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Selected Fact


The expression "selected fact" was borrowed by Wilfred R. Bion from the French mathematician Henri Poincaré to refer to the element that makes it possible to give coherence to a group of scattered data.

In Science and Method (1908), Poincaré considered the "selection of facts" that enabled science to discover laws of general validitythat is, facts that introduce order and coherence into the complexity of the world. Bion, elaborating his ideas in "A Theory of Thinking" (1962), initially placed emphasis on the container-contained relationship, taking as his paradigm the mother-infant dyad: The baby projects unassimilable "bad" elements of its own psyche onto the maternal psyche, and the mother bears the responsibility of restituting this material to the baby in a form that is psychically assimilable. Bion denotes this relationship using the conventional female and male symbols: .

Bion later became interested in the process by which the mind transforms a chaotic, persecutory experience into an experience that is integrated, representable, and thinkable. This corresponds to the passage from what Melanie Klein calls the schizoid-paranoid position, in which the elements of the psyche are split and projected, and thus dispersed, to what she calls the depressive position, where these elements can come together and become stabilized in a stable configuration. Bion proposes the equation PS D, where PS represents the schizoid-paranoid position and D represents the depressive position. The selected fact is the element that allows for passage from the first position to the second; it serves as a starting point for interpretation by the psychoanalyst, who becomes aware that a multitude of aspects of the patient's material come together and make sense, beginning with a given element of the transference.

Although he borrows the notion of the selected fact from scientific methodology, Bion establishes an essential difference between the scientific approach that seeks the laws of nature and the psychoanalyst exploring the psychic reality of their patient. The scientist is searching for logical connections among the objective data collected, whereas the psychoanalyst is interested in the emotional links that seem both to dominate the transference relationship and to create interconnections among the disparate elements of associative material: "Selected fact is the name for an emotional experience, the emotional experience that consists in discovering coherence; its meaning is thus epistemological, and the relation among selected facts must not be considered logical," writes Bion in "A Theory of Thinking."

Dider Houzel

See also: Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht


Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht. (1962). A theory of thinking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 63, 4-5. Reprinted in Second thoughts. London, Heinemann: 1967.

Grinberg, Léon, Sor, Dario, and Tabak de Bianchedi, Elizabeth. (1991). New introduction to the work of Bion. North-vale, NJ, and London: Jason Aronson.

Symington, Joan, and Symington, Neville. (1996). The clinical thinking of Wilfred Bion. London: Routledge.

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