Levels of meaning


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Exoteric                                 -                      Esoteric


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Those of us living in a Western culture can today best understand a Nhunggabarra story in terms of four levels of meaning […]

A Nhunggabarra person, undergoing the traditional education, would gradually learn more and more meanings. Not everybody would learn them all; how many meanings one learned depended on one’s role.

The four-level model […] meant that all stories could be told freely to the whole community; the four levels and the education process ensured that each person understood the story on the level that fitted their individual level of development.

Children would understand the first level and have their curiosity satisfied, while the older people could reflect on the higher levels of meaning. And everybody, young and old, would enjoy the drama and the excitement of the performance.



First level

The first level is the text itself […] This level answers some of the fundamental questions that little children living in a natural environment probably pestered their parents with: why does the crow have black feathers and white eyes?

Typically, the first level is also exciting and entertaining.




Second level

The second level of meaning concerns the relationships between the people within the community. The second level meaning does not come straight from the story and it was never told explicitly. You had to extract the meaning as part of your education and you had to have some pre-knowledge about the law to be able to do this.

This level therefore remained hidden for non-initiated people.




Third level

The third level concerns the relationship between your own community and the larger environment - that is, the earth and other Aboriginal communities. Again, the third level does not come straight from the story and it is never told explicitly. You have to pull out the meaning yourself and you have to hold some pre-knowledge about the law.




Fourth level

Many, but not all, stories had a fourth level. The fourth level taught spiritual action and psychic skills; it was more doing than talking and listening. The fourth level included practice, ceremonies and experiences, which gave access to the special esoteric knowledge hidden in the story.

The wiringins were the only ones who learned the fourth level of the stories. 

They passed through very striking ceremonies and had experiences which gave them access to a special body of spiritual and esoteric knowledge. They had insight into the minds of their fellows, and by observation they built up a wealth of information about the members of their community, which they could draw upon when needed […] The wiringins were […] ‘men of high degree’.

[Karl-Erik Sveiby & Tex Skuthorpe]
Treading Lightly, p. 42, 45, 48-51, 148

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The Pyramid
Abstract / Concrete
Centre / Periphery
The Colour Spiral 

True Detective: Too Sure, and Not Sure Enough


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"Rust knew exactly who he was, and there was no talking him out of it. And Marty’s single big problem was that he never really knew himself, so he never really knew what to want.”

['Maggie Hart']
True Detective 


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Rust tends to extremes. He lives an austere lifestyle, spending too much time alone. He appears to be something of a mystic, in touch with a wild world, beyond the fringes of normality. He feels strange energies; sees and hears things that most others can’t.

In walking a singular path with conviction he has found himself in uncommon places; cresting mountains, and plumbing seas. Such things are the boons of the extremist. However, in walking to the periphery he has become estranged from the centre, from normality.

Marty is his link to the normal world, and normal people. No matter how much Rust may prefer his rarefied air, he cannot entirely cut ties with normality: he still needs the conventional world. He exists at the borderline of society, but is not so extreme as to have stepped beyond it (or so it appears). A large part of him pulls outward, away from the centre; but another, smaller, yet significant part, keeps him in its orbit. He is connected to society, and so lines of communication, strained as they may be, must remain open.

However, Rust’s time in strange lands has given him an equally strange dialect, one that most normal people can’t understand. They are repelled by his tones - he seems aloof, terse, obscure, idealistic. They cannot tolerate him long enough to see beyond their first impressions.

Not so for Marty, who acts as a mediator between Rust and the conventional world. With Marty by his side, Rust becomes just about palatable to normal people. He acts as translator, able to frame Rust’s needs in a common tongue, and through him Rust is able to act in the world of people, to make things happen. As he finds out following their estrangement, without Marty he cannot act as effectively: he lacks the language, the contacts.

As in any close relationship, an exchange takes place. Their friendship lights a path between them, allowing each to venture along it; Marty edges outwards, becomes a little more reckless, entertains wild theories and notions; Rust edges inwards, becomes conventionalised, to a degree - goes on a date, tries a romantic relationship. Without Marty he drifts back to the extremes, and to the few people whom he can tolerate, and who will tolerate him.

Chances are that Rust has always tended to extremes - I think certain people are naturally drawn to the frontiers - but we gather that at one time he was more conventional; a family man, with a wife and child. These things probably tethered him, to a certain degree, and prevented him from drifting too far out: without them there was nothing to stop him from floating off. It may have been at this point - free from a tempering influence - that he came to know ‘exactly who he was.’ Turning his back on normality, he retreated to the simplicity of extremism; a place without shades of grey, give and take, or compromise: a place where they speak a pure dialect, in a sure voice.

And so Rust became solid, like a statue: frozen forever in a single pose. He knows who he is, and doesn’t want to be any other way (or can't be any other way). His personality has very definite outlines; impassable boundaries with specific entry and exit points. He must be tackled in a certain manner, from a certain direction; it is easy to get it wrong, and to rub him up the wrong way.

As with anybody who is stuck in a definite position, Rust can only communicate effectively with very specific types of people: those who are like him, or those who fit his shape without too much of a rub. It is an unconventional shape, and not one most people are used to accommodating, but Marty has just enough flex to adapt to it, unusual as it is. And this, it seems to me, is to his credit.

Marty is not as solid as Rust. He has a little give in his system, is softer, more supple. He does not know what he wants - hasn’t settled into an exclusive position - and so flits between poses; now the burdened family man, now the carefree youth. The only problem is that one pose threatens the other: he cannot do both, at least not in the long run. He must decide.

And so the fact that he doesn’t know himself - that he can’t hold a single position - is a problem for Marty. However, whilst you could say, along with his wife Maggie, that Marty’s problem is his lack of self-knowledge, you could, on the other hand, say that Rust’s problem is that he does know himself, that he is too sure of who he is.

His lack of flexibility condemns him to the outskirts, to a frontier lifestyle that is, by conventional standards, toxic. It seems, then, that each could stand to learn something from the other; Maggie certainly seems to see it this way. She wishes her husband were a bit more like Rust, more able to commit to a single pose; and she wishes, although she may not see it this way, that Rust were a little more like Marty; more flexible, more inclined to come in from the fringes and lead something approaching a normal life.


Perhaps what Maggie's perspective misses is the positive aspect of these problems. Yes, Rust may be too extreme for his own good, but his extremity makes him an extraordinary detective. And yes, Marty may not know himself well enough, but his lack of sureity makes possible his relationship with Rust; a relationship that allows each to be more effective in certain ways.

Is it possible to know who you are whilst remaining open to other ways of being? Is it possible to be sure without becoming a statue?

