Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ah, Fiction

Something from a more playful era when fiction or pseudo-fiction seemed more useful.


Before getting started, I would like to talk about creativity. . . . There are those among us who have a much greater ability to create and combine ideas, experiences, and phenomena than others; and there are those among us with less ability for doing so. But all individuals have the experience of doing so, and those who stand at the higher end of the creative and combinatory scale are only those who are best at an ability that we all have, that we all know, that we all feel.

Like any good story there are events and a plot and an overcoming that will carry you along, upon which your emotions will rise and fall; but, to see this story for what is worth, it will be a complex and psychological unraveling—and this from an individual who denies much of what you claim to be psychological. Perhaps this is where it succeeds, by explaining the inexplicable, by showing how we move from the world of spirit and transcendence to a world of matter and groundedness—in the present age this is the only acceptable movement, even though some violate it perpetually (Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin, John Searle, and many more).

I do not know where I stand as far as creativity is concerned but it is probably close to the middle. Creativity is important and its first use comes in dreaming. I do not necessarily mean the standard night dream, though that is certainly one special case. Night dreaming is special because it happens—usually—without the conscious control that we prize so highly (Lucidity in dream is rare, but important). It is in those first hours and days of dreaming, of imagining so to speak, that experiences, phenomena, feelings, etc., are combined. These things are combined by very young potentialhumans, and in this combining, causes and resemblances become dreamed, become associated. If we touch the ball, it moves. And if we touch it again and again and again, it moves multiple and different ways. Then, the key moment comes, and in a flicker at first, the idea of an individual, the possibility of a central “I” emerges. “‘I’ am moving my(?) hand, the ball, my(?) ball.” As this potentialhuman continues to dream, the recurrence of this possibility of an “I,” of a being at the center of these thoughts, recurs again and again. And quickly, this central idea (the “I”) becomes a combinatory subject with great power and constant justification in simple empirical analysis—if the “I” decides to move the arm, then the body the “I” is attached to moves its arm—yes, we are all empiricist from birth.

In time, the power of the “I” becomes so useful and corresponds so well with everything that this previous conglomeration of ideas, experiences, and phenomena continues to experience and to dream, that this “I” becomes instantiated into essentiality, and an I (a given essence not needing quotation marks) emerges, never to be quenched again. The dreaming, the power of creativity, the power of combination, these powers which first created the I, become fully entwined with the I. The I, the individual, is not separate from the dreaming or from the combining of ideas, it is simply these things. The I wields this great power and yet wields it with ferocity. It now holds the key to the power of combination. When this I/dreamer thinks, dreams, combines—at least partly conscious activities—it only senses the decision being made but does not grasp how the decision is arrived at in its totality. The I not only takes full responsibility for the direction of the dream, it forgets, and actually is forced to forget, the necessities that caused the dream that created the “I” in the first place. By forgetting the necessities of its first activity, the I easily forms the notion of a power greater than exists for it, the power to stand outside the contingent historical and natural conditions upon which it was built and which it will always occur. In the end of course, the ironic thing, is that despite the power of the I, its wielding of creativity, its long memory—most of that memory is not exact reproduction but is always re-structured through the creative and dreaming processes—the ironic thing is that that I does not have the power to dream of its own creation. To do so, is to discredit a characteristic of that I that it long held to be indubitable, and that characteristic is the eternality and essence of that I.

Having forgotten its own creation, the I is placed in a precarious position. Day in and day out, minute in and minute out, from one thought to the next, the immediate phenomenal data from our perceptual apparatuses, along with the higher-order processing and walling off of lower order structures, encourages us, or perhaps mandates us, to believe that a conscious self is somehow autonomous from this data, and, especially, to believe that the thought processes and conscious awareness of that mainstream of thought, of that I, is certainly separated from the mere functionalizing processes of brain activity. This separation necessitates our conscious self to believe that the subsequent behavior that such an I carries out is free. That is, free from determination by the past genetic and historical situations, free from the brain processes that are equal to those mental thoughts (that is those brain processes that are equal to those brain “thoughts”). With the inability to understand or feel the vast array of underlying structures, (both genetic and historical, or as such genetic and historical structures are ensconced in the actual brain structures themselves) the conscious self believes that it itself, its I, its thoughts and decisions, are what are responsible for the next thoughts, decisions, and, by theoretical conceptualization, the behavior of that being—it’s supposed freedom. And just as it was once “natural” to believe that the sun was moving, that the sun was literally setting itself, we, too, by mapping the brain, will come to accept that our prior conceptions of the freedom of our behaviors and the freedom of our thoughts—as is postulated by the commonsensical, immediate phenomenal image of our self—was misconceived—but also “natural.”

