Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mind Parasites, Divine and Human

Covering 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution in 300 pages is not that easy. For one thing, unlike God, I didn't have 13.7 billion years--plus who knows how many supra-ontological aeons--to gestate the Word in the womb of my infinite being. Inevitably you have to cut some corners to round an absurcular book that meets itself in the muddle of the mount.

There are two main areas that I wish I could have expanded upon. One would be on the history of child rearing and its impact upon culture, politics and history. The other would be the related concept of "mind parasites," which I'm going to talk about today. Although I tried in the book to be as clear as possible in describing the concept, it's probably easy to misunderstand. I also provided footnotes for additional reading, but even the most basic reading on the subject is probably going to be pretty dense for the average reader, because a lot of it is frankly for professionals.

As an aside, whenever I read a book--at least a book from which I have learned something new--it always provides me with new "leads" to follow up on. A case in point is the book A Different Christianity, by Robin Amis, which totally opened up the world of Christianity for me and gave me more additional leads than I can count. If I hadn't tapped into that more esoteric but still traditional vein, then I wouldn't have been able to make my book compatible with Christianity.

In discussing mind parasites, there are several thinkers who had a profound impact on shaping my ideas. One of the problems is that most psychologists are completely unfamiliar with these thinkers. In fact, most psychoanalysts are even unfamiliar with them. For example, ShrinkWrapped--who is entirely sound, as I probably don't have to tell you--was trained in an entirely different tradition than I was. Although I am not a psychoanalyst, I attended a psychoanlytic institute, and all of my training was specifically in psychoanalysis. But psychoanalysis is as riven by various sects, movements, schisms, heresies, and orthodoxies as any religion.

I personally believe that Freud made the "big discovery," but that the discovery was so vast that it cannot possibly be "contained" by any orthodoxy. This in itself is instructive, because it segues into one of the main points I want to make about mind parasites.

Traditional metaphysics always makes a distinction between the God-being and the God-beyond-being--between the personal God that can be named and thought about and the Supreme Reality that is beyond name and form. The former is the cataphatic God about whom we may talk, debate and theologize, while the latter is the apophatic God that so utterly transcends our categories that the most we can say about it is what it is not. Various formulations are "fingers pointing at the moon," and although they are "doorways" into the divine mystery, one should not mistake the finger for the moon.

As another aside, as always, this blog is not really aimed at people who are “at peace with God.” I have no desire whatsoever to try to change or to proselytize to those individuals. Rather, it is aimed more at people who are already esoterists such as myself, or at sophisticated people who are not at peace with God because they have difficulty finding a plausible or compelling point of entry into exoteric religion as it is usually presented.

Most rank-and-file religious people have never heard of the God-beyond-being and might even be offended by the idea. They have a clear conception of what God is like, and don't want to be reminded that the real unconditioned God blows away those mental idols like a tornado through a Buddhist sand painting convention... which, by the way, is the whole point of a sand painting. A Buddhist would enjoy the irony, for it would be a reminder that the tornado is more real than the sand painting.

Anyway, you might even think that I made up the idea, but this distinction between the God-being and God-beyond-being is actually a distinction within God himself. It is not a bobmade principle, but one that is inherent in the inner life of the godhead. It is easy to prove that it exists, more problematic to prove that we or anything else exist outside it. As a matter of fact, the God-beyond-being is the only thing that cannot not be. Ultimately it is the distinction between Brahman and maya, between reality and appearance, between absolute and relative, between necessary and contingent.

It is also the distinction between the symmetrical and the asymmetrical, which is the point I wanted to make about mind parasites. For, being that we are made in the "image of God," we have the same distinction within ourselves that God has within himself. That is, we have a conscious ego that "floats" upon, or is entirely surrounded by, an infinite ocean of unconsciousness. But "unconsciousness" is not the appropriate word, since it has some misleading connotations.

For the ego represents one type of consciousness, and is surrounded by another type of consciousness. To qualify it as "un" is to miss the point. It is perhaps "over", or "under," or "around," or "before," or “within,” but it is definitely not un. Nor is there really any bright line between the ego and the unconscious. Rather, like the distinction within the divine between God-being and God-beyond-being, there is in reality no distinction. Actually, we didn’t so much invent the distinction--again, it is real--as place a dividing line at an arbitrary juncture.

After all, being inherently absolute and infinite, there is no line we can draw within God, and say to him, "you stay on that side." No. This is the secret of God's utter transcendence and his unfathomable immanence. This is precisely why we can say with a straight face that everything is in God, but that, at the same time, God is in everything. Relying upon normal Aristotelian logic, we would have to say that one of these statements precludes the other: you can either be in something or something can be in you. Both statements cannot be true. It makes no sense to say that "I am in California" and that "California is in me."

Unless you are employing a different mode of logic. This is called "symmetrical logic" in contradistinction to "asymmetrical" Aristotelian logic. As it so happens this is precisely the logic that governs the Freudian unconscious, and it is also what makes mind parasites so troublesome. If mind parasites obeyed normal logic and reason, it would be a simple matter to eradicate them. It would be just a matter of education. In fact, the more superficial forms of psychotherapy adopt this cognitive approach to do battle with mind parasites. Sometimes it helps, but in my experience, it is more palliative than transformative, and cannot touch more deeply rooted mind parasites because it specifically avoids the problem of symmetry. Being that the unconscious partakes of symmetrical logic, it is has certain qualities, such as being "timeless" and "infinite." Likewise, the part can contain the whole, while the whole can symbolize the part.

You may be surprised to hear this, but most psychological problems are not "emotional" problems per se. Nor are they problems of faulty thinking, of ineffective or pathological defenses, or of learned behaviors.

