Soul Possession

img_20190101_0740554066751106643737295.jpgIt’s easy to see how the capitalism of an economy structures the dynamics between people and sociopolitical relationships within a culture, particularly with an emphasis on people and resources in service of production and economic growth, rather than an economy in service of the people. When understood as one of the dynamics driving, not only outer relationships, but inner realms as well, we might wonder in what ways the economy shapes our notions of self and other.

As the exchange of money drives such a large part of how we survive, giving access to all of the necessities to sustain one’s existence, does it not also permeate our identities by requiring a response to one’s relationship to the economic cultural norms? For what facet of life remains untouched by the economic system that we have so little choice but to “buy in to?” Doesn’t the agreement that “nothing is free” now demand that we participate in the scheme as producers, but not of the goods themselves, but of the economy?

No longer do we work in service of the necessities that sustain us, but in service of money itself and the myriad, abstract forms of goods in exchange. Credit, insurance, stock market, loans, investments are hardly, if ever associated directly with the goods, but have also become things to purchase. The goods and services that we purchase have become in some sense, secondary, reliant on affording and financing their ownership. They are the reward, or prize, granted us for our buying in to the system. The gratification of ownership must draw us in for the economy to “work.”

James Hillman, in his essay, A Contribution to Soul and Money,” likens the psychology of money to the sea, “deep and broad as the ocean, the primordial unconscious…” where it “…makes us so.”

Money is as protean as the sea-God himself…

Money is like the id itself, the primordially repressed, the collective unconscious appearing in specific denominations, that is, precise quanta or configurations of value, i.e., images. Moneys are the riches of Pluto in which Hades’ psychic images lie concealed. To find imagination in yourself or a patient, turn to money behaviors and fantasies. You both will soon be in the underworld (the entrance to which requires a money for Charon).*

Mynt_-_Skoklosters_slott_-_100291.tifIf money takes us deep into the underworld, and we live, as Hillman also believed, by an economically driven myth, who are we in the story? As I write this essay, I am struck not only by how readily economically flavored language and metaphor appear, but how these same terms have gained currency in other facets of life. In particular, the idea of ownership is not only an economic term, but a psychological one. The word has a curious history relating to the word, possession:

From Wiki: Own (v.)

c. 1200, ouen, “to possess, have; rule, be in command of, have authority over;” from Old English geagnian, from root agan “to have, to own” (see owe), and in part from the adjective own (q.v.). It became obsolete after c. 1300, but was revived early 17c., in part as a back-formation of owner (mid-14c.), which continued. From c. 1300 as “to acknowledge, admit as a fact,” said especially of things to one’s disadvantage. To own up “make full confession” is from 1853. Related: Ownedowning.

Laborers_sorting,_weighing,_and_stacking_cabbages_at_the_Beach_and_Parker_Farm-_Elkton,_Florida_(3312106508)In an earlier time, it’s likely that there wasn’t enough “ownership,” in the way of personal property, for the term to be used in an economic context. That the connotation was negative shows how the idea has transformed over time as the modern myth of economy took root. The word “economy” relates to the idea of household and thrift which also saw an expanded usage in the 17th century as something applicable to the State.

What’s curious to me is the correlation between the emphasis of an idea that we might take for granted; that of the self as individual, separate, unique and free – as in not belonging to an other – as outcomes of the construct of an economy; its language, ideas and functionality, both of which have imposed upon us, a particular way of understanding the nature of the individual in economic terms. But which shall we say came first? Is this a chicken and egg situation? Perhaps.

I tend to think that the change in a style of consciousness was the catalyst that allowed for increasingly abstract ways of thinking about power and potential, in which the combination of the ideas of growth, separation and expansion, took hold of the modern psyche. But in this instance, the particular change in a style of consciousness is the move away from a polytheistic world where the gods’ and nature’s power once controlled and determined our fate, towards a monotheistic world, where the gods of old have been supplanted by an increasingly transcendent God. As God transcends, power shifts back to earth, embedded in the hopes and dreams that rational science provides.

