What can be Known but not Spoken Of

I understand that neuro-scientists are going to great efforts these days to make sense of what exactly constitutes consciousness. A lot of their efforts are about correlating conscious experiences, like the world view before us or our sense of time extension, with specific brain activity, what synapses fire when and where in the brain as our experiences are happening.

No easy task, I guess, but one particular difficulty these researchers are having is how to deal with extreme subtleties of consciousness, those experiences that defy verbal description, like the aesthetic response one might have when hearing a particular musical refrain or the ineffable responses to the smell of flowers on a spring day. To make matters even more difficult the same sounds or the same odor may not elicit the same conscious response experienced a second time.

It seems to me reducing conscious experience to specific brain activity isn’t necessarily a desirable enterprise anyway. Perhaps allowing the ineffable to remain ineffable is a breath of fresh air.

How Gunsmoke Can Save the World

I’ve been watching re-runs, lately, of old Gunsmoke episodes. This oater usually ends with a peaceful resolution established by Marshall Dillon. Dodge City is once again made safe by the larger than life lawman. Injustice is vanquished, evil clearly at a disadvantage in Dodge.

Bad things happen, of course, over the dramatic hour. Good people are taken advantage of, racism rears it’s ugly head, murder happens. In the end, though, Matt, Kitty, Doc and Chester (or Festus) will be sitting around a table in the Long Branch at peace with their existence.

For hard-core fans (naïve as we may be) a subliminal message: good will always prevail and, by extension we are all in the embrace of a benevolent God. Delusional, I suppose, if taken too seriously and quickly undermined by personal tragedy, still, if a moments peace is provided why not embrace it.

A Richer Existence

I’ve been reading a treatise by the much respected religious historian Mircea Eliade that offers the theory that religious man has a richer existence than someone without religious beliefs.

As Professor Eliade sees it, those who see the physical world as an embodiment of the sacred will more often be able to rise above the profane world to a spiritual plane, basking in and identifying with the sacred. Non-religious man, on the other hand must exist without such a dimension, limited to the hard reality of a profane existence and the anxiety of ultimate mortal extinction.

But, says the professor, even non-religious man hasn’t completely eliminated the structures of the spiritual from his reality. As religious man may, through ritual passage, be symbolically reborn to greater awareness of the sacred, so too non-religious man will likely transition between life-styles, new living locales and changing occupations, and will experience a sense of newness akin to spiritual rebirth.

I guess we can never completely discount our deeply embedded spirituality.

A Public Persona

I’ve been thinking about how the public eye so often transforms individuals caught within it. A narrative is invariably required of those publicly recognized. The storyline of one’s life, when spelled out to a waiting audience, will almost always be enhanced beyond the mundane existence one lives. Truth be known, most lives are quite ordinary, hardly the stuff of inspiring fiction.

What got me thinking about this was exposure the other day to the biography of Ernest Hemmingway. E. H.’s early successes as a young writer earned him high praise and recognition that eventually led him to remake himself. Half-truths depicting him as a hard-living, risk-taking soldier of fortune garnered near constant media attention. He became who he must be but wasn’t. Living the lie led to broken relationships, alcoholism and eventually, suicide.

In contrast, E. H.’s contemporary, J. D. Salinger, who also received considerable attention for an early novel, shunned public attention throughout his life. He was able, for the most part, to ignore attempts to draw him into the role of reclusive genius the media tried to create for him.

I wonder, given the choice of inventing a persona in order to receive ego-boosting adulation or living an anonymous private life, if at some time the public eye were to fall on me, how I would choose.

I’m really not too concerned about having to make such a choice.

Fresh Ideas

It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve had a fresh idea, or even happened upon a fresh idea someone else may have recently had. I’m a pretty firm believer that without fresh ideas stagnation occurs and the choice to stagnate or progress is no choice at all, it seems to me.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what happens during those adolescent years when the instinctual urge to break away leads to fundamental questioning of values and experimentation with ideas and actions that push the boundaries of the familiar and expected, which may, at times, result in behaviors that are risky and maybe border on the irresponsible and may even be thought of as questionable on a moral level. But, what such a stance does provide, given a reasonable helping of basic human needs, is a sense of freedom from convention that, well directed, has a potential to realize fresh ideas.

If we allow that creative thought is likely to be nurtured most effectively when there is freedom from the immutability of established ideas, allowing it (creative thought, that is) to run its course will likely be the preferable avenue to take. I think we should champion youth, relish their energies, tolerate their impiety, impetuousness and contempt, and tolerate their ambivalence toward established truths. By encouraging their pursuit of they know not what, we all might realize new ways to tackle the problems of our complex existence.

 

Ground of Being

I’ve been reading about this sense that we all have, beneath our logical instinctual understanding, a ground that sustains our very existence; a faith in the existence of something without which survival would be impossible.
This something may be, I think necessarily is, of a very nebulous character and in fact, if and when it takes on too specific an identification may very well lose much of its potency. Naming it is losing it. Our rational selves are inclined to try to grasp this something, identify it, get intimate with it, worship it, maybe, but any such action only diminishes it. All we can and must do is acknowledge its existence.

We might think to construct symbols for and procedures by which we can more easily gain access, to keep it close to our waking consciousness, but any such activity must be of an abstract nature, no more than a parallel reference acknowledging only the existence of this something that defies labeling of any kind because this ground of being is essential to our very nature.

Ok, so I kind of get this, you know, because I can sense hopefulness on even the dreariest and most depressing of days. I guess, though, I maybe should pay a bit more attention, work a bit harder to sustain this essence because my very being may depend on it and as difficult as it is to think about something so ineffable and adverse to description I will dedicate contemplative time to reaching deep.

Realizing the Unthought

I’ve been reading about the 20th Century philosopher Michel Foucault, a truly enigmatic Frenchman preoccupied with thoughts of death. It wasn’t just death in general he thought about.  He seemed intent on taking his own life.

Suicide or near-death experiences he believed would reveal the ‘unthought’, conceptions beyond imagining, not to be found even in dreams. Extreme behaviors, sadomasochistic indulgences, which carried one to the brink of insanity, had the potential in our philosopher’s view, to reveal what lay beyond the capacity of the rational human mind. Foucault thought of madness as a potentially positive occurrence, as a category of being realized by those, artists and such, stretching the envelope of societal propriety that, he believed, in the future, be accepted as a pathway to the ‘unthought’, to a deeper knowledge beyond the limitations of conventional reason.

I have to admit it all seems a bit much to me; my daily workouts are about as masochistic as I ever want to get and I have few acquaintances that inspire in me any sort of sadistic imaginings. I guess I’ll just have to leave the unthought unthought.

A Richer Existence

I’ve been reading a treatise by the much respected religious historian Mircea Eliade that offers the theory that religious man has a richer existence than someone without religious beliefs.

As Professor Eliade sees it, those who see the physical world as an embodiment of the sacred will more often be able to rise above the profane world to a spiritual plane, basking in and identifying with the sacred. Non-religious man, on the other hand must exist without such a dimension, limited to the hard reality of a profane existence and the anxiety of ultimate mortal extinction.

But, he says, even non-religious man hasn’t completely eliminated the structures of the spiritual from his reality. As religious man may, through ritual passage, be symbolically reborn to greater awareness of the sacred, so too non-religious man will likely transition between life-styles, new living locales and changing occupations, and will experience a sense of newness akin to spiritual rebirth.

I guess we can never completely discount our deeply embedded spirituality.

Knowing the Ineffable

I’ve been reading about the religious concept ’Via Negativa’, the idea that the only way to really know God is to obliterate any association one might imagine about a supreme being with tangible realities like personhood, embodiment, even singularity, that to truly grasp the enormity of the concept of an Ineffable Other is to eliminate the limitations imposed by naming or envisioning being.

I guess the idea is, that to sense the presence of the Un-nameable, Non-entity in one’s surrounding environment and personal interactions every waking moment is to achieve true spiritual enlightenment.

I must say such an idea is intriguing and not totally unfamiliar sensing as I do, well, maybe not in every waking moment, but occasionally, something more in my surroundings and personal relationships than mere physical or psychic reality would suggest.

It’s good, I think, to have alternate ways to contemplate a personal spirituality beyond the limitations of conventional religion.

Virtual Reality and Dementia

I’ve been reading that Virtual Reality technology is becoming pretty sophisticated these days: put on the headset and find yourself in an alternate world so all-encompassing it all becomes pretty believable. Well, as a recreation anyway.

Apparently the technology is being applied to nursing home residents suffering from dementia. The intent is to help them restore brain function, I guess. I’m wondering if or when VR will be taken a step further: headsets for hospice care. I can imagine, rather than heavy sedation a journey to a pain-free realm of serenity, beauty and peace might not be such a bad way to retire from life.

What would happen, I wonder, as physical life expires. Does one live on psychically in beautiful VR? Seems kind of religious. Could it be technological advances will redefine the notion of heaven?