Thursday, June 19, 2014

Boundaries and Polarities

The Polarities

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, man would see everything as it is, infinite."   
 -quote from Blake.

We perceive experience in the manner of thread coming off a spool in units that can be measured relative to the end and the beginning. If no terminus is in sight we assume one. Gray becomes black on the one hand and white on the other. Absolute black or absolute white is not the issue. The issue is that we agree on what is given and what is not. We think in terms of polarities. Definitions are constructed in terms of their opposite or absence."Six centuries before the Christian era, the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras set out clearly a set of dualities or oppositions in a manner similar to those explicitly or implicitly accepted by most cultures even today.   -From THE LAST TABOO, by James L. Brain (Doubleday, N.Y. 1979)
Our senses report the presence of a stimulus by the firing of minute electrical charges in the neurons of the brain. In sufficient quantity, these electrically triggered neurons reach some sort of threshold of awareness and get our attention. Yin and yang, now you see it, now you don't. In that sense all is vibration; frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Love - HateApproach - Avoidance
Dark - Light 
Evil - Good
 Night  - Day 
Death  - Life 
Women  - Men
Subjective - Objective
Up  -  Down
Caring - Indifference

It is the absence of stimuli that gives significance to the presence of stimuli. Without pauses music has no rhythm or meter, sound becomes noise and speech is unintelligible. It has been said that in Japan what you don't say or do is at least as important as what you do. 
Contrast enhances detail, visually, as as well as in poetry. In the classic paintings the figures are placed on what is called background or negative ground. Interstices delineate form in architecture. For example darkened interiors in the great cathedrals intensifies both the colors of the stained glass windows and the sense of sanctuary, the sense of a place apart from the mundane.
We seem to require polarities not just as a means of ideation, but apparently our will to live and very existences derives from a sense of polarity. For example, The Slavic world is an endlesly fascinating, troubling, dramatic, and dynamic one.  Slavic mythology has a strong focus on the sun, warmth, light, birds, fire (and firebirds), epic victories, and brightly painted cosmic bird-eggs. 
The opposing polarity, the dark, the dead,  the cold, the gloomy forests, snakes, drowned spirits (usually female or children), and ruthless hags are feared, even demonized (especially under the influence of Christianity), yet many fairy tales indicate that if this darker world is treated with cautious respect, one will fare well.

"There are two brains. Perched atop the brain stem inside the human skull are two large bulges--the left and the right cerebral hemispheres.....The left brain, highly literate and analytical, tends to dominate the personality. It specializes in language skills such as speech and writing, as well as mathematics and reasoning. The right brain, endowed with special powers of intuition and spacial perception, is particularly important to creativity, music, art, and athletics

.....Each can think, learn and remember. And each is capable of feeling such strong emotions that the two minds sometimes struggle for supremacy as if they were different selves. "...There long have appeared to be two different ways of thinking: some people are essentially verbal and analytical, while others are nonverbal and intuitive. These two ways of thinking coincide neatly with the concepts of the two brains, the analytical left hemisphere and the intuitive right hemisphere....And yet man's highest achievements seem to stem from the successful integration of both. .."