When the I comes before an open situation, which actually is all the time—since, like Hegel, we can posit open possibilities in even the most closed off sort of space—the conscious self has no choice, given our limited understanding, to posit that it is only the I (or the “I,” the former is only an illusion) that will carry it in the direction that it does. That great entity that is our conscious self, arising out of the capacities of the brain, posits constantly the open counterfactuals of the situation before us. I mean by this only that it sees that it is capable of taking its body in this way or that way or that way—usually an endless array. It posits that nothing externally is preventing the self from opening door number 1 or door number 2, and that it has the power to choose one or the other. Even if we understand our inner thought processes or the determined chain of reasoning why we would always open one door over the other (think gun-wielding psychopath behind door 1 and answer to all of life’s riddles behind door 2), there is in the end a gap between understanding our main incentives and the actual carrying out of the action which we believe, given the endless reinforcement of such an idea by our immediate phenomenology, is always open to the self to haven chosen otherwise. But, again, if we were able to understand all our historical structures—the Behaviorist’s dream (see B.F. Skinner), and all of our genetic structures—the Evolutionary Psychologist’s dream (see Steven Pinker), or if we understood all the mechanisms and structures of the brain and we had the full layout of the current individual’s brain—the materialist’s dream (see Patricia and Paul Churchland): then we would not be so foolish to think our actions so free.

These ideas and structures are what scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers of mind face today—their theories and discoveries point to the idea that this I, our agency, is a fully determined entity. But the natural condition of human kind, the transparency of innate and environmental conditions and the transparency of brain structure and processes, says that this I exists and exists with the “soul” like quality that humans have almost always granted it. Some of the reinforcement of this I comes from western traditions of radical individualism and of monotheistic creations of the autonomous soul that make it even harder to overcome, but even without these reinforcers the I is still incapable of accepting its historical creation by the random dreaming of an animal of increasing experiential content. This is the natural condition of human kind and it is destined to haunt us. Once “Man” only disease can make animal again—that is, make us see through the blinding and contingent categorizations that obscure our best understanding of the world around. To sum this up, two working concepts:

The Natural Condition of Humans
The Natural Condition of Humans is not that we are forced to be free, as Sartre would so elegantly put it. It is that we are forced to believe that we are acting freely. In other words, we are forced to think that we are “forced to be free.” The Natural Condition of Humans is that the transparency of most brain processes and of “our” history, including, especially, the forgetting of the original creation of each of our own consciousnesses, is why we are forced to think ourselves as free. But we are not free. Despite all we thought, we had yet to leave the garden, the apple had not yet been eaten. The first sin had yet to be cast. And I will take the apple now.

On Original Sin
Or the accepting of the death of the soul and the mere functionalism of consciousness, along with its historical creation in time; and, by seeing through the (false) “openness” of our consciousness, the acceptance of the Natural Condition of Humans. Only now do we take the fruit—only now does our knowledge of good and evil come to full swing, and we can thank Nietzsche for first reaching for that apple, among others, and encouraging us to do likewise. And, of course, so many others saw what that apple meant and ran the other way, back into Eden, back into the loving arms of God, back into the loving arms of freedom, radical individualism, and naivety of Capitalist and Culturalist closure. They said to themselves that if this is what science and philosophy is telling us, I would rather not read; I would rather banish academia to a self-imposed circulation of hermeneutic procedures. They took up the chant: “I will not think about free will, I will not think of the importance of education and socialization on determining who I am. I deserve praise for my good deeds; they deserve admonition and punishment for their evil deeds, including even death. Morality is real—and thoroughly objective.”

If your nerves are firing and fear is encroaching, if you see an existentialist malaise on the future, that is okay. It is wrong. This story is not about the despair of the natural human condition, though I may not have the power to eliminate that if you have already traveled down that road. This is a story of hope. It is not tragic, not in the least, though for some there may be tragic elements. If you buy into the character then you should not feel tragedy for any moment in the story, he would not wish it. In fact, he would find such emotions utterly wrong. He does care for your emotions, but only in a cold, utilitarian way. He sees in those emotions created necessities from your natural structure and your environmental history. If society is to succeed, from his viewpoint, it will succeed by reading the discourse of those emotions and the thoughts that lie behind them and in front of them; and by giving you the appropriate knowledge so you can see through your natural human condition, even if emotions try to persuade you from doing so. Of course, it would be easier on him if you would simply set emotion aside for the time being as best that humans can accomplish. He will not blame you for your inabilities to do so, whether because of natural or social causes—he knows it is not that simple. He accepts that to get rid of all emotions is impossible and he does not suggest that, but only of removing the impact of those emotions that prevent us from asking the most daunting and basic questions of human beings. He recognizes this, but believes to face these questions and bear such emotional unease is best, and if we are capable of doing this then great hopes for the betterment of society and us as individuals will be the reward. . . .

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