Marcus Aurelius on today’s affairs

On impulse this morning, I reread parts of Marcus Aurelius’ wonderful classic book Meditations, which has sat on my shelves for many years. Marcus was of course one of the few ‘good’ Roman Emperors, but also at the same time a philosopher.

He actually has lots to say about matters that disturb us today. Fortunately, Goodreads has made an excellent selection of quotes from the book, so I was able to choose from these.

Consider our distress at the apparent downturn in world events (across many countries) and our circumstances:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

And what about our countries that appear to be descending into populism, lying politicians out on the make, even fascism.

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

Yes we need to witness what is going on, act where we can to mitigate against disturbing trends, but at the end of the day:

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Featured image is young Marcus Aurelius from the Musei Capitolini.

We’ll figure it out

Jane Fritz recent post At this inflection point in history, compassion has to stand its ground set me thinking. The post highlights all the thing that are going wrong in todays world and goes on to highlight the need for connectedness, compassion, courage, authenticity, generosity – none of which I would disagree with.

The thing is, we are all exposed by constant media exposure to all the things that are going wrong in the world, and the trends that appear to be going the wrong way – many of which have featured in moments of exasperation on this blog. So much so, that many people I have spoken to in recent months have actually reduced their exposure to the news and media because it is just so dispiriting. And what is it doing to the minds and dispositions of today’s youngsters?

Two insights occur to me.

First, Einstein is frequently quoted as having said that you cannot solve today’s problems with the mindset of yesterday, or words to that effect. Equally, you cannot anticipate the solutions to today’s problems from yesterday’s mindset, which is what we all have, and are reflected in the media. Tomorrow’s world will emerge from the collective mindset of billions of people confronted with today’s world. Who knows what answers might emerge, and how those problems might be resolved, or evolve into different and maybe even more intractable problems, if that’s possible. So we shouldn’t dispair if we cannot see the answers; it’s a work in progress. As daughter says in her increasing wisdom ” We’ll figure it out…”!

Second, we ourselves are a work in progress. We have choices day in and day out in how we live our lives and the quality of those lives. I believe that we are each on a path of growth and learning – about ourselves and our place in the world, even the purpose of our existence – the soul or daimon. So the job is to fulfil our purpose here, to make the best contribution we can at this moment, from where we stand now. This has been highlighted innumerable times over the centuries by advanced human beings. The job is to move towards our soul purpose, our spirituality, or whatever terminology you wish to use.

Of course, the inevitable result is connectedness, compassion, courage, authenticity, generosity…

Featured image is evening sky over Knutsford 14.8.22

The daimon

Why are we born at a particular time and place? Is there any meaning to life? Materialism suggests not, we make the best we can of the random circumstances around us. 

But what if we live in a world of meaning, and the life we are born to calls us to an individual destiny or calling?  This is the possibility and challenge presented on James Hillmans’ book The Soul’s Code (1996). Hillman refers to Plato’s idea of the daimon:

“The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth…. The daimon is the carrier of your destiny.”

Hillman’s book is an exploration of this concept, known as the acorn theory for obvious reasons, and gives numerous examples of individuals who have realised specific destinies that came to them at particular times  or were evident from early life. The caution I would apply is that most of his examples are quite remarkable individuals, suggesting that only a subset of individuals are so driven.

It is also notable that the daimon is not necessarily a positive. Too many times do we see in history exceptional individuals driven by narcissism and the will to power over others, apparently driven by demons, a related word.

The dramatic effect of this theory is what many educationalists have always maintained – that the purpose of education is to facilitate the emergence of the child’s true potential, not to train them to conform in the jobs market. 

Hillman suggests that much of modern psychology has tended to treat emerging features of the daimon as psychological problems rather than as facets of the daimon, thus using standardised medication to suppress them. Cf the US Diagnostics and Statistics Manual. 

The daimon is llnked, from Hillman’s perspective, with the concept of character, which is the pattern of the daimon as presented to the world. As we look at todays political shinanegins in the UK Conservative Party we largely look in vain for exemplary characters fulfilling a daimon related to public service. The same is apparent across the pond.

