Who was Ignacio Matte Blanco and what did he contribute to psychology and medicine?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Blanco was a Chilean psychoanalyst who tried to make sense of the unconscious. Influenced by Freud, Blanco was interested in the unconscious and supposed that if the unconscious consistently had certain aspects, then there must be some sense or structure to the unconscious. In other words, even though the unconscious world of dreams seems illogical, there must be some logical sense to how it functions. 

Blanco started with unconscious characteristics from Freud: displacement, condensation, timelessness or nonlinearity, replacing external reality with internal (mental) reality, and a lack of mutual contradiction (meaning that in the unconscious, two things which flatly contradict each other in the conscious world, would not contradict each other in the unconscious world). 

Blanco suggested that in the conscious world, things are (mostly) asymmetrical; "I read newspapers" does not mean "the newspapers read me." But in the unconscious, things are symmetrical: "I read newspapers" can mean "newspapers read me." Following these aspects of the conscious and unconscious, Blanco devised five strata of the mind. 

In the first stratum, we consciously experience different objects as separate from one another, different from one another in a number of ways. This is largely asymmetrical. We might call this "normal" or consciously realistic thinking. An elephant is larger than a mouse; in this stratum, we would not say the symmetrical reversal that a mouse is larger than an elephant. 

In the second stratum, the individual introduces (or is introduced to) some symmetrical (again, more characteristic of the unconscious) elements. A man is in love with a woman; here he ascribes attributes from other women (thereby creating a symmetry between her and those others) attributes which he finds attractive or which he finds characteristic of loving him back. This is similar to a generalization and can bridge to objectification. 

In the third stratum, the individual introduces more symmetry. From the above example, his beloved woman is symmetrical (similar or identical to) other "beloved women" and this class is the same as the larger class of all women. For Blanco, the functioning of the unconscious incorporates classes and groups as part of its symmetrical structure. This is a mathematical system of sets and in this mathematical thinking, Blanco came up with the title to his book The Unconscious as Infinite Sets. 

In the fourth stratum, the classes become even more symmetrical. Men and women are not asymmetrically different. A man can be a woman and vice versa. This symmetry can be seen in some of Freud's aspects of the unconscious: displacement, condensation, lack of mutual contradiction. Being symmetrical, man and woman can replace one another/displace one another, same with the elephant and the mouse. The symmetry erases difference. 

In the fifth stratum, asymmetry is gone and therefore everything is similar or identical to everything (this is understood in a mathematical framework such as an equation - the elephant is larger than the mouse = the mouse is larger than the elephant; both are "equally" logical and true at this deep level of the unconscious). Thus, the logic of the unconscious, at this deepest level, is the symmetry and the indivisibility of it. This stratum shows the unlimited free play of the unconscious - but without any asymmetry (any way to differentiate), the structuring breaks down into senselessness. 

Blanco proposed that the fully developed individual will have understood and mastered the five strata with a fluent knowledge of both the logic of conscious asymmetry and the logic (or structure) of unconscious symmetry. Knowing both logics, one would know the "bi-logic" of the mind.