Faith vs Reason

The imposing arguments of science represent the highest degree of intellectual certainty yet achieved by the mind of man. So at least it seems to the man of today, who has received hundred-fold enlightenment concerning the backwardness and darkness of past ages and their superstitions. That his teachers have themselves gone seriously astray by making false comparisons between incommensurable factors never enters his head.

Above all, the facts of faith, which might give him the chance of an extramundane standpoint, are treated in the same context as the facts of science.

Thus, when the individual questions the Churches and their spokesmen, to whom is entrusted the cure of souls, he is informed that membership in a creed is more or less de rigeur for religious belief; that the facts of faith which have become questionable for him were concrete historical events; that certain ritual actions produce miraculous effects; and that the sufferings of Christ have vicariously saved him from sin and its consequences.

If, with the limited means at his disposal, he begins to reflect on these things, he will have to confess that he does not understand them at all and that only two possibilities are open to him; either to believe implicitly, or to reject such statements because they are flatly incomprehensible.

Whereas the man of today can easily think about and understand all the "truths" dished out by the State, his understanding of religion is made considerably more difficult owing to the lack of explanations.

If, despite this, he has still not discarded all his religious convictions, this is because the religious impulse rests on an instinctive basis and is therefore a specifically human function.

You can take away a man's gods, but only to give him others in return.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.45, 46

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The standpoint of the creeds is archaic; they are full of impressive mythological symbolism which, if taken literally, comes into insufferable conflict with knowledge.

But if, for instance, the statement that Christ rose from the dead is to be understood not literally but symbolically, then it is capable of various interpretations that do not collide with knowledge and do not impair the meaning of the statement.

Is it not time that the Christian mythology, instead of being wiped out, was understood symbolically for once?

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.27

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Temples and churches, pagodas and mosques, in all countries and ages, in their splendour and spaciousness, testify to man's need for metaphysics, a need strong and ineradicable, which follows close on the physical.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.162

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Our time has been distinguished, more than by anything else, by a drive to control the external world , and by an almost total forgetfulness of the internal world.

By 'inner' I mean our way of seeing the external world and all those realities that have no 'external', 'objective' presence - imagination, dreams, phantasies, trances, the realities of contemplative and meditative states, realities that modern man, for the most part, has not the slightest direct awareness of.

People did not first 'believe in' God: they experienced his Presence, as was true of other spiritual agencies.

Sanity today appears to rest very largely on a capacity to adapt to the external world - the interpersonal world, and the realm of human collectivities [...] But since society, without knowing it, is starving for the inner, the demands on people to evoke its presence in a 'safe' way, in a way that need not be taken seriously, etc., is tremendous - while the ambivalence is equally intense.

Small wonder that the list of artists, in say the last 150 years, who have become shipwrecked on these reefs is so long - Hölderlin, John Clare, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud ...

Those who survived have had exceptional qualities - a capacity for secrecy, slyness, cunning - a thoroughly realistic appraisal of the risks they run, not only from the spiritual realms that they frequent, but from the hatred of their fellows for anyone engaged in this pursuit.

Let us cure them. The poet who mistakes a real woman for his Muse and acts accordingly ... The young man who sets off in a yacht in search of God ...

The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness. The state of outer darkness is a state of sin - i.e. alienation or estrangement from the inner light. Certain actions lead to greater estrangement; certain others help one not be so far removed. The former used to be called sinful.

Already everything in our time is directed to categorizing and segregating this reality from objective facts.

Many people are prepared to have faith in the sense of scientifically indefensible belief in an untested hypothesis. Few have trust enough to test it. Many people make believe what they experience. Few are made to believe by their experience.

We live in a secular world. To adapt to this world the child abdicates its ecstasy.

There is a prophecy in Amos that there will be a time when there will be a famine in the land, 'not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.' That time has now come to pass. It is the present age.

[R.D. Laing]
The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.115-8

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[A man] must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong to this world. Only then is life whole.

[C.G. Jung]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.390

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Imperfect Relationships

Recognition of the shadow, on the other hand, leads to the modesty we need in order to acknowledge imperfection. And it is just this conscious recognition and consideration that are needed whenever a human relationship is to be established.

A human relationship is not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasize the differences or call forth the exact opposite; it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support - the very ground and motive of dependence.

The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has, for it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him into an inferior position and even humiliate him.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.73

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Art Education

[On modern art] ... though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really performing a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content.

The pleasingness of the artistic product is replaced by chill abstractions of the most subjective nature which brusquely slam the door on the naive and romantic delight in the senses and their obligatory love for the object.

This tells us, in plain and universal language, that the prophetic spirit of art has turned away from the old object relationship and towards the - for the time being - dark chaos of subjectivisms.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.77

Holistic Workout

I will remain silent on the subject of what yoga means for India, because I cannot presume to judge something I do not know from personal experience. I can, however, say something about what it means for the West.

Our lack of direction borders on psychic anarchy. Therefore, any religious or philosophical practice amounts to a psychological discipline; in other words, it is a method of psychic hygiene.

The numerous purely physical procedures of yoga are a physiological hygiene as well, which is far superior to ordinary gymnastics or breathing exercises in that it is not merely mechanistic and scientific but, at the same time, philosophical.

In its training of parts of the body, it unites them with the whole of the mind and spirit.

When the doing of the individual is at the same time a cosmic happening, the elation of the body becomes one with the elation of the spirit, and from this there arises a living whole which no technique, however scientific, can hope to produce.

Yoga practice is unthinkable, and would also be ineffectual, without the ideas on which it is based. It works the physical and the spiritual into one another in an extraordinarily complete way.

[C.G. Jung]
Psychology and the East, p.85

The gods are within us

Our time has committed a fatal error; we believe we can criticize the facts of religion intellectually. Like Laplace, we think God is a hypothesis that can be subjected to intellectual treatment, to be affirmed or denied.

