Why the Restoration of the Prism Is Not a Matter of Will

How do we restore the prismatic flow to human culture without forcing it, without imposing our will from the top down?

The personal lens has mainly become psychotic in this culture, blocking access to wider views. And if we learn to change without force on a narrow or personal level – without introducing this divisive top-down mentality when we’re alone — then there is no other obstacle to a communal and cosmic clarity.

So what I write about are the aspects of a new vision that are wavering for me personally. I’m inconsistently accessing a clear personal lens. But I’m learning things from these wavering encounters with (specifically from these failures to retain) a new mind. Every failure reveals the nature of the confusion. (One thing I learn is it’s not “my mind”. The system of thought is a shared system of tracks for trains of thought. So whatever I learn about this situation on a personal level is applicable to everyone else (and vice versa, what you learn)). And writing is one way for a span of attention to widen enough to discover the underlying system of switches (so to speak), which keep the personal trains of thought circling on a narrow gauge, falling for the delusion that they’re running on an isolated system of tracks. And this attention repairs or alters those switches, releasing this human energy from that self-centric circularity and allowing the human (shared) mind to rediscover a wider fluidity of movement between the narrow, the mid-range and the long views.

This is important: the personal point of view is not a truly independent being. It’s a story from the microscopic point of view. The communal lens is a story from the shared, communal point of view. And the cosmic lens is a little different (as I tried to show in Part IV, “What Is Radically New”).  We need cosmic stories (myths and theories), but not as a primary point of access to the cosmic. The cosmic is mainly contacted by negation (by the realization that all of our myths and theories are cartoons of “something more” that can never be known in any conclusive sense). The cosmic lens can only be accessed when we’re in a non-Literal or metaphoric state of mind, whereby the Self is also felt as a cartoon depiction of something beyond the reach of knowledge. In other words, the Self here is not seen as an actual source of this life, but only as a cartoon representation of the whole from a microscopic perspective.


We Don’t Change by Trying to Change (there’s no top-down change)

We don’t change by trying to change. (The moment we have the urge to change ourselves, something already changed. And this urge arose in us spontaneously, without knowing how, without making a decision – the decision is the result of change, not the cause). The reason a “decision to change” sometimes seems to help arouse energy is because the “decision to change” is a kind of microscopic myth or creed that gives us an illusion of something we can trust as a crutch.

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Why Honesty Is Not a Moral Value: Conclusion (let’s call it) to a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

But the cosmic vision can’t replace the narrow vision or the mid-range vision. We need to move freely between all three vantage points in order to scan the world as honestly as possible. So it’s a nested hierarchy of perception, where the cosmic puts the narrower communal and personal vantage points in their proper place. Without this fluidity of perception, our limited stories lose that tether to reality and become deceitful to the point of self-destruction.

Refusing to see the world honestly is the quickest way to be killed.

For instance, we could call this a dangerous world or we could call this an evil world. Both would be fictions. But the first one is more consistent with life in a wilderness, and we’re always living at the edge of a wilderness, because life always exceeds the idea, because they are two different substances, and never the twain shall meet

As in any earthly wilderness, it’s best to approach the unknown as a danger, but not as an evil. If we were to live by the fiction that the woods are evil, then the animals we encounter would increasingly live up to that billing. This is how schizophrenia becomes so convincing. The world responds to our stories, whether they’re honest or deceptive stories. Even positive thinking is deceptive. What it produces is a false front, a positive deception. Even if we’re not technically schizophrenic, the same principle exists. An “evil” interpretation would corner the beings we encounter into living up to that billing – they’d sense our fear aggression and respond in kind, seeing us as a threat — or they’d simply refrain from helping the flailing and drowning world (Chomsky’s Martians, for instance) and let it drown.

But if we approach the wilderness as dangerous, but not evil, then we’ll be able to notice other non-aggressive qualities in our fellow animals, and learn to avoid provoking them. We might learn to become friends with some of them, as we did in befriending wolves and wild cats.