The problem with growth and expansion appear if we then begin to mistake the means as the goal. Instead of an economy with soul, where value resides in what brings beauty to life, growth and expansion make a psychological claim on us, where it can be seen to reflect an underlying dynamic of the need for increasing power and control over individual destiny. This shift not only enhances the sense of oneself as distinct and separate, and therefore accountable, but through a hierarchical dynamic tends to reward those who adapt to the shift.

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Those who adapt, learn to live by the metaphors of ownership and possession, where individuality as the core idea, shapes modern identity. It’s infectious, as all ideas are that seem to bring about immediate reward and gratification. Once the psychological shift infiltrates the collective, technology, as the means to increased survival and comfort, furthers the rewards of personal identity, as our value and identity begins to merge with what we own. But as well, as individuals, the culpability for one’s behavior, choices and possessions increases the need for protection through yet another purchase: insurance.

This dynamic is still very much in play as we moderns now argue over who is responsible for both personal and collective messes we find ourselves in.  Ironically, through the successes of technology, abstracted into a love of money for its own sake, the goal becomes the assurance of means, rather than in the value of the things themselves. Here we finally see money completely devoid of both soul and value.

Perhaps the more that money itself loses soul – devalued and devoid of a connection to the divine – the more its use is corrupted, in the same way that amassing a mountain of things, deflate both their value and meaning. I agree with Hillman, who sees that it is not money itself that is the problem, but the loss of its connection to soul and value, as can often be witnessed through one’s relationship to money.

As long as our belief system inherently depreciates money, it will always threaten the soul with value distortions. Depressions, inflation, bad credit, low interest – these psychological metaphors have hardened into unconscious economic jargon. Having “de-based” money from its archetypal foundations in psychic reality, money attempts a new literal and secular foundation for itself as “the bottom line.” But this bottom does not hold, because any psychic reality that has been fundamentally depreciated must become symptomatic, ‘go crazy,’ in order to assert its fundamental archetypal autonomy.

In conclusion, I would add that the ways in which culture structures itself, readily seen in the shared public places of commerce and the daily grind of our personal routines, reflect back to us the nature of a shared psychic reality. As the structures in place appear to tumble into chaos, and we feel our discontent mount, perhaps some shift within us calls more deeply to find value in the hidden beauty, as a pearl residing both within ourselves and in others.

*Un less otherwise noted, all quotes: James Hillman, Soul and Money Spring Publications

 

Zeus and Hera: Images of a Divine Syzygy

Zeus

“He was a sky god, associated with wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, and was the master of spiritual phenomena, since it was the spirit realm that was signified by the sky and the manifestations of the weather. He was a carrier of justice and judgment, an embodiment of law and the punisher of transgression of the law, accomplished by the hurling of the thunderbolt. He was the personification of creative energy, which constantly spilled out and had an unceasing urge to impregnate, hence his perpetual love affairs.” Edward Edinger, The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology

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In Edinger’s description of Zeus, we see the image of a powerful masculine ruler of the heavens. Although Zeus is still one of many gods, he is both leader and creator of the pantheon. And just as importantly, we see Zeus’ engagements with his wife, Hera, not as his compliment, but as a shadowy cohort. And although Zeus and Hera are said to be married, the relationship seems less relational and more pro-generative. Zeus is much less interested in a relationship with Hera, but rather a preoccupation with the power to endlessly create through the continual love affairs outside of his marriage. In the realm of the gods, we may see these creative urges as saying less about the familial, and more about the archetypal urge towards expansion through creative reproduction, or differentiating and articulating the One through the diversity of the Many.

