An undesirable confession

An undesirable confession

                (or lack of conformity)

 

 

There are no guidelines. Understand this sentence, remember it daily – it is essential to the journey of life. There have never been any guidelines. If ever a semblance of direction has been portrayed by some ideology or religion, it is only an attempt at a guideline. It is not certain, not even provable. Every faith in a transcendental code by which we can live our lives is today being un-made, perhaps only because it was originally man-made. We are lost, forsaken in the remote chaos of a lonely planet, with no guiding hand that would lead us to any certainty – to any firm truth.

I set these words forth not in the spirit to challenge those that are able to find comfort in this oppressive world; on the contrary, I report only the widespread experience of constriction and confusion that is rooted in the mind of 21st century Homo sapiens. I am wholly willing to commit to the idea and passion of a benevolent god or cosmic purpose, something which will deliver the long-sought peace that most of us have been searching for. Yet, the more intense the search, the horizon of faith turns darker and frailer. How can I believe in something I don’t feel? – this is the question that exiles us into metaphysical orphanage. No matter how fervently we search for that ultimate reality, the journey is always daunting, constantly haunted by self-doubt, fear and irrational panic of that impenetrable unknown which is the substratum of our everyday lives. So the desire of guidance, the search for something greater than one’s self, is suspended and there remains only a perception of enclosure – a trap in which we all belong.

So, once the awareness of the impossibility of escape is made clear, should we assume our defeat? Should we not analyze the environment of our perplexity and express the conditions of our despair?

What exactly is our trap, what constrains us to impotence? I am only one more man lost in the maze, able only to postulate wild theories of decay. But here are my thoughts:

Insecurity shapes our early life. We depend extensively on the care of our parents until we become sufficiently independent to take care of ourselves. From the very start we look for something beyond ourselves to help us deal with our hostile environment and to give us the comfort of control; control over the unpredictability of the world. By the time we reach the age of reason we are accustomed to depend on other sources, whether it’s our parents, god or social institutions. Naturally these fall short from achieving this and we return to our capsule of solitude. Even the most passionate advocates of religion shudder in fear – didn’t Jesus himself before his death utter words of irrevocable loneliness? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)

Now, what I’m about to expose may seem far-fetched, perhaps there are a few arguments I have skipped to reach the end. The emptiness felt from this lost of trust in the original sources of comfort (parents, religion, social/political establishments) needs to be fulfilled. That’s when a new monument is erected; an indestructible idol substitutes our previous dependence and consolidates itself as the last resort. What is this new idol?

Very simply: a rôle. We fashion a rôle for our lives, an identity of what we should be that is safely kept within and no longer outside. A phantom so powerful it literally controls the direction of our lives. But how did we substitute external comfort for internal obligation? Weren’t we already terrified of our loneliness that we begged for a new sense of communal belonging? We coil within ourselves because we feel disappointed about the outside world, finding it untrustworthy. We need to believe in something and the only thing that came to fill this part was our artificial identity. We created a set of standards, goals and principles by which we guide our lives, something that could not be shaken up very easily and could stand the erosion of change.

Our subconscious harbors this identity which is so elusive we suddenly lose track of its agenda – our original choices are forgotten but they mark the remaining course of our lives. We become slaves to our rôle which was initially fashioned to give us comfort but now only oppresses us with the urgency of its fulfillment. It is a double-bind, we are trapped by our desire to feel valuable, significant or united to something greater than us but we have not found this in our modern lives. We then submit shamelessly to the commands of a career which mortifies us with achieving more and more; exhausted by the end of the night our lives feel empty, confused, lost in innumerable desires.

This sense of urgency comes about from the competition we experience every day. Competition for a better role, a more reputable identity. Deep down we are all celebrities to our own egos and because of this we yearn to become as celebrities to others. Frankly, however, we wish others to see us as we want to be, but not as we truly are. We compete blindly with each other to create the “better” person, whatever this is. There are no universal standards by which we can judge who is a better person, it is relative to the values of each human being. 


This competitiveness is best seen in large cities. Cities are breeders of competition, urging its inhabitants to outrun each other. The conveniences that a city provides to its dwellers are irrelevant compared to the pressures and hostilities it creates. A decisive change of perspective is urgently needed: that of de-urbanization. How long can human beings last in a state of high tension, when large concentrations of men and women fight daily, physically and psychologically, to be on top? The greatest concern is, do they even know why they are bustling about?

