Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Become Fully Human and Triple Your Pleasure!

Our unKnown Friend poses the question, "Does not the very idea of movement -- biological, psychic or intellectual, it does not matter -- presuppose an affirmative impulse, a conscious or unconscious 'yes,' self-willed or instinctive, at the basis of all movement that is not purely mechanical?"

Indeed, if this cosmic Yes were not at the basis of things, then "universal weariness and disgust would have long ago put an end to all life." Nor would it have been the last bloomin' word of Ulysses ("yes I said yes I will Yes") or the last word of the penultimate paragraph of OCUG ("A Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes").

Yes, it reminds me of something Bernard Lonergan wrote of the distinction between man and animals, and how Darwinism is powerless to account for it (another example of the truism that the intellect explains Darwinism, not vice versa; which is not to say that the latter is wrong, only incomplete, for if it were complete, we couldn't know it).

"[I]t is only when [animals'] functioning is disturbed that they enter into consciousness. Indeed, not only is a large part of animal living nonconscious, but the conscious part itself is intermittent. Animals sleep. It is as though the full-time business of living called forth consciousness is a part-time employee...." (in Spitzer).

Spitzer continues: "When animals run out of biological opportunities and dangers, they fall asleep. When you stop feeding your dog, or giving it affection and attention (biological opportunities), and introduce no biological dangers (such as a predator) into its sensorial purview, it will invariably fall asleep."

Human beings could hardly be more different, for we not only respond to biological opportunities -- i.e., food, sex, and government handouts -- but to intellectual and spiritual uppertunities. At least some of us.

What this means is that the cosmic Yes that unKnown Friend posits as the basis of non-mechanical movement, shades off into the patently non-mechanical domains of intellect and spirit, or knowledge and truth. And the Spirit moves where it will.

Another way of saying it is that animals, outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, have no slack. For example, we have a Great Dane who, when food, walks, and affection are not in the offing, is asleep. That amounts to about 23 hours a day, and sleep is not slack unless one places it in the greater context of slack as such.

Conversely, look at what humans do with slack -- which is pretty much everything: "when human beings run out of biological opportunities and dangers, they frequently ask questions, seek purpose or meaning in life, contemplate beauty, think about goodness (or imperfections) of their beloveds, think about unfairness or injustice and how to make their situation or the world better, and even think about mathematics, physics, philosophy, and theology -- for their own sake" (ibid).

The operative phrase is for their own sake, which is synonymous with a stance of disinterestedness. Thus, ironically, animals are only capable of "interestedness." When there is nothing of biological -- which is to say, Darwinian -- interest, the animal goes into energy conserving mode, like your computer.

Only human beings awaken to an interesting world of disinterested interest -- which is the only possible approach to truth, since truth is only sullied (or Sullivaned) by desire, fear, ambition, etc. Ultimately this results from the fact that the intellect as such is of the substance of truth, and only like can know like.

Now that I think about it, virtually all forms of mental illness have as a central feature a lack of movement, or a "stuckness" about them (or else a kind of meaningless agitation that goes nowhere). For example, when someone is depressed, it is not just that they are sad -- everyone has their moods -- but that they are in a kind of static, heavy, and occluded state of mind. There is no movement. Or, if there is movement, it's all arbitrary. Nothing is any better or worse than anything else. There is no convergent meaning, as everything goes "flat."

Let's take another example, the pathological narcissist. The narcissist typically develops a "false self" or "as if" personality to negotiate with the outside world. While he will use people to prop up and mirror the false self, in reality, there is no deep exchange with others, i.e., no L (love) or K (knowledge) link.

Rather, the clinical narcissist uses people in order to maintain a kind of static equilibrium, so as to avoid intolerable emotions, in particular, shame. In other words, the narcissist may outwardly appear to have a strong ego, but it is actually quite brittle. The very purpose of his narcissistic defenses (i.e., the false self) is to protect the unthought true self from an emotional catastrophe.

But such a person slowly dies from within, because if one cannot suffer pain, one cannot suffer pleasure. In order to maintain the closed system, the narcissist also closes himself to real love, which causes the soul to wither from within. He eventually dies of his addiction to the false mirroring he craves.

When people hear the term "narcissism," they often think of it in terms of physical attributes, but it can equally apply to the intellect (or to any other positive attribute, for that matter). Academia is full of "brilliant" people whose intelligence has been hijacked in the service of their narcissism, the result being that their minds eventually become closed and therefore no longer susceptible to real organic growth (vs. a kind of mechanical accumulation).

Obama's anti-science advisor, John Holdren, comes readily to mind, but one could think of hundreds of others.

In all forms of enduring psychopathology, portions of the personality can become sealed off, frozen, and autistic, and therefore highly resistant to change -- like giant boulders, or sometimes fine sand, within the soul. Other times it is felt as a kind of icy glacier. The underlying reality is essentially joyless because it does not flow.

