Functional Reality

“Man is not free to choose whether to be or not to be .…” That’s probably a good thing under the circumstances. Instead, he generates “an unlimited series of other binary distinctions which , while never resolving the primary contradiction [his existence], echo and perpetuate it on an ever smaller scale.… [T] he reality of being [is what] man senses at the deepest level as being alone capable of giving a reason and a meaning to his daily activities, his moral and emotional life, his political options, his involvement in the social and natural worlds, his practical endeavours, and his scientific achievements.…”

lossy-page1-378px-RGNb10360943.01_Nollet_The_Electric_Boy.tifRichard Grossinger quotes Claude Levi-Strauss In Chapter Six of his book, Dark Pool of Light, Volume I, in which he takes on the philosophical arguments between Functionalists and Phenomenalists. I am no student of philosophy, but will try to sum up here the arguments as I understand them. The Functionalist argument says that mind is a by-product of material processes, and so, has no ability to cause itself. The implication being that there is no active agency, only chemical and genetic processes interacting to give us an illusion of a subjective self. Therefore, a functionalist sees robots, and all AI, as beings just as “conscious” as we are; there is no difference in functionality.

Regardless of any truth behind the ideas of functionalism or phenomenalism, what’s equally interesting to me, is the underlying, often hidden motivation, driving a preference for one idea over the other. Mine as well as yours. If functionalism is true, then we too are just as mechanical in nature, consisting of mechanical parts giving us only an illusion of consciousness, and reproducible with the right combination of hardware and software design. Therefore, we too are AI, so what we do to AI – the rules we agree upon for the treatment, trust, and respect for machines, might potentially become acceptable forms of treatment for humans.

Perhaps these issues of agency, or subjectivism; who has it, what is it, does it even exist, can only start from one’s own sensitivities and experience. Although a consensus may be predicated on abstract notions of a quantitative scientific measurement, when we leave out, and thereby devalue, qualitative experience, we are forgetting what is so primary to our being. We may never grasp the true nature of consciousness, but that should not tempt us to dismiss or reduce it to either irrelevance or mirage. For what, or who, and this is a key question, is making such a decision?

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The functionalist vision serves us well as, among other things, the best practical way to understand our states of awareness and gives us the tool of reductive thinking, in which breaking down and separating incomprehensible wholes into containers of parts, allows for predictive modeling and the influences of cause and effect. But when we forget, or are unaware that this approach is a functional overlay, and a tool, we may lose the necessity of that experience of the “reality of being…at the deepest level.” This may be as true for science and the study of the nature of consciousness as it is for all human endeavors.

But it is particularly the science of consciousness that potentially drives the most important aspect of the human experience; the paradigmatic cultural assumptions that are so much a part of, that we cannot see their influence on us, both individually and as a whole.

Clearly we have no saliency map for the mind, whether it is considered an indivisible whole or a homeostatic merger of synaptic components—whether it has ignition at a tipping point or represents a coalescing aggregate of incremental streams. We cannot track “mind” back to any single moving parts of cerebral anatomy. “[I]t is not even clear how … changes at the neural level relate to those at the psychological level.”

Not always obvious, but we cannot use our conscious experience to see, study, take it apart and know its source. The eye cannot both see and see itself seeing. This remains a key understanding, perhaps a preamble of the nature of our embodied existence that sets limits to all subsequent exploration of one’s experience – as well as the knowledge of all else.

Quoting Colin McGinn:

“How could the aggregation of millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective consciousness?”

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…and why does this matter? Because the awareness of our limits of knowledge and comprehension is a much needed and essential humbling of our very human condition – particularly in light of the technological successes we’ve experienced in the last 100 or so years. Because along with the successes comes an ever-deepening shadow of destruction, not only of the environment, but of meaningful direct experience of life itself. I would argue that there’s a direct correlation between the quality of meaning that an individual comprehends through direct experience and the capacity for imparting meaning onto the all else, including others, in the world.

