Differences between Mind and Soul
In this section,26 I summarize certain aspects of Plato’s thinking that influenced many school of psychotherapy. It will consist of showing that the mind is different from the content of the soul because the mind can only digest truths in small doses. In psychotherapy, we often notice that an individual can handle just a limited amount of truth at one time. Every time I try to move at a faster pace, often at the request of the patient, he is soon overwhelmed and disoriented. What Freud called the defense system brings any acceleration of information to a screeching halt. The patient experiences strong disease and may want to end psychotherapy. It is not necessarily that the individual no longer wants to gain self-knowledge. He just cannot integrate a powerful dose of new information.27 A schoolchild has the same difficulty at school, as does a new employee who is bombarded with instructions by the employer.
Idealists often think not only that the mind has quantitative limits but also that the Ideas are of another nature than what the mind can manage. The mind must transform itself before it can integrate this type of information. The ordinary citizen who accidently perceives a Truth may not notice the value of what he has just experienced. If, on the other hand, the defenses are too weak, the mind risks blowing a fuse when it perceives a dose of truth that it cannot manage. In subsequent pages, we shall see that Plato used his myth of the cave to show the importance of avoiding becoming blind when the mind enters into contact with the Truths of the soul.
The Signifier of an Idea
A text is a text only if it hides at first view, for any one, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. Besides, a text always remains imperceptible. The law and the rule do not shelter themselves in the inaccessibility of a secret. They simply never reveal themselves, in the present, to anything that we can rigorously call a perception. (Jacques Derrida, 1972, Plato’s Pharmacy, p. 79; translated by Marcel Duclos)
The recourse to fables shows that Plato does not have the intellectual means to explicitly define Beauty, but he trusts that he has an adequate intuition about what is beautiful and ugly. He has a difficult time translating what he feels into a structured discourse. I think his difficulty is part and parcel of the human condition. Plato experiences a celebratory inner itch every time someone says something that seems just and an almost hateful inner irritation when someone preaches something that seems manifestly false. With his theory of the Ideas, he tries to show that it is possible to gain understanding and that consequently, the human daring to invest in the scientific endeavor defines an attempt to construct a social knowledge of the mechanisms that animate the universe. The theory of the Ideas is there to tell us that in the human there is a capacity to reflect on what is perceived. Plato wanted, in this way, to support people like Aristotle, who was building the bases of an emerging science by battling against a skepticism that discourages those who would have the hubris to understand that which makes them alive. Plato made this audacious challenge by discovering a plausible theory for his day which affirms that each human has the means to know something, to construct an understanding that corresponds to a reality. He could not have done better to express this intimate conviction than to invent this fable, according to which, between two lives, our souls float in the world of the Ideas.