Perhaps Rust’s main problem was not that he knew who he was, but that that there was no talking him out of it. If what life demands of us is to become solid and commit to a position, then perhaps what it also demands is that we allow ourselves to be talked out of it, at least every once in a while.


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Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Centre / Periphery
Status Quo
Storytelling
In-between

Apollo / Dionysus


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Apollo                                 -                      Dionysus
Culture                                 -                      Nature
Tighten                                 -                      Loosen
Together                               -                      Apart
Centre                                  -                      Periphery
Conscious                            -                      Unconscious
Light                                     -                      Dark 
Heaven                                 -                      Earth


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In The Birth of Tragedy Apollo and Dionysus, whatever character each of them possesses in other contexts and different bodies of lore, are defined as opposing forces.

Dionysus is a god of nature, associated with forces biological and violent, orgiastic mysteries, with everything that refuses to be civilised. Apollo is the god of civilisation: if he were linguistic, he would be the perfectly formed sentence, self-possessed in its transparency.

Dionysus wants not to possess himself but to lose himself in an ecstasy in which he and nature are one and the same: the methods of ecstasy are intoxication, sexuality, the Dionysiac music and dance, the dithyramb in which the barrier between man and nature are overwhelmed.

As he appears in the Bacchae, Dionysus is wild, god of maddened group, people who drive themselves out of civilisation by wine, drugs, dismemberment. Modern versions of the Dionysiac include the forces active in bullfights, cockfights, rock concerts, wrestling, charismatic revival meetings.

In Nietzsche, tragedy is the form in which Dionysus and Apollo are reconciled.

The Dionysiac music, by itself, would be unbearable, because it would defeat culture and shatter the necessary limits implied in character and individuality. The Apolline hero is a hero because he takes upon himself the Dionysiac experience and, not at all transcending it, incorporates it in himself, reconstituting his experience now as form and beauty.

[…] the Greeks allowed for an Apolline incorporation of Dionysus, and did not try to suppress him:

“The delight in drunkenness, delight in cunning, in revenge, in envy, in slander, in obscenity - in everything which was recognised by the Greeks as human and therefore built into the structure of society and custom: the wisdom of their institutions lies in the absence of any gulf between good and evil, black and white.

Nature, as it reveals itself, is not denied but only ordered, limited to specified days and religious cults. That is not the root of all spiritual freedom in the ancient world; the ancients sought a moderate release of natural forces, not their destruction and denial.”

We are not supposed to hanker after an aboriginal state of union with nature, as if culture had never happened. Drink and drugs are deemed to be harmful for many reasons but mainly because they remove the cultural distinction between a man and the nature from which he has been rescued. Apollo must win.

Each society recognises that there are Dionysiac forces at large, and it makes some provision for them. The carnival of Fasting in Germany is a few days of tumult and licence followed by Lenten rectitude. Public entertainments, sports, including blood sports, motor racing, and sporadic limited wars are provided, as far as possible under controlled conditions.

If we continue extending the definition of culture so that it covers virtually the whole of experience, leaving nothing to nature, we will make it impossible for ourselves to understand violence and obscenity except as failures of ‘the system’.

It would be wise to regard culture as a partial and improbable transformation of natural impulse rather than a comfortable norm. That way, manifestations of violence could be considered without the normal accompaniment of shock, horror, and insult.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 83-5


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The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state.

It also provided some liberation for those marginalized by Greek society: women, slaves, homosexuals and foreigners.

'Dionysian Mysteries'


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Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener.

[...] Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, and the final unraveling as of a plot in tragedy.

[James Hillman]
Mythical Figures, p. 29


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Related posts:-
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Balancing Art
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Restraint / Engagement


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At the broadest level of trait description, therefore, variability in human personality appears to reflect restraint and engagement.

Stability appears to be associated with refraining from a variety of behaviors associated with disruptive impulses (such as drug use and reactive aggression), whereas Plasticity appears to be associated with engaging in a variety of behaviors associated with approach behavior and exploration (such as creative expression and attending social events) [...] behaviors consistent with an underlying exploratory drive.

These results are consistent with the theory that the metatraits reflect serotonergically mediated self-regulation and constraint on the one hand and dopaminergically mediated exploration and engagement on the other.

In particular, some of the processes underlying these traits may best be understood in terms of the different systems that are being restrained or regulated in each case. Process models that are consistent with this view include those linking Agreeableness to the inhibition of interpersonal aggression, Conscientiousness with the inhibition of distraction, and Emotional Stability with the inhibition of negative affect.

Stability appears to be reflected most strongly in restraint from drug use and hostility and in the absence of disrupted sleep. The association of Stability with stable sleep is consistent with the finding that Stability is associated with circadian timing, such that people higher in Stability tend to be ‘‘morning people’’ with circadian rhythms more strongly entrained to the daily light–dark cycle.


[Jacob B. Hirsh, Colin DeYoung, and Jordan B. Peterson]
'Metatraits of the big five differentially predict engagement and restraint of behavior', p. 11-13


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Related posts:-
Masculine / Feminine
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Becoming conscious

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[…] that’s what consciousness is doing all the time. You’re laying out an automatised routine, and if that doesn’t produce the intended outcome, you stop [and] become conscious. There’s nothing like an error to make you conscious. Then you do a high-resolution analysis of the space in which the error emerged, [and] you [recalibrate] to make that error go away.

To some degree the purpose of consciousness is to make you functional unconsciously. You don’t want to be conscious of most things.

If you’re good at something, you hardly have to be conscious of it at all. So consciousness is something like an error-detection-and-rectification system.

[Being conscious means] always attending to your errors. If you’re always attending to your errors, you’re always improving your automated adaptability.

Your consciousness seems to be continually building your unconscious.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'2017 Maps of Meaning 6: Story and Metastory (Part 2)'


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If it is fashionable today to minimize the importance of the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place, this is closely connected with the smaller importance which is now attached to change as such.

Indeed, there are few points on which the assumptions made (usually only implicitly) by the "planners" differ from those of their opponents as much as with regard to the significance and frequency of changes which will make substantial alterations of production plans necessary.

Of course, if detailed economic plans could be laid down for fairly long periods in advance and then closely adhered to, so that no further economic decisions of importance would be required, the task of drawing up a comprehensive plan governing all economic activity would be much less formidable.

It is, perhaps, worth stressing that economic problems arise always and only in consequence of change. So long as things continue as before, or at least as they were expected to, there arise no new problems requiring a decision, no need to form a new plan.

But those who clamor for "conscious direction"—and who cannot believe that anything which has evolved without design (and even without our understanding it) should solve problems which we should not be able to solve consciously—should remember this: The problem is precisely how to extend the span of our utilization of resources beyond the span of the control of any one mind; and therefore, how to dispense with the need of conscious control, and how to provide inducements which will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.