If human consciousness denies us access to any experience beyond its native capacity, we should recognize that the true nature of the struggle is predicated on the limitations of experience. The primary struggle itself is that of coming to see that the underlying experience we have of being alive is continually being translated through sense, image, culture and language. We don’t have access to anything outside of our experience, which by its nature is continually filtered through the body, its sense organs which further constricts and adapts as part of the environment and culture we find ourselves in.

Ultimately, the insistence that we are only our genes and chemical processes, reflects back to us a paradigm we find ourselves caught up in, and not a truth about the very nature of existence itself. A materialist paradigm leaves us with a literal world in which our representations of reality are accepted as real and true, or fake and false, thereby limiting reality to that which can be measured, appreciated and expressed through language.

This paradigm is not necessarily a choice, but an inherited, deeply embedded view from which we perceive, comprehend and translate each moment of each day, and subsequently distill into something we deem as reality and truth.

No matter how refined and impartial our devices become, there is no way to get at reality apart from our consciousness of it and no machine that is not created out of and operating as consciousness itself.

The consequences of the paradigm we find ourselves in, the way we perceive and translate our experience into thought, language, action and reaction, are reflected throughout the culture(s) and world we live in. A global culture that is increasingly becoming homogenized through technology, political and economic structures, coupled with the more recent predominance of mediated experience over direct immediate experience deserves as much reflection and comprehension as we can muster. I ask myself frequently, what is trying to be born in each of us now – out of both the struggles and successes that we each experience?

All quotes, except as noted: Grossinger, Richard (2012-08-21). Dark Pool of Light, Volume One: The Neuroscience, Evolution, and Ontology of Consciousness: 1 (Reality and Consciousness). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Consensus

Imagining offers freedom from the magic of certitude, by recognizing that beliefs begin in images and are always images too, images that have lost their wings and fallen into truths. The angelic aspect of human being is the unbounded imagination.

When consensus within a culture is driven by a desire for certitude, the safety and comfort of offering our agreement with prevailing opinions of a political or social nature, beliefs more easily become confused with truth*, truth then becomes static and personal, rather than an array of personified images or angelic messages.

The concreteness of modern cosmology, where only measured, quantifiable “facts” make up a monolithic reality, assures a never-ending opposition of disagreement, drawing the battle lines between competing visions, not only of what is true and false, but of a very black and white fabric that weaves the story we believe we’re in.

The idea that a truth exists is different from the idea that a truth can be known. For the Greeks, it was the particular burden, emphasis of power, along with place and lineage that gave each god its essence of being. Necessary, as expressions of an invisible world, these gods remained above or below the human world, and our awareness of that setting apart, from our world to theirs, was a humbling factor that informs of one’s place and time as an in-between place; limited, liminal, finite, not to be possessed, but to the contrary, that which possesses us. But this possession is also an embrace, a surround that pulls us away from our human-only world, uniting us not only with life on planet earth, but with all the possibilities that an invisible dimension holds that we can only come to know through reflection upon the images as we experience them.

But in this human-only world, if something can’t be seen, measured or quantified, it either doesn’t exist, can’t be trusted, and most importantly, can’t be exhorted into the safety of consensus. If the gods, and the images they present through our expression, account for the powers that influence us, it hardly matters whether or not they really exist in some tangible way that can be proven. The gods, all that has been written about them, at the very least, express through us something eternal about our condition. Therefore, it matters not whether we believe in them, but that they believe in us.

What Jung called a complex, (Ezra) Pound called an image. For Pound, an image is “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” “The Image is more than an Idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.”

In our secular post-modern world, could it be that the absence of any powers beyond us heightens our thirst for belief, confusing it with truth because we experience the world entirely from a human-only perspective? Could both cultural and personal suicide along with fantasies of Armageddon be an expression of a loss of the experience of those powers beyond humanity that twist human subjects into just one more object devoid of worth? In a world in which we believe ourselves to be the sole carriers of consciousness, does this existential aloneness lead us to question the reality of our experience of being?

