Psychology of primary data

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The hate and love felt by citizens and public organization representatives for Wikileaks bears an astonishing resemblance to the hate and love affair that many psychological, medical, and social science professionals have with psychoanalysis. In their deepest sense, both Wikileaks and psychoanalysis deal with the question of the value and significance of Black (evil) and White (good) knowledge for us as individuals and as members of the society.

We live an inspiring era of evolution in open source, open innovation, open science – in the middle of a widening spectrum of open X worlds. Novel solutions are needed to deal with Black and White knowledge: better understanding of knowledge creation processes, new storage strategies, re-thinking ownership and ipr, innovative broadcasting models, relevant sharing platforms, sustainable use cultures, and finally – ways of leaking when necessary. But that is not all: we need a will to learn to build open X in a way that is healthy for individuals, communities and the society in the long run.

Since our childhood we have all recognized the division between good and evil knowledge, but the question of how to best deal with it is an acute and difficult problem to solve. As the open X concepts evolve, so will also new forms of using, benefitting from, and protecting valuable information and knowledge. The problem will not only be how to break all present and traditional forms of knowledge protection and management, but how to be prepared for the new and evolving ones.

It is only a matter of time that revelations like those offered by Wikileaks will become obsolete and new strategies are needed; this will be an invariant challenge for the future knowledge world to come. There is no reason to believe that the ethos of information management would change from what it has always been: a valuable strategic asset. Even new business models will face a tough challenge in trying to create open knowledge markets. I still remember an old Swedish proverb from school, more than 50 years ago, which read “Gyllene bojor äro också bojor” , that is, “Golden chains are also chains.” Money is not the solution even by providing new and clever ways to value our individual ipr’s.

Wikileaks as a societal therapy?

On the Wikileaks home page we can read:

“We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”

Accordingly, their familiar role is to leak information to journalists that are presumably taken as “trusted” parties, or who represent what W characterizes as  “A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media.” This is hoped to be for the good of the global society.

Journalists carry out tasks similar to those of the therapists who help their patients in bringing unconscious information to the consciousness and to be aware of it.  But they are not required to behave like therapists, and typically they do not have the same mission and responsibility. A journalist can have the role of an investigator, a participant as Tanja Aitamurto has adviced me, a constructionist, or a societal therapist, for example. However, in general these motivated journalist roles are exceptions. Hence, anything can happen in their hands to the “patient”, especially if he/she/community has done something that is believed to be wrong and as long as the fragile, general journalistic ethics are followed. The responsibility lies elsewhere, on the shoulders that we don’t know.

The aim of W is also to reveal “suppressed and censored injustices”.  While this is a very practical aim, it is quite fascinating to compare it against the mission of psychoanalysis, especially the first and last sentences in the following. The concepts of “suppression”, “censorship”, “injustice” indeed belong to the everyday language of psychoanalysis. On the home page of the American Psychoanalytical Association APsaA  we can read:

“The purpose of psychoanalytic treatment is to help people change and progress in their lives. The development of self-awareness/insight is a step in achieving that progress.

People make the best choices they can, given the limitations of their assumptions about themselves and their circumstances.

Psychoanalytic treatment gives patients the opportunity to examine these assumptions, understand their origins in their lives, modify them if necessary, and make better choices for themselves.”

Wikileaks and psychoanalysis: parallel beliefs

APsaA explains that psychoanalysis wants to “help people change and progress in their lives” and that this can happen by developing their self-awareness/insight and that the psychoanalytical process (therapy) allows the patients to observe and analyze the important aspects of their lives, for their own good.

In summary then, Wikileaks and psychoanalysis have at least the following beliefs in common, that is, they believe in:

  1. the healing power of increasing self-awareness (individuals, society),
  2. the positive value of better self-perception (individuals, society),
  3. the necessity of protecting the anonymity of their sources, and
  4. their own processes in providing conditions of better self-perception, awareness and health.

Wikileaks and therapists face similar serious problems as well. In psychoanalysis, of course, it is not possible to protect the patient from the primary data of his/her White and Black unconscious knowledge. In therapy, when a patient encounters valuable knowledge during the process, the experience becomes attached to a specific person like father, mother or a loved one or to some other significant personal relationships. Not quite unlike this, Wikileaks failed to protect one of its major sources in USA and who will now face terrible consequences because of that. People involved in the leaked cases in general cannot be totally protected. The possibilities for responsible compensations remain open in the cases of such damage.

The therapist must try to protect the real person sources, if possible. However, I believe that often it is not possible to do this since patients will inevitably carry their personal therapy experiences to their everyday life and family context in their attitudes, fears, and interpretations. The consequences are extremely complex and can be devastating as some examples of false memories evoked in (non-psychoanalytical) therapy sessions have shown (see the work by Elisabeth Loftus, for example, Scientific Am., 1997; Also Wikileaks suffers from the problematic side effects that their data may cause in different contexts to people and communities who have been only indirectly involved in e.g. hiding important data.