We completely forget that the reason mankind believes in the "daemon" has nothing whatever to do with external factors, but is simply due to a naive awareness of the tremendous inner effect of autonomous fragmentary systems [instinctual products of the unconscious].

This effect is not abolished by criticizing it - or rather, the name we have given it [God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, etc] - or by describing the name as false.

If we deny the existence of the autonomous systems, imagining that we have got rid of them by a mere critique of the name, then the effect which they continue to exert can no longer be understood, nor can they be assimilated to consciousness.

We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods.

We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor's consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.

It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a "mania" or a "god." To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning and promise because it is an act of submission to a higher, invisible, and spiritual being.

[C.G. Jung]
Psychology and the East, p.37, 38, 39

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Imitation of Christ

The Christian subordinates himself to the superior divine person in expectation of his grace; but the Oriental knows that redemption depends on the work he does on himself.

The imitatio Christi [imitation of Christ] has this disadvantage: in the long run we worship as a divine example a man who embodied the deepest meaning of life, and then, out of sheer imitation, we forget to make real our own deepest meaning - self realization.

As a matter of fact, it is not altogether inconvenient to renounce one's own meaning. Had Jesus done so, he would probably have become a respectable carpenter and not a religious rebel ...

The imitation of Christ might well be understood in a deeper sense. It could be taken as the duty to realize one's deepest conviction with the same courage and the same self-sacrifice shown by Jesus.

Happily not everyone has the task of being a leader of humanity, or a great rebel; and so, after all, it might be possible for each to realize himself in his own way.

[C.G. Jung]
Psychology and the East, p.56, 57

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Magic and Illusion

[In reference to religious rites and blessings] Everywhere and at all times there have been rites d'entreé et de sortie [rites that precede or proceed an event] whose magical efficacy is denied and which are impugned as magic and superstition by rationalists incapable of psychological insight.

But magic has above all a psychological effect whose importance should not be underestimated. The performance of a "magical" action gives the person concerned a feeling of security which is absolutely essential for carrying out a decision, because a decision is inevitably somewhat one-sided and is therefore felt to be a risk.

When the rationalist directs the main force of his attack against the magical effect of the rite as asserted by tradition, he has in reality completely missed the mark. The essential point, the psychological effect, is overlooked.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.18, 19

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Magical practices are nothing but projections of psychic events, which then exert a counter-influence on the psyche and put a kind of spell upon the personality. Through the ritual action, attention and interest are led back to the inner, sacred precinct, which is the source and goal of the psyche and contains the unity of life and consciousness.

[C.G. Jung]
Psychology and the East, p.25

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By what criterion do we judge something to be an illusion? Does there exist for the psyche anything which we may call "illusion"? What we are pleased to call such may be for the psyche a most important factor of life - something as indispensable as oxygen for the organism - a psychic actuality of prime importance.

Presumably the psyche does not trouble itself about our categories of reality, and it would therefore be the better part of wisdom for us to say: everything that acts is actual.

[C.G. Jung]
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul ('The Aims of Psychotherapy'), p.74

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For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

[William Wordsworth]
Passage from 'Daffodils'

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Uses of Heroes | Introduction

This text is an exploration of the importance of heroes; why they initially become important to us, and why they continue to be useful throughout our lives.

It may be tempting to think of the idea of having heroes as an immature one, as something that we all grow out of eventually. This is perhaps due to the importance that we attach to them in our youth, a time when they seem especially significant. Popular opinion can also have us believe that we should be able to rely on ourselves, and our own egos may add to this impression.

The dictionary tells us that a hero is a person admired for their courage or achievements. I’d like to use the term here in a slightly broader sense, as someone that we look up to and admire, for whatever reason. Hero is a masculine term, but for simplicities sake I shall use it here to speak of both men and women.

Uses of Heroes | Early Importance


From an early age we become familiar with the idea of heroes. The first heroes that we come to know are perhaps those who look after us at a young age, our parents or guardians. These are the first people that we look up to, and, once we come to understand the idea of a hero, they may be the first that we choose to class as such.

The fact that heroes matter to us so much when we are younger is indicative of their fundamental importance. When we are younger we are unsure of who we are; we may be building an identity or searching for one, and heroes help us in this process by embodying qualities that we wish to assimilate.

A good example of this is comic book heroes. In many superhero comics we have characters who portray universal qualities - those that we value as a society: justice, honour, bravery, empathy, kindness, and so on. These traits are brought to the fore; painted in bright colours and presented within moralistic story lines. The heroes of these comics may be simple, and wear their morals on their sleeves, but their importance to us as children is a microcosm of how heroes will matter to us for the remainder of our lives.

Uses of Heroes | Experience

The demands of our lives can often limit the ways in which we experience the world, as can the conditioning of the society that we live within. It is easy to become carried along; to lose ourselves in the sea of pre-described experience that is made available to us, and to accept that this is all there is, or all that we should expect.

Part of the joy of youth is in the sense of adventure and creativity that we show towards life. There is no urgency about youth, and no real demands are made on our time. We can enjoy languor without guilt; passion without embarrassment. We don’t yet know the conventions of society (or don’t yet care about them) so are free to make up our own rules.

The process of adolescence can serve to detach us from this state, as we begin to become aware of, and to conform to, the various pressures of societal conventions. The process of becoming who we are as adults can be seen as a struggle against this conditioning; a struggle that, in a sense, attempts to reunite us with the uniqueness of our childhood selves.

The fact that the conventions always flourish in one form or another only proves that the vast majority of mankind do not choose their own way, but convention, and consequently develop not themselves but a method and a collective mode of life at the cost of their own wholeness … conventions are soulless mechanisms that can never understand more than the mere routine of life. Creative life always stands outside convention … The mechanism of convention keeps people unconscious, for in that state they can follow their accustomed tracks like blind brutes, without the need for conscious decision. This unintended result of even the best conventions is unavoidable, but is no less a terrible danger for that.1

In going against convention, we may be treading an unknown path, or an ill-advised one. In doing so, it is often helpful to have another to look to for inspiration or consolation. In lieu of (or in addition to) such persons in our immediate environment, we can look to heroes for this function.