Rather, they are problems of logic. Not "logic" vs. "illogic." That is only how it appears on the surface. Rather, it is a problem of symmetrical logic vs. asymmetrical logic. For, just as God is in everything and everything is in God, our mind parasites are in us but we are equally in our mind parasites.

Is this getting too weird? Is anyone still following me?

Simple introspection or observation of others will confirm the truth of what I am saying. I can think of so many clinical cases that I can't think of just one to make my point. Take the case of a woman whose mother was moody and unstable. She would frequently verbally and sometimes physically lash out at the patient in a frightening and unpredictable way. But she is a child. She is emotionally dependent upon her mother. In order to maintain the bond of loving attachment, these frightening aspects of the relationship are shunted off into the "unconscious." A mind parasite is born. It is actually an internalized relationship with an emotional tone linking the two parties.

In taking a clinical history, I can see obvious evidence of this mind parasite shadowing this woman's life, sabotaging relationships, generating "propaganda" that she confuses with her own thoughts, persecuting her from within. She is currently in a crisis because things aren't going well at work. She is being criticized, picked on. This resonates with the mind parasite.

But again, it would be inaccurate to say that something is being awakened "within" her. This is not at all what it feels like. Rather, it is as if she has been plunged into a different mental space altogether. This is what is so confusing. Now the very distinction between "inside" and "outside" starts to be blurred. Is the persecution coming from my supervisor? Or is it coming from me? In reality, she is simply in an infinitely persecutory “symmetrical” space that surrounds and suffocates her on all sides. She can run but she cannot hide. She goes out on disability to get away from the problem, but that doesn't help, for now she has no place to project her mind parasite. She begins to realize that the problem is not ultimately outside but inside. And she's inside it!

This brings up an interesting point. That is, does God have divine mind parasites?

Oh yes. I’m afraid so. For what is a mind parasite in the final analysis? It is a relativity that partakes of, and confuses itself with, absoluteness. God being God, he cannot help being present in all relativities. But being God, he cannot help being beyond them as well. A divine mind parasite is a relativity that steals from the absolute and then forces itself upon others absolutely.

A nodding acquaintance with history, both past and contemporary, will demonstrate the menace this poses.



What an outstanding link sent to me by reader J.R.:

The Left, Online and Outraged
Liberal Blogger Finds an Outlet and a Community

This is one of the most vivid accounts of leftist mind parasites I have ever read. The idea that this has only to do with George Bush strikes me as somewhat preposterous. After all, we all have George Bush as President. And yet, not all of us are plunged into an infinitely malevolent psychological space as a result:

"In the angry life" of this blogger, "the rage begins as soon as she opens her eyes and realizes that her president is still George W. Bush. The sun has yet to rise and her family is asleep, but no matter; as soon as the realization kicks in," she is "out of bed and heading toward her computer."

In the persecuted world of the Angry Left, she has the reputation "as one of the angriest of all. 'One long, sustained scream' is how she describes the writing she does for various Web logs, as she wonders what she should scream about this day."

"Should it be about Bush, whom she considers 'malevolent,' a 'sociopath' and 'the Antichrist'? She smokes another cigarette. Should it be about Vice President Cheney, whom she thinks of as 'Satan,' or about Karl Rove, 'the devil'? Should it be about the 'evil' Republican Party, or the 'weaselly, capitulating, self-aggrandizing, self-serving' Democrats, or the Catholic Church, for which she says 'I have a special place in my heart . . . a burning, sizzling, putrescent place where the guilty suffer the tortures of the damned'?"

Ah, the truly AWESOME power of the symmetrical unconscious!

"'I feel like I'm being molested everytime I hear [Bush's] voice,' one person writes on the Daily Kos Web site while watching a Bush news conference."

You ARE being molested, my leftist friend! But I'm afraid it's an inside job.

"Powerlessness" is one weak explanation. "This is born of powerlessness."

Yes, powerlessness in the face of something that absolutely envelops and smothers the conscious mind.

"It has come to the point where the worst people on Earth are running the Earth." As a result, "I am this close to being one of those muttering people pushing a cart.. I'm insane with rage and grief."

badda-BING! It is so rare to stumble upon truth. When one does so, it is best to stop searching after it. Rather, try to digest it.

"The cigarettes are because of a personality that she describes as compulsive. The nonalcoholic beer is because for several years she drank to excess. The note [above her computer] that says 'Why am I/you here?' is because she is in constant search of an answer."

Oh baby. Compulsiveness. Impulsivity. Addiction. Molestation. Powerlessness. Rage. Splitting. Projection. Identity confusion. If you're a psychologist, this was a beautiful article, in the way I imagine the equations of quantum physics are beautiful to a physicist.


"The aion is a child playing with colored toys."

Friday, April 14, 2006

My Corrupt and Degenerate Soul: Great Leaping Leftist!

There are a couple things I was thinking of blogging about today... One of them involves the absolutely corrupt and debased state of my soul.

Yes, back around 15-20 years ago, when I was a dyed-in-the woollyheaded leftist. Obviously it is not unusual for a person to leave the leftism of their youth behind as they mature (I can never bring myself to call it liberalism, since leftism is so decidedly illiberal).

But for many people it is a trivial change. They simply went along with the program when they were younger, and now go along with a different program. It's not as if they've thought anything out on a deep level. For a lot of people, politics comes down to a social club.

Yet there are others who remain hardcore leftists their entire lives, as if they have literally learned nothing in their life's journey--Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, Bernie Sanders, Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Alexander Cockburn, Paul Krugman, Bruce Springsteen, real-life meathead Rob Reiner, and so many others. What explains them? What exactly is wrong with them? Is it lack of intelligence? Clearly not. Is it psychopathology? As a psychologist it is tempting to reduce it to that, and I could easily do so in a plausible way. But a leftist psychologist could do the same thing with me.