As Alfred Whitehead has said in another connection, "It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

[Friedrich Hayek]
'The Use of Knowledge in Society'


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Related posts:-

Entropy

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The idea that the second law of thermodynamics or "entropy law" is a law of disorder (or that dynamically ordered states are "infinitely improbable") is due to Boltzmann's view of the second law.

In particular, it was his attempt to reduce it to a stochastic collision function, or law of probability following from the random collisions of mechanical particles. Following Maxwell, Boltzmann modeled gas molecules as colliding billiard balls in a box, noting that with each collision nonequilibrium velocity distributions (groups of molecules moving at the same speed and in the same direction) would become increasingly disordered leading to a final state of macroscopic uniformity and maximum microscopic disorder or the state of maximum entropy (where the macroscopic uniformity corresponds to the obliteration of all field potentials or gradients)

The second law, he argued, was thus simply the result of the fact that in a world of mechanically colliding particles disordered states are the most probable.

Because there are so many more possible disordered states than ordered ones, a system will almost always be found either in the state of maximum disorder – the macrostate with the greatest number of accessible microstates such as a gas in a box at equilibrium – or moving towards it.

A dynamically ordered state, one with molecules moving "at the same speed and in the same direction", Boltzmann concluded, is thus "the most improbable case conceivable... an infinitely improbable configuration of energy."

'Ludwig Boltzmann'


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“It’s still too early to tell how the debate over ‘increased interdependence’ will turn out,” concluded the Wall Street Journal. “But the concept plainly has far more minuses [disorders] than it seemed to have in the 1960s—and that may require more thought.” As it turns out, the Second Law of Thermodynamics gives us an insight into the situation.

Imagine a cube made of a transparent material whose volume is 250 cubic feet, with 250 compartments filled with liquids of different colors. What happens if we make a pinhole on each side of the compartments? The individual molecules, finding additional degrees of freedom, will start to move around within a larger volume. The entropy of the system will increase. When the entropy of a system increases, so does our ignorance about the system. Before, we knew that a green molecule was in the green compartment. Now it can be in any compartment.

With the passage of time, our ignorance about the system increases as the mixing process goes on. And if the size of the pinhole opening within the compartments should widen, the molecules will find more degrees of freedom to roam around, further increasing our ignorance—uncertainty—about the system.

The same principle applies to world affairs. Suppose those compartments were national boundaries. As barriers between nations begin to fall, each constituent (molecule) finds more degrees of freedom to move around in a larger volume. In our case, the molecules can be anything: people, ideologies, knowledge, religions, raw materials, goods, diseases, chemicals, information (or misinformation), cults, factories, jobs, terrorism, technology, money, food, drugs, or weapons. It is crucial to realize that once physical barriers fall, it becomes a practical impossibility to “control” the types of things that cross national boundaries.

[Jack Hokikian]
'Entropy and Growing Global Interdependence'


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Roughly speaking, you could think about ‘being’ as what is currently, and ‘becoming’ as how that’s going to transform - but its more than how its going to transform, because its also how it should transform.

It seems to me that when you’re wrestling with the fundamental questions of your life, you have to wrestle with both of those propositions: you have to figure out, what it is that’s here and now, and where you are, and what you are; and then you have to figure out what you’re going to do about that. And hypothetically […] it seems that people are generally motivated to attempt to make it better. And so then you have to figure out what constitutes ‘better.’ And that means you’re into the domain of values.

Not only is there an impetus to make it better, there’s also the fact that while you’re trying to make things better, you’re also fighting against entropy itself - the tendency of complex things to fall apart - and so it requires energy to make things better; it even requires energy just to keep things the way they are. So in some sense, life is an uphill battle, because you’re pushing against great forces that act in opposition to your existence.

In some sense, that’s the fundamental basis of existential thinking. The existentialists make the claim that existence itself is a problem, and so that means that in some sense psychopathology is built right in to the nature of human existence, and its partly because we’re limited - and we suffer because of that - [...] and we’re working against forces that are in many ways greater than we are and that are pushing in the opposite direction.

Life is being and becoming, and its also the problem of being and becoming. And that’s what you’re stuck with. It’s useful to know what you’re stuck with, because it stops you from being isolated - because everybody’s also stuck with that - and it also makes you understand that if you have a problem, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you, it’s just that you’re alive - and that’s a problem!

People are inclined to think that life was operating optimally you’d be happy. I think that’s an unreasonable hope in some ways, because life itself is so complicated - because of its fundamental essence - that the idea that you can exist in some optimised state on a constant basis is … well, that’s just not how it is.

When you mature, and become wiser, you have to take into account what the actual limitations are, and then you have to figure out a way that you can exist […] while taking that into account.

[Jordan Peterson]
Jordan Peterson: 22. Psychology & Belief (Conclusion) Personality & Its Transformations


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Related posts:-
Order and Chaos
Lines, Circles, and Spirals 
Exclusion

Centre / Periphery

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Centre                               -                      Periphery
Consolidation                   -                      Exploration
Classicism                        -                      Romanticism
Order                                -                      Chaos
Communal                        -                      Individual
Narrow                             -                      Wide
Monism                             -                      Pluralism
Known                              -                      Unknown
Explicit                              -                      Implicit
Universal                           -                      Relative


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If we are to communicate with one another, and to live communally, then there must always be common ground -  a centre around which we orbit.

The centre is a single point.

As we approach it, experience becomes narrowed. Possibilities are shut off in favour of an increasingly limited number of actualities.

At the centre there is a set way of doing things; rules, standards, and conventions.



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As long as there's conservatism and invisible consensus, there will be avant garde work to outrage it and make it visible.

[Momus]
'Documenta's over, but it just keeps getting better'


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There are many ways that we can frame symbolic patterns, but the frame that I will use most prominently is the geometric symbolism of centre and periphery. I’m going to use that structure because its easy to understand - we encounter it in our bodies, our rituals, our societies; and more abstractly in our language and concepts.

[…] identity, refugees, walls, immigration, technology: all of these things can be understood quite well using the basic frame of centre and periphery.

In general the problem of chaos is the problem of the margin, and whether we see the margin as an exciting potential by which we can further ourselves out into the world, or whether we see it as a dangerous threat to the things we care about.

[Jonathan Pageau]
Symbolism in Guardians of the Galaxy v.2


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I always go to the rough edges, because that’s where you find things that are much more exciting than the structured aspect of the regular parts of a city.

[Tjalf Sparnaay]
Getting Closer’ (documentary)


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[...] the world formed by art is recognised as a reality which is suppressed and distorted in the given reality.

[...] The truth of art lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality (i.e. of those who established it) to define what is real [...] 