The idea of the daimon fits perfectly with Bruno Huber’s astrological psychology, where the birth chart represents the pattern of energies in the universe at time of birth, and can be used to help in understanding the pattern of the person’s daimon, thus uncovering what has greatest meaning for them and their lives.

Featured islamic pattern by Maureen from Buffalo, USA,
CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Autopoesis

An excellent article by Alfredo Erlwein-Vicuna in the recent edition of Resurgence magazine champions the concept of autopoesis – which is perhaps hampered by its rather obscure name. 

The basic idea is that cognition is the basic process of life, which is a process of a self creation. There is no separation between organism and environment; our perception of these sees different aspects of the same process. The whole is self regulating. Cf Gaia theory. 

According to Wikipedia “the term originates from the Greek αὐτo (self), and ποίησι (creation, production), referring to a system capable of producing and maintaining itself by creating its own parts”.

Fritjof Capra described this as “the first scientific theory that unifies mind, matter and life.”

Originator of the theory, Humberto Maturana states that reality is different for every living being because it is determined according to the sensory processes of each organism. There is no absolute truth. 

Erlwein-Vicuna suggests that democracy is a way of people living in mutual acceptance, which is perhaps a way of organising human affairs that is consistent with autopoesis. 

These ideas point the way beyond the current scientific materialism and the unsustainable politics of power and domination, towards a science that begins to understand life itself and a politics of cooperation and sustainability. 

Science, Philosophy, and Schizoid Man

Here, the Crysalis encapsulates today’s problem. When natural philosophy was effectively superseded by objective science, we set off on a track that has inexorably led to today’s loss of wisdom. It won’t be easy to get back, but without wisdom how can humanity hope to survive long term?

( featured image from Blake’s Ancient of Days, by Frank Vincentz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Chrysalis

Before there was something called “Science” (with a capital “S”, and which is only of relatively recent coinage) it was called “natural philosophy”. That name itself is significant because it indicates that science and philosophy were not considered separate specialist activities and departments, but a unity — the unity of the quest for knowledge with the pursuit of wisdom.

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What can we know?

What can we know about life? Start with what we might all agree on.

Look inside. I am a conscious subject.

Look outside. There appears to be an objective material world in which I experience. I have a body that operates in this external world.

There also appear to be in this world other conscious subjects, including those who conditioned me from birth, and including animals and other creatures. I recognise their interiority.

Much of that interiority is shared across humans (at least) – my surrounding culture.

Summary. Basic dualities.

Basic dualities
  • Interior/exterior or subject/object or conscious/material.
  • Individual/collective or me/society + culture.

Quadrants

We can express this as four quadrants; none is reducible to the others.

Wilber quadrants

These are the Four Quadrants of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology, and Ken and others have done a great job of mapping all human knowledge onto these four quadrants. See for example his Integral Psychology or his magnum opus Sex, Ecology and Spirituality.

For example,

  • modern science belongs on the right, as it is concerned with objectivity and, axiomatically, excludes the subject.
  • psychology and spirituality belong on the left, although scientific psychology and institutional religion attempt to reduce this to the right, or control it from the right.
  • culture belongs in the bottom left, and social and government systems in the bottom right.
Huber quadrants

These are also the four quadrants of the modern astrological birth chart. Astrology and astrological psychology have long encompassed all aspects of our being in the world. See for example Bruno & Louise Huber’s The Astrological Houses or Life Clock.

Limitations

Remember that the quadrants are an analytical breakdown, and can only represent suggestive truth. In reality we know that all is interconnected; models such as this may help, but always have their limitations.

What this does imply is that one-dimensional approaches to life cannot work. Materialism is a dead end; it cannot deal with interiors and ends up being inhuman. Control of people’s innermost thoughts through religious or political systems is another dead end; it cannot effectively deal with exteriors through science. Humanity has tried all of these through history.

We just have to embrace the complexity, and ultimately the mystery, of life.

