'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

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'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

Post by Lúthien » Fri Sep 02, 2016 3:15 am

I've written the below as a somewhat under-the-radar article to publish on Medium.com. My hope is that if it's annoying people, and at least starting out without any specific reference to what could be perceived as "preaching", it just might capture their attention long enough for some of it to stick in some minds.
Maybe it's way too long now. I've at east put everything in it that I wanted to say :) If you have the time, could you maybe read it and let me know your thoughts?

I've borrowed phrases from many people: Lance Owens, Stephan Hoeller, Miguel Conner and probably others. If you think I should mention that let me know: they're too short to be complete quotes. I'm unsure where the division lies.



Title: Amnesia
In the beginning, you knew.
Then you pretended to forget.
Then you pretended to forget you forgot.
Then you forgot you pretended.

Remember? ('Amnesia', Neal Rogin)
Here's a question for you: what do the following two statements have in common (apart from that they're both nonsense)?

(1) “Gay marriage is an abomination because that's what the Bible / the Koran / {some other holy book} says."

(2) “Religious people are hopping mad because they believe stuff that doesn't exist."

I wonder if anyone would answer: "Both assume that a religion's tenets are statements about objective facts".
It’s a truism: something taken so much for granted that it's overlooked.
Not just by religious fundamentalists and hard-boiled skeptics, but by practically everyone in the western world. Maybe even in the rest of the world as well by now, though it might not be so universal there yet.
Even new-age airheads think like that, though they tend to be so nebulous in their terminology that it might not be obvious. However, a brief look at the shamelessly materialistic 'The Secret' should quickly settle that.

Indeed, how could it be anything else?
After all: if something's not about objective facts, it can only be about imagined things.
Fantasy. Fairy-tales. Things to amuse small children with maybe, but for all other purposes it's the garbage bin of reality. Surely nobody in their right mind would consider that an alternative!
Take this immensely popular tv-show that resembles fantasy in its paraphernalia (swords, dragons, a medieval-ish setting) but that prides itself by word of the author and many fans to be 'based on historical fact'. Not only has our spirituality become materialistic: even our Fantasy needs to be based on facts to be taken seriously (this is how people literally phrase it). This is not just silly: it's colossally, unforgivably stupid, because we're throwing the best part of ourselves away.

If you're still reading, you might want to know why. Fair enough: I suppose I'm making a pretty bold statement there. If I would have read this post myself, say ten years ago, it wouldn't have changed my views just like that either.
Still, I'm not going to supply proof, because it doesn't work that way (I hope that's sufficiently self-evident). I'm not going to discuss it, either.
The only thing that works with this sort of thing is to experience it yourself; and yes, I certainly hope to have increased the odds (no matter how small) of that happening to someone reading this. But discussing is the quickest way to shove the whole matter into the maw of the analytical cut & slice picking-apart machinery. There won’t be anything left over to experience afterwards.

I've indeed reason to think there's a hell of a lot more to fantasy and imagination. I just want to mention a couple of things I've come across, and some thoughts that I've had about the matter in the past few years. Read it if you like. If not, fine.
If you do, I hope that it will encourage you to think about it again.

Those small children I mentioned above don't distinguish facts from imagination so sharply. They only learn to make that distinction as they grow older.
But at the same time, they also learn to identify the first as 'true' and the second one as 'false'. I think this is the stinker: we take it for granted that with the capacity to tell imagination and facts apart, automatically comes designating the one as false and the other as true.
Well, here's a little thought experiment.
What if this ain't necessarily so?
What if 'something imagined' isn't by definition a falsehood?
What if people would take their imaginative faculties more seriously?
This would have some rather far-reaching and interesting consequences.
For instance: if spiritual truths could be formulated within the imaginative (or 'imaginal') domain without losing their significance, religions wouldn't need to claim their core narratives are necessarily about objective facts. Neither would sceptics feel pressed to challenge their claims.
There would be little incentive for conflicts fuelled by religious notions: while people are more than willing to spill blood over matters of faith, I've yet to hear about the first case of people who get violent over their favourite work of art.

The genre of literary fantasy wouldn't be looked down upon by mainstream literature and children wouldn't be told to 'stop imagining things' but rather to develop their imaginative talents.
There's no telling what that might eventually result in, but I've got a hunch that it wouldn't be half bad if adults wouldn't have to go through life with atrophied imaginal faculties (for an interesting background, do read Neil Gaiman's 2013 article in The Guardian <- link)

But most importantly: I'm convinced that it would be much more psychologically healthy if people could freely integrate that part of their selves that is now often suppressed.