Art is committed to that perception of the world which alienates individuals from their functional existence and performance in society - it is committed to an emancipation of sensibility, imagination, and reason in all spheres of subjectivity and objectivity [...] But this achievement presupposes a degree of autonomy which withdraws art from the mystifying power of the given and frees it for the expression of its own truth.

[Herbert Marcuse]
The Aesthetic Dimension


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[Marcuse] values art, as I do, for its power of contradiction, its protest against a narrow definition of reality and the prescription of its forms.

In our time, reality is administered mostly by politics: the function of the arts is the critical interrogation of politics, the questioning of its certitudes.

André Malraux's The Voices of Silence is based on his understanding that 'great artists are not transcribers of the scheme of things; they are its rivals [...] all art is a revolt against man's fate.'

The image of the doomed artist has retained its power because of the association of the artist with transgression, genius, the role of scapegoat, the sacrificial victim. We don’t know what to make of this image.

On the whole, we try to include the artist in the forms of our knowledge, but if he rejects our embrace we know that in some profound sense he is right, he knows he is not really one of us. Art does not confirm the reality we normally think we know and possess.

In fact art is permanently antagonistic to our sense of reality because it makes a space for those images which our sense of reality excludes. 

There is in fact much to be said for bourgeois society even when we insist on degrading it by calling it bourgeois, but artists have rarely wanted to say any of it. One of the aims of modern art and literature has been to escape from the middle class and what Ezra Pound called its ‘accelerated grimace’.

So the arts have appealed to pleasure rather than duty, interrogation rather than conformity; they thrive upon suspicion rather than consensus, the creative speech of poetry rather than the stereotypes of daily life.

In avant-garde art, these gestures of dissociation have sometimes been maintained to the point at which many people can see nothing in them but spiritual terrorism, like the fractured face in a Picasso portrait.

In extreme cases, the gesture amounts to a rage for the absolute, as if nothing could satisfy so long as it remains finite.

The 19th-century artist kept his soul, as far as possible, by withholding assent to official purposes. As the price to be paid for that spiritual privilege, his art emphasised difference rather than continuity of experience; a certain purity of form, only to be achieved by transcending the ordinary world. There is always a risk of weightlessness in his images or in his voice, a suggestion of falsetto. He achieves form as a desperate choice, and we sense everything that has had to be kept out of the picture to make it become what it is.

The artistic vision is in some way ineffable, unspeakable; it deflects every attempt to pin it down by knowledge or to define it in speech. The stories say that art is not to be assimilated to the comfortable ways of a society. 

The artist is an eagle, not a dove.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 13, 15-16, 21, 27, 69


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Let us attempt to see.

[Robert Delaunay]
'Light'


Art is exploration: artists train people how to see.

The artists are the people who articulate the unknown. The role of art in a healthy culture is to bring to public awareness elements of being that have not yet entered the collective consciousness.

Here’s a way of thinking about artistic and creative people from a biological perspective: the world is basically an explored territory, inside an unexplored territory - every world is like that, everywhere you go is like that; there’s things you know, and things you don’t know.

The conservative people like to be in the middle of the things that are known. They can master that space, and are good at maintaining it.

The artists like to be right out on the edge, and that’s the edge between chaos and order. And they like to expand the domain of order out into the chaos. They do that first by transforming perception.

Artists have always been on the frontier of human understanding. The artist bears the same relationship to society that the dream bears to mental life.

The dream is the thing that mediates between order and chaos, it starts to make chaos into order. It’s half chaos, that’s why it’s not comprehensible. Artists play exactly the same role in society: they’re the visionaries that start to transform what we don’t understand into what we can [at least] start to see. They’ve always been at the vanguard, that’s their biological niche. They’re the civilising agents.

Imagine we’re all living on an island, and many of us are in the centre of the island - far enough away so that maybe we can’t see the shoreline, and the ocean. The artists are right on the edge, and they’re expanding the landscape, they’re moving the culture forward into the unknown.

They do that by translating what is as yet unimaginable, but sensed, into what is at least imaginable, and represent it in image, and drama, and literature. That’s the precursor to its full formulation in articulated philosophy and thought.

You can see them doing [it] in cities: it’s the open people, the artists, who go into parts of the cities that have degenerated to some degree back into chaos, and revitalise and recivilise them. [Then] the less artistic people, who are more conventional, move in, and that’s when you get gentrification. That usually chases the artists out, and they go somewhere else cheap and interesting and start the renewal process again.

That’s what artists do [...] They’re problem detectors and problem solvers [...] They’re transforming chaos into order, all of the time. That’s where they live, on that edge. It’s a very tough place to live, because you can fall into the chaos at any time.

[Jordan Peterson]
'July Patreon Q and A' and ‘Lectures: Exploring the Psychology of Creativity


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Structuralist readers are urged to adopt an ironic or sceptical attitude towards whatever they read; they are to know that it is poisoned.

Barthes, in his later work, showed how such readers might behave themselves. They should cultivate caprice and excess, going against the grain of the writing, distrusting its rhetorical figures, reading at their own speed.

In this way they retain some measure of freedom, and break the conspiracy between author, publisher and the economy of the market which has produced the book as a commodity for sale.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 40


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The point has been made that at any given time the overwhelming majority of scientists are not trying to overthrow the prevailing orthodoxy at all but are working happily within it. 

They are not innovating, and they seldom have to choose between competing theories: what they are doing is putting accepted theories to work. This is what has come to be known as 'normal science' [...]

It is true that Popper's writings are somewhat loftily exclusive in their references to the pathbreaking geniuses of science, whose activities his theories most obviously fit. And it is also true that most scientists take for granted, in order to solve problems at a lower level, theories which only a few of their colleagues are questioning.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 41


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For Levinas, the course of Western philosophical tradition is determined from the outset by its ancient Greek heritage.

'Philosophy employs a series of terms and concepts - such as morphe (form), ousia (substance), nous (reason), logos (thought) or telos (goal), etc. - which constitute a specifically Greek lexicon of intelligibility.'

Like Derrida, he sees a systematic relationship or complicity between these terms, since they all point towards a moment of ultimate, self-present truth when reason would grasp the encompassing logic of its own nature and history.

What is intelligible to thinkers in this Greek tradition is whatever lends itself to the various 'totalizing' methods and strategies which thought has devised to maintain its grasp upon an otherwise recalcitrant world.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 231-2


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Such thinking, as Derrida describes it, 'dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign, and ... live the necessity of interpretation as an exile' [...]

The other possibility is that of abandoning such nostalgic ways of thought and accepting that there can henceforth be no limit to the range of strong-willed interpretative options.

[...] To register the force of this critique would be to re-think the notion of 'structure', no longer seeking to limit the play of its differential elements by always referring them back, in the last instance, to some organizing 'centre' or thematic point of origin.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 139


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The biggest problem of explicitness, however, is that it returns us to what we already know.