Some people who appear to be open are actually tightly closed systems who are merely interacting with their own disavowed projections. One thinks of the mythifolkers who suffered through Bush Derangement Syndrome, and who now constitute the OWSers -- the rabble without a clue -- and their academedia sympathizers.

It's fascinating when you think about it, because these people are under the delusion that they are interacting with the outside world, when it couldn't be more obvious that they are really just trapped in their own absurcular errspace. To withdraw psychic toxins from George Bush and reproject them into "Wall Street" is just a case of new whines in the same battle.

And here is another key point: this state also brings a kind of pseudo-freedom that conceals actual enslavement to the projected object, from which the projector cannot escape. It reminds me of the Taoist principle that if you want to control a bull, just give it a large pasture.

In America, "freedom of speech" is precisely that large pasture, in which people are free to construct their own fences and define their own arbitrary psychospiritual limits, which then provide the subjective illusion of real freedom. But Raccoons -- by their very nature -- are very quick to identify these intellectual and spiritual fences, which we don't so much trespass as transpass. For us, a wall is a challenge, not a limit. Build one and we'll just stand on it to see further.

17 Comments:

Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

More on that yes.

1/17/2012 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Great blog today! And boy can I relate to this: "Academia is full of "brilliant" people whose intelligence has been hijacked in the service of their narcissism, the result being that their minds eventually become closed and therefore no longer susceptible to real organic growth (vs. a kind of mechanical accumulation)."

From my own experience, this could be one problem with some of the people in the Integral community.

1/17/2012 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I think it occurred when Wilber became so schematic and systematized. Real spirit is not nearly so anal.

1/17/2012 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Well, some animals do play but it really doesn't compare to what we do with slack. Or is their play sex/food related?

"Only human beings awaken to an interesting world of disinterested interest -- which is the only possible approach to truth, since truth is only sullied (or Sullivaned) by desire, fear, ambition, etc. Ultimately this results from the fact that the intellect as such is of the substance of truth, and only like can know like. "

Great concept. Gonna let that soak in.

1/17/2012 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Yes, I think it occurred when Wilber became so schematic and systematized. Real spirit is not nearly so anal."

Reminds me of one of the passages in MOT when he's talking about some guy who developed an intricate mechanistic method that could be applied to all social movements.

Apparently, he got bored with his system and ended up studying a local ghost, apparently the ghost being more real than his mechanistic system.

1/17/2012 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Only human beings awaken to an interesting world of disinterested interest -- which is the only possible approach to truth, since truth is only sullied (or Sullivaned) by desire, fear, ambition, etc. Ultimately this results from the fact that the intellect as such is of the substance of truth, and only like can know like.

JP - yes, I was thinking of that bit from MOTT as well.

Between that and the Yes!, I'm reminded of this bit from the Meister I read just last night:

"Intellect penetrates right up into the essence without heeding goodness or power or wisdom, or whatever is accidental. It does not care what is added to God, it takes Him in Himself, sinks into the essence and takes God as He is pure essence."

1/17/2012 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the hazards of being overly systematized, it's not just a problem for spiritual matters:

"When they train harder yet stop improving, even backslide, 'they become alarmed and try to increase their training,' Dr. Raglin said.

He sees it over and over: An athlete will get into a training schedule and become very dogmatic, never taking a day off."

Reminds me of when I used to workout in a gym with a trainer. There were other regulars there who did the exact same exercises for years, never varying, and one woman who was tiny, far into pregnancy, and dead-set on doing extreme ab workouts. To the point of being seriously dangerous. In all cases, the staff tried to suggest a safer changeup, but they never wanted to hear it. They had a system, and they were going to stick with it no matter what.

1/17/2012 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

MOTT: "St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila do not tire of repeating that the concentration necessary for spiritual prayer is the fruit of moral purification of the will. It is therefore useless to strive to concentrate oneself if the will is infatuated with something else."

One's own internal system noise swamps the spiritual signal.

1/17/2012 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

"For example, we have a Great Dane who, when food, walks, and affection are not in the offing, is asleep. That amounts to about 23 hours a day..."

:)

1/17/2012 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Thinking about animals and their versions of slack (or apparent lack), or intellect, or souls. I see us and them as on a continuum. We may no longer have the intermediate species walking the earth anymore that would make the continuum as apparent but man and his distinguishing soul, intellect, spirit, slack, you name it, is at the end of this continuum. Where is the threshold distinguishing us from animals? Self awareness? Elephants seem to have that. And consider the human-like talking gorillas, and don't forget dogs who can sense injustice. There is no question that we humans are the "bestest with the mostest" of these traits but is the continuum theory heretical? Does there have to be clean break between man and animal?

wv: (just) sneyin

1/17/2012 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"Thinking about animals and their versions of slack (or apparent lack), or intellect, or souls. I see us and them as on a continuum. We may no longer have the intermediate species walking the earth anymore that would make the continuum as apparent but man and his distinguishing soul, intellect, spirit, slack, you name it, is at the end of this continuum. Where is the threshold distinguishing us from animals?"

