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The seminar big serves a series of discussions focusing attention on the frontiers of human development presented in cooperation with the excellent Institute of Big Sur California a Center which studies those strands of religion philosophy in the behavioral sciences which emphasize the potentialities of human existence. This week we present the first of four discussions from an excellent seminar conducted by Dr. Rollo May on the unconscious this week Dr. Mae discusses the unconscious and creativity. Here now is Dr. Rollo May as he met in session with this seminar at the excellent Institute. We find if we explore the Unconscious in relation to creativity. Well the first thing that we strike is the fact that modern western man is very much afraid of the creativity that comes from his unconscious. He's not afraid of his
unconscious when it simply makes him feel good. He's not afraid of it when it amuses him. Like in. Mystery stories or some of the movies western man is very much afraid though of the unconscious when it would genuinely be creative as when it would break the pattern of his self-willed relationship when it would force him into a new way of looking at things. I've been on a number of TV programs and what passed need me is exactly the point where the chairman shuts me up in the program. I've been a time I think about it and it's exactly at the point where I was about to say something original. Now he doesn't mind my raising hell or my attacking somebody or my acting tough or bellicose. Apparently this is part of the try to spruce up TV these days by getting people to fight with each other. But this doesn't scare
anybody. It's part of the medium. But what does scare these masters of ceremony is when something new was about to come out and course they can sense it. I think they sense it because they participate in my own consciousness and unconsciousness of the group at the time. And they sense a kind of a rumbling of an earthquake and something new may occur that shakes the whole pattern of thought. So we've been talking about it. Be it now or psychotic or. Religion is one of the programs that I was on. Now why are they so afraid of an original thought. Then I work on your assumption that if something new came in hand some idea nobody had ever thought before. And this really happens it certainly happens in my thinking and I'm sure it does in yours. It would have been a lot more if you weren't so
afraid of it. If something comes out that had not ever been said before then people in North Dakota would turn off their TVs and go out on the roof in the kitchen and get a beer out of the refrigerator and come back in and turn on a baseball game. This is what the masters of ceremony are afraid of. Now what's going on. Well they are correct Midwesterner. Requires for his security. Or did Innes predictability and the assembly line our technology is based upon the assumption that everything can be predicted in a rational way. Tools in mechanics which ought to be an extension of our consciousness have become for modern western men a substitute for consciousness as they become the protection a
barrier between us and nature and their universe to protect Western man from the frightening experience of. New gestalts spring up here rational experience that springs up from the depths of him sour to know how the tools then become to dance mechanisms and if you want to know what is is just as true in psychology and psychiatry and in this and in the western form it leads to Zen Buddhism as it is in Madison Avenue No. One of the members here tonight was in a conference with I was in New York a couple of years ago on creativity and sitting next to be in the press room propre Mr. James she gave an awfully good talk. But it was very sketchy very original and I thought wonderful and I
think that's what dancing really is. If you dance the next morning you could see that's what it was. The dream the cry of her own unconscious and the unconscious of her race came her creativity. Now the strange thing about it was the psychologist and there were a couple thousand of them there are psychologists I got were frightened by this. And the next morning in a smaller group that I was chairman outwits weak force and got appropriateness to come to. They kept saying well this is because of frantic. I'm sure it's because of Frank nothing could be less relevant than that. Why should you be afraid of it. You go down to the geniuses through history and the number of schools are frantic sare makes one either scared to death or joyful and makes me joyful. Michelangelo Nietzsche. Own line FM goes to yes ski
to car ski a whole line of them if they had been adjusted would have been boring middle class. I'm. Fairly well to do good society citizens. No I think what scares people what security psychologists premiss was their tool was the techniques tell them that this is schizophrenic and it that's a label you see. But the label then becomes the label shouldn't really mean anything in itself. Except it I don't even think the label helps us and in dealing with the person imperative a label is a social convention to protect our assembly lines from user friendly acts. Poets and other interesting people. Now I'm not saying incidentally that I agree with Thomas size that that it's a purely that you shouldn't have
any criteria that you should turn all your mental hospitals out into the street. Sometimes I think that would be better because your street where some of the sand. The Senate and the House in Washington I think it might be good to turn them loose but. I do think the categories helped. I believe in tools and technology but the great danger is that tools and technology categories scientific psychology the rush Act pass the criteria become substitutes become protections for ourselves from our own lack of courage to delve into the deepest levels of our own and consciousness. Neuron saga solves that problem by saying that all the categories are wrong and I don't think that's true. I think what really is wrong is the use of our categories our scientific thinking as a defense against our sorrows meaning the deepest dimensions of ourselves our own consciousness. And the
