Hurtling Toward Our Deustination: Does Time Have a Deep Structure?
Anyway, I was mentioning that I seem to have come to the end of another blogging cycle. Long time readers know that this has happened a number of times in the past, but that I've always cycled out of it. This one feels a bit different, in that it's not so much that I've hit a wall, as I feel the "inner call," so to speak. Instead of being in an expressive mode, it feels like I'm moving into a receptive one -- from output to input. I'd really like to shut up and spend more time reading and meditating. To every thing there is a season, and all that.
Of course, I could always force things, but to what purpose? This would not be the Raccoon way, but perhaps even more importantly, it would turn what is an enjoyable hobby into actual work, and we can't have that, now can we? One job is enough for any human. In fact, more than enough for this slack-seeking human.
More importantly, forcing things is the way of the ego. One of the ways you can see through all these new age con artists is on the basis of the outlandish promises they make. Real growth is unpredictable and it certainly isn't always pleasant. To the extent that you know where you're going to end up in advance, it isn't really growth but simply an extension or expansion of the ego. For example, a fraud such as Deepak Chopra promises in his Seven Laws of Spiritual Success "the ability to create wealth with effortless ease, and to experience success in every endeavor," "to fulfill your desires with effortless ease," "fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability," etc."
It's the same way with psychotherapy. Occasionally a patient will stumble in with a very proscribed problem, but for most people, their entire life has more or less run aground and they need to unleash the deeper mechanisms of growth to get out of their impasse. But you can't tell where the growth will lead, which is one of the reasons why the ego defends against it. The ego is all about control, whereas growth is inherently unpredictable -- but within certain constraints, which we will discuss below.
It reminds me of something my favorite teacher in graduate school once said. Someone had asked him something to the effect of whether he would recommend psychotherapy. His response was, "No, I would never recommend therapy. I only offer it. I don't recommend it."
You could say the same thing about spirituality. Not exactly, because like food and oxygen, people do need to have some sort of spirituality in their life. Nevertheless, if it is real, it should bring uncertainty and surprises. After all, these are the hallmarks of the Real, are they not? Reality is what you are not in control of -- or, to put it another way, what you must take account of. If spiritual growth is predictable and certain, then it's again probably just your ego expanding.
Bion wrote about how real change is catastrophic. No, not as in a "natural catastrophe," but as in catastrophe theory, which, according to Wiki, is "a branch of bifurcation theory in the study of dynamical systems; it is also a particular special case of more general singularity theory in geometry. Bifurcation theory studies and classifies phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances, analysing how the qualitative nature of equation solutions depends on the parameters that appear in the equation. This may lead to sudden and dramatic changes, for example the unpredictable timing and magnitude of a landslide." This is also known as "butterfly effect," in which the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Indonesia causes a cascade of ripples that eventually results in a tornado in Kansas.
As such, catastrophe theory is related to chaos and complexity theories, which especially began to emerge in the 1980s. These fields study the dynamics of nonlinear change, and the mind is nothing if not non-linear. In fact, our neurology is so infinitely complex, that -- I read this somewhere -- that there are literally more possible synaptic connections in the brain than there are particles in the universe. And yet, in a way that we cannot comprehend, this infinite complexity resolves itself into the simple experience of a unitary "I," at least in a healthy person.
It reminds me of how the stock market, with its millions and millions of little decisions and transactions, ends up with a simple number at the end of the day: the Dow Jones Index. You would think that this number would be all over the place, but it has remarkable stability for something so infinitely complex. It's so stable that we remember the dates when it deviated markedly, e.g., 1929, 1987.
In a way, a major depression or a panic attack is analogous to a stock market crash. Usually one's mood hovers around a certain attractor in the mind's phase space, but with a depression or anxiety attack, one crashes through the floor, so to speak, into novel terrortory.
But again, real change of any kind is going to involve a departure from one's habitual phase space, or "comfort zone." Indeed, I once wrote a paper in which I speculated that this is why human beings don't just enjoy drugs, but need them. For example, the main reason people drink is that it temporarily vaults them into a slightly different phase space. You might say that it only becomes unhealthy to the extent that the person finds their normal phase space to be intolerably painful, so that they use drugs to escape it and exist in another space -- which obviously never works in the long run. But you can certainly understand why so many great artists throughout history have used "performance enhancing drugs" of various kinds. It's in order to "flip the switch" of catastrophic (if temporary) psychic change.
