 discard it for one as fallacious—which may be true of the formula-
10 tion, by Heisenberg [Heisenberg, W. Physics and Philosophy], of
1 the problem of multiple causation. Both views have proved of value
2 in the development of science, but developments of physics by the
3 Copenhagen school appear to have made the theory irrelevant. If
4 so, the logical step would be to bother no longer with causation or
5 its counterpart—results. In psycho-analysis it is difficult to avoid
6 feeling that a gap is left by its disappearance and that the gap
should be filled. Over a wide range of our problems no difficulty is
caused by regarding the theory of causation as fallacious but useful.
When it comes to problems presented by disturbances in thought
9 the difficulty cannot be met in this way . . . The proposed chain of
211 causation can then be seen as a rationalization of the sense of perse-
1 cution. Furthermore, if the patient is capable of seeing that his
2 proposed chain of causation is nonsensical he may use it to deny
3 the persecution and thus evade any explanation that would reveal
4 the depression he dreads. [T, 56–7]
6 When sincerely describing Klein’s discordance with him in a
7 particularly seminal example of his theory of pre-conceptions (q.v.)
8 he emphasizes its “usefulness” rather than “truth”: “Melanie Klein
9 objected in conversation with me to the idea that the infant had an inborn
30 pre-conception of the breast, but though it may be difficult to produce
1 evidence for the existence of a realization that approximates to this theory,
2 the theory itself seems to me to be useful as a contribution to a vertex I
3 want to establish” (T, 138).
4 When describing the possible utility of the theory of transfor-
5 mations and the transformations in hallucinosis:
6 “Transformations may be scientific, aesthetic, religious, mystical,
7 psycho-analytical. They may be described as psychotic and neurotic also,
8 but though all these classifications have a value it does not appear to me
911 that the value that they have is psycho-analytically adequate I have chosen
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 202


111 to write, though briefly, of transformation in hallucinosis because the

2 description may serve to explain why I consider existing methods of obser-
3 vation, notation, attention and curiosity are inadequate, why a theory of
4 transformations may aid in making these methods more nearly adequate
5 . . .” (T, 140). Obviously the words “aid”, “to serve” convey mean-
6 ings that are interchangeable with “useful”.
7 Bion uses the exaggeration involved in science in order to get a
8 better focus on a specific issue being researched; in connection, he
9 develops the concept of hyperbole (q.v.). “Just as exaggeration is help-
10 ful in clarifying a problem so it can be felt to exaggerate in order to gain
1 the attention necessary to have a problem clarified” (T, 141).
2 A sociologically oriented scholar may see the influence of
3 Protestant ethics (in Max Weber’s sense) as well as that of the so-
4 called utilitarian philosophers who were contemporaneous to
5 Freud.
6  Chapters 6 and 7 of Transformations.
9 Direct evidence: Bion considers analytic practice as an empirical
20 activity that furnishes direct evidence to the observer. This evidence
1 is the unfolding emotional experiences taking place in the evolving
2 session. “The analyst’s main concern must be with the material of which
3 he has direct evidence, namely, the emotional experience of the analytic
4 sessions themselves” (T, 7).
Disaster: This word is used throughout Bion’s work to depict at
least five precisely defined emotional situations: (i) impairment in
the acquisition of a sense of reality; (ii) splitting; (iii) an incapacity
to dream, (iv) an excessive avoidance of pain; (v) Oedipus (both as
1 a pre-conception and as a mental configuration).
2 Pain and Oedipus (iv and v) are seen as “elements of psycho-
3 analysis”, that is, they are basic and fundamental to the personality
4 and to the analytical work. The remaining situations (i-iii) relate
5 to basic functions of the mind. All of them relate to pain and
6 attempts to avoid it. There is a technical issue involved. There is
7 the possibility of the analyst bringing disaster to analysis if pain
8 and manoeuvres to avoid it leads to an increased and unnecessary
911 pain.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 203

D 203

111 Disaster and the sense of reality

Disaster is also linked to failure to use the emotional experience to
get a sense of reality: “Failure to eat, drink, or breathe properly has
disastrous consequences for life itself. Failure to use the emotional experi-
ence produces a comparable disaster in the development of the personality;
I include among those disasters degrees of psychic deterioration that could
be described as death of the personality” (LE, 42).
10 Disaster and splitting
2 Suppose the patient to be, or to have been, capable of normality: the
conglomerate of fragments of personality which serves the patient
for a personality can only be regarded as evidence of a disaster. The
discussion of such a case is difficult because we are concerned not
5 with the ordinary structures of the human personality for which
6 terms such as ego, id, super-ego have been made available by
7 Freud, but with the shattered fragments of these which have now
8 been reassembled but not re-articulated. [C,74–5]
211 If one considers that splitting of thought is the single real effect
1 of projective identification, its classification as a disaster is no exag-
2 geration.
Disaster and a lack of capacity to dream
6 The three situations above are linked to this one: splitting and
7 attacks on the perceptual apparatus damage the capacity to dream.
8 Some patients of Bion—and this can be observed as a daily occur-
9 rence in analytical practice—objected to being exposed to sense
30 impressions and consequently to “the thing his sense impression
1 conveys to him. The deprivation of sense impression must then lead to an
2 inability to dream and a need to hallucinate sense impressions as a substi-
3 tute for the dream”. These patients hallucinate dreams and do not
4 dream properly—its hallmark is a scarcity or lack of associations.
A hallucination of a dream can no more yield associations than a
hallucinated breast can yield milk.
8 The failure to dream is felt as such a grave disaster that the patient
911 continues to hallucinate during the day, to hallucinate a dream, or
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 204


111 so to manipulate facts that he is able to feel he is having a dream—

2 which is the daylight counterpart of the night-time hallucination of
3 a dream. But it is also the attempt to suck a dream out of an expe-
4 rience of reality or actuality. And in this respect the dream that
yields no associations and the reality that yields no dreams are
alike; they are similar to hallucinatory gratification. [C, 112]
8 Disaster and Pain
10 Pain cannot be absent from the personality. An analysis must be
1 painful, not because there is necessarily any value in pain, but
2 because an analysis in which pain is not observed and discussed
3 cannot be regarded as dealing with one of the central reasons for
4 the patient’s presence. The importance of pain can be dismissed as
5 a secondary quality, something that is to disappear when conflicts
are resolved; indeed most patients would take this view.
Furthermore it can be supported by the fact that successful analy-
sis does lead to diminution of suffering: nevertheless it obscures the
need, more obvious in some cases than in others, for the analytic
9 experience to increase the patient’s capacity for suffering even
20 though patient and analyst may hope to decrease pain itself. The
1 analogy with physical medicine is exact; to destroy a capacity for
2 physical pain would be a disaster in any situation other than one in
3 which an even greater disaster—namely death itself—is certain.
4 [EP, 61–2]
6 The technical hint in dealing with pain relies on the concept of
7 reversible perspective (q.v.). It is seminal in clinical practice.
8 Reversible perspective is a special use of projective identification.
9 The patient strives to render a dynamic situation static.
1 The work of the analyst is to restore dynamic to a static situation
2 and so make development possible . . . the patient manoeuvres so
3 that the analyst’s interpretations are agreed; they thus become the
4 outward sign of a static situation . . .
5 In reversible perspective acceptance by the analyst of the possibility
6 of a capacity for pain can help avoidance of errors that might lead to
7 disaster. If the problem is not dealt with the patient’s capacity to
8 maintain a static situation may give way to an experience of pain so
911 intense that a psychotic breakdown is the result [EP, 60 and 62]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 205

D 205

111 Disaster and Oedipus

Bion clinically observes a situation that can be described as the
destruction of the Oedipal pre-conception (q.v.). It constitutes “a
disaster to the ego” (EP, 93). Its clinical relevance is that such an
observation enables the analyst to deal with a specific kind of mate-
rial spoken in the session as debris, even though it may seem a
whole, if taken at face value or sensuously apprehensible appear-
10 Analysts need . . . to consider that the Oedipal material may possi-
1 bly be evidence for primitive apparatus of pre-conception and
2 therefore possessing a significance additional to its significance in
3 classical theory. I am postulating a precursor of the Oedipal situa-
4 tion not in the sense that such a term may have in Melanie Klein’s
5 discussion of Early Phases of the Oedipus Complex, but as something
6 that belongs to the ego as part of its apparatus for contact with real-
7 ity. In short I postulate an -element version of a private Oedipus
8 myth which is the means, the pre-conception, by virtue of which
the infant is able to establish contact with the parents as they exist
in the world of reality. The mating of this -element Oedipal pre-
conception with the realization of the actual parents gives rise to
the conception of parents.
3 If through envy, greed, sadism or other cause, the infant cannot
4 tolerate the parental relationship and attacks it destructively,
according to Melanie Klein the attacking personality is itself frag-
mented through the violence of the splitting attacks. Restating this
theory in terms of the Oedipal pre-conception: the emotional load
carried by the private -element Oedipal pre-conception is such
8 that the Oedipal pre-conception is itself destroyed. As a result the
9 infant loses the apparatus essential for gaining a conception of the
30 parental relationship and consequently for resolution of Oedipal
1 problems: it does not fail to solve those problems—it never reaches
2 them.
The significance of this for practice is that scraps of what appear to
4 be Oedipal material must be treated with reserve. If the evidence is
5 related to a disaster to the ego, the destruction of the pre-concep-
6 tion and consequently the ability to pre-conceive, interpretations
7 based on the supposition that fragmented Oedipal material is
8 evidence of a destroyed object will be only partially successful. The
911 investigation must be directed to distinguishing amongst the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 206


111 elements of Oedipal material those that are fragments of Oedipal

2 pre-conception from those that are fragments of the fragmented
3 Oedipal situation. Since the experience of learning from which the
4 patient is thus debarred is that of the parental relationship, the
importance for the patient’s development and for a successful
outcome of analysis, depending on resolution of the Oedipus
complex, are gravely prejudiced. [EP, 92–4]
This displays Bion’s origin in the work of Freud in its most
remarkable form. It is “additional”, that is, it is not a replacement. It
refers to the fulcrum of Freud’s observations: Oedipus.
The observation was made possible by a lack of rigidity and
ossification in the act of observing and interpreting. The results
obtained when the professional practises a non pre-patterned
observation seems to recommend the avoidance of scholastic inter-
pretations. In this case, the prevalent scholasticism was “based” on
object-relations theory. Bion suggests that Freud’s theory, provided
that it is employed in a more integrated way with Klein’s theory, is
more encompassing than Klein’s theory if the latter is taken mech-
anistically or in an exclusive way.
To employ the theory of splitting in the clinic is expressed by the
2 way that one looks for minute fragments. This is, so to say, “pure
3 Klein”. Looking for Oedipal material in unexpected places, or places
4 where it may be unobservable is, so to say, “pure Freud”—to the
511 extent that psycho-analytical material is not given to the senses. Its
6 outward appearances are misleading. Again and again, he pushes
7 both Freud and Klein’s theory to their ultimate consequences—or at
8 least, further than was imagined possible before him.
9 A final example of disaster was given in quasi-artistic terms. The
311 situation depicts a woman unable to realize a parental couple:
Alice was not listening. Her attention had become wayward; since
the outbreak of war she had noticed a deterioration . . . she could
not sustain her train of thought . . . She knew this hall; with an
4 effort she could visualize what had been its appearance when she
5 dined there. Its drab, unfurnished condition established it as if a
6 photographic slide had replaced the scene she knew . . . It was
7 easier to believe that the inhabitants of the island had been wiped
8 out and replaced . . . The village had been familiar since childhood.
911 She had never known herself as anything but one of the gentry.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 207

D 207

111 Now she stood naked, incongruous, alien, without a point of refer-
2 ence that made sense. True, there was defeat, but this was on a scale
3 of defeat so disastrous that it would be necessary to suppose that
4 something analogous to the Norman Conquest had taken place.
[AMF, I, 27]
Misuses and misconceptions: (i) Disaster is often confused with
the over-simplistic, positivistic “cause–effect” sense. The common-
place is the idea of trauma; (ii) Disaster is often confused with cata-
10 strophic change (q.v.).
1 The use of the word “cause” in the quotation (EP, 92–4) must be
2 taken carefully both in the phrase and in the light of Bion’s subse-
3 quent views of causes, as clearly stated in Transformations and A
4 Memoir of the Future. In the text mentioned, the word corresponds
5 to one or more causes of “intolerance of the parental relationship”,
6 rather than a direct cause of the disaster.
7 The same applies to the term “result”, that is clearly preceded
8 by an “a”. It is not a generalization. It is the observation of a specific
9 situation. This is a novel formulation. It was implicit in Klein’s
211 work, but it seems that Bion was first to make it explicit and to
1 operate it, namely, that some people never reach Oedipus.
2 The idea of trauma is a commonplace. It has a misleading
3 penumbra of associations linked to its common social usage. Freud
4 discovered psycho-analysis using three pillars: the abandonment of
5 the idea of trauma, the interpretation of dreams and Oedipus. He
6 realized that what matters to the analyst is not a hypothesized,
7 believed or even real trauma during infancy. What matters is the
8 patient’s use of the facts of his life. This may be observed as a “past
9 presented”: how the material emerges in the here and now of the
30 session. It emerges as actual events in the session: “scraps”, debris.
1 There is a need to detect the fragmented Oedipus, or even the non-
2 existent, negative Oedipus in the debris spoken in the session. This
3 debris assumes many forms. It can be logically stated in histories
4 whose outward appearance is misleading.
5 Suggested cross-references: Analytic view, Catastrophic
6 Change, Causes, Cure.
8 Discipline in memory, desire and understanding: The neces-
911 sity for discipline in tackling the psycho-analytical task was
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 208


111 recommended by Freud, who used some specific terms and analo-
2 gies. As an example of a term, one may quote “abstinence”. As
3 examples of analogies, these of the archaeologist and of the
4 surgeon. They are used in order to depict the analyst’s work.
5 The interpretation of dreams demands a sophisticated mental
6 discipline. The same applies to refraining from giving counselling,
7 support. The same discipline is needed to perform a careful detec-
8 tion of hallucinated love based on transference.
9 Bion tries to rescue Freud’s recommendations from oblivion and
10 at the same time turns them into technical tools. He expands
1 Freud’s recommendations when he discovers that the discipline can
2 rescue the freshness of the analytical experience. Ultimately, Bion
3 disinters the “here-and-now” referred to by Freud.
4 His observation is that if the analyst recalls some specific kind
5 of data he cannot exercise the free floating attention, freedom,
6 intuition. This narrows his scope. Memory may be seen as a pre-
711 emptive strike against the unknown. Bion would observe
8 the hallucinated nature of memories; devoid of the truthful obser-
9 vation of hitherto unknown facts that unfold during the session,
20 what is left to the analyst is to base him(her)self on hallucinated
1 memories.
2 His stress on discipline in desire stems from the observation that
3 subservience to the principle of pleasure precludes observing the
4 patient as he or she is. Discipline in understanding is linked to the
511 other two. It precludes the analyst’s observations, respect and
6 concern for the analysand’s views and theories and explanations.
7 Matters in analysis demand intuition and apprehension rather than
8 understanding.
9 The three are products of denial of the unknown, anxiety and
311 haste. The damages they make in the observation and apprehension
1 of reality are vividly expressed in the “mistakes” and foolishness of
2 the fictitious characters, Alice, Roland, Robin, and Tom in the open-
3 ing chapters of A Memoir of the Future. The issue is expanded in the
4 now classical paper, “Notes on memory and desire” and also in the
5 “Commentary” of Second Thoughts, both from 1967.
6 Misuses and misconceptions Discipline about memory would
7 be a “tabula rasa” idea. But Bion wrote that “A bad memory is not
8 enough: what is ordinarily called forgetting is as bad as remembering. It
911 is necessary to inhibit dwelling on memories and desires” (AI, 41).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 209

D 209

111 Dispositions: Kant’s formulation of the basic pre-conceptions of the

2 human mind influenced Bion in at least two ways. An unfinished
3 work was about a kind of disposition to be an analyst, and the tolls
4 that are necessary to exercise psycho-analysis, which is both practi-
5 cal and scientific.
6 He does not define exactly what disposition is, in a philosophi-
711 cal or theoretical sense, but draws attention to the practical prob-
8 lems involved—both clinical and for scientific relevance. In other
9 words, to what extent the terms employed by analysts have coun-
10 terparts in reality, as expressing truth and relationships of the kind
1 “I know X”. One may see that Bion sets some premises and gives
2 them empirical “flesh”.
3 Dispositions” can be seen as a transient appreciation, rather
4 than a diagnosis:
6 A man may be disposed to envy, or to violence of emotion, or to
7 regard truth and life highly, or to be intolerant of frustration . . . I
8 shall call this state of mind at the time he is so disposed, his “dispo-
9 sition” . . . does this mean something in the psyche? Are there such
211 things as dispositions? At once a problem is, what does one mean
1 by “thing”. He is disposed to be envious; he has an envious dispo-
2 sition; his disposition is to be envious. All these sentences mean
3 something. It does not seem unreasonable to claim that there is
4 such a thing as an envious disposition. Very well: then there are
5 envious dispositions . . . loving dispositions—to take instances from
6 the premises I have chosen. [C, 262]
8 Bion’s attempt defines something, though this definition serves
9 only as a mean, rather than an end-in-itself, it will allow the recog-
30 nition of the necessity of a reliable form of scientific communication
1 between analysts. It should not be treated as a new concept, but as
2 an analogy, a conveyance:
4 Since I want to say that there are such things, that is to say, things
5 in actuality, in reality, which are represented by the word, “dispo-
6 sition”, it is essential always to use the word in such a way that the
7 reader will be correct in assuming that I mean what I meant on the
8 previous occasion, that there is in reality something that is repre-
911 sented by the word, “disposition”. [C, 262]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 210


111 This point “is inherent in psycho-analytic work and confronts the
2 analyst at every turn”. It differs from the same problem that had
3 already confronted the philosopher, at least until the advent of so-
4 called post-modernism and its Kuhnian variety of epistemology.
5 Both deny both mind and truth. Those tendencies see the former as
6 not meriting being mixed with philosophy, lest it to be seen as a
7 “psychologization” (since the difficulties Hume had in proving his
8 point) of it, a downgrading. The latter is seen as non-existent or, at
9 least, not a philosopher’s problem. There seems to be confusion
10 between the impossibility of accessing the ultimate truth, with fleet-
1 ing but truthful intuitive approximations towards aspects of the
2 noumena. The analyst cannot refrain from the issue: he is “concerned
3 with the practice of psycho-analysis, that is, he has to apply his theories in
4 an empirical setting”.
5 This is the same when reiterating the scientific nature of psycho-
6 analysis: “this might amount to no more than the difficulties confronting
711 the scientist who has to express his theories in terms of empirically verifi-
8 able data before subjecting them to experimental test” (C, 263).
9 Suggested cross reference: Scientific Method.
1 Distance: Please refer to the entry, “hyperbole”.
3 Disturbed personality: Bion at first employed the psychiatric view
4 that divides normalcy from pathology. If one considers the whole
511 of his work, from the beginning one spots the casting of doubts here
6 and there. This occurred from his days as a tank commander. After
7 his discharge from the army he voiced doubts about some psychi-
8 atric labels as applied to some of his fellows-in-arms who refused
9 to carry on fighting. In the Trilogy A Memoir of the Future he states
311 that some people were certified as insane but looked for him in
1 amiable and kind terms many years after the war. He rated highly
2 a member of his crew who tried to emulate him. Bion had won
3 decorations for bravery, something he thinks he lacked. The man
4 who tried to emulate him died in the attempt. In the “Commen-
5 tary”, War Memoirs, Bion made it plainly clear that he regarded this
6 man as one who was endowed with a capacity for love that he
7 lacked.
8 In the fifties disturbances of personality were seen by him as
911 disturbances of thought. The fact that he tried to focus on different
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 211

D 211

111 forms of development of the Oedipus complex, and his observation

2 that in some cases the complex could not even form itself, seems to
3 be an early way to give more attention to the fallacy involved in
4 dividing pathology and normalcy.
5 As comprehension superseded judgement, the observation of
6 specific, individual modes of functioning gradually replaced the
711 idea of pathology. Eliciting the existence of psychotic and non-
8 psychotic personalities (1956) indicates the development of a
9 psycho-analytical view that echoes Freud’s absence of judgmental
10 values. Freud treated sexual development and sexual choices with
1 no hint of judgement. Also, he saw symptoms as the last bastions
2 of health—albeit unsuccessful.
3 Bion came to consider that a disturbed personality is a person-
4 ality with lessened capacity to tolerate frustration. This view has
5 nothing to do with “pathology”. It means an allegiance to the prin-
6 ciple of pleasure/displeasure and a denial of the principle of real-
7 ity. In Bion’s own terms, it means to function under the aegis of
8 desire. There was a prevalence of death instincts. All of this depicts
9 a mode of functioning rather than an illness.
211 The intolerance of frustration, or intolerance of the no-breast
1 leads to disturbances of thought. Is “disturbance” the same as
2 “illness”? If one throws a stone in still water and this initiates a
3 disturbance, are the concentrically waves created “pathological”?
4 From there, Bion decidedly tackles the issue of truth. It is seen
5 as forming the fundamental psycho-analytical ethos. This posture is
6 identical to Freud’s. Lack of it has a destructive effect on the devel-
7 opment of the personality. Bion coins some aphorisms, in the wake
8 of the French and British authors of the Enlightenment as well as
9 Freud’s style: “Truth is the food of mind”; and “: Mind hates truth”.
30 He came to state that reality and truth are criteria for mental
1 health. For example, in 1960, he warns about the inconvenient
2 mixture of “knowledge” with “reality and truth”, in a commentary
3 about the fallacious positivistic view of science. He observed that
4 some people who he then considered as disturbed tended to deal
5 with the animate through means that were adequate to the inani-
6 mate. It is the same posture of the positivist “scientist”:
8 The scientist’s mistrust of human intellectual effort tends to make
911 him look longingly at the machine that can so often be made to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 212