The more I think about it, I consider it a spiritual pathology, a true sickness of the soul.

In the past, people have asked me about how my particular transition came about. I was thinking about it again yesterday on the way home from work. My CD player is broken, so I was listening to the Michael Medved show. Being Passover, it was a rerun. There were two guests. One was David Horowitz, who was discussing his then new book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.

One thing I like about Medved, Prager or Hewitt, is that, unlike, say, the amazingly tedious Air America, they try to stimulate debate by having on worthy proponents from the other side. In this case, it was Daniel Lazar, a writer from The Nation magazine. Back in the 1980's, when I was a subscriber, it was considered a far left magazine. It was actually an alternative to the MSM. Since then the MSM has moved so far left that there is probably no substantive difference anymore on a single issue between The Nation and the L.A. or New York Times. This is what I mean when I say that the Democrats are no longer a liberal party, but a leftist one.

I give credit to Lazar for being unflinchingly candid in propounding his views. Most leftists know their ideas will be unpopular if expressed in an unvarnished, un-nuanced way to the unsophisticated boobeoisie, so they dissemble, deceive, and prevaricate. But Lazar was refreshingly straightforward in expressing his views. Ironically, he confirmed every single point Horowitz made about the far left--that approximately 20% of the population that truly hates America and everything it stands for. Lazar had no qualms about openly comparing President Bush to Hitler, even emphasizing that Hitler had better reasons for invading Poland than Bush did to invade Iraq.

Lazar went on to say that he was entirely sympathetic to the insurgency, since they are simply defending their country from a hostile invasion. He hoped that they would succeed in preventing the upcoming election, since any electoral process brought about by the Americans would be a sham. He dismissed the idea that the insurgents were terrorists, pointing out that the nazis also referred to the French resistance as terrorists. "Terrorism" is just a word we made up to delegitimize what the other guy does.

Lazar said he could easily write a book about the "unholy alliance" between Islamism and American conservatism, since both involve religious fascism, violence, totalitarianism, hatred of women, etc.--all the usual bromides.

As I listened to this man, I tried to understand how someone can be so frankly sick and depraved--not mentally, but within their soul. Obviously it would serve no purpose whatsoever to debate such an individual or to argue with them on the merits of their ideas, any more than you could have a rational discussion with the typical denizen of the dailykos-huffingtonpost world. You're never going to persuade this kind of person with logic or evidence. All you can do is try to highlight your differences as sharply as possible.

I didn't mean to make this post about Lazar. Rather, his presence on the radio prompted me to once again look within myself for answers and to try and understand my own transformation. For there was a time that I would have looked up to someone like Lazar as a brave and outspoken man, a persecuted minority "speaking truth to power." How could I have been so foolish?

By definition it cannot be a matter of intelligence, for I am no smarter today than I was then. Nor do I believe that I was a whole lot crazier back then. Somewhat, but that had more to do with typical neurotic symptoms such as self-confidence, mild depression, relationship issues, etc., nothing really fundamental.

But why was I a leftist? A few superficial answers came readily to mind. One of them falls into the realm of simple ignorance. Back then, before the days of talk radio or the internet, there was no widespread access to conservative ideas. Ever since Goldwater, the MSM had succeeded in branding the conservative movement as a lunatic fringe of irrelevant fanatics. A priori they were not to be taken seriously except as a potentially serious danger. I also encountered this default attitude everywhere in my education, and never heard any alternative view articulated, except in a mischaracterized and distorted way.

I was also completely ahistorical. Or worse, there was a sense in the 1960s and 1970s that history had labored for lo those many dark centuries to finally give birth to our enlightened generation. We were superior to all of the past benighted generations, including our clueless parents. There was no sense whatsoever that the extraordinary economic and personal freedom that began opening up at that particular time had had any cost whatsoever. If only all of the stupid and violent ideas of past generations were obliterated--ideas like war, sacrifice, capitalist greed, Western religion, etc.--the natural goodness of humans would bloom like a flower.

Of course, like all leftists I was economically illiterate--or innumerate. That's the problem with the Left, since Marxism in all its permuations is just bad literature, not economics. Like socialist Europe, I knew nothing about the creation of wealth. I just assumed it. The only problem was its distribution.

Much of it was simple and crude self-interest. Thus, just like the idiot high school students of today demonstrating on behalf of illegal immigrants, I can remember "bravely" ditching my 9th grade class in 1970 to participate in a school wide antiwar demonstration. The sense of childish moral superiority could make you throw up.

I also lacked gratitude. Again, somehow there was no understanding of the extraordinary sacrifices people had made in the past to make my unbelievably easy and pleasant life possible. My father lived through W.W.II and served in the British army, but men of his generation didn't seem to want to talk about their experiences. Perhaps they were traumatized by them and wanted to go along with the ahistorical tenor of the times as a way to foster their own denial--much in the way the W.W. I generation didn't want to face up to Hitler in the 1930s.

Leftism continues to be a children's crusade against the adult world, and we are in desperate need of adults who will stand up to the children and not worry about trying to be their "friends." As a parent, you simply have to do what you need to do, because children don't really know how to raise themselves. (If I had more time, this would be a good place to expand upon this vis-a-vis Will's comment below on the spirit of rebellion that animates the Left. This rebellion is an inevitable artifact of childhood, and is oedipal to the core. To gratify it is to create a monster.)

I remember seeing Saving Private Ryan a few months after it came out. I took in a matinee in an empty theater, and remember being so overwhelmed with an implacable sense of gratitude. As I walked out into the sunlight, it was almost disorienting. What could I ever do in my life to repay those men who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could spend a leisurely afternoon watching a movie about their sacrifices?

