Mark J. Blechner
Mark J. Blechner (born November 6, 1950, in Manhattan, New York) is an American psychologist and psychoanalyst. He has developed and researched new ideas in a number of areas: dreams, gender and sexuality, HIV/AIDS, psychotherapy and the interface between neuroscience and psychoanalysis (neuro-psychoanalysis). He has charted the patterns of irrationality in human thinking that characterize psychopathology, clinical neurological syndromes, dream phenomena, conceptions of gender, and prejudice.
Blechner received his doctorate in psychology from Yale University. His interests there encompassed both cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology. His dissertation discovered that about 30% of the population cannot hear the difference between major and minor chords in root position, which may account for the relative harmonic simplicity of much popular music. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, and the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Contemporary Psychoanalysis.
Blechner has identified certain unusual percepts, which do not strike us as bizarre in our dreams, although they would in waking life. In disjunctive cognition, which is common in dreams, two aspects of cognition do not match each other; the dreamer is aware of the disjunction, yet that does not prevent it from remaining. For example, it is common to dream something like "it did not look like my mother, but I knew it was her." Physical appearance and actual identity do not match. The perception of the identity of the person is disjunctive from whom the person looks like. In waking life, most sane people would assume that they mis-saw or misidentified the person, and correct for it, but not necessarily in dreams.
There are also disjunctive cognitions of time: it is common to dream "I was an adult in the house I grew up in." It is much rarer for an adult to dream "I was a child in my present house."
It is also common for a dream to include an "interobject", Blechner's term for an incomplete fusion of two objects, such as "something between a swimming pool and an acqueduct" or "something like the lock of a door or perhaps a pair of paint-frozen hinges." Rules about which objects may be combined in interobjects remain to be specified. Disjunctive cognitions and interobjects contribute to our understanding of the rules of dream formation and irrational thinking, which Blechner calls "The Grammar of Irrationality."
Dreams may contribute to the formation of new ideas. Blechner's theory of "Oneiric Darwinism" (oneiric, "related to dreams"; Darwinism, "a selectionist model of the creation of ideas") proposes that some dreams create "thought mutations" – new ideas that can be developed if useful, or discarded if useless or maladaptive, much as Darwinian evolutionary theory proposes that genetic mutations can lead to improved survival. Most people dream five or more times per night, although few of those dreams are remembered. Oneiric Darwinism proposes a function for the majority of dreams of which we are never aware or do not remember.
Blechner has argued that the most anxiety-provoking interpretations of dreams may result from asking the dreamer: "Have you ever experienced what happened in the dream or something like it?" He has proposed that in dreams, we see the operation of the brain producing meaning that does not need to be communicable. This leads to phenomena like predicates with omitted subjects, similar to inner speech and pictorialized metaphors, that can make dreams difficult to understand.
AIDS and HIV
In the 1980s, Blechner specialized in the psychological issues of people with AIDS. He founded, at the William Alanson White Institute, the first psychoanalytic clinic specializing in the psychological treatment of people with HIV and their caregivers. When the relatively effective "triple cocktail" treatments became available in the mid-1990s, his focus shifted from issues of death and dying to issues of restructuring a life after one felt doomed to death (the "Lazarus syndrome") and issues of HIV-transmission, "bareback sex" and the balance of risk, pleasure, and safety.
Gender and sexuality
Blechner also studied issues of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. He has studied the unconscious biases and fears about masculinity and femininity, and their variation across cultures and time periods. He has noted the malleability of concepts of perversion, which included masturbation in the 19th century and oral sex in the early 20th century, and sought the removal of stigma and the diagnosis of psychopathology of behaviors that are consensual and do not harm another person. He has studied the rules of irrational thinking that underlie prejudices against groups based on race, religion, and sexual orientation. He links the fear of same-sex marriage to the "von Domarus principle" by which things that are merely associated with one another are seen to have a causal relationship. For example, a schizophrenic may think, "If my mother's name is Mary, and Mary is the mother of God, then I am God." When under great emotional pressure, most people are capable of this sort of irrational reasoning. Thus a frightened heterosexual may unconsciously reason: If homosexuals are allowed to be married, and I am married, then I may be a homosexual. And if I make it impossible for homosexuals to marry, and I am married, then I will make it impossible for me to be a homosexual.
Psychoanalysis: technical approaches
In psychoanalytic technique, Blechner has developed the progressive approach of Sándor Ferenczi's "mutual analysis" by proposing that psychoanalysts consider the attributions of patients seriously without prematurely foreclosing on the question of whether or not the patient is projecting. Blechner calls this "working in the countertransference." To characterize fluid self-attributions, Blechner extended the personifications of Harry Stack Sullivan – good-me, bad-me, and not-me – to include the "maybe-me", with both psychoanalyst and patient considering the possibility of different attributions. He has also argued for the consideration of real but dissociated psychological elements of mental illnesses that are routinely seen in the early 21st century as biologically-based, such as panic attacks and depression Uncovering such dissociated psychological causation requires expert psychiatric interviewing.
- Who's Who in Frontiers of Science and Technology. Marquis. 1985. p. 46. ISBN 0-8379-5702-8.
- Blechner, M. J. (1977) Musical skill and the categorical perception of harmonic mode. Haskins Laboratories Status Report on Speech Research, 52:139-174.
- Blechner, M. J. (2001) The Dream Frontier. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
- Hobson, J. A. (1988) The Dreaming Brain. New York: Basic Books.
- Rittenhouse, C., Stickgold, R., & Hobson, J. (1994). Constraint on the transformation of characters, objects, and settings in dream reports. Consciousness and Cognition, 3, 100-113.
- Blechner, M. J. (2005) The grammar of irrationality: What psychoanalytic dream study can tell us about the brain. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 2005, 41: 203-221.
- Blechner, M. J. (2006) A post-Freudian psychoanalytic model of dreaming. Neuro-Psychoanalysis, 2006, 8: 17-20.
- Vygotsky, L. (1934) Thought and Language. Kozulin, A., trans. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.
- Blechner, M. J., ed. (1997) Hope and Mortality: Psychodynamic Approaches to AIDS and HIV
- Blechner, M. J. (2002) Intimacy, pleasure, risk, and safety. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6:27-33.
- Blechner, M. J. Sex Changes: Transformations in Society and Psychoanalysis. New York and London: Taylor and Francis.
- Bergner, D. (2009) The Other Side of Desire. New York: Harper Collins
- von Domarus, E. (1944). The specific laws of logic in schizophrenia. In J. S. Kasanin (Ed.), Language and Thought in Schizophrenia, pp. 104–114. New York: Norton.
- Blechner, M. J. (1992) Working in the countertransference. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 2:161-179.
- Blechner, M. J. (1994) Projective identification, countertransference, and the "maybe-me". Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 30:619-630.
- Blechner, M. J. (2007) Approaches to panic attacks. Neuro-Psychoanalysis, 9:93-102.
- Blechner, M. J. (2008) Interaction of social and neurobiological factors in depression. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 44: 571-580.