In a paper describing the assembly of clathrin-coated vesicles, authors Schmid and Ford etal, concisely define the term matricity as “the interaction of a matrix with its environment”.(1) In the title of the current essay, I am using the term to connect the concept of volume transmission, introduced in the previous post, with the concept which is the subject of this post, known variously as transitional space, potential space, and the intermediate area.
Introduction – Cut-up technique
At an historical exhibit of William S. Burroughs “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius”(2), I was surprised to learn that Burroughs had studied medicine in Vienna, and I was fascinated to discover his grandfather’s Burroughs Corporation, due to my own interest in mechanical calculators (see “The mechanization of logic”, in The Laws of Thought). As a respectful tribute to Burroughs and Bowie, the current and recent essays are products of Cut-up technique.
William S. Burroughs – circa 1959
Beginning in the earliest embryonic stage and lasting until approximately 2 years of age, new neurons and synapses are formed at an amazing rate, at times reaching 40,000 new synapses formed per second. By the end of this process individuals are left with far more neurons and synapses than are functionally needed or preferred. Synaptic pruning is the process by which these extra synapses are eliminated, thereby increasing the efficiency of the neural network. The process continues until approximately 10 years of age, by which time nearly 50% of the synapses present at 2 years of age have been eliminated. The pattern and timeline that pruning follows varies based upon brain region, but generally flows from the back to the front of the brain. Synaptic pruning is not random. Rather, connections that have been frequently used and thus strengthened through sensory and cognitive input as well as motor and cognitive outputs are spared. Those connections that have been weakly reinforced and are no longer functional, or those that are redundant with connections of adequate strength are ‘pruned’ away.(2)
From this we might allow the assumption that the phase space of the child mind has twice the capacity of the adult mind, little wonder that children are so profoundly playful and creative. Interestingly, the schizophrenic mind may be the product of synaptic pruning gone wrong; randomly severing rather than selectively pruning connections. In the science-fiction scene pictured below, the character David Bowman is removing memories and their connections, from HAL’s brain. HAL was already schizophrenic due to an internal program dichotomy, Bowman acts as pruning gone wrong.
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid.”
– HAL 9000 – circa 2001
The metaMusketeer – 5th of three
Metaphorically, three musketeers were introduced in the previous post, represented as Fluid intelligence, Insight, and Flow. The fourth, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, is represented by Divergent thinking (see “Another three musketeers”, in Refraction of the State of Nature). Currently, we meet their synergistic entity, the fifth musketeer, represented by Transitional space.
Generally, epistemology draws a line between subject and object. In context of interpersonal perception and communication, this model is too simple. What exists between subject and object is in some sense a zone and in some sense a permeable boundary with constant traffic both ways, and with objects often multiply represented. In addition to the inner world and external reality, “there is the third part of the life of a human being, a part that we cannot ignore, an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute. It is an area which is not challenged, because no claim is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet inter-related.”(4a)
It is important that we consider an area or space. It is not the sharp boundary-maintenance referred to as reality-testing. It is intermediate, an “illusion, which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion. Infants and children and adults take external reality in, as clothing for their dreams, and they project themselves into external objects and people and enrich external reality by their imaginative perceptions. More than the inner world, external reality, and the commerce between them, “we really do find a third area, an area of living which is derived from, and corresponds to the infant’s transitional phenomena.”(4b)
Donald Winnicott – circa 1970
“Lines drawn between the subjective, the transitional, and the objective, should be dotted, so as to indicate their permeability, rather like a cell membrane, across which all sorts of metabolites selectively move back and forth.” Here Winnicott may as well be describing volume transmission (see “A messy workspace”, in Refraction of the State of Nature)
The transitional object is decathected, “it becomes not so much forgotten, as relegated to limbo. It does not go inside nor does the feeling about it necessarily undergo repression. It is not forgotten and it is not mourned. It loses meaning, and this is because the transitional phenomena have become diffused, have become spread out over the whole intermediate territory between inner psychic reality (subjective reality) and the external world (objective reality), perceived as the whole cultural field – the space of play, creative symbolism and culture.”(4c)
The human experience is essentially concerned with the problem of relationship between what is objectively perceived and what is subjectively conceived. An intermediate area is allowed to the infant between absolute subjectivity (primary creativity) and speculative objectivity (objective perception), based upon reality-testing. Transitional phenomena represent the use of illusion, without which there is no meaning in the relationship between objects and the perception that they are external to the mind.(4d)
Left: “The mother’s adaptation to the infant’s need for feeding (via the breast) gives the infant the illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds to the infant’s own capacity to create.”
Right: “Of the transitional object it can be said that it is a matter of agreement between us and the baby that we will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?’ The important point is that no decision on this point is expected. The question is not to be formulated.”(4e)
Winnicott proposes that illusion is an inherent and fundamental aspect of human minds and that no individual ever finally solves the matter, instead it resolves to become the transitional space, which is taken to be a compromised understanding of objective reality. He talks here of the child’s weaning from the mother. Further, Winnicott suggests that a “theoretical understanding” of weaning, as the process of illusion-disillusionment, “may provide a theoretical solution”. Interestingly though, by his own logic, the hypothesized theoretical solution must, by definition, inhabit the transitional space.(4f)
Theory of Illusion-Disillusionment
I completely agree with Winni in that full acceptance of reality never occurs, because no human being is free from the strain of attempting to relate his or her subjective and objective realities. The only form of relief from the strain, says Winnicott, is provided via an intermediate and unchallenged area of experience. The intermediate or transitional space is a continuum including the flow of play, addiction (fetish and/or substance), religious experience.
Reading this, I am reminded of the flow of work, of sxolí or skolí, and of intellectus and prima principia (see Intellectus Principiorum, in Nous Kairos).
If an adult insists upon our acceptance of the objectivity of her subjective phenomena, then we diagnose her as insane. Conversely, common experience between members of a group in art or religion or philosophy or science, is the result of unclaimed (non insistent) communication, and group acknowledgement of individual corresponding transitional spaces.
“Transitional objects and transitional phenomena belong to the realm of illusion which is at the basis of initiation of experience. This early stage in development is made possible by the mother’s special capacity for making adaptation to the needs of her infant, thus allowing the infant the illusion that what the infant creates really exists. This intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect of its belonging to inner or external (shared) reality, constitutes the greater part of the infant’s experience, and throughout life is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work.”(5)
It would seem that humans can never wean from Winnie’s transitional space, it is the zone of mind, the probabilistic phase space in which we envision complex systems self-organization and evolvution, it is the idea space in which creativity and madness and genius reside, it is the state of (human) nature. I shall guess that mathematics and geometry are transitional space in pure form, little wonder then that physics shows reality as fundamentally indeterminate.
1) E. Schmid, M. Ford, etal, “Role of the AP2 β-Appendage Hub in Recruiting Partners for Clathrin-Coated Vesicle Assembly”, (2006), PLoS Biololgy, http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0040262
3) E. Santos, C. Noggel, etal, “Synaptic Pruning”, Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development, (2013), Springer, http://www.springerreference.com/docs/html/chapterdbid/180648.html
4 a-f) R. Young, “POTENTIAL SPACE: TRANSITIONAL PHENOMENA”, The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young, (2005), http://human-nature.com/mental/chap8.html
5) D. Winnicott, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena”, PLAYING & REALITY, (1971), http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/winnicott1.pdf