I don't know what I would have thought about that movie in 1985. Probably I would have devalued it. But now I am acutely conscious of the fact that I must, at the very least, live a life worthy of the sacrifice of the men who made my life possible, and to do everything I can to maintain the values of the country they gave their lives for. To do otherwise is to insult their sacred memory.

While harping on my own shortcomings, mention should also be given to my intellectual arrogance and my moral superiority. Scratch any leftist and, and they will sue you; but underneath the scratch you will find a bottomless reservoir of conviction that they not only know more than you do, but that they are a better person than you are. You are greedy, or homophobic, or sexist, or racist, or hate the poor, or don't care about the planet, while I am the opposite of all those things. I am kind, compassionate, wise, generous and tolerant.

The reason why leftist ideas are so devoid of substance is that they often come down to a simple affirmation of these self-flattering adjectives, as in the example a couple weeks ago of Jimmy Carter's abuse of the innocent elementary school student. To summarize, it went something like this: "Are you a nice person?," asked Carter. "Yes," says the girl. "Then you are a Democrat." Easy.

Back when I was a leftist, I just wanted to be "cool." This was not so much a political or even apolitical stance. Rather, it had to do with not being judgmental and not tolerating people who were judgmental. Judgmental people were uncool in the extreme. I don't know about you, but everybody I knew was cool, even most teachers.

But there is something spiritually much deeper about this stance. For what I really wanted back then was for my conscience to be asleep, and the last thing I wanted was to be around someone with an awakened objective conscience. That would have bummed me out. Big time.

This, I believe, is what explains the narcissistic Hollywood left, which increasingly exemplifies the left in general. This is a population of people whose consciences are generally deeply asleep. A disabled conscience is what allows them to lead the sort of frivolous, self-absorbed and morally rudderless personal lives they do.

But the conscience does not go away. Rather, it is simply projected in the form of an oppressive mother government that will keep everyone else from being "selfish." For the Hollywood leftist knows full well about the corrupt nature of the human soul. They know that the individual is powerless to live in the light of a higher source that is not from this world. Therefore, the only hope for mankind is to enforce a collective morality from on high to assuage our collective--not individual--sin.

When the leftist talks about how this is a racist country, he knows of what he speaks. Likewise, his obsession with sexual deviance or human greed lets you know that he is on intimate terms with them. It is a miserable condition of the soul. In deflecting responsibility and pursuing a collective solution to his own personal spiritual demons, the leftist is trying to put you out of his misery.

Your erstwhile leaping leftist, circa 1980-81. Clueless but cool, no? That's a 16 oz. Coors can at my feet, although in real life the relationship was somewhat reversed. How did this affable ne'er-do-well bluff his way into graduate school a year later? Ah, what wondrous feats are possible if you are desperate to extend your adolescence just a little bit longer!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Secular Fundamentalists and Other Simple People of Faith (3.7.08)

As I have mentioned before, what makes man unique is not just his capacity for knowledge, but his capacity to know so many things that are manifestly false. To call this latter thing "knowledge" is a perversion of the term, for knowledge that isn't true isn't proper knowledge at all. Then what is it? Why are human beings so prone to believe nonsense?

Even for most so-called intellectuals, most of what they know is not necessarily knowledge. Rather, it is plainly "belief." Belief is knowledge once removed, for it means that we are placing our trust in the knowledge of another, or participating in the knowledge of another knower. We don't know, but somebody does, and we trust them.

So much of what people think they know--but which they really don't know at all--comes down to whom they trust. For example, I generally read a few economics books per year, but I could hardly claim to be any kind of expert. And yet, I do have my opinions regarding economics--even strong opinions. But when it comes right down to it, I have to admit that my opinions rest upon which experts I trust. In my case, I trust a Thomas Sowell but deeply distrust a Paul Krugman. I expect the former to tell me the truth and the latter to lie and distort.

The typical leftist will be a mirror image of me. He will place his trust in Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, and will regard Thomas Sowell as an agenda-driven hack. It will serve no purpose for me to debate such a person on the merits of the competing economic theories, for again, if we are honest, we have to admit that one of us is simply suffering from the problem of misplaced trust.

Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy, but derives its legitimacy from someone who either knows, thinks he knows, or pretends to know. In this sense, it is superficially similar to faith. However, belief is generally a static thing. It takes the unknown and superimposes the known upon it, thus foreclosing the unknown. Once one believes something, the issue becomes settled.

Faith, on the other hand, is a dynamic engagement with the unknown. Faith, properly understood, is not a cognitive structure or grid to be superimposed upon reality. Rather, it is a psychospiritual probe with which to explore reality--somewhat like the way a blind person might use a cane to to construct an internal image of the dark space around him.

Furthermore, unlike belief, faith should be convertible to knowledge. It is actually a subtle and sophisticated way to gain knowledge that transcends the senses, not a means to provide false but comforting answers and to vanquish curiosity.

Thus, many people faith are actually "people of knowledge," whereas many so called intellectuals are actually no more than simple "people of faith." You can really see what little genuine knowledge people have when the discussion revolves around something you do happen to know about, whether it is quantum physics or plumbing repair.

For example, in my case, I happen to possess a lot of theoretical and first hand knowledge of psychology. Most intellectuals who claim to know about psychology don't actually have this kind of first hand knowledge. Rather, they have simply placed their trust in an expert whom they choose to believe.

