Problem and Resolution: Why Optimism Is Not Necessarily Personal

bird cage

Anything and everything, depending on how one sees it, is a marvel or a hindrance, an all or a nothing, a path or a problem (Fernando Pessoa)

Why are problems sometimes interesting and sometimes frustrating?

I think if we’re too focused on obtaining a solution, a way past the problem, then the persistence of the problem can lead to despair and frustration. But if the problem itself is interesting, if its persistence is seen as the unfoldment of a mystery, then the problem is something we’re enjoying and we’re not merely trying to get rid of the problem.

When it comes to the “problem of Literalism” — which is the problem of thought, of being confused by our projections, as humanity has tended to be — the “solution” to the problem of Literalism is so rare that it either gets dismissed outright as an impossibility, or it tends to get labeled as “enlightenment” or “grace” or some other pedestaled conjecture, which are various forms of escape from the problem itself.

Most reasonable people will try to avoid tackling a problem that almost nobody in history has resolved, such as Literalism. From this personal angle, their hope of resolution is squashed immediately by realizing that almost nobody has ever solved this problem of thought, so why should they? Who are they to imagine that the solution is within reach? To avoid embarrassing delusions of grandeur and inevitable failure a seemingly humbler response would be to ignore the problem.

But this reaction is premised on the desire to get past the problem, rather than enjoy the problem.

But reasonable people don’t enjoy the problem. If they can’t get past it, they don’t want to consider it.

The problem is, we can’t enjoy a problem if we don’t recognize a possibility of resolution. But if we focus too much on resolving a problem, then we’re trying to get past the problem too ambitiously, which means we don’t enjoy the problem, which means the problem never resolves!

So most reasonable people get stuck between these two poles, hoisted on a double-bind that not only blocks any further interest but also wears them out.Read More »

“That’s the Show, Waiting for the Show”: The Mysterious “Subject” that Hides in the Shadow of Attention

mirror

Some might think I’m dawdling over preliminaries. Like I’m endlessly adjusting my coat and tie, but never actually going out on stage and performing anything. All backstage banter.

That’s not wrong. In these essays the subject itself is backstage banter – the behind-the-scenes mumbling in our own heads.

It’s very hard to find anyone raring to talk about the way we frame reality back there. It throws unpleasant light on our habits of denial, repression and justification, which keep us consistent if nothing else. So this subject is almost inherently “uninteresting” to anyone who considers themselves already sane.

Thankfully I don’t. And neither do some of you. However, you’re almost unlocatable as a group. No demographic defines you. So I’m not even addressing you directly. I feel like we’re sitting side-by-side under a tree together, sharing a slightly psychoactive substance. What we have in common is the willingness (I suppose) to recognize a certain insanity in ourselves and not push the subject aside as a dull complacency. We’re willing to see our condition as abnormal, which is a surprising relief. Because if this way of life isn’t “normal”, then we can begin healing. Otherwise it’s just a condition defining us in some conclusive sense. I guess I’d rather be considered insane than evil.Read More »

Practicing a Prismatic Approach on the Matter/Mind Dilemma: Wheels Within Wheels

wheels-wheels-4345894

I’ll dare to state this as a Negative Truth: Any transition from a lower level of being to a higher order isn’t rooted in the lower order.

An order emerges that exceeds the previous level. But not just exceeds it in power and mass, but in kind. A wholly different organization somehow leaps out of a previous organization without precedent. This lower order can’t give birth to something utterly new without a leap from nothing. So mind doesn’t appear to be a product of matter.

The so-called “new physics” seems to agree. They view the world starting with an infinite potential of information (a form of mind), which precedes the explosion of energy, which condensed into matter. What they’re suggesting is that Mind is the starting point. And Mind is the source of energy, which condenses into matter.

But let’s ask the question anyways: Can matter be responsible for mind?

Is it possible that it is and it isn’t, depending, as always, on context? Is this relationship like a wheel that can be spun in both directions when needed? If we look at the universe as starting with an explosion of energy, we will watch that energy coalesce into matter, which grows in complexity until it produces brains and minds. From there, we’ll also see a secondary wheel spinning in reverse, whereby minds generate energy, and energy is interest, is curiosity, is motivation to re-form matter into tools and computers?