In the past, I believe I have written about the symbolic "triple death" that occurred to me a couple years ago, at the age of 49. As it so happens, I read this book back in my late 20s, The Astrology of Personality, by Dane Rudhyar. The main thing I remember from it was his idea that our lives run along cycles of seven years, and that each seven year cycle is a fractal of the others. In other words, the cycles are self-similar on a deep level, so that, for example, we will encounter the same basic challenges and conflicts in each seven year cycle, only in a different "key," so to speak.
I remember charting out my life at the time, and sure enough, I could see that major transitions and upheavals had taken place in my 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th years (i.e., when I was 6, 13, 20 and 27). Rudhyar also mentioned that a compete cycle is 7 x 7, so that a 49 year cycle is a complete analogue of the seven year cycle. Thus, just as seven years marks a kind of birth/death, so too does the 49th year.
Now, you needn't take this literally or hold to the structure too concretely in order to understand the wider point. All psychologists employ some kind of developmental model, in which we move from psychological stage to stage. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was probably the first to extend these stages all the way to old age. A quickie search yielded the following table:
Stage One: Oral-Sensory: from birth to one, trust vs. mistrust, feeding;
Stage Two: Muscular-Anal: 1-3 years, autonomy vs. shame, toilet training;
Stage Three: Locomotor: 3-6 years, initiative vs. inadequacy, independence;
Stage Four: Latency: 6-12 years, industry vs. inferiority, school;
Stage Five: Adolescence: 12-18 years, identity vs. confusion, peer relationships;
Stage Six: Young Adulthood: 18-40 years, intimacy vs. isolation, love relationships;
Stage Seven: Middle Adulthood: 40-65 years, generativity vs. stagnation, parenting;
Stage Eight: Maturity: 65 years until death, integrity vs. despair, acceptance of one's life.
With a little tweaking, it wouldn't be difficult to change this to 7 (the first three related stages), then 14, 21, 42, and 63. In any event, the successful conquest of each stage is supposed to bring with it the cultivation of a certain "virtue":
But ultimately, everything that comes later is nevertheless fractally related to that very first stage: trust and hope. These will keep coming up at every successive stage, but in a slightly different way.
Now obviously, this is just one man's attempt to understand the "structure" of developmental time. Nevertheless, it is interesting that he intuited that "human time" does indeed have a deep structure -- not all that dissimilar to the earth, which has its own deep time that we call "seasons." "Earth time" is cyclical and self-similar, moving through spring, summer, fall and winter. Each spring or winter is both the same and different, the variation on a theme. In fact, the human impulse to structure time is quite deeply embedded in our soul. It is why we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and new years, but also why theology speculates on the cosmic structure of time. (Quick note: in my opinion, much of the weather hysteria is simply misplaced intuition about the deeper structure of earth-time, i.e., a childishly materialistic view of the end of time.)
Consider the Bible: it begins with Genesis and ends in Apocalypse. Some Christian thinkers divide time into three: the ages of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Secular scholars can't help seeing sharp divisions, such as prehistory, history, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modernity, and postmodernity. Were the changes marked by these divisions random? Inevitable, given the nature of man? Catastrophic, i.e., sudden nonlinear jumps? Could it be that they mirror something within the deep structure of the human race, in the same way that Erikson's stages somehow structure the life of each individual, like a temporal Platonic archetype?
Does historical time have a direction, a telos? Science reduces time to the flow of past --> future, but is it possible that the future is luring us toward it, like an attractor in historical phase space? In fact, Christianity certainly holds to this belief. It has always intuited an "end" toward which history is hurtling. Will often reminds us of the "quickening" which will occur as we approach this singularity at the end of time. As it comes closer and closer and we are drawn into its orbit, time seems to speed up. And what is time? Time is change, so change will occur more rapidly. But what kind of change? Is it ordered and patterned, or is it random?
Unfortunately, due to my little catastrophe, I ran out of time, so this post did not quite arrive at its destination. Therefore, tomorrow I will again attempt to peer into the future and locate my point.