111 appear the ideal recording instrument . . . how are we to find the
2 truth . . . if facts can be recorded only by an object incapable of . . .
3 anything we regard as thought on the one hand, and on the other
4 if thought is possible only by an object incapable of recording facts?
5 The difficulty may not be real in any significant way, but seems so
6 because the method of formulation, in terms of knowledge, truth,
7 and reality, leads to fallacious exaggeration of some elements of the
8 problem, to the exclusion of others. Progress is less impeded if we
9 consider “know” to refer to a relationship, and reality and truth to
10 refer to qualities of mental phenomena necessary to sustain mental
health. [C, 146]
He defines mental health in terms of pain and truth: “The man
who is mentally healthy is able to gain strength and consolation and the
material through which he can achieve mental development through his
contact with reality, no matter whether that reality is painful or not”
(C, 192). The lack of judgmental values is seen when health—as
different from mental health—may include hallucination and self-
deception. This happens due to the fact that hallucination and self-
deception are socially important. The group derives its sensations
of well-being from hallucination (T, 5):
As a psycho-analyst I include the man’s own personality as a part,
and a very important part, of his environment. By contrast it may be
4 said that man owes his health, and his capacity for continued health,
511 to his ability to shield himself during his growth as an individual by
6 repeating in his personal life the history of the race’s capacity for
7 self-deception against truth that his mind is not fitted to receive
8 without disaster. Like the earth, he carries with him an atmosphere,
9 albeit a mental one, which shields him from the mental counterpart
311 of the cosmic and other rays at present supposed to be rendered
1 innocuous to men, thanks to the physical atmosphere. [C, 192]
3 In other words, psycho-analytical understanding of the symp-
4 toms as adumbrated by Freud and Klein, led to a more precise
5 insight into the paradoxical nature of illness, as a last resort for
6 attempts at health. This translates into the compassion that marks
7 the analytic attitude. Lack of compassion and love may be seen
8 through one of its manifestations, which is more subtle than sheer
911 delinquency. It consists in a blind pursuit of truth with disregard to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 213

D 213

111 oneself. Any practising analyst knows that to some people who are
2 really intolerant of frustration the price of truth may be suicide or
3 homicide.
4 Bion states this as early as 1960, in a paper in which he lists 14
5 points concerning compassion and truth. This paper is seen by the
6 author as a seminal one. It seems to orient the whole of Bion’s
711 contributions to psycho-analysis.
8 Oedipus can be seen as the paradigm of a disturbed personality,
9 victim of hubris, and in this sense the gluing or freezing in the para-
10 noid–schizoid position, with no possibility for going back or forth
1 to the depressive position, would be pathognomonic of distur-
2 bance. Points 8, 9, 10 and 12 illustrate the issue:
4 8. A man may lack capacity for love.
5 9. Similarly he may feel he lacks a capacity for truth, either to
6 hear it, or to seek it, or to find it, or to communicate it, or to
desire it.
10. He may in fact lack such a capacity.
12. Primary lack is inborn and cannot be remedied; yet some of
9 the consequences may be modified analytically.
211 14. Applying (8) and (10) to the Oedipus myth, the death of the
1 Sphinx is a consequence of such lack, as the question posed
2 was not intended to elicit truth, and consideration for itself
3 could not exist to erect a barrier against self-destruction.
4 Tiresias may be said to lack compassion less than regard for
5 truth. Oedipus lacked compassion for himself more than he
6 lacked regard for truth [C, 125–26]
This means that truth and reality are to be taken in, to be lived
rather than enforced. Compassion may be innate.
Disturbed personality is also applied to those who resort too much
to hallucinosis:
3 The more the problem relates to the patient’s inborn character the
4 more difficult it is for him to modify his adherence to transforma-
5 tion in hallucinosis as the superior approach. If his solution were
6 determined by a false belief that no real solution exists it would
7 be easier for him to admit his mistake than it is when his solution
8 is dictated by an inborn need to be “top”. This would be unim-
911 portant were it not for the belief that certain disorders, notably
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 214


111 schizophrenia, are physical and originate in pathological physical

2 states. Their nature would be easier to grasp if seen to originate in
3 a normal physical state and to spring from the very health and viril-
4 ity of the patient’s endowment of ambition, intolerance of frustra-
tion, envy, aggression and his belief that there is, or ought to be, or
will be (even if it has to be created by himself) an ideal object that
exists to fulfil itself. The impression such patients give of suffering
from a character disorder derives from the sense that their well-
8 being and vitality spring from the same characteristics which give
9 trouble. The sense that loss of the bad parts of his personality is
10 inseparable from the loss of that part in which all his mental health
1 resides, contributes to the acuity of the patient’s fears. This acute
2 fear is inseparable from any attempt to resolve the crux. Is the
3 patient going to repeat the former error by becoming confirmed in
4 his adherence to transformation in hallucinosis or will he turn to
5 transformation in psycho-analysis? [T, 144]
711 The allegiance to hallucinosis is a special form of intolerance to
8 frustration. The fabrication of an all-fulfilling object is directly
9 linked to the addiction to lie. Lying is also seen as a manifestation of
20 the disturbed personality: “The disposition to lie may be regarded as a
1 symptom of a severely disordered personality” (AI, Introduction, page 2).
2 Suggested cross-references: Analytic view, Transformations in
3 hallucinosis.
511 Dread, nameless dread: Please refer to the entries, Fear and (K).
7 Dream: One of Bion’s main expansions of Freud is the investigation
8 of dream processes and dream work. The bulk of these explorations
9 are in papers written in 1959, published in Cogitations (1992). Their
311 synthesis and compaction are in Learning from Experience. In 1975,
1 Bion would make his definitive contribution to the theme, with
2 vols. I and II of A Memoir of the Future. They include dream-like
3 verbal formulations and an attempt to depict verbally some of
4 Bion’s dreams and nightmares.
5 The main expansion is concerned with an observation that
6 rescues a fact that was briefly mentioned by Freud in The Interpret-
7 ation of Dreams (SE, VI, p. 491–3; 494n; 510; 534–5; 667). Namely,
8 that dream work also exists during the day, not only during the
911 night. This fact was already apparent when Freud observed the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 215

D 215

111 importance of the facts of the day in construing dreams. If there is

2 a waking unconscious thinking and there is a daily activity called
3 hallucination, why should day dreaming not exist? Free associa-
4 tions, children’s play, are expressions of such an activity. The term
5 “day dreaming” is usually understood as restricted to fantasising or
6 reverie that is taken lightly. But Freud already puts it in more seri-
711 ous terms: those of phantasies and dreaming proper.
8 Bion explores the functions of dreams. In commenting on
9 Freud’s observation that “people . . . overlook . . . the dependence of
10 dreams upon waking life” (Freud, 1900, SE, 4, p. 19) he states: “My
1 belief is that the dependence of waking life on dreams has been overlooked
2 and is even more important. Waking life = ego activity . . . the dream
3 symbolization and dream-work is what makes memory possible” (C, 47).
4 Another expansion, still focused on the functions of dreams, is
5 an original integration of Freud and Klein. A new function of
6 dreams is observed: “it is in the dream that the Positions are negotiated”
7 (C, 37); “Certainly with the psychotic personality there is a failure to
8 dream, which seems to be parallel with an inability to achieve fully the
9 depressive position” (C, 111).
211 These views do not depart from Freud, but improve him—espe-
1 cially as regards the functions of the dream. They are dealt with in
2 more detail in other entries of this dictionary.
3 His final approach to dreams both in theory and practice can be
4 illustrated with the help of some excerpts from A Memoir of the
5 Future:
7 Theory
9 P.A. “Talking about” dreams does not cause dreams. They exist—
30 and some of us think, with Freud, that they are worthy of consid-
1 eration and debate. The night, the dream, is a “roughness” between
the smooth polished consciousness of daylight; in that “roughness”
an idea might lodge. Even in the flat polished surface there can be
a delusion, or an hallucination, or some other flaw in which an
4 idea might lodge and flourish before it can be stamped out and
5 “cured” . . .
7 THEA I can’t see why the truth is supposed to emerge in dreams.
8 P.A. “In vino veritas” does not mean that the drunken man or the
911 dreamer is speaking the truth. The drunkard, like the dreamer, is
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 216


111 less likely to be an efficient liar; he is unlikely to smooth the “rough

2 place”. But his inefficiency can be turned to good account.
3 ROBIN Dreamers and poets are credited with exceptional powers.
P.A. There is an ambiguity here because the dreamer is not distin-
guished from the sage or poet. The dreamer is like the drunkard—
often in a state of decreased conscious efficiency. To be efficient the
human has to be conscious, or, as we say, “has to have all his wits
8 about him”. We are concerned not with what the individual means
9 to say so much as with what he does not intend to say, but does in
10 fact say.
ROLAND This depends on your interpretation of what he says—
not what he says.
4 P.A. I am concerned with what he says and what it is about. My
5 interpretation is my attempt to formulate what he says so that he
6 can compare it with his other ideas. [AMF, II, 267–8]
. . . We psycho-analysts think you do not know what a dream is; the
dream itself is a pictorial representation, verbally expressed, of
what happened. What actually happened when you “dreamed” we
20 do not know. All of us are intolerant of the unknown and strive
1 instantaneously to feel it is explicable, familiar. [AMF, II, 382]
4 Practice
511 The first volume of A Memoir of the Futureis called The Dream. It is,
6 as is a good deal of the last part of volume II, written in a kind of
7 dream-like way. There are some parts of it that represent perhaps
8 the nearest one is able to put into written form something akin to
9 the real dream experience. It may be classed as a novel attempt at a
311 “language of achievement” (q.v.). The reader may conclude for
1 himself what kind of evocations or other impressions or feelings he
or she has when reading the following quotation.
4 CAPTAIN BION I stared at the speck of mud trembling on the
5 straw. I stared through the front flap at the clods of earth spouting
6 up all round us. I stared at the dirty, strained face of my driver
7 Allen—my strained face as I sat by me; at the boomerang that
8 Allen sent me from Australia. I got out and hovered about six
911 feet above us. I knew “they” would . . . and saw trees as woods
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 217

D 217

111 walking. How “they” walked—walk! walk! they went like arfs
2 arfing. Arf arf together, arfings the stuff for me, if it’s not a Rolls
3 Royce, which I’d pick out for choice. Then a nice little Ford bright
4 and gay, and when they came to that ford, styx I say. Valiant for
S’truth passed over and all the strumpets sounded for him on the
uvver side. Cooh! What happened then? ’E talked a lot more about
Jesus and dog and man and then ’e sez, all sudden like, Throw
away the uvver crutch! Coo! Wot ’appened then? ’E fell on ‘is arse.
8 And ’is Arse wuz angry and said, Get off my arse! You’ve done
9 nothing but throw shit at me all yore life and now you expects
10 England to be my booty! Boo-ootiful soup; in a shell-hole in
1 Flanders Fields. Legs and guts . . . must ’ave bin twenty men in
2 there—Germ’um and frogslegs and all starts! We didn’t ’alf arf I
3 can tell you. Let bruvverly luv continue. No one asked ’im to fall-
4 in! No one arsed ’im to come out either—come fourth, we said and
5 E came 5th and ’e didn’t 1⁄2 stink. Full stop! ’e said. The parson ’e did
6 kum, ’e did qwat. ’E talked of Kingdom Come. King dumb come.
[AMF, I, 53–4]
One reader became impressed by the quality of this kind of
universal dream to the point that he contacted Francesca Bion to
share his impressions with her, two years after Dr Bion’s death.
2 Mrs. Bion said that this was a recurrent nightmare of Bion’s for
3 more than fifty years. The depiction of page 115 (AMF) displays the
4 same quality.
5 Misuses and misunderstandings: Some readings of Bion’s
6 work, split from the whole context, favour an opposition between
7 content and form of the patient’s speaking and the analyst’s inter-
8 pretations (see for example, EP, 44–7). Does this reflect Bion’s view
9 as it is written in his books and papers? This reading was coupled
30 with a particular reading of Bion’s approach that illuminates func-
1 tions of the mind and functions of the patient’s verbalization in the
2 here and now of the session. These readings state that Bion would
3 oppose his view of dreams to that of Freud.
4 It may be that this kind of apprehension misunderstands both
5 Freud and Bion’s work. It reduces Freud’s work to a pre-patterned
6 symbol-decoding that characterized the bulk of papers published
7 after Freud’s death in establishment-backed “official” journals. In
8 doing so they rejected Freud’s warnings about this danger. The
911 misunderstanding underrates Freud’s theory and practice about
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 218


111 dreaming processes and denies the non-hostile, non-rivalrous qual-

2 ity of Bion’s extension of it.
3 The following quotation may dispel any doubts cast by readers
4 prone to transforming different authors into characters in a kind of
5 “who-is-who” fight for hallucinated supremacy in science:
7 I turn now to a clinical experience in which analyst and analysand
8 appear to be speaking the same language, to have many points of
9 agreement and yet to remain without any tie other than that of the
10 mechanical fact of continued attendance at analytic sessions.
Progress of the analysis reveals a divergence which I shall sum up
as follows:
3 The analyst is, and thinks he is, in a consulting room conducting an
4 analysis. The patient regards the same fact, his attendance in analy-
5 sis, as an experience affording him the raw material to give
6 substance to a day dream. The day dream, thus invested with real-
711 ity, is that he the patient being extremely intuitive, is able without
8 any analysis, to see just where his difficulties lie and to astonish and
delight the analyst by his brilliance and friendliness. The patient
reports, and the analyst believes, that he, the patient, has had a
dream. The patient reports, but does NOT believe, that he has had
a dream. The dream, an experience of great emotional intensity, is
felt by the patient to be a straightforward recital of facts of a horri-
3 fying experience. He expects that the analyst, by treating it as a
4 dream requiring interpretation, will give substance to his day
511 dream that it was only a dream. In short, the patient is mobilizing
6 his resources, and these include the facts of the analysis, to keep at
7 bay his conviction that the dream not only was but is the reality and
8 the reality, as the analyst understands it, is something to be appre-
9 ciated only for those elements that are suited to refutation of the
311 “dream”.
1 This account is not of a new theory of dreams, but is a description
2 of a state, seen in an extremely disturbed patient, but probably of
3 fairly common recurrence. [EP, 49–50]
5 When both are capable of waking from this kind of dream,
6 sometimes the result may be felt as catastrophic:
8 The patient who has no regard for truth, for himself, or for his
911 analyst achieves a kind of freedom arising from the fact that so
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 219

D 219

111 much destructive activity is open to him for so long. He can behave
2 in a way that destroys his respect for himself and his analyst,
3 provided he always retains enough contact with reality to feel that
4 there is some respect to destroy; and this he can always assume if
his analyst continues to see him. If his analyst does not continue,
then he has destroyed the analysis. But destruction of the analysis
is to be avoided, for it entails loss of freedom—at least till a new
object is found—thus introducing a need for moderation that is
8 apparent at other points in the closed system that the patient strives
9 to produce. An obvious instance of this is the need to avoid success-
10 ful suicide or murder. [C, 249]
2 Recommended cross-references: Alpha-function, Dream the
3 session, Dream-work-, Beta-Screen, Contact-barrier.
5 Dream-like memory: A term first introduced in 1970. It clarified
6 Bion’s earlier warning about memory as a deleterious factor in the
7 analytic session.
8 It is defined through a paraphrase of a verse of Shakespeare
9 about dreams and life. Bion states that “Dream-like memory is the
211 memory of psychic reality and is the stuff of analysis. That which is related
1 to a background of sensuous experiences is not suitable to the phenomena
2 of mental life which are shapeless, untouchable, invisible, odourless, taste-
3 less. These psychically real (in the sense of belonging to psychic reality)
4 elements are what the analyst has to work with” (AI, 70).
5 Dream-like memory partakes with free associations in the
6 unknown nature of dreams—the stuff of the unconscious. With
7 them the analyst may “dream the session” and the patient reaches
8 a state that allows the analytic work to be done. Namely, his mind
9 issues further free associations.
30 Suggested cross-references: Discipline in Memory and Desire,
1 Dream, Dream-work-, Memory, Real psycho-analysis.
3 “Dream”, the patient’s material: This entry has a motto. It resorts
4 to a paraphrase of Freud and Bion: “There are more continuities
5 between night-dreaming and day-dreaming than the formidable
6 caesura provided by the state of being awake would make us
7 believe”.
8 To deal with the facts of the session and the patient’s discourse
911 in the here and now in the same way that Freud dealt with dreams.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 220


111 It is a posture that perhaps is at the forefront of psycho-analysis.

2 It is a scientific study of the relationship of conscious with uncon-
3 scious. It is one among many attempts to investigate the uncon-
4 scious. This is one of the extensions that Bion had made from
5 Freud’s theory; namely, their simultaneity rather than succession in
6 time.
7 With hindsight, the formulation “to dream the session” can be
8 regarded as the first step towards the theory of transformations in
9 hallucinosis. The former and the latter may be regarded as a tool
10 that enables analysts to:
2 (i) apprehend the non-real nature of the emotional climates
3 created during an analytical session;
4 (ii) profit more from the creative possibilities propitiated by free
5 associations and dreaming;
6 (iii) apprehend the quality of resistances that the words uttered
711 during a session have, as hiding truth and at the same time
8 pointing to it.
1 I have pointed out that it is essential to mental efficiency to be able
2 to “dream” a current emotional experience, whether it is taking
3 place while the person is awake, or while asleep. By this I mean that
4 the facts, as they are represented by the person’s sense impressions,
have to be converted into elements such as the visual images
commonly met with in dreams as they are ordinarily reported. Such
an idea will not seem strange if the reader considers what happens
in reverie—the word itself, chosen to name the experience, is signif-
icant of the widespread nature of the experience. Certain conditions
9 are necessary for this work of conversion to be carried out . . . The
311 analyst needs to have these conditions in his work, for smooth
1 working of -function is essential. He must be able to dream the
2 analysis as it is taking place, but of course he must not go to sleep.
3 Freud has described the condition as one of “free-floating atten-
4 tion” . . . [C, 216]
6 Bion’s extensions of Freud’s theory of dreams made explicit
7 something that was implicit in Freud’s theory. One of these exten-
8 sions is the suggestion of a technical need, namely, “to dream the
911 patient’s material”. This suggestion may be viewed as an integration
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 221

D 221

111 of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and “Constructions in analy-

2 sis”. In this sense, the “dreaming of the patient’s material” would be
3 an equivalent of the analyst’s work of metapsychologization of the
4 session itself.
5 Bion observed that interpretations couched in Freud’s terms—
6 turning the unconscious, conscious—as well as interpretations
711 couched in Klein’s terms of projective identification, had some limi-
8 tations, concerning the “illuminations received from interpretations”
9 (LE, 21). These limitations were circumvented when it “occurred to
10 him” that his patient was doing what he (Bion) had “earlier described
1 as ‘dreaming’ the immediate events in the analysis”; or in terms of the
2 theory of alpha-function, “translating sense impressions into alpha-
3 function” (all quotations LE, 21).
4 This idea seemed to illuminate sometimes but became dynamic only
5 when I related it to defective alpha-function, that is to say, when it
6 occurred to me that I was witnessing an inability to dream through lack
7 of alpha-elements and therefore an inability to sleep or wake, to be either
8 conscious or unconscious”.
9 The analyst is pressed to be the patient’s conscious. For obvious
211 reasons he is a conscious that is incapable “of the functions of
1 consciousness”. Conversely, the patient is “an unconscious incapable of
2 the functions of unconsciousness”. The clinical situation is rather
3 typical: the patient can “pour out a stream of material intended to
4 destroy the analyst’s psycho-analytic potency”, or “is concerned to with-
5 hold rather than to impart information”.
6 The analyst finds himself overwhelmed by a “plethora of inter-
7 pretations that would occur to anyone with any common sense”. He is
8 invited to talk in non-psycho-analytical, socially-accepted phrases.
9 The interpretations tend to be reassuring, either positively (lauda-
30 tory) or negatively (accusatory). The patient makes heavy usage of
1 that which Bion calls the “beta-screen” (q.v.), which “has a quality
2 enabling it to evoke the kind of response the patient desires, or, alterna-
3 tively, a response from the analyst which is heavily charged with counter-
4 transference” (LE, 21–24).
5 More and more the patient creates an environment whose main
6 feature is a specific kind of acting-out: he tries to evoke “interpreta-
7 tions which are less related to his need for psycho-analytic interpretation
8 than to his need to produce an emotional involvement” (LE, 25). The
911 patient displays his inability to understand his own state of mind.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 222


