I’m picturing a mostly unconscious human being – a mind occupied all day by video games, food, sex, drink, and sleep. Or I could picture a corporate executive who has utterly surrendered to the sociopathic profit motive, perhaps somebody at Shell who has helped to bury the science on climate change. Or even myself more often than I care to admit – my thoughts like mice constantly scurrying to the higher end of a perpetually sinking ship.
But it’s all the same state of mind in one fundamental way at least – a mind perpetually busy trying to outrun itself, trying not to notice the unfathomed compulsion that keeps it busy. In this state of mind (if there aren’t sufficient distractions available) the tendency is to feel subjected to thought, tossed and turned by thought. To avoid the sensation of drowning in this tumult, an inner director, a thinker in charge, a focus of Self, is created, which seems to be a retroactive gloss that thought itself compulsively places over its own shenanigans to retain an illusion of order and control. But in this state of mind there is only a running script that is followed (though ad libbed) in which this fantasy of a director (a Me playing the starring role) ends up organizing what is still only a compulsive escape from its own unfathomed turmoil.
I need to emphasize this distinction between people and the habits of thought that hold them captive, otherwise I fall into the common misconception that people who think and do ugly, evil things are inherently (in their blood and bones) ugly and evil, and not merely ill with thought. If I blame the person — even my own starring Self — too much (and I often do) I become susceptible to the illness itself, willing to injure that person just to stop the ridiculous ideas driving them (or me). Then the distinction between these dimensions of life (between the actual human being and the thoughts driving them, between territory and map) is lost, and then I’m driven by the unfathomed compulsions of thought, and capable of ugly, evil things.
I’m forced to decipher the order that is slowly unfolding on its own. That is, this isn’t really an inquiry through words or logic of a thinking mind, but a way for words and logic to catch up with a wider perspective than a thinking mind can know.
It’s as if something non-rational is trying to recalibrate the rational mind so that it doesn’t block access to a larger perception.
And I’m not sure of my role as a speaker entirely. The speaker seems to be necessary in some way, but it’s not central to what is happening. Currently it seems to function mostly as a filter, to help organize certain features of reality into a workable personal relationship to the world.
But this worked-out relationship to the world – not only this sense of Self, but also everything this form of Self demands, such as power, prestige, and economic and national systems to promote all that – is leading to self-destruction.
The culture keeps looking for new ways to improve the filtering function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, improve the moral quality of this fictional approach to the world); and we also keep looking for ways to improve the economic and national systems designed to promote the function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, we keep looking for social solutions to this psychic and spiritual crossroads).
It’s impossible to comprehend anything without some distortion of actuality. Because in order to understand anything, I have to ignore and lose my comprehension of something else.
Try to avoid this, try to understand anything perfectly, and all you’ll do, dear imaginary reader, is distort your awareness by this great ambition, obtaining some glimmer of clarity at the expense of a singled-minded focus that causes pain in direct proportion to the pleasure it produced. That’s why Beckett said, “The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”
So I can’t fall headlong into a particular story and take it as gospel, because there is always distortion. Focus is a distortion of the field of vision. Where there is focus there is a loss of wider attention.
And there is no way to obtain a perfectly wide field of attention because the universe will always be wider than these 6” brains can span.
So I can’t look at distortion as a problem that needs to be eliminated. It’s part of the process of thinking, that’s all. And it needs to be acknowledged and realized, because otherwise thought operates under the deluded assumption that it can solve everything eventually. And thought can’t solve the problems thought itself creates.
Here’s the key quote, which is a perfect summary of what I meant by 1) Negative Knowledge and 2) the positive movement of thought, which can result in a swing towards Literalism and all the vicious circles this confusion and self-deception inevitably generates; or it can swing towards a swifter, metaphoric mentality, as long as negative awareness keeps the positive aspects of thought in check (not controlled, but stripped of self-deception perhaps):
Bohm: “… in physics you could use a measuring instrument in 2 ways, the positive and the negative. Like an electric current, you can measure. You can measure the current by the swing of the instrument. Or you can use it in what is called the Wheatstone Bridge, where the reading you look for is a null reading; a null reading indicates harmony or balance of the 2 sides as it were. So if you are using the instrument negatively, then the non-functioning of the instrument is the sign that it is working right. Could we say the brain may have used thought positively to make an image of the world… K: which is the function of thought … B: …One of the functions of thought. The other function of thought is negative, which is to indicate non-harmony….”
I have no memory of Bohm saying this, but it obviously made an impact because the entire Negative Geography project is based on that very observation above. Interesting to me, and worth noting as a matter of record.
I don’t know what is real. I know only stories. Reality itself is obscured behind an interpretive film. But if there was a way to remove these perceptual “cataracts” I’d blind myself, because I can’t make sense of reality without a story. Story and reality are impossible to separate. But I need to find a way to distinguish them. Otherwise I’m delusional. And this delusion has real and deadly consequences.
Stories create every objective thing and Other I encounter. Nations and races, for example, are highly selective distinctions that settle over the world like transparencies over a drawing. And when these fictional separations are conflated with reality, real national and racial divisions erupt. These divisions are not facts of nature, but what physicist David Bohm called “artifacts” of the story, of my own imagination.
There’s something electrifying here. Against a fact of nature I’m helpless. But my own agency is revealed in artifacts of the imagination. It suggests that much of what passes for human nature, including aggression between groups, is not inevitable.Read More »
As CJ Hopkins pointed out in Counterpunch, “… we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system [to global neoliberal capitalism], or a way to get there.”
Or maybe we conceivealternatives, but the canopy of globalization has grown so wide that it stunts their growth. The media’s floodlight shines only on a sucker’s coin of allowable alternatives: Regressive Revolution — a rabid demand for the nation to be “great again”; and Patriotic Reform — a “gentler” allegiance to American exceptionalism. Both sides of the coin bank on what no longer exists – a sovereign nation.Read More »
Sometimes I wonder why I can’t stop all this burrowing into the bones of thought (as I like to think I’m doing).
But that’s when I forget what I love. I love feeling those bones, the hidden, labyrinthine structures supporting our simplistic surface consciousness. And I love encountering my own shocking assumptions, the ones I didn’t even realize I had until I started fumbling around among those bones.Read More »
I think there’s a close relationship between peripheral vision and the somewhat famous “overview effect”. The eye, after all, is an extension of the brain. Both peripheral vision and an overview imply a perception of context, which limits the distortions of self-interest.
What’s more, peripheral vision is too quick to be resisted by the ego. It’s only an immediate sensitivity to what is happening. Therefore it precedes wishful thinking. As soon as we “take sides” for or against what is noticed, then our focus has already narrowed. Therefore a peripheral vision engenders something of a suspended state (ala David Bohm). It allows contradictory ideas to sort themselves out.Read More »
“The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.”
― David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
The Reductive Bewitchment of a Literal Language
The literal mood of language is necessary for carrying out almost any practical work. It’s dominant in following a blueprint (a legitimate authority), or in honing a craft. And it plays a subordinate role in art, teaching techniques for working in any medium.
In its “proper” context this language could be described as “positive”, “practical” or “technical.” In a utilitarian context the connection between the useful thing one describes (such as the word “hammer”) and the hammer itself is so close that almost all awareness of the meta-level functionality of words recedes (or never develops).
The witchery begins when a literal language spills over into conventional life; when it’s used to talk about ideas – about opinions, goals, and identities. Then opinion posits itself as a literal description of material reality. Fixed. Truth. Not mere opinion.Read More »