The previous volume quoted a dialogue involving the characters Alpha and Big Bro. Let us return to them: ALPHA

And even myself, whose thoughts and feelings linger on long after I have woken up and remain active and alive in my waking life long after it is expected or supposed (by whom, pray? Shut up!) that I should be dead and buried (where?) In the land of nod, the unconscious, the forgotten, the … wherever else I am to go to—the Future will do for a sort of royal cemetery, as well as the past. Below the Thalamus. The royal cemetery at Ur, Newton, Shakespeare, Descartes. But some are so deeply buried, forgotten, even their names swallowed up, that they need exing the cave. Even metaphors come alive, otherwise the words that are needed achieve the qualities of “life”. (More bloody metaphors! Who ever could sort out a mass of verbiage like this?) You could try calling it “Paranoid Schizoid” after—a long way “after”—Melanie Klein. Good idea. Good dog paranoid schizoid, here, here is a nice piece of jargon for you. Suspicious are you? Take that then! Another great lump of free associations, dreams and their interpretations, poetry, (“all lies,” said Plato, sly, suspicious old dog that he was) 54is hurled at the poor, new-born baby. “Intelligence” they call the puir, wee thing. Where is that Anarch of the stops and dashes and never-ending Parentheses?—Sterne, they called him, wasn’t it? The Anarchs of the world of darkness keep a throne for thee, puir, wee Intelligence. A rose by any other name … might just as well be a stink that smells as foul even if you call it a “salubrious environment”.

Come here bad, baaad dog!—Hitler dear, such a nice Hitler, such a benito, such a sweet, rosy little boy! Here, here’s a nice salubrious environment! Washed, nay bathed, in our Auschwitz showers. They smell—aah! You can’t think how sweet and refreshing those showers are. Now here is a brand new mind. It is far superior to the nose as an instrument for discrimination. You just have to attach one of our “minds” to the old apparatus and this tiny adjustment, fitted to the nose and any of the no nonsense organs, to obtain a really superior organ of discrimination! Yes: but how can I tell quackery—use it! Why discriminate?—from truth? Can I tell by it, for example, if this mind you talk about is any better than all the previous gadgets I have been invited to attach, at enormous expanding cost, to my various existing battery of gadgets? I knew a delightful old stegosaurus who thought he had found the answer to the tyrannosaurus. But the “answer” was so successful that it turned into a kind of tyrannosaurus itself and loaded him with such fame—not to mention exoskeleton—that he sank under its own weight. In fact, he was so loaded that the only trace of him left was his skeleton. Yes, but those same dead bones gave birth to a mind. Because while all eyes were fixed on the conflict between Fate and armour (there is no armour against Fate) the attacker got through disguised as a bomber. Now, the Mind … you just try it. Just attach it to your sensory perceptions! How do I know it won’t just turn into extrasensory perceptions—s.p. → e.s.p.? The animal, meaning you, who reads this and I that write it and all biological living constructs, have an inborn mechanism for self-disposal. This dogmatic, definitory hypothesis shares the character of the character it represents. On this definitory hypothesis is built the hypothesis and the construct of which it is the foundation.

The tyrannosaurus provokes intrinsically an equal + opposite reaction—the stegosaurus. The stegosaurus sinks under its own “maginot line”, its defensive armour which is its own weakness 55and makes its own armament, its own weight, under which it sinks. The self-destructive elaboration is blind to the quality which is to lead to its own destruction. If ξ is felt to be the successworthy quality, to be producer of progress, ξ is also the character unknown and auto-destructive. If the Oedipus story is the weapon that reveals homo, it is also the story that conceals, but does not reveal, that by which it will destroy itself. What happened to Delphi? and Socrates? If man is a tool-making animal he will not observe that that same capacity will be more than he can protect himself against. Superficially it may become clear that he is a clever monkey who can produce an atomic bomb that is a potential menace to his existence. While his gaze physiological is directed to observation and “detoxication” of the menace represented by the atomic bomb it will, by the same token, be directed away from the growing annihilating force, the “helpless infant”. “Too much learning will make thee mad …” Too much “tyranny”—freedom, food, armour, defensiveness; the list can be extended—but the only reality that matters is that which is denoted by “too much”. Quantity, + and -, requires awareness. In the language suitable for communicating, it would be called a capacity for discrimination of quantity and quality. But in the domain that concerns us there is nothing that lends itself to the exercise of discrimination; there is no quality, no quantity to be discerned. Relativity is relationship, transference, the psychoanalytic term and its corresponding approximate realisation. Mathematics, science as known hitherto, can provide no model. Religion, music, painting, as these terms are understood, fail me. Sooner or later we reach a point where there is nothing to be done except—if there is any exception—to wait. The “impasse” is itself a word which, in the context of this writing, is known to denote a feeling.