111 He tries by all means to fill the session with the analyst’s state of
2 mind. This contributes to the reversal of alpha-function and to the
3 creation of bizarre objects (q.v.). One of them is that which could be
4 analysis but is not; it is transformed into counselling, criticism, reas-
5 surance or the like.
6 The contact-barrier, in contrast to the beta-screen (q.v.), “may be
7 expected to manifest itself clinically—if indeed it is manifest at all—as
8 something that resembles dreams. As we have seen the contact barrier
9 permits a relationship and preservation of belief in it as an event in actu-
10 ality, subject to the laws of nature, without having that view submerged
1 by emotions and phantasies originating endo-psychically.
3 Reciprocally it preserves emotions with endo-psychic origin from
being overwhelmed by the realistic view. The contact-barrier is
therefore responsible for the preservation of the distinction
between conscious and unconscious and for its inception. The
6 unconscious is thus preserved. [LE, 26–7]
8 One may remember that the so-called psychotics one finds
9 interned in hospitals display straightaway in their contact a kind of
20 skinless or “overt” unconscious all the time. They seem to be relent-
1 lessly devoid of resistances. Applying Bion’s contributions to that
2 observation, in these patients the unconscious is absolute and
3 cannot be made conscious. The person is an unconscious-in-itself.
4 The person is unable to dream.
511 This state is felt as unbearable; it calls for denial, splitting and
6 projection into someone else. The capacity to dream, so to speak, as
7 well as the capacity to think, is projected into the analyst. The
8 analyst is at once called to dream for his patient as well as being
9 forced not to be able to dream, thus alleviating the patient of the
311 pain involved in dreaming and therefore in having access to the
1 unconscious activities of his or her mind.
2 These conclusions are presented as such in Bion’s four basic
3 books, published in 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1970. Thanks to Francesca
4 Bion’s efforts, in Cogitations we have at our disposal the preparatory
5 studies that considerably expand Bion’s paths to a novel formula-
6 tion. It stems from his clinical experience, which is also depicted in
7 much more detail in Cogitations than in the four basic books.
8 The contribution is to make explicit something that was included
911 in Freud’s work but could not be used unless the professional could
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 223

D 223

111 see the issue by himself. It corresponds to Freud’s quotation of

2 Goethe in “Constructions in analysis”, a “call to the witches”. It
3 enlarges Freud’s observations on dreams in proposing that the
4 dream processes—that function during the day, as Freud stated in
5 The Interpretation of Dreams—should be used by the analyst as they
6 unfold in the session. In short, the analyst must “dream the patient’s
711 material” in order to catch a glimpse of the unconscious processes at
8 work—in the here and now and during the emotional experiences
9 lived in the session.
10 Klein seems to have been the first to put into practice the day-
1 dreaming capacity of the human being when she intuited the possi-
2 bility of play technique. The child both hallucinates and dreams
3 when it plays. To differentiate this on the spot enhances Klein’s
4 contributions.
5 In bringing together Freud’s observations on dreams, the devel-
6 opment of thought processes and functions of the ego (always
7 according to Freud) with Klein’s positions, Bion unified the two
8 theories. This happened in 1959, based on pure empirical data, that
9 is, clinical experience. This unification can be seen in his own
211 words. He was dealing with a patient who had “an ability to see what
1 everyone sees when subjected to the same stimulus”; a patient who
2 resorts to projective identification almost all the time; “an ability to
3 believe in survival after death . . .” In other words, this kind of patient
4 has no conception of death at all. This is an omnipotent feature of
5 anyone’s personality. The functions of the ego are both impaired
6 and exaggerated when paranoid–schizoid phenomena prevail.
7 Omnipotence also surfaces when the patient displays “an ability
8 to hallucinate or manipulate facts so as to produce material for a delusion
9 that there exists an inexhaustible fund of love in the group for himself”.
30 Interpretations are feared for they mean “that elucidation of illusory,
1 delusory, or hallucinatory mechanisms for making the patient feel loved,
2 lest such elucidation should show him that such love as he wishes to feel
3 that he receives does not in fact exist . . . In so far as the patient is success-
4 ful in evading the attacks on his narcissism, he experiences a hallucinatory
5 gratification of his craving for love. This, like all hallucinatory gratifica-
6 tion, leaves the patient unsatisfied. He therefore greedily resorts to a
7 strengthening of his capacity for hallucination, but there is naturally no
8 corresponding increase in satisfaction” (C, 29–30). All of this led to “an
911 inability to dream and hatred of common sense” (C, 31).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 224


111 Bion observed that he had to keep circulating freely in areas that
2 seemed incommunicable to the patient, namely, the areas of the ego
3 and of the id, in the actual session. The patients also have to circu-
4 late freely through them. This ability became visible, as occurred in
5 psycho-analysis, in patients who seemed unable to do this. A theo-
6 retical detour seems to be necessary; it reproduces Bion’s own path.
7 He makes a choice, stating that Freud’s final theory of guilt “is a
8 more fruitful theory” than Klein’s theory of guilt. Freud’s theory
9 states denial of guilt linked to the Oedipal situation; Klein puts it as
10 the effect of a “loved injured object” which “may very swiftly change
1 into a persecutor” (Klein, 1952, p. 285).
2 In a certain sense, Freud pushes the issue back towards the ego;
3 Klein returns it towards the id. The id was where Freud started from
4 (even though he did not call it “id” then), when he talked about
5 repression as a result of deflected cathexis. But he had modified the
6 theory in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, in terms of the Oedipus
711 complex in which the death instincts function. This includes the
8 areas of the ego and the super-ego, which are partially unconscious.
9 To study the dynamics of object relations as Klein did, even though
20 it includes the whole mental apparatus, is tilted towards examining
1 the object cathexis, which is instinctual (area of the id); the ego and
2 super-ego are not under close scrutiny when this focus is prevalent.
3 The idea of a cruel, murderous super-ego, a “mass of super-egos—
4 the bizarre objects” is seminal in illuminating the inability to dream.
511 It led Bion to deal with the matter tolerating the paradox of a
6 conscious and an unconscious functioning simultaneously. He leans
7 neither towards the id nor the ego; the obtrusion of the super-ego
8 is more clearly perceived.
9 There is no hostile criticism in Bion’s evaluation of Klein’s
311 theory, as well as that of Freud. Its effect is that both theories
1 emerge stronger and expanded. He continues integrating and
2 unifying them, as we shall see soon.
3 The dream is not regarded as a boxed, compartmentalized
4 unconscious activity. It is dealt with as belonging to both realms, id
5 and ego. Freud did this with the concepts of manifest and latent
6 contents, but Bion seems to push the issue further in the actual
7 moment of the session. It is not only a case of dreams that are
8 reported as having occurred hours or days earlier. It is rather a
911 dream being dreamt during the session—or an inability to do this.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 225

D 225

111 The suspicion that the actual events of the session are being turned
2 into a dream came back to me today with X when at one point I
3 suspected that my interpretation was being made into a dream . . .
4 I suspect that Freud’s displacement etc. is relevant; he took up only
the negative attitude, dreams as “concealing” something, not the
way in which the necessary dream is constructed (C, 33). . . . I shall
assume that the patient’s fear of the murderous super-ego prevents
711 his approaching the Positions [paranoid–schizoid and depressive
8 positions]. This in turn means that be is unable to dream, for it is in
9 dream that the Positions are negotiated. He therefore postpones
10 this experience till the analytic session in which he hopes he will
1 have support, or perhaps, feeling he has support, dares to have the
2 dream he cannot have without the consciousness of support.
3 He has to dream—the important thing here is not the content of the
4 dream, but his having to “dream” . . . the essential difference
5 between the resistance as something peculiar to the neurotic and rel-
6 egation to the unconscious, and psychotic destruction of the means
7 for understanding which is associated with an apparently full con-
8 sciousness of what is ordinarily the furniture of the unconscious. “I
do not understand”, or “do not know why”, or “do not know how”,
etc. may be taken either as a positive statement of inability to dream,
or a defiant assertion of a capacity for not dreaming. [C, 37]
2 The link between dreaming and Klein’s observations about the
3 Positions is made with the aid of a formulation borrowed from the
4 philosophy of mathematics, that of the selected fact. It matters
5 because projective identification and other manifestations of the
6 paranoid–schizoid position as well as depressive phenomena are
7 ubiquitous in analysis: “the interplay between paranoid–schizoid and
8 depressive positions is made possible by a selected fact which is known as
9 the ‘harmonizing or unifying fact’ spatially, and the ‘cause’ temporally
30 . . .” (C, 44). The selected fact must be, so to say, intuited and
1 “dreamt”.
2 The importance of these is that much that passes for “normal”
3 during the session may in fact be pure hallucination. Indeed, a few
4 years later these observations would lead to the theory of transfor-
5 mations in hallucinosis (q.v.). This makes the difference between
6 real analysis (q.v.) and a colluded or hallucinated practice.
8 In other words, the dream-work we know is only a small aspect of
911 dreaming proper—dreaming proper being a continuous process
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 226


111 belonging to the waking life and in action all through the waking
2 hours, but not usually observable then except with the psychotic
3 patient . . . At any rate the hypothesis that in an analytic session I
4 can see the patient dream has proved to be very valuable especially
with its counterpart of seeing the contrasting activity of hallucina-
tion. [C, 38]
The basis that seems to have given Bion a hint of the kinship and
differences between dreams and hallucinations—something that
occupied a great deal of Freud’s work—may be seen in statements
such as this: “Freud says the state of sleep represents a turning away from
the world and ‘thus provides a necessary condition for the development of
a psychosis’. Is this why X talks of losing consciousness?” (C, 43). Bion
was coming from a lengthy and profound experience with
5 psychotics and was able to see the value of observing the function
6 of seemingly minor verbalizations.
711 Thus Bion comes to his proposal that is a recommendation
8 concerning the analyst’s state of mind that, if present, propitiates
9 analysis; if absent, precludes it: “Anxiety in the analyst is a sign that
20 the analyst is refusing to ‘dream’ the patient’s material: not (dream) =
1 resist = not (introject)” (C, 43).
2 The extension of Freud’s theory of dreams and of the uncon-
3 scious as epistemologically previous to the conscious are extended:
4 “It may be worth considering, when a patient is resisting, whether the
511 resistance bears characteristics relating it to phenomena Freud described
6 as ‘dream-work’ . But Freud meant by dream-work that unconscious mate-
7 rial, which would otherwise be perfectly comprehensible, was transformed
8 into a dream, and that the dream-work needed to be undone to make the
9 now incomprehensible dream comprehensible [New Introductory
311 Lectures, 1933a, SE 22, p. 25]. I mean that the conscious material has to
1 be subjected to dream-work to render it fit for storing, selection and suit-
2 able for transformation from paranoid—schizoid position . . . Freud says
3 Aristotle states that a dream is the way the mind works in sleep: I say it
4 is the way it works when awake [New Introductory Lectures, 1933a, SE
5 22, p. 26–7]” (C, 43).
6 Therefore the day-dreaming activity, already adumbrated by
7 Freud, is now put to practical use. The simultaneous functioning of
8 conscious and unconscious is established—rather than a time-
911 succession between them. Those issues would be developed more
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 227

D 227

111 in Learning from Experience. The appreciation of the unconscious is

2 heightened. It is as if Bion were “out-freuding” Freud; perhaps he
3 was stretching Freud’s observations in a sense that he pushes its
4 limits further than was thought possible. Let us see a quotation that
5 vouches for these statements. Bion reminds us of Freud again and
6 again, in order to further the issue:
8 Freud says,
9 It is easy to see how the remarkable preference shown by the
10 memory in dreams for indifferent, and consequently unnoticed,
1 elements in waking experiences is bound to lead people to overlook
2 in general the dependence of dreams upon waking life and all
3 events to make it difficult in any particular instance to prove that
4 dependence. [The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a, SE 4, p. 19]
My belief is that the dependence of waking life on dreams has been
overlooked and is even more important. Waking life = ego activity,
and in particular the play of logical thought on the synthesis of
8 elements, i.e. particles of the paranoid–schizoid position . . . the
9 dream symbolization and dream-work is what makes memory
211 possible. [C, 47]
2 One may feel that Bion subverts Freud. But one may also see
3 that what he does is to find the other side that complements that
4 which Freud illuminated; an implicit situation is made explicit, in
5 terms of antithetical pairs.
From unconscious to conscious or unconscious ⇔ conscious?
9 Bion states that there is a need to make something unconscious as
30 a condition for enabling this something to be conscious at all. In
1 other words, nothing can be conscious without a sojourn in the
2 unconscious. It is a change from sticking exclusively to the formula,
3 “turning the unconscious, conscious” (or “where the id was, ego
4 shall be”). This expansion of Freud would appear a few years later
5 in Learning from Experience in the guise of the theory of the “contact-
6 barrier” (q.v.). Bion quotes two examples: the learning of walking
7 and the learning of the word “Daddy”.
8 The unconscious appears at full bore in its quality or nature of
911 being an “unknown”. This quality, made apparent by the German
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 228


111 name-unbewußt—was gradually lost by the psycho-analytical envi-

2 ronment. This quality obtrudes in the proposal of thoughts without
3 a thinker and the search for a selected fact. Later it would emerge
4 in the concept of invariances—underlying immaterial facts that call
5 for research into the unknown to be discovered. The psycho-analyt-
6 ical movement persistently falls back into a posture that takes the
7 patient’s words at their face value, dealing just with the manifest
8 content; no underlying facts are detected.
9 In doing this, our practice undergoes a psychologization in the
10 academic tradition of psychology. Perhaps the inability to dream the
1 session, to deal with thoughts without a thinker that float in the air,
2 the allegiance to the conscious words uttered, accounts much more
3 for the present day so-called “crisis” than has been considered.
4 The attempt to display that nothing can be conscious without
5 having been unconscious would remain alive to the end of Bion’s
6 life. The last attempt was the Trilogy, A Memoir of the Future. It
711 contains a dream-like verbalization that may help the reader to find
8 the way back to conscious for himself (please refer to the entries
9 Analytic View, Atonement, Real Analysis).
20 There are some conditions for dreaming the patient’s material:
1 (i) The exercising of personal freedom with no resorting to a priori
2 and ad hoc theorizing; (ii) analytically trained intuition, meaning,
3 experience of personal analysis as profound as possible, reaching
4 the analyst’s psychotic personality coupled with experience with
511 the patient’s psychotic personality. (i) and (ii) bring with them
6 sensations of impending madness or actual madness.
One way of dealing with the problem of scientific evidence for
dream theories would be to restrict the search for data to experience
shared by analyst and patient, or at which analyst and patient are
311 both present. Such occasions might be all those on which the
1 patient said he had had a dream, or all those on which there appear
2 to be events taking place, e.g. the patient sits up and looks around
3 in a dazed way; the analyst, identifying himself with the patient,
4 feels that the experience the patient is having would be more
5 understandable if the patient were asleep and dreaming.
6 “More understandable.” Why? Because it is more appropriate to
7 the facts as the analyst sees them. But this means that if the analyst
8 were feeling what the patient seems to be feeling, than he, the
911 analyst, would be disposed to say, “I must have been dreaming”.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 229

D 229

111 Just then I found I had been asleep; just before I woke I seemed to
2 be saying to F that I was feeling I was going mad because I could
3 not sort out the feeling I was having in the dream about having a
4 dream and who I was. The dream seemed to be that I was trying to
solve the problem I am in fact trying to solve, but with the addition
of the fear of going mad—a sort of mental disintegration. [C, 51[
The same issue was put very explicitly in A Memoir of the Future.
This links up with what was said earlier in this entry about projec-
tive identification and the demand that the patient makes on the
analyst, that he must dream in place of the patient.
2 The non-psychotic, and the non-psychotic part of the personality, is
3 afraid of making something conscious—the typical neurotic fear in
4 psycho-analysis—because making it conscious is feared as the same
5 as “bringing it out into the open”; this in turn is felt to be the same
6 as evacuating it and making it conscious in such a way that it can
7 never be made unconscious again, and therefore unavailable ever
8 again for unconscious waking thinking. And this in turn is felt to be
9 indistinguishable from being psychotic. This is one of the reasons for
211 the neurotic fear that successful analysis will make him mad. [C, 71]
2 The patient’s necessity to dream during the session and its para-
doxical companion, namely, the fear of dreaming, displayed by
patients, led Bion to two discoveries:
1. That the analyst should also have a capacity to dream the
2. That the actuality of hallucinosis is more frequent than formal
appearances led us to suppose (please refer to the entry,
“Transformations in hallucinosis”).
Since it is essential that the creative worker should keep his -func-
2 tion unimpaired, it is clear that the analyst must be able to dream
3 the session. But if he is to do this without sleeping, he must have
4 plenty of sleep. [C, 120]
6 To dream is at once to apprehend reality through a non-real real
7 experience. It is non-real because it is only a dream; and it is real
8 because to dream, as an act, is real, even though its manifest content
911 is not.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 230


111 Having two sets of feelings about the same facts is felt as madness
2 and disliked accordingly. This is one reason why it is felt necessary
3 to have an analyst; another reason is the wish for me to be available
4 to be regarded as mad and used to being regarded as mad. There
is a fear that you might be called an analysand, or reciprocally, that
you may be accused of insanity. Should I then be tough and
resilient enough to be regarded and treated as insane while being
sane? If so, it is not surprising that psycho-analysts are, almost as a
8 function of being analysts, supposed to qualify for being insane and
9 called such. It is part of the price they have to pay for being psycho-
10 analysts. [AMF, I, 113]
2 Recommended cross-reference: Dream.
3 Suggested cross-references: Alpha-function, Dream-work-,
4 Beta-Screen, Contact-barrier.
6 Dream-work-: This concept of dream work- is relevant to the
711 student of the work of Bion in terms of a history of ideas. In the
8 opinion of the author it must be put into its historical perspective.
9 It is not possible to define it without introducing a gross distortion.
20 Its definition varied in time and in the end it was discarded.
1 It furnishes an example of learning from experience and error,
2 and also of the outcome of a non-rivalrous, but critical approach to
3 the works of the great masters. By “critical”, here, is meant, in the
4 sense of not being submitted to authoritarianism or idealization.
511 The concept of dream-work- arose from Bion’s scrutiny of the
6 mysterious nature of that which we accustomed ourselves to call
7 “dreams”. During the last century thousands of artisans (practising
8 analysts) around the world repeated Freud’s observations. This
9 repetition is valuable to the extent that it furnishes an example that
311 fulfils Popper’s criterion of reproducibility: it scientifically confirms,
1 at least in part, Freud’s work, but it cannot be seen as furthering it.
2 Perhaps no other author in the history of the psycho-analytic move-
3 ment tried to further Freud’s observations on dreams as did Bion.
4 The study of the history of this concept offers an opportunity to
5 see:
6 (i) Bion’s use of Freud’s observations under a non-idealized, non-
7 authoritarian and non-rivalrous way.
8 (ii) His gradual replacement of philosophy with philosophy of
911 mathematics.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 231

D 231

111 (iii) How his anchoring in clinical work helped him to correct and
2 improve his views; consequent to this, the evolution of the
3 concept offers an opportunity to see a scientist at work. In
4 other terms, Bion avoided flights of imagination, hasty and
5 unwarranted formation of ad hoc theories. Knowing too well
6 that his proposals “may seem to introduce a dangerous doctrine
711 opening the way for the analyst who theorizes unhampered by the
8 facts of practice”, Bion warned that “unfettered play of an analyst’s
9 phantasies has long been recognized; pedantic statement on the one
10 hand and verbalization loaded with unobserved implications on the
1 other mean that the potential for misunderstanding and erroneous
2 deduction is so high as to vitiate the value of the work done with such
3 defective tools” (T, 39, 44). Even though Bion would make this
4 warning six years after having proposed and discarded the
5 concept of dream work-a, one may see that he not only
6 claimed, but practised it.
8  During the fifties and until 1960 Bion was critical of Freud’s
9 idea that consciousness had the qualities of a sense-organ. In chap-
211 ter VII of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud leaves to consciousness
1 the role of a sense organ for apprehending psychic quality.
2 Bion’s criticism paralleled his attempt to improve Freud’s differ-
3 entiation of hallucination and dream. At that time Bion attempted
4 to create a new, all-encompassing theory that could account for
5 mental states that have the nature of dreams. In this theory, dreams
6 would be a partial aspect of mental activity. In the end Bion gives
7 up the attempt; he finally adopts Freud’s definition. From then on
8 he displays a distinct preference for adopting established theories
9 that may not be completely satisfactory but at the same time no
30 better replacement is available.
1 It became clear to him that the confusion he was trying to
2 resolve in theoretical terms was in fact a confusion made by his
3 patients. Bion realized that these patients cannot dream and there-
4 fore they cannot be awake. He matches this observation with that
5 of the use that the psychotic personality (q.v.) makes of the non-
6 psychotic personality (q.v.). This indicates that there is no need
7 to modify Freud’s theory, but rather indicates the need to examine
8 in more detail Freud’s observations on cognitive development,
911 in terms of perception and apprehension of sense data and their
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 232


111 transformation into non-sensuous data. Bion starts from Freud’s

2 concept of dream-work. Theoretically, he states that the dream is
3 where Klein’s positions are negotiated. Practically, he hints that the
4 analyst must “‘dream’ the patient’s material” (C, 43).
5 In focusing on the patient’s and the analyst’s difficulties in
6 dreaming, Bion rescues Freud’s observation that dream-work exists
7 during the whole day, even when the person is conscious, wide
8 awake. The patient cannot dream and puts the dream-yet-to-be-
9 dreamt into the analyst, via projective identification. The analyst is
10 tempted to dream for the patient. He must not do this; he must
1 “dream the session”. More than rescuing Freud’s observation, he
2 expands the duties of the dreaming activity. As with night-dream-
3 ing, day-dreaming may be more near reality than worldly values
4 and social conventions, that may be hallucinated.
5 The nature and function of resistance may be that of a negative:
6 there’s always another side that goes beyond appearances; this
711 includes the formal, manifest content of the patient’s discourse. In
8 1977 (A Memoir of the Future) Bion would put this in clearer terms:
9 resistances simultaneously betray and disguise truth. This “another
20 side” of whatever it is may corresponds to day-dreaming.
2 It may be worth considering, when a patient is resisting, whether
3 the resistance bears characteristics relating it to phenomena Freud
4 described as “dream-work”. But Freud meant by dream-work that
unconscious material, which would otherwise be perfectly compre-
hensible, was transformed into a dream, and that the dream-work
needed to be undone to make the now incomprehensible dream
7 comprehensible. I mean that the conscious material had to be
8 subjected to dream-work to render it fit for storing, selection, and
9 suitable for transformation from paranoid–schizoid position to
311 depressive position . . . Freud says Aristotle states that a dream is
1 the way the mind works in sleep: I say it is the way it works when
2 awake. [C, 43]
4 His research makes parts of Freud’s work more explicit: “Contact
5 with reality is not dependent on dream-work; accessibility to the person-
6 ality of the material derived from this contact is dependent on dream-work.
7 The failure of dream-work and the consequent lack of availability of expe-
8 rience of external or internal psychic reality gives rise to the peculiar state
911 of the psychotic who seems to have a contact with reality but is able to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 233

