deletedApr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022
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Interesting. That last line about Freud seems spot on to me. And I know we all hate this, but in this context "man" and "girl" seemed really irritating, although I strive not to react or get all p.c. Its just an extremely jarring image to this woman, in this case. Take it as you will, a correction or a ridiculous objection. It stood out though, big time.

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It's a simple, and good, question to begin; `what is the nature of desire?' I follow Girard and Otto Rank, for example, in my answer, but that means when I read that babies have a desire to please then I immediately respond, `no, they don't.' The infant lives in a magical world we can no longer imagine where all the desires are sensual with no rhyme or reason for how or why they magically are, or are not, satisfied.

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I think the prediction market was exactly correct that you would produce a very entertaining piece of writing on having read this book, which made me laugh out loud a couple of times (the sentence about failed schemes including ending up reading this book, and the parting line).

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Apr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022

Can someone who speaks French and/or has read Lacan please tell me whether the "Name of the Father" pun is "nom de père" after "nom de guerre"?

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"Fink presents a (supposedly) real case study of psychosis. A man (“Roger”), ... "

I can't help but noticing that Lacanian therapy causes Roger to go insane, while another therapist helps him to be fine afterwards.

The goal of therapy is typically to help people live normal lives, not to cause their ego to collapse in a particular way. Why would Fink want to use this as an example of Lacanian therapy?

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Could I get a summary of this summary?

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Apr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022

Is it true that no one's parents ever tell the kid exactly what they want? Mine never did, but i assumed that they were uniquely flawed somehow. I never thought of that as normal.

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Apr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022

I've never tried to understand Lacanian psychoanalysis before, but I've always wondered how do people combine it with Marxism as you often see in the humanities (at least here in South America and in Continental Europe). This review puzzled me even more. How are these things even remotely compatible?

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1. I DID want you to write this exact review; I was excited to see and read it. It sounds more exciting to me than the other ones you put in prediction markets. I don't think I want that only because you might want me to want it, although I'm certainly capable of something like that. I think I want it because (a) I'm obsessed with my own mind and so hearing anything about it, even if it's adjectives associated with my birth year by Chinese astrology on a placemat, is pretty interesting, and (b) you're a psychiatrist and I always want to know what you think about this type of stuff.

2. As an authority-seeking pervert currently converting to Catholicism after a lifetime of atheism (and did I mention my absent father?) I found some of this relevant to my interests in a different sense.

3. That diagram almost looks like abstract algebra, or perhaps category theory, the former of which was my research area in grad school, but it's still not saying anything to me.

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Lacan would've loved the superstring analogy, especially since he got deeply into knot theory during the 70s. It's the perfect pun!

Surprisingly, I don't have a lot to say about or add to this review, other than a few small comments, that:

- My guess is that contemporary transgenderism is more of a neurotic than a psychotic phenomenon, unlike in Fink's day. I almost wrote a post about exactly this but I didn't want to get absolutely destroyed on Twitter.

- You mention psychosis rates haven't risen, but did you know that the original definition of "autism" was as a subtype of schizophrenia, i.e. psychosis (source: Eugene Bleuler's original definition of autism in a tome I found in a rare bookstore: https://listed.to/@simpolism/25737/excerpt-bleuler-on-autism-1911)? And we do indeed see more autists today (although of course there's diagnostic issues etc). There's even a contemporary Lacanian text on autism, called "The Autistic Subject: On the Threshold of Language" by Leon Brenner, which deals with the topic in some detail.

- One other comment on perversion: I read a great quote that said "the neurotic fantasizes about being a pervert" but I can't remember where it's from but it seemed true. My friend getting a PhD in this stuff also recommend thinking about perversion as "sociopathy" essentially. They rarely even end up in analysis because they usually don't want to get better. But they end up in jail instead for imagining themselves as "above the Law".

Anyway, glad you're exploring the topic! And my apologies that the neuropsychoanalysis papers didn't make much sense -- but you're correct at least to have expected that LMAO

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"Physics is stuck in an annoying equilibrium where the Standard Model works for almost everything, and then occasionally we come across some exotic domain where it totally falls apart and we know that reality must be something deeper and weirder. "

The standard model actually only works well for electromagnetism and weak force interactions. It falls apart mathematically when you try to calculate strong force interactions properly, and no one has even figured out how to add gravity to it at all, let alone actually do calculations with it.

And of course there's the fact that it doesn't have dark matter and what not.

Point being, most people don't think gravity is exotic, but will think that single electrons travelling the void at 0.5c is exotic and the standard model is awful at the former but seemingly perfect at the latter.

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This system seems to assume a strict good-cop-bad-cop approach to parenting, where the mOther is soft and loving but increasingly distant, while the (Name-Of-The-)Father is stern and harsh and punishing.

Setting aside the gendered aspect, it just seems weird to me that Lacanians take it as a given that those are always going to be different figures. You don't have to bring modern single mothers into it to recognize that mothers absolutely do scold their kids, tell them to follow rules, make vague implicit threats that could be construed by psychoanalysts as threats of castration (e.g. "Now, Bobby, I'm going to count to ten… You don't want Mommy to get angry, do you?").

If, according to Lacan, getting your Law from somewhere else than a Father begets an entirely unique kind of mental illness — *surely* getting it from the same person who is also acting as your mOther would have interesting effects? Doesn't Fink talk about this at all?

(I kinda suspect the effect is that it begets healthier people who don't internalize weird gendered essentialism and don't go to see psychoanalysts, who therefore don't hear about them.)

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Apr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022

I can think of one person I know of who fits that Psychotic description practically to a T, but the conditions Lacan talks about Psychosis arising from are basically the opposite. There's an interesting observation there, but the predictive power is one hundred percent wrong in this particular case.

I have a dumb hypothesis about obscurantist works, and it goes something like: A) If I state my thesis simply and understandably, it'll be a combination of simple observations and complete nonsense. B) Simple and easy to understand works are easier to criticize, so my work will get torn to shreds. It leads to "I want to maintain my high-status self image, so I'll write about things in an intentionally obfuscated way, and if anyone criticizes my work then, I'll just claim they didn't understand it well enough." Maybe uncharitable, but I think there's a difference between work that is actually difficult to understand (Partial Differential Equations, Organic Chemistry, etc.) and work that has easy to understand concepts made deliberately difficult to make the author seem smarter.

For what it's worth, I'm sure Lacan would dismiss me as an "Obsessive" who pretends his work is of little value, because look at the category he created specifically for people who dismiss him!

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I'm glad you're getting Lacan-pilled, Scott. Don't give up just yet.

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I feel like a lot of what makes this seem unapproachable is that the authors seem, in a significant sense, incapable of imagining non-sexual pleasure; everything gets put in a sexual framework.

As for the weird panorama of sexuality, the landscape that is impossible to easily describe, the way some people must have certain conditions fulfilled, and others cannot have those conditions met in order to experience pleasure - like, that's everything. Like, think about the weird panorama of eating habits, the landscape that is impossible to easily describe - the way some people must have certain spices in their food, the way others cannot have those same spices.

For the blindfold situation, imagine eating a fine meal which is delightful, and discovering, after you have been thoroughly enjoying it, that it contains - well, the specifics don't actually matter, just that it contains something which you have no fundamental objection to being in food; horse, for some people. It would suddenly get a lot less appealing, no?

Sexuality isn't a strange and alien landscape surrounding an orderly lawn of well-tended human desire. Everything is like that. What's notable is that sex -seems- unusually strange and alien, because our expectation is that sex should be this incredibly constrained and fundamentally ordinary activity, made special by our social regard of it.

Is castration anxiety this big deal? I dunno. This seems like it might be something which doesn't translate; our culture is peculiarly comfortable with threatening sexual violence against men. I suspect, in the terms of Lacan, that "castration anxiety" as a way of talking about something is, in fact, a way of avoiding talking about something. Taking it outside sexuality, it is talking about potency/power; but I'd suggest that taking the analysis one level further is necessary, and we aren't anxious about losing our power, but rather our desire to take the power away from others. Or, bringing it back to the sexual level, we aren't afraid of being castrated, we are afraid of our desire to castrate.

But, these are, in a sense, all just word games; observe that everything I just wrote is just shuffling around what pointers are being used to talk about the same concepts.

