In the last essay I seemed to compare people to primordial mud. Of course, I wrote it as a comedy, which is to say, the entire essay is excessively optimistic about people, and is only making a generously indulged joke on behalf of a gifted species at the verge of developing into a new form of life and intelligence. But if people approach it pessimistically (I don’t see how they can, given the parameters of my essays in general), then it would be received as ridicule. But I was writing this in resonance with Beckett’s approach. He also tempts people to read him pessimistically. But everything he wrote was a double-entendre. A different kind of humor is revealed when you discover his hidden optimism.
These essays presume several optimistic things (and I don’t expect agreement and I’m not looking for debate, only the willingness to entertain the angle of vision as long as it lasts):
1) that human beings are troubled, but gifted animals; and
2) That human beings are at the verge of realizing a new form of intelligence, a new way of being.
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.”
Careful how you move. The beginning is always treacherous. Here the pattern is established. The ink dries fast.
I don’t even know yet whom I’m addressing or what I am, but already a momentum has been established in these notes, an artificial destiny of sorts that I can’t trust entirely, nor will I try to dissipate this cloud of uncertainty by framing it prematurely. Something is evolving here that can’t be shaped intentionally, but which is nevertheless shaped by how honestly I attend its birth. So what pushes the evolution towards a beginning, middle and end?
The beginning is found in these clouds of uncertainty, ghosts of ideas dissipating before they take clear shape, pareidolic in nature, the dust of thought suspended in the oblique light of a dawning concern, over-heated in some ways, to be sure, the Brownian Motion of listless thoughts resolving into more heated currents of desire and fear, the twisting smoke from the cooling coal of a brain, shrapnel from the Big Bang, recapitulating the evolution that had no destiny either, perhaps, and like spilled ink pouring out of a black hole, something forms, and then it looks inevitable, but it never was.
Language is my morning cup of acid. The psychedelics of language turning this perfectly transparent day into an opaque mass that can be molded into a figurine through which I see the reflection of a mind emerging as if it were destiny. Read More »
Maybe what I’m really after in speaking of an imaginary “you” and “Me” is a rapport with these persistent thoughts of self and other, these imaginary beings that occupy center stage in life. I’m not interested in being a writer, it’s not my career. But in looking at the dishonesty of thought honestly I’m dealing with a communal mess. And part of the resolution of a communal mess will necessarily involve communication of this sort.
Writing provides the opportunity for an elongated span of attention on these matters. But it’s not the only way to approach all this. So it’s not about writing, it’s about the communal movement of thought. In any communicative case (speaking, fighting, using sign language, doing math) the same issue looms that I was trying to contend with — what to do about the self-image that insists on acting like a middle-man at all times, even poking its ugly little head between two embracing lovers more often than not in the form of anxieties and worries. This spoiled brat of thought has to be the center of attention and is constantly driven by insecurities, because it is by nature a deception, a projection posing as a reality.
So the question tends to be, how do I look at thought honestly knowing full well that a fictitious “I” or “me” will inevitably intrude on the scene demanding to play a central role?
There are a million ways to handle this and all have been tried in these essays, with varying effects. The one is to do what is being done in this paragraph, which is to refuse to use personal language and speak from the third person’s perch.
Short story posted in Subtle Mud, called Kingswit.
In a post-apocalyptic world, but one where ecosystems have regained their balance and people have become scarce, shy of technology, shy of one another, shamed perhaps, three travelers come upon a man they know vaguely from various encampments. He was a man people avoided as if he had rabies — he was sick with the disease of mind that had destroyed the world. They could recognize that easily. The man had been brutally beaten and left paralyzed by wandering tribes, who are themselves susceptible to the old disease. One of the three travelers stays with the paralyzed man for a few days, until he puts him out of his misery. And it’s about the guilt this causes, the poisons it stirs to the surface.