Edinger’s own words, in which he declares Zeus as he who “…comes closest of all the members of the Pantheon to embodying the whole Self,” we see an obvious bias, still with us today, towards a preference for a more masculine style of consciousness. Hera, on the other hand, as the feminine divine, is somehow a necessary accomplice and more of a saturnine threat of imprisonment that spurs on Zeus’ impulse for freedom. If the stories of the gods are expressions of particular styles of consciousness, we are glimpsing the ways in which Western civilization values the initiatory force of masculine power, while reducing the value of the feminine, as that which induces fear in the masculine, of time-bound constraint, and the threat of limitation. Is then, the masculine impulse a prerequisite for creative action that requires an abandoned shadowy feminine? If so, is this dynamic the springboard from which Western Civilization arose?

We might pause here to remind ourselves when considering ideas about mythology to see them not so much as literal figures representing male and female, or even as ways to understand male and femaleness, but as powers of the psyche whose dynamics take hold of the cultural imagination and live through us, sanctified, although sometimes shadowy collective influences. As dynamics, these traits persist, even where individuals themselves may more or less incorporate them within a particular lifetime.

“There are long lists of the lovers of Zeus, and by and large they had an unhappy time of it. Hera, personifying the feminine embodiment of the Self, was fiercely opposed to these dalliances, and would often punish Zeus’ lovers. For example, Zeus fell in love with the beautiful Io and then turned her into a white cow so that she could escape Hera’s detection. This ruse failed and Hera set gadflies after her which, stinging, pursued her around the world.”

Edinger, Edward F.. The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology

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Rather than the separate dynamics of masculine and feminine, aren’t we though, seeing a syzygy  within the relationship between Zeus and Hera? And, in what ways do these dynamics reassemble within our own modes of modern day consciousness? Although there’s no denying that the archetypes play out between actual men and women, and that men and women are afforded different degrees of power by virtue of their physical nature and social-political norms, can we also see the ways in which all of us have inherited a portion of Zeus’ quest for power, and Hera’s jealous ploys to address or balance the excess? For if as Jung states, the gods have become diseases, surely this syzygy is one of them! The more a Zeus-like excess threatens to destroy the world as we know it, the more outrageous the response of Hera’s house-holding economics becomes.

Where Edinger sees Zeus as the bold exhort of creativity, bringing the endless gifts of light and expanding consciousness, perhaps through the shadowy side of that light we see an insatiable desire for power accompanied by a complete disregard for consequences, desperately in need of Hera’s restraint. Does he then, not attempt to appease her with the riches of the household and all the distraction and substitution for feminine creativity it might contain?

Hera

“There are long lists of the lovers of Zeus, and by and large they had an unhappy time of it. Hera, personifying the feminine embodiment of the Self, was fiercely opposed to these dalliances, and would often punish Zeus’ lovers.” Edward Edinger

Within the syzygy, isn’t this just a little too lopsided a view of Hera’s role? While she remains that which shadows Zeus, the syzygy is deprived of the feminine aspect of creative urges. Perhaps we see in Hera the opportunity to imagine the qualities of a divine feminine as that embodiment of containment and restriction necessary for the creative powers of Zeus to be of actual service. But as the keeper of the household, amassing possessions to appease her, we see only opportunity missed.

Jupiter and Io, espied by Juno by Italian SchoolIt bears noting that if we are in the midst of an era of a lopsided patriarchal power, and that power has become the exploitative grandiosity of “too much of a good thing” that underlies so much of what is going wrong, the story of Zeus and Hera might help us to see in what ways Hera’s feminine resistance is not only missing, but could be a necessary correction. And how interesting it might be to see Hera’s plea as the desire for a more relational mode of being. It might help us too, to train the eyes for images of the masculine and feminine in syzygy that do appear in a relational dynamic in which excess and constraint are bound together, reflecting the necessity for each other.

In James Hillman’s, Mythic Figures, he echoes Edinger’s idea of the necessity for Zeus to go off on his heroic quest of never-ending expansion. Although Hillman is looking the phenomenon straight in the eye, he doesn’t apply the myth to our current cultural mess.