It reduces a unique experience, person or thing to a bunch of abstracted, therefore central, concepts that we could have found already anywhere else – and indeed had already. Knowing, in the sense of seeing clearly, is always seeing ‘as’ a something already known, and therefore not present but re-presented.

Fruitful ambiguity is forced into being one thing or another.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 180


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What can we be said to owe to romanticism? A great deal.

We owe to romanticism the notion of the freedom of the artist, and the fact that neither he nor human beings in general can be explained by oversimplified views such as were prevalent in the eighteenth century and such as are still enunciated by over-rational and over-scientific analysts either of human beings or of groups.

We also owe to romanticism the notion that a unified answer in human affairs is likely to be ruinous, that if you really believe there is one single solution to all human ills, and that you must impose this solution at no matter what cost, you are likely to become a violent and despotic tyrant in the name of your solution, because you desire to remove all obstacles to it will end by destroying those creatures for whose benefit you offer the solution.

The notion that there are many values, and that they are incompatible; the whole notion of plurality, of inexhaustibility, of the imperfection of all human answers and arrangements; the notion that no single answer which claims to be perfect and true, whether in art or in life, can in principle be perfect and true - all this we owe to the romantics. 

[...] and yet, as a result of making clear the existence of a plurality of values, as a result of driving wedges into the notion of the classical ideal, of the single answer to all questions, of the rationalisability of everything, of the answerability of all questions, of the whole jigsaw-puzzle conception of life, they have given prominence to and laid emphasis upon the incompatibility of human ideals.

But if these ideals are incompatible, then human beings sooner or later realise that they must make do, the must make compromises, because if they seek to destroy others, others will seek to destroy them; and so, as a result of this passionate, fanatical, half-mad doctrine, we arrive at an appreciation of the necessity of tolerating others, the necessity of preserving an imperfect equilibrium in human affairs, the impossibility of driving human beings so far into the pen which we have created for them, or into the single solution which possesses us, that they will ultimately revolt against us, or at any rate be crushed by it.

The result of romanticism, then, is liberalism, toleration, decency and the appreciation of the imperfections of life [...]

[Isaiah Berlin]
The Roots of Romanticism, p. 146-7


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Related posts:-
Status Quo
Middle World
In-between
Shades of gray
Storytelling
Where language ends and art begins
Dancing at the Border
Life and Death (and everything in-between)
Concentrate / Decentrate
Levels of meaning

Shadow


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Marty: Do you wonder, ever, if you're a bad man?

Rust: No. I don't wonder, Marty. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

Dialogue from True Detective


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There is a phrase which you sometimes come across in country districts even nowadays, which sums up a good deal of what he might have tried to say. Farmers use it in Ireland, as praise or compliment, saying, "So-and-so has a Word. He will do what he promised."

Lancelot tried to have a Word. He considered it, as the ignorant country people still consider it, to be the most valuable of possessions.

But the curious thing was that under the king-post of keeping faith with himself and with others, he had a contradictory nature which was far from holy. His Word was valuable to him not only because he was good, but also because he was bad. It is the bad people who need to have principles to restrain them. For one thing, he liked to hurt people. It was for the strange reason that he was cruel, that the poor fellow never killed a man who asked for mercy, or committed a cruel action which he could have prevented. One reason why he fell in love with Guenever was because the first thing he had done was to hurt her. He might never have noticed her as a person, if he had not seen the pain in her eyes.

People have odd reasons for ending up as saints. A man who was not afflicted by ambitions of decency in his mind might simply have run away with his hero's wife, and then perhaps the tragedy of Arthur would never have happened. An ordinary fellow, who did not spend half his life torturing himself by trying to discover what was right so as to conquer his inclination towards what was wrong, might have cut the knot which brought their ruin.

[T.H. White]
The Once and Future King, p. 365


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'Jenny, all my life I have wanted to do miracles. I have wanted to be holy. I suppose it was ambition or pride or some other unworthy thing. It was not enough for me to conquer the world—I wanted to conquer heaven too. I was so grasping that it was not enough to be the strongest knight—I had to be the best as well. That is the worst of making day-dreams. It is why I tried to keep away from you. I knew that if I was not pure, I could never do miracles. And I did do a miracle, too: a splendid one. I got a girl out of some boiling water, who was enchanted into it. She was called Elaine. Then I lost my power. Now that we are together, I shall never be able to do my miracles any more.'

He did not like to tell her the full truth about Elaine, for he thought that it would hurt her feelings to know that he had come to her as the second.

'Why not?'

'Because we are wicked.'

'Personally I have never done a miracle,' said the Queen, rather coldly. 'So I have less to regret.'

'But, Jenny, I am not regretting anything. You are my miracle, and I would throw them overboard all over again for the sake of you. I was only trying to tell you about the things I felt when I was small.'

'Well, I can't say I understand.'

'Can't you understand wanting to be good at things? No, I can see that you would not have to. It is only people who are lacking, or bad, or inferior, who have to be good at things. You have always been full and perfect, so you had nothing to make up for. But I have always been making up. I feel dreadful sometimes, even now, with you, when I know that I can't be the best knight any longer.'

[T.H. White]
The Once and Future King, p. 414


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Aberforth Dumbledore: On the night Lord Voldemort went to Godric's Hollow to kill Harry, and Lily Potter cast herself between them, the curse rebounded. When that happened, a part of Voldemort's soul lached itself onto the only living thing it could find. Harry himself.

There's a reason Harry can speak with snakes. There's a reason he can look into Lord Voldemort's mind. A part of Voldemort lives inside him.

Dialogue from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2'


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[Harry Potter] is kind of an interesting character, because he’s not really good; and we find out that’s because [he has a piece of Voldemort] in him.

What that means is that to be good, truly good […] you have to be able to understand malevolence. And in order to be able to understand malevolence so that you can withstand it, you have to understand that part of you that’s malevolent. Because if you don’t, you’re naive. And if you’re naive, you’re easy pickings.

That’s a Jungian idea, that part of personality development is to understand your shadow. The shadow is those things about you that you do not want to admit to.

I think that you cannot have proper respect for yourself until you know that you’re a monster. Because you won’t act carefully enough if you think, “I’m a nice person, I’d never do anyone any harm.” You’re no saint, you can be sure of that, and the harm that you can do people can come in many, many ways. And so, if you regard yourself as harmless, inoffensive, nice … well, why do you have any reason to be careful? You’re like a teddy bear sitting on a shelf; even if you throw it at someone, no-one’s going to get hurt. But that isn’t what you’re like, because you’re a human being; and human beings are vicious creatures. And there’s utility in knowing that.