"Nearly all discoveries ion every field appear to involve sudden right brain inspiration. At an idle moment, maybe even in a dream, intuition makes an intellectual leap--sensing the solution to a long standing problem, arriving at fresh understanding, reaching a new level of appreciation in one quich burst of illumination. Then the left brain intellect laboriously works out the details of this hunch, step, by step....Without the right brain there could be no idea; without the left brain, the idea could not be explained..."    -From THE ROLE OF THE BRAIN, by Ronald H. Bailey, (Time Life Books 1975), p.79.
A criminal is a person without boundaries, and a person with no fear is psychotic. Being uncaring or unfeeling is menacingly dangerous. But the very complexity of our times seems to leave us ever more indifferent. The way we treat each other and even ourselves is little changed from the dark, anthropomorphic, superstitious behavior of the Neolithic or Neanderthal. The difference between our technological achievements and our sociological achievements can no longer be tolerated since we have in our hands the keys to complete destruction of our species and our world, as we know it.
"We are faced with extinction as a species because we cannot stop killing each other. One after another of our institutions is failing and we cannot seem to stop polluting our planet."
What is needed is overview. Joseph Campbell pointed out that the words of the great teachers and prophets are metaphors about these world views and it has been our failure to understand these metaphors that has been the root of violence and war. By failing to comprehend the bigger picture of reality we are stuck with the metaphor. For example in Beirut, Christian, Jewish, and Moslem are killing each other over different interpretations of truth, each claiming their interpretation must needs invalidate each other in no uncertain terms. Mr. Campbell said that what is needed is that each should understand and carry out their own metaphor, the "Golden Rule."
"If we see ourselves as separate and not a part of each other we may treat one of us badly."
Indeed, at this time in history we have a unique opportunity to come to an overview of humanity that integrates differences into a unified whole that completes our individual identity and is individually and universally healing. A synthesis and interpretation of a greater reality that inspires us to accept our full potential and realize who we really are. 
War probably began only after cities were founded. By some estimates civilization really come out of the dark ages only as late as a few hundred years ago. In many ways, at least technologically, the world has changed as much since Darwin as it had in all of time combined before Darwin. But political and sociological progress lags badly. Perhaps we may now have the means unlock this mystery so we can to begin to catch up.
In his book, THE LAST TABOO, James L. Brain refers to a major study called The Authoritarian Personality, undertaken after the end of World War II looked into the issue of the "fantastically atrocious acts" committed in the concentration camps, and asks,
"How did people become that way, and do we have the same potential...What comes out of this study with complete clarity is that there is a strong relation between discipline and punishment on the one hand and the development of prejudice and hatred on the other.... children may be unhappy and frustrated if no boundaries are imposed...(the authors) believe that the two ways of imposing discipline on children are by "rules" and by "principles...." Discipline is...a force outside of the child to which... he must submit...not because it understands why but because the... "rules" demand... it.... The other way of imposing... "principles... invites the cooperation and understanding of the child and makes it possible for him to assimilate it." Thus... the difference between the two methods of imposing discipline is the differentiation between a threatening, traumatic, overwhelming discipline, and an assimilable, and thus non-ego-destructive discipline." The first method...forces the child into submission and surrender of the ego." (p.176.)

" child rearing rules lead to prejudice, bigotry and cruelty, while principles lead to rational self control and tolerance." (p.236) . "...fear... is often compensated for by a kind of sadistic toughness." (p 179).  
"A rigidly authoritarian upbringing makes anyone somewhat, if not markedly, masochistic.... The starting point of masochistic fantasies, Reik claims is "infantile sadism." As a child matures, gets teeth and muscles, and gains control over its bladder and bowels, it also develops a desire to hurt those more powerful than itself. Since this is plainly beyond its physical powers, it seeks satisfaction in imagining the possibility. However, this satisfaction is thwarted by the fear that the person the child is attacking in fantasy will retaliate by punishment for its rebellion. "The sadistic need, eager for gratification, is replaced by anxiety on account of this gratification which is felt to be forbidden." says Reik. "The idea of one's own aggression and the punishment slowly blend.

He sees the total development of masochism as taking place in three stages:
1. As you do to me, so I do to you--sadistic phase.
2. As I do to you, so I do to me--intermediate phase.
3. As I do to me, so you do to me--true masochism."