If we don’t know the myths, we don’t understand what fantasies we have when we go into a union. When we go into the bedroom we don’t know which myth we are enacting. He goes into the cave with the fantasy of a child of Venus. For him this is a pleasurable, delightful experience. But she is under the guidance of Juno. She goes in with the marriage fantasy of deep coupling. Soon after he gets a message from Hermes that he must get on with his job which is to go found Rome, and so he sets sail. She’s absolutely destroyed. Desertion, betrayal. For him it’s not a betrayal because he came with a different fantasy. For her, it is a radical violation of the laws of the universe, the very Queen of Heaven. And she never forgives him, because she appears in the Underworld still enraged, embittered forever.

Hillman, James. Mythic Figures. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

He does goes on to imply that Hera might find consolation through domestication in the care and maintenance of the household which has become her domain; a place where she can invest her powers as an “upholder of civilization,” but where her creative impulse remains outwardly directed inside the house.

Society is intimately connected in Hera to the psyche and to biological laws. In that way she is the upholder of civilization, of providing the homestead, the economy, the household, the domestication, the husbandry of civilization, so that marriage becomes something dedicated to service to principles higher than personal happiness. The house stands for both civil society and my personal property.

Hillman, James. Mythic Figures. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Where Zeus and Hera provide an archetypal background for both marriage and economy as the primary structures that uphold Western Civilization, we can perhaps begin to recognize the correlative loss of the riches once known through pagan and tribal cultures, where, although the creative impulse may never have given us the bounty that the West provided, but provided a more direct experience of the divine in its rituals and recognition of the value of the collective. Through Zeus, Hera and much of the mythology of the Greek pantheon, we get a glimpse of what truly distinguishes us, but also of what ultimately keeps us heroically driven, outwardly expanding, inwardly impoverished, all in response to the creative impulse gone wildly independent and outside of relationship. Perhaps there is a middle way that could flourish if we survive the current tests of our time.

Wholeness, Fragmentation and Dionysus

220px-David_BohmDavid Bohm’s book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” explores the problem of fragmentation in human thought and consciousness. Along with a very thorough analysis of why the problem of fragmentation exists, he also provides suggestions for undoing what he calls “habits of thought” which limit our ability to perceive wholes, or to even be aware of them.

“A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change.

Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.

Although we may all experience a common pool of meaning in varying ways, the idea of a pool or a consensus might help us gain some insight by separating form of meaning from content. Without this separation, we risk missing the context which we bring to experience that allows us to understand the specific habit patterns, either in thought, feeling or action, that each of us enacts.

Content is perhaps the easiest to see, and is the “what” of perceived experience; the immediacy of sense impressions of the objects, ideas, emotions, beliefs that grip us, not unlike the sun in your face, or the wet, damp cold of a winter’s day. Content is etymologically related to the word “contain,” what is held together, or can be held together. Interestingly, content, with the emphasis on the second syllable, meaning satisfied, also shares this idea of containment; to be held, or a feeling of holding together. Content reflects subjective awareness, the view from the inside of direct engagement both immediate and apparent within the sensate world and the world as it translated into various forms of expression. 

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Form is then the shaping or patterning of how the content gets contained, and potentially provides one with a meta-view of the content, or what and how something is contained, categorized or understood. If content consists of the subjective insider view, form is what we see when we zoom out. Is subjectivity, then, associated more with feeling and sensate perceptions, where objectivity pulls back into modes of abstracting, thinking and evaluation? If so, the nature of the shaping of content can easily get lost as focus is on the unreflected insider impressions of the content. Form can bring us ways of contextualizing through expansion, amplifying and distancing from immediate experience through reflection, “as if” from the outside looking in.

