joel_gold's picture
Psychiatrist; Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; Coauthor (with Ian Gold), Suspicious Minds

The Dark Matter Of The Mind

There are people who want a stable marriage, yet continue to cheat on their wives.

There are people who want a successful career, yet continue to undermine themselves at work.

Aristotle defined Man as a rational animal. Contradictions like these show that we are not.

All people live with the conflicts between what they want and how they live.

For most of human history we had no way to explain this paradox until Freud's discovery of the unconscious resolved it. Before Freud, we were restricted to our conscious awareness when looking for answers regarding what we knew and felt. All we had to explain incompatible thoughts, feelings and motivations was limited to what we could access in consciousness. We knew what we knew and we felt what we felt. Freud's elegant explanation postulated a conceptual space that is not manifest to us but where irrationality rules. This aspect of the mind is not subject to the constraints of rationality such as logical inference, cause and effect, and linear time. The unconscious explains why presumably rational people live irrational lives.

Critics may take exception as to what Freud believed resides in the unconscious—drives, both sexual and aggressive, defenses, conflicts, fantasies, affects and beliefs—but no one would deny its existence; the unconscious is now a commonplace. How else to explain our stumbling through life, unsure of our motivations, inscrutable to ourselves? I wonder what a behaviorist believes is at play while in the midst of divorcing his third astigmatic redhead.

The universe consists primarily of dark matter. We can't see it, but it has an enormous gravitational force. The conscious mind—much like the visible aspect of the universe—is only a small fraction of the mental world. The dark matter of the mind, the unconscious, has the greatest psychic gravity. Disregard the dark matter of the universe and anomalies appear. Ignore the dark matter of the mind and our irrationality is inexplicable.