A Non-Dogmatic Structure of Thinking: An Overview of What I Was Trying to Say for 35 Years

The Buddha Gate

 

The sneaky bastard fooled me again. I can’t keep my eye on it steadily. It’s like trying to drive when you’re getting sleepy. When does wakefulness become the deceptive dream of being awake? 

I wanted to write because I needed to bring some order to the swirling fog of my own experience. Not a belief system that pins thought down too tightly, but a lattice of sorts it can safely grow, so it knows its place and doesn’t keep sprawling chaotically like Kudzu over every aspect of life, drowning out the world in this relentless voice, which is perpetual self-deception.

I think many people handle their own restless brains differently. They don’t look for the source of this restlessness, but find a job or some other way of occupying their thoughts at a certain safe level of magnification. They focus on the practical necessities of navigating this crazy highway of life, a perpetual state of semi-emergency that becomes routine, but a tenuous routine that can’t afford to be interrupted by larger questions about the underlying infrastructure of belief they’re riding upon. Accept the crazy beliefs, the nationalism, the war-state, the cut-throat economic system, the values and goals this emergency approach to life forces on us — accept all that at face value and call our subjugation to this mad system of thought “a practical approach.”

(By the way, some people like to say that they’re not philosophers. Still, we’re all running on vast infrastructures of metaphysics unconsciously, in the same way that any generic moron driving too fast on an interstate is unconsciously following the infrastructure of road-building ideas. We may not consciously reflect on why we’re heading in this or that direction, but our lives are following patterns of an infrastructure of belief nevertheless. So we may not be capable of understanding the descriptions of these philosophies, but they’re still under-girding the way we live).

The restlessness is the same for me, but the practical approach wasn’t helpful. And leaving behind the highway metaphor, the practical approach constructs a solid floor to everyday life, and all the restless energy of a constantly swirling brain gets kept in the crawlspace. Then it becomes a taboo or “simply uninteresting and pointless” to look beneath the floorboards at one’s own churning mind. And this is a clever tactic if all you want from life is the kind of happiness that remains circumscribed by a repressed turmoil. And what goes missing in life isn’t missed, because nobody misses what they don’t notice.

But still they compensate themselves for everything that gets left out by making an art out of the minutiae of life, appreciating the “little things” as you would admire a knick-knack shelf, but always remembering that what’s important are the practical necessities of maintaining this bubble of unconscious repression wherein happiness can reign. In fact, the rule is, don’t indulge in any larger questions, which tend to pry open the floor boards and release all sorts of religious and political demons that ruin dinner parties. 

Now and then, of course, a few of the pressing questions and confusions in the crawlspace nevertheless erupt from the floorboards and circle the brain in repetitive patterns all night like giant mosquitos. And until a distraction is found (a way to nail the boards down again), the person is forced to see themselves as powerless victims of these escaped thoughts. And this reinforces the conviction that our own turmoil is something external to us, a fact of nature that can’t change. That’s one of the strongest nails keeping the flooring in place: we’re helpless victims of our own brains, so ignore the brain and just focus on this nice little space we’ve created.

If any readers have made it this far then they also probably can’t ignore the racket from beneath the flooring any more than I can. The pursuit of happiness begins to feel like a shallow sitcom, devoid of all real adventure and danger. 

So you and I (the nervous ones essentially) couldn’t follow their lead and rest comfortably while the floor kept popping and creaking all day. Every belief that was designed to nail down those loose boards — whether it was religious or patriotic or careerist beliefs —  included the same taboo against questioning the framing, which made them feel deceptive.Read More »

The Greatest Paradox: Why Change is Possible but Why We Can’t Change on Purpose

Let me clarify the last essay, I think we can emerge from this trap of thought in time to heal the earth. I do believe it, for what it’s worth. I’m not saying this as a spur to change, but as an observation of the nature of the problem itself. It’s not unresolvable.

We can change because the problem driving the world to the brink of collapse is a runaway imagination, thought that has no sense of itself as a creative fiction, which means we get fooled by all the red herrings that this imagination produces. Not just the usual evils such as status, power, money, but also suckered by all the well-intentioned solutions that are invented to counteract these evils.

However, we aren’t even coming close to realizing what this change demands from us. This is not the usual crisis we’re facing.

Every previous crisis in human history could be surmounted by applying our extraordinary capacity for imagination. This time we can’t.

Any species that develops this far in this direction would face the same dilemma. It’s a dangerous new power and we haven’t learned to use it in proper measure.

These dangers weren’t obvious over the vast course of human history. Population pressures weren’t enough to incite the imagination into hyperdrive. But as these pressures grew, more complicated products of the imagination appeared, such as agriculture, cities, governments, writing, and on and on. Products of the imagination became increasingly complicated, causing new problems faster than the imagination could be used to solve them.

