I happened upon a commentary the other day about perspectives: how we as individuals see our world(s) as inherently good places or as bad and getting worse. The suggestion the psychologist author offers, in the end, is that our world view(s) are less about the world than about certain primal beliefs we harbor. To emphasize her thesis the author provides access to an on-line questionnaire whereby the reader might find out why, exactly, he or she wakes up in the morning enthusiastic and ready to face the new day or in a funk.
I couldn’t resist. I answered the 20 or so questions designed to determine to what degree I saw the world as safe, enticing and alive fairly quickly and was then presented with bar graphs ranking my responses with those of other survey takers. According to the results I found that my world view is pretty positive; a safe and enticing place (for the most part) inviting enthusiastic exploration, rife with opportunities to earn and grow and populated with mostly warm and supportive people.
When it came to the ‘alive ‘ part I didn’t fair so well, ranking down in the 20-30 percentile, which meant, I guess, that I couldn’t come to grips with the idea worldly events happen for a purpose which was how the questions were posed. But then I got to thinking about the idea of synchronicity, the idea that coincidences of time and place occur too frequently to be, well, coincidences: like thinking of an old friend one day and then hearing from him the next. And then there’s chaos theory, you know, like the butterfly effect where a small inconsequential occurrence begins a chain of events that snowball into a happening of enormous consequence, like the meteor sited by the Emperor Constantine providing the impetus for the rise of Christianity.
So, it has become clear to me that the world is a living, dynamic albeit chaotic place. I retook the test and did much better on the ‘alive’ part. So, I guess I see the world as a pretty good place. Well, mostly anyway.
(If you’re curious about your own perspectives take the survey at myprimals.com)
I’ve been reading, lately, about the conflicts that developed between the ancient Romans and early Christians. The Romans were polytheistic, their many gods acquired for the most part from the Greeks were represented by magnificent marble sculptures housed in elaborate temples that played significantly in their daily rituals. Through sacrificial offerings the gods were appeased whereby good fortune reigned upon the Romans (well, the monied ones anyway).
The monotheistic early Christians were reluctant, to say the least, to recognize the Roman gods much to the displeasure of the Romans, and, so, suffered some pretty nasty earthly ends for their defiance, that is, until the visionary emperor Constantine converted, tossing the ball into the Christians court. The game changed big time; churches were built, idols and temples destroyed.
Over the centuries to follow the Christians, through draconian laws and inquisitions singled out the heretics, finding ever more creative tortures to convince the pagan Romans of the truth of the Cross. Tit for tat, I guess.
Other than who or what was worshipped the rub seemed to be primarily about the right way to live. The Romans ate, drank and were, more or less, happy in their licentious debauchery, recognizing as they did, the shortness of life while the Christians lived in severe austerity forgoing anything they saw as sinful in nature, suffering this life for the rewards of the next.
Notions of how best to live one’s life have been somewhat softened these days but the dichotomy persists. I guess we’re pretty evenly divided as to which path is the best one to take. A good case could be made, I think, for pursuing a middle way.
I’ve been reading that there is evidence to suggest that the world is getting smarter, that world-wide, IQ scores have been steadily rising at a rate much faster than an evolving humanity can explain, which doesn’t necessarily mean, I guess, that a person of average intelligence one hundred years ago, transported by time machine to the present would be borderline retarded by our standards. But the presumption is our great grandparents would be sorely lacking in the intellectual flexibility we’ve become adapted to in recent generations to deal with the complexities of technological advancements not to mention the inter-connectedness communications with the world-at-large has impressed upon us. It appears our existence, the intellectual world we occupy, is larger and multi-faceted in ways unimaginable in the world of the 1920’s.
One wonders, though, if living in a smaller reality back then, restricted even to a limited geographical existence, you know, knowing less, didn’t have its advantages in terms of less anxiety, stress, working longer days and weeks making for less time to contemplate, anticipate all of the potential evils one might imagine. Living as they did through the devastation of WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic, did a naïve faith make it possible for them to realize a peace we will never again be able to grasp?
We’re healthier, wealthier and longer-lived than our great-grandparents could have ever hoped to be, but I have to wonder if our increased awareness makes us happier.
So, I’ve been reading that in order to stay grounded in sound philosophical thought one needs to know what one believes and why one believes it. When I think about this, I can come up fairly quickly with the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ is often a bit elusive.
Take religion for instance; pretty hard to think about it outside the intuitive; no hard facts to be had and all; an inclination to believe in the existence of a heavenly realm is elusive enough to require the support of like-minds and require a pretty constant reinforcement. Those who deny the possibilities of such a pietistic realm, relying as they do on firm belief in science will rationalize their stance through a logical progression of empirical observations, but will never-the-less find the issue nebulous enough that they too will seek support of like-minded individuals. In either case the ‘why’, when offered will be subject to doubt if not the wrath of unbelievers.
There are those, I know, on both sides of the aisle who trust most implicitly their intuitions; are able to manipulate their ’whys’ beyond logic and shrug off the label of narrow-minded, hard-headed non-thinker that will certainly be leveled against them. Given the necessary support such folks may be able to sustain their invented fantasy land right up until the end times.
As for me, I will continue to seek my ‘whys’ and flex my ‘whats’ as necessary. I can think of no other reasonable way to proceed.
I’ve been reading how, early on, and I mean way early on, before humankind had developed the capacity for conscious thought, instincts advanced by evolutionary survivors determined our ancestors’ standard operating procedures. Instinct provided useful means for dealing with a relatively harsh environment, which in addition to food acquisition, shelter and clothing needs also included recognition of super-natural powers that led these early folks to establish ritual behaviors in recognition of whatever gods might have been imagined.
These intuitive actions (passed on, from generation to generation with slight variations, maybe, with the success or lack thereof of the procedure) manifested themselves in fantasies that assumed symbolic images: conquering hero, heavenly paradise, torturous underworld, and so on.
Now, the thing is, my very distinguished authority asserts, deep within our unconscious these primal connections are just waiting to spring to consciousness and mess with our delusional sense of self-control. Dissociation is close at hand, I guess. Reason and logic are but a Band-Aid.
Rather than fight it, I think it might make sense to embrace the super-natural realities buried deep within me, be creative, find a workable, useful manifestation of that which cannot be known and assimilate.
I’ve been reading and thinking about what it means to be in ‘the flow’. The flow is, I guess, the state of existence when the sense of self slides to the back of one’s consciousness, when the mind and body are occupied completely with being in the fluid present, doing without second thought.
I think being in the flow should mean one can move smoothly through daily tasks in a timely and creative fashion, side-stepping gracefully the occasional barbs of conflict, toward the meaningful progress of living a richer and more fulfilled life in a moral and ethical manner. I assume that, when one is in the flow, existence is beautiful, but, of course, no one will ever always be there and some of us may never find it at all but for brief glimpses.
Finding the flow, I guess, requires patience and preparation, being attentive and developing skill-sets that increase the likelihood, that, when the opportunity arises, one will be ready to, you know, slip into a mutual symbiosis of support and provision with the world around us.
Easing into the flow does seem to me to be a worthwhile pursuit. I’ll try to prepare myself to be ready for the opportunity should it present itself.
I’ve been reading a very interesting assessment of the religious conflicts that have been fomenting around the world these days (well, actually, religious conflicts may be the lone absolute all civilizations have realized ad infinitum).
The problem, that has developed into terroristic behaviors according to my very credible source, is disenfranchisement: a lack of opportunity to voice grievances by participating in a political dialogue. Giving marginalized peoples the opportunity to be part of the legitimate social/political structure has been shown to reduce extremist behaviors and even groups with fairly hostile inclinations, people who view non-believers as apostate or heretical, will, given the opportunity, most likely work within a legitimate structure.
So, perhaps, rather than preparing for a cosmic war, opening dialogue, developing mutual trust, bringing the outliers into the fold is a superior philosophical stance. Besides, who can really know which side God is on?
I’ve been reading, lately, about the likelihood the human mind may be considerably more than a physical compilation of billions of neurons, that, in fact, human consciousness is the manifestation of god within, giving humankind the capacity, through mental focus, to alter the material world.
The idea suggests that if we as a species were suddenly to realize the power within us we could bring about great advancements to our civilization not to mention world peace.
I understand there are those among us feeding their enthusiasm for the spiritual mysteries and hidden meanings in traditional religious texts like the kabbalah, Zohar, Gnosticism and the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. These folks are organizing, believing there to be power in numbers and creating ‘focus groups’ they believe will cure the world’s ills by concentrating their collective consciousnesses toward what they may consider to be positive goods but which, in fact, if any credence may be attributed to the activity at all, may turn out to be not necessarily good for everyone.
But, of course, it’s pretty hard to prove that the human mind is anything more than an organic computer, sophisticated though it is, which allows us each to more or less function within our respective worldly milieus. The idea of being god-within is certainly intriguing and imaginative. I though, as I’m sure you can tell, remain skeptical. On the positive side, I suppose any group activity probably has useful social value.
I’ve been wondering how we’ve come to associate aesthetic values the way we do. I’ve been reading that our human nature, our genetic inheritance, has, over the millennia, found beauty in those things that reflect or resemble qualities necessary for basic survival like verdant planes, water sources, food animals in visual representations, the social bonding realized in sharing structured, repetitive rhythms musically and sculptural representations of fecundity and animal nobility.
I get this, you know, but now I’m reading that the impulse to create art was, and still is I guess, a mating tactic, a way to impress prospective sexual partners with the superior quality of one’s genetic make-up and intelligence. The idea does seem to explain, to some extent the artistic temperament, the volatile and delicate ego that seems characteristic of those engaged in art-making.
Being of a reserved nature myself, I’m good with leaving the romantic intrigues to the more flamboyant among us..
I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).
Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.
Roland Barthes, The late French literary theorist, apparently said that man does not exist prior to language. If I might be so bold as to contradict such a noted scholar, my experience suggests to me such an idea is nonsense. Such a statement would have to mean my colorful and complex sensual experiences can only occur to my conscious self in the form of language; that until language supervenes upon my colorful and complex sensual experiences that my most wonderful remembrances don’t exist.
But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.