What if this is true? We regard ourselves too highly during the day but then return unsatisfied to bed; panicky with the feeling that we have no control and even our goals in life are to be doubted. The idol of the ego must inevitably fall too, leaving us naked in despair, gagging with the question: who am I?

Fatalism

If we must submit to the irrationality of following all logic to its end, conclusions may turn shockingly paradoxical. I once heard that we have chosen our life from the very start and that our experience on this planet is simply the revelation of our original choice. If this were true then the absurdity of our suffering would be justified since we have chosen beforehand to experience it. The question that remains would be: why have we forgotten our original choice? Why does life present itself as an unknown unfolding instead of being the realization of one’s desire? By some obscure mechanism our original choice has been obliterated, life remains a permanent surprise. At first this seems like another form of fatalism except for the fact that we have chosen that predetermination. On the other hand, most people believe that the universe is a spontaneous happening and we must choose our way through the hazards of spontaneity. Our life is the result of all our choices, but how do we ever get to choose anything? I sat down the other day to think this one over and I discovered that my choices are really just reactions to whatever is presented to my mind. From the pettiest choices to the most important decisions I simply obey a feeling, logic or a whim. In all of these cases I am subject to what simply happens inside me. Should I buy a black or blue pen? I wait for a moment, experience a certain sensation of pleasure in black and I buy the black pen. Should I live in Costa Rica or in India, I wait for a moment, a logical-emotional labyrinth emerges in my mind and by the end of this involuntary frenzy, I make my decision. Naively speaking, thoughts are like emotions, they arise involuntarily and by a law of their own. Most people are identified with their thoughts, but if you ask them how they fabricate a thought they must inevitably answer: it simply happens. So, if my decisions are nothing but reactions to what is presented to my mind, what is allowing these perceptions? If we submit to modern scientific thinking, to explain a perception in the human mind we must pursue a long path through Psychology, Sociology, Biology, Evolution, Neurology, Chemistry, Physics, and we will end up with an ultimate theory for the universe as seen by man. In very simple terms, what we experience is the result of the whole arrangement of the cosmos, and if we knew every bit of information about this arrangement, we could predict ourselves. Again, we fall into an unremitting fatalism.

 

 

But what’s the use of all this reasoning and the contemporary compulsive adoration to logic and reason?

  

 I choose not to know.

 

 

“Puppet on a string” by Steve Whitney

The Problem of Free Will

 Are we as free as we think we are?

 

 

The problem of Free Will is inextricably linked with a scientific belief. This belief is in itself perhaps older than formal science but nonetheless it acquired great force with the birth and development of the scientific enterprise. It can be stated thus:

 Everything in the present is the direct result of the configuration of the past.

Nothing is without a cause. Thus, whatever we encounter in a present state can be explained or understood by its former state and the natural laws involved. If this belief is to be adopted thoroughly, if nothing can escape causality, then anything we experience has a direct cause in the past.

When we bring this kind of reasoning to the debate of Free Will, we can conclude in the following manner:

Psychic phenomena all have a cause regulated and governed by natural biological laws that at present we cannot name them all. Whatever we experience in the present is inextricably linked to a past state of affairs.

We understand Free Will as the ability to make an act or decision independently of any necessity compelling us to choose one thing over another. Stated this way it seems that the act of choosing has escaped the law of causality. But if this is to be rejected by our common scientific understanding of the world, we arrive at a different conclusion. Any decision-making process is only possible when the individual is in a particular situation where (s)he reacts to the evidence or stimuli presented for making a decision or act. This stimulus is the psychic content, patent or latent, that takes part of the decision-making moment. To pick an apple over a banana is the result of the apparition in the individual’s consciousness of past experience with these fruits, past reactions to these that make one fruit preferable over the other. A decision cannot be achieved without the pre-existent conditions for making a decision; that is to say: desire in the individual for eating (something that is quite involuntary), the past experience with the objects and objectives of the decision or act. Bound to memory, expectation, desire, and many other, the decision-making process is dependent on psychic phenomena that arises in the mind without a conscious or voluntary action. When an act of “Free Will” has taken place we remember the act, and the possibility of choosing otherwise, but we forget the requirements for us to arrive at the chosen action. The action was conditioned by involuntary psychic phenomena, something which we do not control and therefore acted out of a necessity towards this stimuli that was presented to us: Desire, Aversion, Memory, Imagination, Etc.