In glimpsing the world of someone that we admire, we are reminded of something fundamental, something that is all too easy to forget: that other worlds - other ways of experiencing the world, other modes of life - exist outside our own. To many this realisation can be both bewildering and frightening. To some, it can be an inspiration.

Uses of Heroes | Self-development

It is probably true that as we get older we become surer of who we are, but the potential to grow remains throughout our lives. Carl Jung, a pioneering and influential psychologist, advocated a path of self-development that he referred to as individuation.

Jung’s concept of integration is not in fact that of a static mental condition, although it is sometimes misinterpreted as being so. In Jung’s view, the development of the personality toward integration and mental health is an ideal which is never entirely reached or, if temporarily attained, is bound to be superseded. Jung thought that the achievement of optimum development of the personality was a lifetime’s task which was never completed … 2

Jung believed that we should always seek to grow; that, despite never being able to reach an ‘ideal’ state, we should always be striving to be the best, and the most, we can be. As our identity solidifies, the process of change that we go through may become slower and less dramatic, but our ability to develop remains.

By the time we reach adulthood we will possess a number of self-schema - these are generalizations about the self, derived from past experience. For example, a person may believe themselves to be shy: this belief – ‘I am a shy person’ – will impact upon future interactions and experiences, and can lead to the building of new schema, based around the idea of shyness (‘I’m no good at public speaking’, ‘I’m no good at talking to the opposite sex’, and so on).

To change and to grow can be a trying process, and may involve letting go of ideas that we had formerly held close. It is perhaps no surprise then that we eventually reach an age where we believe that ‘we are who we are’. In thinking this we close a door within ourselves, which may come as a relief for some; however, as Jung pointed out, we are never beyond growth.

… for the average person, the undermining and destruction of a cherished vision of reality can be a shattering experience. Such an upheaval is comparable to the disturbance a man suffers when a person in whom he has had ‘basic trust’ turns out to be unfaithful or untrustworthy … Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it. No wonder we resent having our cherished illusions shattered, our traditional way of looking at things challenged.3

If we are always growing, then it follows that there will always be people that we look up to; we may not call them heroes, but these people play as important a role as those that we admired in our youth.

Uses of Heroes | Permission

We have seen that when we are younger we look to heroes for qualities that we wish to realize within ourselves. It is worth noting that our perception of these qualities can be both conscious and unconscious - we may be drawn to a person without a thorough understanding of the subtleties of our attraction, whilst in other cases the basis of our admiration may be quite obvious.

In admiring these qualities in others, we are also recognizing them within ourselves; they may exist only in embryonic or partially realized form, but our detection of them within another is often a signpost towards our own potential.

The youth, intoxicated with his admiration of a hero, fails to see, that it is only a projection of his own soul, which he admires.4

In looking to a hero, we are marking out a path for ourselves; from the point at which we currently exist towards that of the person that we admire. In this way, heroes can show us what is possible.

For example, we may wish to enjoy life more, to inject more joie de vivre into our day-to-day existence. This realization is itself a start, but it can be tricky to know where to go from here, or how to do it. To have someone who we can look to that embodies this attitude provides us with direction; their actions and words light a route that may otherwise have been dark, and inspire us to venture along that path ourselves. In identifying with a hero, we give ourselves permission to be like them, and to assimilate those characteristics that we admire.

The most important permissions are to love and to change and to do things well. A person with permission is just as easy to spot as one who is all tied up.5

Attaining permission to do something is often a unconscious process. For example, a fundamental benefit of Art School is that it gives its students permission to be creative. Being surrounded by others who are creating, within an environment in which creativity is a day-to-day normality, facilitates an inner shift. The process of Art School allows the student to think of themselves as a creative person, which then enables them to go on being creative for the rest of their lives.

Heroes can provide us with permissions in much the same way. In looking up to someone you bring them into your life, and this proximity is crucial.

In becoming close to certain people, we may find ourselves able to think and act in ways that previously seemed unavailable. For example, if a person who is used to the company of largely introverted people were to suddenly become friends and spend time with an extravert, it may free them up in unexpected ways; things that were formerly unacceptable become normal and opportunities arise where before there were none.

The closeness of this person allows us a glimpse into another way of being, and their company affords the opportunity to assimilate elements of their persona. In truth, what we are really doing is opening up areas of ourselves that had previously lain dormant or undiscovered. This is a process that many of us may have experienced whilst growing up.

A similar thing can also happen with heroes; in bringing them into our lives (with the affirmative, ‘this is a person I admire’) we are privileged with their company, and through this proximity we may be afforded a variety of permissions.

Uses of Heroes | Fictional Heroes


In our day-to-day existence we generally get to see very little of other peoples lives. We witness a certain amount of those closest to us – our friends and family – but our experience of them is limited. We don’t have access to them in every situation, at every moment, and so our idea of who they are is generally based on what they allow us to see.

By giving us a glimpse into the lives of their characters, films allow us to experience other people in a unique way. In spending the duration of a film with a character we may bear witness to a number of thoughts and interactions that we wouldn’t be able to observe in real life. Whilst most of these characters are fictional, and their interactions artificial, we can still draw value from observing the way in which a character interacts with their world.

In spending time with a film character, we are allowed to enter into their persona. We can temporarily adopt their outlook and mannerisms, and see the world in the way that they see it. We are removed from ourselves, and are allowed to reflect upon who we are from an altered perspective – a dichotomy is created, between the character and us, and from this all sorts of useful self-analysis can arise.

As an example, lets take the character of Wayne Campbell, from the film Wayne’s World. The reality of this film exists at a distance from our own; whilst the world he inhabits is recognizable, much of the film is fantastical. However, the way in which Wayne interacts with his world, and with others, holds truth.