Essentially we entered into a predator/prey developmental relationship with our own imagination, inventing new forms to solve the problems caused by unforeseen complications arising in previous forms. And this has led to a logarithmic increase in products of the imagination and in the kinds of problems we face.

So up to this point we could say that we’ve only faced problems that the imagination was capable of solving, albeit by kicking the can of ever more complicated problems farther down the road. We are keeping one step ahead of a shadow that keeps growing larger and more menacing.

But now that road has shortened to a dead end. There is no room to kick the can anymore.

In other words, we’re beginning to realize that this two edged sword of imaginative development has grown into such a large sword that it’s going to kill us on the next swing.

Some don’t realize the implications of this development yet. They either fail to see the double-edged quality of so-called progress, concentrating only on the promises and not the perils of every new development of the imagination; or they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this is not a problem like previous problems. They can’t see that we’re engaged in a logarithmic growth in products of the imagination, and that this has become a momentum that imprisons us. Technology is a steroid in this development, but not the real problem. The problem isn’t merely that we work for machines now, and not vice versa. The underlying reason why we’re susceptible to this enslavement is because we were already trapped within the products of our imagination.

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A New World Is Only a New Mind

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.

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Abrupt or Gradual Change?

Found picture on Web, apologies to whomever it belongs (will remove if needed)

Each essay wrests a limited clarity from the infinite mycelium of loose ends that keeps the inquiry growing. As if demonstrating what I felt to be true in Truth and Distortion, the last essay clarified something, but also left distortions that I’d like to consider.

Is the transition to a proprioceptive mentality necessarily so dramatic and dangerous for example? Is it really like falling from a cliff? Or is it the most gentle transformation imaginable, giving up the strife that comes with trying to live up to a false ideal, seeing through all these deceptive feints and accepting them until they evaporate as irrelevant?

I’m never going to argue that anything I say is real. These are merely stories that wring from the world particular insights, while shutting down others. So the question has to be spun like a prism to see other spectrums of truth. And this also allows me to see with greater clarity the context in which the previous metaphor was apt. Let me see if this can be done with one of those loose ends right now, the gradual versus abrupt question.

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Cliff Diving: The Dangerous Leap into Suspension and Proprioceptive Flight

Photo from Groundtruthtrekking.org

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).

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Truth and Distortion

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.

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Direct and Indirect Meaning (Being and Constructing)

birdsmind

The first 14 essays tried to “come to terms” with the limitations of language. By extension this included all of thought and imagination – the whole category of construct-making.

How can we discover the “limitations” of something that covers the whole of experience? An all-enveloping fluid from which we can’t leap free, like lucky fish?

In Part II of “Imagine the Limits of the Imagination” I suggested that this can be done by considering the category of “odd words”:

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
— Wislawa Szymborska

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Leaping into the Deep End

Duke at the Saw Mill swimming hole
Our dog Duke at the Saw Mill swimming hole, Butternut Crick, circa 1967, near Morris, NY

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.” – W.H. Auden (Leap Before You Look)

Narcissus is the “Dreamer”: In Honor of Ta-Nahisi Coates

I’m privileged to be a dreamer. I live in a cloud, which rises from the smoke of guns and bombs. My world is made possible by war. We are all here. Our collective voice is the Web and the media. The voice is growing harsher. It’s Narcissus reacting to his suddenly uglier image. He squirms in discomfort. What does he do when he comes face-to-face with his own vainglories of racism, war and hyper-rational control of nature? How will he peer through the dream, and turn away from his beloved?Read More »

Part 2 of Imagine the Limits of the Imagination: A Proprioceptive Mirror

The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog
The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
— Wislawa Szymborska

This is a continuation of part 1.

There are two very different ways of reading the phrase “imagine the limits of the imagination.”

One way is to assume that we’re trying to imagine what lies “beyond” imagination. This sets up a double-bind: trying to think beyond thinking; trying to speak about silence. It’s like asking that creature from part 1 (who can only hear) to describe a world of sight. It can’t be done.Read More »

Imagine the Limits of the Imagination (Part I)

From Supernatural Magazine
From “Supernatural Magazine”, used without permission (please forgive)

I want to write simply, but the pathways of habit, belief and assumption that I’m trying to describe are entangled. I’m not interested in trying to dis-entangle each strand. I’ve never been able to untangle a hose let alone a mind. But there’s a difference between thinking your way out of a mental entanglement and letting the entanglement unravel of its own accord. I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag. But it’s easy enough to fall out of one.

It’s a lazy man’s way of learning. Keep going along the usual twisted pathways, but be alert enough and precise enough in the description to at least “embarrass” the habits of thinking into “thinking twice.” This is a small part of what Jeppe means by “refiguring,” and an aspect of the plasticity that Tony refers to. And it’s a small part of what I tried to describe in the manifesto as “second sight.”Read More »