You'd almost wonder what's keeping everyone.

Well, for instance, this: a hundred and fifty years of technological progress has pampered us with so many marvels that we've come to equate the domain that science and technology operates in - that of rationality and falsifiable facts - with the domain of human experiences, of 'everything that matters'. This, together with the (regrettable) human tendency to elevate useful thought patterns to The Only Road to Truth, automatically reduces 'everything else' to a falsehood.
In roughly the same time frame, mass media consumption has all but deadened our imagination with its force-fed diet of pre-digested amusement.

So, hasn't it always been a self-evident, completely obvious characteristic of, at one hand, facts observed in the outward world, and our imagination on the other, that every sensible person inevitably comes to the conclusion that one is fundamentally 'false' and the other one 'true'?

No, it hasn't. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, people accepted an intersecting, transcendent 'otherness' as part of nature and the background of life. Human experiences connected with this unseen part of reality weren't necessarily invalid.
For one thing, in that worldview, 'magic' was not necessarily about causing explosions (cf. Monty Python's Tim the Enchanter), jinxing broomsticks to do your chores (Mickey Mouse in 'Fantasia') or turning people into toads. The word 'magic' originally meant 'the great work', and its task was 'to enlarge the soul': to open it up to the imagination. There's still an echo of the original meaning in "being enchanted" and even in the word "magic" when used as an adjective.

This was not borderline frivolous entertainment. It was serious business, not something to be messed around with. Modern consensus worldview has locked out that dimension because it considers it superstition of unenlightened people.
But I'm not so sure of that! I've always thought it highly unlikely that all those people would have been crazy or delusional. They certainly weren't less smart than we are on average, even though they were probably less educated. You could also say that they were also less brain-washed: they didn't suffer from that modern cultural blind spot that prevents you and me seeing things that they found entirely obvious.

Of course, people still find out occasionally that there's more to the imagination as they thought. Inspired by someone else maybe, or by things they read, or because they accidentally and unexpectedly stumble upon 'the hidden path that runs East of the Sun, West of the Moon' when seriously engaging their imaginative faculty for some creative purpose.
This cultural blind spot can make it a hell of a lot more difficult to find it. It can make it very hard to understand what is going on and make it practically impossible to talk openly about afterwards. But it can't stop people having those experiences.

Two examples in particular come to mind of people who have had unusually intense encounters with that imaginative realm: Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung and British philologist & author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Both men have stated that their life's work was based on the experiences they had during these encounters (for Jung, this period started in 1913, for Tolkien in 1916; for both lasting about a decade). Both repeatedly stated to have experienced that imaginative realm as having an independent existence: whatever came to them in these encounters always had the character of finding out, of discovering as opposed to making up. Both also were keenly aware that they couldn't be all too open about these things for the sake of their academic reputations: Jung's Red Book - the journal kept from those encounters - was locked in a Swiss safe until 50 years after his death. Tolkien, being able to work this material into fantasy fiction, was somewhat more free; but he only spoke openly about the way he experienced his creative process as a venture into an autonomous realm in some of his letters and towards close friends like C.S. Lewis.

Both found that there's a great deal more to this imaginal realm than a re-shuffling of existing memories it is generally taken for. Instead they found a complex, timeless 'inner universe', at least as large and rich as the outward world. Or larger even: both also noted that the inward universe contains or even produces the outward one. And lastly: they both found that it is impossible to define or explain this realm in terms we use for the factual, outward reality.
Tolkien: "I will not attempt to define it. It cannot be done; Faery cannot be caught in a net of words. It is one of its qualities to be indescribable, yet it is not imperceptible."
("On Fairy-Stories")
From my own experience I'd say that the outer and inner reality feel somehow orthogonal towards one another*: from the outward point of view, the inner, imaginal realm looks unreal, non-existent. But the opposite holds as well: seen from the imaginal point of view, the outward world appears strangely flimsy and transient.