Wayne is an upbeat character, and his positive persona is reflected in his interactions; through being in his company, the idea of positivity is fore-grounded, and we may be led to question it in relation to ourselves. Do we admire his positivity? Is positivity something that we value? Are we as positive as he is? Would we like to be? A lot of this analysis may be near-unconscious, and may be represented as a simple like or dislike of the character; however, it is analysis that can affect us, and is relevant to our experience of our world.

To use another example; the character of Otto in Repo Man affects an air of disenfranchisement. His world-view is largely negative, and through him we witness the interactions of a young disaffected person. We are asked to identify with Otto, and through this we may make a series of judgements; am I disaffected like him? How do I feel about this? Do I agree with his outlook?

Whether we end up liking Wayne or Otto, in spending time in their company we have been compelled to make judgements about their character. In making judgements about others we are inevitably drawing comparisons to ourselves, and reflecting upon our own personality.

In this sense, fictional characters like these can operate as heroes. They create opportunity for self-analysis, and through insight into their interactions they facilitate self-development.

Uses of Heroes | Possibilities

The whole value of history, of biography, is to increase my self-trust, by demonstrating what man can be and do.6


There can often seem to be a great distance between our heroes and us; whilst we may recognize aspects of ourselves within them, their accomplishments can make them seem unattainable; almost other-worldly. This may be particularly true if the person we admire lived in another age.

Whilst we can appreciate the achievements of our heroes – perceive talent, or genius – we must realize that our admiration of them also contains the invitation for us to achieve. Heroes can show us what is possible, and it is this that is their primary use.

To feel the full value of these lives, as occasions of hope and provocation, you must come to know, that each admirable genius is but a successful diver in that sea whose floor of pearls is all your own.7

Circumstances may have led us to believe that we are destined to tread certain paths, or forbidden from following others. This is an easy trap to fall into, and once in it we can find it very hard to climb back out; our own negative self-schema can conspire against us, and things may be worsened by the constricting influence of other people.

It is easy to get lost in the sea of other people’s ideas and achievements, and to believe that our own accomplishments are of less worth. A negative outlook can flip the role of a hero, from an enabling, positive presence, to a stifling one. Most of us need people around us who realize our worth, especially if we fail to see it ourselves. These people lift us up; they are localized, with their sights set on us, and in this sense they can provide the perspective that we may sometimes lack. They see our achievements for what they are, and through their eyes we see what we are capable of.

This positive network can be furthered by the presence of heroes. For example, in finding out about the life of someone we admire we may realize that they are more normal than we’d at first thought; the details of their lives brings them closer to us, and makes them more attainable.

Heroes are there to enable us; to know their lives and achievements is to know what is possible. They should not act as full stops on our ambition, rather as provocateurs or pacemakers.

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Uses of Heroes | A Reminder of Who We Are

In the flow of daily existence it is very easy to get pulled out of shape, and to forget who you really are. We probably all experience moments in which we lose sight of ourselves and become, if only momentarily, people that we no longer recognize.

Friends and family tend to be our main antidote to this - the safety and familiarity of their company normalizes us. Their expectations of our character, based on knowledge and experience, can be a positive force, re-uniting us with our true selves.

It is often hard to maintain the integrity of our personality – as psychologist Anthony Storr points out, ‘people often express the idea that they are most themselves when they are alone.’8 In going out into the world and interacting with others - those who don’t know our history, who we really are – we are bound to be pulled out of shape. Conflicts can cause us to act irrationally; certain situations may provoke lapses of character; peer-pressure and other forms of social conformity can limit us. There are many situations that remove us from ourselves, and its natural that we need ways in which we can counteract this.

We’ve seen how our heroes can be a reflection of the positive aspects of our own personalities, so it follows that in connecting with them we are also able to re-connect with who we are. This could be through something as simple as watching a particular film or TV programme, listening to a record or reading a book. In doing so we connect with the ideology of our heroes; we’re brought into their world, which is also a reflection of our own.

Cultural paraphernalia (such as books, DVDs, records and posters) can act as an assertion of our identity; it can be a relief to arrive home, to a place where you are surrounded by your own objects, because these objects remind you of who you are. In much the same way, to know who your heroes are, and to have them in mind, is to know yourself.

Uses of Heroes | Hope


We’ve seen that heroes can have a variety of uses. When we are young they aid us in defining who we are, and they can remind us of this when we lose sight of ourselves. They can also guide us in the process of self-development, and can show us how to experience the world in ways in which may have previously seemed unavailable.

In this age of easy-celebrity it can seem that heroes are offered up to us all too often, and for too little. It is perhaps easy to forget that one of the most important things we can hope to gain from these people is an understanding of ourselves.

The pressures of daily existence can all too easily push us into living a life we neither desire nor recognize. At their simplest, Heroes provide us with hope – they show us that there is another way, and that we are allowed to choose it, if we wish.

Uses of Heroes | Endnotes

1 Jung, C.G. The Essential Jung, p. 195, 202
2 Storr, Anthony. Solitude, p. 197
3 Storr, Anthony. The Dynamics of Creation, p. 147
4 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Solitude, p. 79
5 Berne, Eric. What Do You Say After You Say Hello?
6 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Literary Ethics
7 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Literary Ethics
8 Storr, Anthony. Solitude p. 147

Approaching Conceptual Art | Introduction


This text is intended as a short exploration of conceptual art. It hopes to serve as a simple introduction to the art form, and to provide some ideas as to how to approach and understand it.

As a society, our understanding of conceptual art appears to be limited. In general, this is due to no fault of our own - the world of art has changed a lot within the last century, but this change has mostly been ignored, denied or neglected by our education system and our popular media. Our idea of what constitutes art has never been so varied and, whilst this widening of the horizon is no bad thing, it can frequently lead to confusion.

The economy of space and the scale of the topics we shall be exploring will necessitate a certain amount of generalization, for which this text asks to be forgiven. At best, it hopes to offer some ideas and insights that may be of use to you the next time you decide to take a trip to a contemporary art gallery.