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Did Scott already review this book when he wrote https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/11/20/book-review-all-therapy-books/?

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“I will not deny that this is an interesting prediction of how many people end up with spanking fetishes, or “discipline” fetishes, or master/slave fetishes, or teacher/student fetishes, or some other fetish that ritually re-enacts the establishment of Law.”

Mad investor Chaos has entered the chat

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"if I lost all my material goods, if every defense mechanism were mercilessly stripped from me one after another - would something eventually happen corresponding to “my ego collapses”?"

According to Greek Tragedy, first you would gouge your eyes out, and then you would become something akin to a Saint or a mystic. People always forget that their is a sequel to Oedipus Tyrannus where he reveals the hidden truth at the heart of all things to Theseus.

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Throwaway account b/c of topic.

> That suggests there’s some set of unconscious rules about which kinds of sexual pleasure are allowed.

This definitely isn't how it feels to me, although I would definitely be unhappy to see a man/chimpanzee upon removal of the blindfold. It feels less like there are constraints on what physical sensations are relevant, and more like there is a mental component to the experience. That is, I am experiencing pleasure from the entire situation, including both the physical stimulus, my partner's mental state (well my model of it technically), and possibly other factors as well. Even though the physical part is the most important thing happening, it's far from the only thing.

Signals from the nerves in one's genitals are only one of the inputs being received, so I don't find it too surprising that changing other signals affects one's experience.

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It seems that a lot of these questions ("what other shall i please") are really just attempts to answer a question like "what is the true territory to which valence corresponds."

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Until now, I knew nothing about Lacan other than the fact that he was popular among a certain group of heterodox psych nerds, and figured there was a chance that maybe he was onto something that mainstream psychologists hasn't noticed, but this review has convinced me that his ideas were probably just obscurantist nonsense.

This seems like someone took Kohlberg's theory of moral development stages, focused exclusively on the first and third stages - fear of punishment and desire for social approval - while ignoring the other four, and then tried to build a psychological equivalent of a Grand Unified Theory of Everything centered entirely around those two stages. Not just moral or social behavior, but *everything*, all the way down to instincts, sensory perception, and language. And also made it all about sex for some reason. And threw in the obviously self-serving notion that anyone who disagrees with the theory must be pathological themselves.

Also, am I the only one who finds those patient observation stories kinda dubious? No particular detail is especially unbelievable, because it's true that humans do all sorts of weird things all the time, but the way all of them just so happen to tie into Lacan and Fink's theories so perfectly seems rather overly convenient. I don't think they're completely made up, but they sound like cherry-picked examples, with a disproportionate emphasis placed on the details that confirm Lacanian theory and a great many other details omitted.

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"She liked listening to Phillip Ivywood at his best, as anyone likes listening to a man who can really play the violin; but the great trouble always is that at certain awful moments you cannot be certain whether it is the violin or the man."

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"I wonder if anyone has ever had a fetish for judges. What about that very particular white wig they sometimes wear?"

'My conclusion is that the evidence in this case cannot displace the presumption of innocence. As a result, I find you are not a bad girl after all. Session dismissed, have a pleasant day.'

I don't think that in this context judges are actually the Law, unless they're kangaroo court judges. They do not ideally want anything at all (in stark contrast to, say, cops or teachers) and so fail to satisfy the yearning for mastery.

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My personal theory on why sex is weird is that weird is just what you get when you need to get a very strong inherent impulse all the way from DNA to an adult human, through all the development feedback cycles and growth and cultural conditioning.

Pleasures like sugar or warmth are dead simple and can be expected to work out the same in just about everyone. Most complicated pleasures like conversation or reading are formed by near continuous feedback and communication with society.

Then pleasure from sex, outside of pure physical stimulation, is formed without much external feedback at all (although definitely a lot of external input), and rocketed to an extreme level of reward. Whatever's producing our sexual drive on a developmental level, I doubt it's very smart at the start. It needs to bundle together a likely set of signals, and inflate their reward value to insane levels, all without that much regulatory feedback. It certainly won't get much feedback on the actual evolutionary end goal of producing offspring. So, if we start with the inevitable developmental differences, they could easily get twisted into something random, but very compelling.

I guess this would be the boring, "fetishes are semi-random noise inflated to extreme levels by internal feedback" theory. At least I understand it though.

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I'm continuously amazed at the ability of pseudo intellectuals to confidently assert pure drivel. Drivel that is not even wrong, because at least wrong statements have a coherent meaning.

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What are those "high-decoupler types" you're talking about? Googling that phrase gives me confusing results.

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The real question is why you would take this gibberish seriously enough to try to steelman it?

It seems, through the lens of your review, to be incoherent word-salad, *not even wrong*, and it makes no predictions, explains no real-world patterns, offers no new powers of either cure or persuasion.

The only thing it does offer is a way of blaming the victim (or the victim's relatives) for diseases that medicine doesn't "fully understand" yet. Witch-quackery. You yourself seem unable to take it seriously, and I can't believe that you would use it as a guide professionally.

And you don't get off by saying 'my prediction markets told me to do it', because you chose the six books that the prediction markets were about.

I am annoyed that you started this with references to mesa-optimisers, because it made me think "OMG has Scott just worked out a workable analogy from reinforcement learning to an existing theory of psychological disorders?!". Which fooled me into reading it.

To attack the only point where you seem to be taking it at all seriously:

Consider a heterosexual man. A hot girl blindfolds him and feeds him an ice-cream. Then she takes off the blindfold and it turns out he's eating ice-cream flavoured dogshit. He stops enjoying it.

Do we now have a psychoanalytic theory of eating-repression?

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Good essay. I liked the initial segue from machine learning to newborns. A nice touch.

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Lacan seems to say that the cause or origin of desire is an ego that needs to defend itself. That seems unnecessary to me. I can't picture a living organism making it through natural selection that doesn't move towards things it needs/wants and away from things that may harm it.

Buddhists build the four noble truths on the observation that desire is inherent to us, that we have the tendency to cling to things we desire. In the Buddhist framework, the "self" (not the same as Freud's ego) and "desire" co-arise dependently on each other.

The more we add clinging to the natural comings and goings of our preferences, the more a fixed sense of self is reinforced. The more we experience a fixed sense of self, the harder that self will cling to its desires (and aversions).

Absent any particular training of the mind, our mind will tend to fabricate this dance endlessly -- building up self and getting more and more attached to preferences. That dance of clinging and aversion is the cause of suffering. I believe our psychological defenses -- as Freud and others have conceived them -- are constructed in response to that suffering. Our defenses are built up in reaction to existential disappointment (I mean, Freudians may locate that disappointment in sexual impulses, but Buddhists would say it's inherent to existence and not specifically sexual).

The idea of "non-self" (anatta) in Buddhism is a bit complex to grasp. It's not "no ego" and it's not that there's no one home in there. In the teachings, the language is more often that there is neither "self" nor "not self." This connects to another important idea in Buddhism which is the "nondual" nature of reality. The mind proliferates "this" and "that", "me" and "not me", "like" and "dislike". One of the central insights to be had in meditation is "oh wow, this is all the same stuff" (hard to convey in words, but it's a good one).

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Extremely relevant for any discussion of Lacan: https://physics.nyu.edu/sokal/dawkins.html

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Really enjoyed section IV. Great analysis!

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We missed out on Nixonland for this?

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Anyone care to speculate on what Fruedian/Lacanian methodologies would predict in light of women's entry into the labour force and daycare taking the role of the father and tearing the infant from its mother? Idealization of the educational institution/job as God/law/that which can satisfy desire through approval? Go wild.

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"That suggests there’s some set of unconscious rules about which kinds of sexual pleasure are allowed."

Not sure if this is insightful, but I expect (using my flawed self-model), that I would have a similar reaction if instead of an ugly woman, it turned out to be just a different hot woman. Something like "I didn't agree to this, and see such trust violations as especially objectionable when having to do with sex" (even though I would have agreed to participate had the new woman propositioned me instead, and even though I don't particularly have conceptions of sex as sacred).

So it doesn't seem to be an unconscious rule that this *kind* of sexual pleasure is not allowed (Like "you shouldn't like sex with ugly people"). Maybe it's that unexpected kinds of sexual pleasure are not allowed? Or perhaps that framing is wrong. It just seemed a missing example, and I got the vague impression that a theory about certain kinds of sexual pleasure being not allowed would predict the other way.