Our mistake might lie in assuming that the wheel only spins in one direction, or starts at the same place. Or is operating on only one level at a time. What if matter, mind and energy are three phases of the same ungraspable movement, spinning in all imaginable ways in any context, wheels within wheels?Read More »

Post-Modernism as a Depersonalization/Derealization Crisis

Source: Artbreeder.com

Between the idea
And the Reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

From “The Hollow Men,” by TS Eliot

I notice that I share a fundamental starting assumption with post-modernism – the realization that everything is a story, and the impossibility of obtaining “positive certainty” about the full nature of anything.

Even the factual things people do manage to measure with precision are already fictional distinctions premised on limited assumptions. We imagine different ways of separating and measuring what is otherwise an infinite but unrealized potential, the so-called Void.

And I understand (but don’t share) their tendency to make no distinction between thought and thing, because the “thing” is also a thought. Everything we know is put together by narrative – it’s all a fiction. Peering through the post-modern lens, everything, in other words, is just language. From this angle there is no reality beyond language, or no meaning beyond what language ascribes.

There is insight here, but there is also a very subtle blunder. It’s the same one I made as a teenager when I fell into a depersonalization/derealization crisis, which is a terrifying physical and psychological conviction that nothing is real.

Here’s what this post-modern insight misses: If all conclusive meaning (Truth or Reality) is fictional, then this information itself – this negative discovery – is an example of an insight that is non-fictional. The nature of “truth” doesn’t disappear, but changes at this juncture from positive certainty to negative discovery. Truth changes shape but doesn’t disappear.

Read More »

Falling Stones

Wallpaper : birds, animals, sea, nature, mist, cliff, wildlife, gannets,  mountain, bird, fauna, 1680x1050 px, atmospheric phenomenon 1680x1050 -  wallhaven - 729115 - HD Wallpapers - WallHere

How could a stone, mere Earth,
Falling constantly through space,
How could a stone give birth?
To all that moves with grace?

How does a rock become a bird?
How can it fly and sing?
It’s something holy or absurd:
The earth itself grew wings.

But when our people fell to ground
Our wings were vestiges of bone,
And when we saw the dark profound
We crawled away to live in stone

And hiding there our fears grew worse
Until we severed all relations
Our kin in other caves we’d curse,
And every cave became a nation.

This stone conversion from above
Has failed for us, it’s stone we crave,
Mistaking loneliness for love,
Brutality for being brave

Is this the only space we’ll share?
A thousand caves with guns?
We’re cornered here ‘twixt wall and bear
And doves who mourn, “thou wilt be done.”

The Secret Harmony of Knowing Nothing

Certain experiences defy description. That is, the tacitly accepted stories that define reality are sometimes undermined by anomalous events.

Tacitly accepted stories are everywhere. They are as omnipresent as water to a fish, holding us in place, and often similarly invisible. That’s because we tend to accept the stories into which we were born as if they weren’t stories, but perfectly accurate descriptions of reality. Some people (a nasty phrase, see footnote Number 1 below) believe that this is necessary, and that the task of education is to indoctrinate children into holding tight to these stories, because these stories define shared identities and values. That’s why some people don’t want to teach children our full and honest history, preferring the white-washed versions that encourage a population’s willingness to maintain historical privileges. To some, the underlying story or philosophy (indoctrination) that drives them is the belief that “it’s a dog-eat-dog world”, a matter of might making right. And this tautology justifies the lies of omission and elision that hold the culture’s narrative in place. They say, see, every other culture does this too, so why should we give up our story and make ourselves weaker than the others?

So honesty becomes a dangerous thing. And this is why reflecting on things “philosophically” (which is merely being honest about the hidden philosophies driving us) is “not interesting” to most people. They might not admit this outright, but most people are frightened by questioning things too much. They don’t want to disturb the surface images that define their world. They’ve learned to fear reality, and conflate their own lives with the surface reflections they diligently (as good children) learned to embody, and this philosophy is called “being practical.”

Read More »

The Immaterial Origins of Life and Intelligence: an imaginary interview

 

Is the Self an illusion?

On one level I’d say no, because the Self is merely the means by which the body refers to itself. So the Self isn’t delusional from that perspective, because the word and image are grounded in a real referent (the body). However, this projection of a bodily image quickly morphs into a sense of Self that controls the body, or is trapped within the body, as if it were a spirit or separate entity. This is where the illusion starts.