Some of you may be very much at ease with the idea of conceptual art, and to those of you who this applies, this text hopes to serve as an interesting reminder or a handy point of reference.

Approaching Conceptual Art | What is conceptual art?


The term ‘conceptual art’ can be used to describe a number of different experiences. For our purposes we’ll stick to a relatively loose definition: as art that is concept led; where the importance of the piece lies in the concept, with technical and aesthetic considerations being secondary to this idea – or, as is often the case, hardly relevant at all.

A lot of conceptual art can be seen to lie somewhere between traditional art and philosophy. Philosophy is concerned entirely with ideas, and we mostly gain access to it through text – through books, articles, and so on. However, to the layman a lot of philosophy can be intimidating and confusing. In this sense, conceptual art can act as an approachable in-between; it allows access to philosophical ideas in a different way to that in which they are normally communicated to us, and in doing so attempts to bring philosophy to a wider audience.

In a similar sense conceptual art can also have ties to psychology, sociology and many other fields. This proximity was written about by influential psychologist Carl Jung: “[in reference to modern art] though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really preforming a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content.” 1

With his interest in a variety of fields, the conceptual artist can be seen as a metaphysician. Many famous artists that we may refer to as ‘traditional’ can also be seen as metaphysicians. Leonardo Da Vinci is a good example of this; whilst being an accomplished painter, he was also a pioneering scientist and inventor, with interests in a diverse range of fields. Such diversity was expected of artists of the time: in keeping up to date with the latest ideas and innovations from a variety of fields they were able to combine this knowledge within their own practice, and bring their insights to the general public.

In this sense we can see conceptual artists as modern equivalents to the metaphysicians of the past; their art if often a distillation of their interests; philosophy, psychology, sociology and more.

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1. Jung, Carl Gustav. The Undiscovered Self, p.77

Approaching Conceptual Art | Ideas and Concepts


As we’ve already seen, conceptual art is mostly concerned with ideas. Ideas can be with us at all times; they can provide inspiration or consolation, can be educational or provocative. We all have ideas every day - they come and go, and exist both beyond us and within us. We can’t experience ideas with our senses, but they can be turned into experiences or objects: into books, films, music, and art. These are ways of communicating our ideas to others.

Like all gallery-based art, conceptual art is required to present us with an experience within the gallery space; something that we can apprehend with our senses; that we can see, hear, smell or touch. So, whilst the importance of the piece may lie within the concept, the artist is required to present us with something that we can experience in order for us to gain access to this.

Most conceptual art pieces act as symbols. Symbols are important and useful devices, and most of us come across them regularly. They can often help us to grasp onto and understand complex ideas, giving us the initial foothold we may require. This is their function within conceptual art; often they aren’t intended to sum up the concept as a whole; rather, they allow us into it, leaving it us up to us to venture further if we wish. In acting as a symbol, the conceptual art piece can also exist as a mental bookmark; in thinking of the piece we can gain access to the ideas that it is linked with.

The artist, like the novelist or filmmaker, is handing us a concept that we can take over and relate to our own experience. If the concept interests us then we can think about it more, using the foothold that the gallery experience has provided us with.

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Approaching Conceptual Art | Ideas and Other Forms of Art


As we’ve seen, the gallery experience is created in order to allow us to think about the idea, and in this sense conceptual art is similar to certain films or books.
Most films deal in ideas, but a lot of the time they aren’t foregrounded. Films entertain us - entrance us with movement and sound, action and emotion - and whilst doing so they also allow us to think about certain ideas.

As an example, we’ll consider the feature film, The Dark Knight. Whilst being action packed and visually impressive, this film also prompts us to think about a series of ideas. Its foundations lie within the basic concept of right and wrong; from this come ideas of honour and justice, and of doing the right thing. Questions of morality are frequently raised.

In watching the film we will mostly apprehend these ideas on an almost unconscious level; we quickly resolve where we stand on these various issues without the need to consciously process our thoughts. Some of the ideas may become more conscious and stay with us beyond the film, and we could find ourselves mulling them over days, or even weeks, later.

Whilst providing us with two and a half hours of entertainment, The Dark Knight has also allowed us to think about a series of ideas, and in this respect it shares a characteristic with conceptual art.

The same can be said for many (if not most) literary works of fiction, as well as theatre and songs.

Approaching Conceptual Art | Talent & Skill


From an early age we are led to appreciate talent, and in appreciating the talent and achievements of others we set goals and create ambitions for ourselves. The talent of others can inspire us to realize who we are.

Talent is a large factor within traditional art. We’ll often judge something by how well it has been crafted; how talented the artist is, and how he has manifested this talent within his art. Talent and skill are valuable commodities within society, and they are ideas that we understand from an early age. We aspire to do ‘a good job’, and we appreciate the skill of others; from plasterers, to surgeons, to painters: skills are a universal language and a valued commodity.

To judge a person’s work based upon the skill and talent it displays is an entirely natural, and often necessary, approach. However, when confronted with conceptual art this approach can let us down. We’ve seen that conceptual art deals in ideas, not objects. We can’t judge an idea on its aesthetic value or its technical precision, so it may seem that the only option available to us is to assess the objects that convey this idea - the art that confronts us within the gallery space.

However, as we’ve already seen, conceptual art pieces are often only created as symbols. It is useful to think of them as doors, through which we gain access to the idea. So to judge the door on its aesthetic value or its technical merits is to miss what lies beyond. In getting stuck at the door we fail to appreciate what waits for us behind it.

Approaching Conceptual Art | Opinions


It would be interesting at this point to think about how quickly, and how willing we are to form opinions. In growing up, most of us are taught to formulate and voice opinions. We assess cultural products with a list of qualifications: how good they are; how effective they are in achieving their goals; how they affect us emotionally; how well they entertain us - the list goes on. We are used to making quick judgments, and this is reflected in our conversation; we frequently ask, “What did you think of it?,” and the ability to form a quick and inspired opinion is often a virtuous one.