D 233

111 make singularly little use of it either for learning by experience or for
2 immediate consumption.
3 In this respect the dream seems to play a part in the mental life of the
4 individual, which is analogous to the digestive processes in the alimentary
5 life of the individual. Why?” (C, 45).
6 The dream is seen as an epistemological function of the mind: it
711 has, so to say, introjective properties. It introjects reality itself, exter-
8 nal or internal. The analogy with the digestive system is hinted at.
9 It was to remain lurking until it was embodied into the theory of
10 -function.
1 The first mention of alpha dates from 5 August 1959. It had to
2 do with dreams and the psychotic’s inability to dream—which was
3 seen as an attack on : “The dream-elements in the psychotic dream are
4 really the discarded residue of -elements that have survived mutilations
5 of ” (C, 53). At first,  was a somewhat vague entity that operated
6 just on sense impressions. Despite its still somewhat vague nature,
7 it was duly defined: “ is concerned with, and is identical with, uncon-
8 scious waking thinking designed, as a part of the reality principle, to aid
9 in the task of real, as opposed to pathological, modification of frustration”
211 (C, 54).
1 A clinical fact, namely, a striking inability that some patients had
2 to dream, led him to investigate the issue. Bion observed these
patient’s attempts to compensate for this inability through dream-
ing during the session:
6 I wish now to extend the term, “dream”, to cover the kind of events
7 that take place in an analysis of a schizophrenic—events that
8 appear to me to merit the description, “dreams”.
One of the points I wish to discuss is related to the fact that the
actual events of the session, as they are apparent to the analyst, are
being “dreamed” by the patient not in the sense that he believes that
the events observed by him are the same as the events observed by
3 the analyst (except for the fact that he believes them to be a part of
4 a dream, and the analyst believes them to be a part of reality) but
5 in the sense that these same events that are being perceived by the
6 analyst are being perceived by the patient and treated to a process
7 of being dreamed by him. That is, these events are having some-
8 thing done to them mentally, and that which is being done to them
911 is what I call being dreamed . . . [C, 39]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 234


111 In defining  Bion integrated the writings of Freud in 1911 to

2 those of 1900. To put  as part of the unconscious as well as part of
3 the reality principle is an expansion of Freud’s contributions. It elic-
4 its the existence of the day-dreaming activity. The hypothesis here
5 is that dreams are not only the royal road to the knowledge of the
6 unconscious processes of the mind—but they are also a royal road
7 to the knowledge of reality as it is; meaning, both the reality of the
8 self and external reality. Summing up, dreams can be seen as a self-
9 epistemological tool at the service of the epistemophilic instincts.
10 Reality itself is (i) amenable to be apprehended, albeit unwit-
1 tingly and partially, by the senses; (ii) then it is dreamt, and there-
2 fore it is made unconscious in order to return later to consciousness.
3 Bion leaned heavily on Freud’s observation of a choice, namely,
4 the crossroads of modifying reality or evading it.  was first seen as
5 the device that would make it possible to modify reality. In 1959 it
6 was not seen as a function. It did not have the status of something
711 that was not to be confused with dreaming activity proper.
8  was a first attempt to solve something in Freud’s work that
puzzled Bion. How could it be that consciousness performs the
function of a sense-organ for the apprehension of psychic quality?
In the end Bion makes peace with the concept and accepts it. His
critical attitude helped to improve Freud’s theory. He realized that
the acquisition of that which can be seen as a psychic quality itself
depends on modification of frustration. He integrates Klein’s obser-
vation of projective identification into Freud’s theory: projective
identification can be used as an evacuation that serves to evasion of
Simultaneously with the construction of an “ project” that
could replace Freud’s theory of consciousness and its attendant
modes of apprehension of reality, Bion was increasingly extending
2 Freud’s theory of dreams. “How does a dream evade frustration? By
3 distortion of facts of reality . . . by dream-work on the perception of facts
4 . . . Freud attributes to dream-work the function of concealing the facts of
5 internal mental life only—the dream-thoughts only. I attribute to it the
6 function of evading the frustration to which the dream-thoughts, and
7 therefore the interpretation of dream-thoughts, would give rise if allowed
8 to function properly—that is, as mechanisms associated with the legiti-
911 mate tasks involved in real modification of frustration” (C, 54).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 235

D 235

111  thus opened the road to a more precise study of waking

2 unconscious thinking, during a time that the psycho-analytic move-
3 ment made a sensible detour towards conscience and conscious
4 ego. During that epoch the establishment began to despise or ignore
5 the unknown, the id-unbewußt. A few days after trying to introduce
6 his alternative, Bion asks: “Does this [waking unconscious thinking]
711 have the function I attribute to  or does  carry out the transformation
8 of sense impressions which makes these storable in such a form that they
9 are available for waking unconscious thinking?” (C, 55).
10 At this moment he sharply denies to  the task of symbol forma-
1 tion. This is a first step towards separating  from dreams. Did his
2 firm grasp of Klein and Segal’s perceptions on this issue, coupled
3 with his experience with excessively concretizing psychotics who
4 could neither dream not wake, help him to reach this point?
5 This separation of  from dreams puts  as a precursor of
6 dreams—later to be seen as the factory of raw material to be used
7 in dreams. It was just the existence of hostile criticisms against Freud
8 that seemed to furnish him with a hint. He quotes page 54 of The
9 Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4, where Freud observes that there are
211 people who use the “need in a waking state to disparage the dream”;
1 Bion emphasizes an often overlooked statement of Freud, namely,
2 the dependence of waking life on dreams (SE 4, p. 19; C, 47). Bion
3 joins this with his idea that thinking, which Freud thought was
4 originally unconscious, was in fact “still unconscious” (C, 54).
5 That is, Bion comes up with the idea of a “dream-work-”, which
6 replaces, in a mere two days, the  theory. “Most of the criticisms cited
7 [he is referring to Freud SE 4 p. 54] are hostile and indicate the need in
8 a waking state to disparage the dream. This is compatible with -theory
9 that there is a failure of ‘digestion mentally’. It would explain partly why
30 the ‘facts’ and their ideational counterpart had not been digested if the
1 rational conscious attitude was so hostile to the ideational counterpart of
2 the stimulus, wherever in reality it originated. For such hostility would be
3 likely to inhibit dream-work-, and in so far as the inhibition failed—for
4 after all the patient has dreamed—the hostility now extends to the prod-
5 uct of the dream-work” (C, 56–7).
6 Four days later another invariance that permeates the whole of
7 Bion’s work obtrudes in the construction of the theory. Epistemo-
8 logically, he used Bacon, Locke, Schlick, Prichard, Braithwaite,
911 Bradley and part of Popper’s contributions to science. Bion was
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 236


111 looking for a generalizing theory that could spot Hume’s constant
2 conjunctions and/or Poincaré’s selected facts. They could endow
3 the theory of the “generalizing” or “unifying” powers.
4 In the path that would lead Bion to the theory of -function we
5 are now in an intermediate phase: “dream-work-”. We have
6 already seen that from “alpha” to “dream-work-” the modification
7 was to separate “alpha” from “dreaming”. The next step is duly
8 described: “Under the title dream-work- I propose to bring together a
9 number of mental activities all of which are familiar to practising psycho-
10 analysts, although they may not have previously associated them together
1 in this way” (C, 62).
2 In other terms, this is a practical application of Poincaré’s
3 selected fact; Bion draws it from the philosophy of mathematics.
4 His extension of Freud: “The title, ‘dream-work’, has already a meaning
5 of great value. I wish to extend some of the ideas already associated with
6 it and to limit others” (C, 62). His affiliation is clearly stated: Freud’s
711 The Interpretation of Dreams, “Formulations on the two principles of
8 mental functioning”, “Instincts and their vicissitudes” and the New
9 Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis; he unifies them with Klein’s
20 “Notes on some schizoid mechanisms”. He attributes to the sign 
1 the value of a notation “for the sake of brevity ” (C, 63), to the more
2 cumbersome term “dream-work-”.
3 The theory has features that would be transmitted to its replace-
4 ment, the theory of alpha-function. It was not regarded as a func-
511 tion. It contained no definition. It included too many intentions: to
6 differentiate dreams from hallucinations, to include something still
7 ill-defined that was neither dreaming proper nor waking thinking.
8 In this sense, this term “functioned” exactly as that which Bion
9 observed in psychotics—who can neither wake nor dream. If it is
311 true that it is clinical work that nourishes the best psycho-analytic
1 concepts, it is also true that the elevation of a clinical finding to the
2 status of normal functioning entails some risks. Perhaps this was
3 the case with this theory and perhaps it was superseded in part for
4 this reason.
5 In this case, clinical observation paved the way to realizing that
6 psychotic functioning is a deeper layer of that which we call
7 normalcy. The posture had its finest hours in the elucidation of the
8 psychotic personality and its final development in the theory of
911 transformations in hallucinosis (q.v.). During the fifties Bion still
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 237

D 237

111 had an allegiance to a view that believed that the scheme “pathol-
2 ogy or health” could be applied to suffering. Bion’s questioning this
3 scheme as well as the idea of cure was far in the future. These views
4 contributed to some of the inconsistencies one may find, as Bion
5 found, in his theory about dream-work-.
6 The theory tried to resolve the function of dreaming and to
711 resolve Bion’s doubts about Freud’s theory of consciousness. It also
8 tried to integrate Bion’s view that some dreams were at the service
9 of projective identification. In trying to resolve all those problems
10 in a single frame, the theory of dream-work- contained some
1 contradictions. For example, it was important to illuminate the exis-
2 tence of day-dreaming; it also illuminated the problems consequent
3 to the failure to dream. The key lay in restricting its goals and also
4 in making clearer its origin in sense impressions. But this key was
5 well ahead.
6 Let us look at these problems in some detail and the way Bion
7 resolved them. The resolution was not theoretical. Clinical work
8 furnished the clues. The observation that dream activity or mecha-
9 nisms occurred during the day is present in the theory of dream-
211 work-: “Dream-work- is continuous night and day” (C, 63). Freud
1 said this from the beginning, when he stated again and again the conti-
2 nuities between everyday occurrences and their “remains” in dreams.
3 Despite Freud’s remarks the layman’s idea prevailed; namely, that of a
4 separation of day-dreaming activity and night dreaming activity. It corre-
5 sponded to the separation of conscious from unconscious. Even Freud at a
6 certain point capitulates and separates them, for example, when he posited
7 a succession in time: from unconscious to conscious.
8 Bion says that dream-work- “. . . operates on the mental counter-
9 part of events of external reality, or on what Bradley calls the ideational
30 counterpart of external fact” (C, 63). Here resides a difference
1 between dream-work- and -function. Bion was trying to use
2 Bradley’s ideas on mental functioning. Bion seemed to think that
3 the philosopher of science could help to solve a problem he saw in
4 Freud’s work. In saying that dream-work- operates on mental
5 counterparts rather than on sense impressions he was not using clini-
6 cal work, but philosophy. He would change it later when defining
7 -function: it acts on sense impressions. This was a stumbling
8 block: his proposed device, , operated in the stuff that the mind is
911 made of—mental counterparts—rather than in sense impressions, as
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 238


111 he would state later. Let us say that  and dream-work- were too
2 broad, all-encompassing attempts; they tried to replace dreams; for
3 dreams operate in the stuff of the mind.
4 Did his experience lead him to undervalue for a while the sense
5 impressions? “Various kinds of tic, including a stammer, reports of
6 supposed dreams in which there is apparently no content but a powerful
7 emotional experience, reports of dreams in which visual images are devoid
8 of associations of emotion—these for the present appear to be as near as we
9 are likely to get to an understanding of the mental material on which 
10 works” (C, 65).
1 Was Bion separating psychic from material reality? “The ideational
2 counterpart on which  operates appears to be consciousness associated with
3 certain sense impressions, which Freud calls the consciousness attached to
4 the sense organs . . . What this is I am not able to suggest” (C, 63). There
5 was an overriding factor in the constructive criticism of Freud’s the-
6 ory of consciousness. His objection about this specific part of Freud’s
711 work was the lack of clinical grounds that could confirm Freud’s the-
8 ory in practice: “I have no clinical experience that I feel would be valuable
9 to differentiate from other clinical experiences and label as a part of that
20 which constitutes the consciousness attached to the sense organs” (C, 63).
1 This is a consideration that shows Bion’s scientific bent. It would
2 be just this scientific Weltanschauung that furnished him with a clue
3 to resolve those issues—in the end, to get on peaceful terms with
4 Freud’s theory of consciousness. It also marked, with the replace-
511 ment of the theory of dream-work- by the theory of -function, his
6 giving-up of a theory that had become overloaded by too many
7 simultaneous goals.
8 In Transformations he recommended not abandoning a theory
9 that could have some shortcomings; but he seemed to have been
311 doing exactly this when he toyed with the theories of dream-work-
1  and . One of the clues that led him to abandon his own all-
2 encompassing theories rather than Freud’s was his perception that
3 different people can use the same words with different senses. Later
4 he would see that even the same person can use the same word
5 with different senses, according to the context. The observation of
6 psychotic patients led him to realize that some people utter phrases
7 and words “devoid of undertones or overtones”. One may say “table”;
8 but it “seems to be a lack of associations . . . as if, meaning nothing but
911 ‘table’, it came near to meaning nothing at all” (C, 63).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 239

D 239

111 At this time, Bion was very near to discovering the existence of
2 something he would a little while later name “-elements”. The
3 description was ready. What was lacking was a concept. Both
4 psycho-analytically and philosophically, it lacked the verbal coun-
5 terpart of the numinous realm, the unconscious (unbewußt) realm.
6 The following paragraph of the same text introduces the reader to
711 this realm:
8 There are other experiences that appear to be those of emotion, fear,
9 anxiety, dread, to which the patient seems unable to attach either a name
10 or an image” (C, 63). In this text, Bion follows a route that is the same
1 route that the patient followed in his suffering; Bion as a writer (and
2 probably as an analyst) also suffered from this. The reader is invited
3 to experiment with the taste of the “psychotic way”. The psychotic
4 way cannot differentiate conscious from unconscious, cannot real-
5 ize their filtering unification (see the entry, “contact barrier”) as an
6 ever-flowing, back and forth situation. “These experiences also appear
7 to be untransformed by . . . it is an undigested fact; it has not been
8 ‘dreamed’, it has not been transformed by ” (C, 63–4).
9 Another step is taken towards the theory of -function: “Is it
211 possible to get nearer to describing what  does? It pays attention to the
1 sense impressions” (C, 64). -function, in its turn, does pay attention
2 to the sense impressions; moreover, it actively uses them. It transforms
3 the sense impressions into elements that will be useful to store in
4 the memory, to think, to dream etc.
5 In putting  as something that pays attention to the sense impres-
6 sions and thereafter considering that feelings are internal sense
7 impressions, Bion is able to put aside Bradley, Braithwaite and
8 others. It is fair to say that in the same work that he courts those
9 philosophers he also points out critically where psycho-analysis
30 cannot be in agreement with them. Taking into account that those
1 texts are in the book Cogitations and therefore they represent an
2 intermediate stage in the development of theory, one may conjec-
3 ture that he realized how near-sighted and unsuccessful is the
4 attempt to replace psycho-analysis with philosophy. One would
5 also think that this attempt enabled him to perfect his use of philos-
6 ophy as an inspiring analogical tool rather than a replacement.
7 He would not resort to terms such as “ideational counterparts
8 of events of external reality” any more. He would instead see that
911 both dreaming as we know it and sense impressions as soon as they
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 240


111 have entered into the psyche are those counterparts. They need to
2 be construed by the person. They cannot be taken for granted as
3 existing. The philosopher does not bother investigating how they
4 are construed clinically and in real life.
5 Bion thought that the sense impression “must be ideogrammati-
6 cized”. In proposing this, Bion values—as did Freud—the visual
7 component. The ideogrammatization is also valued due to the fact
8 that it confers “durability” on the sense impression. Bion is trying to
9 see how an external or internal stimulus loses its material aspect; he
10 is on the verge of enunciating the “de-sense-fying” function of the
1 mind. It will be his mastery of Freud and Klein that allows him to
2 further the research: “But now there enters a new feature depending
3 on whether the pleasure–pain principle or the reality principle is
4 dominant. If the reality principle is dominant, then the object of the
5 ideogram will be to make the experience suitable for storage and
6 recall; if the pleasure–pain principle is dominant, the tendency will
711 be to have as the object of the ideogram its value as an excretable
8 object” (C, 64). The quest for ideograms would occupy Bion for the rest of
9 his life as one can see in AMF, volume I, pages 85ff.
20 All his experiences with psychotics as depicted in the clinical
1 papers written from 1950–58 could not give him the unification
2 of the theory: “So far I have to confess that I cannot really do more than
3 indicate the kind of material that is worked on by ” (C, 65). During
4 this time he observed many acted-out and other concrete manifes-
511 tations and was able, as an analyst, to extract the communicative
6 power they had. He worked on “mental material” that was deliv-
7 ered in the form of “material material”. He, as an analyst, de-
8 concretized the communication. And the patient? On which
9 material did his  work? Had the patient any  to count with?
311 Again, he still did not see that  worked exclusively on sensuous
1 impressions.
2 Unable to go further, Bion examined “the relationship of  to the
3 mechanisms of projective identification and splitting . . . The immediate
4 point is the adverse effect on the personality when the dream-work- is
5 associated with the pleasure principle and excessive projective identifica-
6 tion . . . the true dream is felt as life-promoting, whereas the dream
7 employed as a container for projective identification is felt to be an arte-
8 fact, as deficient in life-promoting qualities as a hallucinated breast is felt
911 to be deficient in food” (C, 66–7).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 241

D 241

111 Now the theory had a problem: dreams are both “introjectory”
2 (through dream-work-) and excretory (when used as a container
3 for the unwanted, for projective identification). When a theory has
4 to be too amended and fixed it becomes stretched. It loses its
5 boundaries: Bion saw the need to posit two types of dreams. This
6 would constitute no problem if he was working within the bound-
711 aries of the theory of dreams. Is not the attributing of too many
8 functions and purposes to a theory a sign that it lacks a proper defi-
9 nition? In this case, the two functions are contradictory: one serves
10 the reality principle and one serves the pleasure principle. When
1 thinking in dreams, it is easy to reconcile them, for dreams may
2 express both; but when it comes to thinking in functions of dream-
3 work, this fact becomes contradictory.
4 One sees that when Bion attributed a closer kinship with dreams
5 to  the theory became complicated and all-encompassing. When
6 he returned to see it as an activity that is nearer the port of entry of
7 stimuli, that is, sense impressions, it became less complicated. He
8 tackles dreams again and makes a suggestion: let us return to the
9 old definition of dreams, namely, that which occurs during the
211 night. But let us see it as “a symptom of mental indigestion”.
1 Bion proposes that dreams—as they are commonly understood,
2 reported dreams—are a symptom of “a failure of dream-work-”. The
3 key seemed to him, now, the difference between dreams and hallu-
4 cination at the point of confusion of dreams and hallucination: the
5 creation of visual imagery: “The failure may of course be due to
6 precisely such causes as the use of visual imagery in the service of projec-
7 tive identification which I have just been describing, but there are . . . also
8 degrees of frequency with which the patient resorts to the use of dream
9 imagery in the service of projective identification. Investigation of the
30 dream as a symptom of a failure of dream-work-a means that we have to
1 reconsider the series of hypotheses that I have grouped together under the
2 heading of dream-work-” (C, 68).
3 He was dissatisfied with the theory and was trying to approach
4 it through the psycho-analytical method that blends the positive,
5 phenomenal, the sensuously apprehensible manifestations of what-
6 ever it is, with the negative (q.v.). That is, Bion was trying to test his
7 still foggy hypothesis through observing the lack (negative, minus)
8 of it. The first observation was linked to a murderous superego:
911 “One of the dangers of the failure to dream  in the session is that the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 242


111 patient then splits the murderous super-ego and evacuates it” (C, 69). The
2 failure to dream means to act out the dream in day-time hallucina-
3 tions, usually of a murderous quality. His careful empirical attitude
4 is well depicted during the time he tries to examine the possibilities
5 of establishing a theory; his first considerations on truth that were
6 to come to fruition in Transformations (C, 70) date from this time.
7 A new approach was made two weeks later. Again it was his
8 experience with psychotics that helped him: “The inability of the
9 psychotic to ‘digest’ his experience mentally because of his lack of capacity
10 for  contributes to the situation with which most observers are familiar,
1 namely the easy accessibility to the observer of what should be the
2 psychotic’s unconscious. These elements remain detectable because the
3 patient cannot make them unconscious. They are therefore also, as I have
4 shown, not available to him because there has been no dream-work- done
5 to make them unconscious and therefore available to him. He is a man both
6 unable to make these elements unconscious and unable to profit by expe-
711 rience, for profiting by experience means being able to make the material
8 consciously perceived into material that can be mentally stored in such a
9 way that it is susceptible of both concretization and abstraction” (C, 71).
20 That which was called “abstraction”, could be seen under the
1 vertex of clinical experience as the possibility to “de-sense-fy” and
2 de-concretize in order to think. Bion observed that psychotics did
3 not do this; but he still could not see how to do this. Instead of being
4 crushed by the psychotic’s acting-out, Bion seemed to be able to
511 maintain at least part of his mind free from the patient’s projective
6 identification. This may serve as an example to his contemporaries
7 and following generations of analysts. Perhaps he was aided by his
8 analysis with Melanie Klein to realize the phantastic nature of
9 projective identification. He gradually became enabled to have a
311 finer observational appreciation of the function of the psychotic’s
1 concretized bombardments that created specific emotional climates.
2 They had emotional contents that could be decoded from the
3 dreamless acted-out events.
4 The quotation serves as a hint of things to come. It displays the
5 ancestor of his yet-to-be-written book’s title. In it the phrase “learn-
6 ing from experience” would replace the phrase “profit by experience”.
7 The model resorts again to the analogy with the digestive system;
8 the reference to dreams is displaced by an observation of the inter-
911 play between conscious and unconscious. Dream-work- now has
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 243