Just to make sure: I'm not talking about things like day-dreaming or any old creative activity like drawing Batman or a bouquet of flowers. While I'm convinced that we can all access that realm in principle, it is difficult in practice. It takes a sustained effort to really enter deep into your imagination in the first place. And even if that's accomplished, many would assume that whatever presents itself is merely a fabrication of their own mind, a re-arrangement of earlier memories or what have you. Some might not notice anything at all. And some might notice too much, become afraid and turn back: it's not always 'nice' what's found there (Tolkien didn't call it 'the Perilous Realm for nothing). Or, if you're prone to have psychoses you might get lost, unable to find your way back.
It's tight-rope walking, balancing rational scepticism against its knee-jerk rejection: go a little bit too far left and nothing happens, go a bit too far right and lose yourself.

Do I really believe all that? No, I don't. 'Believing' is assuming something to be true on some form of imperative. This isn't about belief at all. My rational self is still trying to undermine it (in vain) and I'll be the first to admit that there's absolutely no way that I can prove any of this to be true. Maybe it's just a delusion, though I cannot prove that either.
But you know? It doesn't make any difference anyhow. The experience is. I've decided to take the "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" approach: if I can continue to function as always, I'm not crazy. If these experiences add to my well-being and enrich my life, if they make me feel more whole, they are 'true' in every sense of the word. The (very) few others whom I've found who had similar experiences only confirm that.

I don't need to believe in it, just as I don't believe in Debussy's music or chocolate or the Sun. I know they're out there, I know they're real. Rationality will have to learn to deal with that.
Nor does anyone else need to. Trying to convince (or convert) anyone merely replaces one belief with another, one 'dead system' with another. It doesn't matter whether these 'dead systems' are rational or religious in nature. They are above all else 'dead', ever since they were cut loose from their original experiences, censored, dumbed-down, turned into dogma and rubber-stamped to serve whatever political purpose might need it.

We're all captives of one or more of these dead systems. It's probably how the human mind works, with its strong inclination to form groups of like-minded others, preferably having an authority telling you what to think and to believe in.
The rational one that's currently dominating (and blinding) most of the western world; the one that I'm writing about, has been called 'the Great Artefact'. But there are others out there of a religious nature: fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Christianity - from inside one the others appear like absolute evil. They have much in common though, much more than they'll admit **.
We're captives until we dare, as heretics, to challenge the system's dominion:
(...) free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
(-- 'Mythopoeia', JRR Tolkien)
It's dangerous business. Sure, under the Great Artefact you don't risk the kind of sanctions that some religious systems have traditionally been so keen on. Instead, you're branded as delusional. I wonder which one is more effective to keep the inmates in? Consider that old critique of fantasy literature, that it should be rejected because it is 'escapist' - to which Tolkien answered that the ones opposing escaping can only be those with a vested interest in keeping you inside: jailers, the police, etcetera.

We're captives because of our inclination to subjugate our individuality. But we can also be free; and the imagination is the way by which we can break free from this captivity. That's why I think it's well worth to cultivate a bit more respect for the imagination and to rehabilitate fantasy and fairy-tales as stories about an essential part of the human condition. Of course it won't work to tell religions to stop acting as if they're into some weird kind of mock science where you're not supposed to falsify the theories. It wouldn't be fair either, because their true domain has been trivialized away so thoroughly that even some Fantasy authors refuse to go there. There should first be some sort of alternative available.

There's a very striking passage in Carl Jung's Red Book, where he meets the semi-divine giant Izdubar (Gilgamesh). When they talk, Jung's reason and intellect unintentionally and tragically wounds Izdubar mortally, whose essence is the visionary, the magical and the imaginative.
Jung is extremely distraught and tries to find a way to save Izdubar. But in order to do that he must take Izdubar to a place where they can find help - which is impossible because there's no way he can carry the giant. Eventually he realizes that if he can convince Izdubar that he's a fantasy, he'll become light enough for Jung to carry him, and that's indeed what happens:
I: "My prince, Powerful One, listen: a thought came to me that might save us. I think that you are not at all real, but only a fantasy."
Izdubar: "I am terrified by this thought. It is murderous. Do you even mean to declare me unreal, now that you have lamed me so pitifully?"
I: "Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough, and have spoken too much in the language of the Western lands. I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy: If you could accept this, much would be gained."
Izdubar: "What would be gained by this? You are a tormenting devil."
I: "Pitiful one, I will not torment you. The hand of the doctor does not seek to torment even if it causes grief. Can you really not accept that you are a fantasy?"
Izdubar: "Woe betide me! In what magic do you want to entangle me? Should it help me if I take myself for a fantasy?"
I: "You know that the name one bears means a lot. You also know that one often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with the new name, they come by a new essence. Your name is your essence."
Izdubar: "You are right, our priests also say this."
I: "So are you prepared to admit that you are a fantasy?"
Izdubar: "If it helps - yes."
Unless you're completely happy under the Great Artefact's dominion, where spirituality and even fantasy itself are razed down to ugly facts; where people have all but forgotten how their soul once had wings to fly, numbed as they are by the continuous barrage of machine-produced counterfeit entertainment, requiring ever stronger titillation to stimulate their deadened senses and prevent death from sheer boredom: unless you think that's the bee's knees, you better crank up the old imagination, hoping there's still some life left in here.

