Monday, July 02, 2007

Hurtling Toward Our Deustination: Does Time Have a Deep Structure?

Very annoying. This post might be a little chaotic, since I was about halfway though writing it and lost it. So I had to speed up time and try to reconstruct it from memory -- or did I reconstruct it from the future? In a way, this little catastrophe exemplifies the topic of this post, which has to do with change, development, and the structure of time. (No time to proof-read or spell-check, either.)

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":

1. Hope
2. Will
3. Purpose
4. Competence
5. Fidelity
6. Love
7. Caring
8. Wisdom

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.


geckofeeder said...

So happy and grateful that you are compiling these blogs into a book that Coonsters can give to our kits and grandkits . . .along with the Gagdad comic books that surely are gestating with some smart coonmaster cartoonist. Now those could change the world. . .
Been having aving trouble posting - hope this works.

geckofeeder said...

I meant having trouble of course, always in too much of a hurry.

dweller on the threshold said...

"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."

I love that phrase "novel terrortory," its such a perfect description of what it feels like. I'm in one of those phases of major change (digging out a DEEPLY rooted mind parasite) and it feels like short periods of clarity and understanding alternating with much longer periods of terror and confusion. Reading today's post was really helpful and hopeful. Thanks!

Robin Starfish said...

Why Can't We?
in a red cape world
doppelgangers punch a clock
sirius runs free

juliec said...

"Of course, I could always force things, but to what purpose?"

From this perspective, nothing seems forced.

In painting, when you find yourself forcing things odds are the results will be craptacular (see my Friday portrait, for a MOBA-worthy example - or better yet, don't, and spare yourself the horror). I would imagine the same to be true of writing, or any other creative endeavor. Sometimes the best thing you can do is step away for a little while, and when you're ready come back to the work with eyes made new.

Frankly, I've been amazed by your ability to consistently stay focused and hit those (to me, at least) invisible bullseyes for so long; you still did it today. If you need to take a break, no matter how long it is, we'll understand.

hoarhey said...

As far as I can tell, judging by the quality of this thought provoking post, you may well be into the start of another blog cycle.

Van said...

"... even more importantly, it would turn what is an enjoyable hobby into actual work, and we can't have that, now can we?"


Not that I feel strongly about that or anything.

wv:emoby - hmm... eAhab too?

Van said...

"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?"

Recalls to mind... I think it was Walt's observation/speculation... about how time often seems to slow down in a crises, and he wondered if death might bring an infinite slowing of time, where the moment of your life would be neverending - perhaps good news for a life well lived - not so much for the bad and evil one.

Also makes me think of how good times seem to fly by, but bad ones drag on and on - as if there is an almost inverse relationship between vertical depth and linear duration, in time.

That which is full, which has depth - follows the depth - such deeply enjoyable sections of life lived in time can seem by our internal clock to have zipped by in an instant, but their memory is dense with pleasure and meaning.

The less meaningful, reactionary, disordered, boring, bad, etc - those periods not filled with depth but expanse, seem to drag on interminably.

Gagdad, whatever time you continue to allot to One Cosmos, it will always pass oh so swiftly, though deeply, the end will always be here before we know it, but we will have the pleasure of gnoing it for a very, very long 'time'.

NoMo said...

If we have a "Deustination" toward which we are hurtling, are we not “pre-Deustined” to arrive there? God being omniscient and thereby already knowing every single change from which time is composed - from the firing of every synapse in every brain to the ultimate ending of the material universe - time indeed has a VERY “deep structure”. I am reminded again of how there really are no words that adequately describe the fact that such a One could care for the likes of us.

Abba! indeed.

I would love to scratch the surface – if I could get close enough to reach it.

walt said...

Van, I recall that observation also, but I cannot recall the person who actually made it.

ximeze said...

"Gagdad, whatever time you continue to allot to One Cosmos, it will always pass oh so swiftly, though deeply, the end will always be here before we know it, but we will have the pleasure of gnoing it for a very, very long 'time'."

Beautifully put, Van.

Me too, me too.

Van said...

walt said "...I cannot recall the person who actually made it. "

JWM? Stu?

Just curious.

walt said...

Many (many) years ago, I knew a man who was organizing a kind of "school" in the hills near San Jacinto, and one of his friends/lecturers was Dane Rudhyar. I hoped to get to meet the man, but never did. Later, after reading The Astrology of Personality, I sat in on a talk by him in S.F., but he was speaking "Astrological" and I didn't understand what he was saying.

I guess it was from that little book that I first came across the idea that life unfolds in 7-year cycles. The thing is, if you hear this idea when you're quite young, you have to wait quite awhile to see if it has any validity!

I don't invest too much "belief" in such models, but the 7-year one has been uncannily descriptive in my experience. The last time it came 'round, I was literally flung out of what had been "normal" for some time: profession, location, and beliefs. Maybe that was my version of "triple death."

Hey: the "new" includes One Cosmos, Christianity, and life in the woods; so far, so good! I was just reading yesterday, "In Christianity, clearly, the salvational power of Christ and the Holy Spirit is an unimaginably vast and profound universal scale of reality...."
(Gulp!) This cycle is going to be interesting!

(Also noticed that you referred to The Rhythm of Wholeness by Rudhyar in OCUG; I'm hoping to find a copy.)

Bob, you know we appreciate all the help you've given us. We wish whatever is best for you and your family.

Van said...