Featured image licensed via Shutterstock.

Never Enough

Here’s another of Steve Taylor‘s poems, expressing aptly the accumulative tendency of the ego. The rich man never has enough money, always tries to make more; he wants the biggest yacht, or to get to Mars, or to control another company. The tyrant at the centre of Empire always wants more land, more people under his personal control. The espoused lover of freedom wants no obligation, no attachment to others, no rules, no common good. You know who you are, and who they are. But it will never be enough…

Steve’s poem expresses it so well.

Never Enough

All the possessions that you collect
and all the wealth that you accumulate 
will never be enough. 

All the success that you achieve
and all the attention that you attract
will never be enough. 

No matter how far your empire stretches 
no matter how absolute your power grows
it will never be enough.

Desires never sleep for long. 
Once they’re satisfied, they rise again, like waves,
faster and stronger than before. 

Every new desire is more difficult to meet
and brings more shallow, more short-lived fulfilment 
until eventually we become numb to happiness
and feel nothing but a raging frustration 
that consumes us inside and makes us hate the world. 

It will never be enough
until you give up the outer search for happiness 
and turn inside yourself. 

Beneath the restless surface of your mind
there is a natural harmony –
the radiance of pure consciousness 
softly vibrating, glowing with warm vitality 
like the freshness of a forest in spring. 

The harmony of your deep being 
never fades or slips out of reach. 
The more you attune to it, the more intense it grows.
The more you touch into it, the closer it moves. 

It can’t be exhausted because it’s immaterial
as intangible as air or light.
It can’t be exhausted because it’s eternal
and endlessly renews and refreshes itself.

Be still, and rest inside yourself.
Let your mind settle, and your thoughts slow down
until desires and fears dissolve away.

Then you’ll enter the deep space of being
and harmony will immerse you –
always present, and always enough.

Unconditional love and forgiveness

Edith Stauffer was greatly influenced by the teaching of the Essenes (2nd century BC to 1st century AD), and by Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis. The Essene Code of Conduct, which first came to prominence with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945, bears striking resemblances to the principles of psychosynthesis. This little book Unconditional Love and Forgiveness (1987) explores some of the most important aspects of these teachings and this lived psychology.

The first essential is to retain and reinforce our connection to the inner Source of all things, or soul, Self, spirit, God as you prefer – through practice such as meditation. As a transpersonal psychology, psychosynthesis recognises this inner connection, which is the souce of wholeness with all beings, and is necessary for correct alignment of our will.

A vital concept is understanding of the brain’s filters – attitudes, which determine the mindset through which we address the world. Assagioli suggested that we can use our will to set goals and change our attitudes, and thus change our lives.

The Essenes gave out a Law of Attitudes, which is essentially to love the Source, love ourselves, and love other beings. The eight attitudes were their rules for living, aiming to bring into consciousness transpersonal attitudes. Roughly, these attitudes are: living in connection with the Source, awareness of self and deficiencies, humility, aiming for justice and fairness, loving without condition, without personal fault, serving peace, inner peace and serenity.

The correspondence with the teachings of Jesus Christ is apparent. Impossible in the modern world, you may say. Yet this is psychologically what will give you peace and alignment with the world.

The later part of the book focuses specifically on forgiveness. I have previously blogged on the subject of forgiveness, so will not repeat that here. What specifically struck me from the Essene Code was the idea that

“To forgive is to cancel all demands, conditions, and expectations held in your mind that block the Attitude of Love…”

Forgiveness does not depend on external circumstances. This is something we do for our own psychological health, enabling us to stay in tune with our surroundings. I am reminded of then-draper Gordon Wilson‘s immediate forgiveness of the IRA bomb in Enniskillen that killed his daughter (November 1987). His reaction is said to have changed the course of the confllict in Northen Ireland, leading eventually to the Peace Process.

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge”

Gordon Wilson, 2008

Powerful stuff, this.

Featured image of Enniskillen bombing from the Belfast Telegraph.