I remember having a number of discussions with a world-renowned leftist historian who shall go unnamed. His historical thinking presumed a great deal of psychological knowledge, for how can you claim to study human history without some kind of implicit or explicit theory of human development and motivation? And yet, his psychological ideas were so outdated and unsophisticated as to be laughable. Yes, he had his own psychological "experts" whom he relied upon--probably some ideas he picked up here and there from leftist psychologists in the faculty lounge--but I knew that his faith in these experts was entirely misplaced. Incidentally, this man also happens to be an atheist who is extremely hostile to religion. But in matters of the human psyche, this callous sophisticate remains a "simple man of faith."

Ironically, it is just so in any debate between an obligatory atheist, or secular fundamentalist, and a man of genuine faith or gnosis. True, many people of faith simply place their trust in someone who knows--or claims to know--and leave it at that--their priest, their guru, Jesus, the Torah, L. Ron Hubbard, whatever.

But others do know. They know directly, as we discussed yesterday. How then to discuss this knowledge with the obligatory atheist--that simple and unsophisticated secular man of faith--who has placed his faith in those who not only do not know but obnoxiously insist that there is nothing to know?

Imagine a medical expert in, say, the mid 19th century. He has all of the latest knowledge on disease. He knows all about the four humors, about the proper placement of leeches, about how germs are spontaneously generated by bad air, etc. Someone comes along and tells this arrogant fellow that germs aren't spontaneously generated. Rather, there are invisible microorganisms covering his hands, living things that he is actually unwittingly transmitting to his patients. Would this doctor not be far closer to the truth if he did not place faith in his own experts or trust his own personal experience?

As expressed by Josef Pieper, "belief has the extraordinary property of endowing the believer with knowledge which would not be available to him by the exercise of his own powers." Furthermore, "being wise with the head of someone else is undoubtedly a smaller thing than possessing knowledge oneself, but it is far to be preferred to the sterile arrogance of one who does not achieve the independence of the knower and simultaneously despises the dependence of the believer."

Since we begin the spiritual path without explicit knowledge, we must inevitably place our faith in the testimony of someone who does (or did) know. Ah, but how do we know that this person isn't a mere believer himself? How do we assess their credibility and trustworthiness? By what signs do we judge the false from the true prophet?

Human beings are equipped to apprehend reality. But we are also curiously equipped to apprehend the interior reality persons. It is said that a sophisticated scientist, strictly speaking, does not judge the merits of a scientific theory on the basis of whether it is "true" or "false." Rather, he does so on the basis of its generativity, that is, by how much it explains, how well it ties together various other facts and observations, and the extent to which it gives rise to new, "interesting" problems.

Have you ever known a generative person in whose presence you experience the bracing flow of "life" along your keel? Have you ever been in the presence of a stagnant and lifeless person in whose presence you feel your soul being sucked out of your body?

The spiritually generative lumin being does not merely report reality. Rather, such an individual imparts reality. You might say that they are a door. Or you might say that they are a way. Or perhaps they are even the life.

They know. And we know that they know. And soon enough, we know too. Call it recognosis and ruahcollection.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Remembrance of Things Surpassed

The divine--or whatever you wish to call it--drops mysterious "depth charges" into history. Like pebbles falling into a pool of water, they then reverberate through horizontal time, leading all the way to the shore we know as the present moment. Although we can only see the ripple, there is something of the original pebble in the ripple, no matter how distant from the original impact. If we know how to do so, we can follow these ripples right back up to their vertical source.

There is no outside without an inside. Tradition preserves the "outside" of the ripple as it makes its way through history. Esotericism, in whatever form, tries to penetrate into the inside. It does this through the development of a latent faculty known as the nous, or intellect, and through an activity called gnosis or intellection.

This gnosis is not to be confused with "gnosticism," which is a particular teaching that existed on the periphery of Christianity during its early centuries. Nor is it to be confused with the Da Vinci Code nonsense that we are hearing so much about.

Rather, gnosis is simply an extension of knowledge beyond the empirical and rational domains. Many religious people seem to think it is "dangerous" to talk about gnosis. Actually, it is dangerous not to talk about it, because in so doing we lose the ability to even discuss one of the most important aspects of religion: that it is a realm of real knowledge, and that this knowledge is knowable. After all, if it is not knowable, then it is not knowledge. It's just "belief"--which is exactly what the secular world wishes to reduce it to.

As a matter of fact, this is why most intellectuals would say that religion involves neither knowledge nor knowing: it is merely nonsense about nothing believed by a bunch of nobodies.

One of primary purposes of this blog is to set things aright and to demonstrate that this is not the case--that religious knowing--gnosis--involves an intellectual development far beyond that of the typical secular intellectual. For, to express what amounts to a metaphysical tautology, the acquisition of knowledge implies no limit to itself. To put it another way, to say that we can know anything at all, means that it is possible to know anything in principle. It's just a matter of knowing how. (Actually, it's a combination of know-how and be-who, for gnosis, as we shall see, is inseparable from being.)

In our postmodern climate, this undoubtedly sounds like an outrageous claim, but I can easily prove that these critics are wrong. Either knowledge is possible or it is not. I have no quarrel with a doctrinaire postmodernist who claims that no knowledge is possible. At least they are consistent. They can go away now. I won't even deal with them.

But for those who do believe that knowledge is possible, but limited only to what they know, where do they get off? In other words, they say that the things they know are knowable, but that some other things they do not know are unknowable. But no knowledge of the first type allows them to make the second statement. That is, the statement that "no metaphysical knowledge is possible" clearly does not follow from the statement "knowledge is possible." In fact, "knowledge is possible" is a deeply metaphysical statement.

The fact of the matter is, as I explained in my book, to say that we can know anything at all about the universe--to affirm that the universe is intelligible--is to make a hidden but quite revolutionary statement about the nature of human consciousness and its relationship to the cosmos as a whole. Make no mistake--once you say that human beings may acquire knowledge, you have forged a link between the human mind and the Absolute.