Both of these modes of perception interplay and we shift in and out them perhaps not only seamlessly, but without an awareness of their distinct styles. When we are directly engaged in the world, soaking in whatever we are attending to, we may more or less pause to reflect and pull back from the engagement. We may also sense a tension between the two modes. To be engrossed in a project, or a conversation, or any intense level of participation that we sometimes refer to as “losing ourselves in,” can be pleasant. But as well, a deep immersion into sadness, loneliness, or any kind of pain, also belongs to the mode of subjective immersion.

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Rebis_Theoria_Philosophiae_Hermeticae_1617

We humans are both blessed and cursed with such tools and abilities afforded us through sense, language, reflection, desire and the creative impulse to expand, control and change our environment. Perhaps though, when we fail to look for and see and reflect upon the nature of relationship itself, whether between humans, or to the world we live in, great distortions of these gifts grip us, either through too much abstraction, or too much immersion, or the failure to engage how and where they influence each other.

David Bohm referred to the problem as “fragmentation” in which we lose sight of the “whole” while being immersed, and lose sight of the immediacy while zooming out. He saw language itself as a big contributor to the loss of an ability to see connections and relationships by dividing the whole into parts, thereby mistaking objects as truly separate from each other in the same way that words are separate and discrete. Language does not have any true bearing on the nature of the unified whole, except as it shapes our perception, which is always subject to the ebb and flow of the both the narrowing and expanding qualitative states of one’s attention and field of consciousness.

The focus of his book is on the ways in which science is likely to fail the greater good of society, by neglecting to see the relatedness between what knowledge allows us to do, and the implications for technologies that ultimately cause harm. But here I am more interested in modes of perception in our day-to-day living, and especially that which truly has the power to influence us through emotional and intellectual disruption, trauma and all that tears asunder, that which in our current style or mode of being in the world, and subsequently becomes ineffective and possibly broken, brings with it the potential of more relational styles of being in the world.

In James Hillman’s essay on Dionysus, he uses the image of dismemberment as an archetypal force, or metaphorical image for the distinct styles of being changed through participation and relationship within a community of others:

If we take our clues from Jung’s exploration of the theme in alchemy (“The visions of Zosimos,” CW 13), dismemberment refers to a psychological process that requires a body metaphor. [55] The process of division is presented as a body experience, even as a horrifying torture. If, however, dismemberment is ruled by the archetypal dominant of Dionysus, then the process, while beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king, may be at the same time activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes. The background of the second Dionysus offers new insight into the rending pain of self-division, especially as a body experience.

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He continues by emphasizing that the Dionysian experience is neither physical nor psychological, but both. The essential point not to be missed is that through disintegration psyche and soma are experienced integratively, or conjoined, which as Hillman notes later, awaken consciousness, not of, but in the body:

We experience this process in psychosomatic symptoms, in hysterical conversions, in specific sadomasochistic perversions, in cancer fantasies, in fears of ageing, in horror of pollution, or in disintegrative incoherent conditions that have a body focus. This experience has its other side. The dismemberment of central control is at the same time the resurrection of the natural light of archetypal consciousness distributed in each of the organs.

But does King Ego die, and if so, how? Hillman suggests that the death of the king is a dying to the community through “lysis,” or a loosening.

Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener. [61] The word is cognate with lysis, the last syllables of analysis. Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, and the final unraveling as of a plot in tragedy.

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The loosening, or death of the king by, and for, a more relational and integrated community within and without, has both personal and collective significance for our times. Perhaps the tyrant within must become the tyrant without, amplifying the visibility of the archetypal power in our midst, and now perhaps, brings us full circle. Bohm’s fragmentation might then be seen as a Dionysian move that is yet to be made fully manifest, but could serve as a catalyst towards providing a corrective move in which the King, both within and without, no longer able to stand in for his forgotten, neglected subjects, dissolves into a more integrated association with humanity at large.