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Sun-like star in the final stages of its life.

And what of death, the dead? Is their absence, the finality of human existence through death, calling into question our very aliveness? For what a strange world it is if everything around us is truly dead except for us. No wonder the need then, to search for physical life beyond our tiny place in the cosmos. With the intrusion of a lack of belief in the invisible realm beyond the physical, we must now find other physical beings to give us back the reality and validation of our own existence.

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

Perhaps Western culture now finds itself in the most frightening episode of its brief existence. The psychic burden of living such short physical lives has us in a frenzy to now become the very powers once attributed to the gods. Powers that simultaneously create and destroy with an unprecedented fury. Whether it’s the idea that we alone can save ourselves from the wreckage of our own doing, or the idea that we must progress by any means necessary, our lack of felt experience as one creature among many, with an eye for beauty and empathy, has completely escaped us as the narrowing of our world has destroyed the experience and recognition of all except the material, human world of the here and now.

The past, once valued for connecting us to the ancestors, is now filled with familial and cultural ghosts of the sins of the father, that only bring us pain and shame for the wounds we experience as deeply personal, victimizing us with every thought and memory we are stuck with. In a material world, where nothing matters but the physical, there’s no way to see, let alone experience the multidimensional layers of an eternal, archetypal background that binds both our wounds, and the possibility of their healing, to those very ancestors we now spurn.  To escape the haunting, we must kill the past with our profane business, drugs, political battles, and forward thinking, where hope tells us that someday, somehow, we will usher in a pain-free existence, a unity of peace, love and well-being for all.

*Curiously, we have more recently chosen to refer to truth as fact, and oppose it to “fake” as in the idea of fake news. But fake’s opposite would more accurately be called “real,” which asserts a dimension of unreality rather than falsity to our current condition.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications.

Untamed Speech

…always a rage against the blind harmony of an anaesthetized life. Instead, a life amid the salient, the awkward, the pathologized; buffeted and discontent, at peace only in a rough sea.*

Is it possible that the very fight away from our experience of pathology misses the beauty of its necessity, removing us from artful expression of the most rooted, inherent place we find ourselves in, a place that by necessity calls for struggle? Instead of the fight against pathology, which demands that we heal, fix and remove the soul’s infirmities, rather, might we not seek a perspective that gives the passions their due, by listening for their mythological background that conjoin the most personal sense of ourselves with the eternal happenings of a world.

Perhaps we must first acknowledge things from a mythological perspective that conjoin to the eternal; seeing ourselves and others not only as products of family, culture, time and place, but also as characters expressing the struggles inherent in every age, time and place. Death then is the primary protagonist. That battle against which remains hopelessly futile, for it is life itself that brings death into being. Can we, like Dante did, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here?”

Crazy talk maybe, especially in a frequently literalized, anesthetized world where the sensibility of ‘life as art’ is often exchanged for artifice, making believers rather than lovers out of us all. In this world, language itself is in danger of extinction, especially the beauty and danger of an untamed speech.

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The gate of Hell. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For I want to suggest that untamed speech of the widest reach and wildest pitch effects vengeance in itself. And further to suggest, that the docility of speech, the absence of vehemence and hyperbole, the balanced phrases of the nightly news, reporting the facts of worldly horror, force the Furies underground, ultimately, since the repressed returns, and directly causing yet more facts of worldly horror to be reported with that same calm mask and blank smile. Could it be that were our words wild enough, our worlds would be more inhabitable? Could Shakespearean hyperbole be a cultural remedy?*

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“Love hath so long possessed me for his own And made his lordship so familiar.” Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just as we have pushed death underground and transformed the underworld from a place of shades; shadows who awaken us to unseen presence, they’re out of sight, into the hell of the damned, a cavernous fault where the dark repressed lies unseen, and so, feared. Now, speech too must be cleaned up by removing its ugly, so-called hateful words. As if winning the battle against death and language would change the heart and soul of humanity? It is no longer only a personal fear of death daily driving the passions, but an even more out of reach fear of destruction of the entire planet that makes us crazy for solutions, fixes and cures. Which myth(s) provides the background that instills the belief that it is uniquely up to humanity to save ourselves from ourselves? What if the dysfunction, the inherent pathology, lies within the very heart and soul of so-called civilization? What if our very desire for peace, harmony and a world without suffering were driving the very pathology we seek to eliminate?