We may frequently feel that we should be able to form an opinion on something, and that to not be able to do so is a sign of weak-mindedness - of ill education, or a lack of understanding. Social convention mostly dictates that opinions matter; in conversation, opinions are currency.

With most forms of culture, opinions can be a useful device, so it is perhaps no surprise that we approach the gallery ready to form opinions on what we see. With conceptual art however, our urgency to form opinions may hinder our appreciation of what is on offer.

As we’ve discovered, concept art can often act as a way into a philosophical or psychological idea. In this sense, to react to what we see with an immediate like or dislike would be akin to rejecting or admiring a book of psychology based upon its cover, when really the heart of the work lies within.

It is often hard to formulate instant opinions in areas such as these, especially if we have no previous experience within the field. Often, the best we can do is to approach the material with an open mind and to reserve judgment as much as possible, at least to begin with. Thinking about an idea is often a way of gaining knowledge, of learning, and an idea or concept can often affect, or at least contribute towards, an unconscious psychological change within a person. In forming quick judgments we may be denying ourselves these benefits.

If we return to the analogy of the psychology book; when we are able to form opinions upon a work like this, they will most likely be based upon the ideas expressed within the book. Do we agree with what the author is proposing? Do we have conflicting ideas of our own? By this point the cover of the book is almost an irrelevancy, and we are within the ideas - these are the purpose of the work.

The same can also be said for conceptual art. When we are ready express opinions, those that are most relevant are those based on the ideas that the gallery piece has allowed us access to, not those based on the piece itself; which we now see was only ever a cover – a first port of call, a way in.

Approaching Conceptual Art | The Artist


To forget the gallery piece and to open yourself up to the ideas that lie beyond it is also to forget the artist who produced the piece. As we’ve seen, ideas exist both within and beyond us. We all have them, yet none of us can really claim possession of them. In this sense, when approaching conceptual art it is also good to sometimes be able to forget about the artist; in separating the idea from the person presenting it, you are able to bring it within yourself and to make it a part of who you are. When attempting to understand and assimilate an idea, this is often an important and useful thing to be able to do.

The idea of the artist or creator is an important one within society, and is frequently romanticized by popular culture. These are mostly people that we are led to look up to and admire; we know the names of our favourite musicians, actors and artists, and we may even be familiar with details of their lives. It is important to have people to admire, for our own self-development as much as anything else. These people help us to set goals for ourselves and show us what is possible.

So to be asked to forget about the artist and concentrate solely upon the work can often seem a strange thing to do, and we may frequently struggle to allow ourselves to do this. The popularized image of the ‘conceptual artist’ can make this even harder.

Various stories in the media have, over time, formed a caricature of the conceptual artist; famous names such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst have stamped an indelible mark upon this image. These caricatures have burned an outline onto the retina of the public eye, and it can be hard to think of the conceptual artist without unconsciously referring to these stereotypes, be they favourable or, as is probably more frequently the case, unfavourable.

In approaching the art, and allowing ourselves access to ideas, we must be able to let go of any prejudices we may have about those who have created the experience for us. If we do not trust the artist, then it may be extremely hard to gain access to their work. It would serve us well to remember that all ideas lie beyond the person who communicates them; so regardless of what we think of the artist, or of their kind, the idea is as much ours as theirs. To deny ourselves access to it because of what we think of them, is to do ourselves a disservice.

Approaching Conceptual Art | Is This Art?


As we’ve seen, conceptual art differs greatly from what we may call traditional art. We’ve discovered that often it can lie somewhere between traditional art and other disciplines, such as psychology or philosophy. When visiting an art gallery it is perhaps only natural to expect to see art; but if our expectations are based only upon one type of art then we may end up frustrated by what we see, and may frequently find ourselves asking, is this even art?

The boundaries of this term are hard to define, and the idea of art has in recent times become very personalized and less objective. Because it means different things to each of us, as a society we could probably argue ad infinitum without reaching a general consensus on what art is.

At this point it would be handy to ask whether arguing over the definition of this term will really get us anywhere; and if a definition is preventing us from engaging with an experience, that it may even be useful to temporarily forget the idea of ‘art’ completely.

To watch a film at the cinema and to constantly ask throughout it, “Is this a film?,” is to end up missing most of what the film had to offer. Indeed, our conception of a film in this day and age may be utterly foreign to those who first pioneered the art form, but as a society we have allowed ourselves to accept the various changes within this medium. It is easy to miss what an experience has to offer by getting caught up in the language and definitions that surround it, especially in relation to conceptual art.

Approaching Conceptual Art | For The Living


Life is mostly a flow of necessities; in developing consciousness, human beings were able to separate themselves from all other animals; they were able to consider their actions, and to step outside of their instinctual programming. They were able to stop and savour experience. In short, consciousness allows us to enjoy being alive.

Like film, music, literature, comedy, sport, and countless other unnecessary activities, art is a way of experiencing and enjoying the world. We love these things because they allow us to step outside the flow of the everyday, and to stop and look around. It is all too easy to miss life, and to forget that we only live once. In allowing us to think about ideas art is, at its simplest, just another way of reminding us that we are alive.

Approaching Conceptual Art | Glossary

Traditional Art

For our purposes we’ll define traditional art as that where the object is of primary importance. It is the object (the painting, sculpture, etc) that brings about the experience. The experience can be many things; from the evocation of emotion, to an aesthetic appreciation, to the contemplation of an idea. However, a principal importance is always placed upon the object.

Philosophy

Philosophy can be broadly defined as the study of existence. Its ideas cover a wide range of subjects, including knowledge, truth, beauty, justice, mind, and language. If it can be described as having an aim, then it would be to give us a greater knowledge of the world we live in, and the way that we, as humans, exist within and experience the world.

Philosophy is something that exists within each of us; every time we wonder about the world, or our existence, we are thinking philosophically. Philosophy is a reflection of our own experience of the world, and can serve to shed light on the way that we think about experience, and life in general.