Take a banal example: energy = mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. Physicists will tell you that this represents absolute knowledge. If it is knowledge, then it is true, for "false knowledge" is an oxymoron. And it does not represent "observed" knowledge--no one can observe the speed of light. Rather, it comes close to representing a kind of pure knowledge. Knowledge is one thing. But to know that you know it means that there is no boundary between knower and known. In knowing you know, the "you" that knows is also the you that is known.

You cannot arrive at this conclusion--that we know and know that we know--by reason. Reason alone cannot prove the existence of truth. Rather, reason can only operate on premises that are supplied by the senses or by some other conclusion that has been arrived at through reason. Reason does not generate the raw data through which it operates. Even in dealing with simple problems, the philosopher Michael Polanyi demonstrated that we are guided by a higher form of instantaneous, non-rational knowing that tells us where to look to find problems that seem worth investigating and solving with reason to begin with.

Here again we see that reason is a tool of the intellect that surpasses it. Gnosis simply involves applying that same process to a higher realm from which the intellect originates, and which is known in a direct and unmediated way. In other words, the existence of what we call "God" is not proven through reason or logic--again, logic can only prove what is entailed in its premises. It is much more analogous to sensory knowledge. If you can see or touch something, no one is going to ask you to first prove the existence of sight or touch. Rather, sensory perception is simply "given."

It is the same way with gnosis. What frustrates the rank-and-file intellectual is that knowledge of God--gnosis--is ultimately "given" in the same way. Its validity can be "proven" in the same way that sensory perception can be proven, in the sense that it is obvious to the person who has it. The reasoning mind builds its argument in a linear way, eventually arriving at a conclusion. But the higher mind perceives directly and spontaneously--the same way you know that you know.

It is much more akin to the way, say, you perceive beauty in music. In so doing, there is no gap between the music, the beauty, and the mind that inuits the beauty directly. But how could you ever prove to the person who doesn't perceive the beauty that the beauty is indeed there? It would be like trying to explain to a blind man why you shouldn't wear brown shoes with a tuxedo.

Let's take the analogy one step further. In perceiving the beauty in a work of art, where does the beauty ultimately reside? Beauty is the splendor of the true, and seeing either truth or beauty ultimately comes down to a case of like knowing like--of the intellect knowing its own substance reflected back to itself through a particular medium. The uncorrupted intellect is spontaneously oriented toward the good, the true and the beautiful, so that knowing any of these things ultimately involves a kind of remembrance of itself. It is vertical remembrance--not a remembrance of things past, but of things surpassed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Progressive Thought and the Reversal of History

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. --C. S. Lewis

In one respect, history represents constant change and novelty. But in another respect, it involves constant repetition of the same themes. In this regard, it is somewhat analogous to music, where you have a certain rhythm, bass line, and chordal structure, on top of which is the melody. But the melody is constrained by the structure. Often we notice the historical melody to the exclusion of the droning and repetitive bass line.

Primitive societies abhor change, and do everything within their power to prevent, deny, or undo it. Often, when change happens suddenly, these cultures will simply assimilate the novelty into their old system of belief.

However, one far-sighted observation of the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion is that many modern human groups are every bit as primitive. While they might have a veneer of civilization, their more basic function is to structure existence and to allay anxiety. You see this, for example, in very obvious cases such as the NAACP or the ACLU.

Clearly, these groups once had an instrumental purpose, but now their only purpose is to provide a cognitive structure for the world of the people who belong to these groups, and to reinforce the structure through contact with like-minded people. It's not even a pleasant world. Rather, it is a dark, paranoid, and conspiratorial world.

And yet, the paranoid world of the far left is preferable to the ambiguity of the the real world. In fact, I shouldn't even say "ambiguity," for does anyone acquainted with reality think for a moment that Representative Cynthia McKinney is a victim of white racism? Or that President Bush is imposing a fascist theocracy?

Human beings have an amazing capacity to deny change and to live in the past. Then again, if viewed through the lens of Darwinian evolution, this should not be surprising. After all, evolution did not design us to be happy, or well adjusted, or even to know reality. Rather, in our horizontal aspect, we were specifically selected to survive and adapt to a certain environment.

All successful species are stuck in a rut of adaptation. Humans are no different. The majority of cultural beliefs are not adaptations to external reality but adaptations to internal reality--they help to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty, and to structure existence.

After World War II, anthropologists discovered primitive groups that had been entirely static and had never "entered" history. Their belief systems were entirely structured around various benevolent and malevolent tribal spirits. Upon noticing American soldiers and their boats loaded down with riches that were distributed to the population, they did not alter their basic conception of reality. Rather, they simply incorporated the American G.I.s into a "cargo cult," and gave their old gods a new identity. Time and change were successfully warded off.

On the bottom floor of the primitve group psyche, there is a deep sense that time is not progressive. Rather, time is the enemy. It does not advance, but wears away and corrodes. Things that unexpectedly develop in time, like, say, President Bush, the conservative movement, or the threat of Islamic terrorism, are not exactly denied. Rather, they are regarded as bizarre aberrations--they are not really real. For the progressive, their reality has been stolen--I mean this literally, for example, the perpetual obsession with the 2000 election and now with "Diebold"-- and a false one has been inserted.

In order to deny the corrosive effect of time and change, primitive groups enact rituals to reassert the original divine order. This is why you can see that the left is so astonishingly ritualistic in their thinking. For their philosophy, like any religious philosophy, revolves around certain iconographic symbols that abide outside time. They are "forever." They need only be uttered, like magical incantations, and we are back in the comfortable tribal delusions of the 1960's: "War is not the answer," "America is a racist, sexist, homophobic country," "culture of corruption," "tax cuts for the rich," "Be Very Afraid, the world is cooling/warming."