As noted: Hillman, James. Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 6). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

Beyond Nature

Nature: Middle English (denoting the physical power of a person): from Old French, from Latin natura ‘birth, nature, quality,’ from nat- ‘born,’ from the verb nasci

Might there not be something to the idea that “women will have rights as long as men see fit to allow for those rights, all the while calculating the benefits from those rights given?” Or, rephrased in a way that archetypal psychology might rather imagine it, that “the feminine will be valued when the active forces of masculinity can transcend the seeming dualism of these notions and see the unified dynamic in which a syzygy is at work (or play) in all human existence as it is by nature ensouled?”

And is it not true, at root, that the abortion debate, like so many other disagreements in social (re)arrangements, political and personal, are dependent upon the power of technology to slowly remove the constraints, which for thousands of years infantilized us, but also left us without a sense of moral culpability? For a moral perspective is only possible where there is enough reflection to perceive oneself as a separate being from that of the tribe. Culpability then, is one of the distinctive marks of an individual as it ascribes agency and the power of choice that “I” alone can make.

Over time, it is identity which shapes and increases the ability to separate ourselves from nature, as moral creatures, in which an increasingly conscious disdain for nature’s brutality moves us beyond our former acceptance of the conditions of the natural world, urging us towards a future condition that transcends the natural state of things, beginning with reimagining the world as it is, into the world as it should, or could be. It is the increase in awareness of power and its steady transference from nature’s gods, to a transcendent God, and eventually onto man, that allow us to finally consider ourselves as co-creators.

As co-creators, through the newfound power that the imaginal realm reveals, the separation from natural conditions is increasingly enhanced through the ongoing distinctions uncovered between the physical and something beyond. This separation is the initiator of choice.

Choice suggests options; an urge to improve our lot, reducing our suffering, and through the discovery and use of technology creates the modern sense of self. A self that is separated, set apart, mission oriented, and driven towards the goal of progress, no longer willing to accept nature’s conditions and constraints as the fate of humanity. We are, finally, self-made and free at last.

Prior to these changes in psyche, there’s less of an ability to reflect on our identity, our place in time and the story of history. We moderns now readily pride ourselves as the agents of decision and the agents of power that define a very modern identity. But the more power is perceived to be ours, the heavier the price tag of conscience, whether inflated or repressed, increasingly we find ourselves weighed down by an overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt that accompanies witnessing the consequences of our choices and actions.

Can we even say then, that psyche is nature, or rather might it also be a seductive lover that promises power and release from nature, but provides neither? And, is the dynamic between psyche and nature yet another syzygy whose unseen goal we cannot know? Is psyche the x factor in man that drives us to transform nature, through an enhanced imaginative vision that sees not how we are, but how we should be?

Perhaps then, before we get too attached to the idea that a force called the patriarchy; a masculine power dominating anything that dares to get in its way; the primary blame for all of the ills of the world, that we might at least entertain a certain irony here: that it has indeed taken a masculine force to activate our two-fold nature that rejects the herd, providing the agency necessary to assert ourselves as individuals. This may best describe the conditions in which a syzygy of symmetry is necessary to instill in us a capacity for reflection required to mimic and borrow nature’s power and whimsy.

Can this slow transformation over time, allowing us to reach this critical threshold in which debates about abortion, gender roles, equality, race, abuse, and all that sensitizes our passion for compassion be the table setter for the next stage? Might we be on the verge of igniting a holy fire that may eventually burn to ashes the imbalance of yin to yang we may at last be ready and willing to discard? I pray we not get lost in the emotional mire of debate at the expense of seeing a much bigger picture. These questions, concerns and debates want something from us.

As well, the identification of masculine with male, feminine with female, may tempt us to literalize the archetypal powers, confusing them with real persons, missing an opportunity to recognize the unseen forces operating in the background. Powers that we pretend to understand are what make up the dynamic of the syzygy. We could see both the masculine and feminine at work on us within a syzygy. What might be much needed in our current cultural, global crisis, is a deeper recognition of the dynamics between the active masculine and the passive feminine, both of which are vital aspects of any relationship.

