Only Somewhat Real: Vast impersonal forces

Saturday, September 23, 2017

All right, I think I know where you are going next. At least, it has been in my mind recurrently. Passions. Or, emotions, at least. I have been hearing that we live in a sea of emotions.

Do you not think it is interesting that philosophers and scientists attempt to explain the human life without beginning from the self-evident fact that human life is dominated by emotion? You are not creatures of thought, or logic, or abstract yearnings for knowledge, or any of the things you may consider yourselves to be when you sit down to define your lives. You are people living an endless procession of emotions, even the calmest of you, even the iciest and most self-centered and autistic of you, even the most sociopathically self-centered of you. Your lives are not about thought or about rational development. They are the living of forces from well beyond consciousness or thought.

Pretty broad brush we’re painting with, this morning.

It did get your attention, perhaps, and in this case, that is not so easy. You have such a firm opinion of something so obviously incorrect, it is necessary to shout, you might say.

You had a friend who was convinced that he felt no emotions. He thought of himself as a hard-headed scientist, seeing himself – seeing life – rationally, surrounded by people whose lives were driven by emotion. The fact that he was wrong but certain could sum up the human situation in this regard. You are the conduits of vast impersonal forces, and you rarely suspect the fact, because when you are aware of the forces flowing through you, they seem to be your forces, mobilized for some personal reason, or provoked by some personal encounter. And when you are not aware of them, you forget the awareness you had had, and you go back to thinking yourselves rational self-directed beings.

Not sure who you are describing. I don’t have any such illusion, and I don’t know anybody who does. We know we –

Oh, do continue!

Very funny. All right, the sense of what you meant just penetrated, and so I do see your point. And I guess I’ll be better able to say this than you will. I can at least use a one-inch brush instead of a paint-roller.

I interrupted myself because I started to say that I and my friends realize that we are subject to intractable problems – emotional biases dating back to childhood, sometimes; the effects of past traumas; what analysts call complexes; persistent failings we are unable to root out. But I stopped when I realized, that is exactly what you just said: I was defining us as rational beings with problems, and we could at least equally well be defined as creatures living lives shaped by forces beyond our control. Or, not quite. By forces either beyond our control or forces needing to be controlled.

But that is an advance in understanding, is it not? You are not rational beings interrupted by occasional (or even frequent, or even continual) emotional forces. You are compound beings living your entire life as conduits for forces that flow through you, you doing what you can to channel and direct them. That is not the picture John Locke [English philosopher and rationalist] would paint of humans. Nor B.F. Skinner [American psychologist, founder of behaviorism, which seems to think humans have no source of information or behavior beyond the strictly physical]. But equally it is not the point of view of Freud and Jung [two of the giant figures who pioneered modern psychology] and those who accompanied and followed them. They recognized the role of passion in the human, but they assumed that the human occupied a detached place that was affected by the emotions and what they knew as the problems of the person. They did not necessarily see that in any person’s life the central fact is that the 3D individual is a conduit of forces from beyond. They tended to see the 3D individual as a separate unit affected by these forces. We have repeated this now, several times. We wonder: Have any of you actually heard it?

Some will. I did, I think.

We will repeat it from time to time, because you may find the concept elusive. Your physically separate and seemingly independent life accustoms you to thinking your mental life equally separate, and your civilization accustoms you to seeing your emotional life as an offshoot of your mental life, which is ridiculous but persuasive because habitual.

A conflict of orientations

You know, I think that for the first time I understand why the metaphysical types and the religious types can not be made to take each other seriously!

Not to mention the scientific types, the “hard-headed realist” types and especially the worshiper of an idea of the mind as an ideal. Go ahead.

It is not just a temperamental difference, nor a matter of prejudice, nor of strongly held opinion, though that is how I have usually seen it (on either side). They aren’t using the same definitions!

They do not consider the same forces, no. They define the world differently.

And that isn’t a matter of opinions, but of orientation. It seems clear at the moment, so I’d better write it down. Religious thought begins by seeing humans as living in a torrent of forces, call them, that often manifest as emotion or even as persistent non-rational motivators. Religious thought proceeds from a recognition that we as individuals are not the basic unit we think ourselves to be, but are conduits of vast inhuman forces that they perhaps personify as God or Devil, or perhaps see merely as illusion. [I was thinking of Buddhism, here.] For those who do not see life in this way, religious thought seems nonsensical, superstitious.

I think my own brush broadened at the tip during use just then. Still, I think it is a valid insight. And you can see that psychotherapy is halfway toward religious thought, only it persists (as far as I know) in thinking the individual the unit it seems to be, rather than the construct and community it also is.

All right, now you, and at least some of your readers, will have made the adjustment. You will find life looks differently, only – look close to hand, don’t succumb to the temptation to look only (or primarily) at others, or at society at large. Look to your own lives: What else do you know so well? What else can you know “essence to essence,” so to speak?

This is very interesting. With that one fundamental insight, we can proceed beyond futile arguments about the track record of organized religions, and about points of dogma, and about most of the things that prevent discussion on sympathetic grounds. Once realize that the great divide is between those who think us independent units mostly motivated by reason and those who see us as conduits of vast impersonal forces, and lots of things clear up, including where (relative to that divide) we ourselves belong.

Bearing in mind, of course, that this is one way to divide the world.

Yes, like the joke, “the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.”

It is useful at any given moment, but remember that the cake may be sliced in many different directions, to yield different, equally valid, divisions. But this particular division should prove particularly useful just at the moment. This is a logical place to pause, and an opportunity for people to examine the nature of their lives to see if they agree with what has been said.


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