The brain tends to be imagined as a seat of consciousness (also semi-independent from the rest of the body) – wobbling up there like a big, fat turkey on a telephone pole. But this image of a body/brain dichotomy easily morphs into a projection of an even more independent-seeming “mind” drifting above the body like a balloon on a long string. And this “mind” tends to become a synonym for the Self, which sits at its desk behind the eyes and acts like a CEO of the in-corporation, or an overlord of sorts. The varieties of imagery are endless. And even among atheists, this Self tends to take on the qualities of a “soul” as well, a lively essence possessing or inhabiting the body.

But these are not minds, Selves or souls, but merely images — masks that have lured this bodily intelligence into dreams of an autonomous existence over and above the comparatively material level of biology. They are deceptive illusions of minds and souls, illusions of identity.
Read More »

Coils and Spirals

This is a surreal comedy with a tinge of terror. It was based on a dream, and seems to have something to do with the state of the world, but also with writing itself — the difficulty of calling anyone’s attention to the Jungian shadows. Here’s a recording of me telling the story: 

—————————————————-

A while back I discovered a part of town I hadn’t known. This was odd because I live in a small city. We’re surrounded by farmer’s fields, they press upon the city walls. Farms and farms, their fumes invade every spring and summer, heralded by legions of pillaging flies, forcing our retreat block by block, week by week, until we find ourselves by August or September in the last green oasis for hundreds of pesticide-ravaged miles, which is the city park, a tangle of briars and downed trees, a green confusion which is never easy to find, perhaps never even in the same place.

I hesitated to say anything about my discovery for months, because I was afraid that the news would make me and everyone else who grew up here look stupid, misplacing, for god’s sake, an entire neighborhood.

Of course, my aunt ignored the gist of what I told her to resume arguing that we’ve not only lived here all our lives, but for all eternity. She repeated the argument daily, and said she was condemned to repeat it the next day, too. She would say time is a loop of dramas, sitcoms, tragedies, and other forms of farce, one following the other, the same characters, the same punch lines, but you’d need to have a perspective like hers, spanning billions of years, to notice that you’ve played these roles before. The theory alone was good enough to make my aunt feel trapped in a giant hamster wheel, panting for air. That was her preferred state of mind, anyways, favoring the stability of a known horror over any unsuspected risk, no matter how small, which is why the deep silos of her eyes glowed bloodshot red, and why she tirelessly scanned the world for confirmation of her worst fears, so she could blow them out of all proportion, and feel moderately relieved when her worry proved exaggerated.

It was a preemptive claustrophobia that rebounded in a momentary illusion of spaciousness.Read More »

The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict

Intro

Does this curve depict an abrupt change?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is picture-1.png

I think this is an unexpectedly meaningful question. It pertains to why human beings tend to differ so violently in our interpretations of reality; whether or not we can come to understand two divergent visions (of anything, even this simple arrow) simultaneously without conflict; or whether we’re forced to take sides and stick to our positions until one of us submits (i.e., plots revenge).

Even the resolution of this simple question depends on finding a view wider than the widest view of the question – not merely a wider interpretation, but an awareness that encompasses the limits (and therefore valid extent) of every interpretation that is encountered. (It’s always a little startling how this “negative awareness of limits” is precisely what adds clarity to an interpretation. Until I know the limits of something I don’t know it’s real shape and function. Two sides of the same coin).

(Whether the arrow describes something abrupt or gradual looks meaningless, I grant you. But I think it matters because climate catastrophe and political rebellions, are all nudging this civilization to an abrupt end, or at least to abrupt changes in direction. But we tend towards despair when we see the magnitude of change that’s necessary, which is why the gradual interpretation of change is still more popular, which means we’re not alert to the more optimistic possibility of rapidly shifting our whole approach to life. I suspect, in other words, that we get comfortable with an illusion of gentle progression, which shuts down the possibility of seeing a new potential for learning and changing astonishingly fast. So that’s probably why this feels like a necessary question, a way of waking myself up from this sleepwalk to extinction).Read More »

Preface to the Essay “The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict”

I’m tempted to apologize for the difficulty of the next essay. There are too many links between seemingly unrelated and perhaps even initially uninteresting or irrelevant ideas. For instance, there are links between the potential for abrupt psychological shifts, self-generated extinction, relativity and evolution. I don’t operate by rationally trying to link these disparate issues. An amorphous lump of loose ends (a chaos hiding an implicit order) involving these various issues grows into an uncomfortable tumor of churning thought. And it’s only when I sit down to write (or contrariwise, if I stumble into an alert and wordless frame of mind) that this amorphous conglomerate of disjointed issues begins to unravel and sort itself out into a more orderly arrangement.

Read More »