(Also could just be I'm an outlier on this, I suppose)

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I wonder how often parents threaten or attempt to kill their children. Mine never said or did anything like that, but "I brought you into this world and I can take you out" is a cliche. And some parents do kill their children.

Lacan in general: There's a book by Delany called *Phallos* about people hunting for a gold and jeweled phallos with a message in it. It's a Lacanian book, so there's no message in the phallos. I read some of the book and the critical essays packaged with it, and the criticism is so Lacanian hell wouldn't have it. I keep thinking about reading the book and writing up something about the normal readerly pleasures of reading *Phallos*. There's some good landscape description.

"Name-Of-The-Father, which is apparently a very clever pun in French" My high school French steps in. Perhaps it's nom de pere/nom de guerre.

Anyone care to try diagnosing Lacan? He seems somehow kind of off. Of course, maybe he didn't believe any of it, maybe he found a way to get money and fame by being insultingly confusing.

I think there's something to the idea that people are sometimes motivated by "and then everything will be alright", though I don't think it's hoping for a coherent self, it might be more like a hoped-for sense of security or completeness.

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> why did you want me to read A Clinical Introduction To Lacanian Psychoanalysis?

In your review of Sadly, Porn, you talked about your almost cult leader friend that seems to get his powers from understanding Lacanian stuff. That was very intruiging to me, in a "deep truth that I may not know about" way. This review is telling me the opposite: maybe there were nothing at all.

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> its insistence that not only are humans bound by Law, but they insist on being bound by Law, and someone who isn’t bound by Law will flail around desperately looking for some Law to be bound by

There do seem to be some people who aren't like that, and it's not that they've discovered some reason why authority-seeking is immoral and virtuously stopped themselves, they actually just don't want to do it.

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"[T]he Other doesn’t exist, they’re self-contained and don’t need anybody else, there’s no such thing as the unconscious, and nothing can possibly go wrong. Fink describes Ayn Rand characters as a 'perfect' example, which I found helpful."

The irony is that the main character arc in both of Ayn Rand's major novels is all about the protagonists having to learn that they do actually need other people after all.

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Valiant, Prince Scott.

Really, I appreciate the time and effort you put into this.

It's very very difficult to understand the mental processes of a neurotic delusion. In systems as complex as intelligent humans operating in social structures, the origen and expression of desire and motivation is beyond comprehension. But we can deal with it.

Fortunately we have profound practical ways to alleviate some of the suffering.

Lacanianism is not one of them.

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"Hysteria is where someone tries to become the object of the Other’s desire, thus resolving the terrifying question of what it wants (it wants them)."

til i'm hysteric (minus the abusive father, and so far the stormy relationship with the abusive husband, but i guess there's still plenty of time for that)

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Well, I gotta be honest, this all seems totally deranged to me. Most of the time when people have these big overarching worldviews of how people work I can at least see where they're coming from — but none of this stuff makes any sense at all to me.

A couple times, I've found weird tiny subreddits off-the-beaten-path where everyone seems to be suffering from some kind of mental illness, where they spill dozens and dozens of paragraphs and utterly incoherent nonsense, words words words with no connection to reality (does anyone know what I'm talking about? I never saved any examples). Anyway, that's what Lacanian psychoanalysis reminds me of.

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Your children will say what you say, and do what you do.

Your robots, too. For the same reasons.

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"Lacan claims that no psychotic person can ever invent a truly novel analogy, which sure is a heck of a claim."

This is the kind of thing which really makes it near impossible for me to respect the kind of theorizing that not only generated, but upholds these frameworks. In a scientific, or at least sane framework, people would home in on these sorts of predictions as vitally important, and make a high priority of going out to check if they're actually true. If they're not, it's a good sign the framework ought to be chucked.

There might be some exceptions. Sometimes the world is too complicated for even a good model to properly capture all the details. But if a model's predictions aren't at least more consistently true than would be predicted by common sense, it's probably just not a good model.

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I would read: Lacan compared with Robin Hanson, where everything is about status and signalling, including sexual pleasure (blindfolded man only enjoys blowjob from attractive woman because the pleasure is not in the nerves but in knowing he's doing something high-status).

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Look, I enjoy stories about phalluses (sorry, I meant "objects a") as much as the next guy; but I think that, at some point (hopefully, soon), we need to make a deal with all of these psychoanalysts: we will read your books, and we will even pay attention, but only if you include some actual evidence for your "object a"-icious stories. And by "evidence" I don't mean "something I dreamt up one day", but randomized controlled trials. Ideally, ones that have been replicated. Otherwise, there's no real reason for me to prefer your "object a" stories over any others, and the Internet is vast.

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Apr 26, 2022·edited Apr 26, 2022

So what I don't understand is why you picked the book with the most money and positive votes, rather than the book you wanted to do. Or 'are' you doing the book that we vote for? Or were we picking the book which, if you did it, would get the most votes? I now think I should have been putting (fake) money on the book I wanted you to do (R. Girard)... regardless of your motivation.

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>“Lacan goes so far as to say that ‘female masochism is a male fantasy’ and qualifies lesbianism not as a perversion but as ‘heterosexuality’, [because women are] the Other sex [by some corollary of Lacan’s definition of the Other]. Homosexuality - hommesexualite, as Lacan spells it, including the two ms from homme, ‘man’, is, in his terms, love for men.”

I think the even more surprising conclusion is that, according to this definition, a straight woman is homosexual because she loves men.

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Does anyone here want to theorise about why books like this become popular, even though it's famously hard to cut through the uncertainties about what their authors are saying (and then to the extent you figure it out, it's not at all clear how what they're saying is either soundly based or particularly useful)?

Many inscrutable writers influential in philosophy seem enduringly popular. Hegel and Lacan are famous examples.

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Lacan (at least as experienced 3rd hand via Fink and Scott) seems to me to lack the quality that my favorite thinkers have. He doesn’t sound *excited*. He doesn’t sound capable of being surprised and fascinated by his objects of study. You don’t get the sense that he feels like the world of people and their psyches is larger than him, that there’s a lot still left to learn, a lot that’s puzzling, and he’s looking forward to deepening his understanding. Plenty of people in psychology and psychiatry do have that quality. Piaget had it. So did Bruno Bettelheim. People in other fields have it too — Michael Lewis & David Byrne, for instance, have it. Scott has it. But Lacan sounds way too attached to his feeling of having things all figured out. He’s fascinated by his theories about the psyche, not by psyches. You can think of it in terms of Venn diagrams. Some people -- the thinkers I admire --sound like their subject is a big circle and they are a smaller circle that overlaps a lot with the big circle. But Lacan sounds like he's a big circle, his theory is a medium-sized circle inside of the big circle of him, and everybody else is a small circle inside the medium-sized one.

The best psychotherapists I know have that quality of excitement and fascination — about their patients. Here’s how they sound: “He came to therapy about a year after his father died. He’s a very articulate guy when he’s talking about his friends and his interests — he’s interested in craftsmen, and he’s writing a book about violin makers. His father was a surgeon, really well known because he invented some new procedures — so his father was a fine craftsman, right? Anyhow, this guy is very articulate until he starts talking about his love relationships, but then he . . .” (This isn’t a real patient by the way — I just made all that stuff up to give you the flavor.). Good psychotherapists have a model of the psyche and views about how various hells and traps develop, and that guides their work with their patients, but they are more interested in their patients than they are in their theories. And they think of their theories as being subject to expansion and revision based on their ongoing work with patients.

Maybe Lacan did have a lot of excitement and fascination going on about the people and psyches he encountered, and all the details about that side of him got strained out as first Fink abstracted Lacan’s ideas from his published work and then Scott abstracted Fink’s ideas about Lacan from Fink’s book. And then again maybe Lacan was a fussy middle-aged white man who was pretty impressed with himself.

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Not directly related to the review proper, but regarding Julian Jaynes and the mentioned claim that "the Homeric Greeks didn’t have a full concept of a unified mind, only various bundles of emotions and thoughts located in different parts of their bodies" — I had the thought a while ago (no doubt inspired by my own getting better at emotional self-awareness etc) that these days, what we're learning — mindfulness, mind-body awareness, etc — is in fact to recognize that we have various bundles at emotions and thoughts located in our bodies: unlearning the habit of over-identifying with every emotion and thought, and trying to imagine a unified mind. (See also: Internal Family Systems etc.)