D 243

111 a function as a kind of transporter in conscious-unconscious travel-

2 ling—a function it would retain thereafter. This “travel” is analo-
3 gous to digestion; the mention of “storing” as a function of
4 dream-work- is a step towards the formulation of  as a function
5 itself. It further differentiates  from dreaming proper.
6 One month later, October 1959, Bion finally divorces  from
711 dreams: he accepts Freud’s use of the latter term: “The term, ‘dream’,
8 I shall always use for the phenomena described by Freud under that term”
9 (C, 95). He begins his career, so to speak, of furnishing new forms
10 that seem both to rescue Freud’s insights and to facilitate their
1 apprehension: “The dream is an emotional experience that is develop-
2 mentally unsuccessful in that it is an attempt to fulfil the functions which
3 are incompatible; it is in the domain of the reality principle and the plea-
4 sure principle, and represents an attempt to satisfy both. That is to say, it
5 is an attempt to achieve frustration evasion and frustration modification
6 and fails in both. In so far as it is an attempt at modification of frustra-
7 tion, it requires an interpretation; as an attempt at frustration evasion, it
8 has failed to satisfy because the wish fulfilment in it leaves the personality
9 aware that the wish has not been fulfilled in reality. The dream thus occu-
211 pies a conspicuous role in treatment; it contains, and is itself a manifesta-
1 tion of, painful stresses.”
2 These statements further his proposal of attributing a (mental)
3 function to . The dream is seen as a tool in the treatment. It is not
4 seen as an event that could serve all psycho-analytical purposes
5 and therefore can resolve anything—practically and theoretically. In
6 adumbrating that the dream fails both as an attempt to achieve
7 frustration evasion and frustration modification, Bion or any other
8 researcher would be justified if they tried to look for another theo-
9 retical tool to take care of some phenomena. The issue is not just
30 theoretical; perhaps the human mind, realizing the dream’s failure,
1 also “looked for” another practical tool. The researcher would be
2 just trailing a path which analogically corresponds to the mind’s
3 path. To look for another tool means to leave the dream-theory as
4 it is, with its capacities and limitations. There is no replacement. At
5 the same time, a new theory—such as —will have its own uses
6 and right from the start will be unencumbered by “all-encompass-
7 ing” tasks that had already been overstretching it:
8 But for this same reason its [the dream’s] importance is less cen-
911 tral amongst the processes involved in the maintenance of smooth
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 244


111 development; the crucial mechanisms are those associated with rendering
2 the perceptions of experience fit for storage in the psyche, namely , and
3 for making these stored transformations of experience available again when
4 the psyche needs them. The problem is, what are these crucial mecha-
5 nisms?” (C, 95). The phrase “smooth development” stresses that a
6 process more basic and primitive than dreams may be at work;
7 perhaps it propitiates conditions to dreaming activity itself. It is
8 an exploration into the functions of the dynamic unconscious
9 (unknown, unbewußt). It takes Freud’s theory to its ultimate
10 “Freudian” consequences.
1 In a certain sense, the dream, if regarded as “consciousness-
2 bound” (starting from the unconscious and becoming conscious)
3 will always be interpreted as something too compromised by
4 consciousness. It cannot deal with some phenomena that Bion is
5 forced to deal with, when dealing with patients who display their
6 psychotic personality more clearly. The “unconscious-bound” sense
711 is still a mystery—even to dreams. This is an issue that Freud
8 emphasized. Dream-work seems to be the main device that turns
9 the conscious into unconscious; but it also fails in doing this.
20 Thanks to its failure one may interpret dreams. The phenomena
1 Bion tries to deal with are, “the crucial mechanisms are those associated
2 with rendering the perceptions of experience fit for storage in the psyche”.
3 Such a mechanism must turn that which is conscious into uncon-
4 scious. Such a mechanism is neither the dream nor dream-work.
511 The former uses elements already stored in the psyche; the latter
6 has a function in construing the storable elements but does not store
7 them.
8 Freud dealt with this issue when he was confronted with the fact
9 that mechanisms that send sensory perceptions to memory must be
311 differentiated from those which send them to consciousness. This
1 thread is left loose in Freud’s work; this is exactly the issue that
2 Bion is tackling now. (See Freud, “Regression”, chapter VII of The
3 Interpretation of Dreams, SE, 539–40. In 1920 Freud would separate
4 the two mechanisms.)
5 Bion’s way is an example of scientific research in the psycho-
6 analytical field. It is similar to Planck’s creation of his “constant of
7 nature” and Einstein’s creation of the constant “c”: “It may be that we
8 can never know [the crucial mechanisms], that we can only postulate
911 their existence in order to explain hypotheses that are capable of translation
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 245

D 245

111 into empirically verifiable data, and that we shall have to work with these
2 postulates without assuming that corresponding realities will at some time
3 be discovered. I regard  as a postulate of this nature” (C, 95).
4 These postulates helped Bion when he examined  in the light
5 of its negative, that is, its destruction. “One consequence is starvation
6 of the psyche in its supply of reality. There is therefore nothing that can be
711 opposed to phantasy . . . since its [] destruction makes it impossible to
8 store experience, retaining only ‘undigested’ facts, the patient feels he
9 contains not visual images of things but things themselves . . . regarded by
10 him in the same way as non-psychotics and the non-psychotic part of his
1 personality regard ‘thoughts’ and ‘ideas’. . .” (C, 96–7).
2 The next phrase allows one to see the differentiation between the
3  processes and dreams, and the hallucinated character of the
4 production of such images during the day: “they are expected by him
5 to behave as if they were visual images in his mind . . . the result I want to
6 consider here is the patient’s inability to dream . . . The starvation of the
7 psyche of all elements needed for growth and development gives extreme
8 urgency to the patient’s inability to dream . . . this activity is extra-
9 sessional . . . the fear is of nothing less than annihilation. Consequently the
211 patient...needs to restrict these attempts to sessions . . . The combination of
1 incapacity to dream with the urgency imposed by psychic starvation gives
2 rise to . . . the hallucinated dream which affords no associations” (C, 97–8).
4 An inability to dream is itself so serious that the patient is
5 compelled to have a dream, a “queer dream” that is a counterpart,
6 on the level of dream thinking, of the hallucinatory gratification
experienced in waking life when true gratification is impossible . . .
The failure to dream is felt as such a grave disaster that the patient
continues to hallucinate during the day, to hallucinate a dream, or
9 so to manipulate facts that he is able to feel he is having a dream—
30 which is the daylight counterpart of the night-time hallucination of
1 a dream . . . .in this respect the dream that yields no associations
2 and the reality that yields no dreams are alike; they are similar to
3 hallucinatory gratification. [C, 111–12]
5 Step by step Bion is approaching, through the empirical nour-
6 ishment of clinical material, a process that is distinct from dreams
7 but is seminal to their formation. In the parts quoted, the two clin-
8 ical situations that led him to the observations were omitted,
911 namely, the cruel and annihilating super-ego that menaces to
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 246


111 emerge extra-sessionally, and the analyst’s function in the session

2 (please refer to the entry, “Analytic View”).
3 In January 1960 a proto--element is hypothesized for the first
4 time. It was not called element but “object”. As ever, the empirically
5 collected clinical data both bear and illuminate the formulation: a
6 patient brings “together two sets of objects” (C, 113). One of them is a
7 continuously fragmented object, “similar to, if not identical with” the
8 bizarre objects (q.v.); they are amenable to juxtaposition but not
9 combination; they are “useless for dream thoughts, for storage as
10 memory, or, as Freud said, for notation, and therefore no good for uncon-
1 scious waking thinking”. The other one is called -object, which is
2 endowed with “suitability for dream-thoughts” and can make the
3 depressive position imminent.
4 Resorting to a hypothesis of the existence of -objects completes
5 the divorce of dream-work- from dreams. The -objects assume
6 the function of raw material for the construction of dreams. With
711 them  has comparatively less “dreaming” functions; it still has
8 functions regarding the movement from PS to D. In due course
9 those functions would also be left aside; the definition of -func-
20 tion, -elements and -elements assumes a self-supporting charac-
1 ter. Nevertheless, even if their previous functions were changed,
2 they would remain linked both to the formation of dreams and to
3 the interplay of the positions. They remain there as factors of the
4 latter. Dreams, PSD, -function will, as we shall see soon, acquire
511 (in the case of -function) or recover (in the case of dreams and the
6 positions) a status of their own. Their relationship became clearer
7 when Bion got an inspiration from the mathematician. He exam-
8 ined the relationships of dreaming, PSD and -function in terms
9 of factors and functions.
311 In February 1960, after having defined “-elements”, Bion
1 defines -elements for the first time: “objects are felt to be alive and to
2 possess character and personality presumably indistinguishable from the
3 infant’s own . . . the real and the alive are indistinguishable; if an object is
4 real to the infant, then it is alive; if it is dead, it does not exist”.
5 He hypothesized the model of such elements in order to discuss
6 verbally objects that are in a pre-verbal state; moreover, they are not
7 felt as alive because of being, so to speak, “extinguished” by the
8 infant’s rage: “If the object is wished dead, it is dead. It therefore has
911 become non-existent, and its characteristics are different from those of the
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 247

D 247

111 real, live, existing object; the existing object is alive, real and benevolent”.
2 Bion proposes “to call the real, alive objects -elements; the dead, unreal
3 objects I shall call -elements” (all quotations, C, 133).
4 One day later Bion made another improvement in the theory. It
5 had to do with the functions of dreaming, day-dreaming activity
6 and the flow of impressions and experiences from consciousness to
711 unconsciousness and the obverse. “The occasions when the patient
8 expresses a number of feelings verbally—’I am anxious, I don’t know
9 why’. ‘I am feeling a bit better, I don’t know why.’—may be an expression
10 of an experience such as I suggest takes place when he has a dream. That
1 is to say, he has an emotional experience on which dream-work- is done
2 so that the emotional experience can be made available, stored for use in
3 consciousness. Ordinarily  operates to enable a conscious emotional expe-
4 rience to be stored in unconsciousness” (C, 135). The definition of -
5 function is already here, albeit still unnamed.
6 Bion was still tempted to continue using the concept of dream-
7 work-. What it is? It is not intended to be a replacement for dream
8 or dream-work. It is an in-between process that converts experi-
9 ences—loosely defined—into -elements. They retain those
211 emotional experiences that cannot be experienced during the day,
1 when one is wide awake. They must be dreamt in order to be, so to
2 say, accessible to the dreamer who could not access them when
3 awake. The concept is important in the sense that it states that
4 things are not flowing one-way from unconscious to conscious, but
5 it is the other way round and back. It corresponds exactly to that
6 which Freud described in his study of dreams (for example, item B,
7 “Regression”, of the chapter VII, The Interpretation of Dreams) as well
8 as the neurophysiological path of the stimuli that impact our sensu-
9 ous apparatus: “I wonder if dreams, i.e. the actual emotional experiences,
30 are not the emotional experiences I do not have, or cannot allow myself to
1 have, during wakefulness. They then have to be retained, if I am to learn
2 from the experience, by being converted through dream-work- into -
3 elements, and then these -elements are combined according to certain
4 rules to make them approximate to what in daytime wakefulness would be
5 narrative of the event in which I am participating and which I need to
6 record” (C, 149).
7 Besides the patient’s state of mind, the analyst’s state of mind is
8 under constant scrutiny too. The theory of dream-work- provided
911 Bion with a seemingly useful tool for this endeavour that is part of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 248


111 almost the entirety of his contributions to psycho-analysis: “Free-

2 floating attention, regarded as necessary in analytic work, might be
3 described as that state of mind in which the analyst allows himself the
4 conditions in which dream-work- can operate for the production of -
5 elements” (C, 150).
A scheme
9 Emotional experience → dream-work- → -elements → rational-
10 ization and “narrativization” → dream.
1 Sensation of waking event in which personality is participating
2 as in an unfolding narrative → dream-work- → -elements →
3 dream-thoughts.
4 Dream-work- is now seen as a factory for -elements. It
5 appears in the scheme as a “logical” component that is expressed
6 explicitly through the words, “rationalization” and “narrativiza-
711 tion”. This logical component would be excised and dispensed with
8 later in the theory of -function. One may notice that it would be
9 increasingly left aside in his later works, especially in the Trilogy.
20 The logical component makes this theory more palatable to
1 those who are used to believing in rational thinking. It is a logical
2 scheme that is concerned with logical constructs such as narratives.
3 It reflects an attempt, albeit already critical, to endow psycho-analy-
4 sis with a scientific status. Bion was highly critical of that which
511 was considered science in his epoch—positivism. He made full use,
6 and displayed a rare grasp of insights as diverse as Hume’s and the
7 Copenhagen School/Heisenberg’s about the false objectiveness of
8 this self-titled science. He writes this, for example, in a text,
9 “Criticism of psycho-analysis also applied to other sciences” (C,
311 152), that was written just when he was trying to establish the
1 dream-work- theory (these criticisms would be more profound in
2 Transformations, p. 4, and in many parts of the Trilogy).
3 His awareness of the limitations of logical thinking was nour-
4 ished both by his analytical experience and his life experience.
5 Nonetheless it was not wholly developed during the late fifties and
6 early sixties. It seems that fear of mistaking non-rational with irra-
7 tional was a fact to be reckoned with. The romantic influence in
8 social movements such as Nazism and Stalinism were too fresh and
911 vivid then. The scheme reproduced above was devised (1960) when
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 249

D 249

111 Bion was trying to sort out some issues linked to logic and its func-
2 tion in the mind. The attempt to insert logical thinking into a
3 psycho-analytic theory was at the service of the wish that psycho-
4 analysis could partake of the features of a deductive scientific
5 system. The credibility of analysis, in the same way that occurred
6 in Freud’s epoch, was at stake and continues to be so.
711 Bion tried at that time to endow the theory of a logical form,
8 which deals with day-time dream-like states. He tried, for example,
9 to depict verbally an -element stating that his verbal depiction was
10 an image. He proposed to call the image an -element. This
1 happened, as I have tried to adumbrate, just when he was trying to
2 contend with a serious question: “what should be the content of a
3 psycho-analytic interpretation?” (C, 175). He was trying to deter-
4 mine the truth-value of the analyst’s statements. He would pursue
5 this path in his books Learning from Experience, Elements of Psycho-
6 analysis, devising the Grid (q.v.); Transformations uses this tool. To
7 determine the truth-value of a statement differs from positivism. It
8 was developed more in Attention and Interpretation.
9 Let us examine his depiction of an -element. In it, the scientific
211 approach (after Prichard, Bradley and Braithwaite, three indepen-
1 dent-minded epistemologists), the analyst’s mind and the dream-
2 work in action are constantly conjoined. It is as if a “scientific
3 function of the personality” is at work. It is at work in a patient who
4 genuinely looks for analysis; it is at work in an analyst and in the
5 intuitive scientist. Also visible are the processes of projective iden-
6 tification and hallucination, as opposed to dreaming:
But I seem to have involved myself in some kind of contradiction.
This is intended to be a scientific communication, and I have
already expressed the view that as such it should be addressed to a
1 hypothetical concept, the non-psychotic part of the personality
2 which is endowed with certain unspecified immutable characteris-
3 tics. I feel I am addressing it to an actual person—intelligent,
4 friendly, engrossed in what I am writing and, to be frank, quite
5 warmly appreciative of my effort. Analytic experience tells me this
6 is really myself and that I shall be in for a rude awakening when I
7 find out the real response. “A rude awakening”: am I then asleep?
8 By no means. But this figure, these characteristics with which I have
911 endowed it and you, might very well exist in a dream.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 250


111 I propose to call this image an -element. (This does not refer to its
2 function as part of a phantasy; it applies only to the visual image
3 itself.) The hypothetical concept, the “non-psychotic part of the
4 personality”, I consider to be a version of the -element which
5 belongs to a level of increasing generalization in the hierarchy of
hypotheses that form the theory to which both the -element and
the hypothetical concept belong. Conversely, the -element approx-
imates to a level of decreasing generalization, or increasing partic-
8 ularization, thus having a relationship with the hypothetical
9 concept somewhat similar to that which exists between the level of
10 empirically verifiable data and the hypotheses of the scientific
1 deductive system related to it. [C, 178]
3 Thereafter Bion continues his attempt to reach a definition of
4 dream-work-. Let us try to summarize the context: he was at odds
5 with the functions of dreams (seen, for example, in the failure of
6 dreams both to modify and to evade frustration; quoted above,
711 October 1959). He unearthed its presence during the day; he was
8 still at odds with Freud’s definition of consciousness. He had a firm
9 grasp of Freud’s definition of dream work, and agreed with it (that
20 is, all the mental tricks such as condensations, transformations into
1 the contrary, denial, displacement, etc. that make up the “manifest
2 content”). And finally he was trying to endow the latent content—
3 the analyst’s interpretation—with validity.
4 Dealing with latent content, his next attempt was a suggestion
511 to modify Freud’s term dream-work “to describe a related but differ-
6 ent series of phenomena”. Why does he suggest the modification? “To
7 avoid confusion with the concepts already established in psycho-analytic
8 usage . . . I propose for my purposes to modify Freud’s term by calling it
9 dream-work-” (C, 179).
311 Bion re-establishes forgotten neurological paths, identical to
1 those used by Freud: from the sensuous apparatus to the psyche. He
2 reverses the process called by Freud, “regression” (The Interpretation
3 of Dreams, item B, chapter VII). Regression, after Freud, is the return,
4 so to speak, of a thought that cannot be thought at all in a visual (or
5 verbal) image in dreams. The reversion made by Bion corresponds
6 to the neurological pathway of the apprehension of reality, which
7 Bion names “observation”: “In the state of mind of relaxed attention
8 necessary in making observations, the individual is able through his senses
911 to establish contact with his environment” (C, 179).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 251

D 251

111 This contact also occurs in contexts more complicated than that
2 of the dreaming during sleep. The example given by Bion is that of
3 a conversation with a friend. He reminds us that when a person is
4 talking with another person, the talk—a verbal formulation that
5 provokes an acoustic stimulation—is invested with a creation of
6 dream-like images. These images are formed when one is wide
711 awake. In his example, the friend asks about the place where Bion
8 proposes to spend his holidays. Bion visualizes “the church of a small
9 town not far from the village in which” he proposes to stay.
10 The dream-like visualization has another important kinship
1 with night-dreams: namely, the mnemic debris that composed it
2 and was stored in experiential memory: “The image of the church has
3 been established on a previous occasion—I cannot now tell when. Its
4 evocation in the situation I am describing would surprise no one, but what
5 I now wish to add may be more controversial. I suggest that the experience
6 of this particular conversation with my friend, and this particular moment
7 of the conversation—not simply his words but the totality of that moment
8 of experience—is being perceived sensorially by me and converted into an
9 image of that particular village church.”
211 That is, an immaterial fact—an emotional experience, and the
1 experience of thinking—is, as any stimulus, first harboured by the
2 sensuous apparatus. It is the same way that Freud described the
3 pathway of dream formation. Identically, the sensuous experience
4 is transformed in the realm of other mental processes that Freud
5 calls pre-conscious and unconscious. When—according to Freud—
6 dream work functions, there is a return (regression) to a sensuous
7 phenomenon. “I do not know what else may be going on, though I am
8 sure that much more takes place than I am aware of. But the transforma-
9 tion of my sense impressions into this visual image is part of a process of
30 mental assimilation. The impressions of the event are being re-shaped as a
1 visual image of that particular church, and so are being made into a form
2 suitable for storage in my mind” (C, 180). In other words: mind func-
3 tions in a dream-like way, if allowed to, in states of a paradoxical
4 “relaxed attention”.
5 The re-shaping and storage that Bion refers to constitutes the
6 evolution of the concept. Bion looks for irreducible, elemental
7 units—later called, “elements”. As he refines the concepts of  and
8  he finally bridges the last gap that hitherto precluded him from
911 reaching a theory of -function. Namely, the equating of sense
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 252


111 impressions—be they either external stimuli of the psychotic’s

2 tendency to sensuous-concretization—to -elements, or things-in-
3 themselves. In a certain sense he applies Freud’s method, that is, the
4 same that led him to replace the idea of concrete trauma by that of
5 imagined phantasies as products of the mind. For -elements are
6 now seen as the psychotic’s productions too:
8 By contrast, the patient might have the same experience, the same
9 sense impressions, and yet be unable to transform the experience so
10 that he can store it mentally. But instead, the experience (and his
sense impressions of it) remains a foreign body, it is felt as a “thing”
lacking any of the quality we usually attribute to thought or its
verbal expression. [C, 180]
The definitions are correspondingly improved: -elements
continue to be regarded as the products of dream-work-; they are
precursors of dreams; dream-work- is seen as a fact different from
dream-work; -element is still seen as a dead object, but with
important differences and amendments now; they transcend
pathology and compose a function of the mind:
1 To the first of these products, that of dream-work-, I propose to
2 give the name, “-element”; to the second, the unassimilated sense
3 impression, “-element” It may be wondered why I should need to
4 consider -elements at all in an inquiry into scientific method if
511 they are a characteristic of a disturbed personality. My reason is
6 that while I have been led to observe -elements through treating
7 disturbed patients, their occurrence is by no means restricted to
8 their use by disturbed individuals . . .
9 If my contention is correct, the production of -elements is of the
311 first importance: on an adequate supply of these elements depends
1 the capacity for what Freud calls “unconscious waking thinking”,
2 the ability to entertain and use dream-thoughts, the capacity for
3 memory, and all the functions . . . that Freud tentatively suggests
4 come into existence with the dominance of the reality principle
5 (“Two principles of mental functioning” [1911, SE12]). [C, 181]
7 Then Bion reaches that which would be the final definition of
8 the -element. It embodies Freud’s work on the two principles,
911 neurology, and Klein’s formulation of projective identification. The
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 253

D 253

111 concept was developed as a continuously improved formulation

2 blending observation and clinical data: “The -elements are charac-
3 teristic of the personality during the dominance of the pleasure principle:
4 on them depends the capacity for non-verbal communication, the individ-
5 ual’s ability to believe in the possibility of ridding himself of unwanted
6 emotions, and the communication of emotion within the group” (C, 181).
711 This element started by being a dead object that was dead
8 because the infant felt it is as dead as long as it was frustrating. It
9 was unacceptable due to the fact that it was a source of pain. That is,
10 it was “made dead”. From there the -element acquired a “dead-
1 ness” due to the fact that it was concretized. It was now seen by Bion
2 as partaking of the features of the thing-in-itself. Or, to put it better,
3 its “concreteness” led to the situation that it is felt as the thing-in-
4 itself. The “concreteness” seems to be necessary if the object is to be
5 felt as fulfilling rather than frustrating. The person who has only -
6 elements to cope with would correspond to Kant’s “naïve idealist”.
7 Dreaming, the apprehension of sensuous stimuli, waking
8 unconscious thinking, dream-work, and processes of knowledge
9 are expressions of Aristotle’s “urge to know”. Bion shows that the
211 individual’s processes of knowledge can be put into sophisticated
1 epistemological terms (those of Prichard, Braithwaite, Schlick and
2 Carnap; Bion does not quote the last two):
4 The -elements may be presumed to be mental and individual,
5 subjective, to a high degree personal, particular, and unequivocally
belonging to the domain of epistemology in a particular person.
The example I have given of the visual image of the church is to a
high degree particular, and must be regarded as belonging to the
lowest level of empirically verifiable data. [C, 181]
30 To keep this quotation in mind may help avoid misunderstand-
1 ings that actually occurred years later. Some descriptions of these
2 misunderstandings may be found elsewhere in this dictionary
3 (please refer to the entries, Alpha-function, alpha-element). For
4 example, mistaking -elements with thinking, or with symbols.
5 One should keep their nature in mind, that of “raw material”, suit-
6 able to be employed in dream-thoughts:
8 In the context in which I have cited it, it is not even a symbol,
911 although once the individual has experienced such a visual image
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 254


111 there is nothing to prevent its appearance in other contexts fulfill-

2 ing the functions usually associated with symbols. What I wish to
3 emphasize is that its character as an -element is its suitability for
4 employment in dream-thought and unconscious waking thinking,
and not the way in which it may be employed. I may have more to
say about the characteristics of the -element that makes it suitable
for use as a symbol or an ideogram, but for the present I emphasize
its character as an element—an irreducibly simple object. [C, 181]
9 The search for “elements of psycho-analysis” began in this
10 paper. “Without -elements it is not possible to know anything. Without
1 -elements it is impossible to be ignorant of anything: they are essential
to the functioning of projective identification; any unwanted idea is
converted into a -element, ejected from the personality, and then becomes
a fact of which the individual is unaware . . .” (C, 182).
Even though Bion did not specifically quote Freud’s definition
of the ultimate unknowability of the unconscious (The Interpretation
of Dreams, SE, VI) as well as the definition of proto-phantasies (in
Beyond the pleasure principle), these seem to be the origins of his
It may well be that this early learning, or first stage of any learning,
2 is effected by dream-work- on the one hand, and the mechanism
3 of projective identification on the other. This supposes that the -
4 elements can be employed when -elements do not exist, and the
511 -elements are a later stage of -elements—that is to say that
6 dream-work- operates on -elements and not directly on sense
7 data. [C, 183]
9 The last statement differentiates the intermediate stage of the
311 theory from its latest, readied version. At this time -elements were
1 not equated to the thing-in-itself. One may conjecture when Bion
2 perceived that -elements shared the qualities of the Kantian cate-
3 gory, the thing-in-itself. Following this, use of Kant also contributes
4 to Kant’s theory. Bion came to regard -elements as sense data
5 themselves. A final difference between the theory of dream-work-
6 and -function is that the latter does operate on sense data. One may
7 conclude that there remained some vague ideas about the nature of
8 elements that belonged to the realm of thinking and those that
911 didn’t. Are those elements which serve to be discharged through
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 255

D 255

111 projective identification, elements that belong to the area of think-

2 ing? Bion realized that it was convenient to consider the existence
3 of un-thought elements, and that the difficulty in thinking such
4 elements was based on the paranoid–schizoid idea that they were
5 the absolute truth. Thus armed, Bion could finally discard the term
6 dream-work- altogether. While conserving the definition of
711 -elements, there was the need to develop further the definition of
8 -elements, as un-thinkable things-in-themselves.
9 He was aware that the arrangement of the dream-work-”did
10 not cover a mechanism in which the -element is used to explore the
1 emotional experience in which the person finds himself” (C, 183). This
2 would depend on a mental function, of considering inner stimuli
3 such as feelings as sensuous experiences to be decoded by
4 consciousness—exactly as Freud proposed—and of the considera-
5 tion of un-thought but existent pre-conceptions. The reconciliation
6 with Freud’s original and fundamental definition of consciousness
7 and the ultimate unknowability of the unconscious would oppose
8 Bion to the psycho-analytic movement of his time. The latter was
9 concretizing Freud’s method into a kind of mechanistic, thoughtless
211 decoding of previously known symbols, running against the very
1 ethos of psycho-analysis.
2 In August 1960, more light was thrown on this. His resorting to
3 a graphical recourse in order to try to enhance the communicative
4 powers of that which he wished to communicate may be observed,
5 namely, his sparing use of hyphenated terms that enlivened the
6 verbal formulation. One may only hope that future followers and
7 disciples will not ape this hyphenation. This abuse would turn
8 something useful into a debased, common-place non-communica-
9 tive device.
It is advisable to revert to the patient’s dream over and over
again—elaboration 1, 2, 3 . . . n; but not simply as dreams to be
interpreted and related to a stimulus. They must be related to the
3 dream-work that the stimulus has stimulated . . . the methods of dream-
4 work- are not the same as those of dream-work which is related
5 to interpretation of dreams, but are the reciprocal of dream-work
6 and are related to the capacity to dream, i.e. to transform into
7 dream, events that are grasped only on a rational, conscious level
8 . . . the element of “resistance” in dream-work, as elucidated by
911 Freud, is a compound of two elements: resistance, as described by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 256


111 Freud: and a felt need to convert the conscious rational experience
2 into dream, rather than a felt need to convert the dream into
3 conscious rational experience. The “felt need” is very important; if
4 it is not given due significance and weight, the true dis-ease of the
patient is being neglected, it is obscured by the analyst’s insistence
on interpretation of the dream. [C, 184]
Once Freud’s contributions were differentiated from the distor-
tions made in Freud’s name, it seemed to be easier for Bion to
devise the final form of  theory. In the view of the author, even
resorting to Kant was simply a way to make Freud’s usage of Kant
 The influences of Freud, Planck and Einstein still did not win
widespread use outside psycho-analysis and physics if compared
5 with the easier grasping of the positivist’s ideas of causes, effects,
6 and the adoption of deductive systems. Quite independently of
711 popularity, deductive systems proved to be far less scientific than
8 their creators wished them to be. Modern scientists and epistemol-
9 ogists know that deductive systems cannot go beyond their own
20 assumptions, falling into a circularity that hampers real scientific
1 development—provided that scientific development is regarded as
2 research into the unknown. Bion would abandon this attempt from
3 1965 onwards (please refer to the entry, “Common Sense”). There
4 are a number of good primers for the interested layman: Max
511 Planck’s Scientific Biography; Jules-Henri Poincaré’s Science and
6 Method; Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy; Bertrand
7 Russell’s ABC of Relativity, Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind.
8 For a work dedicated to the analyst, this author’s A Apreensão da
9 Realidade Psiquica (The apprehension of psychic reality).
311 Suggested cross-references: Alpha-function, Dream, Dream the
1 session, Mind.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 257

711 E
211 Elements of psycho-analysis: Bion looked for elements, something
1 that could qualify to be seen as fundamental and basic, “irreducible”,
2 to psychic reality. In order to do this he resorted to mathematical
3 analogies. This kind of analogy had already proved itself when
4 Bion applied the theory of functions to the study of thinking.
5 The “elements” are scientific abstractions, rather than concrete
6 entities. If they are so regarded, Bion’s proposal would be indistin-
7 guishable from that of the alchemists. Bion read Euclid’s Elements;
8 this is the sense of such a term in his work (C, 111).
30 I propose to seek a mode of abstraction that ensures that the theo-
1 retical statement retains the minimum of particularization . . . The
2 elements I seek are to be such that relatively few are required to
3 express, by changes in combination, nearly all the theories essential
4 to the working psycho-analyst . . . The combination in which certain
5 elements are held* is essential to the meaning** to be conveyed by
6 those elements . . . The task is to abstract*** such elements by releas-
7 ing them from the combination in which they are held and from the
8 particularity that adheres to them from the realization which they
911 were originally designed to represent. [EP,2]

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 258


111 [Footnotes:
2 *Compared with the tendency to produce ad hoc theories to meet a
3 situation when an existing theory, stated with sufficient generality,
4 would have done. Compare Proclus, quoted by Sir T. I. Heath, on
Euclid’s Elements—Heath, T. I. The Thirteen Books of Euclid’s
Elements, Chap. 9, CUP 1956).
** A consequence of PSD. See Chap. 18.
7 *** A consequence of PSD. See Chap. 18 [see also the entries
8 Container/Contained, PSD]
10 This is a psycho-analytic task in a compacted form: it is valid dur-
1 ing a session as well in the building of real analytic theories—in order
2 to get “the realization which they were originally designed to represent”.
3 To state that the elements are not concrete entities but rather
4 abstractions does not mean that they are inventions, fictional, or
5 unreal. They maintain the mathematical nature of an immaterial,
6 dynamic function; they “have a functioning”:
8 The elements are functions of the personality . . . In so far as each is
9 a function the term “function” has a meaning similar to that which
20 it is associated in mathematics . . . In so far as each function has a
function the term “function” is used as the name for a set of actions,
physical or mental, governed by or directed to a purpose.
2 Whenever I use the term “function” I use it to denote something
3 which is and has a function. [EP, 9]
511 Mathematics being a primitive manifestation of mind itself,
6 to state that the elements are, and have a function, or are real
7 immaterial fact, is the same as to state that they share the basic
8 qualities of mental phenomena. They are abstractions in the mind;
9 nevertheless, in a paradox that demands tolerance, in a certain
311 sense they are observable, or there are realizations that correspond
1 to them: “The sign representing an abstraction must therefore represent
2 a function that is unknowable although its primary and secondary quali-
3 ties (in the Kantian sense) are. As I propose to consider the elements as
4 observable phenomena it must be assumed that I am talking about primary
5 and secondary qualities of elements and not the abstractions or signs by
6 which I represent them” (EP, 9).
7 Being phenomena, the elements are observable; Bion describes
8 some of their characteristics. The elements, their quasi-mathemati-
911 cal notation and their realizations are encompassed in Table 1.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 259

E 259

111 Table 1 The elements and their realizations

2 Name of Quasi- Realizations
3 the element mathematical
4 notation
5 1 A dynamic relationship 1. A baby and a mother who
6 between container may communicate with each
711 and contained other through projective
8 identification
2. a creative person
3. penis, breast and vagina
10 4. the apparatus for thinking
1 (EP, 31)
2 2 Selected fact PS⇔D a free movement between
3 paranoid–schizoid and
4 depressive position, insight,
sense of truth
3 Links L, H, K love, hate and processes of
6 knowledge
7 4 Reason and Idea R and I R, reason, is a function that
8 serves passions, leading to the
9 latter’s domination in the realm
of reality ; I corresponds to
-element; R and I are related
1 in the extent that I is an inter-
2 polation between impulse and
3 action (EP, 4); it is the negative
4 of acting-out; the Grid
5 5 Pain reversion of perspective, nega-
tion of pain, disagreement
between analyst and analysand
7 only appear when the analysand
8 is less able to hallucinate;
9 attempts to deny movement and
30 to transform dynamic into static
(EP, 54, 60, 61)
3 How can we observe these phenomena? There is an old tradi-
4 tion that recommends the use of common sense (q.v.). Its definition
5 appears in many parts of Bion’s work; two or more senses must be
6 used:
8 I shall consider an object to be sensible to psycho-analytic scrutiny
911 if, and only if, it fulfils conditions analogous to the conditions that
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 260


111 are fulfilled when a physical object’s presence is confirmed by the

2 evidence of two or more senses. [EP, 10; the complete version is in
3 C, 9ff.]
5 The psycho-analytic investigation of psychic and material real-
6 ity achieves a formulation through psycho-analytical interpreta-
7 tions. It demands some regard to the “dimensions” that
8 characterize psycho-analytic space-time. Bion describes three of
9 those “dimensions” and their extensions:
1 1. A dimension in the realm of senses.
2 2. A dimension in the realm of myth.
3 3. A dimension in the realm of passion.
5 Reason and passion are discussed in regard to the elements:
When thoughts have to be used under the exigencies of reality, be
it psychic reality or external reality, the primitive mechanisms have
to be endowed with capacities for precision demanded by the need
9 for survival. We have therefore to consider the part played by the
20 life and death instincts as well as reason, which in its embryonic
1 form under the dominance of the pleasure principle is designed to
2 serve as the slave of the passions, has forced it to assume a function
3 resembling that of a master of the passions and the parent of logic.
4 For the search, for satisfaction of incompatible desires, would lead
511 to frustration. Successful surmounting of the problem of frustration
6 involves being reasonable and a phrase such as the “dictates of
7 reason” may enshrine the expression of primitive emotional reac-
8 tion to a function intended to satisfy not frustrate. The axioms of
9 logic therefore have their roots in the experience of a reason that
fails in its primary function to satisfy the passions just as the exis-
tence of a powerful reason may reflect a capacity in that function to
resist the assaults of its frustrated and outraged masters. These
matters will have to be considered in so far as dominance of the
reality principle stimulates the development of thought and think-
4 ing, reason, and awareness of psychic and environmental reality.
5 [EP, 35–6]
7 Elements of psycho-analysis are unsaturated elements in search
8 of saturation; once saturation is achieved, or meaning, the saturated
911 element must become an unsaturated one—in search of new
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 261

E 261

111 saturation. Those elements were represented by Bion in Learning

2 from Experience by the sign (). It represents an unsaturated element
3 that determines the value of a constant (which he called  as soon
4 as it is identified. Therefore elements of psycho-analysis are closely
5 related to that which Bion earlier named psycho-analytic objects
6 (q.v.). Psycho-analytic objects are “derived from” the psycho-analytic
711 elements (EP, 11). Being derived from elements, elements are a part
8 of those objects. “. . . If they are elements, despite any appearance to the
9 contrary, it is necessary to know of what psycho-analytic object they are
10 part” (EP, 104). As a practical example one may quote one of his
1 studies on transference, where both the concepts of object and
2 element seem to be useful clinically:
4 The elements of the transference are to be found in that aspect of
5 the patient’s behaviour that betrays his awareness of the presence
6 of an object that is not himself. No aspect of his behaviour can be
7 disregarded; its relevance to the central fact must be assessed. His
greeting, or neglect of it, references to the couch, or furniture, or
weather, all must be seen in that aspect of them that relates to the
presence of an object not himself; the evidence must be regarded
afresh each session and nothing taken for granted for the order in
which aspects of the patient’s mind present themselves for obser-
2 vation are not decided by the length of time for which the analysis
3 has endured. For example, the patient may regard the analyst as a
4 person to be treated as if he were a thing; or as a thing towards
5 which his attitude is animistic. If () represents the analyst’s state
6 of mind vis-à-vis the analysand it is the unsaturated element ()
7 that is the important one in every session. [EP, 69]
9 The elements of psycho-analysis are an intrinsic part of Bion’s
30 epistemological tool, the Grid. The Grid can gauge the truth-value
1 of statements made by the participants of the analytical act. It also
2 gauges the function and the genetic (or ontogenetic) state of devel-
3 opment of some thoughts, ideas, objects and elements. The formu-
4 lation of the elements of psycho-analysis is important in the sense
5 that those elements are capable of growth, even though their
6 “elementary” quality lingers on. They are amenable to be “satu-
7 rated” with meaning, and in this sense they can be screened and
8 “seen” through the aid of the Grid (q.v.). It is not a simple coinci-
911 dence that Bion developed both theories, the Grid and the elements,
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 262


111 in the same book. The Grid tracks the development or decay of an
2 element and furnishes its state at a given point of time.
4 The elements of psycho-analysis are ideas and feelings as repre-
5 sented by their setting in a single grid category. [EP, 103]
7 Elements of psycho-analysis and the analyst’s personal analysis
9 Search for the elements of psycho-analysis is restricted to that
10 aspect of them that it is the business of the psycho-analyst to
1 discern. They cannot be represented , either by abstract signs, such
2 as I have suggested, or by mythological narratives evoking visual
imagery, in such a way that anyone other than a trained and prac-
tising psycho-analyst could recognize the realization approximat-
ing to the representation. [EP, 67]
6  Bion describes some of the “elements’” intrinsic features.
711 The author once proposed some labels or generalizing names for
8 those features; they were not given by Bion but they may be help-
9 ful, for they depict the features he described:
1 1. Transcendence: The elements need to be able to maintain “the
2 realization which they were originally designed to represent” (EP, 3
3 and 4).
4 2. Valence or a capacity to relate: “they must be capable of articula-
511 tion with other similar elements” (EP, 3). This depends on
6 “tropism” (C, 34; T, 109), of “elective affinities”.
7 3. A sense of truth: the elements are thoughts without a thinker
8 rather than products of an imaginative mind. They are not the
9 product of desire either: “when so articulated they should form a
311 scientific deductive system capable of representing a realization
1 suppose one existed” (EP, 3).
2 4. Paradox: an element of psycho-analysis needs to be able to
3 contain a basic paradox, the supreme creativity of a couple; in
4 this sense an element is pregnant.
6 The “dimensions” of a psycho-analytic interpretation are simi-
7 lar to the “phase space” described by Hamilton (Sandler, 1997,
8 pp. 44, 51); they are not philosophical, pedagogic, psychological or
911 theological postulates.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 263

E 263

111 Emotional experience: The inclusion of the term “emotional expe-

2 rience” in the work of Bion is directly linked to the issues of appre-
3 hension of reality. It is a verbal form that makes more explicit that
4 which Freud and Klein observed about the breast as a (is it the?)
5 fundamental experience of all human beings.
6 Perhaps the first time that Bion publishes anything about it is
711 when he develops his theory on thinking, about the fact that a real
8 breast is offered—the realization of a breast: a particular experience,
9 in the purest empirical sense of the word. Namely, that the entity
10 breast was not just another figment of the baby’s imagination; that a
1 real breast does exist as a matter of fact. This experience gets its
2 emotional quality if and when it matches with the baby’s pre-
3 conception of the breast. It may be said that when the breast turns
4 into a breast the prototype of all emotional experiences occurs: “. . .
5 I shall suppose that an infant has an inborn pre-conception that a breast
6 that satisfies its own incomplete nature exists. The realization of the breast
7 provides an emotional experience” (LE, 69).
8 Three years later, he would reaffirm the same and would name
9 some of its representations in the adult world: “The infant’s experi-
211 ence of the breast as the source of emotional experiences (later represented
1 by terms such as love, understanding, meaning) means that disturbances
2 in relationship with the breast involve disturbance over a wide range of
3 adult relationship” (T, 81).
4 That is, emotional experience is not an event that occurs exclu-
5 sively independent of the internal milieu. It has a seminal link with
6 external reality too; it provides the stuff that this link is made of.
7 The term “experience” indicates that. One may notice that Bion
8 chooses a phrase—borrowed from Freud and Klein (who used it
9 extensively)—that denotes something that is not just an emotion.
30 The latter is a term that expresses a dynamic, moving influx, like
1 object cathexes, which are linked to instinctual sources. The added
2 term, experience, denotes the link with something more, which may
3 be either external or internal.
4 His efforts towards a theory of thinking are the root of that which
5 he names “emotional experiences”. He goes along lines that differ
6 from those of academic psychology: thinking at its inception
7 depends on an emotional experience. In this Bion profits from Freud
8 and Klein: this emotional experience is the contact with the breast.
911 This experience is constituted with its simultaneous negative
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 264