Spooky

I was musing on the German word ‘geist’, which seemed to mean both spirit and mind. How could that be? Do German speakers actually perceive the world differently? So, off to geist in Wikipedia, which reveals:

German Geist… translation of Latin spiritus… originally referred to frightening apparitions or ghosts… acquired a Christian meaning from an early time, notably in reference to the Holy Spirit/ Holy Ghost… could refer to spooks or ghostly apparitions, to the religious… Holy Spirit, as well as to the “spirit of wine”…

… its special meaning of “mind, intellect” never shared by English ghost is acquired only in the 18th century, under the influence of French espritGeist could now refer to the quality of intellectual brilliance, to wit, innovation, erudition, etc. It is also in this time that the adjectival distinction of geistlich “spiritual, pertaining to religion” vs. geistig “intellectual, pertaining to the mind”… also geisterhaft “ghostly, spectral”.

German Geist in this particular sense of “mind, wit, erudition; intangible essence, spirit” has no precise English-language equivalent, for which reason translators sometimes retain Geist as a German loanword.

That pretty well sums it up. English took both Latin/French and Saxon/Germanic origins and mashed them around a bit, never quite staying in step with either (cf Brexit). And that’s why we still talk about the ‘holy ghost’, rather than the ‘holy spirit’. Hence friend Alf‘s characterisation of the holy trinity as: Big Daddy, Our Kid and Spooky.

And that’s also why we don’t have a word for ‘zeitgeist’.

Featured image cropped from Depiction of the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove,
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica, c. 1660,
via Wikimedia Commons

A modern pioneer

The life of Federico Faggin (born 1941 in Italy) is quite fascinating, as described in his book Silicon. He starts out in life as a red hot designer of newly emerging computer technologies, is one of the pioneers of the early years of the modern information revolution, lives his main career in Silicon Valley surfing the waves of new technologies, and yet ultimately comes to realise the limitations of these computer technologies, indeed of the modern materialistic world view. He forms a Foundation for the scientific study of consciousness, realising that it is consciousness that is fundamental, as opposed to the materialism of the prevailing paradigm.

Faggin splits his story into four parts, or lives.

The First Life covers his university education, technical career and marriage in Italy.

In the Second Life he moves to USA, Silicon Valley, and is a key player in SGS Fairchild’s development of silicon gate technology and the first integrated circuit Fairchild 3708. Then he works in the early days of Intel (1103 then 4004 in 1971), and the first single-chip microprocessor (8008 then 8080). After conflicts Federico leaves Intel in 1974.

In his Third Life Federico becomes an entrepreneur, founding Zilog with Ralph Ungermann, funded by Exxon Enterprises, in 1974. This led to the influential Z80 microcontroller. There followed periods with Cygnet Technologies and then Synaptics, where he becomes involved in neural networks and the development of touchpads (1994). Then there is a period with Foveon, developing image sensors – all this is leading edge technology at the time.

Towards the end of this period he has an ‘illumination experience’, which leads to his questioning the ‘hard problem of consciousness’. He comes to the realisation that the materialistic model is inadequate, and he outlines a perspective that is consistent with quantum physics, where consciousness is primary (panpsychism). This leads to the Fourth Life, where, with his wife, he forms the Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation for the scientific study of consciousness (2011).

This is a fascinating story. But a warning is in order at this point. I sort of glazed over much of the technical material in this book, despite understanding a fair bit about the information revolution of the past 50 years. Without such a background you might struggle to make sense of this book.

Yet this is an important story. Ultimately, Federico’s insight into consciousness is the realisation that has come to many of the leading scientific thinkers of the past 100 years, including many of the quantum physicists. A peril for our times is that we embed ourselves ever further into the materialistic paradigm and even give away our free will to those very computers that Federico helped to come to fruition, because we become lost in the glamour of artificial intelligence (which he himself decries). Our very moral purpose and creativity are at stake.

