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.
I made a big and interesting mistake in trying to ascertain who you are in the essay “I See You Now.” Even the title sounded threatening. But this is what Negative Geography was built to handle — a place where I can stare back at my own footprints in the subtle mud of language and decipher where I go wrong.
And some of these mistakes reveal ancient confusions, ancient in that they are not entirely personal mistakes, but self-injurious reactions to transgenerational traumas as Mate tends to describe it, stretching back through human history beyond reckoning.
From one angle, this is the kind of mistake that our parents wisely warned us against — staring too long into the image reflected in the water, because we’ll drown in confusion.
However, I’m no longer susceptible to this fear. I think it’s because I already drowned a long time ago and now I’m beginning to crawl back to the shore like some kind of primordial shape, picture a mud puppy if you need to.
The first surface mistake was in devaluing the deeper personal and impersonal relationships I have with many of you. You aren’t some abstract conception of an Other; you are not merely mined for your value and then discarded, which is what I described. But the image I hold of the person listening is mysterious to me still, as if I’m picturing a mind that is still forming; but one that is partially revealing itself in many of you; and sometimes even in brief exchanges with strangers on a bus; with everyone who carries that charge of honesty that can change a life; and all this feeds the image of a wider mind that is listening, a real mind, in flesh and blood. And I made the mistake of accidentally discounting the fact that this potential is visible in real people reading, and is not abstract and disembodied.
So this led to the the second surface mistake — a failure to acknowledge how important these ongoing dialogues with you are in everything I write.
The underlying error, however, is solipsism. But solipsism is not merely a fancy way of describing a self-centered outlook.
Is it too small a story to say I do things independently, as if I were an outside agent? Is it more reasonable to say that it’s the environment that thinks through me and through every tree, bird, person or breath of wind, each an energetic and idiosyncratic manifestation of earthly intelligence?
This body becomes an aspect of its surroundings the moment the assertion of my differences ceases. if I’m not constantly thinking about myself, I dissolve into the world itself.
It requires a story to create a sense of independence. Relax for a moment and I disappear. But disappear only as something alienated from earth and others.
You could tell the story that the woods “inspire Me”. But that’s a story that misses something large. Inspiration IS seeing that tree’s connection and inseparability from intelligence. Intelligence arises between you and me, between trees and me too, and the little stream below where I sit carries the voice of my own intelligence.
This may sound fanciful, but I think it’s a more practical vision, a more factual one. Less dependent on an imaginary being who somehow “sits in” this body, who carries the name “I”, a little director I used to call “Zingryo” as a kid, sitting on a throne behind the eyes. He is “me”, and when he thinks about himself he is thinking about an Other of sorts, as if this Self he is thinking about were somehow still outside him, always one step removed, as Beckett comically observed.
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.
Let me see if I can write a cheat-sheet to make the last essay a little easier.
First, it’s necessary to see things through a prismatic perspective. Otherwise what I say won’t make sense.
It sounds hard, but it’s only a little disconcerting at first.
By a prismatic perspective I mean realizing that nothing we think is actual. I think most humble human beings accept that their ideas are not perfect.
Now look at the same realization a little more intensely, that’s all.
What that means is I can only observe a small bandwidth of stimuli even at my best. And from what I Can see, I only remember a smaller fraction. And of those memories, I can only stitch together the few that make the most sense to me. So all I ever know are fictions.
That’s not what we usually think, but it’s the same thing as realizing that our ideas are only interpretations. Interpretations are fictions.
And they can be honest or dishonest fictions. But facts that aren’t the product of some interpretation are few and far between. And they’re usually negative, such as “the emperor has no clothes”. But in this case the negative discovery is that thought is not actual.
So ideas are only at best insightful, not literal.
Without the delusion of absolute truth there’s no motive to lie. Think about that. We lie when we’re trying to convince someone of an absolute truth, even if it’s only the absolute truth of Selfishness, the need to lie to protect my sense of Self. But if we see that nothing is conclusively true, including our sense of Self, but only at most a helpful way of distorting an otherwise ungraspable whole to make it meaningful, then there is no competition between points of view. They all add information, that’s all.
And if nothing can be taken literally, then thoughts become more creative, conjectural, metaphoric, prismatic.
Each word is like a different refraction of an unknowable actuality. Each word provides a slightly different slant or insight into qualities of the world.
So I could have called this a “metaphoric mentality” instead of a “primsmatic perspective.” The word “prism” emphasizes the ability to spin the issue around to get insights into different qualities. When I use the word metaphor, this emphasizes the suggestive nature of thought, the absence of Literalism. But neither of them are the actuality. They are merely different qualities that each metaphor reveals in what would otherwise be a mysterious, ungraspable whole.
So when thought stops trying to be actual, it becomes more creative, trying out different angles to discover wider potentials in the world. We shift from a narrowing search for answers to a widening, adventure-loving exploration, which can’t have an agenda because it doesn’t know what’s coming next. But in this spirited exploration of the world we begin to discover new powers, like the freedom from competition that this prismatic angle provides; the creativity it encourages.
This essay is fictional. Not in the way fiction is usually defined. But this voice – anyone’s voice, even a scientist’s voice – is the invention of a framework that puts experience in a particular slant and color. And there’s no way to avoid this.
Nothing can be discussed or known without being painted in some fictional color. Even the colorless voice of a realist is a fictional application of colorlessness.
Phrases like “everything is this…” and “nothing can be that…” sound reductive and dogmatic. But in this case I’m talking about what can’t be known, not what can. Reality is unknowable. Stories are all that’s known.
In other words, claiming to know anything conclusive about the nature of reality is a sign of bullshit.
And knowing what is bullshit is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge. It’s not reductive, but expansive, because this discovery releases perception from cages of certainty, and awakens a questioning or metaphoric spirit. Read More »
Once upon a time a little boy was walking down a dirt road, beside a lively creek. There were five of them traveling together — the road, the creek, the dog, the grandmother and this boy – and they were all dancing their way to a waterfall, which is where the road stopped and Pan’s kingdom started. A few staggering clouds came along too, out of curiosity. And if the boy had entered paradise at that moment it would have felt like a let-down. The wilderness beyond the waterfall, and its mysterious beasts, which he knew from stories his grandma would tell him, would have lost their beguiling danger — that spice of potential doom, which the cooks of paradise always seem to forget.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 »
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?