"....psychologist Melanie Klein... saw a progression and development through childhood of (1) a rivalry with the parents, (2) a wish to outgrow ones perceived deficiencies, (3) a wish to overcome one's destructiveness and inner badness, and (4) a progression to all kinds of achievements. The child angered by its helplessness, Klein saw as wishing to grow tall, strong, rich, and powerful while its parents grow weak and powerless. As in all these kinds of cases, the line is thin between the neurotic and the normal for the culture. These kinds of wishes must be common to all children to a lesser or greater extent. Some children may develop into murderers, rapists, or torturers. Some, because of guilt at their feelings, says Klein, "are obliged to remain unsuccessful, because success always implies to them the humiliation or even the damage of someone else..." -ibid, (p.173).
"...consider the mode of training military personnel... The whole intention is to produce a man who is totally rule-oriented, who will obey without question, who will be prepared to undergo great hardship and suffering in the name of... honor or patriotism... and who will, of course be a highly efficient killer of other men whom the rules identify... as the enemy. To achieve this end the recruit is treated like a child of peculiarly brutal and sadistic parents who punish every act which is seen as disobedience, no matter how trivial, and reward slavish obedience with grudging kindness. Arbitrary changes of plan; fanatically rigorous inspections of uniform, equipment, living space, lockers; constant physical demands; petty regulations about every aspect of life--in short, insistence that one carry out instantly and without reasoning, any orders, no matter how objectively senseless they may appear to a "reasonable" person.... Some men, like some children, do manage to come through this by shutting off parts of their minds...." (p.179).
Apparently James Brain believes there are very many such people. They seem uniquely subject to various forms of escapism, arrested adolescence, and other problems of animosity to self and others. They may be excessively religious or militaristic, their personal sense of identity given over to some system or other that is rigid or harsh, detrimental to intimacy. He continues:
  " A great deal of the book has been concerned with authority and its perverted servant, authoritarianism....the critical distinction in child rearing between rules and principles, the latter leading to rational self-control and tolerance and the former to prejudice, bigotry and cruelty.... To the authoritarian person, the possibility of rebellion is always a frightening prospect which must be constantly watched for...whose potential for danger to other people is enormously enhanced in complex societies with sophisticated weapons and surveillance technology.... I would say that the primal enemy for a reasonable future for humanity lies in our ability to understand and eliminate authoritarianism." ibid. p.236
B.F. Skinner's now classic experiment investigating animal conditioned reflexes laid the foundation for the concept of neurosis in humans. The sheep was confined in a pen with an electric wire attached to it's foot and there was also a device that made a noise so that after the sheep heard a signal, there would automatically follow a moderate electrical shock through the wire to the sheep's foot. After a time the sheep learned to associate the sound of the signal with the pain of the shock, so that when the signal would occur the sheep would stop other activity, recoil the foot and wait for the shock, then resume normal activity.
During a long weekend, however, when there was no one around, the wire came off so that the shock was not administered. When the people returned, the sheep was found, immobilized, with foot recoiled, waiting for the shock. When the wire was repaired and the shock administered, the sheep was able to resume normal behavior, but with a remarkable residual symptom. Thereafter, when the sheep was threatened, not just by a noise, but by any sort of potential danger that any ordinary sheep would be quite able to cope with. The sheep in the experiment would respond by recoiling the foot, and cowering in fear, completely unable to respond in a normal manner to the possible threat of danger. Even more significant was the fact that this condition was permanent.
Fear of pain can become as debilitating than the actual pain itself, when conditioned. And in fact it is only the administering of the expected pain to the conditioned individual that allows normal activity to continue.
Quoting again from The Last Taboo:
It was a matter of bewilderment to me that humans could take pleasure in watching the pain and suffering of others and even take part in inflicting it. There is plainly a link between this pleasure and a harsh rule-dominated childhood. Cruelty to a child frequently results in the child's cruelty to it's own child... Cruel brutal people are usually extremely sentimental. Cruel people not only enjoy ordering others about, but usually... enjoy being ordered around by someone more powerful than themselves." (p.180). "...those societies that provide harsh and cruel initiation rites have indeed child-rearing practices that would tend to produce authoritarian personalities, who... delight in being punished as well as giving out punishment."  

A study undertaken by researchers at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, shows that children of parents who are too strict are more likely to turn to recreational drugs and take up smoking, than other children.  Principles build character, while rules deplete it, and character is what we rely on for the appropriate mode of feeling and behavior, especially under confusing or extreme conditions

