Wednesday, November 6, 2013
After finishing the book, I then felt I ought to read Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, just to get a contrary perspective. It sounded pretty hokey to me, his theory that in essentially Old Testament times the right brain and left brain were unable to communicate directly with one another, and so any time the right brain communicated it could only be perceived by the left brain as hallucinated voices, coming from outside of oneself and issuing forth from the gods. According to Jaynes, in that late Bronze Age period we were unconscious beings, possessing no self-awareness, and were only able to act in the world by mindlessly, zombie-like, following the commands of the gods.
Now I’m an avid reader, at times wolfing down two, three, or four books in a single week, but oh my this book was different. It was sheer torture, in the end taking me five or six months to get through it. Any time any other book came along I set this one aside, so ten or twelve other books were thoroughly digested between reading the first and last sentences of this one. Truly a miserable experience. I thought many times about giving up but I felt it was important for me to be able to say I’ve read it. Why? Because I’ve encountered quite a few otherwise intelligent people who absolutely revere this book (which to me has been quite baffling) and I wanted to be able to debate the merits (or demerits) of the book should the topic ever come up again.
Having finished it I think I have it partly figured out. I can see how in its time it must have been earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting, and quite revolutionary for people. It seems ridiculous to be saying we need to put something that was written less than forty years ago into its proper historical perspective, but we do. Times were different then. We’ve changed and learned. I suspect that many people read this book once, when it first came out, and were changed by it. They no longer remember the specific details of it (and therefore don’t know how absurd it is in light of what we now know) but instead just carry the positive memory of how they were changed by it, how it helped them escape an old paradigm that had become too small to fit them.
My take on Jaynes is that he wrote this book not so much to develop a new theory of consciousness as to debunk Judeao-Christian mythology. His theory of consciousness was just a convenient way to say, Your gods aren’t real; they’re essentially figments of your imagination. And that needed to be said at that particular historical moment. Those of us who were born into and grew up in the 20th century were confronted with a rather schizoid culture. As children, most of us of European and North American heritage were dutifully dragged off to religious services every week. We were steeped in fabulous stories presented as Truth—six day creations and virgin births and a god who could speak from a burning bush and part an entire sea. At the same time we went to schools and then colleges that taught the scientific method, that were objective and thoroughly rational. We learned about evolution and DNA and the Big Bang theory. Talk about cognitive dissonance! Two truths, each totally at odds with the other. And no one had ever so effectively tried to reconcile those opposing truths (at least not in the popular culture) before Jaynes. Before Jaynes, many people had never questioned the incongruency of the two worlds they inhabited. Those worlds should have been mutually exclusive—you believe one truth or you believe the other. Instead, people compartmentalized their lives in a very schizoid way. They believed the science at work or school, and they believed the religious mythology at church and in their private lives. Jaynes helped many people realize, Hey, this just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter much that his theory was pure nonsense, only that it helped a lot of people bring to awareness and acknowledge the cognitive dissonance they had (mostly unconsciously) been struggling with.
Friday, October 18, 2013
I know this, yet I go through these periods of information addiction, one I cure myself of only to slide back into before I know it. Yesterday I got angry enough to delete all of my bookmarks for news sites and all of my subscriptions to yahoo groups. In the past I’ve deleted feeds to my favorite blogs and quit visiting forums. I haven’t participated in social networks for several years. The addiction always seems to return however. I don’t know why that is—why don’t I want to stay fully in the moment? There’s so much to explore by staying open to this moment and it’s the only way I know of to get to novel insights and solutions. Is it just laziness?
Somewhat related is my need to be a hermit. Perhaps it’s an over-reaction to the superficial connections the internet encourages, but for the past few years I’ve had an intense need to limit my contact with other people. I do fine with real live people in my real live world, but unless someone is right here face-to-face with me they fall off my radar. Much as I care about and love a lot of people who live at a distance to me and much as I’m stimulated by emails with folks I don’t personally know but who share similar ideas and ideals with me, I just can’t carry on conversations at a distance anymore. It seems like I’m way overcompensating for living in a much too connected world. Yet I do believe I should limit how many relationships I have so I can deepen the ones I do have, just like I should limit the information I allow in so I can focus on what’s truly relevant.
I think the reason this causes me conflict is because at heart what I’ve really been drawn to do for the past several years is an experiment with being a total hermit. I mean going off somewhere and having absolutely no contact with the human race for several years, apprenticing with the land. Intuitively I feel there are powerful things for me to learn by doing so. Yet it’s something realistically I’m never going to do. Instead I’ve pulled back as much as possible from human interactions so I can at least get a small taste of what my soul is craving. This has to be the solution for me anyway—living on the fringes of human society, so I’m able to dip into the world of human interaction and relationship while mostly immersing myself in those other powers and relationships residing in the more-than-human world.
My writer’s block fits in somewhere here too, I think. I want to communicate, but taking the time to put my thoughts on paper (or online) takes me out of being right here, which is where I really need to be. When I tried to tell the story of my time in PA on this blog I failed because to me that story was already old news. It was stale. I had already incorporated the lessons learned through that experience and had built on it and was on to a new level of understanding. I bog down trying to tell an old story. I have to speak from my present where the story is still vibrating with energy. I think I still may be able to get the tale of my time in PA told, (and it’s important to me to do so because I learned some really valuable things) but the tale may be told in bits and pieces over many new posts, as each tidbit becomes relevant to a current discussion.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
The other experience was two nights ago on a walk up the road. It was a gorgeous evening and there was an amazing quality to the sunlight. A doe passed twenty feet from me without noticing me. As I continued up the road I stopped here and there to admire specific trees, particularly the very old specimens (fortunately no one has logged this part of the woods). I stood for awhile admiring one huge tree growing from the forest floor below me and towering high above me.
I stood there just in awe, taking its presence in, then finally started walking up the road again. But I only got a few steps before I realized—my hands were just buzzing with energy! I felt such power coursing through me, but especially through my hands. What’s this? All of a sudden it hit me—it was the tree. I went back and felt the power moving through me, and something immense, and an emotion like the deepest grief or beauty or love. And the sense of dignity and wisdom and deep, aching memory.
And some inkling I can’t yet put into words—about the earth under the tree, and the sky, and the tree being a tower of water, pulling earth energies up to meet the sky. And where I stood I was in this powerful force-field created by that linking of elements. And the tree was not a mere conduit but a conscious being, and the linking of earth below and sky above was an exchange of information. And the tree was an individual, but not only—it was much more this something bigger, this greater field.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Each of us is on a different journey through life, taking widely disparate paths and learning wildly different lessons along the way. Some people seem born to live their lives bathed in the spotlight and to be the movers and shakers of the world. Others of us take quieter, more contemplative paths. But every life seems to have its own internal coherence, a just-rightness about the path taken, even though it may have many convoluted turns and unimagined obstacles along the way.
When I look over my own life I can identify a few overarching themes--coherences that have been with me since childhood. One of those has to do with the importance of the natural world, the necessity for me to be rooted to a particular place, the need to be a participant in my local ecosystem. Looking back over my life I can see how, along the way, I have always been seeking this--always trying to mold my life so I can have a deep relationship with the more-than-human world. It has been such a visceral, vital need for me, as if my very life depended on it (and, actually, I believe it does).