So maybe what Jaynes (thought he) observed in the Homeric Greeks' references was actually a *better* model of the mind, one that has been clouded/simplified into the model most of us carry today, and have to partially unlearn.

(Actually, I had this thought when reading the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna describes his mental state with "my limbs grow weak, my body trembles, my mouth turns dry, my hairs stand on end, my bow slips from my hand, my skin burns, my mind whirls, and I can barely stand", and it struck me as very perceptive/aware in a way I can hardly manage.)

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"imagine a heterosexual man. A hot girl blindfolds him, then gives him oral sex...ugly girl / a man / a chimpanzee...no longer as interested...Normally I would interpret this as a moral prohibition"

This seems like much too quick of a jump to me. We know that people's tastes vary widely. And yet as soon as we see someone enjoying X in a way that we can't immediately explain, we jump to: oh, there must be an obscure moral factor in there.

Clearly the moral factors *can* affect your aesthetic (and particularly sexual) pleasures. But I think you should always allow lots and lots and lots and lots of space for the explanation "that person just has different aesthetic tastes from me" before you jump to calling in non-aesthetic (i.e. moral) factors to "explain" the pleasures.

(I put explain in scare quotes there because it's not clear just how good those moral-perversion style explanations of sexual tastes really are. Is there really a rigorous chain of causation between mummy's failures as a parent and my foot fetish?)

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The emperor has no clothes.

Lacan's theory of childhood is so batshit crazy that I assumed he had no children. Anyone who does have children knows did they have their own desires, which are by no means always to please the parent. Wikipedia tells me, however, that he did have one daughter. It also tells me that she was batshit crazy, too.

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>Lacan . . . qualifies lesbianism not as a perversion but as ‘heterosexuality’, [because women are] the Other sex [by some corollary of Lacan’s definition of the Other]. Homosexuality - hommesexualite, as Lacan spells it, including the two ms from homme, ‘man’, is, in his terms, love for men.”)

This sentence is horseshit dried out til it is pliable and then formed into a mobius strip.

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TIL: you align an unaligned AI by letting it have as many "objects a" as it wants. No wait, it would tile the universe with them. Oops.

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Hey Scott; you've written a lot of book reviews to date. I tried to write one myself and realized how hard it is. Would you consider writing a "How to Write a Book Review" post?

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Apr 27, 2022·edited Apr 27, 2022

> As far as I can tell - which is not very far, this is famously obscure and complicated - the Other is the abstracted mishmash of everyone you’re seeking the approval of.

Jesus, I was looking for a word to call this all my life, I didn't even know other people notice this is a thing (in a very felt sense, not in the "I guess you can come up with a concept like this"). You may just make me read Lacan with this alone.

The "object a" thing is definitely something I struggled with for the better part of my youth, and it seems intensified by being lonely - it's essentially the tfwnogf mentality, with either masculinity and status (phallus!) or relationship with said gf being object a. A large part of pathology of the modern world is the decay of social relationships and shared context, so now it's just you and your unattainable object a, those are the contents of your world.

The preferred solution would be to reject modernity/humanity and return to tradition/monke, in more or less literal sense. But that has its own problems.

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I'm not Marx's biggest fan, but I get the appeal of his ideas because he's obviously right about at least some things. On the other hand, Freud ...

Regarding the acclaim enjoyed by Freud and his successors, it seems like there is an effort to memoryhole just how popular they were among the intelligentsia, rather than confront the question of why such good ideas were ever taken seriously.

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My conclusion: Psychoanalysis is total bullshit and it is terrifying how many academics still use it to some extent.

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As a dilettante in this area, I was always curious/confused to what extent D&G's Anti-Oedipus challenges this understanding of desire, but I was always left daunted and never could penetrate (sorry Freud) their works.

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Apr 27, 2022·edited Apr 27, 2022

Your algorithm works I guess, I'm a psychologist, programmer and lacan nerd. Are you telling me I'm not the only one?!

The worst misunderstanding in your review is that of the masculine and feminine position. It's not about actually being a man or a woman and not directly related to transgender things, it's in a symbolic sense.

The point is that there are essentially two ways to obtain pleasure: By having/wanting some proxy of the phallus (big car, cool job, power), or by being the one that makes it worth having, to put it simply. One is defined as an exclusive or: you have it or you don't. The other is the negation of that position: not like that and/or pleasure in being with someone who has it.

These are modes of being, not related to actual gender. In a "traditional" sense, it's the difference between wanting to be the boss and wanting to be the boss's wife, but also wanting other stuff than just that. There is no natural position based on your gender, but there are social pressures. One is not better than the other in his theory, but in a social context it can be but isn't necessarily.

Lacan's theory of sexuation (as he calls it) was actually a major breakthrough in separating gender from social role that still inspires feminism today.

I think it's quite profound and I'm sad you present it like this because it seems to anger your readers a lot, because you presented it as biological essentialism when it is more like the opposite.

I think he is very right that it does transfer to sexuality too, and that homosexuality and transgenderism are good examples in their own way. In homosexuality, you sometimes have a relationship between someone with a masculine position and someone with a feminine, resembling the imaginary heterosexual relationship. Sometimes it's more like two people with masculine positions, the pump and dump type meetup. Sometimes it's two with the feminine position, where neither is "the man" in the relationship.

The fun thing is that this also applies to heterosexual relationships.

In the sense of transgenderism, it's a perversion in the lacanian sense (you also misunderstood that), where the person attempts to become the image of the object of desire. There's again nothing wrong with that in Lacan's theory, but I think it's an interesting perspective on the mechanism of how someone can be dissatisfied with the gender they have.

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How is it possible that in all this (and many, many other) discussion(s) of sex, pleasure, perversion, ego, Other, and childhood, never once do these people consider or even mention


I am seriously baffled here, or maybe did I miss some huge part of this? The biological basis for the sex drive seems like a good "lens" for viewing behavior. Start with First Principles:

1) The fundamental reason for sex is to make babies, offspring, descendentants etc., and

1A) The intersection of biological drives and social norms is where (modern) people maximize their number of offspring, and those children's own reproductive potential.

I mean, the late example of a blindfolded man getting oral sex from a ("hot" young woman)/(old woman)/(Bonzo) is silly, because it's obvious without needing any subtle French puns. Don't people use both physical stimulii AND a mental model of their current situiation to understand "reality"?

- For the hot young woman, "hot" means "healthy, able to bear and nurse babies" and also "high-status", and the "oral pleasure" signals that she is willing to bear you many, many babies. You are Winning the Game right now. Let's do more of this.

- The old woman can bear you zero babies, but is available to babysit, so has no first-order utility but some value w/r/t reproductive strategy

- Chimpanzee: Huge negative. Zero reproductive potential, a terrifyingly strong wild animal, could bite your penis off for fun or rip you limb from limb. Think Eddie Murphy's version of Mr. T, but jacked up and blind-high on crystal meth. Danger overrides pleasure. (OTOH, since you and Bonzo share 99% of the same DNA, vs. 97% for HotWoman, he would prob be more fun to hang out with long-term, but HotWoman has the Only Thing That Matters.)


By the Way, for anyone outside of a graduate program of faculty lounge, things like this, with the total decoupling of sex from reproduction, present a view of the world and society that is alien, absurd, and 99% at-odds with almost all people's lived experience.

Huge textbooks about sex and psychology, that never once mention children and babies except in terms of perversion, incest, the child-as-imago, the author's own childhood, are exactly why Normal People view the Academic Left (and this vast body of "mainstreamed" literature) as creepy, disturbing, ignorant, foolish, and fundamentally un-serious and silly -- right up until the minute they turn hostile.

Books like this are the root of parents' growing pushback against academic theories about sex and gender identy being taught to their young children. I see nobody on the Left even recoginizing this chasam, much less that it is huge, and the issue is root-level important to parents, from any evolutionary realistic point of view.

(I am sorry this got long. I almost typed "I can't believe I am writing this sentence..." butrefrained. Thank you, Scott, for reviewing this book in a fair, but skeptical and grounded, way.)