Featured image of Z80 by Chris Whytehead, Chris’s Acorns, via Wikimedia Commons

Seeking Jean Gebser

“We partake every moment of our lives in the originary powers of an ultimately spiritual nature.”

Jean Gebser

Jean Gebser, philosopher, linguist, poet, who described the structures of human consciousness. Born Hans Gebser in Poznan, then Germany, 1905. Left in 1929 for Italy/Spain/France, changing name to Jean. Escaped to Switzerland at the outbreak of WW2. Died 1973.

Having seen many references to the work of Jean Gebser, I wanted to find out more about the man himself and his ideas. His main book The Ever Present Origin seemed difficult to get hold of, and is reputed to be ‘difficult ‘, so I tried the summary of the man and his ideas in Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson (2019).

Basically, Gebser’s work is about human consciousness and how it has evolved and is evolving. He categorises five stages of its evolution, which I roughly describe in the following gross over-simplification.

  • Archaic – original consciousness of the whole, without differentiation.
  • Magical – perfect identification of man with the universe, without separation, all appears magical, a part of ‘the dreaming’.
  • Mythical – becoming conscious of the universe and others through stories and myths.
  • Rational – mental, logical. Man is separated from the world and reasons about it.
  • Integral – becoming aware of, transcending and yet benefiting from the perspectives of all the previous levels.

As stressed by Johnson, this is not intended to be a developmental schema, although it clearly describes the stages of development of humanity to date. But then, neither Johnson’s book nor Gebser’s work are easily read or understood – Gebser has his own specific terminology that I will not attempt to go into here. Johnson has made a heroic attempt to lead us into the thinking of Gebser, and his book is well worth reading, if you are so inclined. Each effort to understand helps us to get in touch with the inspirational quality of this work. He quotes Gebser, giving an indication of the true poetic scope of this work.

“The simple is in us. It is participation—participation in that which is unknown yet evident to us: a tiny seed in us, which contains all transparency—the diaphanous world, the most irradiated and most sober beatitude. It is so completely comprehensive and whole that neither our intelligent, super-clever, caged-in thought nor our pitiable-pitiful and needy-strong longing—how much poverty it renders visible!—can even divine it. And yet, it is within us.”

Jean Gebser April 26 1973

Of course, there are parallels between Gebser’s analysis and the work of Iain McGilchrist, referred to in other posts. The current left-brain-dominant mode of being is the equivalent of the rational stage, and the co-operating left and right brains that McGilchrist envisages are the equivalent of the integral stage. See Scott Preston’s post Gebser and McGilchrist for more insight.

Jean Gebser is also referred to extensively in Ken Wilber‘s work, such as in the lengthy masterwork Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. All these guys are on to something fundamental about what it means to be human, and the direction of any New Renaissance of the human spirit.

The Matter With Things

I have spent many happy hours reading Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter With Things. This is probably the largest and most expensive book (in two volumes) that I have ever read or bought, at 1578 pages, including appendices and an extensive bibliography, and a cost in the region £75-£90 (hardback), although there is apparently a cheaper Kindle edition. Why did I do this? Because I was inspired by his previous book The Master and His Emissary, which seemed to capture something very important about the predicament we find ourselves in today. See my review of that book here.

Also, I was inspired by hearing the man himself speaking in some of the videos produced by the Scientific & Medical Network. You can see some of these yourself on the website Channel McGilchrist. This man inspires by the depth of his erudition and the lengths to which he has gone to make his case. The Matter With Things took ten years of his life and provides a comprehensive justification and amplification of the theory in that earlier book. It speaks with equal erudition on neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, physics…

This is not really a book for the general reader; it does require interested effort and perseverance to complete, but I found the effort well repaid. When Iain presented his first draft to his publisher, the reaction was that it needed major editing and perhaps removal of references. He refused and chose to publish it himself. All the research and references were of importance.

I have no intention of trying any sort of summary. Perhaps the important point remains that first presented in The Master and his Emissary. We have these two modes of knowing about things: essentially rational and intuitive, which correspond strongly with left brain and right brain respectively. The proper mode of working of the human being involves both modes: initiation with intuition, working it through with rationality, and validating again with intuition.

Today’s problem is that the rational left brain has in many people significantly lost touch with the intuitive right, which is what grounds us in reality. The left tries to go its own way and ignore the right (the Emissary usurps the Master). We see the results all around in massive narcissism, and lost participation in the natural world, to the degree that we are apparently rather rapidly degrading it. The abstraction of the map has become more important than the reality of the territory.

In marshalling the evidence the book ranges widely over many fields. The first part considers the means to truth – attention, perception, judgement, intelligence (emotional social and cognitive) and creativity. The second part considers the paths to truth related to the brain hemispheres – science, reason and intuition. The third and final part considers the nature of reality, including the significance of opposites, the one and the many – parts and wholes, time, space, matter and consciousness, value, purpose of life and the nature of the cosmos, and the sense of the sacred. Wow.

Having seen various videos of the man in conversation, I found the experience of reading these volumes to be like having an ongoing conversation with an erudite and wise man – an enjoyable and educational experience.

McGilchrist sees this culmination of his life’s work to be the presentation and ‘proving’ of his theories, in an academic sense – there are just so many references, all beautifully laid out near the relevant text. Who can say that this is not a vital endeavour for humanity? These ideas are important!

Butterfly emerging

Thanks to The Crysalis for alerting me to the story of the butterfly, a wonderful metaphor for the change in consciousness that we are in the midst of, or the New Renaissance we are involved in establishing.

You can find the story of the butterfly on the website of Evolution Biologist Elizabet Sahtouris here.

Essentially, it goes as follows>

“A caterpillar can eat up to three hundred times its own weight in a day… continuing to eat until it’s so bloated that it hangs itself up and goes to sleep, its skin hardening into a chrysalis. Then, within the chrysalis… a very different kind of creature, the butterfly, starts to form. This confused biologists for a long time. How could a different genome plan exist within the caterpillar to form a different creature? They knew that metamorphosis occurs in a number of insect species, but it was not known until quite recently that nature did a lot of mixing and matching of very different genome/protein configurations in early evolutionary times. Cells with the butterfly genome were held as disclike aggregates of stem cells that biologists call ‘imaginal cells’, hidden away inside the caterpillar’ all its life, remaining undeveloped until the crisis of overeating, fatigue and breakdown allows them to develop, gradually replacing the caterpillar with a butterfly!” 

Elizabet Sahtouris

This gives us a wonderful metaphor for the changing consciousness of humanity and the evolution of a New Renaissance. Our Western world culture that has developed and spread around the globe since the times of the Italian Renaissance has clearly reached its limits, as climate breakdown and energy limits take hold. The bloated old system has too many people on the planet trying to live in a way that is slowly destroying nature, until the inevitable comeback.

All over the world you find more and more ‘imaginal cells’ of people who dream of a better world and offer solutions that are necessary parts of a transition to something better. Of course, they are resisted by ‘the system’, and at first their efforts seem in vain. Yet there is an inevitability of progress in the long run. The butterfly cannot be prevented from emerging; it is in the nature of things.

As Sahtouris says,

“… the vision of a new and very different society, long held by many ‘imaginal cell’ humans who dreamt of a better world, is now emerging like a butterfly, representing our solutions to the crises of predation, overconsumption and breakdown in a new way of living lightly on Earth, and of seeing our human society not in the metaphors and models of mechanism as well-oiled social machinery, but in those of evolving, self-organizing and intelligent living organism.”

The New Renaissance will come. Our task is to support and join forces with other imaginal cells to build the better future!

Featured image of the Asian Gerosis Bhagava butterfly by Pkgmohan, via Wikimedia Commons

Fundamentalism

My post Modes of knowing highlighted that we have two modes of knowing: rationality, corresponding to left brain function; and intuition, corresponding to right brain function. The human being operates at best when these two modes of knowing operate in tandem, and there is great danger when the rational/left brain function takes over and ignores or denies the right brain/intuition. This is the root cause of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism appears in many guises in the modern world.

  • Religious fundamentalism. We all know about that. The word in the holy books is taken as a statement of fact, rather than as metaphor. We see these fundamentalists all over the world – Islamic Christian, Hindhu, Buddhist… The effect is to deny the basic truths that were initially espoused by the founding spiritual teachers – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha…
  • Political fundamentalism. The dedication to a particular ideology, which is often the cover for a privileged class, even an individual, to stay in control of society.
  • Economic fundamentalism. The dedication to particular ideas about how an economy is run, such as that private is always good, public spending is always bad, of many modern right wingers – or indeed the very opposite from many modern left wingers.
  • Scientific materialist fundamentalism. The belief that objective science and the materialist paradigm can explain everything, and that subjective life – religion/spirituality, morality, values etc – are somehow unimportant as without foundation.

I’m sure you could add further examples. Yes, fundamentalism abounds wherever there is human thought and endeavour – particularly, I would suggest, in these days of significant left-brain domination. The task of human development is, as ever, to tread the path between the extremes that lead to fundamentalism, to respond to life with the full subjectivity of those very subjective values that fundamentalism is inherently unable to take into consideration. To be human beings, not the machines that various fundamentalisms would seek to turn us into.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things.
Featured image by Stiller Beobachter from Ansbach, Germany, via Wikimedia Commons

The man

The men comprising Antony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby beach are ever-evocative, depending on tides and weather.

Here man stands alone,
having taken tentative steps through the shallows,
faced by turbid depths of watery emotion,
his own and others,
with storm clouds on the horizon.

Yet beyond calls the light,
reflected in current surroundings.
He knows that all is well.

Non-Duality

The Chryslis gives a good perspective on modernity, non-duality, and the complementarity of opposites. It’s all about the change of consciousness that we are witnessing in slow motion?

The Chrysalis

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

Rumi

There is an evident problem in the functioning of human consciousness in the Late Modern Era. Some hold that the multiplying social and personal crises of the times are actually altogether a spiritual crisis or a crisis of consciousness at root — a crisis of fragmentation, atomisation, and disintegration of the modern self and its consciousness structure. This seems evidently the case. There is, as we witness, great anxiety and Angst and extremes of paranoia and insecurity about what we call “identity” which drives all kinds of projection, scapegoating, racism, and violence. Also quite a lot of mental confusion and cognitive dissonance that some describe as “schizoid” or as “the culture of narcissism”, portents that we are faced…

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Obstacles

A great reminder from Walden on seeing obstacles in the right way. It’s so easy to see them negatively and become stressed or discouraged. Yes we do have a choice in how we frame them. Thanks, Hdavey Thoreau.

Words from Walden

O is for Obstacles

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal” -Henry Ford-

If everyone is overcoming obstacles, the question becomes, what kind of obstacles do you want to overcome?

Obstacles that are put in our path to make us stronger. They are a whisper from the versions of ourselves saying – ‘hey, over here, keep going,this way’

Obstacles are the Universe asking ‘how bad do you want it.’

Then, purposefully setting up obstacles designed to male us stretch and grow.

Obstacles allow us to fail forward so we can determine what we want and what we don’t.

If we run into an obstacle and we decide to quit the thing we’re chasing because of the obstacles; the truth is that we didn’t really want it in the first place. Which is a great awareness to have because we can move on…

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Modes of knowing

In his magnum opus, The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist identifies Henri Bergson as a major contibutor to the understanding of the way we human beings know about the world.

Essentially, there are two modes of knowing, which I will characterise in a word as intuition and rationality. Intuition is to do with direct perception of the world and understanding what is needed; rationality is to do with language and analysis, rationalising about the world. Intuition ‘presences’ in the world; rationality ‘re-presents’ the world in its own terms.

These two modes were well understood by many thinkers of the past. In the early 1900s these included Bergson, William James, Einstein (see featured quote) and other quantum pioneers. In earlier times, for example, the Romantic movement of such as Wordsworth and Coleridge strove to emphasise the continued importance of direct perception in an encroaching world of rationality. The two modes are also well understood in the world of astrology, where the planet Jupiter represents the faculty of direct perception/ intuition, whereas Mercury represents rational/ analytical intelligence.

What neurologist/psychologist/philosopher Iain McGilchrist adds to this picture is the correlation of the intuitive intelligence with the right brain, and of rationality with the left brain – emerging from modern studies in neurology.

Humans evolved with these two different capabilities because they were necessary for survival. For instance, a hunt might have involved analytical planning to get in the right place to hunt, but intuitive perceptions of the dangers posed by other wild animals in the area. We rely on the combination of these two intelligences.

However, contrary to what you might think, there is no symmetry between the two in terms of their function. Intuition grounds us in the real world; rationality theorises about it. Our intelligence is powerful because the two co-operate – intuition suggests an approach; rationality evaluates and proposes the way to go; then intuition confirms – intuition is the Master.

The disturbing thing about left brain rationality, spotted by Bergson and others, is that it does not necessarily see the need for grounded intuition at all. In this extreme case it usurps the role of the right hemisphere, the intuition and the connection with the real world. The map becomes the territory. A world of abstraction is confused for reality itself. This was the theme of McGilchrist’s previous book The Master and His Emissary – the left brain messenger taking over and ignoring the right brain connection with reality.

Looking at today’s world, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is essentially what has happened to humanity in the large. Our connection with reality, with planet earth, is being slowly destroyed by the left-brain machinations of politics, capitalism, business, technology, consumerism. It will all end in tears for many people and many species of life; indeed it already has.

Yet we still each have those intuitive right brains and there will always be those who know the way to go, who love nature, the earth, their fellow beings, who fight the good fight against left brain extremism. This is the dance of life, and the peculiar destiny of human beings…

The first traffic jam on Broadway

I’ve owned the book Time and Free Will by French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) since university days – but regretfully never quite got around to fully reading it. It still resides on my bookshelf, awaiting the day… I was also interested in American polymath William James, and did at that time read some of his work, including The Varieties of Religious Experience, which proved quite influential. These philosophers were reverently referred to by other thinkers I was also reading at university, notably Colin Wilson’s then-popular The Outsider. So I was quite interested to come across this story about Bergson in Iain McGilchrist’s seemingly infinitely giving book The Matter with Things.

In 1907 Bergson published the book Creative Evolution, which built on Darwin’s idea of evolution, but rejected ‘natural selection’ as the main means of progress, proposing instead the idea of the life force, or elan vital, which was notably the source of human creativity. It seems that these ideas generated great interest in the US at the time, related as they were to the work of William James, who had died two years previously. Bergson was invited to Manhattan to give six public lectures on ‘Spirituality and Freedom’.

It is said that the lectures were well over-subscribed, and the number of vehicles trying to gain access caused the very first traffic jam on Broadway. This was actually two years before John D.Herz started the first Yellow Cab Company in 1915.

According to an essay by historian Larry McGrath both Sigmund Freud’s 1909 and Bertrand Russell’s 1914 visits to the US met with popular excitement similar to Bergson’s. How different from today, when such major thinkers largely do not meet with such popular acclaim. It appears that it was perhaps the scientists, such as Einstein, who took over the public imagination.

It’s not really my purpose to explore why this might be the case, in this brief post, but I will be coming back to Bergson in a future post, as his ideas are strikingly relevant today.

Featured image of Henri Bergson by unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

That was 2021 on this blog

My favourite photos from posts of 2021

These were the individual posts, if you’re interested: Towards Tywyn, Sun going down at West Kirby, Sunset at Barmouth, Chinon, Black pine canopy, Common gallinule

My favourite wordy posts of 2021

Most viewed (2021)

As ever, the most viewed probably depends on the vagaries of search engines and my choice of keywords. The top two were the same as in 2020!

Most liked (5 years)

At least the top entry suggests that this exercise is worthwhile.

A happy new year to you all!