Like the Islamists, the "progressive" is animated by a beautiful ideal located in the distant past. In truth, it never really existed. Rather, it is purely archetypal and precedes any particular "thoughts" about it. Once it is embraced, it then produces its own thoughts. The formality of a thinker is not required. If you peruse, say, huffingtonpost or dailykos, you will see that the memes that are reflexively channelled there are overwhelmingly angry, paranoid, and alarmist. In reality, this represents alarm over the fact that time really does exist, and rage at the fact that the wider world does not mirror their tribal ideal.

The progressive party is the nostalgic party that actually wishes to deny history and escape from time. Perhaps I should again emphasize how common this is, both in individuals and in groups. Freud, for example, said that the neurotic "suffers from reminisences." For what is a neurosis than a perpetual replaying of events of the past that are superimposed on the present, the constant structuring of reality in terms of the timeless unconscious?

Similarly, the progressive navigates through life while keeping his eyes riveted on the rear view mirror. Therefore, the same things keep happening. It's positively eery: Bush is Nixon. Iraq is Vietnam. The terrorist intercept program is Watergate. Clearly, these progressive cargo-cultists think that all the economic gifts brought to us by those two tax-cutting bwanas, Reagan and Bush, really arrived courtesy of the old big government gods.

The archaic community lives in a tribal memory that is impervious to the ravages of time. But as reality increasingly deviates from the sacred memory, it is the duty of every tribal member to renew, reassert and rejuvenate the ideal through rituals of various kinds. You can see these primitive magicians at dailykos, going through their various rituals and Ghost Dances, raging against reality, desperately trying to cleanse and "renew" it.

For primitive groups, time is terror. Therefore, it is no surprise that we routinely hear from the left that "George Bush is the world's biggest terrorist." That he is, in the sense that he has no respect for the tribal ways of the progressive mind and its sacred, eternal myths. Similarly, last week Muslims were outraged at the new edition of Indonesian Playboy, describing it as "terrorism." Again, entirely true for people terrified of time.

In the long run, in almost every measurable way, things are getting better--the economy is "humming along," as they say--low unemployment and interest rates, people living longer than ever, an environment that has never been cleaner in my lifetime, reduced crime rates and illegitimacy. These are all the things progressives supposedly care about, but the better things get, the worse they feel.

And where things are getting better for the resurgence of their world view, they don't seem to have much gratitude: materialism and spiritual exhaustion, neopaganism, barbarous entertainment, the cult of the body, sexual license, self-worship, moral relativism, multi-culturalism... What's their problem? Still not primitive enough?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Inscape

Where the noetic light shines through, if you're young enough to see it.

Face to Face With Reality

As a prelude to our ongoing discussion of friendly nonlocal operators, I'm starting off with some revised material from a five or six months back. Probably worth reviewing even if you've read it before, but it ends below with the asterisks.

Ever since the scientific revolution, we have tended to divide the world into a public sphere of objective, measurable reality and a private sphere of ephemeral, subjective perceptions. In this view, the external world is considered the fundamental reality, while consciousness is reduced to an epiphenomenon, so that all our perceptions of the world--its colors, sounds, and textures--are meaningless, revealing nothing intrinsic to the cosmos. All subjective qualities are reduced to quantities--for example, our perception of the redness of an apple is reduced to a particular frequency of light, or music is reduced to vibrating air molecules striking against our ear drums.

As I wrote in One Cosmos Under God, "science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by 'excluding everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description--the very world it started with--to 'an ontological limbo.'" Only this second, abstract world is considered to disclose valid information about the universe, whereas all of our initial impressions of color, sound, texture, beauty, and meaning supposedly reveal nothing real about the universe, only about our own nervous systems.

But one of the fundamental teachings of any spiritual view is that the universe has a within that is accessible to humans. In other words, the universe is not simply an exterior, made up of discrete parts that are external to one another. Rather, by looking at the parts in a certain way, we may discover a wholeness in the world that in turn reveals its interior dimension. Parts show us only the exterior of the cosmos, while wholeness shows us the great within (and vice versa).

The human face is undoubtedly the original within. As infants, our whole world is oriented toward the mother's face. Obviously, in looking at a face, we don't first attend to a nose here, an eye there, and and a mouth there, and inductively leap to the conclusion that a face exists. Rather, without even knowing it, we attend to the face as a whole, and can instantaneously distinguish one face from another and one expression from another.

In attending to the mother's face, the baby knows that the mother has an interior, and through her changing expressions, only gradually begins to discover his own interior. Autistic children, for example, do not see whole "faces," but only a collection of parts, so that they are never ushered into the intersubjective Withinness of the cosmos. Instead, they are condemned to a bizarre and frightening existence of living death--immersed in a sea of things that move and have independent existence, but reveal no meaning. In the strict scientific view, one would have to say that people with autism are more in touch with reality than anyone else, since they live in the world of meaningless objects described by science.

Just as the face allows us to access the within of the person behind it, the wholeness of the cosmos allows us to see within it. (One of the central points of my book is that modern physics reveals the cosmos to be an internally related whole, not just a collection of exterior parts.) Paradoxically, we can know the interior only by focusing on the exterior. Just as the face is the meaning of its features, the meaning of existence can be discovered by dwelling in its features.

Poets, for example, have always understood that by indwelling in nature we can intuit what dwells within nature--we are drowning in a sea of clues that point beyond themselves to a hidden reality to which the clues point. By attending to things and events in a certain way, we allow them to "speak" to us, and this in turn informs us about their nature.