In such a way the problem of Free Will can be reconciled with the idea of causality. And with this knowledge now in mind the upcoming decisions will be influenced by this new awareness. We may doubt at the moment of decision-making in order to prove our putative freedom, but we are still only reactions to involuntary psychic phenomena that permit the processes we call free and voluntary.

 

However, to understand the laws of the human psyche at the present seems unlikely because of the complexity involved; the apparent arbitrariness or spontaneity of the stimuli that allow our decisions to take place is sufficient to permit our current morality – based on the supposition that we are free agents making responsible decisions – to remain established.

 

::::::::::::: APPENDIX ::::::::::::::::

 

The main idea behind this short inquiry is to reconcile two basic assumptions we have about the world.

1. Everything is the effect of a cause. Therefore all effects can potentially be explained or understood by their causes. (A general accepted supposition in our contemporary scientific culture)

2. We are free agents, making decisions independently of any external necessity obligating us to make a certain choice.

These two assumptions we all have in the back of our minds are in stark contradiction. How can we be free if everything in the world is determined by natural laws and follow an unchangeable course? We then would be part of the immutable course of things and all our actions are predetermined since the beginning of time.
If we follow the suggestions of logic, we will conclude that we are nothing but puppets manipulated by the general course of nature’s laws. However, we don’t feel this to be the case. We feel we ARE free and independent.

The above paragraphs attempt to show that we may be deceived by our belief in Free Will. Simply stated, our decisions are not made by an omnipotent-omniscient ego that at each moment can decide what it wills. Our decisions are based and chained to mental phenomena that arise involuntarily into our consciousness (that is to say it appears quite without our consent, as a cloud would appear suddenly in an open sky). This involuntary phenomena (desire, aversion, fear, tribulation, excitement, anxiety, and countless others) determine the choices we make. Our choices have natural causes that do not depend on us. With this explanation we can find causes for our decision-making lives and discover that we are not as commonly believed: free creators of our destinies.

However, if we can find reason to doubt the first assumption: everything has a cause by which we can know the effect, then Free Will may be conceived without logical contradiction. And it is wise to reassess our dogmatic belief in science and the principles of casuality, which may be in the end altogether mistaken.

 

 

 

Modern Mythology

What’s commonly regarded as the religious sentiment will always find expression in the human realm. Even in our time when the theology of the great religions of the West have been reduced to mythologies, since they have been outsmarted archeologically (bones have been found of human ancestors from nearly two million years ago, long before any Adam or Eve), anthropologically (the themes of the Scriptures are common motifs found in many earlier human cultures), and cosmologically (the view of the earth as middle of the universe has been sufficiently refuted by modern astronomy); even in this time when a literal meaning of the symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are no longer reasonable, there will be an urge to fulfill the role of religion in the hearts of the skeptic modern human being. Even men and women that find the universe absurd, meaningless, godless and pointless have a general sensation that life is too powerful to bear (expressed in their despair), and from that sensation arises a NEED to express this overwhelming power. In some cases such men and women finding no meaning in their lives produce the most striking works in art, literature and music because even the act of expressing one’s own disillusionment with the world turns into a life-guiding and therapeutic activity.

In this new and unprecedented age in the course of human history when all authoritative divine guides to our lives are lost, we still share a common heritage that has shaped and is shaping our lives as a living species. By this I mean the process of development from the womb to a self conscious adult organism. This individual history is shared by all and our minds have been deeply impressed with this organic development which finds expression in our adult life through dreams and symbols (see Freud and Jung). Through symbols we find the surest way to express the non-discursive knowledge of our subconscious minds, a reality everyone holds within his or her own mind. What these symbols seem to be pointing at is a reunification with a totality we have lost. In biological and psychological terms this can be viewed as the separation of the baby from the mother’s womb at the moment of birth and later as the baby develops self-consciousness in its first years, creating the identity of the ego and the external (not-me) world. Some psychologists suggest (like Fromm) that this is the cause of our need to love, to be reunited with the blissful TOTALITY we experienced as infants. I think, perhaps, because of this common experience we all share as infant human beings, mythology and religion arise as a path to find this reunification with what we once belonged to.

