HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals


  • Efrossini MoureliEfrossini Moureli. Psychiatrist, Group Analyst, Psychotherapist
  • unconscious mind
  • unpredictable
  • complexity
  • uncertainty
  • ignorance
  • unconscious

Translated into English by Christina Moutsopoulou, psychologist, MSc


Civilization may be seen as a way, the vulnerable, transient and imperfect beings we are, of dealing with the unpredictability of life and the predictable of our death. The individual, group and historical repeated experience of failure of human plans, prove continually that which we cannot bear to know: the complexity and the circuit-like, multi-level nature of natural and social processes, as well as the immense significance of that which we ignore. The inability to foresee characterizes the human condition. Nevertheless, as the modern science declares, the unpredictable seems to be a characteristic of the universe and the cosmic creation itself. The uncertainty is the mental and emotional imprint of my knowing about the kinds of my ignorance: what I don’t know, what is not possible to know, what I ignore but I know, what defines what I can know. However, as theory of attachment says, the balance between certainty and uncertainty is very important for our individual development. It is important for meeting the other in general, particularly in the psychotherapy context. The certainty allows for the basic trust to emerge and the uncertainty for the meeting to occur.

**Key Words: ** unpredictable, complexity, uncertainty, ignorance, unconscious, unconscious mind

We are only transient, imperfect and vulnerable creatures; the civilisations we’ve built may be seen as a way of coping with the unpredictable. They are the result of our effort to control life and its conditions: firstly nature, which is uncontrollable, and secondly other people who are uncontrollable as well. In this sense, our civilisation may be seen as a response to the certainty of death. According to an astronomer, intelligence itself is the response of life to the unpredictable.

Nevertheless, the unpredictable is not only a general element of life that frustrates human plans, but often the unpredictable is a result of these plans and the practices employed. The greater the complexity of a human action, the more probable it is for it to have an unpredictable ending. History is full of such events, and so is our daily life. One example of such an ending, for the plans and practices of those who participated in its construction, was the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The inability to predict characterizes human nature in all circumstances. In general, what happens to us and what happens to the world is to a great extent unpredictable and uncontrollable, and always allows for surprise. We are part of a complex world in motion, in which everything is interlinked in communication and interaction; what we do changes the world, but it also changes ourselves, in a way that almost never coincides with our intention.

But what do we mean by the term complexity?

The human brain is an exceptionally complex thing, with which we try to understand the world. It’s a physical- chemical apparatus in its interactions, a biological one in its structure, a human one in its mental and psychological activities. Its physical, biological and psychological sides are inseparable. Even the pettiest perception or thought is linked with protein composition and innumerable changes of electrical equilibrium. Inside the brain all aspects of reality meet. Schopenhauer names it the “navel” of the world.

The biological structure of the brain combines non-centrality/multicentrality, anarchy/polyarchy/hierarchy, specialization/multi-competence/non-specialization, complementarity/ competitiveness etc. This neural- intellectual apparatus may be considered capable of constantly solving problems due to its huge processing ability. It also has capacities to solve the unpredictable.

Two notions help us understand the function of the brain in solving problems:  program  and  strategy . A program is a specific series of actions triggered off by a signal. Any information can be read only in steady contexts, namely codes,  schemata , repeated facts. The brain teaches us that knowledge should possess certainties, which are the constants, so that it can solve the uncertain. A strategy is something that constantly changes in the course of action, as the action itself changes continuously. Strategy entails the possibility to change the action according to the unknown or the new, to use the known and the unknown[1], and does this in such a way that it suffers the least and makes the most of the difficulties, the uncertainties and the game probabilities. When it can extract a piece of information from an ocean of noise, just for a second, this is a victory against the uncertain. Strategy includes the probability of error, either because of accident, ignorance or misfortune (Morin, 2001: 125).