Anguish of the fear of pain can be worse than the actual experience of pain. This fear may become an actual need for punishment in order to get on with business as usual, just as the sheep needed the shock to be free of an alarm reaction upon the threat of pain.  It has also been learned that we can build up a tolerance to physical anguish at the expense of our tolerance to emotional anguish, and vice versa. Physical anguish usually amounts to pain, while emotional anguish usually amounts to threat of pain. We have a threshold of tolerance to both, but beyond that threshold, there is increasing dysfunction as a result of trauma.
To understand the difference between what we feel and what we do is to understand the human condition. We all come up against the ineffable.  What we do then seems to be not only the measure of who we are individually but collectively as well.  We sense elements of continuity beyond finite mortality which inspire in us a sense of awe and wonderment. We find great subtlety of meaning in our experience of the epic, the heroic, as well as in music and art. And through such subtleties, through dreams and reverie we process values and come to subjective choices. In fact most of our choices are apparently made on a subjective level.  What you think about something depends on what you feel about it.
We have made enormous technological progress with the part of our brain that deals with linear, concrete, sequential, concepts.  Everything else that is not a finite concept to be quantified or measured is relegated to the other part of the brain so that when we need to deal with something we don't really understand, the mysterious, the numenous, the ineffable, the totemic or sacred, we give it a name and hand it over to a subjective process to deal with it. These concepts tend to be emotional, connotative, and very much influenced by our attitudes.
Consciousness is primarily a matter of attention. And it is a process which is automatically and subjectively directed unless you make the effort of conscious, objective direction. Theorists estimate we are using so called left hemispheric, objective reasoning only 10% to 20% of the time at most. We have little training or education about the subjective self, yet we spend such a huge portion of our lives in the subjective realm. It is rather like a neglected stepchild.
Just as we require sleep for physiological and psychological well being, we also need some sense of the mythological in order to catch up and balance what we feel with what we think. In order to have a sense of who we are we need to picture ourselves in relation to the totality of experience from which we derive a sense of our entitlement and appropriate modes of feeling and  behavior.
"It may be unpopular to advocate balance. But it is obvious that this is the only way human beings will ever come to have any real peace within themselves. If you submit the inspiration that you have to the problem of giving it clear shape, then you are uniting the parts and become more of a man. We have to get used to thinking in terms of polarities and paradoxes as continuous, with no beginning and no end then you have another image of wholeness. But if you have this old fashioned sense that either, or must be true this is to chop one half from the other. If there is something wholesome about the times in which we live it is the sense that we cannot be so dismembered. If we can have a sense of the infinite which is the continuum of the polarities, and if we can balance the excess of Apollonian deductive reasoning with the marvelous, deep rooted contact with the creative well being that you find in Dionysus, then the man is made whole."     Rosalyn Holden (from a lecture at UCSC)
So it is that symbolically, heroically, through the use of ritual and totems and fantasy that we are able to deal with our unconscious processes and the totality of experience and become identified in relationship to the whole. Holism, wholistics, the whole earth movement, etc. is an attempt to secularize that which before was holy.  Secularized religion is everywhere.  The more we get away from the old ways of magic and religion the more we seek to find ways of identifying ourselves that are unifying and inclusive.
We are all struggling with a sense of self as a cog in the wheels of industrialization are daily being barraged with a plethora of circumstances over which they have no control.  It is said the greatest single demand made on contemporary man is to adjust, adjust, adjust, among variables that are ever increasing. The greatest human need is for synthesis and interpretation, for a sense of psychological continuity and emotional closure. Herein lies the harbinger of the new age.
When Joseph Campbell died a few years ago, he was probably the world's greatest authority on mythology. The following is a quote from his book and video series,  THE POWER OF MYTH: 
"The people respond to the environment, you see. But now we have a tradition that doesn't respond to the environment--it comes from somewhere else, from the first millennium B.C. It has not assimilated the qualities of our modern culture and the new things that are possible and the new vision of the universe.....Myth must be kept alive.....illumination is the recognition of the radiance of one eternity through all things... "
"It is within everybody to recognize values in his life that are not confined to maintenance of the body and economic concerns of the day....Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength, and bringing of solar light into the world. Slaying monsters is slaying dark things. Myths grab you somewhere down inside.... we learn them as a child on one level, but then many different levels are revealed. Myths are infinite in their revelation....Follow your bliss. Find where it is and don't be afraid to follow it.... In doing that, you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it."
The words of the wisest of the wise men of all nations and all times seem to have been very similar and remarkably simple. The ancient holy men, the most learned scholars, and the most brilliant scientists have all told us essentially the same:  ALL IS ONE.
A thing separate and distinct from other things does not exist. All things are interconnected. Simple as it sounds this remains an ineffable mystery that few comprehend in any profound sense. It is that which is beyond names and naming. We are a mystery and we live in mystery, and we know it, some of us. It is the mystic who seeks to understand the mystery, for the mystic rejects ordinary reality in order to perceive a higher reality. The most significant understanding of mysticism is the fundamental unity of all things. The mystic understands he is both the question and the answer. He seeks to know oneness with One, as a way of being at home in the world.
We are children of the universe. We are at home, and it may very well be that all things are unfolding exactly as they should be. That which is classic in all human experience is that which we all have in common. Experiences that unite us all, such as coming into being, and passing away, the larger cycles of nature, and the elements of continuity beyond finite mortality that inspire a sense of awe and wonderment. From the seed, the spark of life (spirit) comes life. However, as with everything in the physical world, "now you see it, now you don't."  The miracle birth is a mystery as much as the separation of death.
I imagine myself on one side of an imaginary line from what is not me on the other side. Immediately there is the observer and the observed. The illusion creates separation. Unity becomes duality. Perhaps the ultimate experience of separation on the human level is death. Someone we love suddenly is no more. Words fail to express what we feel. We are put in touch with a sense of our own mortality. We think about time and eternity.
Like an amphibian man must live in two worlds: the temporal, objective world of "reality," and the subjective world of eternal ideals.  Just as there are two ways of thinking: objective and subjective, there are also two ways of looking at time: as finite segments that have a beginning and end, or as an infinite continum.
In time it will happen, it is happening, or it has happened.  Metaphysical references to a "seamless garment," allude to the nature of time which is without beginning or end. But we seem to experience it in segments like clips from a film only the film spool is apparently infinite in capacity.
Our sensory channels narrow our view to what is on the screen at the moment. In the same way an astronomer sees only the light focused by the lens of his telescope. This is the light reaching his lens at that moment though it may have travelled for billions of years to reach earth. In fact some of the stars the astronomer records have in fact long since stopped emitting light but because of their enormous distance it took the light all that time to reach us. From this most ancient light astronomers piece together a pattern, a concept of the physical universe, and we speculate on our possible significance as inhabitants of an insignificant solar system.
In mythology and literature the philosophical content is usually thought of in terms of the more enduring qualities of man that emulate the unchanging, immortal or ideal qualities. These times offer us opportunity to come to an overview of humanity that integrates differences into a unified whole that completes our individual identity and is individually and universally healing. A systhesis and interpretation of a greater reality that inspires us to realize our full potential and appreciate who we really are.  In the Far East, one of the aspects of unitave consciousness holds that the heart/mind already exists in perfect condition, just waiting to be realized.

