“This cursed first person, it is really too red a herring.”
“Keep going, going no, call that going, call that on”
Dear reader: In your presence, I find a wider vantage point, not just this isolated center drowning in a soup of conflict and useless chatter, which is myself. If I’m only talking to myself I get lost in my Self. But with three of us, there is space enough for reflection.
Writing adjusts the frequency of attention. I don’t believe in myself too literally when I write. I probe rather than believe. The personal voice becomes a transparent drama. So I can see the Self with less vested interest, which means a little more honestly. Here, chains of meaning are still too short to be declared a lively intelligence. I’m mostly stagnant immaturities, a primordial ooze. The brain is bubbling with small sentiences, the grim grammar of a force that can’t quite commit to living with a longer attention span.
But here there is space to make these broader linkages and begin crawling to solid ground.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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 »
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 »
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.
I wanted to write because I needed to bring some order to the swirling fog of my own experience. Not a belief system that pins thought down too tightly, but a lattice of sorts it can safely grow, so it knows its place and doesn’t keep sprawling chaotically like Kudzu over every aspect of life, drowning out the world in this relentless voice, which is perpetual self-deception.
It’s not easy to look for the source of this restlessness. It’s easier to find a job or some other way of occupying our thoughts at a safe level of magnification. It’s easier to focus on the practical necessities of navigating this crazy highway of life, a perpetual state of semi-emergency that becomes routine, but a tenuous routine that can’t afford to be interrupted by larger questions about the underlying infrastructure of belief we’re riding upon. Accept the crazy beliefs, the nationalism, the war-state, the cut-throat economic system, the values and goals this emergency approach to life forces on us — accept all that at face value and call our subjugation to this mad system of thought “a practical approach.”
(By the way, some people like to say that they’re not philosophers. Still, we’re all running on vast infrastructures of metaphysics unconsciously, in the same way that anyone driving on an interstate is unconsciously following the infrastructure of road-building ideas. We may not consciously reflect on why we’re heading in this or that direction, but our lives are following patterns of an infrastructure of belief nevertheless. So we may not be capable of understanding the descriptions of these philosophies, but they’re still under-girding the way we live).
The restlessness is the same for me, but the practical approach wasn’t helpful. And leaving behind the highway metaphor, the practical approach constructs a solid floor to everyday life, and all the restless energy of a constantly swirling brain gets kept in the crawlspace. Then it becomes a taboo or “simply uninteresting and pointless” to look beneath the floorboards at one’s own churning mind. And this is a clever tactic if all you want from life is the kind of happiness that remains circumscribed by a repressed turmoil. And what goes missing in life isn’t missed, because nobody misses what they don’t notice.
But still they compensate themselves for everything that gets left out by making an art out of the minutiae of life, appreciating the “little things” as you would admire a knick-knack shelf, but always remembering that what’s important are the practical necessities of maintaining this bubble of unconscious repression wherein happiness can reign. In fact, the rule is, don’t indulge in any larger questions, which tend to pry open the floor boards and release all sorts of religious and political demons that ruin dinner parties.
Now and then, of course, a few pressing questions and confusions nevertheless erupt from the floorboards and circle the brain in repetitive patterns all night like giant mosquitos. And until a distraction is found (a way to nail the boards down again), the person is forced to see themselves as powerless victims of these escaped thoughts. And this reinforces the conviction that our own turmoil is something external to us, a fact of nature that can’t change. That’s one of the strongest nails keeping the flooring in place: we’re helpless victims of our own brains, so ignore the brain and just focus on this nice little space we’ve created.
If any readers have made it this far then they also probably can’t ignore the racket from beneath the flooring any more than I can. The pursuit of happiness begins to feel like a shallow sitcom, devoid of all real adventure and danger.
So you and I (the nervous ones essentially) couldn’t follow their lead and rest comfortably while the floor kept popping and creaking all day. Every belief that was designed to nail down those loose boards — whether it was religious or patriotic or careerist beliefs — included the same taboo against questioning the framing, which made them feel deceptive.Read More »
Let me clarify the last essay, I think we can emerge from this trap of thought in time for the earth to heal. I do believe it, for what it’s worth. I’m not saying this as a spur to change, but as an observation of the nature of the problem itself. It’s not unresolvable.
We can change because the problem driving the world to the brink of collapse is a runaway imagination, thought that has no sense of itself as a creative fiction, which means we get fooled by all the red herrings that this imagination produces. Not just the usual evils such as status, power, money, but also suckered by all the well-intentioned solutions that are invented to counteract these evils.
However, we aren’t even coming close to realizing what this change demands from us. This is not the usual crisis we’re facing.
Every previous crisis in human history could be surmounted by applying our extraordinary capacity for imagination. This time we can’t.
Any species that develops this far in this direction would face the same dilemma. It’s a dangerous new power and we haven’t learned to use it in proper measure.
These dangers weren’t obvious over the vast course of human history. Population pressures weren’t enough to incite the imagination into hyperdrive. But as these pressures grew, more complicated products of the imagination appeared, such as agriculture, cities, governments, writing, and on and on. Products of the imagination became increasingly complicated, causing new problems faster than the imagination could be used to solve them. [Note, I have somewhat changed my mind on the inevitability of this problem, see comment below and “Notes on Closed and Open Views of Evolution”].
Essentially we entered into a predator/prey developmental relationship with our own imagination, inventing new forms to solve the problems caused by unforeseen complications arising in previous forms. And this has led to a logarithmic increase in products of the imagination and in the kinds of problems we face.
So up to this point we could say that we’ve only faced problems that the imagination was capable of solving, albeit by kicking the can of ever more complicated problems farther down the road. We are keeping one step ahead of a shadow that keeps growing larger and more menacing.
But now that road has shortened to a dead end. There is no room to kick the can anymore.
In other words, we’re beginning to realize that this two edged sword of imaginative development has grown into such a large sword that it’s going to kill us on the next swing.
Some don’t realize the implications of this development yet. They either fail to see the double-edged quality of so-called progress, concentrating only on the promises and not the perils of every new development of the imagination; or they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this is not a problem like previous problems. They can’t see that we’re engaged in a logarithmic growth in products of the imagination, and that this has become a momentum that imprisons us. Technology is a steroid in this development, but not the real problem. The problem isn’t merely that we work for machines now, and not vice versa. The underlying reason why we’re susceptible to this enslavement is because we were already trapped within the products of our imagination.