I am suggesting that the patient’s disorder, that he and she cannot function in the civilization, is the civilization itself declaring dysfunctional bankruptcy. For what is the value of a civilization if its citizens are made ill by it? And what is the value of a therapy if it only abets the growth of civilization; in a civilization that measures its standing rank by gross domestic product (GDP)?*

As Hillman notes, shall we not also consider whether or not fixing our personal pathology means aligning oneself to the pathology of a civilization that is in the grip of its own inherently self-destructive end as it plays out the mythological battle of good vs. evil both within and between cultures? Although sometimes blamed on religious ideology, perhaps the root of apocalyptic endings lies within the heart of any culture that pathologically denies any place for its shadows, ever-believing that light can and should overcome them, striving always to beat them into submission by reforming their contents, rather than accepting the message of struggle that shadows reveal to us.

By shadows I mean not only all that cannot be seen, known and understood, but that which is forever out of human reach to change the nature of: death, both of the individual and the planet; along with all of the little deaths experienced every moment, every day; the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, a friend, a belief, our innocence, one’s health or youth. So much in life forever lies unobtainable: truly knowing another’s thought and heart, what the future may bring, security, a life without pain-whether one’s own or another’s, or what happens after death.

But neither fax nor even flesh can satisfy the fantastical appetite. We are impoverished psychologically when we are impoverished linguistically. The bridges are down because the moon is down, imagination beclouded by literal information. We have forgot Coleridge’s warning about “the danger of thinking without images” and so our minds, our very civilization, succumbs at one and the same time to both cynical nihilism and full-faithed fundamentalism.*

We know we have taken the bait anytime we find ourselves within a fantasy of good vs. evil that clamors for nothing less than a real-world outcome of a personal or collective idea of “how things should (or shouldn’t) be.” The more our ideals express purity and perfection, favoring the light over the dark, the darker our world seems, and so becomes.

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Orestes Pursued by the Furies, William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although the counter to the argument that we need more untamed speech might rightly warn that limits are necessary in a culture that places emphasis on actions over ideas, I would suggest that it is this very loss of ideas as something outside of us, and loss of any recognition of the need for reflection, because we don’t own them, they own us, that prematurely urges us to action. We fail to see ideas as actions in themselves, which act on us.

This argument against bombast makes me refine my proposal. It’s not heightened speech as such but, rather, our relation with it. An inverse proportion between words and acts — the wilder the words the less wild the acts — holds only insofar as we enjoy the language for its own sake; the vehemence, the insult, the braggadocio become pleasurable acts, giving a delightful satisfaction.*

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When an individual becomes the owner and purveyor of ideas, to not act is a reflection upon them, as we declare, “all talk and no action.” Who though, hasn’t experienced a rage so powerful that it scares us? While rage was once understood to come to us from the furies (hence the word “furious”), if there is no longer even an idea of the furies, “I” am all that is left to carry meaning and expression into the world.

The archetypal imagination underlies and embraces all together; all the world’s a stage, and we in our seats are in the play, since its words are voicing our souls. How hard this is for us to conceive today, since, for us, all the people we know are people first, and then they speak, words issuing from them as secondary phenomena.*

*All quotes: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations, Chapter 5, You Taught me Language (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Animalizing

During moments of awareness in which a translation into language has not yet happened, I recognize perhaps a truer, more immediate experience of my animal nature. In relationships to animals, I find these nonverbal states not only more readily happen, but are necessary for any exchange to take place. You may talk to animals, but in silent presence one practices listening, sharing and exchanging, not only with the other, but as one among many in an enlivened, inhabited world that births, sustains and contains us all.

