As we enter the world we are infinite. We have no boundary. We are also zero. At three months, or so, we begin to distinguish that there is an “other” – the breast as part object. By 6 months old the boundary between us and the other (usually mother) is clear; and often frightening. Warmth, food, security and affection can be withdrawn as well as present. Our world is strait, though we do not know it. As we age and explore we push the boundary back; and back. If we are fortunate, and conquer our fear, we realise once more that there is no boundary. We are existence and all of existence is us. Death is an illusion. When we leave the world we can then fade to white and lose the loneliness and fear that haunts life, to experience all that is directly once more.
I hear that as many images have been captured in the past 3 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).
There are also increasing numbers of people missing whole longed-for events because they are bound up with capturing them on their mobile phones. Unlike our grandparents we have a constant record of our past. It is re-presented to us on Facebook and by friends and family alike.
What effect is the fixing of our image having on our psyche and soul?
(It’s not a rhetorical question).
What was the life of our senses like maybe 100 years ago, and indeed for all of the development of our species until that point?
Our world would have been smelly. We each have our pheromones and scent, which are now covered, deodorised and washed away. Then, there would have been a rich scent-scape. Smell is a sense that is strongly associated with emotion. The nerves in the nose are a direct extension of the brain and feed in to the limbic system, our emotional brain. That’s why particular smells evoke such vivid memories and sensations. We now live in a relatively odour-free environment (a non-scence world?) and what smell there is from bottles rather than bodies. What difference does that make to our development?
Our world would also have been full of natural noise, and probably less of it. Birdsong, people arguing, the clip clop of horses in the street, the sound of wind in trees. (Oh yes, and sounds of pain and anguish from the diseased and dying).
Then of course, we lived hugger-mugger and would (I think?) have been constantly in- touching – literally rather than “by phone, “by text” etc…
..and our visual sense would have been present and alive rather than past and fixed. We would, I think, have perceived ourselves through the eyes of others rather than through mirrors and photos. Yes, we aged, but without the constant record and reminder of it.
A many We would, in short have been much more fully present. Here, now, alive, available to each other human to human. We would not have been waiting for the e-mail, the text, and the call. We would not have had some part of our mind in another place or another time.
We’re increasingly going backward into the future, with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, rather than on the road ahead or with the passengers in the car with us.
Which fixes us as materialists. The material, physical world is always in the past. Literally (see Whitehead, Process and Reality). It does not exists in the present, but is crystallised out by our free will from the stuff and limitless potential that is the future. As quantum physicists have shown again and again – everything is potential until observed. It is the act of observation that crystallises out the particular phsyical world – and by then its already in the past. As our ancestors put it, we are the sisters of Wyrd, spinning fate at the foot of the Tree Ygrdrassl.
The past, the material, is dead and done. Let’s live in the present, with each other, and look to the future.
Furbelows and curlicues
Flow tow below bellow follow glow
Hassock haired carded tows to rope gripped snake charming up to the pipe yet unremembered
Grip strip and magnify until chrysalis burst
out to new dimensions
(We are the process of weaving existence together)
Thinking is plural. It involves subject (thinker) and object (idea). Reality is in the relationship between; it is not concrete or material. “I think, therefore I am” is incomplete. Better would be – I think ABOUT, therefore there is existence.
This isn’t my insight, but variously Einstein’s (relativity), Bion’s (the mind as apparatus to think pre-existing ideas), Whitehead’s (Process and Reality) and Buber’s (Ich Ind Du). If there is a “singularity”, then it is outside the space-time in which we swim and spawn. As we Christians express it – God is “the Word, existing beyond time”. Others say the same thing in different ways (Nirvana ).
What we experience is dis-integration. Alone we are: alone. Point-less. Together and between us lies the truth. Indeed materiality is chimera: we reflect each other, flowers of the same plant. Reality is in the honouring of the God in You, in I-Thou rather than I-It.
“World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.”
Reality is bound up with the present. This, according to Zen and as re-expressed by Eckhart Tolle – the Power of Now..
The present, now, is the door to reality and focus on the past and future distracts from the intensity of experience.
How does that square with Alfred North Whitehead’s theory of relativity – where reality is a process and certainly not an instant?
It seems to me that the integration of these two concepts through the interpretation of the present – Now – as momentary rather than instantaneous. By this I mean to include the immediate past and the immediate future into a lengthened and extended instant. I think (though I’m never certain when trying to understand Process and Reality) that this is what Whitehead refers to as prehension.
It seems then that consciousness requires some element of time, that which immediately surrounds the instant in which we exist. It is observation that crystallises out the particular reality which we choose. (Bohr, Born, Schrodinger – the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics). The experience of reality requires the flow of time – to allow the immediate past and future to give context to the instant that is now.
Consciousness can then be described as observation surfing on time, and the fragment of time that surrounds the instant creates the moment in which we exist. Hence – reality as momentum, moment.
.. great quote from Wilfred Bion. Our whole purpose is to make reality out of infinite potential. I’m struck by similarity underlying Bion’s model of reality-creation and that of Alfred North Whitehead’s view of a “prehensile” crystallisation of reality in the present moment out of infinite potential.
