Thursday, March 05, 2009

Time and How it Gets that Way: Evolution and the Conquest of Dimensionality

To review our situation: cosmic evolution "arrives finally at man in whom the world succeeds in uniting all the degrees of cosmic being." Again, in the evolution from matter to life, we go from a kind of timelessness to real time, since there can be no time in the absence of an observer, who must "suffer" it. This paradox is somewhat difficult to grasp, but it is nevertheless true: "It is life itself that makes the time from which it distances itself" (DeKoninck).

You could say that matter has exterior succession, in that one damn thing must precede and follow another. But there is no now, no "place" where time happens. Life binds and "uses" this temporal succession in the same way that we use space to build a house. In a way, there is no space until there is an enclosure. Same with time. Life binds space and time, and in so doing, eventually transcends both in Mind and Spirit.

As the biosphere contracts into increasingly dense life-centers, it is "lifted more and more above time." In turn, "beings are perfected to the degree that they are intemporal" (DeKoninck), so the evolutionary vector of time is toward eternity, or O. Schematically, one might say, time everlasting--> time --> timelessness; or perhaps exterior succession --> interior duration --> simultaneously copresent plenitude.

The latter state, instead of a temporal line or a circle, is like a perpetual explosion from the center out, or an overflowing from the Ground. It is the bush that keeps on burning, the fish the feeds the multitudes, and the Slack that cannot be named.

Somewhere in a past post I discussed this cosmic evolutionary scheme in terms of a conquest of dimensionality. The original explanation was somewhat skeletal, and I've always intended to flesh it out. Here it is:

"In many ways, human psychological development can be thought of as a conquest of dimensionality. (Don’t get bogged down in a literal understanding here -- this is a mental exercise to facilitate understanding.) For example, the psychotic mind inhabits a 'zero dimension' of pure mathematical symmetry. It is a world of infinite meaninglessness, with no floor or center, just a roiling panorama of catastrophic, uncategorizable novelty. Symbols are equivalent to what they symbolize and the nameless dread is endless, because there is nothing to contain or anchor it."

Think of this as a kind of existence plunged into sub-matter, without even the reliability of good old solid matter to hold oneself together. It is a pure absence of containment, either in time or space. Perhaps if you've ever had a panic attack, you know the feeling of the ontological ground being pulled out from under your feet. There is literally nothing to hold on to.

I remember once a patient telling me of a panic attack she had while walking around her neighborhood. She was reduced to sitting on the curb, desperately fixing her gaze on an ant that was walking around in the gutter. If she should lose sight of the ant, she was convinced that she would surely lose her mind -- she would just fall and keep falling, swallowed up in the deafening silence of the infinite spaces. Note as well that this is a timeless state; it feels as if the terror is endless, like a kind of hell. One never thinks, "relax, this will all be over in 15 minutes."

According to the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, this is the type of anxiety we face in coming into the world. Think of the infant's mind as a kind of unbound space that will require parental containment in order to begin the slow process of creating temporal and spatial boundaries that are both "containing" and yet semi-permeable, just like a biological membrane. (Think of the baby as unbound ♂ in search of a ♀.)

A person whose boundaries are too rigid also cannot grow, for he essentially becomes a closed system as a defense against destabilizing knowledge and emotions. In this regard, one often sees adults cling to ideology in the same way an infant clings to the parent. It is not for the purpose of "truth" but containment. Some people do this with religion, others politics or science (e.g., Queeg), but the underlying cause is the same. In this regard, the tenured are no different than any other primitive totem worshipping cultists, except they get the summers off.

Psychological defenses against the Nameless Dread tend to be massive and indiscriminate. Think of vomiting. Your GI system detects something that isn't supposed to be there, and, one way or the other, violently discharges the intruder, along with anything else that might be in the general vicinity.

Psychotic projection is like this. It violently discharges all of the undigested psychic bits into the environment. But unfortunately, that is not the end of the matter. These undigested bits then become a multitude of persecutory entities that pervade everyone and everything, and which must be re-projected.

If you've ever read dailycuss or huffingandpissed, you can see that the sum-total of their world view is a kind of perpetual reaction to their own psychic projectile vomiting. I think this is the real secret behind their new fixation on Rush. Now that Bush-Cheney are no longer there to serve as "toilet breasts" for their violent projections, they desperately need a new receptacle.