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There’s a lot of human chatter now days about the state and fate of our world, and specifically, the influence of humans on the environment – conflicts between cultures, religions, etc. We are, it seems, beginning to see and fear the harm whose cause is doubtless our own. As it is recognizably a human cause, we look to ourselves to correct course. Whether the correction needed is seen as psychological, political, internal or external, if we are the problem, and we are superior, we must be the ones to find the solution.

But, even as far as this is true, in what ways can the source of a problem become the solution? What needs to happen? It’s not like we haven’t been aware of our dilemma for thousands of years. It seems we can’t self-correct!

James Hillman tracks the situation thus:

JH Phil IntThe mechanistic (indirect) theory of perception so essential to modern epistemology and cosmology of course guarantees an anthropocentric universe. Only humans are conscious. Animals have less memory, less stored knowledge, less mediating reason, less subjective interiority. Have they interiority at all? And unless they have this interior subjectivity, they cannot claim consciousness. The mediating subjective factors necessary to our human definition are the very same factors required by the indirect theory of perception. Dismantle the radio signals and the code system — all the intervening variables — and we shall find we have junked as well our notion of consciousness as an interior mediating process. For it is this definition of consciousness that has maintained through centuries from Stoic philosophy and Roman law through Christian dogma and European rationalism that animals are nonsentient, irrational, unconscious, and inferior. This condemnation of their consciousness assures our human superiority, allowing us to ignore “their inarticulate wisdom, their certainty, their unhesitating achievement”

We might also ask, if we go back far enough, who were we prior to this current state of affairs of assumed human superiority? What brought us from being one among many within a world we inhabit, to being and feeling separate and distinctly apart? Is it that very distinction, and the ability to make distinctions that becomes too much of a good thing culminating into a fatal flaw? Is the fate of humanity tied to a nature which has come to distinguish themselves from non-human animals to the point of possibly extinguishing it all? Does our power over the animals along with our self-appointed management over nature truly protect, or does it make us even more vulnerable?

I venture the idea that a cosmology with soul gives special attention to animals. I propose that any acceptable new cosmology will have to receive approval from the animal kingdom.

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Hillman points out that our relationship to animals can be seen in all cultures, times and places, and very much carries a sense or experience of the divine along with it. Divine in this sense being both an immanent or supernaturally presence of invisible powers. Besides the more familiar biblical story of Noah, the ark, and God’s directive to save the animals, Hillman mentions the correlation between Plato’s dodecahedron, ‘…used by the creative maker for the “whole.” ‘

Following upon the geometric shapes for fire, water, air, and earth, there is a fifth, the most comprehensive figure which has, says Plato, “a pattern of animal figures thereon.”  [ 7] It reminds of another passage in Plato (Republic 589c) where he presents “the symbolic image of the soul” as a multitudinous, many-headed beast with a ring of heads tame and wild.

Hillman sees Plato giving the animals their share of the cosmic power:

Let us consider this twelve-sided animal-headed image seriously indeed, although seriously does not mean literally. Rather, we may imagine this final and essential image of Plato’s cosmology — strange, unexpected, obscure as it may be — to be awarding animal-being cosmic superiority.

It’s likely that with limited technology, the vulnerability of prehistoric humans drew them to both fear, envy, but also to eventually gather greater insight and reflection from the animals that surround us. It’s as if though, we humans traded off our own animal tendencies with an ever increasing capacity for reflection. And so began the long journey: negotiating territory and relationships not only with the other animals, but to the natural state of the environment, but less and less as we sought out and discovered ways to separate ourselves through language, tools and technology. Each so-called advancement, while giving us an edge over other creatures, left us without the necessity of getting along.

