Conundrums of Our Complex Minds and World

08/08/2014 04:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Our human minds often complicate simple matters and simplify complex ones. Take the example of the stock market. It goes up until it goes down. But when it is rising, most of us (naᅢᆵve) investors assume the trend will continue; when it is sinking (especially at a rapid pace) most of us don't believe or trust that it will ever rise again. "The investing masses expect the most when prospects are worst, and vice versa," William Baldwin said in the June issue of Forbes magazine.

For socioeconomic, religious and psychological reasons, we may complicate a clear matter like nutrition. (Please refer to my blog post of May 12, Maintenance and the Body Self). Simply stated, we consume calories (to provide energy) in the form of a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. We often overlook the simple equation that too many calories equals a gain in weight.

Happiness and sadness, gains and losses alternate like day and night, yet the human mind frequently becomes stuck in one position, like a car locked in gear. Quite often, we need to experience a few cycles before we perceive, and hopefully, accept them.

On the other hand, our minds simplify complex matters. We tend to turn a conflict into a matter of black and white (like the situation in the Middle East). Often the truth lies somewhere in the middle, with a broad swatch of gray in which both sides bear responsibility to resolve the conflict.

A developed mind is required to perceive and sort out the complexity of our human condition. In her work with children, the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein observed the psychological defense mechanism she coined "splitting" to explain the phenomenon of black-and-white thinking.

Raised in a supportive and nurturing environment, the child's mind develops the capacity to juxtapose opposing points of view and to perceive the complexity or gray zone of a person and/or situation. (Maurice Sendak's classic 1963 children's story, Where the Wild Things Are, is a delightful portrayal of how this process is played out. In the story, little Max misbehaves. He's sent to his room where he fantasizes about a kingdom with wild beasts. Psychologically speaking, these creatures represent the (unconscious) projection of his rage. He tames the wild animals, and this feat enables him to integrate opposing views of the world in which his parents nurture and reward him, as well as reprimand him.

This discussion relates to psychotherapy in significant ways. The "good-enough" therapist attempts to dislodge the client from the world perceived as all black or all white-to help the client integrate diverse points of view and the complexity of relationships.

Because an individual has spent years perceiving the world in binary terms, the process is neither quick nor simple. Years may be required to accomplish the paradigmatic shift in a world view.

Oddly enough, the ability to integrate diverse points of view isn't related to intelligence or educational level. Mr. O, very intelligent man who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college, wasn't able to grasp this concept and, as a result, his personal relationships suffered. Presumably, his traumatic early environment created the need to maintain the rigid defense mechanism of splitting.

Nor does psychotherapy guarantee the ability to integrate the polarities. More important is an individual's recognition that the process is possible and productive.

Meditation (time alone with our thoughts) and a desire to understand and resolve conflict help us live in our complex world.

Conclusion: A conundrum of the human condition is our tendency to simplify complex issues and complicate simple issues. Recognizing that tendency helps resolve the polarities in ourselves and our world.