Next up, "The (severely) autistic mind may be thought of as one-dimensional. It knows no depth, only points of sensory contact with objects that are known by their feel and texture -- hot, cold, hard, soft, rough, smooth, etc. For them, a communicative expression does not emerge from the human face. Rather, it is simply a bizarre collection of disconnected points -- a nose here, an eye there, a curved mouth down there. The points are not synthesized into an internal representation of the emotional depth or interior of the other.

"The psychoanalyst Francis Tustin wrote about how autistic defenses can operate in neurotic adults as well, for example, in certain repetitive rituals such as 'rocking.' These rituals help to contain an anxiously fragmented mind by focusing on some severely limited sensory perception. Without it, the mind might slip into the terrifying chaos of zero dimensions.

Again, one does not have to be autistic to have experienced this dimension. I remember one patient who was an accomplished physician by day, but after work would have to engage in the ritual of violently rocking back and forth in a rocking chair for an hour at a time in order to "recontain" herself. You might notice versions of this at the margins of your own personality. Any kind of compulsion often serves this purpose, as a kind of solid touchstone for the psyche to cling to.

"Once we reach two dimensions, we are in the realm of something more recognizably human. This was called by Melanie Klein the 'paranoid schizoid position,' and more people (including parts of oneself) inhabit it than you might realize. It is the world of extreme, forced splitting into diametrically opposed emotional categories of good and bad. This type of two-dimensional thinking pervades the Islamic world (i.e., house of Islam and house of war).

"Only with the emergence of the transitional space proper are we dealing with the creative use of three-dimensional psychological space. This is the imaginal realm that emerges between an infant and his or her loving caretakers. But this creative and dynamic space is often hijacked and reduced to two dimensions as a result of the malign imagination of internalized mind parasites.

"The fourth dimension adds time to the mix. This is called the 'depressive position,' a term of art that does not imply clinical depression per se, but the capacity to tolerate ambivalence and mature dependence (as opposed to foreclosing it through splitting) in order to form loving and stable relationships that endure through time.

"One of the reasons this state is 'depressive' is that it involves transcending the omnipotent psychological defenses of the lower dimensions. For example, the 'borderline' patient is not stably in the depressive position. Rather, when they become angry at a person in whom they are emotionally invested, they instantly convert the person into the category of all bad. Not only are they bad now, but they have always been, and always will be, bad. In a very real sense, time and history have been annihilated. The feeling creates the reality. [Obviously, this forms the basis of much leftist thought, in which depth of feeling is confused with clarity of thought.]

"Perhaps you have noticed when you shift from one dimension to another. For example, depression clearly involves a loss of dimensionality. One of its most striking characteristics is that the world seems to lose a vital dimension of emotional depth. Suddenly it is flat, lifeless, and devoid of the meaning that can only be located and experienced in the higher dimensions.

"Moreover, many psychological defense mechanisms operate by descending into a lower dimension. I call these 'dimensional defenses.' For example, there might well be unpleasant meanings and psychological realities located in the fourth dimension -- indeed, there usually are. One way to avoid them is to descend into a lower dimension where those meanings cannot be located or 'entertained' by the mind, any more than a circle can describe a cone. (I think of atheism as a fixed and rigid defense against the higher space of religiosity.)

Let's apply this to the evolution of life. If you were a bacteria, you wouldn't know anything about higher dimensions. Rather, your life would essentially be an eternal point. In the case of slightly higher forms of life, you might discover the line, in the sense that you could move toward food and back away from something dangerous or noxious. I imagine that lower mammals live in a kind of proto-space, and yet, it must be more like an eternal now. In other words, it is missing the fullness of temporal dimension; it is as if they can touch time, but not fully enter it.

To a certain extent, the birth of humanness coincides with the discovery of time -- of past and future, both in relation to this mysterious ontological hole we call "now." Since we live in time, we take it for granted, but it is actually -- obviously -- a very special state. As far as we know, nothing else in the cosmos has awakened to this temporal dimension.

But neither internal nor external reality are limited to four dimensions. In my opinion, one of the things that spiritual development involves first and foremost is the ongoing conquest of higher dimensions. One way to conceptualize this is to understand that each dimension brings with it a new degree of freedom. In the case of spiritual growth, it brings with it the discovery of vertical freedom, does it not?

What did the Master say? "My kingdom is not of this world."