The world responds to our stories. The deceptive stories can be too rose-colored as well. If we approached the wilderness as a paradise of love, we’d blind ourselves to the dangerous potentials that are also there and not live long either.

The problem with the bullshit of “positive thinking” is that the naively rose-tinted glass-wearers end up eaten.

But – and this we don’t acknowledge enough — the same is true for the cynics, for the ash-tinted glass-wearers (who think positively still, but only in dark directions). We give the cynics far too much credit for a “worldly intelligence” they Do Not Possess. They also end up provoking a world that eats them. It’s the naïve Literalism, the ignorant certainties, the stupid belief in something called “non-fiction”, which is the deeper problem. The problem is a lost perceptual fluidity. 

Somehow the breath-taking significance of this is lost on most of us most of the time. We don’t see the implications of what we’ve discovered here. This discovery of a prismatic capacity to see everything as honest fictions erases the need for conflict. And this relationship to fiction shows us how it’s possible to move through the world as blindly as Helen Keller, knowing nothing in a positive sense, tapping the canes of our metaphors and stories to obtain negative information (tap, there’s an obstruction, tap, there’s a limit to our metaphor, tap, change direction), and from that negative flow of information, we re-design our theories, stories, myths and metaphors, with no intention of finding conclusion, except perhaps in limited fields of inquiry, and even these may alter radically as more dots of data emerge, and this underlying uncertainty allows us to “keep going” deeper and deeper into this weird, miraculous and unfathomable world.

What Is Radically New: Part IV of a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”

first there is a mountain

“…theory is largely a game of make-believe in which we pretend, just for the sake of argument, that there’s just one thing going on: essentially we reduce everything to a cartoon so as to be able to detect patterns that would be otherwise invisible… One must simplify the world to discover something new about it. The problem comes when, long after the discovery has been made, people continue to simplify” (The Dawn of Everything).

Part I

Part II

Part III

Re-Discovering a Non-Dogmatic Cosmic Vision

Is it possible to think outside these national and supra-national controlling bodies on a communal level, while also relating to the cosmos outside the boundaries of any religious doctrines and beliefs (which are reductive surrogates of a cosmic perspective)?

A non-dogmatic approach to the cosmic perspective is one of the main themes of the Negative Geography inquiry. But I’ll try to approach it somewhat differently here.

If we were asked to imagine a cosmic perspective many of us would probably feel cornered into selecting one or another Ism or scientific theory or any conclusive opinion, whether rose-colored or ash-tinted. Or we might use vague terms like I used — “the whole” or “the cosmos”. Anything we conceive would amount to a cartoonish summary of something that can’t be pictured as a whole, because in picturing the whole we pretend to stand outside this conception in order to grasp it. In its place we relate to a singular projection of our imagination, which is separate from the observer, therefore a fragmented vision, not a real experience of wholeness.

We can’t picture, grasp or describe a cosmic perspective. It becomes a matter of faith. But there is blind faith in ideas, constructs, conclusions, dogmas. And there is a kind of “activated” faith that is creedless, that is “proven” by default, by running into our own limits and realizing that there is always something larger and more profound in the world. We don’t know what it is, but there is a kind of clear-minded faith that develops in what exceeds us.

I mean, even a cynic who doesn’t believe in “the whole of life” is summarizing the whole of life as non-existent. That is, we’re all forced to account for the cosmic lens one way or another, whether we want to admit it or not. Some fill it in with wishful thinking or cynicism, and some with scientific theories.

But is the cosmic perspective activated by filling it with words and ideas? Doesn’t this reduce the cosmic vision to a narrower and more static form?

Or is the cosmic dimension precisely that area of life that can’t be filled, that is constantly overflowing every container we try to build. If so, then the cosmic lens is precisely that state of mind which remains open-ended and uncertain.

The cosmic view, in other words, can be felt as a relationship to this solid limit in our understanding. It’s a vision wider than the widest view, because it detects the limits of every positive attempt to frame it. So there’s no need for a positive cosmic creed, only this direct experience of “something more”, something constantly escaping our grids of understanding (which I’m calling Negative Knowledge).Read More »

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 »

Life, Death and Extinction: Part I of a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”

butterfly

I can’t understand the relationship (if any) between progress, growth and evolution. They’re entangled, but not equivalent.