The right to interfere is based on professionalism and compassion

In psychoanalysis as in other serious therapies the motivation to interfere with patient’s private life is based on the assumption, belief and wish that the patient will benefit from this sometimes painful and burdensome process. I’m not a psychoanalysis specialists but it is my own observation from some patients that I have known to undergo such a therapy that psychoanalytical treatment can lead to a (temporarily) strong individualistic life style. The social and societal consequences of the individual therapy processes are not well understood nor even routinely extensively monitored by the therapists.

Wikileaks lacks the compassionate understanding of its “patients” that would be similar or analogous to what is described by APasA: “People make the best choices they can, given the limitations of their assumptions about themselves and their circumstances.” W does not entertain this understanding: it explicitly wants to reveal the suppression, hiding of critical data or otherwise – from W perspective – repressive behavior that has taken place, whatever the local source conditions might have been (that remain often unknown). It wants to reveal these evil deeds. In this sense it is like brutal therapy that is believed and hoped to save the patient. Wikileaks wants to help correct the evident injustices through journalistic processes.

Unavoidable injustice in life

In psychoanalysis, almost always, the therapy process touches personal knowledge that is a consequence of unavoidable injustices that occur in many layers of our lives: problematic parent histories, tragic life and family experiences or just random disastrous events that have changed either our own or our parents or spouses lives. These things juts happen in life, despite the explicit claims by the parents, fro example, of doing their best. These injustices cannot be avoided and often they cannot be mended or corrected, their factual causes may have disappeared already and even the people involved might have died. Still the patient can be helped to live with these subjective forces and to understand their role in his/her life. It is possible to help them to improve life by liberation and relevant interpretation of such negative unconscious factors.

Wikileaks could benefit from an exchange of ideas with open-minded psychoanalysts. It could even lead to specific Wikileaks modes of dealing with original sources of Black knowledge by compassionate understanding of the conditions of these real sources and in this way, perhaps even further encourage secure revelation of sensitive and ethically sustainable data.

When people hide information and knowledge, their reasons to do that can vary even for totally similar data and circumstances. So, when their secret data becomes exposed, the consequences of this are also socially and personally variable. As Wikileaks surely has learned thousands of times, every data has a history, a context, numerous owners, stakeholders, and they are dynamic in the very human and social sense. It is not a matter of truth or non-truth, only.

Need for a societal theory of healing?

Analogies can be misleading, but there is an insightful parallel in these two separate worlds. Wikileaks acts as a forceful therapist who makes the “patient society” to see the material in its hidden unconsciousness, to see it “as it is”. W declares a belief in the positive power of these activities and it sees itself explicitly as an organization that heals the society (

“Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.”

Opinions about the healing power of Wikileaks are divided, politically, economically and psychologically. What some consider as “stolen” can be seen as “liberating” and “truthful” information that Wikileaks brings to the national and global consciousness. What a therapist might see as “revelation of repressed knowledge” can be in e.g. a parent’s eye a shame, a cause of conflict, and a disaster to the family.

While it can be argued that Wikileaks helps the nations to heal themselves it is far from clear how this healing process might or will take place. The same is true with the psychoanalytical process of healing: it is not known what exactly happens in the brain of a healing person and besides, there are reason to believe that the healing process is not a unique one and that several different ways to healing are possible.

An interesting counter example to the psychoanalytical or Wkileaks way of thinking about healing, is provided by cognitive therapy. Its aim is to change the patient’s negative life and thought patterns, models and reaction styles. The question of “what is the objective content of a patient’s unconsciousness” is not the most relevant issue then. There is quite a lot of scientific controversy about this topic in the psychology and surely Wikileaks experiences the battle of opinions. But it is a genuinely fruitful question to ask: what are the alternate ways to healing?

Primary data without a theory has no immediate value

Just like a good therapist, Wikileaks may avoid directly touching or revealing the most devastating or “dangerous” information that for some reason might be evil for the patient (the society) and for the healing process. But for both Wikileaks and the therapists it is impossible to know – without a reliable theory – what will follow for the patient from processing such difficult information. Hence, therapists or other actors  dealing with Black and White knowledge need a theory, explicit or implicit, about the world in which we live. This theory should be openly available for testing and evaluation. There is some knowledge of the consequences of therapy processes but Wikileaks and its relatives are still too young, but experiences from the “impact studies” of therapies show that it is far from a simple research problem.

We all know that simple primary data – an observation, record or a measurement can change the world. In empirical sciences all this is simple.  The core idea is to apply total and detailed transparency to the theory applied because without the knowledge of the exact theory, the primary data has really no meaning. Why would anyone care which object hit the ground first in Galilei’s experiment?

In the case of an observation we need that theory as well. A good question is, who should fulfill the conditions for this transparency? What happens when data is publicized without explicit theories of the observed phenomena? And still, it is true that sometimes we just have to publicize the data, even without a theory. It can be a precondition to building ones.

Finally, a therapist may or may not like the patient but the main aim of a committed therapist is to help the patient in all cases. Without that motivation and relevant skills the “therapy” will turn into a game of intrusion and a cheap means for attention catch, just like the famous public presentations of hypnosis where people are made to behave in ridiculous and shameful ways.  There is a clear border between these different interests, but not everyone is willing to respect it.  A recent example of this is the news about the possible hacking of the phones of the relatives of dead UK soldiers . How is this different from leaking? We should know.


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