Sometimes I wonder if this is a different earth, if there were no survivors after all, and this is all there is to the great beyond. I think the survivors walked through a curtain of some kind and everything smells and feels differently now. The earth has grown larger again, too vast for a journey of several lifetimes. That’s what happens in the absence of technology. A weary, wary and quiet anarchy reigns now.
Now and then you pass an outpost where they still use a diesel truck to drag tree trunks; but most of them have become rusty bones hidden in the brush.
There’s almost a taboo about technology now. It holds the embers of the previous world.
There are only a handful of people for every 3 days journey. People are shy, an inherited shame I think. Maybe in other places the power vacuum has been filled by warlords. But in my experience nobody wants that kind of power now. Power is another ember of that lost world.
Three mind-blowing facts about the minds of bees and flies: 1) lonely flies get drunk; 2) bees are optimistic or pessimistic based on life experience; and 3) flies and bees have sleep patterns reminiscent of REM and Deep sleep stages
Here’s the key quote, which is a perfect summary of what I meant by 1) Negative Knowledge and 2) the positive movement of thought, which can result in a swing towards Literalism and all the vicious circles this confusion and self-deception inevitably generates; or it can swing towards a swifter, metaphoric mentality, as long as negative awareness keeps the positive aspects of thought in check (not controlled, but stripped of self-deception perhaps):
Bohm: “… in physics you could use a measuring instrument in 2 ways, the positive and the negative. Like an electric current, you can measure. You can measure the current by the swing of the instrument. Or you can use it in what is called the Wheatstone Bridge, where the reading you look for is a null reading; a null reading indicates harmony or balance of the 2 sides as it were. So if you are using the instrument negatively, then the non-functioning of the instrument is the sign that it is working right. Could we say the brain may have used thought positively to make an image of the world… K: which is the function of thought … B: …One of the functions of thought. The other function of thought is negative, which is to indicate non-harmony….”
I have no memory of Bohm saying this, but it obviously made an impact because the entire Negative Geography project is based on that very observation above. Interesting to me, and worth noting as a matter of record.
Kant described that “pathless land” (that “negative geography”) as a freedom to speak for oneself, trusting one’s own intelligence. And this implied that science at its best recognizes that its theories remain shadows on Plato’s cave. At its best science is attentive to deviations from what is believed to be real. And not in the way Karl Popper conceived of falsification, which is still reductive in its quest for a perfect theory. But rather, at its best science remains alert to what is “false in the true, and true in the false”, as Krishnamurti phrased it.
Creationists have an especially hard time with this. A mentality alert to anomalies in what is true and false doesn’t have a vested interest in defending its stories. The theories of science are not weak because they’re perpetually changing. They’re intended as provisional sketches of a universe wildly erring from anything we imagine. Or as the physicist Hans-Peter Dürr phrased it, “Science also speaks only in parables.”Read More »
I’ve been tremendously inspired of late by The Negative Psychologist — a doppelganger of Neg. Geo it seems. In every essay he finds a way to draw attention away from the conceptual level and back to what is actually happening in our heads (the function of thinking, as opposed to the abstract content of thought. Which is to say it tends towards “proprioception.”) Somehow he casually side-steps the trap of knowledge accumulation (of constructing an ego).
In his work I find countless heuristics in the form of amusingly critical observations. And his observations have a lovely sense of humor, a bemused detachment. “Ken and Barby Land”, for instance, makes me laugh. It describes that diabolically mundane work-a-day wold, the superficial world of constructs and images. This is from Gaining Perspective”, by The Negative Psychologist:
Such a mental condition might be called ‘Ken and Barbie land’, and another fitting image is that of the ‘Stepford Wives’. The scary thing is that, if we had our own way, we would probably opt for this as a full-time mode of being because it is so very ‘non-challenging’. We love not to be challenged. Easy is good! Easy is good! If you do not believe this, then just watch yourself for a day or two and see where your head is at for most of the time – are you in one of your various comfort zones (in the realm of the known), or are you somewhere new, somewhere challenging?