I’m going to tell you a story. That doesn’t mean I’m being dishonest. I’m being as honest as I can, but the first honest thing I’m going to tell you is that the Truth is beyond my grasp.
Well, it’s not so much a story as a description of a place I visited: Picture a funnel, like the inside of a tornado. We’re looking down into the center of the funnel. In the very center is an empty place. I’ve colored it white for contrast, but it’s more like a black hole. Or call it the “still point in the turning world.”
The sides of the funnel are thoughts, feelings, interpretations, stories. The whole of consciousness, what I’ve been calling positively oriented perception, spinning in a vicious circle. Human consciousness only? I don’t know. Perhaps the section of the funnel we can see is human consciousness, but that may change farther down the funnel, or farther above our position. There appears to be no end to this funnel, above us or below. We’ll come to that in a moment.Read More »
If climate disaster has left us with no future do we still feel responsible to the earth that outlives us? Or do we say “who cares?”
If we say “who cares?” then our sense of responsibility was never anything more than a moral rule, a business deal of sorts, where we agreed to behave honorably as long as we were allowed to project our egos into future generations. But I think real empathy for a world without us is still possible, and I think it matters in some way that can’t be calculated on a strictly transactional basis.
The possibility of near-term extinction is new, but the underlying dilemma this presents is as old as the Big Bang, or older. Death is death. It comes to the individual as surely as it comes to the species, the planet, and the exploding universe itself. What’s different now is only this onrushing inability to avoid facing this fact. And I think this is a good thing, because it forces a confrontation with the many reductive delusions that have limited our creative participation in the world, which is our responsibility to something more than ourselves. The chief among these limitations has been a strict and too literal image of who we are, an identity that keeps us trapped in a solipsistic circle.Read More »
Kant described that “pathless land” (that “negative geography”) as a freedom to speak for oneself, trusting one’s own intelligence. And this implied that science at its best recognizes that its theories remain shadows on Plato’s cave. At its best science is attentive to deviations from what is believed to be real. And not in the way Karl Popper conceived of falsification, which is still reductive in its quest for a perfect theory. But rather, at its best science remains alert to what is “false in the true, and true in the false”, as Krishnamurti phrased it.
Creationists have an especially hard time with this. A mentality alert to anomalies in what is true and false doesn’t have a vested interest in defending its stories. The theories of science are not weak because they’re perpetually changing. They’re intended as provisional sketches of a universe wildly erring from anything we imagine. Or as the physicist Hans-Peter Dürr phrased it, “Science also speaks only in parables.”Read More »
The same relentless energy driving a toddler in its Terrible Twos still drives that voice in my head. However, when I see a toddler, I know I’m in the presence of a genius, albeit a naïve one. It’s not the size of the intellect, but the velocity of learning that describes its intelligence. I, on the other hand, tend to move in well-worn circles, constrained by prejudice and vested interest. I’ve learned to “circle the wagons”, so to speak, around particular conclusions.
Essentially, I’m what happens when a toddler’s unstoppable urge to learn gets diverted into supporting a predatory status quo. Open-ended learning gets replaced by a narrowing framework of instruction as the driving force; and a dawning sense of some innate order or intelligence in the world gets short-circuited by dependence on authority and by conformity to the culture’s creeds and isms.Read More »
This humor essay/story/bullshit is related to Negative Geography. Admittedly, it’ll probably register as too bizarre for most. But I like bizarre. Here’s an excerpt, and it’s available in full here: The Title Goes Here
Here’s an excerpt:
Anyone could tell that members of the Meat Locker Association, thanks to their long and close association with the cows, were not thinking clearly: they couldn’t deduce a pocket handkerchief if they were shown a pocket, a running nose and a hand loitering first around the pocket an then around the nose. And the trails of illogic that they blazed could never be retraced: would grow back immediately into impenetrable thickets of random association; so that trying to argue with them was like trying to read fine-print under a strobe light. Read More »
I’ve been tremendously inspired of late by The Negative Psychologist — a doppelganger of Neg. Geo it seems. In every essay he finds a way to draw attention away from the conceptual level and back to what is actually happening in our heads (the function of thinking, as opposed to the abstract content of thought. Which is to say it tends towards “proprioception.”) Somehow he casually side-steps the trap of knowledge accumulation (of constructing an ego).
In his work I find countless heuristics in the form of amusingly critical observations. And his observations have a lovely sense of humor, a bemused detachment. “Ken and Barby Land”, for instance, makes me laugh. It describes that diabolically mundane work-a-day wold, the superficial world of constructs and images. This is from Gaining Perspective”, by The Negative Psychologist:
Such a mental condition might be called ‘Ken and Barbie land’, and another fitting image is that of the ‘Stepford Wives’. The scary thing is that, if we had our own way, we would probably opt for this as a full-time mode of being because it is so very ‘non-challenging’. We love not to be challenged. Easy is good! Easy is good! If you do not believe this, then just watch yourself for a day or two and see where your head is at for most of the time – are you in one of your various comfort zones (in the realm of the known), or are you somewhere new, somewhere challenging?
Here’s something very hard and extremely simple at the same time. A beautiful paradox. But it’s not an idea, that’s the hard part in a sense. Because we’re oriented to wanting some static knowledge that we can claim as ours. But knowledge is actually very difficult to process or really understand. To hold the idea that I’m selfish, for instance, isn’t the same thing as really facing my own selfishness. Real intelligence is honesty, not intellect.
Sometimes self-knowledge is a false cover, confirming our tired old convictions. But real self-knowledge is critical self-awareness. No firm conviction can survive the irradiation of critical (or negative) awareness. After all, I’m only being honest when I recognize that I can’t actually know anything for sure. The world is infinite, and my brain only measures a few measly inches. So being certain is a way of lying to myself, saying “reality is here in my grasp.” What I grasp is already past-tense, static and artificial.Read More »