Certainty and uncertainty

January 16, 2008

On reading my invitation to a Cognitive-Edge training session in New York, I was struck by the use of certainty and uncertainty. Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst, explored these concepts throughout his work. During my editorship, I intend to explore these two from the position of a practicing psychoanalyst. Those of you who know anything of Lacanian Psychoanalysis will know this is an impossibility….

If a subject (human-being) is in the position of certainty then they are either submerged by a too-alive-and-present Other (Elohim – see my blog Wednesday 9th January at Maverecon – Willem Buiter’s Blog) or they are subjected to a demanding Other that supports a pact – for example, the ten commandments (El Shaddai). This father, Freud (Totem and Taboo) called the dead father. There is a tendency for subjects to get stuck ricocheting between these two positions. The position of uncertainty is more difficult because it involves self-mutilation (usually at a symbolic level though not necessarily. I give a presentation on ‘Self-mutilation and the object a’ at 2pm on Saturday 16th January in ULU, Malet Street, London). Separation always involves a relationship usually of love. In order to separate from Certainty or the Other, the subject is proactive. Separation involves finding a hole in the Other (YHWH), covering (not filling) that hole with a position relative to the hole (Descartes filled it with a God who does not deceive), and then operating from that position. There are no absolutes or certainties involved.

Slavoj Zizek, commenting on his new book on ‘Violence’ (Link is available until Tuesday 15th) applies this difference between certainty (C) and uncertainty (UC) to current conflicts: Systemic violence (C) and Personal violence (C?), Violence as a lure which stops us thinking, Governments working with fear to protect us (C). Governments evoke fear so that they can be seen to protect us (ricocheting in C). Governments seen as keeping us stable (C). Zizek defines any act which removes you from certainty to uncertainty as a violent. Jacques Lacan in Seminar X describes separation (certainty to uncertainty) as the ability to self-mutilate. This is always painful – there are no ‘supportive’, unitary answers.

It is my intention (unless I get distracted) to continue this theme of ‘certainty and uncertainty’ into the areas of current Government legislation, ‘evidence-based practice’ and cognitive-behavioural-therapy in the next week.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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