Walt said "Bob, you know we appreciate all the help you've given us. We wish whatever is best for you and your family. "

That would be a big Me Too.

Teri said...

I read that you completely replace all the cells in your body every seven years, essentially making you a new person every seven years. Maybe that explains the cycle a bit better. I do seem to notice changes in my attitude and behaviors on that cycle anyway.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Reality is what you are not in control of -- or, to put it another way, what you must take account of."

Man, oh man! You got that right, Bob!

That's where the Left is so very wrong. For they try, with all there might, to manipulate reality into their own fantasy.

One can fight reality, and waste their time doing so, hurting themselves and others in the process.

Or, one can accept reality as it IS, and work within it's parameters (Truth).

Time (temporal)and timelessness (Eternity) are certainly factors we must align ourselves with, if we hope to really grow, learn, and realize.

jwm said...

One Cosmos is an event. It is a flow, a burn, a cycle. It is a function of the quickening, a call to the alignment of sides. It is a tendril of providence in cyberspace. It's part of God's surge, calling up those of us on the sidelines, curing the Jesus willies and drafting us for the battle. Bob had the call to write the book, and do this blog, and this community, this meeting of the minds is the result. Bob is as unlikely a recruiter as Van, or Dweller, or me or any of us are unlikely recruits. But that's how the web of coincidence turns. You flip on the radio, click on a website, respond to a post on a blog, and here you are.

But it isn't going to last forever. That's what struck me about the first part of this morning's post. Creative burns don't last forever, and Bob has been going at it white hot for a long time. There's something about the community here that reminds me of Steinbeck's Cannery Row, or Tortilla Flat- periods when the right folks just seem to come together at the right time and place and create a sort of magic season that serves as your personal measure of just how sweet life can be. We are in such a season here. Best we can do is savor the time.

wv:duzervx But I don't duzerv Y or Z.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hoarhey said...
As far as I can tell, judging by the quality of this thought provoking post, you may well be into the start of another blog cycle.

Aye to that, mate! Bob is evolving and he gnos it. I'm still tryin' to keep up to where he was!

Kudos to you, Bob, and my heartfelt gratitude, for you not only provide selfless gnosis, telos, agape and a cosmic humor to boot, but you also keep your ego in check!!!

Now you are entering a new phase, blazing your very own unique trail as you follow the Path laid out before you, as your deustination reveals itself!

Predestined Free Will. I'm full of joy to see another rebirth in you, as Mizz E is also experiencing!

God bless and be with you as you climb to new heights and new depths!!!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Its not the's the beginning.

The beginning of Something More...

Something Eternal...

As you said, Something to savor!!!

Mizz E said...

JWM - Your reflection smoothed all of my unconscious ruffled feathers. Lovely.

Here's a thought from MizzE, who entered her wisdom cycle last week:

We're entering the Dog Days, the hot, sultry period of summer between early July and early September (so called because the Dog Star (Sirius) rises and sets with the sun during this time). Dog Days are thought of as a period of stagnation. Personally, I think of Dog Days as a period of Sirius Slack.

(Call me if you're looking for some serious hammock style recommendations.)

jwm said...

mizz e:
Thank you. "Sirius slack" That's a pun for the stars.

Or maybe a Starfish might find it.

wv: ojgozp. Darden on Oprah today. Coincidence? I think not.


cosanostradamus said...

jwm - well writ.

GB, you remind me of my father with whom I went on countless hunting and fishing expeditions when I was young. He was an animal and no one could keep up with him. I was in good shape, but I couldn't outpace him until he was in his 60's.

His favorite trick was to hike on ahead a half mile or so, well out of sight, then stop to rest and wait for me. I would slowly catch up, usually gasping for breath. He'd smile, and take off again. No rest for the young.

But looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way. He was busy wordlessly teaching me about the remote wilderness and how to be alone in it, comfortable because I knew he was somewhere up ahead. The love of mountains got into my blood so much that being in and near them became a spiritual and physical necessity. I was completely without a sense of direction when later living in the flatlands of Chicago for a time.

The OC terrain provides a similar implicit understanding that I don't have to race to catch up. I'm gasping on a daily basis, but there is so much beauty along the steep trail that nothing could stop me from discovering what's around the next tree. I couldn't imagine merely existing back down below when there is so much wonder up ahead.

So if you slow down or even take a break, I won't be one to complain. I'll still be hiking, and maybe catch a glimpse of the yeti before it attacks the snowy tor and leaves us all behind for good.

BTW, this OC hike started for me at 55; I'm now 56, right on schedule for the 7 year churn.

phil g said...

My current seven year cycle started, though I did not realize it, with the birth of my first child (I was 37) and kicked in in a major way while sitting home newly unemployed watching the events of 9/11/01 unfold. It was a good thing I was unemployed because that event sent me off into a feeding frenzy for knowledge and soul searching which is now closing with completing Catholic Catachism. Prior to 9/11 I was at best an agnostic having shed my upbringing as a cradle 7th Day Adventist emersed in SDA schools with family members as SDA teachers and a missionary. I, like JWM, have overcome my Jesus willys and still trying to tackle my pride. This site has been a great source of comfort, joy and education.

Thanks Bob and thanks everyone else who contribute.

Susannah said...

I always seem to be posting at the tail end of things, but Bob was speaking of change being unpredictable and not controlled, and I read a forum friend's blog entry on just that. She talks about encountering a car accident and how it totally changed her life, and how it has made her life, in one sense, *more* complicated, rather than less: