I saw the grump today,
caught a glimpse
in a trice, the faintest shadow
of his former self.
Rumbled, he was undone
Featured image is of Victor Meldrew, I Don’t Believe It.
I saw the grump today,
caught a glimpse
in a trice, the faintest shadow
of his former self.
Rumbled, he was undone
Featured image is of Victor Meldrew, I Don’t Believe It.
Just how gullible are we human beings, and how easily do we cling on to ideas that have no true justification? This question appears increasingly relevant to those of a liberal disposition, and is indirectly the subject of James O’Brien’s book How to Be Right… in a world gone wrong.
O’Brien runs a talk show on LBC radio and has callers on many controversial subjects: Islam, Brexit, LGBT, political correctness, feminism, the nanny state, Trump… The book basically gives his own ‘take’ on the subject from a ‘reality-based’ perspective, and demonstrates how various callers from different perspectives handle explaining their views, with many entertaining dialogues.
He essentially seeks to understand the caller’s viewpoint. The striking thing is often just how shallow those viewpoints are, and what little justification is given for them when questioned. It’s as if the person has unquestioningly swallowed a viewpoint and subsequently regurgitates it, without any understanding of why it might make sense. In other words, it is blind prejudice. They have effectively been brainwashed.
O’Brien’s technique is remarkable for its persistence, sticking to the point, and not allowing the caller to get away with simply restating their prejudice in another form. As well as giving us all ideas on how to handle the prejudice we inevitably encounter, it gives some insight into the minds that are most susceptible to populism.
It is also an entertaining read.
Featured pic of James O’Brien is from LBC website
Human societies get so stuck in a collective mental groove, like a railroad track, that they cannot see a way out of the predicaments caused by being in that groove. Take ‘jobs’. As automation gradually replaces many of the jobs that make society work today, we worry about where the future jobs are going to come from. For instance, what are all those lorry/taxi/delivery drivers going to do to earn a living when transport is automated? How are we going to generate enough taxes to adequately provision the public sphere and feed those who don’t have jobs?
The only answer is to get out of the groove.
The answers lie in the human imagination. History suggests that crisis precedes the inevitable change. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are enough intelligent people on the planet, but many vested interests that do not want things to change…
The same is of course true about other issues, such as climate breakdown and its consequent travails. The forward scouts (scientists) have long told us the bridge is down on the track ahead, and the train will go over into the ravine if we stay on this track. We just need the imagination to change track.
Featured image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History – via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a wonderful post about how to live the good life, and learning from dogs. It’s so true.
There’s no doubt about it, we’re not all going to agree on what constitutes a “good life”. Some people will measure a good life in terms of good health, some in terms of their wealth, some in terms of the strength of their circle of family and friends, and some by personal accomplishments. Others will measure a good life by the fulfilment they feel from contributing to making the world a better place, however small that contribution may seem. The list is long. As has become abundantly clear recently, we’re never all going to agree on what making the world a better place means, but hopefully we can all agree that making others feel good helps us feel good, too. That’s a good starting point. In fact, in Cynthia Reyes’ excellent blog post today, she makes the point that when life brings you disappointments and you struggle to get past…
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Daughter often sends interesting web links. The latest was this one How to Avoid Raising a Materialistic Child. Apparently, research shows that practising gratitude makes children’s attitudes less materialistic. Well of course it does.
Psychology Today defines gratitude: “Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for instance, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants or thinks they need.” So it is also an antidote to consumerism.
Those messages to children to ‘say thank you’ are very important and need reinforcement by adults in their words and their behaviour. I know I used to think this was just a socialised habit that was meaningless; I now know it’s just so important. Gratitude is one of the main ways we connect with others, and with the natural world.
While researching this, I came across this excellent TEDxSF talk by Louis Schwarzberg – well worth the ten minutes run time, with some superb time lapse photography and inspirational messages – gratitude is the secret! The beauty of the natural world inspires gratitude for existence, gives meaning to life.
World affairs can sometimes lead us into a trough of despair. Gandhi must have felt this sometimes in his battles for truth and justice. I just came across this quote which gives hope in difficult times:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
It also reminds me of EF Schumacher’s words at the end of A Guide for the Perplexed (pub 1977):
“Can we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but whatever answer is given to it will mislead. The answer ‘Yes’ would lead to complacency; the answer ‘No’ to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work.”
Of course, hope is the antidote to fear, and one of the great messengers of hope in the world has been Barak Obama. For example:
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
I was struck by these words in Steve Taylor‘s recent newsletter:
“I’m not a particularly political person, but I find behaviour of some present world leaders worryingly reminiscent of psychopathic and narcissistic dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini. That’s not to say that the present leaders have perpetrated the horrors of the older ones, but it’s easy to see how they have the capacity to, and how similar their personality types are. Political power is naturally very attractive to psychopathic and narcissistic personality types – and we should do everything we can to rein them in, and even to prevent them from attaining power in the first place.”
We all know who they are. Good people will need to stand up and be counted to keep them in check and swing the balance back towards the good. And I’m sure they are doing so.
Of course, it’s not just in politics. These people are found near or at the top of quite a number of business and financial institutions, often leading them to spectacular failure due to loss of contact with reality. As has been observed many times, money and power are great corrupters of weak, easily glamoured egos.
Another poem by Steve Taylor gives a positive slant on worrying times; it is in the nature of things that systems grow, flourish and then begin to outlive their time, to be replaced by the new – there is always the bright new beginning.
How can our lives have meaning
when we’re living through the end times?
How can we find fulfilment
with catastrophe hovering us?
Why should we keep building
when structures are collapsing all around us?
Why should we keep trying to contribute
when nothing may remain to receive our gifts?
Why should we keep striving
when our goals seem to be dissolving, like mirages?
But look inside yourself – can’t you feel your soul aching
with a new yearning for change?
Can’t you feel the impulse to surrender
to a transcendent new goal, that is rising like a wave?
Our personal goals are fading
so that a collective cause can take us over
as we turn to face the end times.
Our vision is becoming clearer,
our minds becoming more focused,
against the background of the end times.
The superfluous is being stripped away,
our lives are being pared down to their essence
by the urgency of the end times.
This isn’t the time to be despondent,
but the time to transcend fear
and abandon every doubt and inhibition.
This isn’t the time to sleep
but to redouble our efforts to awaken –
to harness every quantum of our latent higher selves
and send out waves of transformation into the world
so that the darkness and chaos of the end times
can give birth to a new beginning.
Featured image by John M / Light at the end of the tunnel, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.
Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.
Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.
Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.
Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.
Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.
To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.
Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?
Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.
Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons
Neither instinct nor intuition involve thought. Both involve responding directly to a situation. So what is the difference?
Instinct is an innate faculty we share with other living beings. We respond automatically to situations, eg catch a ball that is about to hit us, avoid contact with an unfriendly being. It typically involves a fixed pattern of behaviour, “reacting”. Instinct came along first and maybe represents the sum of experience of earlier generations, plus learned responses.
Intuition is direct knowledge of a situation. We just know what is right, what is true, what is about to happen, etc. Something is “seen” or “understood” beyond what is presented. Spiritual writings suggest that this involves a link to our ‘higher self’. Others suggest it’s something to do with pattern recognition. Intuition develops over the individual’s experience during a lifetime.
A quick web search showed me a huge variety of definitions of instinct and intuition. The most inspirational I found was that by Christen Rodgers:
True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.
This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.
For Christen, the difference is between a response coming from a place of love, and one coming from a place of fear. I think this is going too far – animals clearly have both fearing and loving instincts. So maybe she’s right in terms of how we should assess our automatic responses, but not in strict definitional terms.
Other insights will be welcome as comments. (‘Insight’ – there’s another similar word that some writers take as a step beyond intuition.)
“What I want is to put into a book not only my ideas, but my person.”
from The Meaning of Persons
How much of ourselves do we reveal in a blog post? Paul Tournier faced this sort of question when writing his book. It could skate over the surface of things, avoiding anything that might be uncomfortable to his ego/persona, or he could reveal something of himself, as he might do in dialogue with another person.
And how dangerous might it be, as well as uncomfortable, to reveal things in a blog post? We’ve all heard tales of posts on social media that have subsequently been bitterly regretted.
Thus we bloggers create a new persona, showing what we are comfortable with being reasonably public, but hiding aspects of ourselves that we would only be comfortable with revealing in more intimate dialogue.
It’s in the nature of the beast.
I love the title of the penultimate chapter of Paul Tournier’s book The Meaning of Persons. That must mean I have lessons to learn here!
“…it is precisely the free and responsible commitment of the self which creates the person.”
Procrastination and putting off decisions/choices is not good for the person. As is hanging on to old, outdated habits and situations.
“As soon as a man obeys his inner call, he upsets the game, bringing to light around him the persons buried underneath the personages.”
Yes it is time for change, and ever will be!
After writing my last post on Person, I was inspired to look back at a book that has graced my shelves for nearly fifty years – a rather battered copy of Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Persons – which shows how long I have been interested in these ideas! The subtitle Reflections on a Psychiatrist’s Casebook accurately describes the content as his own reflections on his experience as a doctor, psychiatrist and Christian.
Tournier uses the word ‘person’ in its modern sense of the whole living individual, and uses the contrasting term ‘personage’ to represent the mask we present to the world, the outer human being, as opposed to the inner lived human being. Jung called this personage the persona (per-sona), so I will stick with Jung’s term henceforth.
Tournier ponders the question How can we Discover the True Person, in the context of his psychoanalytic work. He contrasts the process of objective and scientific inquiry, where information is exchanged, with the process of subjective and intuitive personal encounter where a bond of sympathy and affection is established between two people. In the former learning takes place; in the latter understanding takes place. He suggests that in the latter case there is true communion which touches the other person deeply. Tournier regards this communion as spiritual, and relates it to Martin Buber’s I and Thou. This is also the key to understanding oneself as a person – relationship with others.
Further reflection suggests that the person is the original living creation, and the persona is the automatic, habitual routine presented to the world. Industrial society and technology are increasingly impersonal and encourage the repetition of the persona and not the creativity of the true person. Much of social media and the celebrity culture focus precisely on personas.
There is an ongoing tension between person and persona, because we do not fully ‘know’ ourselves. This tension is often greatly magnified in those who need the support of a psychoanalyst.
There are interesting reflections on the distinction between psychology and spirituality. Tournier suggests that psychology is the science or method by which the mind is ‘laid bare’, but as soon as we approach questions of attitude to self/life/God/morality, then we are in the spiritual business of soul-healing.
In the latter part of the book, Tournier reflects on the bible, the living God and Jesus Christ as important aspects of his own perspective on the world – and entirely consistent with his psychoanalysis and the rest of this book. Indeed the bible has many hidden messages about discovering the inner living person. St Francis was a great exemplar:
“St Francis had become so fully a person, found such personal fellowship with God, that in every thing he saw a person, a reflection of the person of God.”
We could do worse than follow that…
With thanks to my friend Geoff at university for introducing me to Tournier’s book.
The photo of Paul Tournier is from Wikipedia.
We use the word ‘person’ to signify a particular human being. But it was not always so.
The word person comes from the Latin word persona, maybe from the earlier Etruscan persu, a sort of mask through which actors spoke (per-sonare). Just one or two centuries ago person was still used to signify the exterior appearance of the individual, not the whole being including the human interior.
The word person has subsequently expanded to connote the whole human being, precisely at a time when materialism has been in the ascendant, psychology reduced to an objective science, and inner spiritual/soul experience increasingly denied.
“Once we were human beings, now we are persons.”
Thus language reflects changes in consciousness. Being aware of this helps us to understand how we got where we are, and maybe what has been lost in the process.
This fascinating thread of argument is presented in Anders Lidén’s article ‘Rimbaud and the Breaking Down of the Mask’ in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Beacon magazine.
There is much profound wisdom in the posts of Aperture of Brahma. I am reblogging this post, which asks whether lying to save the feelings of others is ever justified. It suggests that the ‘skill of gentleness’ can avoid the hurt caused by truth, and that it is our own approval seeking that avoids telling truth. There is much food for thought here; but this ‘skill of gentleness’ is not easily developed, and what if we judge that the truth is not beneficial to those concerned?
What is the lie to save others?
Have you ever received a phone call and just let it ring and sometime later said “Sorry I missed your call,” and perhaps even offered, “My ringer was turned off,” or “I was in a meeting?”
What is a lie but the opposite of honesty? What are half truths but lies?
Justifying a lie due to our assumption that we are saving another from suffering does not disqualify an untruth. The opportunity to tell the truth in every situation is an opportunity to develop the skill of gentleness. The truth does not have to hurt. It is pride that makes it seem so.
Words are triggers that activate unresolved emotions. When we lie, our repressed emotions become associated with assumptions. They swim together, like schools of fish. The more these repressed emotions (complexes) are pushed deeper into the personal unconscious, the greater…
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When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.
Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.
The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).
There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.
In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.
Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.
“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”
In a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.
The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:
As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?
For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.
In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.
Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.
Our scientific society denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.
Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.
We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:
“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”
See also Wohlleben’s superb and even more gripping book The Hidden Life of Trees.
I like this post by Aperture of Brahma. At the end of the day, life is about learning and moving on, not about things staying ever the same.
Our greatest opportunity to feel good and maintain happiness is to constantly seek to uncover a lesson in every condition we encounter in life.
If you’re not learning something, life will teach you a lesson.
Looking for a lesson is the equivalent of instigating change. Just as it feels better to resign than be fired, or to break up rather than be dumped, the one who finds a lesson finds a reason, which removes the sense of helpless that often accompanies unanticipated conditions.
We will not be able to control everything that we encounter, so we must take responsibility for what freewill we do have.
Mindfulness is a tool for helping us recognize our relationship with time. If you are reading and it takes 30 minutes to get through one page, it becomes obvious that your mind is wandering. This is mindfulness.
(1.25) Thought is transmuted into character and character…
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Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.
The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.
Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.
Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.
Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.
The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.
Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor, a message to all of us embedded in the constant involvement with media and other busyness:
“Be gentle with your mind.
Don’t overload it with demands
or fill it with too much information
or pressurise it with too many deadlines
until it frazzles with strain
and refuses to work for you anymore.
Your mind isn’t a machine; it’s a sensitive artist.
It gets agitated easily, if conditions aren’t right.
And then it can’t think clearly, or give birth to new ideas and insights.
The energies of your mind are pure and powerful, like a clear fresh stream,
but they get polluted easily, if you don’t protect its environment.
And then you feel uneasy, as if your life is out of harmony,
and the world is conspiring against you.
So be gentle with your mind.
Give it time to rest and regenerate.
Allow it to be filled with space, not clogged up with information.
Allow it to be soothed with quietness, not bombarded with stimuli.
Let it be open and clear, so that you can feel its ease and stillness.
Let it be a pure channel, so that the universe can flow through it,
directly into you.”
Featured image shows Dee Estuary when sun going down