If you are a prisoner of your own neurology, you aren't human.

1/17/2012 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger mdillof said...

You wrote: "Now that I think about it, virtually all forms of mental illness have as a central feature a lack of movement, or a "stuckness" about them (or else a kind of meaningless agitation that goes nowhere). For example, when someone is depressed, it is not just that they are sad -- everyone has their moods -- but that they are in a kind of static, heavy, and occluded state of mind. There is no movement. Or, if there is movement, it's all arbitrary."

That is a very interesting insight into mental illness! I'm reminded, in this regard of Kierkegaard's notion of the demonic, which he discusses in "The Concept of Dread." Kierkegaard states that the devil is rightly represented, in dramatic works, as either not moving at all or else as leaping about. I.E., the devil never walks for walking represents true movement, in time and space.

Similarly, the Buddhists recomend, "Don't sit, don't run, just walk." The neurotic cannot walk, but either sits or leaps about impulsively.

Anyway, Bob, thanks for the excellent insight.

1/17/2012 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

John,
"Where is the threshold distinguishing us from animals?"

It's a good question, especially as we learn more and more about animals. As someone who is currently far more subject to biology than usual, I'd have to say that Bob's description of a dog's life (being rather close to mine at the moment; if I could get away with sleeping 23 hours of the day, it would be sorely tempting right now) is pretty accurate. With little time for slack, there is little time for humanness as such.

To your question, if we look at man or animal as a whole, and not as a bunch of constituent characteristics (the intelligence of the crow or the octopus, the self-awareness of the elephant, etc.), we are forced to acknowledge that there is something very different about man in toto that cannot be accounted for by any list of parts. Yes, animals are amazing, but quite often we marvel that there is something about one species or another that approaches humanness. But they never arrive.

Certainly, there is a continuum of similarity, even down to the reptiles and below, but rather it is that animals are a declension from humanity, and not the other way around.

1/17/2012 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Thanks Julie for your thoughtful reply. (as always)

(Warning! Sophomoric blab follows.)

I'm contrasting this development along a continuum idea with Bob's idea that the brain hardware evolved and then, after the divine software upgrade, Ecce Homo! (forgive me if I have mis-characterized this idea.)

I agree that modern man is very different from animals. What we can't know but can infer from their behavior is that animals exhibit flashes of what appear to be "higher" cognitive functions. Given that we can observe such functions in other species, did our hominid predecessors behave as 25% human then maybe 60% human before they became human?

I'm not implying that higher cognitive functions are purely materialistic but rather the animals get an infusion of the vertical as well, albeit in smaller amounts. This idea fits what we observe in nature and it also fits the idea of gradual evolution. To extrapolate on this, maybe 20,000 years from now, a significant proportion of the population would be what we today consider saints. Again, its continuous, incremental evolution of the created towards the creator rather than leaps.

1/17/2012 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

JL says:

"I'm contrasting this development along a continuum idea with Bob's idea that the brain hardware evolved and then, after the divine software upgrade, Ecce Homo! (forgive me if I have mis-characterized this idea.)"

The brain hardware evolved because that's a feature of the underlying geometry of the universe.

I don't have Bob's problem that "it's only here that we have life". Rather, I expect that people evolve on other planets for the reason that where the conditions are ok for people to live, there will be people. Those people will then decide, like us, to engage in the brutal war of all against all or cooperate to form the closest to "heaven" that you can achieve in this universe, again, within the limits of the rock upon which they live.

Anyhow, people aren't animals, and animals aren't people. I can describe individual human personalities in terms of calabi-yau manifolds, being composed of a B-E condensate of spirit, for lack of a better word or concept. Animals ain't that.

1/18/2012 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

John,
"Where is the threshold distinguishing us from animals?"
Fairly early in childhood, I would say. We all start with just three dimensions, but eventually we download and assemble the software to move fairly well in the fourth dimension, time. Time is the first mental dimension, followed by what we generally call spirituality, which is beyond time again. As far as I know, animals cannot even navigate the fourth dimension proficiently, although they can remember things when they see them and spot opportunities with a short time horizon. This is a stage that human children also pass through, but of course a child has unlimited potential; an animal has not.

1/18/2012 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"The operative phrase is for their own sake, which is synonymous with a stance of disinterestedness. Thus, ironically, animals are only capable of "interestedness." When there is nothing of biological -- which is to say, Darwinian -- interest, the animal goes into energy conserving mode, like your computer.

Only human beings awaken to an interesting world of disinterested interest -- which is the only possible approach to truth, since truth is only sullied (or Sullivaned) by desire, fear, ambition, etc. Ultimately this results from the fact that the intellect as such is of the substance of truth, and only like can know like. "

Excellent B'observation.

And of course, no surprise that our modern schools are only interested in 'teaching' issues of interestedness.

Dogs & cynics, go figure.

1/18/2012 12:22:00 PM  

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