What’s interesting about [Harry Potter] is that he’s touched by evil. And that means that he’s an embodiment of what Jung would regard as someone who’s integrated the shadow. And without that capacity he isn’t able to communicate, say, with snakes. And that’s not so good because, since there are snakes, its not such a bad idea to know how to communicate with them.

[...] Harry could stand up against Voldemort and understand him and speak his language, because he was infected by him to some degree.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
2017 Personality 02/03: Historical & Mythological Context’ and
2017 Maps of Meaning 7: Images of Story & Metastory


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Related posts:-
Casting a Shadow
Evil and Us
See No Evil
In-between

Here be dragons


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Local parasite types and hosts defense systems will typically be involved in a co‐evolutionary arms race, and so at any given time a host's immunological defenses will be specialized to be most effective against local parasite species.

To the extent that a host defense system is specialized locally, contact with out‐groups will be associated with an increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases against which there is no a priori immunity. 

The relevant infection‐avoiding behaviors such as avoidance of strangers and high conscientiousness in, for example, food preparation, are assumed to arise from the operation of a “behavioral immune system.”


[Gordon D. A. Brown, Corey L. Fincher, and Lukasz Walasek]
'Personality, Parasites, Political Attitudes, and Cooperation: A Model of How Infection Prevalence Influences Openness and Social Group Formation'


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Within the psychological sciences, there is extensive research linking the behavioral immune system to a variety of prejudices—including prejudices against people who aren't actually diseased but are simply characterized by some sort of visual characteristics that deviate from those of a subjectively prototypical human being.

The disease–avoidant processes that characterize the behavioral immune system have been shown to contribute to prejudices against obese individuals, elderly individuals, and people with physical disfigurements or disabilities.

In addition, the behavioral immune system appears to contribute to xenophobia and ethnocentrism. 

One implication is that these prejudices tend to be exaggerated under conditions in which people feel especially vulnerable to the potential transmission of infectious diseases.

'Behavioural immune system'


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Related posts:-
Exclusion

A necessary lie

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Nihilist                     -                    Totalitarian
Enlightenment         -                    Romanticism
Pragmatist                -                    Realist
Relative                    -                   Absolute 
Complex                  -                    Simple
Poly                          -                    Mono
Centrifugal               -                    Centripetal
Destruction               -                    Conservation
Flawed                      -                    Perfect
Relative                     -                    Absolute
Figurative                  -                    Literal
Liquid                        -                    Solid
Earth                          -                    Heaven


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All things are so very uncertain. And that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.

[Too-Ticky]
Moominland Midwinter


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We must build structures and believe in them - believe that they are solid, real, and 'true' - yet at the same time we must also be aware that they are transitory, illusory, and - in the the last - only 'true-enough'.

This dilemma has been referred to as 'the Divine Paradox': we must act as if things are absolute, whilst knowing that they are, in fact, only relative. We must play a game, and believe in it enough to play it well; whilst never forgetting that it is, when all is said and done, only a game.

If we believe too much in the solidity of things then we become dogmatic, fundamentalist, totalitarian; we stiffen up, all of our pores close, and we become unable to tolerate - let alone assimilate - new information. We believe in one meaning, one God, and to hell with all the others. We become as certain as statues, rooted and immobile.

Totalitarianism can be characterised by a pathological need to conserve, or hold-together.

If we believe too little then we become skeptical, pessimistic, nihilstic - we become formless, because all form is a lie. Nothing can stick to us, or even touch us. We believe in no meanings, no God (or gods), and to hell with everyone.We become as uncertain as the breeze, unable to connect to anyone, or anything.

Nihilism can be characterised by a pathological need to destroy, or break-apart.

Beneath our structures lies an endless sea of complexity. It is the place from which all structures emerge, and into which all structures return. To glimpse this complexity can cause us intolerable anxiety, and so we may choose to shelter within the safety of our sanctuary and avoid looking outside.

But sometimes a wave comes crashing over our walls, and bursts through our doors, and we're faced with a decision: sink or swim?

Realism is a way station on the route to totalitarianism. The realist insists that there are 'truths' out there; that they stand like monoliths, strong, tall and indifferent to what we may think of them. The realist understands the danger of the sea, but believes that there is such a thing as solid ground, and that if we are diligent enough we can map out these dry places, and live upon them; and moreso, that if only we can build our structures well enough - seal up all openings and make them watertight - that we need never fear the crashing waves or the monsters of the deep. The realist likes dry places, and strong walls.

Pragmatism is a way station on the line to nihilism. Whilst the pragmatist may value his structures, he always has an ear tuned to the sea that roils and roars beyond his boundaries. He does not literalize his structures, believing that even the most impressive monument is, in the last, no more than a castle made of sand. He does not, therefore, believe in objective truths, preferring instead to think of truth as a subjective agreement; as the point of overlap between multiple views. The pragmatist likes damp places, and permeable boundaries.

The realist chooses to believe that there is a wizard, and that he is all-powerful and in control, whereas the pragmatist pulls aside the curtain and reveals the necessary lie - that the wizard is only human, that he has little power; and that what power there is, lies within all of us; and that what sanctuary there is, exists because we create it.

And so here is the tightrope on which we find ourselves: we cannot live in the sea, and so must build our structures, and to build them well we must, to a degree, believe in what we are doing - after all, those that play the game best are those to whom it isn't 'just a game.' Yet we must also never lose sight of the fact that we are, in the last, only playing; we must never take ourselves, or our creations, too seriously.

But is it possible to believe in the wizard once his secret has been revealed? Perhaps the secret, like all esoteric knowledge, is only intended for certain ears.


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The neo-Freudian cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker […] believed that the emergence of self-consciousness rendered the individual’s existential position in the world permanently intolerable.

The individual aware of his or her mortal limitation has to hide from reality:

“I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man’s condition would drive him insane are right, quite literally right.... Who wants to face up fully to the creatures that we are, clawing and gasping for breath in a universe beyond our ken? ... Everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.”

Becker therefore presumed that human character was of necessity a “vital lie ... a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation” […]

[…] Becker realized that there was something pathological about such “necessary” and “inevitable” dishonesty; knew that the trivialization of reality came at the cost of dignity and self-respect. He believed that too much exposure to reality produced an intolerable chaos, that too little produced a narrow and unbearable restriction, and that the middle ground constituted a form of far-from-admirable but perhaps necessary “philistinism” [...]

Becker was therefore finally sceptical of the benefits of psychotherapy, in general (“psychology as self-knowledge is self-deception, because it does not give what men want, which is immortality. Nothing could be plainer”) [...]