The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term "inscape" to refer to this more intense experience of observing things in such a way that their intrinsic qualities emerge. He believed that by allowing one's attention to be drawn to a bird in flight, a tree, or a landscape, we allow their character to act upon us through a union of the inner and outer worlds. Similarly, Goethe argued that we discover the true nature of things through a contemplative kind of looking he called "seeing with exactitude." By doing this, we can open ourselves to what the cosmos is telling us about itself.

This has obvious theological implications. For example, what is scripture but an exterior narrative that tells us of the within--the inner nature--of God? Just as it is a mistake to view nature as an object, one makes the same mistake in viewing scripture only as a historical narrative of external events. Rather, those events have a within which is their true teaching. As a matter of fact, this is probably the simplest definition of esotericism: inner religion.

It can also be argued that the figure of Jesus answers the deepest human longing to "see the face of God," and thereby know his within most intimately. Again, the whole point of the gospels, if you are a Christian, is that their external narrative reveals the interior God. You cannot dismantle or deconstruct the gospel stories, for this would be like disassembling a human face to try to understand its expression. We see by a sort of interior light when we dwell in faith, for faith is actually a holistic foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths--knowledge of approaching discoveries on the interior plane of things.

As the poet Novalis put it, "The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet." If you are feeling boxed in by the materialistic paradigm of modernity, know that you may escape it any time through the many inscapes that surround us.


A reader was taken by my comment that "I actually enjoy sitting in a chair in the dark at 4:00 AM staring at a candle illuminating the face of one of my inspirations." He asked me to elaborate on just what I mean by "face."

Good question!

He further noted that religions in general advise against idolatry. This is true. However, in my view, idolatry is the exact opposite of what I am talking about. For idolatry involves reducing the Absolute Subject of God to a a mere object in the relative world. An icon is the opposite of an idol: it is a membrane through which the transcendent, unseen energies of the divine penetrate and cast their luster into this world. Truly, the icon is situated at the frontier between the immanent and transcendent God.

Those who do not countenance the countenance are missing the point. For it was long ago decided--after a theological battle known as the Iconoclast Controversy--that the use of icons is not only appropriate but fundamental to Orthodox Christianity, which is, after all, original Christianity. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, the seventh ecumenical council in 787 proclaimed that "since Christ became true man, it is legitimate to depict his face upon the holy icons; and, that since Christ is one person and not two, these icons do not just show us his humanity in separation from his divinity, but they show us the one person of the eternal Logos incarnate."

Among my darshan images is a traditional icon of Jesus hanging right above my desk. One of my friendly nonlocal operators, or what I like to call "I-amissaries" from across the great divide.

Interestingly, the anti-icon forces were probably influenced by contemporary Islamic and earlier Jewish ideas regarding the depiction of God. But icons are not worshipped. Rather, they are revered in the same way a Jew reveres the Torah, not as an "idol" but as a reflection of God. Easy for Jews to say, because they have always been more literate than the rest of humanity. One of the purposes of icons was to provide "opened books to remind us of God," especially for the toiling masses who lacked the leisure or literacy to crack a real book. This is one great advantage Christianity had over Judaism in spreading the idea of monotheism--the whole story could be presented to the pagan mind in the form of a pop-up book.

But we're getting far afield. I didn't mean for this to become a history lesson.

Ever since he was young, this reader had an affinity--an attraction, in the sense we have been using the term--toward the being he understood to be Jesus. This mysterious attraction occurred whenever he consciously thought of Jesus. In my opinion, the attraction was probably mutual without him realizing it, but that's another matter.

The reader pointed out that there have been countless depictions of the "face" of Jesus, probably none actually being an exact or even a close likeness. Nevertheless, "at the risk of becoming an idolator," he imagined the face of Jesus in his mind's eye.

Now why, my dear bobbleheads, why should this little experiment have brought real tears to his eyes, along with a wholly unexpected flood of feeling and emotion? The feelings clearly weren't rehearsed or "affected." Feelings of being an "unworthy sinner," feelings of regret, a desire for reparation, a profound sense of gratitude, thankfulness at having an unseen mentor and invisible but often sadly ignored influence in his life.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that in Judaism, tears--especially this particular type of tears that we don't seem to have a word for--are considered a gift of God. For example, the narrators of the Zohar--the mystical text underlying kabbalah--weep whenever they grasp a profound spiritual truth. Or think of the "wailing wall."

These purifying tears signify many things. For example, they reveal the primordial wound through which vertical energies intrude into our enclosed little world of illusory self-sufficiency. The heart must be "wounded" in order to allow God's energies to flow, while penitential tears are a kind of transpersonal "blood." (What did Leonard Cohen sing? "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.")

Furthermore, it is said that the gift of tears is a form of transpersonal touch, specifically, of contact between image and likeness. Again, we are born in the image of God, but spiritual work involves the never-ending task of becoming the likeness. When image meets likeness--when we are "touched" from above--there is often a spontaneous production of tears. The flow of these vivifying tears is mysteriously associated with "life"--the higher Life, not mere biological life.

For these tears ultimately represent a "crucifixion" of the heart, life emerging out of death, a mingling of sorrow and joy, burial and resurrection, a rose blooming on the cross of the heart. Jesus actually sweats real blood when face to face with God in Gethsemane. And what happened when his heart was pierced by the Roman centurian? Blood and water flow.

Our reader asked, "does God send these people to earth so that we can relate as humans to the mystery of the vertical through them, [and need they] be present physically to take advantage of this doorway?"

To be continued.

Good for a Sunday Morning

Speaking of icons, this is the most shockingly great gospel music I have ever heard:

If Ms. Coates and her Gospel Harmonettes don't speak to you directly from another world, you'd better check yourself. You might be dead.

As one reviewer expressed it, "put your shouting shoes on." Amen.