The importance of this question will become clear – it’s not an academic issue, but a matter of life, death and extinction.

Let’s just play with this a moment.

(By the way, I refuse to “get to the point”. That’s because everything we “know” only describes a particular spectrum or color or frequency of the issue. We discover as many meaningful angles as possible by spinning the prism of perception around the issue (and around and around). This form of learning doesn’t tend towards conclusion (or points), but is constantly shifting its orientation as we learn, without end. I do this in honor of the Iroquois, on whose land I live. Talking around a subject until there is consensus by communion, not by force).

If pressed, most historians would probably agree that evolution is not equivalent to progress, improvement, advancement or any other comparative terms in any conclusive sense. We might say that a new species is better adapted to a particular niche, but outside that niche the species would no longer qualify as more advanced.

As the environmental situation shifts, the skills and intelligence we need also shift, forcing us to lose capacities in one direction while developing them in another. So every new skill reaches a point of diminishing returns. Every medicine becomes a poison.

This balanced lateral movement of development and decline is part of evolution. So evolution can’t be conflated with improvement or progress alone. Something needs to die in order for something new to emerge (See “Giving Up and Going On”). This is why we resist change, the half-felt realization that one way or another, if we change, we’ll stop being who we thought we were. Of course, we could also project our identity into the new form of humanity that might emerge and come away feeling optimistic. But the projection of personal identity may be the very quality that the new species drops in order to enter into a wider relationship with the world. So who we think we are ends here one way or another.

When notions of evolution tie themselves too closely to notions of continual advancement we forget to watch for signs of death and decline. Evolution isn’t impressed by big brains, if those brains aren’t capable of changing direction (which requires death). So let’s distinguish extinction from death. There is no evolution without death. For those who change, the old form dies. But extinction is when the old form is entirely eliminated, and no new form crawls out of the tarpit in its place. Extinction is the absence of life and death.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.”

Coils and Spirals

 

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 »

Conversation with the Devil


Interviewer (I): just to clarify, this was your idea, I’ve asked nothing from you. There’s no Faustian bargain I’m facing?

Devil: That’s right, your soul is safe. From me, at least.

I: There are other dangers than you?

Devil: Well, I’m not sure how safe it is to believe in God, because we’re intimately tied. I’m His shadow. Anything with a shadow like me isn’t entirely safe.

I: How would I know if you’re telling me the truth about any of this?

Devil: I’m not asking you to trust me, the ones who trust are foolish. I’m appealing to your intelligence, which is foolish maybe on my part. But if I wasn’t capable of being honest I’d only be able to deceive the fools, and what fun is there in that?

I: So your honesty implies an ulterior motive?

Devil: Yes, of course. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of being a deceiver who never tells a lie, even a lie of omission. Can I deceive you by being honest?

I: But if you’re using honesty to deceive me then you’re not really being honest are you?

Devil: That’s true, I’m banned from the realms of honesty, so I don’t know what honesty really is. And yet everything I say is truthful, I’m not hiding anything from you. If you ask me whether I’m deceiving you in some way I’ll even admit that. Nothing I say is a lie, but it’s not good enough. Hell isn’t so hot, you know, it’s an unbearable condition. But somehow it’s also what I want, do you see what I mean? I want to deceive you. The honest state, the heavenly state, makes me sick, it repulses me. That’s what it means to be banned from heaven, to be repulsed by it. But the deceptions repulse me too. So I have nowhere to lie my head.

I: You don’t know your own motives then?

Devil: Not all of them, no. I’m bored with deception, it’s never quite real, you know what I mean? I don’t like being locked out of any kingdom. If all I can do is live in fictions then I’m not real. I’m attracted to Truth as a moth to flame.

I: Are you saying that the truth destroys you, that you seek what destroys you? Are you trying to commit suicide by Cop, so to speak?