consciousness of the race as it surges up a.. No. Western civilization has been built upon the development of the channeling of creativity into technology. I won for him a ridge of psychology in this country's behavior as it has to do with the. Not the meaning of behavior but techniques of manipulation of it. And certainly our great society tremendous industrial potential in this country which many of us with one hand love and the other hand use it as a seed duction away from the thing that would really be precious to us. Namely the depths of one's own self which had nothing whatever to do with how much money one has and how much. How many cars in the garage. No. I think even our science which I make bold to say to you that we are
doing this weekend was something terribly important because even our science is going to dry up. If we become afraid of our unconscious dimensions now the real scientists will tell you and I've talked to Eisenberg about this and to the men at Bell Labs James Fisk who is head of the satellite program we have up there. The really great scientists would tell you that they get their ideas the same way I'm going to try to indicate to you tonight that I think the unconscious speaks to us and to creative people of all sorts I'm going to try a few minutes analyze with you the way the creativity of a mathematician poincaré worked. If we turn if we become so frightened by our own irrational experience. To use our psychological knowledge to adjust ourselves so it never erupts.
So we're always happy so whenever the press are never frightened so we're never guilty. All of which goes to creativity how to indicate in a few minutes. I mean creativity means that at some point you always will be anxious. You will be guilty and you will be frightened and you will be depressed. I don't think anybody does really creative work without these experiences at some time or another. If we use our adjustment our psychology our science and our social pressures and it makes me very horrified about a lot of things are said about the great society from time to time. To become adjusted in a sense our science will dry up ourselves. This is why the great turn to big ideas have almost all come from Europe. Now I have an image. Right and come from Michigan and out and about as American as one could be. And but I think it's a tragedy that the creative thinking has had to come
from the nations that were close air. We're less protected by technology and by their own science we're closer to humanism closer to mythology closer to art. And I think it's going to be essential for the survival to even of questions of position uncertain and for the survival of our country which cannot survive on power forever as we're discovering in Vietnam. We have all upon a world nobody has the imagination. To do no genuine way with the yellow man and yet now we're discovering we're caught at every point in Vietnam and not at all quite because we lack power. Our very power gets in our way recorded because we lack imagination and we lack the chance to do like vision to see what it must be like to live in the Orient and what it must be like to think.
The white and yellow man living in one world in 50 years. No I don't want to think did want to talk about here is the basis of our science as well as our art and our own. Interesting and rich living and so I make no apologies for it I'm not anti technology but I am very much anti the technology that makes man made over into a machine that cost man his soul even though it makes him rich and well had. And we're going to try to do as I see it tonight and this weekend. Is to recover the depths of consciousness. Even though and perhaps even with the help of the fact that we live in a. How did you develop Andy potentially. Not really but potentially free civilization. No I want to begin.
With my concrete analysis. When the analysis of creative experiences of two different people and one happens to be me. This experience of my own. I want to tell you about because I think it's typical of what happens to all of us in the burst through of unconscious creative ideas. It's no tremendous experience it was terribly important for me but I'm sure all of you have experiences of this kind and of this a degree and then I'm going to talk to you by a similar experience of the great trance repetition poincaré. And then I just try to see what goes on in these experiences and can we understand them and then utilize in our own relation to our
depths of consciousness. I was experiencing my occurred some music go when I was doing my doctoral study that came out later in my book anxiety. I was doing some critical work research on anxiety with unmarried mothers. I had to have gotten brains there in New York to study 20 pregnant girls at a shelter there in the city with the idea that I could do would be an anxiety creating situation pregnant and unmarried and so on and I didn't but I could study more clearly where their anxiety originated I wasn't interested in anxiety about the pregnancy. But when somebody is in an anxious situation now his whole past comes out and you can see his past and much more clearly. And I had a very good hypothesis for anxiety very
respectable academic psychologists like that in a psychoanalyst did also reach out already to have told me it wasn't any good. And in case it was going to get it it was as I say respectable. I have to tell you incidentally just a little aside that this dissertation of mine it came out and say was done by me against all the professors as Weiss in New York. I was at Columbia University that and they all said it is not the kind of thing we want done here. And nobody gets a Ph.D. this way. But they were kind enough this is back before we became so mechanized as professors still had hearts and they were kind enough to say but we think you're kind of right not to do it now and whether they thought it was cover enough and I still was going to do it because I have a fair degree of anger in my rice indignation.
It is a cute office comes from growing up in the country in Michigan and in any case they say they didn't like it but they said I could go ahead. Not number of several times I've been told by professors at Columbia and a couple of times it's been said when I was introduced to making speeches that it's mentioned one time up there isn't it too bad somebody doesn't come into a pieces like gravel maze. And then they put it kindly in a way it's kind of flattering to me a few things they say but I think what they're really saying. Is that you can't do that anymore. Even our education has been so mechanized that between you and your data Stan the IBM machine the formulations the mathematics and you have it terribly hard for a Ph.D. student to have a direct relationship to his data. No. I had a hypothesis that would give me some
relation at least to my data. My real data namely these girls who are suffering from anxiety and I caught this is was that the root of anxiety is the rejection. When you are an infant by your mother as I say as a very good hypothesis psychoanalyst pretty Did you get rejected by my mind and then you were trying to get anxiety in the academic people but he did also. Now when I test these girls and talk with them down there I found that half of them fitted my theory beautifully. And they proved it great. And what you should do internet if any of you are working through it. Ph Ds just think that half are your stuff. And once you get it consumers then your business is going to have to think as well as you. And this becomes it seems increasingly more difficult on campuses. You will find me pretty bitter by the
education incidentally not because I don't believe in it I happen to be a professor at two different universities and a junk connection with several others. I believe very much in it but my heart is often broken each days by the way. Doctoral students get made over into these mechanised most any case. They don't think any more than any they do with a lot of the the the manner of the research and even the meaning of it is dictated by the operations. The technology that should be ditto as you have to do it and set you have to ask the question that the IBM machine can code. Now this is the from my first half of these girls at least half of them did it would have showed any IBM machine and gave all the right responses. But the other half of them didn't fit it all. And these were
gross from a high and one from the east side that had a great deal of rejection in their lives. If one of them for example was a girl was pregnant by her father and she was one of 12 children and her father was one of these guys called and kept in a barge we just stayed in a bar to put out fires it dragged up the Hudson to get rocks or pulled by a tug and the time or the mother would kick two of these 12 kids out and they'd have to stand the barge their father and two of the daughters are pregnant by him and he was in Sing Sing at the time for raping a B over daughter. Now these children had great rejection. Children she was 16 17. But what they say to me the oddest thing we have troubles but we don't worry. And then I discovered on the raw shock in the other tests and it seemed very clear that unconscious levels almost of these girls did not have very much anxiety. Now I wondered how this could be done very severely rejected and
had they become so hardened so apathetic that they didn't feel their rejection. The answer to that is clearly no. Were they psychopathic types and therefore they didn't experience anxiety. An answer that also was clearly no. Now and I couldn't figure it out. I remember I worked in my little office down in that shelter. And you know after an afternoon puzzling and getting headaches and if you didn't make any sense. Then I remember late one day I put aside my books and papers in this little office. And I walked down to it to subway and I was going home and I was very fatigued and. Possibly ready to give up the whole shooting match. Now about 50 feet this side of the entrance to the eighth Street Station. It suddenly struck me. And as we say out of the blue. And I remember practically the block the main block I
mean the black stone on the sidewalk which is pretty even knows I'm 25 years ago. It struck me that all of the girls who did not fit the hypothesis were proletarian girls and all the girls who did hit fit the hypothesis were middle class girls and then I had not taken another step in a sideways sidewalk until the whole form broke in my mind. And I realized my whole hypothesis would have to be changed and my whole view of anxiety that is not rejection by the mother that causes the original trauma that's the source of the anxiety. Rather it's rejection that is lied about. The proletarian mothers rejected their children but they never lied about it. They made no bones about. It the children knew they were rejected. They went out in the street and they found other companions. There never was any subterfuge about the situation.
They knew there were old they could orient themselves. But the middle class girls who were also rejected were told by the mothers in the same breath we love feel. The middle class girls were rejected and lined up out at the same time the mothers pretended that they loved them. Now I saw immediately that this is the real source of anxiety. And I saw this in this instantaneous way that is so often characteristic of these experiences. Even though a tremendous quantity of ideas comes all at once that anxiety comes from not being able to know the world you're in. It comes from not being able to orient yourself in your existence and the whole meaning of anxiety had to be shifted dead from an economic meaning namely mother rejects me and the Floridians would put it I don't get the nourishment.
The amount of libido necessary. It had to be shifted from that. To even the academic psychologist side of it is economic in a physiological sense Jamie this youngster is rejected so he can't feel secure in his world. The whole theory had to be shifted from there to a new level. Namely the level of the consciousness in relation to the world. I have a trauma that makes me anxious on my own and may develop into a neurosis not because my mother rejected me because I could not see the truth about my world. I couldn't say to myself yes she's rejecting me when she was rejecting me. Now this lifts the whole problem to a human level. A level of intention and intentionality rather than a. Rejection deprivation care or deprivation of nursing.
Now I was convinced right there in the street within a matter of a couple of seconds that this is a much better hypothesis and it was a a much more elegant way. Now I want to see that for a moment and present to you a similar experience of the mathematician poincaré. And then I want to ask with you what goes on in these experiences that are the breakthrough idea for me unconscious. Poincaré is some of most of you would know as one of the great mathematicians of the modern age. Fortunately he wrote a short autobiography and which he told about his how his ideas came to him and I want to read you parts of this autobiography. For 15 days I strove to prove that there could not be any mathematical functions
like those I have since called the few cosine functions. Then I don't know these mathematical terms and doesn't matter anyway either. Anyway you have a couldn't there. You tried to prove there weren't any functions like these. I was then very ignorant every day I seated myself at my work table. I stayed an hour or two trying to great number of combinations and reached no results. One evening contrary to my custom I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds. I felt them collide until pairs interlock so to speak making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class a few cosine functions. Those which come from the hypo geometric series I had only to write out the results which took but a few hours and then he said that he was he was still a young man he was called in the military service and for some months
nothing happened in his thinking. One day in a town in southern France he was walking with another soldier and just as he put his foot on the step of the bus. I read this incidentally after my own studies after my own experience and it fascinated me how much alike it was the instant Teenie is different. As of the moment the fraction of a second when this happens is what makes the whole world a universe visit which you never forget. And he said just as he was putting his foot on the step of the bus. There broke into his mind the answer to how these new mathematical functions which he had discovered were related to the mathematics he had been working on before. Now he went right on talking with the soldier friend. I get very odd thing. And going through the mechanics of writing keeps any kind of zazen. But everything in the world is happening on another level.
His experience and he knows it. The precision and the vividness are part of it seems to me qualitatively you know that we generally aren't aware that the. An experience of the breakthrough of a depth within our selves. Now he also was completely convinced of the accuracy of it. When this happens you don't have to stop and prove it. Well I think you do have to confirm it in a different mood later on. And then I continue his autobiography. Then I turn my attention to the study of some arithmetical questions apparently without much success and without a suspicion of any connection with my preceding researches disgusted with my creator. I went to spend a few days at the seaside and thought of something else. One morning walking on the bluff. The idea came to me with just the same characteristics of brevity suddenness and immediate
certainty that the arithmetic transformations of indeterminant turn or quadratic forms were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry. These are impressive words. But I've heard impressive words from too many people who can speak impressive words to be impressed by simply the words. But what he's trying to tell us is that there came to him at in the vacation period. The with the same characteristics this relation of what he had been working on to a non-Euclidean geometry. Now he turned psychologist and his autobiography and he asked quotes going at these ideas should break through and this is what he proposes as his answer. The. Most striking at first is this appearance of a sudden illumination. A manifest sign of long unconscious prior work. The role of this unconscious work in mathematical invention appears to me In contrast
Seminar: Big Sur
The unconscious and creativity, part one
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program, the first of two parts, presents a discussion led by Dr. Rollo May.
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Discussion and lecture series from Esalen Institute at Big Sur, Calif., headed by Michael H. Murphy devoted to exploring the psychological nature of man.
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Producer: Esalen Institute
Speaker: May, Rollo
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Chicago: “Seminar: Big Sur; The unconscious and creativity, part one,” 1967-06-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 25, 2022,
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APA: Seminar: Big Sur; The unconscious and creativity, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from