What We Lost (or How We Got Stuck): Part II of a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”

evolution cartoon

[Link to Part I, but you don’t need to read part I to understand this]

If I can look at my own history as a narrative with highs and lows, with periods of clarity and periods of confusion and frustration, then this also probably describes human history as well. Of course, this would contradict the typical historical narrative, which envisions nothing much happening in human development for almost all of our 200 or 300 thousand years, until the last few thousand years, when everything began to improve and become suddenly creative and “advanced”, thanks mostly to technology. This narrative ends up forcing us to look at earlier or less-technologically obsessed cultures as more primitive, and sometimes less intelligent or creative than we are now, as if our history was an escalator climb, and we’re standing quite a few floors above them now.

This picture of the past is a little too pat and conceited. It reminds me of the stages of human development envisioned by Ken Wilber and others (see “The Limits of Ken Wilber”). There’s insight in these stage development models, but the details seem to reflect patterns of development within a regressive culture. And this regression may tend to stretch individual development along lines of partial maturation. Slicing and dicing these stages of delay in our maturation is insightful, but when we begin to project these developmental patterns onto older cultures, I think we’re only repeating patterns of colonial conceit.

My inclination is to assume three fundamental stages of development, depicted in that old Zen saying – “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” I understand this to mean, first we see the world without the lens of language, a pre-linguistic directness. Then language begins to form an interpretive gauze over the mental eye, which is insightful, practical, and necessary for functioning in the world. But the gauze also begins to obscure the “mountain”. It’s the elongation of this second stage that most of these stage development models are elaborating upon (insightfully, this is not a criticism, but a different angle to consider). Near the conclusion of this stage, post-modern insights such as “everything is language” or “there is no ‘thing’, only ‘thought’” erupt. Here, reality itself begins to seem doubtful. A kind of derealization crisis takes place. They can see that there is no mountain without the idea of a “mountain”. But the eruption of a third stage, which is actually not so much a stage, as a gateway into a larger form of life, erupts when the post-modern insight is completed, and the insight that “everything is a story” no longer stops us from seeing the mountain again. Now we’re no longer blinkered by our necessary interpretations. We can cease interpreting the world from the outside (when interpretations are not needed), and no longer relate to the mountain like an alien visitor. Now we “know” the mountain, not merely as a practical idea (all the time), but as an unnamable portion of eternity, a portion of our own fathomless Being.Read More »

The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict

Intro

Does this curve depict an abrupt change?

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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 »

Notes on the Difference Between Closed and Open Views of Evolution: or why machine intelligence will fail

 

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 »

Cliff Diving: The Dangerous Leap into Suspension and Proprioceptive Flight

Photo from Groundtruthtrekking.org

I’m forced to decipher the order that is slowly unfolding on its own. That is, this isn’t really an inquiry through words or logic of a thinking mind, but a way for words and logic to catch up with a wider perspective than a thinking mind can know.

It’s as if something non-rational is trying to recalibrate the rational mind so that it doesn’t block access to a larger perception.

And I’m not sure of my role as a speaker entirely. The speaker seems to be necessary in some way, but it’s not central to what is happening. Currently it seems to function mostly as a filter, to help organize certain features of reality into a workable personal relationship to the world.

But this worked-out relationship to the world – not only this sense of Self, but also everything this form of Self demands, such as power, prestige, and economic and national systems to promote all that – is leading to self-destruction.

The culture keeps looking for new ways to improve the filtering function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, improve the moral quality of this fictional approach to the world); and we also keep looking for ways to improve the economic and national systems designed to promote the function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, we keep looking for social solutions to this psychic and spiritual crossroads).

In other words, we keep employing one of two main ways to handle the approaching apocalypse: 1) Try to improve one’s Self; and 2) try to improve the culture that promotes the Self.

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The Schizophrenic Crisis

This appeared in Dissident Voice.

I’m not looking at schizophrenia for the moment as a sickness, but as a more or less inevitable development or consequence of a species that refines thought to such an extent that it becomes confused by its own images and beliefs and mistakes them for reality itself.

Conclusive certainty or dogma would be an obvious symptom of this crisis – a crisis which may have begun several thousand years ago and is only now approaching its ‘do or die’ moment: Learn this lesson or perish.

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Extinction and Responsibility: Why Climate Disaster Might Heal Us Even As it Kills Us

catastrophe

This appeared on Counterpunch.

Alice O’keeffe: “Even if we can’t escape its consequences, it is not too late to escape the mindset that brought us here.”

If climate disaster has left us with no future do we still feel responsible to the earth that outlives us? Or do we say “who cares?”

If we say “who cares?” then our sense of responsibility was never anything more than a moral rule, a business deal of sorts, where we agreed to behave honorably as long as we were allowed to project our egos into future generations. But I think real empathy for a world without us is still possible, and I think it matters in some way that can’t be calculated on a strictly transactional basis.

The possibility of near-term extinction is new, but the underlying dilemma this presents is as old as the Big Bang, or older. Death is death. It comes to the individual as surely as it comes to the species, the planet, and the exploding universe itself. What’s different now is only this onrushing inability to avoid facing this fact. And I think this is a good thing, because it forces a confrontation with the many reductive delusions that have limited our creative participation in the world, which is our responsibility to something more than ourselves. The chief among these limitations has been a strict and too literal image of who we are, an identity that keeps us trapped in a solipsistic circle.Read More »