This sophisticated neo-psychoanalyst saw the world, finally, as a place of existential catastrophe, from which human beings are protected by a shield of religious and ideological delusion – the delusion being first that life has some transcendent and ultimate value and second that human beings, qualitatively different from mere animals, somehow partake in that value.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 429-30


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Our lack of "essence" or preordained structure, our "nothingness," leads us to crave solidity. We are, you could say, whirlwinds who wish they were rocks.

We cling to things in the hopes that they will provide us with a certain "weight." We try to turn our loved ones into things by demanding that they not change, or we try to change them into perfect partners, not realizing that a statue, though it may live forever, has no love to give us.

[C. George Boeree]
'Towards a Buddhist Psychotherapy'


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While to THE INFINITE ALL, the Universe, its Laws, its Powers, its Life, its Phenomena, are as things witnessed in the state of Meditation or Dream; yet to all that is Finite, the Universe must be treated as Real, and life, and action, and thought, must be based thereupon, accordingly, although with an ever understanding of the Higher Truth.

Under any hypothesis the Universe in its outer aspect is changing, ever-flowing, and transitory — and therefore devoid of substantiality and reality.

But (note the other pole of the truth) under any of the same hypotheses, we are compelled to act and live as if the fleeting things were real and substantial.

Were THE ALL to imagine that the Universe were indeed Reality, then woe to the Universe, for there would be then no escape from lower to higher, divineward–then would the Universe become a fixity and progress would become impossible.

And if Man, owing to half-wisdom, acts and lives and thinks of the Universe as merely a dream (akin to his own finite dreams) then indeed does it so become for him, and like a sleep-walker he stumbles ever around and around in a circle, making no progress, and being forced into an awakening at last by his falling bruised and bleeding over the Natural Laws which he ignored.

Keep your mind ever on the Star, but let your eyes watch over your footsteps, lest you fall into the mire by reason of your upward gaze.

Remember the Divine Paradox, that while the Universe IS NOT, still IT IS. Remember ever the Two Poles of Truth– the Absolute and the Relative. Beware of Half-Truths

The Kybalion, Chapter VI: "The Divine Paradox"


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Humans are often caught off guard by or slow to recognize the rare and novel, partly because built into the very nature of our experience is the propensity to extend existing knowledge and experience to future events and experiences.

To exacerbate this natural propensity much of our cultural education both formal and otherwise is built upon historical knowledge forced on us by others. Of course both the natural physiological propensity and the cultural phenomenon are somewhat a necessary precondition to learning, since complete openness to every event would be inefficient. Bertrand Russell observed, "An open mind is an empty mind."

So we cannot be completely open, but we must guard against being completely closed as well.

It would be most efficacious if we could find a balance between the known and unknown and the limits of our knowledge and experience. The effect of unexpected events is likely integral to finding this balance. Thus, the rare and unexpected is far more significant to our formation of knowledge than people often imagine.

Taleb argues that the proposition "we know", in many cases, is an illusion, albeit a necessary one; the human mind tends to think it knows, but it does not always have a solid basis for this delusion of "I know". 

This notion that we do not know is very old, dated at least as far back as Socrates. The Socratic method of questioning and avowal of ignorance is the type of corrective action to the delusion that we know something completely and truly.

Similarly, to those who might argue that the advancement of science has rendered the world well-known, Taleb argues that while science added knowledge, we always run the risk of experiencing the improbable, rare, and novel. We can be shocked by this knowledge and experience or we can be open to it. As with the dictum of Socrates, "the only thing I know is that I do not know", which is as true as ever, Taleb concludes. Taleb further expands this idea of finite knowable worlds (e.g., a game) vs. infinite and thus unknowable worlds (our natural world) in what he calls the Ludic fallacy.

'The Black Swan (Taleb book)'


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The main damaging movement away from the soul's double nature Adler calls "the masculine protest," the need to win, to come out on top. He also called this the "striving for perfection" or "superiority."

The psyche constructs; it invents images and the mind follows them as its guides; "guiding fictions," Adler calls them.

So, perfection is a necessary fiction, pragmatically necessary just as truth is "merely the most expedient error." 

When we realize the goal of perfection toward which we strive as an impossibility in every objective and literal sense, then we are also able to recognize how necessary is this fictional perfection.

Goals are thrown up by the psyche as bait to catch the living fish, fictions to instigate and guide action. As Jung said, "A spiritual goal that points beyond ... is an absolute necessity for the health of the soul."

One feels purposefulness, that there is a way and one is moving on a way, a process of towardness, called by Adler striving for perfection, by Jung individuation.

We can keep this way moving only by keeping purposefulness from becoming literalized into definite goals.

Goals, especially the highest and finest, work like overvalued ideas, the roots of delusions that nourish great canopies of sheltering paranoia, those spreading ideals of size and import which characterize the positive goals of so many schools of therapy today.

We see enough of the disastrous effect of goals in daily life, where the belief in an overriding idea about one's purpose in life, what one has to do, the raison d'etre for one's existence turns out to be the very goal which blocks the way.

'To be healed' is the goal which takes one into therapy, and we are healed of that goal when we recognize it as a fiction.

So the best psychotherapy can do is attune the fictional sense. Then the goals toward which therapy strives - maturity, completion, wholeness, actualization - can be seen through as guiding fictions. Then they do not close the way.

Therapy becomes less a support of the "great upward drive" than it is a job of deliteralizing the fictions in which purpose is fixed and where one is actually defending oneself against the soul's innate 'towardness' by means of one's goals.

This suggests that the only possible perfection that the soul can want is perfection of its fictional understanding, the realization of itself in images, itself a fiction among fictions.

This method of as-if keeps the way open, and it seems to be where the Adlerian approach comes closest to the religious idea that the final goal is the way itself, in this case, the way of fiction.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.103-6


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The normal person, says Adler, takes guiding principles and goals, metaphorically, with the sense of 'as if.'"To him they are a figure of speech," heuristic, practical constructs.

"The neurotic, however, catches at the straw of fiction, hypostasizes it, ascribes to it a real value." Finally, "in the psychoses, it is elevated to a dogma."  

What makes madness is literalism.

To be sane we must recognize our beliefs as fictions, and see through our hypotheses as fantasies.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.111


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Healing, and cure, positive and negative, ego and the unconscious, matriarchy and stages of development, are not literal 'reals,' but heuristic fictions or fantasies which must be recognized as such if psychotherapy is to keep connected with what Giegerich calls "the neurosis of our own discipline."

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.113


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Any idiot can look at the world and see that it is fragmented, that a lot things don’t seem to fit together or make sense, and that in a diverse world with diverse cultures there are diverse beliefs and multiple framing-stories that people have used to make sense of it all.

Religion in general is a way of framing the diversity and fragmentation of the world into a larger meta-narrative that helps us human beings to cope and make sense of it all. Religion exists in order to make order out of chaos and help us find connective meaning to our lives - connective meaning that we are connecting to something larger, more meaningful, more real.