The word philosophy has its origins in Ancient Greek language, and means “love of knowledge”.

Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of mental processes and behaviour. It seeks to gain an understanding of the mind, both for treatment of problems and abnormalities, and to increase our knowledge and understanding of the world and the way that we relate to it.

Psychology can help us to understand our various mental processes, and in doing so can shed light on why we do, or think, certain things (and equally, why others think and act the way they do).

Metaphysicians/Metaphysics

Metaphysics originated as a branch of philosophy. Prior to the end of the Eighteenth Century philosophy used to encompass science, which at the time was known as ‘natural philosophy’, and was considered a part of metaphysics. Metaphysics investigated general principles of reality, those that transcended any particular science.

For our uses, the metaphysician is someone who aspired to possess a wide range of knowledge, from scientific through to philosophical.

Symbols

At its simplest, a symbol is something that represents something else. They can often act as useful shorthand for more complex messages or ideas. For example, most of us recognize the Cross as a symbol that is used in Christianity. It refers specifically to the event of the cruxifiction, but to those with knowledge of the religion it can also represent an entire belief system – in seeing it, a number of associations and ideas may be triggered within our heads. The Cross has become associated with much more than what it directly refers to, and can act as a doorway through which many other ideas and images can be accessed.

Evil and Us

Even if, juristically speaking, we were not accessories to the crime, we are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals. In reality we merely lacked a suitable opportunity to be drawn into the infernal melee. None of us stands outside humanity's black collective shadow. Whether the crime lies many generations back, or happens today, it remains the symptom of a disposition that is always and everywhere present - and one would therefore do well to possess some "imagination in evil," for only the fool can permanently neglect the conditions of his own nature. In fact, this negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil.

What is even worse, our lack of insight deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.68

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The civilised man, where he cannot admire, will aim rather at understanding than at reprobating. He will seek rather to discover and remove the impersonal causes of evil than to hate the men who are in its grip.

[Bertrand Russell]
Unpopular Essays ('The Functions of a Teacher'), p.130

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John Bradford (1510 - 1555) was a prebendary of St. Paul's. He was an English Reformer and martyr best remembered for his utterance, "There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."

The words were uttered by Bradford while imprisoned in the Tower of London, when he saw a criminal going to execution for his crimes.

"John Bradford"
Wikipedia

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Any attempt to understand the attraction which Fascism exercises upon great nations compels us to recognize the role of psychological factors.

For we are dealing here with a political system which, essentially, does not appeal to rational forces of self-interest, but which arouses and mobilizes diabolical forces in man which we had believed to be non-existent, or at least to have died out long ago.

The dark and diabolical forces of man's nature were relegated to the Middle Ages and to still earlier periods of history, and they were explained by lack of knowledge or by the cunning schemes of deceitful kings and priests.

One felt secure and confident that the achievements of modern democracy had wiped out all sinister forces; the world looked bright and safe like the well-lit streets of a modern city.

When Fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak, or such yearning for submission.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.5-6

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Although we are still almost totally ineffective at dealing with habitual criminals, there is a greater realization that savage punishments neither deter nor reform, and a greater inclination to perceive that antisocial conduct may reflect alienation from society or feelings of despair rather than innate wickedness.

[Anthony Storr]
Freud, p.126

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Fundamentally speaking, evil has no more existence than a mistake. The ultimate nature of all living beings is perfect. That perfection is always there, deep within us, even when it's hidden from sight by ignorance, desire and hatred.

[...] the essential perfection of the Buddha nature is inherently present within each living being in the same way that there's oil inherently present within sesame seeds.

That perfection may be hidden from sight, but needs only to be revealed and expressed as we rid ourselves of what hides it, the obscuring layers of ignorance and of the negative emotions that form under ignorance's influence.

Those obscuring layers don't belong to the Buddha nature. They hide it from sight but they don't change it in any way. Nonetheless, it's all too easy for us to lose track of that essential nature and get involved in dualistic ways of thinking that are translated into negative words and deeds, and hence into suffering.

The apparent opposition between good and bad doesn't really exist. It's simply the result of our way of seeing things. It exists for us, but only for us. It's sort of a hallucination. The false doesn't have any real existence and isn't in any way a component of the truth.

So evil is only an aberration, just as a mistake is only an incorrect perception of reality.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher

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Evil needs to be pondered just as much as good, for good and evil are ultimately nothing but extensions and abstractions of doing, and both belong to the chiaroscuro of life.

[C.G. Jung]
The Essential Jung, p.280

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Lost Love

Early loves are incredibly powerful and, with the internet, increasingly accessible. In a survey of more than 3,000 people, in Time magazine in 2000, nearly 60% said they often thought about their first loves. Dr Nancy Kalish, from California State University, who has done the bulk of research into 'lost loves', estimates that 10% of people try to get in touch with one. There are no numbers for those who get in touch and immediately remember why they split up in the first place.

Of 2,500 couples who reunited, most did so with someone they'd loved before the age of 22; they'd split up because they'd been too young, had moved away or their parents had disapproved. People who were cheated on did not go back for more. The first 1,000 couples Kalish found in the 1990s were mostly single when they found their first love; 40% got together within three weeks and most got married, with 70% still together in 2004. They said they felt emotionally intense and comfortable with each other. But sexually it was more like slipping into stilettos than slippers.

Why are these relationships so compelling? Psychiatrists from the University of California talk of early love experiences being chemically hard-wired into the brain. Your ex grew up with you, knows your family and set the standard for love.

[Luisa Dillner]

To hell with twenty

"What kind of life course am I going to follow?" "What kind of possibility can I find there?" I can understand their sense of instability about their present position and their future. Around the age of twenty, I was as unstable as they are now, or my case must have been far worse than what the word 'unstable' means.