111 companion: the loss of this same breast, or the “no-breast”. This is a
2 way to see the issue as dependent on emotional experiences from its
3 inception. “We must assume that the good breast and the bad breast are
4 emotional experiences” (LE, 35). Bion states that this is an assumption.
5 In scientific terms, it constitutes a hypothesis, to be verified.
6 The term has some problems; one must catch its gist experien-
7 tially. Anyone who tries to “understand” its definition is at a loss:
8 “it” must be experienced. One should try to intuit and apprehend,
9 through experience, its counterpart in reality. In that it shares the
10 animate—experiential—qualities that are a hallmark of all defini-
1 tions linked to the sciences. One may “define” a crocodile or the
2 cooking of an egg, but this differs from experiencing an actual croc-
3 odile or trying to boil an egg.
4 It is an experience that demands to be described in its entirety.
5 For example: Oedipus is not a feeling—even though it is accom-
6 panied by a myriad of often contradictory feelings. Oedipus is not
711 an emotion—even though basic human emotions are involved in
8 its origin. Oedipus is an emotional experience that demands to
9 be described in its entirety according to each person’s individual
20 structuring of it. This structuring is transitory; it can be glimpsed
1 transitorily during an analytic session. Many have accustomed
2 themselves to some repetitive patterns, which become lifeless. This
3 way of life seems to correspond to that which Freud called trans-
4 ference and Riviere called defensive organizations.
511 Emotional experiences present overt features that are usually
6 misleading. To quote the example of Oedipus again: it can be seen
7 as an extreme attraction between parents and their progeny. This
8 attraction may present itself as mutually repulsive overt behaviour.
9 In order to realize the emotional experience it is necessary to look
311 for the underlying experience. It underlies the overt, manifest
1 appearances. As is customary in Bion’s work, his interest in
2 emotional experiences was aroused by his clinical experience with
3 psychotics. In 1959, he wrote:
4 “The contact with a psychotic patient is an emotional experience,
5 presenting some precise features that differentiate it from the experience of
6 contact of a more usual kind: the analyst does not meet a personality, but
7 a hastily organized improvisation of a personality, or perhaps of a mood.
8 It is an improvisation of fragments; if the impression is predominantly
911 of friendliness, there will nevertheless be easily discernible fragments of
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 265

E 265

111 hostility embedded in the conglomerate that has been assembled to do

2 service, for the occasion, as a personality. If the impression is predomi-
3 nantly of depression, the mosaic of fragments will reveal incongruous bits
4 of a smile without context other than a kind of contiguity with surround-
5 ing fragments: tears without depth, jocosity without friendliness, bits of
6 hate—all these and many more fragmentary emotions or ideas jostle each
711 other to present a labile façade” (C, 74). That is, Bion describes the
8 emotional experience—which in any given case demands to be
9 described—and he does not use a concept.
10 The theory of alpha function deals with the inception of
1 emotionality itself. How do sensuous impressions, which are the
2 port of entry of any stimulus, come to be a psychic experience, or
3 match possible pre-existent phenomena belonging to the psychic
4 realm? Bion’s theory of thinking posits that no emotion can even
5 exist without a not-me, or external stimulus; this is in agreement
6 with Freud’s formulations of psychic cathexes directed to objects as
7 well as purposes and goals of instincts. It is also in agreement with
8 the observations about autistic states. Bion furthers this early
9 object-relations formulation with the Kantian hypothesis of pre-
211 conceptions. The sense of reality is what matters when Bion talks
1 about an emotional experience, rather than “emotional experience”
2 per se, as if it were a concrete entity or a concept-in-itself.
4 A central part is played by alpha-function in transforming an
5 emotional experience into alpha-elements because a sense of reality
6 matters to the individual in the way that food, drink, air and
excretion of waste products matter. Failure to eat, drink or breathe
properly has disastrous consequences for life itself. Failure to use
the emotional experience produces a comparable disaster in the
9 development of personality; I include amongst those disasters
30 degrees of psychotic deterioration that could be described as death
1 of the personality . . . An emotional experience cannot be conceived
2 of in isolation from a relationship. [LE, 42]
4 What is the relationship here? The study of Bion’s work, espe-
5 cially of his book Learning from Experience (the quotation from
6 Cogitations is one of the many preparatory papers to Learning from
7 Experience) considers that objects, animate and inanimate, are “in
8 relationship with each other”. It is easy to see this through many
911 examples: we are born when a male and a female relate; matter
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 266


111 and energy relate with each other and from these relationships
2 the universe we live in emerged: common sense is a conjunction of
3 at least two senses; mathematics and music are made of relation-
4 ships.
Emotional experiences: they require the physical presence
8 There is a paradox here: an emotional experience is immaterial but
9 to occur it does not dispense with the materiality of the persons
10 involved. One cannot have analysis through the telephone or inter-
1 net in the same way that one cannot have a sexual relationship or a
2 meal through telephone or internet.
4 The psycho-analyst who undertakes a schizophrenic analysis
5 undergoes an experience for which he must improvise and adapt
6 the mental apparatus he requires. He has one great advantage in his
711 relationship with his analysand which he lacks in his relationship
8 with his colleagues and others outside the experience—the
analysand has the experience available to his intuition if he will
permit the psycho-analyst to draw his attention to it. Those
excluded from the psycho-analysis cannot gain from the psycho-
analyst’s formulations because they are formulations dependent on
2 the presence of the experience being formulated. They are thus in
3 the position analogous to one whose mathematical ability has not
4 reached a point where it can deal with the problem of objects when
511 the objects are not there. [ST, 146]
7 With the perception that psychosis is an ever-present feature,
8 this remark serves any analysis.
9 Misuses and misunderstandings: There seems to be a tendency
311 to reify the concept. This seems to occur in at least three forms: (i)
1 “I work in the emotional experience”; (ii) “I work with the
2 emotional experience”. (iii) a system of notation.
4 (i) To work “in the emotional experience” seems to embody the
5 idea that emotional experiences are “things” that would exist
6 and be available to some people. As a matter of consequence
7 they would not be available to other people. Another vertex
8 may consider that emotional experiences may always exist, as
911 the air that surrounds us and is amenable to being breathed—
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 267

E 267

111 in variable individual degrees. Under this vertex, both analysts

2 and any individual being in any context would be working “in
3 emotional experiences”. What is at stake is not to work in or
4 out of something that is not even a thing, but it is the ability to
5 apprehend it (them) and thereafter be able to endow them with
6 a verbal form.
711 (ii) To work “with the emotional experience” may also be reifying
8 to the extent that it assumes that an emotional experience is
9 something that can be touched, grabbed, etc.
10 (iii) To deal with a system of notation as if it were a thing-in-itself
1 is also to reify such a system. Bion states in an unmistakable
2 way that the denomination “emotional experience” is just a
3 notational system—notation being one of the functions of ego
4 (SE, 10); (LE, 42). To deal with it as if it were a concrete thing
5 itself means missing the fact that it is just an aid for getting a
6 “sense of reality” (LE, 42).
8 One should say that all great authors’ great books and papers—
9 as those of Freud, Klein, Winnicott and Bion—provide opportuni-
ties for undergoing intensive and extensive emotional experiences.
Like young medical students in their first reading of medical books,
many report that they see themselves in these authors’ texts.
Among Bion’s works, the remarkably powerful evocative property
of his later works may account for their lack of popularity (A
Memoir of the Future and its companions, War Memoirs and The Long
 Second Thoughts , p. 119: sense of truth.
 There seems to remain scarce awareness of the necessity to
discriminate emotional experiences from affects, emotions, and
feelings—both in written works and in the way professionals
regard them. Freud and Klein differentiated them, up to a point.
3 The German language allows more precision to do it. Bion thought
4 that it was not possible, for the time being—1965—to differentiate
5 them. But thanks to his work, perhaps today we are in a better posi-
6 tion to do this. The author proposed such a classification in a paper
7 presented at S.B.P.S.P., 1998.
8 Suggested cross-references: Links, Mathematization of psycho-
911 analysis, Models, Sense of Truth.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 268


111 Emotional turbulence or psychological turbulence: Emotional

2 turbulence is a phenomenon of life; it occurs when human beings
3 meet each other. It involves “O”, ultimate truth: it is the real contact
4 or apprehension of reality. The concept tries to depict fears and
5 resistances to turbulence associated with “becoming”. Emotional or
6 psychological disturbance—fear of emotional turbulence—means
7 resistance to transformations in O. By it Bion means a state of mind
8 with a painful quality.
9 The concept of emotional turbulence and/or psychological
10 turbulence was formulated with the aid of two expressions. It
1 mixed a quasi-jargon (“psychological”) with a physical fact (“turbu-
2 lence”). These terms were already part of common language when
3 the concept first appeared. Even though this specific conjunction of
4 terms is an uncommon one, it keeps a pervasive penumbra of asso-
5 ciations with the common language—it is made from two well-
6 known words. Therefore it may be, to some ears, evocative of those
711 associations. This may be misleading.
8 Bion used the terms “psychological turbulence”, “emotional
9 turbulence” and “turbulence”. They are used in three ways, even
20 though they retain the same basic sense: change and resistance to
1 change. This appears at three important moments of his work; 1965,
2 1975 and 1977. In 1977 he introduces the term “emotional turbu-
3 lence”. He illustrates the turbulent emotions in other parts of his
4 work, mainly in A Memoir of the Future.
511  The term is first introduced through an analogy, and later
6 defined in Transformations. It is used as an aid to define the concept
7 of “Transformation” (q.v.). Turbulence is the inverse of tranquillity.
8 It is defined through a fact studied by physicists: the reflection of
9 the image of a tree in the water of a lake (T, 47). The atmospheric
311 conditions can change “from calm to turbulence” and this would
1 “influence the transformation” in a reflection of the image of the trees.
2 The model is applied to the analyst’s state of mind. If it is turbu-
3 lent it hampers or even precludes the analytical view (q.v.). Bion
4 considers the processes through which the analyst effects his inter-
5 pretations; to use his parlance in Transformations, they are the
6 processes of transformations, Ta  These processes lead to a final
7 product, the interpretation or construction, Ta . “I shall assume an
8 ideal analyst and that Ta  and Ta  are not disturbed by turbulence—
911 though turbulence and its sources are part of O” (T, 48).
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 269

E 269

111 Another factor is introduced: even though examining the

2 analyst’s need to be analysed in this part of the book, turbulence is
3 part of O. The issue is not a rule, “one must avoid turbulence”. He
4 would return to the point emphasizing that the attempt to avoid
5 turbulence is an obstacle to making interpretations. At this time, he
6 creates the concepts of circular argument (q.v.) and hyperbole (q.v.).
711 He focuses the case of interpretations made “mainly because it is
8 available as a column 2 statement intended to prevent ‘turbulence’ in the
9 analyst” (T, 167). All the other mentions of turbulence and attempts
10 to avoid it are discussed under the heading “proto-resistance”.
Emotional turbulence and catastrophic change
4 Bion encircles a state in which a status quo that is felt as pleasurable
5 or simply static is so maintained and forced to remain undisturbed.
6 But the move into the unknown obtrudes. It is akin to catastrophic
7 change (q.v.) but differs from it in the fact that it installs itself after
8 the change was effected. An inner truth that is feared is elicited with
9 catastrophic change, as for example, the psychotic nature of seem-
211 ingly psychosomatic phenomena such as those depicted in the first
1 pages of Transformations. Emotional turbulence is a phenomenon
2 involving “O”, ultimate truth, in another way: it is the real contact or
3 apprehension of reality. Emotional turbulence tries to depict fears
4 and resistances to turbulence associated with “becoming”.
5 Emotional or psychological disturbance thus means resistance to
6 transformations in O; catastrophic change means leaning towards
7 transformations in hallucinosis. In some cases the intolerance of
8 states of emotional turbulence can lead to a catastrophe.
9 The term is also used and duly defined with the aid of a real
30 episode in the history of science. Science is seen as a way to appre-
1 hend reality as it is. Bion transformed the episode into a parable,
2 much akin to that of the “tomb-robbers” he describes in “Caesura”.
3 It seems that the tomb-robbers were more successful than Sir Isaac
4 Newton—who in his forays into knowledge experienced a
5 psychotic breakdown.
6 The episode was used a number of times and in different ways
7 in Bion’s work (please refer to the entry Container/Contained).
8 This time, Bion focuses on a human event linked to Newton’s
911 theory of fluxions, which today is named differential calculus:
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 270


111 Bishop Berkeley’s sarcastic reaction against it. The following

2 convention enables the reader to read the text:
K = a link that people maintain with persons and things, named,
“knowledge”; in this link one knows someone or something.
T = transformation.
T Newton = transformations made by Newton.
T Newton  = the final product of the transformation made by
H3 refers to a category of the Grid (q.v.), namely, the notation of
algebraic calculus.
Col. 1 refers to column 1 of the Grid, definitory hypotheses and
Col. 2 refers to column 2 of the Grid, statements known to be false.
Thus the quasi-mathematical notation, “T Newton  H3” means a
final algebraic calculus as transformed by Sir Isaac Newton.
Correspondingly, “T Newton  col. 2” means “a final lie
expressed by Newton’s transformation”, or “a final resistance
expressed by Newton’s transformation”. And “T Berkeley 
col. 2” means “a final lie expressed by Berkeley’s transforma-
F3 means notation of a concept. Please keep these definitions firmly
in mind when reading what follows.
4 One must keep in mind the polemic as it was historically
511 recorded: Newton was able to develop a mathematical device,
6 named fluxions, which could be discarded as soon as a given result
7 (finite lines proportional to the device, fluxions) was found. The
8 discarding was compared, as an analogy, to the scaffolding of a
9 building, which is also disposable in the same way that it is indis-
311 pensable to the erection of a building. This device functioned as
1 increments: evanescent increments. Today it is known as differen-
2 tial calculus.
3 Bishop Berkeley became upset and called those evanescent
4 increments “ghosts of departed quantities” in a hostile, defiant way.
5 Bion considers that the differential calculus as formulated by
6 Newton was a “transformation in K”, or an advance that developed
7 mathematical knowledge. “The transformation in K is effected by
8 discarding the ‘scaffolding’ of fluxions, ‘the ghosts of departed quantities’.
911 The discarding of the scaffolding may be regarded as a step to achieve finite
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 271

E 271

111 lines ‘proportional to them’, a category H3 formulation; or, the ‘finite lines
2 . . . proportional to them’ may be regarded as an F3 formulation used as a
3 column 2 formulation to prevent emergence of the ‘ghosts of departed
4 quantities’ and the psychological turbulence that such an emergence would
5 precipitate” (T, 157).
6 At the time that Newton was developing differential calculus
711 and involved himself in this polemic with Berkeley he underwent
8 a nervous breakdown; his office went up in flames and he never
9 fully recovered. He was not able to resume his activities as a physi-
10 cist again. “Berkeley’s formulation may be regarded as an F3 contribu-
1 tion. The polemical tone gives it a column 2 category, denying, though he
2 acknowledges the truth of Newton’s result, the validity of the method: the
3 ironic tone denies the reality of ‘the ghosts of departed quantities’. . .”
5 T Newton  H3 furthers mathematic inquiry; T Newton  col. 2
6 denies the “ghosts”. T Berkeley  col. 2 denies, by irony, “ghosts”,
7 and, by polemic, the scientific approach. In both instances the
8 column 2 dimension is directed against psychological turbulence;
9 why? for fear of the turbulence and its associated “becoming”. Put
211 in other terms, transformations in K are feared when they threaten
1 the emergence of transformations in O. [T, 158]
3 My term “psychological turbulence”, needs elucidation. By it I
4 mean a state of mind the painful quality of which may be expressed
5 in terms borrowed from St John of the Cross. I quote: [The Ascent
6 of Mount Carmel]
7 “The first (night of the soul) has to do with the point from which
8 the soul goes forth, for it has gradually to deprive itself of desire for
9 all the worldly things which it possessed, by denying them to itself;
30 the which denial and deprivation are, as it were, night to all the
1 senses of man. The second reason has to do with the mean, or the
2 road along which the soul must travel to this union—that is, faith,
3 which is likewise as dark as night to the understanding. The third
4 has to do with the point to which it travels—namely, God. Who,
5 equally, is dark night to the soul in his life.”
6 I use these formulations to express, in exaggerated form, the pain
7 which is involved in achieving the state of naïvety inseparable from
8 binding or definition (col.1). Any naming of a constant conjunction
911 involves admission of the negative dimension and is opposed by
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 272


111 the fear of ignorance. Therefore at the outset there is a tendency to

2 precocious advance, that is, to a formulation which is a col. 2
3 formulation to deny ignorance—the dark night of the senses. The
4 relevance of this to psychological phenomena springs from the fact
that they are not amenable to apprehension by the senses; this tends
to precipitate transformation into such objects as are and so
contributes to Transformation in hypochodriasis . . .
8 Similarly the intuitive approach is obstructed because the “faith”
9 involved is associated with absence of inquiry, or “dark night” to
10 K. [T, 158–9]
2 In 1975, Bion furnishes other analogies. An example is the
3 famous Leonardo da Vinci sketches of human hair. The onlooker
4 sees living, turbulent waters. The journey from sensuous to non-
5 sensuous through a sensuously apprehensible artistic transforma-
6 tion (please refer to the entry “container/contained” to see the
711 quotation).
8 In 1976 he would introduce the term “emotional turbulence”—
9 which is also the title of a short paper. At this moment the term
20 acquires a descriptive value. It depicts the emotions that pervade
1 two human beings whose ways cross: when two personalities meet
2 there is a period of anxious turbulence and many emotions are
3 aroused. The difference between knowing and being is implicit:
4 sexual situations can emerge, as well as situations of survival, for
511 hostility and aggression can obtrude. The sexual situation appears
6 through its negative, that is, it is latent. In his papers (“Emotional
7 turbulence” and “On a quotation from Freud”, CSOW) there is a
8 scrutiny of the then fashionable concept of “borderline” together
9 with a fuller exploration of the period of latency, where the latent is
311 emotional turbulence itself.
1 Usefulness The concept would have nothing to do with the
2 vehicle Bion uses to convey it, a part of the history of science, in a
3 concrete way, except in one important sense: that each individual
4 repeats in his private history the history of science and its vicissi-
5 tudes. Moreover, it marks the clinical utility of the concept in analy-
6 sis. It is a kind of epistemological practice, a way to know:
7 “Resistance to an interpretation is resistance against change from K to O.
8 Change from K to O is a special case of Transformation; it is of particular
911 concern to the analyst in his function of aiding maturation of the person-
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 273

E 273

111 alities of his patients”(T, 158). It marks the difference between “talk-
2 ing about analysis” and “being analysed”, suffering the experience
3 of analysis. It marks the difference between patients who learn
4 many things about themselves but do not get in touch with them-
5 selves. It marks the difference between an intellectualized practice
6 and a real analysis.
711 Suggested cross-references: Catastrophic change, Negative,
8 Proto-resistance.
10 Enforced splitting: An extensive separation of material from
1 psychic reality.
2 Bion used this term once. It is in Learning from Experience, chap-
3 ter V. “If the emotion is strong enough it inhibits the infant’s impulse to
4 obtain sustenance.
6 Love in infant or mother or both increases rather than decreases the
7 obstruction partly because love is inseparable from envy of the
object so loved . . . The part played by love may escape notice
because envy, rivalry and hate obscure it, although hate would not
exist if love were not present. Violence of emotion compels rein-
211 forcement of the obstruction because violence is not distinguished
1 from destructiveness and subsequent guilt and depression. Fear of
2 death through starvation of essentials compels resumption of suck-
3 ing. A split between material and psychical satisfaction develop.
4 [LE, 10]
6 Enforced splitting is a step further from the observation that
7 there are people who deal with the animate with methods that could
8 succeed with the inanimate. Since the forties Bion had been observ-
9 ing it in patients with severe disturbance of the thought processes.
30 The excessive concretization and lack of getting in touch with
1 psychic reality are linked to this enforced splitting. It precludes
2 symbol formation and contributes to a special mode of mental
3 (dis)functioning, namely, symbolic equations. Symbolic equation is
4 a term created by Melanie Klein and popularized by Hanna Segal.
5 The enforced splitting differs from the splitting “carried out to pre-
6 vent depression” as well as “from splitting impelled by sadistic impulses”.
7 It is aroused by a violent fear of hate, envy and fear itself which are
8 violently maintained and are born from violence. Those feelings are
911 so feared that steps are taken to “destroy awareness of all feelings”, even
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 274


111 though the price to be paid is “taking life itself”. This constitutes the
2 stuff that enforced splitting is made of. In enforced splitting, the per-
3 son has contact with some external manifestations of reality—such
4 as the need to survive—but little regard for truth (q.v.)
6 If a sense of reality, too great to be swamped by emotions, forces
7 the infant to resume feeding, intolerance of envy and hate in a situ-
8 ation which stimulates love leads to a splitting . . . in that its object
and effect is to enable the infant to obtain what later in life would
be called material comforts without acknowledging the existence of
a live object on which these benefits depend . . . The need for love,
1 understanding and mental development is now deflected, since it
2 cannot be satisfied, into the search for material comforts. Since the
3 desires for material comforts are reinforced the craving for love
4 remains unsatisfied and turns into overweening and misdirected
5 greed . . . the patient greedily pursues every form of material
6 comfort; he is at once insatiable and implacable in his pursuit of
711 satisfaction.
8 . . . the patient appears to be incapable of gratitude or concern for
9 himself or others. This state involves destruction of his concern for
20 truth . . . his pursuit of a cure takes the form of a search for a lost
1 object and ends in increased dependence on material comfort; quan-
2 tity must be the governing consideration, not quality. [LE, 10–11]
4 Such a patient invariably regards the interpretations as bad but
511 he “must have more and more of them” (LE, 11). This seems to be the
6 basis of consumerism, and seeking bureaucratic and political posts.
7 Suggested cross-reference: Truth.
9 Envy: The term is used in the same way as Klein. A kind of “bread
311 and butter” conception in Bion’s work, it means that violent love
1 together with intolerance of frustration have odious effects. In A
2 Memoir of the Future one finds some comments on envy and its link
3 with cruelty. The latter is aimed both against oneself and exterior
4 bound. “Envy lay waiting, single-celled, to become malignant” (AMF, 1,
5 10). Therefore, its objectless nature, having annihilated the object, is
6 stressed. The envious invasion and disrespect that characterizes
7 indifference as well as inhumanity appears in a quasi-medical
8 “examination”: “Rosemary, exasperated by an unusually painful scrape
911 between her fingers-they were usually too expert to inflict pain unless with
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 275