Devil: Am I doing God’s work by trying to destroy myself, in other words? Maybe, but I don’t feel that virtuous. Personally, I want nothing, but I want nothing passionately. I want to annihilate the world. I want to commit suicide by murdering God, leaving the world in the neutrality of non-existence so I don’t have to regret or long for anything ever again. But I can’t even be sure because I lie to myself. Lies are the worms of my living corpse. I can’t escape them, and they’re unbearable. I need someone to confirm this pain, so that I can feel real. I suppose you need to suffer for my sins.

I: You seem more confused than I expected.

Devil: I’m the roiling hell of fragmentation, what did you expect? But there are so many kingdoms that form within this mass, within me, momentary kingdoms that I inhabit, where all is calm and sweet, so that I begin to wonder if I’m not in fact the whole of creation itself, God Himself if you will, creating worlds out of chaos. Is it possible?

I: You would trap me in an answer that looks reasonable.

Devil: No, I was just wondering. If I’m unable to enter that other kingdom, then how do I know it exists? Have I invented God in order to make a distinction that grants me the space to Be? Is hell this solipsism? I don’t expect you to answer this, but these are the motives that drive me to capture souls, to share my torment. But enough of this metaphysical speculation. I’m on steadier ground when I discuss my practical methods of capture.

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The Greatest Paradox: Why Change is Possible but Why We Can’t Change on Purpose

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.

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Optimistic Despair: Why there Are No Real Problems in the World, and What to Do About It

“Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still”

“Ash Wednesday”, Eliot

There is no problem with the world. Only thought makes problems. Every single human problem is only the result of how we imagined things in a crazy way.

Life does have challenges, but every stubbornly knotted predicament, such as mass hunger, war, greed, selfishness itself (internecine competition), are responses to a problematic way of imagining things.

Dropping bombs is not a quality of the earth itself or of life itself, but only a quality of human imagination. War doesn’t exist until we imagine borders, identities, competitive economic systems, hierarchy and status. Mass starvation doesn’t exist until we imagine competition, ownership, and hierarchies that undermine sensible ways of distributing food, as well as monocultural, soil-depleting, destructive ways of growing food.

Even selfishness itself is only a radicalized response to the world, not a quality of the world or of humans by nature. As soon as we begin to imagine the world, and create stories to make sense of it, we have left behind a static vision of human nature and have entered the realm of an infinite plasticity. We can’t hide behind the excuse of nature. Nature is not causing our problems. The imagination is doing that.

Our needs are not problems either. I’ve heard people say that testosterone is a terrible chemical. But testosterone is not a problem. It’s the way this natural energy, this necessary desire, gets perverted into bizarre shapes by our vision of the world, our ways of thinking.

The need for shelter, love, food and sex doesn’t necessitate the problems of identity (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). The infamous seven deadly sins derive directly from a staked identity (from taking our self concepts too seriously). These seven varieties of selfishness are only secondary qualities of the way we’ve fetishized those simple necessities through an overpowerful or too literal sense of identity. A fetish arises only because something has gone haywire in the way we imagine ourselves and our relation to the world.

But the earth itself, life itself, has no problems, only challenges. These challenges are presented to us open-endedly. How we respond to the conditions of life is up to us.

This is why it’s a waste of time and energy to try solving human political, social and technical problems one at a time. Problems are only getting more complicated because we’re empowering illusions by trying to solve them. It’s the imagination that has to be resolved (clarified). We have to unearth our own compulsion of making a fetish out of simple necessities, step out of the momentum driving us to imagine ourselves in such isolated and alienating forms, as if we were each individually the center of the universe.

By spending so much energy working to solve specific problems we spread the virus of fetishistic thinking, which merely grows the canopy of problems and never digs towards that root, which is in our confused relationship to the imagination.

Turning attention to thought is far more practical and leads to far quicker changes than attending to every problematic symptom of thought. The practical approach to life is sleepwalking into a maze of ever-growing problems.

Looking more honestly at our confused relationship to the imagination is the only chance.

But chance for what? For personal salvation? Hardly.

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