Hillman makes a crucial point that relationship and cosmology which includes the animals both instructs and mediates between the earthly and the divine:

The return of cosmology to the animal is not merely to invite “brute” palpable sensuousness into our thinking. The animal opens not only into the flesh of life but also toward the gods. According to fables, legends, myths, and rituals worldwide, animals impart to humans the secrets of the cosmos. They are our instructors in cosmology, that is, they mediate between the gods and humans; they have divine knowledge.

Divine knowledge, which I take to mean that through ongoing relationship with other animals, we define intelligence as not only intellect and the power to rationalize, but the intelligence of seeing beauty, grace and the wonder of the other.

Although I am not proposing solutions here, it fascinates me to enlarge the view of the long trail of human history, and especially to see how language, a technology itself, one that is too often taken for granted, influences our experience, and continually brings us into an increasingly exaggerated sense of separation, from the animals, each other and even the idea, let alone the experience, of anything outside of the human realm. It is not a matter of belief, but of finding and allowing an opening in which relationship itself becomes a vehicle for dissolving the boundaries, walls, ideologies and fears that perpetuate a felt experience of separation that has plagued humanity for a very long time.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Pathemata

The relations between words and objects is based on historic usage, whereas the relation between pathemata and objects is based on likeness. Aristotle’s view necessarily implies that pathemata must be universally similar for all language users since all objects are universally the same. Ludovic De Cuypere, Limiting the Iconic

Along the same line of my previous questioning, what is it that can truly be possessed, how much are thoughts my own or part of a greater, ultimately unfathomable pool of what lies fallow, yet unspoken, unthought, belonging to both no one and everyone? We might ask ourselves just how much does language serve a hermetic value, both as bridge between the world unseen and the world as it is expressed?

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For thousands of years, Western culture has expressed a variety of ideas about soul, whether that of animal, vegetable, human, or the more encompassing idea of a World Soul, an Anima Mundi. We moderns struggle with making sense of, defining, or feeling the presence of soul, whether personal or otherwise. Soul is immaterial, in every sense of word! The struggle for soul is perceptual and experiential; between the reality of tangible, material things, whether located within or without, and the struggle for the valuation of any interior reality, ours and that of all beings – and thereby tending to a vulnerability created by opening to the other that acknowledges an unnamed, unsensed, or invisible world as the very ground of being.

In a dying culture, long held beliefs shatter as misplaced claims to power (rightly or wrongly) that once congealed a people are seen through and abandoned. The abandoning leaves a void. When the gods die, and power is thought to exist only in the visible, mathematically comprehensible human and material realm, the world shrinks. Language and ideas shrink too, limited to both products and byproducts of a human-only world. You may observe this shrinking even in ecological concerns. The most convincing arguments to care about animals, trees, rocks and oceans come through human concerns and actions only.* Everything alas, becomes a human resource. There is a deeper irony here. In a de-animated, dead world, we are dead too.

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“Commerce”: Mercury, god of commerce, with his winged cap and sandals and caduceus, hands a bag of gold to en:Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War. On the left, men move a box on a dolly; on the right, the anchor and sailors lead into the next scene, “Marine.”

If these universal concepts are possessions of the soul and to be considered as psychological knowledge, then they are ideas that all psyches can be said to own, and each of us has a modicum in some form and to some intensity of all the virtues, all the categories, and all the pathemata. Then, the entire gamuts of differentiated concepts are properties of the psyche and constitutes its knowings. But all this knowledge is evidenced only idiosyncratically in the actual state of affairs of this or that person. Even if the psyche knows it all, what knowledge of the soul has an individual person?

Hillman, James (2016-05-08). Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8) (Kindle Locations 2602-2606). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

“…what knowledge of the soul has an individual person?

Good question! I would argue that knowledge understood and experienced as a flowing between an animated, very much alive world** makes the world bigger and much fuller of potential than one in which language and sense are limited to a human-only world.