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This post really is a Zizekian honeypot, especially the last bit about sexuality and psychoanalysis. Let me quote the great Lacanian himself on the (non-) function of human sexuality, in Zizek's recent review of Matrix Resurrections: "This link between sexualization and failure is of the same nature as the link between matter and space curvature in Einstein: matter is not a positive substance whose density curves space... By analogy, one should also 'desubstantialize' sexuality: sexuality is not a kind of traumatic substantial Thing, which the subject cannot attain directly; it is nothing but the formal structure of failure which, in principle, can 'contaminate' any activity. So, again, when we are engaged in an activity which fails to attain its goal directly, and gets caught in a repetitive vicious cycle, this activity is automatically sexualized - a rather vulgar everyday example: if, instead of simply shaking my friend's hand, I were to squeeze his palm repeatedly for no apparent reason, this repetitive gesture would undoubtedly be experienced by him or her as sexualized in an obscene way." As a followup, in "Organs without bodies" (2017) Zizek writes this on the Lacanian view of sexuality, which is a very nice complement and explanation of his claim in the Matrix review: "This universal surplus—this capacity of sexuality to overflow the entire field of human experience so that everything, from eating to excretion, from beating up our fellow man (or getting beaten up by him) to the exercise of power, can acquire a sexual connotation—is not the sign of its preponderance. Rather, it is the sign of a certain structural faultiness: sexuality strives outward and overflows the adjoining domains precisely because it cannot find satisfaction in itself, because it never attains its goal... As was demonstrated by Deleuze, perversion enters the stage as an inherent reversal of this “normal” relationship between the asexual, literal sense and the sexual co-sense. In perversion, sexuality is made into a direct object of our speech, but the price we pay for it is the desexualization of our attitude toward sexuality—sexuality becomes one desexualized object among others."

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Love it - your puny DSM-trained intuition totally misses that psychosis is a Lacanian personality structure which can’t possibly be measured in something as superficial as symptoms!

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Have personally always felt that psychoanalysts are too obsessed with the (admittedly very important!) domestic scene of a child's first years in life, and not nearly interested enough not in the child's contact with the parents but the child's contact with Society.

society is not a natural thing, the brain is not adapted for it. in the natural environment of homo sapiens, society and family are synonyms, and "broader society" is a synonym for "extended family".

nietzsche conversely *does* understand this and for him basically all these human weirdnesses that psychoanalysis attempts to explain via the oedipal complex and the child, mother, father triad are instead a process by which the animal-beast is caged, reined in, and subjugated by society. the process of doing that is not uniform and always leaves scars, some more noticeable and worse than others.

not sure that theory is perfectly correct either but it seems a lot better to me

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The Ego stuff is classic spritualism. The book that got me to recognize that my entire self was an onion with perhaps no core was by Jed Mckenna. Led to a series of books by people I had to admit might be enlightened. Also obviously correlates to Elephant in the Brain if you want the more boring, technical description of this phenomena

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Apr 27, 2022·edited Apr 27, 2022

"Neurotics believe in the Other and care a lot what it thinks of them. But they never really know what the Other wants, which is terrifying."

A Lacanian type of joke? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncvQkwKImfI

Jelly = American, Jello

Biscuits = American, Cookies

The old-fashioned block of ice cream: https://d2wwnnx8tks4e8.cloudfront.net/images/app/large/8712100459702_3.JPG

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I actually think there's an interesting kernel here -- this may be a decent model for the atheist mind. As a Christian none of this really applies to me at all because I just follow God's law, but as a former atheist I recall swapping between various flimsy lower laws and never being satisfied. I can see how for atheists having a weak father could develop into some huge psychodrama and really the whole existential question of "what is good" and therefore "what do I want"/in Lacan terms "what does the Other want" is a necessary condition to atheism.

And the whole Other concepts rhymes with the idea that everyone has a god, even atheists. Atheists just chose a material god. So for example I have often wondered about the rationalist mind and why many of you do what you do, specifically with regards to seemingly betraying your own alleged commitments to absolute truth (the apparent presence of that commitment was the only thing that drove me here). Why did Scott ban me from promoting my book, even though it's much more important than any book he's reviewed in the past year, at least, in terms of potential human impact, which many of you should allegedly care deeply about as "effective altruists?" Why was the reception of his audience similarly irrational? Why can much the same be said about the reaction to ache bee dee, an extremely fundamental topic for anyone who claims to be a rationalist truth seeker? I think Scott clearly explained this behavior:

>Why did I read A Clinical Introduction To Lacanian Psychoanalysis?

>I am happy to be able to give a clear answer: I started bunch of prediction markets on which of several book reviews I could write was most likely to be popular, and Clinical Introduction won

Since absolute truth is an aspect of God, basically all of my secular reading is centered around pursuing truth, not around being popular, making money, or what have you. I expected rationalists to, even as atheists, approximately have this aspect of God, truth, as their god. But here Scott seems to be telling me that his Other/his god is Substack likes i.e. popularity i.e. the masses. And now the widespread irrational reverence for the Overton window and the rejection of unpopular truths in this community makes a lot more sense to me.

And it's not unique to here either, in fact this could be interpreted as a failure to escape the average. I look around at people today and see that almost all of them are worshipping money or popularity.

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My issue with a "standard model of the mind" is it takes as a base assumption that such a model is even possible. Before I can entertain any theories that propose to describe the behavior of all humans for all time, I'd like to be presented with any evidence that human minds are universally similar enough for such a model to exist in the first place.

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If the infant (from the Latin "not able to speak") lives in an unimaginable magical world (as Rank says) then the transition to "desires" (in terms we understand) would seem to be an important area of change for the individual in a society. Where does desire come from? How do you get desires? Unconscious desire, as Lacan suggests, is even more intriguing compared to a more conscious desire that I might understand like how rollercoasters are fun. My experience suggests there is at least an unrestricted yearning (Adrial Fitzgerald's terminology) at the core. Girard's idea that our desires are *interdividuel* also makes a lot of sense, and is verifiable in significant cases. This whole relation of an individual to the society is the most profound relation we have.

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"Needing some kind of Oedipal resolution to become a coherent subject, he willed himself to pretend that the appendix was a penis and his father was threatening to castrate him, and then (I can’t believe I am writing this sentence) used the word “button” as a substitute for the moral law."

To the contrary, I can't imagine who else would end up writing "and then he used the word "button" as a substitute for the moral law."

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Is anyone familiar with David Ausubels work on Ego development? This book might be an interesting alternative or supplement to Lacan.


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You got me to write a whole essay responding to this


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This got me from like 5% ready to talk about my problems with how we talk about AI to maybe 10%. There's something about all this that goes "Listen, I made up this story. It's plausible. You can't prove it's not the case right now very well, like maybe everyone is trying to fill up a phantom penis with stamp collecting, you can't prove they aren't. So this is real, treat it like it's real and respect the implications of it if so."

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Longtime lurker here, but Lacanian analysis is something that I've studied in its theoretical, if not clinical dimension.

The best way to understand Jouissance (even if the concept is slightly contradictory), is to imagine the infant at the mothers breast. The infant feels totality, satisfaction, etc.--before the infant is able to conceptualize the difference between itself and the mother. We all talk about how infants think they're omniscient--if an infant cries and the breast doesn't appear THE ENTIRE WORLD SHATTERS. This is what we mean by jouissance, the pure satisfied pleasure that precedes the splitting of the world into subjects and objects.

The mirror stage is about the infant that recognizes itself as an object--as an object among other objects over which it has no power. It's a scene that stands as synecdoche for a broader process in child development, but it's a powerful image. It's also the start of the loss of Jouissance. Once the infant stands in a field of objects, it loses that undifferentiated pleasure. Pleasure becomes attached to objects, which renders it limited and finite.

Language is the field of names that the infant comes to attach to this being-cut-off. The name of the father is important, because as Freud says, the infant's realization that the mother has different desires than it does is an especially traumatic experience. The father is the name of the non-reciprocity of the infant and mother's desire. The phallus is the name of what the infant comes to suppose the father has that would attract the mothers desire, etc.