If a god appears here and asks me if I'd like to go back to the age of twenty again, I will probably decline by saying "I appreciate your offer, but I am quite satisfied with the way I am now." If you pardon me, I want to say frankly "To hell with my twenties."

[Haruki Murakami]

Model Relationships

[On how a sane relationship might work] Well, first you would not be preoccupied by whether it was working or not. You would be preoccupied by whether or not you enjoy or crave each other's company. So, it would not be working the way a business works. That would be exactly the wrong model.

It may be in time that we come to see friendship as our best picture of a working relationship. It may be, too, that we need accept that sexual relationships are inevitably unpredictable. One would not then measure the success of a relationship by how long it lasted.

Whether a relationship works for 20 years or for 20 days is not the question. The question is, is my life better with this person? And better, in this instance, does not mean more glamorous or richer or more alluring, there is more to it than that.

[Adam Phillips]
Observer Interview

Distance and Desire

You know one thing, when I ask people: when was the last time you looked at your husband and wife, and you felt desire. And you know what they always say? Not: "When we were like this [she holds a hand up, very close to her face], staring into each other's eyes and holding hands." No.

It's always: "When I saw her giving some talk or some presentation, like at work or something, and she didn't even know I was there." Or: "When he was about to go windsurfing, and he was so in his own with me or the kids."

It's when they see the distance between them, when they recognise that person as completely separate from them! That's when they felt erotic desire. And that's what you must keep in a relationship, to keep the sex.

[Esther Perel]

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The Golden Rule

And so you have a choice like what do I wanna do, how cool do I want to be, what do I wanna be like.

And all I thought was 'how would I want someone to be to me?'

I didn't think, 'What would be the coolest way to be? What's gonna be easier, or harder, or better, or worse?' I just thought like, well my favourite band, if I was going to see them, what would I be psyched about? What would make me happy if my favourite band did that?

Essentially the golden rule, which doesn't just apply to music or bands or anyone in that position, to everyone, whether you're working at a grocery store or a bank or you're a mom or a dad or a brother or going to school or whatever it's just following that rule.

[Andrew WK]

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Being open to the new

The better and more embracing the old theory, the more difficult it is for men to adjust their minds to embrace the new.

For the average person, the undermining and destruction of a cherished vision of reality can be a shattering experience. Such an upheaval is comparable to the disturbance a man suffers when a person in whom he has had 'basic trust' turns out to be unfaithful or untrustworthy.

Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it.

No wonder we resent having our cherished illusions shattered, our traditional way of looking at things challenged. When the Impressionists first tried to exhibit their works in Paris, they were greeted with storms of abuse. We can only understand such intemperance if we realize that their new artistic vision must have mobilized intense feelings of basic anxiety in the artistic establishment.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.147

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Making real ideal

The strength of the artist and his possession of a technical skill enables him to rise above the merely personal, and to relate his personal deprivations to the discontents implicit in being human. We are all deprived; we are all disappointed; and therefore we are all, in some sense, idealists.

The need to link the real and ideal is a perpetual tension, never resolved so long as life persists, but always productive of new, attempted solutions.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.237

Get It Together

Somehow, a creative product must give a sense of reconciliation, of having resolved in an aesthetic and harmonious way the discords and disharmonies present in the original situation.

The work of art, for example, for a moment re-orders and brings into balance the tensions of form and space, and in so doing, moderates the inner tensions of the observer, giving him a sense of encounter and fulfilment.

By identifying ourselves, however fleetingly, with the creator, we can participate in the integrating process which he has carried out for himself. The more universal the problem with which the artist is dealing, the more universal his appeal. This is why the pursuit of the personal, the neurotic, and the infantile in the work of artists is ultimately unrewarding, although it will always have some interest.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.236

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Getting it out

Putting things into words (or music or painting) is indeed making conscious what has hitherto not been fully so. By removing what is in our minds from within to 'out there', we alter our attitude towards these contents.

A phantasy which has never been spoken or written is differently apprehended by the person who harbours it from the same phantasy when it has been objectified. This is not only because, once written or spoken, it can be communicated and shared with another person; it is because it becomes an object separate from the person himself, which can be contemplated and studied by the person himself.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.224

Whistle while you Work

When creative work has become 'overdetermined' as this - that is, when it contains the whole of a person's self-esteem and sense of self - it becomes extremely difficult to pursue it.

An element of play and an element of craftmanship of a rather impersonal kind need to enter into all creative work. However important the work, it must also be fun to some extent; and work cannot be fun if every value in life is bound up with it. The same is true of love-affairs.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.221, 222

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A Pat on the Back

A young doctor, practising his profession, is constantly having his sense of identity reinforced by the recognition accorded him by his colleagues and by his patients. A writer experiences this less often; perhaps only when he publishes a book. Similarly, a painter may have to wait several years for his next exhibition to fulfil the same function.

If, in spite of possessing a 'strong ego', the creative person's sense of his own identity is less than it might be, this lack of continual reinforcement from others may be another part of the reason.

Moreover, creative people learn, often through bitter experience, to be secretive. As we said before, new ideas are tender plants better not exposed too soon to comment. They wither under criticism, and are often dispelled and diluted by premature revelation.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.220

Planting a Seed

When I was young each fresh piece of serious work used to seem to me for a time - perhaps a long time - to be beyond my powers. I would fret myself into a nervous state from fear that it was never going to come right. I would make one unsatisfying attempt after another, and in the end have to discard them all. At last I found that such fumbling attempts were a waste of time.

It appeared that after first contemplating a book on some subject, and after giving serious preliminary attention to it, I needed a period of subconscious incubation which could not be hurried and was if anything impeded by deliberate thinking. Sometimes I would find, after a time, that I had made a mistake, and that I could not write the book I had had in mind.

Having, by a time of very intense concentration, planted the problem in my sub-consciousness, it would germinate underground until, suddenly, the solution emerged with blinding clarity, so that it only remained to write down what had appeared as if in a revelation.

[Bertrand Russell]
Portraits from Memory and Other Essays, p.195

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