We cannot bring back the gods once their presence is no longer personally felt, but we might come to understand that the source of the material, thingyness of the world comes from a gooey, smeary, animated world in motion much bigger than us, beyond formulas, human concepts and especially language. Human power cannot replace the gods of antiquity, but only displace and misappropriate an inherent power of the cosmos.

The Trick

Like Hermes, the trickster god of Greek antiquity, language tricks, both opening and closing, as it abstracts from reality, both limiting and delimiting ideas and meaning. Individual words carry soul; animate, enliven – horizontally through history, and vertically as bridges to nonverbal intuition, as do concepts and ideas carry and move soul both within nature and beyond. Language is then that which both creates, reveals and destroys mystery. We cannot claim its power but may align ourselves to receive what it offers us. Our desire for measure, exactitude, accuracy and correspondence between language and reality misses Hermes altogether and rather than constructing a bridge between the two worlds, kills both by failing to perceive the distinctions between them.

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Pathemata then, is what lies beneath, within, without, here, beyond, under, over and above language. It is the inherent and underlying common ground and movement (passion) of living beings, which for Plato and Aristotle necessarily involve suffering.

I’ll end with this text from Voegelin on the Gorgias and Pathos:

Pathos is what men have in common, however variable it may be in its aspects and intensities. Pathos designates a passive experience, not an action; it is what happens to man, what he suffers, what befalls him fatefully, and what touches him in his existential core—as for instance the experiences of Eros (481C-D).

In their exposure to pathos all men are equal, although they may differ widely in the manner in which they come to grips with it and build the experience into their lives. There is the Aeschylean touch even in this early work of Plato, with its hint that the pathema experienced by all may result in a mathema different for each man. The community of pathos is the basis of communication. Behind the hardened, intellectually supported attitudes that separate men lie the pathemata that bind them together. From The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin

*Saving the planet, by its very definition refers to humans saving it for human life. Anything that destroys us, destroys the planet. Ultimately, there is no way to sacrifice only human existence for the sake of all else.

**By alive I mean more than just conscious, aware beings, but the ground of all being itself

Under the Influence

Culture

In the not too distant past, people everywhere were still insulated from much awareness of the world beyond one’s local family and tribe. We might now take for granted how much technology has expanded our reach beyond the immediate time and place we find ourselves in. Mobility through technology allows very different peoples and cultures to mingle and merge, as it also expands our reach.

We moderns seek an explanation for everything, and now we can find it ‘online.’ We look to, reference and then quote the experts – or share a meme that claims a truth through an emotionally appealing story – for winning our ideological and psychological battles that the subjective, private self feels obliged to acknowledge in order to be validated and heard. The risk is to hand over our personal agency to collective forces, becoming enslaved by ideologues or by anyone who has our ear. Even if it lies unacknowledged, in the shadow of every ideology there lies an end game.

Every generation fights a new bogey man: whatever public institution, once deemed and revered as expert, eventually falls from grace. This is how it must be. All will eventually fall, as long as the categories themselves of ‘public and private’ remain in a dynamic tension in which one negates the other, rather than serving as that which shows us a third way which places agency back into one’s experience where we can then turn to – that place where all struggles ultimately find their residence.

Hurry Up!

After thousands of years of toil and disease, in which millions of human lives lived were fraught with pain and suffering, technology began to serve us well. But somewhere we have moved beyond a level of relative comfort to a place we’ve never been before. Unlike the self-reliant nature of walking, the speed of a car, while increasing our freedom to move, at the same time increases our expectation of ever greater speeds. Our desires seem insatiable with the idea that technology will increasingly bring more freedom, comfort and one day perhaps the Promised Land itself.