Now, throughout history religion has most aptly been expressed in the symbolism of poetry since the symbols of the aesthetic are open to more than just a rational way of thinking. The entire mind is engaged in the apprehension of symbols, providing a more complete entrance to the individual’s inner life. Perhaps this is why science is received coldly by many today because it cannot fulfill the role of a rich mythology addressing not only what is rational in the human being but also what is intuitive, emotional and the like.

The human need to find expression of his intimate experience of the cosmos is not a theory since history supplies us with sufficient proof that this has been a solid fact. Virtually every society and civilization that this planet has harbored believed in some mythological view of the universe.

The question now lies in what form will the new mythology take shape? How will the modern human express his undeniable connection to this powerful universe in terms that are accepted by our current intellectual standards, based on skepticism, pragmatism and scientific inquiry?

The answer will not be hard to find since we share with former times, if not more vehemently, the wonder for existence as such, now that science is exponentially revealing the scope and depth of this universe and the miraculous operations of the human body and mind. The task will be for people to appreciate these facts not only in a dry rationalistic way but in a more engaging relationship with the deeper mystery all these facts are uncovering.

 

 

(This short-essay has been strongly inspired by Joseph Campbell’s insightful gem of a book: Myths to live by)

The troubled individual of our age

For the short period that is our recorded history we have identified myriad of diseases. The causes of many of these ills were unknown until the development of science came along. But nowadays besides the countless evils that are deleterious to our body the great majority of humanity suffers from a disease of a quite different nature, this virus is psychological. This problem has been touched by many people and I will here briefly mentioned a few that come to mind. Albert Camus did not clearly recognized the cause but was able to recognize the problem and he gave it the name of the Absurd (The Myth of Sisyphus). The absurdity by which this disease is manifested has enslaved us in convulsion. Philosopher Alan Watts thinks the cause of this discomfort is a sense of mistaken identity. Basing his metaphysical principles in the teachings of Oriental philosophy, he thinks the human being is alienated from himself and his external world because we take ourselves to be an “isolated ego locked up in a bag of skin.” The true self is not this illusory ego but the whole cosmos. This, Watts thinks, is the cause of our incorrigible dismay. The discoveries in the fields of sociology suggest that the individual has lost his identity, whatever this is, by the growing enterprise of capitalism and globalization. For this reason, the contemporary human being feels worthless and insignificant in the whole scheme of things. Buddhism, in its very intricate doctrines, recommends meditation as a healing source for the wounds created by the chattering of the mind. The problem of thinking too much can be the cause of our interminable sufferings. Psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl thinks that the motivating force in human beings is the search for meaning. Our inability to find an everlasting meaning for our daily drudgery may be the cause for our bewildering states of mind.

This disease is not apparent at all times nor is it clearly definable. That is why we hardly speak of it and most of the times we ignored it and select different causes for its origin. If I had to give it a name it would be called the Invisible Enemy. And we are fighting almost daily against this unknown adversary, throwing punches in the dark so to expect recovery from our repulsion for this life. The motives of this invisible enemy are unknown, his presence is only detectable by his fury which is measured by our general discomfort. Suffering too much from the Absurd can almost lead you into insanity. In fact, it is almost acceptable to assert that recognizing the Absurd as a real feature of reality is your ticket to lunacy.This paradoxical sentiment can be traced in all aspects of our human life. The moment when all past, current and future endeavors seem empty of purpose, your aspirations and your struggles are viewed from above as vain, and the insipid idea of surviving is felt to be downright ridiculous. We feel as if we have no control and there are no answers to be found. I am sure that most of you may have had this feeling, however transitory it may be. But imagine to be under this spell day in and day out. Suicide seems to be the last solution but even then the idea of suicide seems worthless to the captive of this invisible enemy. No, the person goes on, feeling the awkwardness of living for the future and rebels against it but unfortunately he’s labeled by the eyes of our society as a madman. Perhaps it is time we start sympathizing with these alienated people.

As with all diseases the first step is to identify the cause of the disease. Since this matter is kind of elusive we must explore it from all different points of view. It is necessary to bring into view the findings in philosophy and metaphysics, psychology and sociology, religion and spirituality, and the sciences of the human body. Perhaps one day we will be able to answer this impending question; who are we fighting against?