A binding of the two, in which we fail to recognize the ways in which they are interrelated, promotes a literal view over an imaginal one. Without an awareness of the two-fold nature we lose the multi-dimensional nature of psyche and the notion of Anima Mundi, a world soul in which we all participate in and influence through our actions and inactions.

Choice is a big idea, and yet, dare we look deeply down the well of that idea to consider all of its implications, beyond the seeming choices we think we have at the moment, and get at the overarching drive that may very well mask our motivations, and miss, or avoid, the consideration and reflection of furthering the images of the goal?

“Hey girl
As I’ve always said I prefer your lips red
Not what the good Lord made
But what he intended” Roger Waters

Jim Morrison/Dionysus and Some Criticisms of Monotheism (9/09)

Great writing by Paul DeFatta on the Dionysian influence on the life and death of Jim Morrison and the affects of the shift away from polytheism to monotheism.

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Regardless of its merits as an accurate depiction of Jim Morrison, the Oliver Stone movie “The Doors” serves as a useful illustration of the risks and the dangers involved in becoming psychologically identified with a religious archetype—in this case the ancient pagan deity, Dionysus.  At the same time, the film acknowledges and vicariously celebrates the imaginatively vitalizing and enriching effects produced by an influx of such “unauthorized” (by traditional Christianity) archetypal energy.  As the movie progresses, Jim Morrison’s ego becomes increasingly identified with (or subsumed by, depending on the direction from which one approaches the situation) this age-old god of “divine madness,” leading eventually to the breakdown and disintegration of an inflated, Dionysus-and-Jack Daniels-intoxicated ego-personality.  Of course, in chronicling the progressive dissolution and disintegration of his personality, the film unfolds like a cautionary tale.  The rock star’s ego, failing to maintain even a faint toehold within the arenas of…

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Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.

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Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.

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What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?

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The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Sentience and Sensibility

Thank you Barbara, for the invitation to guest blog on the topic of AI and consciousness on her site Me, My Magnificent Self, I am grateful. For anyone reading here, please visit Barbara’s website too. She included some very nice thoughts about my blog, and you will also find some other posts on the AI and consciousness topic.

Here we go!

Consciousness

Before entertaining any ideas about artificially intelligent machines becoming conscious, first we should consider what we mean by both consciousness and intelligence. For our existing ideas about what it means to be conscious to be considered, and how, if at all, intelligence differs from consciousness, some attempt at definition and distinction between the two might be helpful.

Firstly, I claim no expertise, either in AI or neurological sciences. All I have, like many of us, is experience and reflection on our most primary human condition of being.

The word, “conscious” is relatively new in its usage to the English language. Its roots:

late 16th century (in the sense ‘being aware of wrongdoing’): from Latin conscius ‘knowing with others or in oneself’ (from conscire ‘be privy to’) + -ous.

And the usage of the word, “consciousness” doesn’t appear until 100 years later. In any conversation about consciousness, we might keep in mind that the current societal consensus often propagated by modern science, and other powerful voices in the culture, making claims that consciousness is an effect caused by brain function, is itself an idea made possible through consciousness. True or not, I see no reason to make dogmatic claims, when by necessity, all-knowing, awareness, sentience, identity and agency come through states of being more or less conscious.

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J2thawiki at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D
Artificial Intelligence

When attempting to use language to qualify, define and determine the existence of whether there could be the making of a conscious mind within technological devices designed by a human mind, the understanding of the nature of language itself comes to the fore. We might first ask, what is meant by Artificial Intelligence?

ar·ti·fi·cial in·tel·li·gence
ˌärdəˈfiSHəl inˈteləjəns/
noun
  1. the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

Artificial intelligence seems like an attempt to recreate the human mind in a human world. Although the creation of AI devices can be justified as ways of making human life better (easier, more secure, safer), the goal of creating an artificial mind can also be seen as a deep underlying desire to:

  • Be the creator, prove that the human mind can be recreated or simulated
  • Reduce the human mind to that of mere mathematics, reasoning and logic sans feeling and emotion
  • Surpass the potential of the human mind by creating something better; more superior (less emotion?)