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La Fileuse (Maryo File la Laine). – The Spinner. Zincograph with hand-coloring Indianapolis Museum of Art. PublicDomain

With desires and expectations far removed from human nature we’re twice as vulnerable in an era when technology and social media become the primary source of opinions, stories, images and ideas that are ‘shared,’ ‘liked’ and distributed in their most base form. Memes, quickly consumed as simple explanations, offer platitudes and solutions in an increasingly complex and shared world. We fill our need for ever deeper, more personal reflection with collective opinions distributed just as other goods are bought, sold, and often time, borrowed on credit. Faster food, faster cars, faster weapons, faster information foster unreflected opinions that define reality and tempt us into drawing conclusions about what is broken and how things should be. How to fix what technology driven by a desire for ever-increasing speed breaks? Speed kills, but more than that, while giving an illusion of connecting long distances, cheats us out of deeper bonds to each other and the world that the slowness of essential daily tasks once provided.

Our desperation to make the world better shares this hurried frenzy. We risk the loss of skills for mediating between a multitude of competing ideas, where a deeper understanding of the nature of social and individual problems might counter the overbearing collective influence.

Perhaps our hurry serves to move us past the unbearable pain of increased awareness of the plight of others whom we are often powerless to help, and into the pleasure of believing in a solution that fits our cultural frame of reference. With the solution in mind, rather than the problem, all that’s left is to blame those that don’t share our vision, who we then scapegoat as either unenlightened, brainwashed, or simply “haters.” (Perhaps our exasperation is an important clue that our understanding is not yet complete and still wants something from us.)

Technology in the Driver’s Seat

Although technology extends our awareness, it can breed emotions for things and events far beyond our reach, and still carry with it an expectation that our influence and responsibility might increase too, giving the impression that together, we can solve the world’s problems. Alone with one’s computer, the bigger-than-ever world is now at my fingertips. Perhaps this is why frustration, depression and pathology more readily find us offline, as we never quite find our unique voice that can skillfully mediate and express ideas that we’re attracted to. We remain dispossessed; both afraid and unaware of the reach and limits of our own agency. With all of the speed of technology, the experts we seek for validation still own us.

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Influence

The increased reach of our psyche is far out of proportion to our individual influence on the world’s troubles. The more power, influence and responsibility I think I’m suppose to have, the more I suffer when things beyond my control break my heart. I feel this deeply.

Power and influence, and the question of who has it and who doesn’t, are breeding a new pathology. Never before have we had a spotlight big enough to expose so much to so many. The power of one small cellphone to globally broadcast any event to anyone anywhere is unprecedented. The changes brought to our psyche and to every culture are perhaps unstoppable and seemingly chaotic, contributing as much to the solutions of our problems as to the pathological states that bring harm to so many of us.

No matter one’s beliefs or culture, common archetypal themes grip and haunt us all. In a world saturated by apocalyptic visions and imagery, it is to our teleological views that we might now turn to, not to believe in them more, but to see through them and the power that belief infuses into crumbling cultures. Regardless of their veracity, it is our very belief in them that divides us into opposing forces of believers and heretics, penetrating our awareness and identity with a desire to convert the unfaithful over and above anything else. Falling into belief (defined here as a mistaking of the desire for something ultimately unknowable to be true) is itself pathological, ever in need of validation, reassurance and defense that is beyond the human condition to obtain.

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F-15 and F-16 flying over a burning oil field in Kuwait in 1991. US Air Force. Public Domain

While it once seemed that the old institutions of church, social mores, government and superstition were to blame for our oppression and lack of freedom, as these structures begin to crumble, we might increasingly recognize a kind of personal free agency, unincorporated, to the extent that we don’t, out of fear and desperation, seek out ideologies and authorities to replace those fallen idols.

The desire to win an outcome stemming from any collective ideology, empowers the experts, who in the cultural free fall, solicit our dependence – increasing their influence over us while limiting the pool of ideas of what is possible. Corruption can be more readily justified through strength of belief. The antidote to belief is to stop worshiping at its altar, not the altar of any one specific belief, but the altar of belief itself. Ultimately, at root, what any of us always has – and which remains the very ground of our existence, is experience.

Secret Agent Man

 

Possession

The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.

 

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Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Influence

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.

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Agency

The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.

 

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The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.

 

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers