Einstein’s Relativity and Lacanian Psychoanalysis

Roughly speaking, the way time dilation works under the theory of relativity is as follows: the closer an object is to another object of relatively larger mass, the slower time moves for that object. But this is true for the smaller object only when measured from the place of yet another relatively independent object. For example: the earth may be the large object and a human being walking on the earth may be the second object. The third object might be an astronaut in space.

It occurred to me to ask a question which I later found to be rather unoriginal: is it possible to achieve immortality for a given object if that object is in close proximity to another object of considerable mass? Let us presume that immortality is perfectly possible or that, at the very least, it can be approached within certain limits.

The problem is that the entire perceptual system (e.g., the breathing and thinking human being) is also thereby placed within the container of the object that is his body. The human mind is never without his body, and, moreover, never without his organs. This is a point made rather forcefully by Lacan throughout his teaching. A subject is never without its body. Thus, the human being continues to experience time as he would if he were the other independent object experiencing its own time.

Does this not explain why the perceptual system is closer to the ego, for Freud? Lacan said, with respect to Freud’s pcpt-Mnem schema:

[w]hat is at issue here is precisely the field of psychical reality, that is to say of everything which takes place between perception and the motor consciousness of the ego.

We can see clearly in Lacan’s work that the perceptual system and the ego are very close to one another, precisely for the reason that the question of the perceptual system is raised while Lacan was explicating his notion of the imaginary [order]. The ego is an imaginary formation produced through the see-saw of desire – the whole early part of Lacan’s teaching on mirror schemas sought to demonstrate precisely this point. So we can say that the perceptual system is geometrical – it consists of surfaces made up of lines, points, and so on.

The ego is what organizes theses lines and points into a surface.

This is also the whole premise of relativity. For Einstein, time/geometry change, but only from the yardstick of a relative observer. This is one of many reasons why Einstein’s physics is suited to Lacanian psychoanalysis (and vice versa): immortality is achieved for the human being, but only when perceived by an outside object or agent. The name Lacan gave to this outside agent was the big Other. The big Other is the witness of our immortality.

Clinically, we might say that obsessional neurotics are those who play out their own immortality for the witness of the big Other. Or, the obsessional neurotic plays out his own mortality for the immortal big Other. In either case, lack is sutured. The fundamental question of the obsessional neurotic concerns finitude or infinity, that is, it is a question ‘to be or not to be’ or ‘am I alive or am I dead?’

The big Other is situated within the symbolic order, and this is the order which precedes the subject. To put it rather crudely: the symbolic order is made of up signifiers (including the master signifier) and these eventually take account of the subject, displacing it – splitting it throughout a network of signifiers. The subject is split between the network of signifiers which gave birth to him.

Nobody seems to bother to mention that Einstein discovered relativity forty years before Lacan began plotting his mirror schemas. The geometry of the relatively mobile object is distorted, not unlike the geometry of the relatively positioned gestalt of the imaginary body in the mirror. The body in the mirror is displaced from its perceptual location (i.e., placed at some distance from its originating mass) and comes out smaller and less complicated than the body of the real.

We can claim that there is a notion of infinity or immortality which is put to the service of the obsessional symptom. Infinity is secured by the guarantee of the big Other. We might claim that Einstein was playing out his theory of relativity for a relatively positioned outside observer (one who is further from the mass of Einstein’s insight and therefore less prone to his own immortality). Einstein’s god was mortal so that Einstein and his discoveries might appear all the more immortal.

Perhaps we could claim that there is an altogether different form of immortality. This would have to be a form of immortality which ruptures the fabric of the obsessional symptom.

This is what one might call an event.


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