Using some schoolboy mathematics I make a model, thus:—I cannot take five from three using only natural numbers. Natural numbers are the kind of numbers I use if I see a pile of oranges and want to know how many oranges there would be if five were removed from the pile. I would say “one, two, three, four, five” as I separated the oranges from the pile. Then I would do the same with the remainder and count thirty. So, given the fruit and the technique I have described, what would happen if I took thirty oranges away from five? First, it would be very improbable 56that I would want to know anything so ridiculous, and I might be afraid of doing anything because the people round me might be very cross if I wasted their time, and mine, dreaming. In fact, I have just dozed off which shows you … What?


I dreamed I was taking thirty oranges away from five. In the dream I didn’t see anything extraordinary about taking thirty oranges away from five. The five were very fat, big and greedy and had lots of oranges. I was angry that they should have such masses of oranges when they were oranges themselves already! So I suppose I did not see why they should not have thirty taken from them. It was really rather funny—really! What’s so funny about it, said one of the big ones. I felt frightened. Well, put like that, what was funny? I remembered one of my patients telling me, “I tell you … I never woke up so fast in my life, I can tell you!” So I thought I had better do the same. I woke up. What a funny way you laugh. Arf, arf, ARF you go … do wake up. What was so funny about it? I told her I had forgotten and couldn’t remember. But it was—very funny. I wish I could remember it!

Well, as I was saying, of course you can’t take thirty from five—not in reality; not with real numbers. If someone invents negative numbers and you add them to natural numbers, then you can take three from five and get minus two! What’s the good? Is that not just playing tricks with numbers? It doesn’t mean a thing. No. It is pure mathematics. If it’s pure mathematics it’s all right because it doesn’t have to mean a thing. Daft, I call it. There are lots of people who don’t think. They must be daft too. No: because someone—Lobachevsky or Riemann—invented a daft geometry and now they find it quite useful in space—not the space which Euclid geometrised about; infinite space, space that has no end. Like “world without end Amen”, you mean. Ye-es, perhaps; you mean religious space? I think it’s more like the “space”, if there was such a thing, made out of adding conscious space to unconscious space. How? Well, if you have a new kind of space, call it mental space, then you may have to invent a new addition to go with it. Or, if you invent new numbers you have to invent new mathematics. They have: they have invented negative numbers and a new geometry in which there are imaginary points and tangents which have coordinates of two points, one which is real and contingent, rather like 57ones that are real and separate or real and distinct, and other lines which don’t cut the circle at all and are conjugate complex. What the hell is that? I understand points that are real and distinct, or real and coincident, but not points that are conjugate complex. If you weren’t so proud of being sane, someone would be sure to notice how frightened you were of “insanity”. You wear your “bravery” as a cloak for your cowardice and things you are afraid of—it must be terrible to have a parasympathetic and a “voluntary” nervous system so close to each other! What dreams, what thoughts, the other system has! Which is the other? Look at your skin; but I suppose you wouldn’t dare to go more than skin deep. [I: 59–63]

There were some readers—either previous pundits in the then available psychoanalysis or young learners—who felt that the double concept of transformations and invariants was too abstract to be apprehended. In a not exactly peaceful coexistence, there were also other students who felt that there was an astounding, or at least a good enough quantum of “aliveness” in the practical examples given by Bion in Transformations (Bion, 1965). Those examples cover a remarkable range, because they were drawn, under a constant conjunction, from (i) everyday life—like the model of an image resulting from a painter looking at a landscape and then painting it (p. 1); (ii) philosophy of science (just to quote one example: p. 12); (iii) philosophy of religion (p. 45) and theology; and (iv) poetry (for example, pp. 15, 133, 162).