E 275

111 intent . . . the medical examination was minute and thorough. The wishes
2 of the two girls were of no consequence” (AMF, 1, 28).
4 Establishment:
BION At Oxford, when I wrote the account, we were not so critical.
I don’t think it was because it was against orders, but because it was
less awful to think all was well than to believe our bigger enemy
8 was what you later called . . .
10 MYSELF . . . the Establishment. Certain gross words would have
1 been—still are—more appropriate. [WM, 205–6]
Plato seemed to think that the Socratic Greeks might at least under-
stand the parable of the cave. But between then and now many
4 hundreds of people have tried, oh “ever so hard”, to understand
5 what it means. And some people, like Jesus, have continued the
6 naïve idea. “If you can’t understand the parable, what am I to tell
7 you?” he complained when his disciples were not stupid enough to
8 be simple. All that they could do was to decide that Jesus was God
9 and shut him up under a tombstone of heavy, cold, religious adora-
211 tion. [AMF, I, 47]
2 Bion, following Freud, introduced this term in psycho-analysis,
3 borrowing from sociology. While Bion introduced the term, Freud
4 dealt with the issue itself. In Totem and Taboo he studied some insti-
5 tutions, such as the Church and the Military. The institutional issues
6 are relevant both to psycho-analysis itself and to the psycho-
7 analytic movement.
8 Bion studies some features of the establishment—or interests of
9 the herd—as issues that affect the individual. They can be
30 subsumed under at least three headings: vogue, co-option, and the
1 extinction of the individual. As analytic experience unfolded, Bion
2 observed an introjected establishment. These have more psycho-
3 analytical relevance to the extent they can be dealt with—in
4 contrast with macro-social situations—in the analytical setting.
5 This “introjected establishment” was observed in his analysis of
6 psychotics. It has as its orbit the subservience to the pleasure/
7 displeasure principle: “superabundance of primary narcissism”, which
8 demands endless love from the group; fear of the unknown, or the
911 analyst’s narcissism, his clinging to his own established codes, and
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 276


111 the imbalance of narcissism and social-ism. Ultimately, that which

2 is always at stake is the survival of the herd versus the survival of
3 the individual.
4 The vogue seems to instil habits of mind, established forms of
5 thinking and non-thinking that repeat themselves; people become
6 addicted to them. Marx, in observing religion, called it the people’s
7 opium. The vogue has paradoxical effects: it can empower a real
8 scientific or artistic eruption; but it also can extinguish scientific and
9 epistemophilic curiosity. The vogue, once at the service of creation,
10 can also put the person who is under the aegis of memory, desire
1 and understanding into a repetitive, non-creative state.
2 Among the powerfully destructive vogues, there is one that
3 stands out in Bion’s contributions. He follows Kant and Freud in
4 explicit (EP, 35, AI, 103, C, 189) critiques of the Cartesian vogue in
5 western “thinking”. This vogue manifests itself in at least five
6 powerfully-established ideas:
8 (i) The idea of cause in the scientific movement.
9 (ii) The idea that the thinker creates thoughts.
20 (iii) The idea that conscious logical thinking is all that exists.
1 (iv) The idea of a separation between matter and mind.
2 (v) The idea that time and space are separated.
4 In Attention and Interpretation Bion develops the idea that the
511 establishment tends to co-opt and to kill the geniuses and mystics,
6 as Bion calls them. Those are the people who are able to glimpse
7 “O”, the numinous real. One of his examples is the history of
8 Christ’s thinking. In A Memoir of the Future Christ is seen as being
9 buried under a cold stone of adoration. It debased that which Christ
311 tried to convey into a dead legacy. Bion quotes many revolts against
1 this, especially the movement of Port Royal. He was greatly
2 impressed by Jansenism. Bion also has a mature grasp that revolts
3 against the establishment producing new establishments that
4 imitate that which they criticized. This is brought home in his view
5 of John Milton’s commitment to Cromwell’s policies.
7 . . . apparently primary narcissism [Freud, “Instincts and their
8 vicissitudes”, 1915c, SE 14] is related to the fact that common sense
911 is a function of the patient’s relationship to his group, and in his
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 277

E 277

111 relationship with the group the individual’s welfare is secondary to

2 the survival of the group. Darwin’s theory of the survival of the
3 fittest needs to be replaced by a theory of the survival of the fittest
4 to survive in a group—as far as the survival of the individual is
concerned. That is, he must be possessed with a high degree of
common sense: (1) an ability to see what everyone else sees when
subjected to the same stimulus, (2) an ability to believe in survival
of the dead after death in a sort of Heaven or Valhalla or what-not,
8 (3) an ability to hallucinate or manipulate facts so as to produce
9 material for a delusion that there exists an inexhaustible fund of
10 love in the group for himself. If for some reason the patient lacks
1 these, or some similar series of capacities for attaining subordina-
2 tion to the group . . . which is known to be indifferent to his fate as
3 an individual—by destroying his common sense or sense of group
4 pressures on himself as an individual, as the only method by which
5 he can preserve his narcissism. [C, 29–30]
FORTY YEARS You are too personal, Twenty-five. You’ve learnt
that from P.A. He is always being personal.
9 FIFTY YEARS Not personal—specific.
P.A. I have great respect for the individual. Do you think that is
1 wrong?
3 FIFTY YEARS No, but it is not in keeping with the growth of the
4 Herd. I can see P.A. will be in serious trouble if the Herd develops
faster than he does.
6 P.A. If the development of the Herd is incompatible with that of the
7 individual, either the individual will perish, or the Herd will be
8 destroyed by the individual who is not allowed to fulfil himself.
9 [AMF, III, 461]
1 The establishment also tries to extinguish the individual in other
2 ways. They seem to have been elicited through Bion’s use of his
3 own life experiences. Early in his life he had been separated from
4 his parents due to an establishment-backed initiative that seemed
5 not to be subjected to second thoughts. After his experiences as a
6 tank-officer in WWI he saw the establishment’s deeds as identical
7 with criminal attitudes of the various countries’ governing bodies
8 (WM, 205–6). The establishment’s interest ran against the individ-
911 ual’s needs.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 278


111 Clinical sources and implications

3 This has serious implications for the analyst’s task—beyond socio-
4 logical considerations. In the group of two, analyst/patient, “the
5 psychotic defence against interpretation . . . which constitutes, or is felt to
6 constitute, an attack on the patient’s narcissism. In practice this means
7 evading the elucidation of illusory, delusory, or hallucinatory mechanisms
8 for making the patient feel loved, lest such elucidation should show him
9 that such love as he wishes to feel that he receives does not in fact exist.
10 This in turn means that the analyst has to convey by various means that
1 he loves the patient, and that in this respect he is a representative of the
2 common sense of the patient’s social group, which loves the patient more
3 that it loves itself. This latter belief can, of course, be supported by the
4 patient by his believing that analysis itself is an expression of such group
5 love for him. Or, in early infant terms, that the breast is a gift to him from
6 the family group.”
711 The problem is the same emphasized by Freud since The
8 Interpretation of Dreams. One resorts to hallucination as a source of
9 “well-being”: “In so far as the patient is successful in evading the attacks
20 on his narcissism, he experiences a hallucinatory gratification of his crav-
1 ing for love. This, like all hallucinatory gratification, leaves the patient
2 unsatisfied. He therefore greedily resorts to a strengthening of his capacity
3 for hallucination, but there is naturally no corresponding increase in satis-
4 faction” (C, 30).
511 This feeling that hallucination can furnish solace also has socio-
6 logical implications; many people hallucinating simultaneously
7 produces a huge shared hallucination. Both in Experience in Groups
8 and Transformations, one gets a sense that all groups are halluci-
9 nated; in a certain sense, it seems that one of the features that
311 composes the “introjected establishment” is an allegiance to lies, in
1 the form of hypocrisy:
3 The assumption underlying loyalty to the K link is that the person-
4 ality of analyst and analysand can survive the loss of its protective
5 coat of lies, subterfuge, evasion and hallucination and may even be
6 fortified and enriched by the loss. It is an assumption strongly
7 disputed by the psychotic and a fortiori by the group, which relies
8 on psychotic mechanisms for its coherence and sense of well-being.
911 [T, 129]
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 279

E 279

111 Finally, concerning the analyst’s state of mind, the establishment

2 can be regarded as the established ideas, theories, theories on a
3 specific patient, codes, cultural habits and anything that disguises
4 itself as a reason to say, “Thus far and no further” (AMF, II, 236–7, 242,
5 265).
711 ROBIN The whole of psycho-analytic theory seems to be vitiated—
as shown by the structured nature of the system itself—by favour-
ing only those phenomena which appear to conform to classical
logic, the sort of logic with which we are already familiar.
1 PAUL Timidity is a fact of our nature. We cling to anything which
2 gives us the chance of saying “Thus far and no further”. Any
3 discovery is followed by a closure. The remainder of our thoughts
4 and endeavours is devoted to consolidating the system to prevent
5 the intrusion of yet another thought. Even any roughness of our
6 system that might facilitate the lodgement of the germ of another
7 idea is smoothed and polished. [AMF, II, 265]
9 The analyst who feels established by his memory, desire and
211 judgmental values cannot do research and cannot help his (her)
1 patient to further research into the unknown.
2  This term, even though it can be traced from Bion’s adoles-
cent experiences at war, is an evolution of the term, “public view”.
Among some of his last thoughts on the issue one may quote:
5 EDMUND I don’t doubt it, but I want to go on with my astronom-
6 ical hobbies.
P.A. There is nothing to stop you provided you are not so terrified
by your imagination or your scientific activity that you cannot think
at all.
1 ROBIN The government might become so terrified that they
2 stopped you. But perhaps they are too ignorant to be terrified; that
3 also would act as a cloak to protect the tender shoots of scientific
speculation till they become “theories”.
5 ROLAND If they become strongly established theories they become
6 too strong for the tender shoots of social speculation. Panic can be
7 a powerful solvent of discipline.
8 ALICE No government would dare to stop astronomers doing
911 astronomical research.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 280


111 P.A. If I were the government and wanted to stop astronomical

2 research I am sure I could do it in a subtle enough way to escape
3 criticism. I could say there was not enough paper to spare for the
4 printing of astronomical articles. I could attack the availability of
materials which were essential for the manufacture of certain
instruments. I could discourage grants for the education of poten-
tially gifted astronomy students.
8 ROLAND Which goes to show that it would be inadvisable to let
9 you into government posts of power!
10 ALICE I think it would help if an astronomer stood for Parliament.
ROBIN But the principle stands—it is dangerous to allow men of
such mischievous power authority which they can use to prevent
mental development.
5 P.A. Suppose astronomers could convince the majority of human
6 beings that the sun showed signs of imminent catastrophe; that at
any moment we would be enveloped in whirlpools of immense
temperatures. Would you allow that to be broadcast when nothing
could be done? [AMF, III, 284–5]
Suggested cross-references: Common sense, Herd, Public view.
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 281

711 F
211 Factors and functions: The concept of factors and functions belongs
1 both to the philosophy of mathematics and to geometry (which can
2 be seen as one of the “practical” applications of mathematics). Bion
3 borrowed this concept as an aid to the development of the theory
4 of thinking and its offshoot, the theory of learning from experience.
5 In chronological terms it is the second time that Bion borrowed
6 from philosophy of mathematics. The first time was Frege’s theory
7 of numbers, which was used in “A theory of thinking” (q.v.). Bion
8 wants the reader to be reminded of the philosophical, mathemati-
9 cal and current usage of these concepts.
30 One may state that almost the entirety of Bion’s contributions to
1 psycho-analysis has its roots in Freud’s “Formulations on the two
2 principles of mental functioning”. The concept of function uses it in
3 so obvious a way that it probably passes unnoticed. Something
4 functions when it is seen vis-à-vis other something else.
5 Those who are reminded of elementary school or college math-
6 ematics and physics will recognize here a description of the
7 Euclidean system of co-ordinates. The linear function may be the
8 simplest example of it. It is represented by an equation with two
911 variables (x and y) which function under some rule, one vis-à-vis

Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 282


111 the other. For example, one x equals two “ys”. The ethos of the
2 mathematical function has some features that are ever-present in
3 any human endeavour, to the extent that mathematics is one of the
4 oldest human attempts to create a formulation that presents or
5 represents some counterparts in reality. Namely, the binding capac-
6 ity to formulate relationships.
7 One may be reminded of factoring, odd numbers, the lowest
8 common denominator, the highest common divider. I suppose that
9 Bion was able to perceive and rescue the fact that Freud investi-
10 gated the functioning of the mental apparatus. The term “function-
1 ing” usually brings associations with machinery. But this is part of
2 the history; there is an abstraction linked to it, the concept itself.
3 Freud observed two factors, which he named “principles”. Bion
4 emphasizes Freud’s perception of the existence of mental functions,
5 especially the function of attention (LE, 5). In fact Freud established
6 for the first time the “functions of the ego” as well as the functions
711 of human sexuality.
8 The theory of functions in Bion’s work, even though some of the
9 inspiration for its formulation is drawn from mathematics, has
20 nothing to do with mathematics per se. It is pure Freud in its roots.
1 Any applied science studies functions; this is true for biology,
2 physics, medicine and engineering. Lest the reader think that this
3 statement is a creation of the author, Bion’s own statement will
4 suffice to dispel such a misgiving: “The term ‘function’, used in the
511 sense of a function of the personality, has not the meaning it possesses for
6 the mathematician or the mathematical logician though it has features
7 partaking of the meaning of both” (LE, 89).
8 The concept of function underlies other basic contributions by
9 Bion, namely, the concept of relationships or links. The relations
311 between objects and beings as well as beings and other beings
1 would mark a seminal step taken by him (see the headings Links,
2 H, L, K, Commensal, Parasitic, Symbiotic). The concept of factors
3 comes together with the concept of function, and both subsume the
4 concept of constant conjunction (which is used exactly as Hume
5 proposed using it). The factors are subordinate to the function.
6 The theory of functions is intended to furnish more precision
7 and rigorousness to psycho-analysis as compared with that which
8 can be furnished by the use of colloquial formulations. This concept
911 would emphasize the complexity of mental functioning and would
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 283

F 283

111 be a kind of preview of another concept, that of binocular vision.

2 Binocular vision (q.v.) and Links would be developed in the same
3 book, Learning from Experience. There was no place for “absolutes”
4 of any kind in the work of Bion right from its start: one studies rela-
5 tionships.
6 He defines function and factors in an intertwined way: “To call
711 an action by the name of the person of whom it is thought to be typical, to
8 talk, for example, of a Spoonerism as if it were a function of the personal-
9 ity of an individual called Spooner, is quite usual in conversation. I take
10 advantage of this usage to derive a theory of functions that will stand up
1 to more rigorous use than that for which the conversational phrase is
2 employed. I shall suppose that there are factors in the personality that
3 combine to produce stable entities which I call functions of the personal-
4 ity” (LE, 1).
5 He furthers the definitions: “‘Function’ is the name for the mental
6 activity proper to a number of factors operating in consort. ‘Factor’ is the
7 name for a mental activity operating in consort with other mental activi-
8 ties to constitute a function. Factors are deducible from observation of the
9 functions of which they, in consort with each other, are a part” (LE, 2). It
211 follows that factors are subordinate to functions, even though an
1 element or trait can be a function under a given vertex and a factor
2 under another. Functions appertain to the realm of phenomena and
3 are observable; factors appertain to the realm of noumena and are
4 not observable: “Factors are deduced not directly but by observa-
5 tion of functions” (LE, 2).
6 Flexibility is demanded when using these concepts; they are not
7 ultimate realities and they must not be reified: “They can be theories
8 or the realities the theories represent. They may appear to be commonplaces
9 of ordinary insight; they are not because the word used to name the factor
30 is employed scientifically and therefore more rigorously that is usual in
1 conversational English” (LE, 2).
2 Suggested cross-reference: Mathematizing psycho-analysis.
5 P.A. Being aware of facts has, I am sure, had an effect on me anal-
6 ogous to that of food on my physique. [AMF, II, 330]
8 This entry will offer further evidence for the statements made in
911 the entries Analytic view, Opinion (of the analyst), Scientific
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 284


111 method. They are included in this dictionary as an effort to help to

2 dispel any doubts on the necessity of not attributing to Bion non-
3 scientific views about the analyst’s work. By non-scientific views,
4 idealistic (also called, solipsistic or subjectivist) views as well as a
5 blind relativism that denies the very existence of truth and reality
6 themselves is meant.
Observation and facts
1 In inviting the reader to use an observational theory to improve the
2 scientific value of psycho-analysis, Bion tries to assess the stuff that
3 the patient’s verbal formulations are made of.
4 One must remember the conventions of Bion’s proposed nota-
5 tional system before reading the following quotation:
711 (i) T (patient) stands for the transformations made by a patient
8 around and with an original emotional and physical experi-
9 ence, or invariance.
20 (ii) The two other symbols, T (patient), and T (patient) stand for
1 the processes of those who would like to have more details
2 about these quasi-mathematical terms, see entries in this
3 dictionary, Transformations, symbols: T, T , and T .
511 Bion tries to assess what the words convey, beyond the manifest,
6 outward appearance of discourse and/or acting out during the
7 session. He is concerned with the “nature (or, in other words, mean-
8 ing)” of a series of phenomena. Namely, “the material provided by the
9 analytic session” which “is significant for its being the patient’s view
311 (representation) of certain facts which are the origin (O) of his reaction”.
In practice this means that I shall regard only those aspects of the
patient’s behaviour which are significant as representing his view
of O; I shall understand what he says or does as if it were an artist’s
4 painting. In the session the facts of his behaviour are like the facts
5 of a painting and from them I must find the nature of his represen-
6 tation . . . From the analytic treatment as a whole I hope to discover
7 from the invariants in this material what O is, what he does to trans-
8 form O . . . As I am concerned with the nature (or, in other words,
911 meaning) of these phenomena, my problem is to determine the rela-
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 285

F 285

111 tionship between three unknowns: T (patient), T (patient) , and T

2 (patient) . Only in the last of these have I any facts on which to
3 work. [T, 15]
5 Seventeen years later he used a literary-philosophical form to
6 express his view, which dispensed with the quasi-mathematical
711 terms: “P.A. I find it useful to make a distinction between meaning and
8 fact. ‘Facts’ are the name we give to any collection of constantly conjoined
9 experiences which we feel temporarily have a meaning; then we consider
10 we have discovered a ‘fact’” (AMF, II, 236). In other words, facts that
1 are available to the analyst’s observation are the final products—or
2 manifest content—of the analysand’s transformations of his experi-
3 ences, sensuous and psychic.
4 An increasingly larger number of Bion’s readers—following a
5 trend in the psycho-analytical movement—do not have a medical
6 or other kind of scientific experience of contact with facts and obser-
7 vation. Some of them have been adopting a partisan attitude
8 favouring structuralist and post-modern views, meaning, relativis-
9 tic idealism. These readers conclude that Bion was under the sway
211 of a positivistic idea of the existence of a neutral observer when he
1 uses the term “observation”. The same is true when Bion’s texts
2 display his concern for truth and life, when uttering the word
3 “facts”. A verboten word in our post-modern and Kuhnistic days.
4 The following quotations may help those who are used to the criti-
5 cal debate to entertain second thoughts about this idea.
6 The same issue was already presented in some of the diatribes
7 that Aristotle had with his master Plato—diatribes that would be
8 better resolved only when an older Aristotle, now at flight trying to
9 save his life, matured emotionally, from personal suffering.
30 One of the Aristotle versus Plato arguments had to do with the
1 word representing “point” as used by the former, which meant
2 “puncture”—therefore too tied to sensuously apprehensible factual
3 reality. Aristotle, who defended non-physical metaphysics, in prac-
4 tice returned to the concreteness of it, when he tried to deny feelings.
5 Bion reminds us that Plato was attacked by Aristotle when the
6 former defined the point by an emotional experience, a negative
7 aspect, in the sense of the non-existence of whatever it be in order
8 to attain existence: that a point was “the beginning of a line”.
911 Whereas Plato seemed inadequately “feelingful” to Aristotle,
Sandler part 1 correx 6/24/05 12:15 PM Page 286


111 Aristotle seemed to favour a “feelingless” view that also calls for
2 critical scrutiny. This is Kant’s “criticism”. Nietzsche and Freud
3 were inspired by the “critical posture”.
5 Now the associations of a statement include feelings: indeed many
6 of the associations of a verbal statement represent feelings . . .
7 [Aristotle’s objection] suggests that the importance of a definition is
8 to mark a constant conjunction without the evocation of feelings;
but something seems real only when there are feelings about it. The
negative quality of a definition, then, relates to the need to exclude
existing emotions as well as ideas. [T, 77]
Some facts are seemingly basic and simple, such as a point. It is
one of the earliest mathematical objects made available to us. Being
a mathematical object it can be used as a reality that does not
depend on the concrete object to be dealt with. This simple fact has
as “the realization which will approximate to it”. . . “an emotional expe-
rience” (T, 77). Perhaps it may be argued that the point needed some
millennia to have finally been experienced. Nevertheless it remains
mathematically basic and simple.
In an imaginary dialogue between the place where instincts
2 spring from, “Soma”, and the psychic reality, “Psyche”, one finds a
3 reference to a lack of intuition. In his earlier forms of expression,
4 written in the books before 1975, Bion resorted to Kant’s aphorism,
511 “concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts
6 are blind”. Now he resorts to an event that could had killed him
7 when in a