“The art of being yourself at your best is the art of unfolding your personality into the person you want to be.” Wilfred Bion
“We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only guide it by taking thought.” Alfred North Whitehead
Bion has this concept of our thinking as a candle actively penetrating the dark in a quest to mate with and discover the ideas or truths already there waiting. If I understand aright Bion’s model of how this arises:
– there is a welter of “unthought” images, emotions and other stuff floating around – his Beta elements.
– if we are able to tolerate the pain of the unknown – then we begin to assemble these into the building blocks of thoughts – his Alpha elements. (Mostly we are able to do that because we’ve had a “good enough” mother and a holding environment as a baby).
– these alpha element thoughts then abstract into – pre-concepts which are “looking for” concepts to “mate with” to allow understanding of ideas. Importantly the ideas already exist and our mind and brain is a machinery that has evolved to allow us to think them.
Compare this with Whitehead’s view of the implications for reality of quantum mechanics (see Process and Reality). The present moment – is like a zipper – moving from a past event into a future that the observer crystallises by selecting from the infinite potential. This then, the process by which reality is created. He calls the present moment prehensile, because there is an active searching or selecting of the future.
This concept (If my understanding is correct – the book is almost impenetrable) surely has resonance with Bion’s view. There is at the heart of both schemas a vital present force which is actively seeking a “mating” with a future that it is involved in helping create or crystallise.
Can we call this free will? Are we witnesses here and eternally now of all of creation?
“The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.” Alfred North Whitehead
We think in terms of opposing forces, opposites. Duality flows from the fact of boundary created as we separate from the whole of existence – initially physically at birth, and then psychically in infancy. This schism has been expressed in many ways, often as opposing forces.For instance – good / evil ;life / death; aggressive / erotic ; Me / Not Me ; extrovert / introvert. I believe that the point of duality is in our response to it. There is a fundamental difference in outcome between choice between, and integration of – opposites.
Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein conceived of opposing Life and Death instincts. However surely a “Death” instinct is incompatible with evolution, what purpose is served by a “Death” instinct? More natural is Donald Winnicott’s expression of an Aggressive component, born of opposition and an Erotic component, born of complementarity – the birth of these components arising as an infant realises that there is a Me and a Not-Me. Carl Jung conceived of the struggle to integrate opposing forces. Many of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality typing that arises from Jung with its 4 dimensions – Extrovert-Introvert; Thinking-Feeling; Sensing-Intuition; and Judging-Perceiving. From the dawn of our species we have observed the difference between Light and Dark and described our nature as Good or Evil. Martin Buber gives us the double-dual-whammy of I-Thou way of being “over against” I-It.
“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between man’s attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. ..These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constitutes the world of THOU and the latter the world of IT” Ronald Gregor Smith, translator of Ich Und Du
It appears then that fundamental to our reaction to the fact of our existence; woven into the fabric of our way of thinking and being, is duality – expressed as an opposition of forces.
What then is our response? Is it passive as in choice or balance or active – as in process or integration? Admitting polarity in all things – what should be our reaction. Do we choose – for instance between Good or Evil? Should we seek balance between different drives into a kind of dynamic equilibrium – for instance striving to be at the centre point of extroversion and introversion? Is reality in fact a process budding eternally at the very boundary that arises out of duality – life within Winnicott’s Transitional Space or Whitehead’s point of prehension? Or is it there a further truth behind this duality – the point being what arises out of unification of opposites ? After all paraphrasing Beethoven – there cannot be loud without soft, it is in contrast that music arises.
Perhaps its personal taste. If so then, at least for me, integration of duality is our purpose, and one which is unceasing because there is a counterveiling force of differentiation. There is a flow of existence which is driven by splitting and unification, birth and death. Duality is dynamic not static and the fundamental creative contrast is actually that of differentiation and integration. Freud’s Life/Death instincts replaced by Integration/Differentiation forces. This isn’t an original thought, and it’s not mine. It is inherent in the world-view of eastern tradition (Yin-Yang etc) and possibly our western ancestors (see Wisdom of the Wyrd, Brian Bates). It was one of Carl Jung’s fundamental insights – “Much of Carl Jung’s writings are linked by the theme that mental illness is characterized by disunity of the personality, whilst mental health is manifested by unity” (Jung: Selected Writings, Anthony Storr).
If then we conceive of a schism-powered flow, what is the destination and what is the fundamental motive impulse? Well there you have Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the fundamental duality being spirit and material – an inner and outer. For him underlying existence is the force of Love, which powers evolution. An evolution conceived as complexification through spheres of the physical, chemical, biological to that of ideas – until we become conscious of God that is Love that is all. “There is a duality of material and spiritual, which he calls the “without” and “within”. He traces the development of the “within”, an evolution of consciousness. He names man as a stage in that process associated with the phase-shift from the evolution of biology to the evolution of ideas”.
In Teilhard de Chardin’s words:
“If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominized form. . . . Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”