The crisis of belief comes when you think you are only part of a smaller framing-story that doesn’t make sense of reality and then life becomes meaningless because the story can’t hold the whole. That’s when existentialism comes in (if I feel, that at least gives me meaning) or the will-to-power (if I take control, at least I can give some meaning to my life.)

So that’s why I love deconstructionism. Deconstructionism allows us to see what the framing stories are in our life, how they have helped us make sense of our lives, and where they came from. It shows us the provincial nature of our world-view (geographically, experientially, culturally, philosophically) and shows us that other people have other stories that make sense of similar realities differently. It’s like comparative religious studies on a personal, cultural level.

[...] decontructionism allows us to see our beliefs for what they are, for their reach, and for whether or not they make sense of the real realities we face. They allow us to compare our framing-stories to see which ones make more sense.

 From blog 'Embarking'


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[...] Derrida operates with two different metaphors of the postal system, corresponding to two different 'epochs' in the relation of language and truth.

On the one hand is the legalized channel of regular exchange where messages are sent 'under proper signature to the proper recipient'. This network is policed and maintained by the same laws that guarantee the truth of self-present meaning, the rules of correct interpretation and the 'restricted economy' of language in general.

But there is another, more liberating aspect of 'the post' where the system - as Derrida puts it - appears to 'take a leap' and suggest what possibilities might be opened up if those rules were perceived as mere normative conventions.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 192-3


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Hillman's point that we need to keep the hermeneutical options open is well taken - however, humans are "in fact" limited by and to space, time, matter, culture and their "heroic egos," requiring at least provisionally solid solutions and practical guidance for a given situation.

Jung made it clear that he counseled two kinds of people: those who needed solid factual steps to resolve a pressing problem, and those who were in touch with the Collective Unconscious and capable of dialoguing with the imaginal realm.

Not everyone is adept at "psychologizing". It would seem that a truly polytheistic methodology could make room for the literalists among us.

The fact is that many if not most polytheists view their deities as literally existing in some way. Hillman places much of the blame for literalism on monotheism. He critiques Kant's "categorical monotheistic mind", but we need to recognize that such a mind is as much a part of the human psyche as are the erratic polytheistic Gods of "Orphic and Neoplatonic mythology."

[Michael Bogar]
'James Hillman: Postmodern Romantic Reductionist, and Trickster'


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Like Rorty, McDowell emphasizes that we cannot get outside our particular perspectives or worldviews. But unlike Rorty, he does not conclude that this means we must give up our notions of truth and objectivity altogether.

To preserve a distinction between a truth that consists of consensus and a truth that consists in getting things objectively right, McDowell argues, "is not to try to think from outside our practices; it is simply to take it seriously that we can really mean what we say from within those practices."

Indeed, he asks, what would it mean to have a worldview if, à la Rorty, we avoid the idea that our statements are true in light of the way the world is in our view of it?

But though Rée, as a Gadamer scholar, thinks Rorty's philosophical stance may be unimpeachable, he is not sure that humankind can master its own future the way Rorty seems to believe.

"One possible picture of metaphysics," he explains, "is that it's rooted not in the studies we make as students but in the ways we try to make sense of ourselves starting from earliest infancy. Our notions may not withstand a Rortyan scrutiny—they may not be not justified in any way.

But nevertheless they're not arbitrary. We've grown to be the people we are because of them. It's more than a matter of will that we came by them, and it's more than a matter of will to change them."

[James Ryerson]
'The Quest for Uncertainty: Richard Rorty's pragmatic pilgrimage'


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Despite his respect for the honourable business of the search for clarity, Wittgenstein was wary of the false clarity that scientific thinking, and sometimes the mere business of formulation in language, brings.

I referred earlier to the way in which language's particular contribution to thought is to give it clarity and solidity: as his disciple Friedrich Waismann saw, speaking of the mind's own processes, a psychological motive ‘thickens, hardens, and takes shape, as it were, only after we express it in words’.

We need to struggle towards objectivity, and yet the reality we aim to reveal is itself not precise, so that the artificial precision of our language betrays us.

[...] things as they exist in practice in the real world, rather than as they exist in theory in our representations, are likely to be intrinsically resistant to precision and clarification. That is not our failure, but an indication of the nature of what we are dealing with.

That does not mean we should give up the attempt. It is the striving that enables us to achieve a better understanding, but only as long as it is imbued with a tactful recognition of the limits to human understanding. The rest is hubris.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 157, 461


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The Enlightenment supposed that there was a closed, perfect pattern of life [...]

There was some particular form of life and of art, and of feeling and of thought, which was correct, which was right, which was true and objective and could be taught to people if only we knew enough.

There was some kind of solution to our problems, and only if we could construct a structure which accorded with the solution and then proceed to fit ourselves, to put it crudely, into the structure, we should obtain answers both to problems of thought and to problems of action.

But if this is not so, if ex hypothesi the universe is in movement and not at rest, if it is a form of activity and not a lump of stuff, if it is infinite and not finite, if it is constantly varying and never still, never the same [...] how can we possibly even try to describe it?

When we try to describe the light we can describe it accurately only by putting it out. Therefore do not let us attempt to describe it. But you cannot not attempt to describe it, because that means to stop expressing, and to stop expressing is to stop living.

[...] to live is to do something, to do is to express your nature. To express your nature is to express your relation to the universe. Your relation to the universe is inexpressible, but you must nevertheless express it. 

This is the agony, this is the problem.

[Isaiah Berlin]
The Roots of Romanticism, p. 105


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If you look at your face in the mirror, all you see is skin, hair and eyes. But you know first hand what you can’t see - your love of music, your hopes, your fears, your aspirations. All of your conscious experiences, that huge rich world that’s the real you - you can’t see that. It’s hidden behind this simple interface symbol that we call a face.

When I look at my cat […] I believe that there is a consciousness I’m interacting with [but] all I see is this furry cute face. When we get down to a rat it’s even worse, and an ant - now my interface is giving me very little insight, but for all I know the consciousness I’m interacting with is very rich.

[At some point] my interface has to give up. I have a finite number of resources in my interface, [and there] is an infinite realm of consciousness out there, so I have to simplify. And then I simplify things to the point where I see nothing conscious there at all, and then I say ‘that’s the fundamental reality.’

We mistake the limits of our interface for a fundamental nature of reality.

We have to take our perceptions seriously. I don’t want to step in front of a bus [so] I take [the bus] very seriously - but I don’t take it literally. 

From an evolutionary point of view this makes sense. Evolution shaped us with symbols designed to keep you alive, you have to take them seriously [...] but that doesn’t entitle us to take them literally.

[Donald Hoffman]
'Reality is Not As It Seems'


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