But I don’t think there’s any comparison between human and non-human beings. It’s a category mistake to think so. So, what then is the difference?

As much as we have found ways to replicate and simulate bodily senses, parts and functions, useful as the technology is, these replications are not, and never will be made of the same stuff; derived by organic means and processes; a bio genesis . Although the language we frequently use to talk about human functioning has recently incorporated metaphors that come from the making and design of computers, we are fooled by metaphors at our own risk.

We’re not “wired,” or “programmed,” with a mind that can be reduced to mathematical computations and algorithms. And although there are theories, we still have no idea how consciousness, brain and many bodily systems actually work. Yes, we know enough to do some pretty complex surgeries, kill bacteria with chemicals, and measure all bodily systems that can be measured, but none of these organic structures have been biologically recreated from anything other than existing organic tissue.

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Dead things/Live things

Humans have developed elaborate ways to classify things. A mind that uses language to translate reality into concepts, ideas, patterns, mathematical formulas and calculations becomes almost too good at these feats. Too good, in that we humans so easily mistake what is translated into language as the totality of reality. To function in ordinary day-to-day life, we must do this! But, we needn’t be fooled by the technology of language any more than any other technology. No matter how clear we use language, we are never able to put into words all that the world, or any given moment, place or thing is. The use of language, by its very nature, requires abstracting, separation, joining, inclusion and exclusion. Language can only ever approximate reality.

Many of the primary distinctions that we make through language, do though, become deeply ingrained and assumed in our perceptions of the world. Categorizing things into either dead or living is just one example. But this primary metaphor of the nature of life might be the first philosophical and ontological mistake we make. For we know not of what lies beyond the limits and perceptions of our mind/body experience. We can, and do, however get glimpses into a much greater expanse of mind through the variety of experiences we have. It’s also quite probable that we have yet to scratch the surface of human potential through the expansion of conscious experience.

Because I am much more inclined to want to further the potential of our organic experience, including that of an expansion of mind and its potential of non-locality, I see AI, and much of its current use, as a distraction away from the much more interesting landscape of the untapped potential of mind.

AI, while in many ways providing lots of material benefits to our existence, keeps the emphasis on material existence. Much of its current use is unfortunately aimed at commercial enterprise, entertainment and furthering the isolation of each of us, by eliminating the necessity of humans. If we are essentially One, by the nature of a primary, inherent mind that permeates the whole of reality – the realization of such, and the furthering of our potential as individuals understood as an expression of the One – will need to be valued and attended to.

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Threshing with threshing flails

The human experience is a whole body phenomena that incorporates its environment and relationships into its awareness and perceptions. AI, even with the development of software programs that try to replicate any particular organic intelligence, will always be at the mercy of human design. If that limitation were ever to be overcome without human intervention, we might wonder about AI consciousness. Human intelligence does not rely on a set of programs using if/then, algorithmic computations stored away in some memory drive inside the brain. It’s much more complicated than that (See below for resources).

We moderns are brain-centric. We identify the brain with a large chunk of who and how we are, often at the expense of the totality of the body. Our perceptions are chunky, incomplete, and we often fail to see continuity because we mistake our limited perceptions for something called reality. My plea here? Let’s not turn our attention away from our amazing human potential by trying to replicate a simplistic version of a perfected and immortal self that will never be more than a current reflection of what and who we are now.

And finally:

The computer can beat the human at chess, but does it care?

https://www.wired.com/story/tech-metaphors-are-holding-back-brain-research/

https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/outfielder-problem.html

http://bigthink.com/re-envision-toyota-blog/the-electronic-brain-your-mind-vs-a-computer

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