The triptych brain/spirit/ _psyche _ (named according to the cultural context) is found inside the living creature, which, as all living creatures, has some biological prediction abilities. The living creature is considered to carry within itself the universe in a hologrammic way. This will let it estimate the external world, which means it allows for some prediction. As Morin says, “the self-eco-organized being is inhabited in a pre-knowledge way by the world that it inhabits” (Morin, 2001: 74). If the genes include the hologram of the being in the form of information, then in terms of holonomic unity, the being includes the organization of the world in which it lives. Even the frog has an idea of what the environment is for it.

Faced with this complexity, our brain has a lot of obstacles to overcome to become adequately complex or, as Bateson would say, so that its logic may fit in with the complexity of the world. However, it should accept and recognize the fields that it ignores and it should learn to take them into consideration, which is very important for its formation.

If our experience is a source of our knowledge, our senses that perceive the world have thresholds. Our sensory organs have limitations as to the differences they can respond to. Too small or too slow differences cannot be perceived. Infrasounds, ultrasounds, microbes, stars. Our knowledge at any given time depends on the function of the limitations that our means of perception have. Bateson says that our knowledge is firstly biologically determined (Moureli, 2002). If we judge things by insisting on what is obvious, if what can be seen (or perceived) persuades us about “its truth”, then we will recognize the misleading tendency of our senses. Of course we have extended the limits by microscopes and telescopes, but nevertheless the previous sentence remains true. We always have to face what the frog has to face, in proportion. The frog can only perceive objects that move within its vision range, in a view angle of 10 degrees. Unless the insect moves, the frog cannot see it.

A lot has been said in recent years about what is meant by the term “unconscious mind”. Part of the unconscious mind is the Freudian unconscious, which comes from the suppression of inadmissible and unbearable drives, desires, thoughts, representations. The unconscious in this sense is the childish, a source of determinative and unpredictable events for our conscience. For example, someone has been trying for many years for his promotion at work, and when he finally succeeds, something happens and he just fails to get it. Something unpredictable. Part of the unconscious mind is repressed elements, such as pre-linguistic experiences that we had before we inhabited  language, or, rather, before language inhabited us. It is what Bollas named  unthought known : what we know but we cannot think of (Bollas, 1989).

Modern neurophysiology, which deals with the unconscious mind, attributes several functions to it, the best-known of which is implicit or procedural memory. Implicit or procedural memory, which does not depend on awareness or on cognitive procedures, allows us to do things such as tie a necktie, write or ride a bike, while we are not consciously thinking of what we are doing.

In the center of our eye there is a blind spot. The blind spot, also known as  _scotoma, _ is an obscuration of the visual field and corresponds to the spot where the optic nerve is formed. The brain fills this spot with details from the surrounding area and information from the other eye, so that the blind spot cannot be perceived in normal conditions.

The blind spot in the center of the eye is a metaphor for how we humans perceive our relations. A usual central blind spot concerns our interpersonal relations. We can perceive the other person’s behaviour but not our own, unless we reflect on what other people’s behaviour tells us about us. Similarly, we know this very well, we totally ignore the contribution of our behaviour to the systems of relations in which we live, as we also ignore the influence of the systems on us, unless we reflect on this issue.

Speaking about fields of ignorance, we realize that there are different kinds of ignorance and different degrees of ignorance and different ways to approach and relate to consciousness. In an attempt to make a list, in no way comprehensive, I will summarize the basic kinds of ignorance that I perceive:

  • Ignorance due to the limitations of our senses.

  • Ignorance concerning the unconscious mental, cognitive, physical and historic sides of our existence.

  • Ignorance concerning our cyclic and complex interactions with others.

  • Ignorance of ecological, social, cultural and other systems in which we live and participate in ways we also ignore.

  • Ignorance which will never vanish, as knowledge will always be incomplete.

Debates on thought and knowledge are carried out with a radical quality these days, while at the same time new roads are being opened up, perhaps more clearly than ever before, towards the development of complex thought, which may bring new multidimensional knowledge. In our century, faith in the foundations of knowledge has faded and the limitations of knowledge have started to show. Natural science has approached a type of truth for which the principle of non-contradiction does not exist: Light is a particle; it’s a wave as well. Godel's theorem uses self-reference to put vagueness in the heart of every theory.  No theory can find proof of its validity within itself. Neither evidence nor logic can assure a steady foundation of knowledge. At the same time, our relation with reality is entering a crisis. Can we get to know reality? What is what we call “reality”, if, as Heinz von Foester says, our world as we perceive it is our invention or, as Bateson argues, if the laws of the universe lie deep inside our eyes? (Moureli, 2002)

The fact that the way we perceive our environment is shaped -to some extent- by our self (in psychosis it is shaped to a great extent), namely the complex system of the conscious and the unconscious parts which form the self, is something we already knew from psychoanalysis. It is also an old philosophical issue. But today, radical constructivism places the issue on a totally radical basis: It believes that mentally/ cognitively/ physically we invent the world, the one that has formed us.

The cyclic, circuit-like nature of sentences and questions shocks and paralyses us. Could we possibly move towards a more complex thought? The old dichotomies are collapsing and giving their place to more complex sentences. For example, matter is no longer the basis of every natural reality, as it includes non- material realities such as information and structure. These views make modern sciences tremble.  Take medicine, for instance.

Medicine rests upon three dichotomies. It separates the physical from the mental, the individual from the context, the doctor from the patient. Also, it divides itself in different medical specialties, and so fails to understand whatever defines the self-creating unity/ multiplicity which a human being is. Medicine should recompose the pieces, overthrow the dichotomies - and this can only be achieved by interdisciplinary cooperation.

Therefore, if uncertainty is the response of our conscience to complexity on the one hand and to ignorance on the other, could it be a viable condition for humans?

We know this from life experience, but we are also told so clearly by the theory of bonding.

A person needs some certainties in order to face the unpredictable part of him/herself and any unpredictable relations he/she may have. A secure bonding in the beginning of our life equips us with the potential of a basic certainty, with which we will face the unpredictable that is lurking everywhere.

The same, I think, goes for the relationship that develops in psychotherapy. Basic trust is essential for the development of the ability to explore and respond to the unpredictable which psychotherapy is for individuals and families. Have we thought enough of psychotherapy as a procedure in which those entering therapy meet the unpredictable - the unpredictable that our thought represents and our viewpoint reveals? Hopefully, those entering therapy will be able to meet the unpredictable, which stems from themselves, as individuals or families, in their relation with the world.

As psychotherapists, we need some certainties in order to become capable of facing the unpredictable which every system entering therapy consists of. We need the patterns and the logics that our training has given us, the repetition of events that our experience brings, the knowledge of our own individual models and patterns; we need the feeling of certainty from all this so that we can be open enough to meet the unpredictable that the other person consists of, and probably brings on us. I believe that a basic certainty is our own faith in the procedure of psychotherapy as a road towards knowledge and change, a road of expanding your choices, a road that keeps opening up before you the more you travel on it.


[1] That is exactly how von Neuman has defined the game.

Lecture in the 2nd INTERACTIVE SYMPOSIUM OF SYSTEMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY“Searching the unpredictable in Psychotherapy”, Workshop of Systemic Thought and Training, Heraklion Crete, 1-11-2014.


Bollas C. (1989).  _The shadow of the object. _ Columbia University Press.

Morin, E. (2001).  _THE METHOD 3. The knowledge of knowledge. _ Athens: 20th Century Editions (in Greek).

Moureli, E. (2002). _Reference to the work of Gregory Bateson. _ Metalogue, 1. p. 24-42. (in Greek)

Read the next article:

ARTICLE 6/ ISSUE 6, April 2015

Telemachia or the Quest for the Father

Kostas Zervos, Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst
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