It's fairly easy to ask about the ontological status of these stories, but Lacan doesn't really care about their validity; he cares about their persistence. The central point is that there's a pleasure that we imagine, as people, as a culture, that is before the differentiation between subject and object, before we learn to say "I" and "you." This pleasure is something we have an absolutely firm belief in--a literally unshakeable belief (even if we sometimes want to intellectually deny it)--that is central to most psychic complexes.

If we are extreme skeptics, we can say that pleasure may even be a retro-active illusion produced by language, but even so, it's the non-center that so much language, behaviour, and thought revolves around. These psychoanalytic narratives--in their strange enduring dimension (in 2022!)--are strong evidence of this.

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Apr 27, 2022·edited Apr 27, 2022

I heard an anecdote about a guy who was upset because he was lactose intolerant and his roommate kept drinking the lactose-free milk that he kept in the fridge. Even worse, he would often drink the milk straight from the bottle.

As payback the guy thought it would be a cool prank to replace the contents of his milk bottle with orange juice. This particular lactose-free milk came in an opaque bottle so his roommate was unlikely to notice the switch until it was too late, especially early in the morning before fully waking up.

Turns out (the story goes) that when you drink something that you thought was milk but suddenly taste something sweet and acidic instead, you immediately panic and throw up. If you taste something wildly different from what you were expecting (even if the taste would be good in a different circumstance, like drinking orange juice) something must be really bad with whatever it is you just put in your mouth.

I think something similar is going on with that psychoanalysis of rape. Humans have innate disgust reactions that cause them to not want to put their soft tissues near unsanitary fluids, or not want to put their vulnerable soft body parts near a stranger's teeth. Those reactions have to be turned off temporarily when we have sex, but your brain doesn't know when you are about to have sex so it has to approximate and that's why it still works with oral sex as long as a hot person is doing it. But switch the person unexpectedly and it's just like when the milk tastes of orange juice. Something feels intensely, urgently wrong.

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"Predictive processing can tell us that in a different context, sensations can be perceived differently - but what makes this particular context switch so jarring?"

It seems obvious to me that the reason is garden-variety disgust. If I were eating a cake blindfolded, and the blindfold slipped to reveal the other end of the cake were covered in maggots, I would no longer want to eat the cake (even the non-maggot-infested part of it) and feel repulsed by it. Sex is generally seen as disgusting by default; without sexual desire repressing that aversion, the man's default reaction to receiving oral sex wins out.

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And prediction markets win

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I almost always read Astral Codex articles in full, but almost never "like" them because I don't consider that an important part of the interface.

However, some combination of the discussion of prediction markets for liking and the Lacianism of this post made me resolve mid-article to like it, even if I didn't really agree with Lacianism as presented and was unsure of whether or not there was a "there, there" under Scott's confusion.

Also, at least according to my interface, I was the 125th like on this post.

This isn't a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

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All of those sex things are pretty easily explained by some combo of very high level genetic instinct, conditioning and/or imprinting, and status. I can't think of a single sex thing that isn't well-explained by one or more of these. No psychoanalysis needed.

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“How come if I sit in a dark room and think “okay, gonna stop propping up my ego right now!” nothing bad happens?”

Given the multiple cases of people voluntarily going on silent retreats and then experiencing a psychotic break for the first time in their life, I think you’re wrong about this.

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Why people wanted a post about Lacan? I think:

-Innocent curiosity, might be fun to poke at.

-"I don't know Lacan, but what I know about psychoanalysis has always sounded funny or wrong, so maybe Scott Alexander can give me an opinion I can trust."

-"I know Lacan and understand him, and that's a topic we haven't covered yet, so I'd like to share my knowledge."

-"Ha-ha, Lacan dumb, let's jeer together!"

I'm not an expert on psychoanalysis, but my wife is a big Lacan and Zizek buff so that makes me one by proxy, and over time I've adopted a charitable view by cherry-picking the stuff I understand and ignoring the stuff I don't.

I honestly think that most testable ideas by Lacan and Freud have been accepted into basic psychology. To name some: we are driven by self-contradictory desires and values, we fumble socially for acceptance and status because we misunderstand ourselves and each other, we're at odds with what we want/need and what's expected of us, our childhood is a precarious time for our development and poses serious risks and misunderstandings, our parents and siblings are really important to us and provide models for future relationships and values, there are personality stereotypes as a fuzzy category that we intuitively recognise, there's a "work me" and a "home me". The more turgid prose has been discarded, and overlapping ideas about proximate and ultimate evolutionary causes have begun to replace the same theoretical groundwork about the causes of our behavioral tendencies. The conceptions we make about our lives and personalities have been replaced by analyses of "rationalizations", or even more plainly, by looking at how people make sense of things when asked. Many of the aforementioned trivial ideas might have been novel to humans before our time and maybe still aren't in some parts of the world, so maybe we're guilty of anachronism when we wave off psychoanalysis for stating the obvious?

I think why psychoanalysts like Zizek remain relevant is because they explore untestable ideas that we may have some intuitions about and can form opinions about with a healthy dose of dunnoism. I like Zizek's commentary, not for its brashness, but for making lots of interesting observations about culture and pointing them out to me. Paraphrasing, nice observations include things like: Online dating involves a lot of marketing, which probably doesn't help in finding true love, because it's bad to be overly concerned with your public image when the point is to truly get to know a person behind the image. Or: People correctly identify other societies'/groups' problems or motives as ideological but not their own; understanding our own values as part of an ideology is important for addressing our own ideological problems and motives. It's more informal than formal, more cultural/social commentary than scientific work. This is why psychoanalysts have so many ideas. Sometimes it's guruism, sometimes it's energetic conversation! People do it because it's fun and exciting and might lead to some new thoughts that can be useful or interesting.

The fact that psychoanalysis seems to me a bunch of turgid prose seems more like a byproduct of the school of thought or then a typical ingroup phenomenon where people get so into things and making fine distinctions within their own arcane community that they lose sight of proper language. My wife reads Zizek's books fluently and can always explain ideas to me in a way that I understand, to which I always react with an annoyed "Why can't they say it like that then?" and she's like... this is their hobby and they get creative and it's fun? Rats and postrats have their own insider mumbo jumbo... like isn't there a better word for describing what a "mesa-optimizer" is? You made a whole post to explain an inside joke. You can think of options, but because you and company privy to the discussion understand it, you might be strapped for alternatives? The rationalist community chugs on happily, honing their craft and building on their own jargon. It could also be that there are different thinkers; maybe people drawn to psychoanalysis grasp ideas easier in terms of symbolism and rationalists in terms of formalism?

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I have two so basic questions that I feel like an idiot asking it:

1. Do different therapies yield different results?

2. Is the function of different therapies and frameworks to help compatible therapist and patient find each other? (in the sense that if you would assign random therapist and patient to random therapy framework, what would happen?)

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But does it mean that something beyond the Other with which a person can come into contact? If the Other is God/set of principles/people important to us, than what happens when we meet someone who doesn't belong to this set?

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Applause for the conclusion.

Freud/Lacan always seem to be hovering around and explaining something real but with some wild leaps and improvisations. It's exciting to see rationalist Scott grudgingly acknowledge the spirit of the insight.

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"So the real question is: why did you want me to read A Clinical Introduction To Lacanian Psychoanalysis?" < I "predicted" Yes as a vote to have you review the book. I was hoping you'd fill-in some spots your your map that your not-a-cult leader acquaintance claimed were there, and that you'd tell me about it.

After I voted I then looked at what was the normal number of likes and how that had increased over time. From that I thought 125 looked easy and then took similar long positions on the other topics of interest. So there was both a prediction and voting element in what I was doing.

Finally, after you posted, I checked the market again and realized the potential for it to be an action market: anyone who'd predicted you'd get 125 likes also had an incentive to spread the word about the article. I made a very minimal attempt to promote it, mostly because I had that ah-ha. I would have done more to promote it, but it was clearly going to get to 125 without further action on my part.

Don't know if it matters for context but I'm a subscriber.

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Can confirm. I had a weak father who was easily dominated by my mother (which I do complain about to my analyst from time to time). When I was 8 or 9 years old, I became obsessed with my father's name; specifically, I wanted to change my name to be Father's Name, Jr. As an adult I have changed my middle name (although that doesn't fit the theory so well: my old middle name was associated with my mother's family). My brother changed his entire full name.

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Is...there a reason you (or is it the book?) keep referring to a child as "it"? I found it extremely distracting and disturbing.

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I get the impression Lacan would thrive in several of Scott's fictional universes (Unsong, Adwellia, the place in The Proverbial Murder Mystery, ...). Unfotunately, *this* universe doesn't run on clever wordplay, so devising the perfect pun doesn't hand you the keys to reality. Instead, you get intricately-crafted bullshit that's entertaining and perhaps persuasive, but no more likely to be *true* than random chance.

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Lacanian psychoanalysis is psychoanalysis, and psychoanalysis (TM - S. Freud) is shit. That's my heuristic.

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I would love to hear a Lacanian interpretation of this song:


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Such a shame that this was the Lacanian book that you chose… Fink oversimplifies stuff to the point where a lot of things either don’t make sense or just sound silly. He basically just does a bad, BAD job at separating Freud from Lacan, which is important, since Lacan was criticizing Freud most of the time, not praising him. It also sounds like a behaviorist reading of psychoanalysis, which, again, is not great…

I suggest Joel Dor’s book, Introduction to the Reading of Lacan, for people who are actually interested. It’s still a simplified version of the real thing, but at least it’s not this bad.

Scott’s view seems accurate enough and I feel like he did a good job with his comments, but, as a psychoanalyst, this was hard to read.

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Alas, "the story of the “mirror stage”". Your account is not wrong, exactly, but it misses all that matters, and it makes a hash of Lacan. Perhaps this is a failing of the book?

You write: "This is a sort of eureka moment when it realizes it’s a united entity with a specific structure - a bunch of correlations suddenly snap into place, and it realizes it can at least aspire to coherence."

Nothing that proceeds from this can be said to be Lacanian, or hope to address Lacan's work.

First, and this is trivial: an actual mirror is optional. It can be a shadow, a reflection in water or another's eye, or the realization that other people see you in a way that you don't. Anything external that can be identified as 'me' will do.

Second, and this must not be mistaken: The mirror stage is is not recognition. It is misrecognition.

When the infant child thinks: 'that over there, that is me', they are wrong, and fundamentally, irrevocably wrong: 'that, over there', is not me. But in the mirror phase, the initial self image we form ('that over there' = 'me') and which we then elaborate and revise all our lives, is based on this misrecognition.

In Lacan's thought, this is neither optional nor possible to overcome, for it is the base of our ego's further development. This is why Lacan called it the mirror phase: we base our self image ('this is me') on something external that is not us ('that over there'), as if we had misrecognized a mirror image for ourselves.

If we proceed without this misrecognition at the root of the mirror phase and all that follows, then we depart Lacan's discourse entirely. Which is not to say that perhaps half of the academic works on Lacan that I'm familiar with don't make this precise, and even symptomatic, mistake.

Lacan offered (or perhaps 'tried out') many images for the ego in his career. One of them, opposed to the formidable castle Freud once had us imagine, was of a plastic bag filled with water: there is small bubble in the bag, and it moves around as pressure is applied, so that it is larger now, then smaller, perhaps it splits into two, then it merges again. This is the ego, and it is always repeating to itself "I am the unchangeable center, around which all else revolves". The ego is not 'mistaken' in this, but it is built from misrecognition, and cannot exist without it.

From the mirror phase onwards: misrecognition, and not recognition. Without this, Lacan's thought cannot usefully be approached.

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I actually also read the Bruce Fink book recently. I think part of the problem you're having is that Fink is writing for an audience of psychoanalysts, i.e. people who know Freud's work pretty well and mostly accept it. Fink doesn't try to defend, or even explain, most of the Freudian stuff. And it seems like a lot of that is what you're getting hung up on--infantile sexuality, the significance of the phallus, etc. You might've been better off reading Fink's other book, The Lacanian Subject, which doesn't assume familiarity with Freud--or reading this one after a basic introduction to Freud (Jonathan Lear's book is good for this, as he's critical of many of Freud's positions while at the same time arguing for his importance).

Like, no offense, but if your conclusion is that maybe there's something to this whole psychoanalytic account of repression...you've barely even reached Fink's premises, let alone his conclusions, so the book won't be very convincing.

As for specifics, I think you've got an outline of the book that misses what (for me at least) was most interesting about it. Take desire. You write, "Some parts seem too trivial to care about (eg we desire things, even if we get one object of desire we’ll just start desiring something else)". If that were the crux of the assertion, it would indeed be trivial. I take this to be a rephrase of Fink on p. 51, "When you get what you want, you cannot want it anymore because you already have it." Sure, that's in the text, but what's crucial is the sentence just before it which Fink italicizes: "Human desire, strictly speaking, has no object." And before that: "Desire is not so much drawn toward an object...as elicited by a certain characteristic that can sometimes be read into a particular love object: desire is pushed not pulled." The idea is not that desire dies once it's satisfied, which would be trivial. The point is that desire isn't for a particular object in the first place, and it can't be.

This is where Fink starts really getting at what Lacan's theory of desire is. About the "mimetic" nature of desire, you say "Some people definitely do this ... Other people definitely don’t do this, like that guy who obsessively collected streetcar tickets." Lacan's view is that everyone does this in every instance--that's what makes the idea not trivial. Lacan's stance would be that a guy who obsessively collects streetcar tickets is just as caught in desire as imitation as anyone else. It may be that he's misunderstood someone else's desire, or that the collecting of streetcar tickets is the deformation of another desire through repression. There is no "real," inherent desire; it's the drives that are inherent.

This is why Lacan suggests you need to move past desire, what he calls the "traversing of fantasy." I agree that Fink does a poor job of explaining what this would entail, but he does at least point at it: "the analysand moves from being the sbject who demands...to being the subject who desires..to being the subject who enjoys (who is no longer subject to the Other)." (p. 65)

Anyway, based on your summary I can see why the book wasn't enjoyable to you; if I shared your interpretation I wouldn't like it much either. I'm not sure I buy what Lacan says, but I definitely think he's saying something strange and counterintuitive. Some of the local observations on obsessional and hysterical neurosis do seem very true to me, and I feel they've helped me understand some of my own self-sabotaging behaviors. But ymmv.

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I want to attempt to explain Lacan's whole "Babies really want but can't achieve their mother's affection" thing.

Imagine you are a baby. You have two hands, which is pretty great since you can play with them. You have two feet, excellent for trying to chew on. You also have a mom who feeds you. Mom is definitely part of you, like your arm or your leg. You flex, you get an arm. You cry, you get Mom feeding you. This is fine - every baby is born with a mom, just like babies are born with two arms and two legs.

One morning you wake up and your arm is GONE. By your arm, I mean your mom. You cry and cry and cry and she just does not appear. This is literally, to your little baby brain, identical to losing an arm.

Actually, it's worse. If your arm got chopped off, you'd just lose an arm but that isn't your arms fault. Imagine instead you woke up and your arm decided it was going to go for a latte at Starbucks and was done being your arm. This is insult to injury. Your arm is drinking fancy coffee drinks and hanging out with some MAN and is HAPPY. Mom is definitely not that happy when she was attached to you. Not only has your arm left you - by choice - but it is happier being separated from you. This is like the worst breakup you've ever had, and then some.

So, you lost your limb, and your favorite milk bearing appendage has been stolen - and is happier than you ever made it - with some dang dude. So, in your baby mind, you decide to win back your mom. You're going to be the best baby that a baby can be, and you are going to make her happier than that strange man who keeps hanging out and making her dinner.

Except that you're a baby, and while mom fakes a smile when you hand her blocks, you definitely can tell it's not as good as making her dinner and giving her a glass of wine. No matter how hard you try, you will never make your mom - who is basically your detached limb - as happy as the jerk who stole her. You can not fulfill that need.

Now, here's the whole problem: Mom was never actually an appendage. She didn't actually love you as much as your little baby brain thought she did. She loved you like, nomal human mother:child amounts of love, but not "is literally an extension of your physical self" kind of love. So even when you become an adult.. you can't get that level of love from your mom again. It just isn't real, you are chasing a fiction. Every desire you will ever experience is just second best to some fictional relationship you thought in your head as a baby.

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[Days late] An important not-fetish issue is that for many, as days go by without sex, the sex drive gets stronger, so the criteria for enjoyment gets more open. One possibility seems to me that those having some fetishes are getting too much of "vanilla" sex, so it ceases to be as exciting - as quick and easy to be aroused. Sort of like drug use builds up tolerance and the need for a bigger dose for similar effect.

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May 2, 2022·edited May 2, 2022

As a complete stranger to psychology, who’s first reaction to Lacan was to think it sounded like obscure babble which can fit anything to anything, I think I’m starting to build an understanding of this Lacanian psychoanalysis stuff. By build an understanding, I mean, fit it together into my worldview/model.

A new perspective: Psychoanalysts obviously need to understand rationality/reinforcement-learning concepts to do their job (things like “the child ends up optimizing for being attracted to buttons because his dad referred to his mom as a his button and the child associated mom signals to reward”), but they come from a different field. So they end up reinventing it, but from the operational perspective of a psychologist talking to patients. The words Mother, Father, etc initially come up a lot and are central in the problem-understanding process, so they naturally end up selected when coalescing concepts cristallize from the noise of many many examinations, and we end up with a sort of analogue to rationality / AI theory but using words like Other, Mother, Id, etc.

At first, the psychoanalyst’s thought models overfit to a few cases, his own biases, etc, and it looks like a mix of Freudian psychoanalysis, with a bit of grandmother wisdom and some astrology-like pattern-recognition from noise, using the words “Mother, Father, Id, a lot”. But the more a psychoanalyst sees, the more his model understanding starts to approximate the generality of human cognition, the more in common it starts to have with other general models of cognition (such as rationality), and so his psycho-babble starts sounding like Eliezier’s rationalist-babble, but replacing words like “Utility”, “Mesa-Optimizer”, etc, with words like “Other”, “Jouissance”, etc.

If it is true, I expect a lot of psychoanalysis to look like weird psychobabble models which seem centered about really specific patterns (Mother/Father pattern), but as the field evolves people start revising them to be more general, and suddenly "Mother" is just a symbol which represents "The thing that our metaoptimizer optimises for", and so on. Maybe with the added ability to sometimes just apply the term directly (e.g. to mean the patient's actual "Mother" or her desires) since it often fits.

This is of course not a complete model, just a single perspective which occurred to me while reading (https://hivewired.wordpress.com/2022/04/27/the-game-of-masks/), but I wonder how well it fits to truth?

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Sorry if this already came up, but does anyone find it weird that the Mom is a pure object in Lacanian world view (as I understood it from this review)? She isn’t an entity that does anything or controls anything or has any thoughts or desires she projects into the world. She dispenses milk… but infinitely and automatically.

All of the scenarios and case studies fell apart for me because the Mom didn’t participate in any of them, which seems like such a deviation from even an idealized version of reality that I couldn’t find value in the proposed scenarios. Other than to make me wonder what the their would look like if Mom had feelings or reactions about the Child. Is that a thing that other psychoanalytical theory famously goes into in response to Lacan?

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With respect to sex, I don't think it's really all that hard to understand. Sex is maybe 10% about genital friction, with the remaining 90% split between social bonding and imagination. (For women, it's more like 1%/99%.) If you're wearing a blindfold, you can imagine that your partner is hot, which is the main reason you're aroused. Take the blindfold off, find out that your partner is not hot, and the illusion vanishes, along with the arousal. Moral judgement has nothing to do with it.

As to various "perversions", I think it's mostly about self-image. We all have an image of ourselves -- what kind of person we are, what kind of person we want to be, and how other people view us. We take on sexual roles that either reinforce that self-image, or roles that give us reassurance about anxieties that we may have about our self-image. BDSM play makes the dominant feel strong/powerful/virile. But submitting, or giving pleasure to a partner, makes a person feel desirable/useful/wanted/needed/loved.

IMHO, most "sexual perversion" is just personality; what happens inside the bedroom mirrors what happens outside of it. A man who wants to be the alpha-male and "in charge" outside of the bedroom probably would get a kick out of being a BDSM dominant. A shy "nice guy" or "romantic" who is uncomfortable ordering people around most likely enjoys a more gentle/submissive role. There are lots of people who love scifi/fantasy costumes or cosplay, why not have fun with sex as well?

In most cases, we seek out roles and situations that will reinforce our self-image, since anything else leads to cognitive dissonance. However, if our self-image does not align with something that we want for ourselves (like sex), then sometimes we have to employ tricks in order to get around that. Consider a person who is self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations, or has anxiety about being attractive. The role of sex-slave might be comforting or reassuring to that person, since they are freed from the responsibility of making social decisions (and sex-slaves are hot by definition). On the other hand, consider a guy who's naturally wimpy and shy, but has been fed a steady diet of action movies, and just can't quite shake the image that sexually attractive men are supposed to be strong and muscly. In that case, maybe a whip and some leather pants helps him overcome his wimpy self-image and feel more virile.

A woman who constantly ends up with abusers is probably suffering from low self-esteem and cognitive dissonance, and can't reconcile her self-image of "victim" with the role of "strong woman in a kind and caring relationship". Hate sex is similar: if a person feels emotionally distant from their partner (or from everyone), then they can't visualize themselves as caring or loving (or perhaps, being cared for or loved). In that case, hate sex is great, because it doesn't require an emotional connection.

I guess I don't see sex in any of these cases as being any different from the way that self-image works in non-sexual situations. E.g. wrt to the blind-fold example, give a person a bowl of delicious soup. They like it. Now tell them it was made from roadkill, but totally fresh -- no chance of disease. Do they still like it?

What about the girl who gets straight-As in every math class, but wants a study partner to help her with a science class because she's "bad at math"? (I met several of these in high school.) Self-image.

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On the meta level:

1. I am in the "very interested/this changed my life in a fundamental way" cluster of your Sadly Porn review, I think it had deep insights that allow me to see the world under an interesting light. But I have to admit that up until your fourth paragraph mentioning prediction markets, this review just kept feeling more and more ludicrous, hilarious, and spurned in me a feeling of "Why am I even reading this?".

If nothing else, I was very confused about why people would dismiss the Sadly Porn review as obscurantist or trivial, and I think that this may have transferred to me some of what it must have felt like.

For the people who strongly disliked or didn't care for the Sadly Porn review, I am interested to know if this one up to the fourth section felt similar?

2. That being said, I did enjoy your overall review when you went a meta level up. But I am a little torn on what signal I should send to the betting market now. I think you generated deep insights similarly as the Sadly Porn review, but I am not certain this is specifically related to the book itself. I think in the case of Sadly Porn, you were trying to integrate an antimeme and documenting this journey. This was fascinating to me both on the object level (the meme itself) and on the meta level (seeing how you go about trying to learn an antimeme, what you learn about your learning, etc). In this review, it really didn't feel like you took much from the book, it felt more like a conversation starter so to say. And I think you could have generated these insights with a different book, and maybe that would have been even more interesting because they wouldn't have been set in your mind yet.

So should I like your post? If liking your post is a signal _to you_ of "good job, keep up with the insights" then yes. But if liking your post is a signal to the market of "You chose the right book" I think this would be way more complicated, and maybe not. This also seems to change the very semantics of clicking on the like button

On the review itself:

3. Disclaimer: I feel almost no effect of gender presentation on my attraction toward others. This will obviously bias my view.

Regarding what you said about heterosexuality, I do think that sexuality is way more malleable than people think, that you can deliberately choose to be gay or straight or bi or etc... It did occur to me that a lot of straight men are more playing up the role of who they ought to be and conform to the image of themselves. I think this is particularly striking with straight men who go about any and _all_ interaction with a woman as a potential date (I have a relative who was thinking about all the implications of marrying someone he just met on the bus)

At least in my own bubble, I know too many people who have changed their sexual orientation over time for the "They were really that way all along" hypothesis to make sense.

My current model is that it's just like liking cilantro or garlic. Sure, some people hate it, and maybe they hate it in a way that's genetic and cannot be overcome, but for most people, I reckon that they could learn to like garlic if they really wanted to.

At least I feel like that's what happened to me.

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Jun 19, 2022·edited Jun 19, 2022

This is an extremely satisfying summary of Sadly, Porn that I think would bridge the intuition gap for many: https://www.reddit.com/r/thelastpsychiatrist/comments/ugb13h/notes_on_reading_sadly_porn/

Can @Slimepriestess or @Snav sign off on this interpretation?

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