The either/or, old-fashioned, narrow, mechanistic, linear, cause and effect, dualistic way of thinking seems to be giving way to a new quantum world view in which consciousness plays a much more powerful role. Classical mechanics is not capable of integrating consciousness into science and nonlocality is seen as the direct influence of one object on another, distant object, both restricted to a particular place or particular time. In Quantum mechanics, nonlocality refers to the absence of a local fixed reality since time and space are one. The quantum framework includes information flows which are not in spacetime. Consciousness itself appears to be a form of quantum energy if things on a psychological and spiritual level, such as thought, love, insight are nonlocal. 

Perhaps the biggest test of our intelligence and compassion; the most crucial watershed of human development since the inception of agriculture, even more important than the founding of cities, is the present issue of war and peace. Yes this is a tremendous burden and responsibility, but if we fail this may well become another dead planet like Mars and Venus, rather unimportant planets circling around a rather unimportant star, in an unimportant part of the galaxy. If we can find a solution, through understanding, co-operation, compassion, a new form of morality which takes into account the sacredness of every life form, then this will be a period remembered very far into the future, as a legendary time of giants. It is up to us. I think that research has put to rest the idea that aggression arose because of an aggressive gene that exists within us, that we are the Naked Apes who killed, as in some currently prevailing theories.            -Paraphrased from "Bio-cosmology," by Jack Gariss on KPFK FM