The Book of Genesis is a good example of hyperdimensional prose (which is a good working definition of scripture), since it is something like a crystal through which the divine light is refracted in infinite ways. This is why it supports so many interpretations, each of which conveys the substance of spiritual truth (which feels very different than the substance of mere intellectual-rational truth). As Schuon says, it functions "to provide points of reference for a complex truth and for the sake of the Inexpressible." Postmodern barbarians never understand this, for dogma or doctrine provide "allusive indications..., the implications of which are limitless.... For it is not a question of inventing truth, but of remembering it."

A two-, three- or four-dimensional scientific or religious literalist will simply see something concrete in Genesis: someone dividing light and dark or water and land. A couple of people walking around in a garden. A tree you're not supposed to touch. Etc.

In the past, I have touched on the idea that spiritual experience arrives via spatial delivery at the shoreline between the infinite and the finite, between time and eternity. Consider the fact that we have two biological eyes or ears that are set slightly apart. Because each of the two organs has a slightly different vertex, we are able to see and hear stereoscopically or stereophonically. If you have only one good ear, you can't experience stereo, only mono.

Now, suppose we have a "third eye" or a "third ear." What would reality look like from that perspective? As a matter of fact, it is our third eye that sees into eternity; or conversely, seeing into eternity grows a third eye. Either way, there is a way of living in which these two modes -- the lower and higher eyes -- harmoniously coexist to facilitate the emergence of additional dimensions of depth -- of not being shipwrecked on the rocks of time, nor of being lost in eternity, but somehow experiencing time in eternity and eternity within time.

I tried my lovall best to capture this in the Coonifesto. That is, if our perception of spatial depth comes from our integration of different points of view, depth may be thought of as a function of the number of perspectives that are integrated in an experience or perception. I simply tried to integrate as many points of view as possible -- cosmological, biological, psychological, neurological, philosophical, anthropological, theological, mystical, etc.

Having said that, the integration does not come "from the bottom up." Rather, the integration is actually "at the top," but it can only be progressively revealed to us as we grow spiritually. But how do we maintain a stable, balanced life in the material plane when our thoughts are constantly drifting towards intellection of the higher realms?

By finding your own way to be in the world without being of the world -- by participating joyfully in all of the dimensions available to the human being, while at the same time not getting lost in them "from below." After all, this is how the Creator man-ages, isn't it?


walt said...

There have been times in the past when you would write about the "hierarchy of being," and I would wish you had time/space to be more specific. Your treatment today of dimensionality helps a lot.

I recall reading some of this from before, and remember recognizing it then as important. But as you say, the practical question is what to do with these ideas.

For me, these sentences jumped out:
"One way to conceptualize this is to understand that each dimension brings with it a new degree of freedom. In the case of spiritual growth, it brings with it the discovery of vertical freedom ..."

As a high value, "freedom" is something I can take personally.

Fine presentation, Bob!

jwm said...

By finding your own way to be in the world without being of the world -- by participating joyfully in all of the dimensions available to the human being, while at the same time not getting lost in them "from below."

Aye, there's the rub. My morning intake of caffeine and quiet prayer is followed by One Cosmos, (as it has for the last couple or three years, now) and, more recently by Froth from Walt, and Mushrooms musings as well. The three pieces compliment one another, and are rich metaphysical fare. A good way to start the morning. But the morning is like a pond with a thick layer of sediment on the bottom. As long as the waters are still, they are clear. But the disturbance of events, both common and cosmic, stirs up the silt, and the clear, clean water is brown and murky before you know it. Thus begins the day.


Petey said...

As once again we fall out of bed and spend the rest of the day struggling against gravity....

The Slackosopher said...

hmmm...this post may take me some time to absorb. But without really knowing why just yet it feels like some important connections have been made in my mind. Now the trick is figure out exactly what those are...

Gagdad Bob said...

I had intended to flesh some things out more, but it's already too long... maybe tomorrow.

River Cocytus said...

A quick thought; given the orthodox notion that Christ was made flesh, that is, man, but also flesh; and in him all degrees of being were, are and are being divinized; it would indicate that to a certain extent evolution can not not be, since without it there would be no real connection - other than being made by God - between the Man, who is crown of creation, and those who are his servants, the animals and plants and even matter itself. His alienation from all other of God's creation would be complete. But we know the simple truth, 'To lead one must follow'? And again, that relationships are not abstract, but that for instance, that Mexicans can drink Mexican water and Americans cannot is so trivial a truth that we miss what it means. I seem to see in the Original Darwin work a different attitude towards the 'aliveness' and 'will' in creation, though certainly watered down from the Fathers. As though this transformation from just life to the living thing that thinks and truly 'is' was miraculous.

It seems that any notion of this was lost in the flurry of fundamentalist reaction and materialist co-opting; The sense of it became no longer mysterious and numinous but a matter of 'no God but natural law' versus 'magical instant God' - horrifying! Shall we reach a point when old texts become untranslatable? That our minds have become so warped by ideology that we may not grasp simple truths?

Er, back to reading.

Also, I have a fan page for 1C on facebook.

River Cocytus said...

Er, Try this instead.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes -- fundamentalism is a thoroughly materialistic reaction to materialism. It concedes everything up front, and just ends up looking stupid in the process.

Robin Starfish said...

"The psychoanalyst Francis Tustin wrote about how autistic defenses can operate in neurotic adults as well, for example, in certain repetitive rituals such as 'rocking.' These rituals help to contain an anxiously fragmented mind by focusing on some severely limited sensory perception. Without it, the mind might slip into the terrifying chaos of zero dimensions.

This sheds light on heavy metal as a group dynamic.

River Cocytus said...

Thinking of the psychotic mind, it seems that it merges with the Demoniac from the Gospels. The only real unresolved question is, "What are the Legion?" It would seem that modern psychology would treat the 'legion' as entirely self-created, and that the 'traditional' religion position would make them all vital entities, all independent entities that have become attached to the man.

It would seem to me that where we arrive at a real conflict is the swine; modern psychology could handle the 'demons' but them going into the swine? It would have to be purely symbolic.

What is your opinion on this problem?

will said...

>>time --> timelessness; or perhaps exterior succession --> interior duration --> simultaneously copresent plenitude<<

This is what I think the Mayan "end of time" prophecy (2012, etc) means. It's not the end of the world, but rather a new perception of time, indeed, a timelessness - and since death is a function of the perhaps soon-to-be-former linear time, well . . . .

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"One way to conceptualize this is to understand that each dimension brings with it a new degree of freedom. In the case of spiritual growth, it brings with it the discovery of vertical freedom ..."

Ho! The Good news is we can coontinue to discover more vertical freedom; higher Liberty, no matter how much the bottom feeders, leeches and parasites suck our horizontal freedoms and liberties away.

Some of Paul's best letters were written when he was confined in prison. Nothing Romans and Pharisees did to him could stop his launch into vertical freecall.

Verily, Paul was, and still is, a Rock-it man!

Skully said...

"Life binds and "uses" this temporal succession in the same way that we use space to build a house. In a way, there is no space until there is an enclosure."

Even I get that. Without an icebox you can't have an ice cold one.

mushroom said...

I've been thinking about this post and trying to get back out here all day.

A functioning third eye/third ear goes along with Jesus talking about people seeing and hearing but not seeing and hearing.

wv: loginges -- like cookies for logging in.

will said...

Following the concept that the beginning contains the end (and visa) - the state of the "copresent plenitude"/timelessness is obviously analogous to "time everlasting"/the zero dimension, though the latter is higher on the spiral, so to speak. Same on the spiritual/historical level - the early humans were graced with senses that the linear time-bound lost, but are now recovering and will further recover in the future. Again, beginning and end are analogous, though the end is higher on the evolutionary spiral.

I suppose this is why a certain aspect of the spiritual initiatory path mimics psychosis. It does involve a passage through what certainly would seem like the zero-dimension in which sense of comforting, stabilizing constraint disappears for the most part. I say "mimics psychosis" in that the initiate retains something of a sense of detachment, which is to say he or she is near to or fully self-aware and can recognize real from unreal. It's essentially having an extended psychotic episode without actually being psychotic. The initiate experiences just about all that the psychotic does in sense of feeling like one is suspended in gray space, but, unlike the psychotic, the initiate has one thing on which to hold - his own self-aware consciousness.

The initiate does have to be shed of a certain sense of identity, that is, of the instinct to identity with the temporal, eg., identifying with one's possessions, be it with a career, talent, looks, even with identification with one's own body, and this process is an ordeal. One finds one's self constantly confronted in one way or the other with the question of not just "Who am I?" but "What am I?" But I think it should be remembered that this marks a passage not into the zero dimension of bodiless potentiality, but into timelessness in which potentiality has been actualized. In other words, the initiate loses sense of identification with his temporal body, but eventually gains an identification with a higher body or perhaps the body of the entire cosmos. The initiate loses sense of identification with his temporal personality, but gains identification with his spiritual, timeless essence.