I sincerely hope this has been of some use to someone. I wish that I could share even a tiny bit of the wordless awe and wonder that I've found out there (yes, I know it sounds cheesy. It's also borrowed from the movie 'Contact', the scene where Ellie Arroway testifies before a committee, after having made a trip through a wormhole and chatting with an alien - all without a shred of evidence. So what? It's true nonetheless).


O see not ye yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi' thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.

And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.

And see not ye that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where you and I this night maun gae.

-- The ballad of True Thomas, Thomas de Ercildoun, Scotland, 13th century


1) Orthogonal: to be at right angles towards something
2) it would be interesting to make a study of how these world-view groups evolve over time. I wouldn't be surprised if that would reveal a kind of ecology involving phenomena like mating, offspring, inheritance of features, etcetera
A! Suilannon le - elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!

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Re: 'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Sat Sep 03, 2016 4:32 am

Lúthien wrote:[...] I've borrowed phrases from many people: Lance Owens, Stephan Hoeller, Miguel Conner and probably others. If you think I should mention that let me know: they're too short to be complete quotes. I'm unsure where the division lies.
I would use endnotes for these, but that is a matter of personal preference. It also depends upon the style of the article -- I've been told that "almost everything I write of any length looks like a white paper", which is probably true, but that's just my style.
Not only has our spirituality become materialistic: even our Fantasy needs to be based on facts to be taken seriously (this is how people literally phrase it).
That's the heart of the problem right there. Not because "spiritual things" are inviolate in and of themselves, but rather because using deductive reasoning on them is mostly going to fail because it is nearly orthogonal to the phenomena. It would be like using a Geiger counter to solve the Chinese Room problem in cognitive science. Can't be done; wrong tool.

That said, I think this is a very good article! The only mistakes I noticed were that your Neil Gaiman link didn't look like it came through, and you have numbers for endnotes but 'frequency asterisks' to denote them (i.e., '*' and '**').

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Re: 'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

Post by Lúthien » Sat Sep 03, 2016 4:48 pm

Thanks!

That's a great analogy, of the Geiger counter - can I use it?

And re. Neil Gaiman: you're right but that's intentional. It is just a placeholder because I'd have to enter it again in Medium.

:)
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Re: 'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

Post by Meneldur Olvarion » Sun Sep 04, 2016 12:01 am

Lúthien wrote:That's a great analogy, of the Geiger counter - can I use it?
Sure.

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Re: 'Under the radar' piece for medium.com

Post by Lúthien » Sat Sep 10, 2016 4:46 pm

I rewrote a part, also using your analogy:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There's no telling what that might eventually result in, but I've got a hunch that it wouldn't be half bad if adults wouldn't have to go through life with atrophied imaginal faculties (for an interesting background, do read Neil Gaiman's 2013 article in The Guardian <- https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/ ... aydreaming)

But most importantly: I'm convinced that it would be much more psychologically healthy if people could freely integrate that part of their selves that is now often suppressed.

You'd almost wonder what's keeping everyone.

Well, for instance, this: a hundred and fifty years of technological progress has been a mixed blessing of the rise of mass media that have all but deadened our imagination with its force-fed diet of pre-digested amusement, while at the same time pampering us with so many technological marvels that we've come to equate the domain that science and technology operates in - that of rationality and falsifiable facts - with the domain of human experiences, of 'everything that matters'.
Together with the regrettable human tendency to elevate useful thought patterns to The Only Road to Truth, this automatically forwards anything that rationality can’t deal with - spirituality, imagination, etcetera - to the junkyard.

I think this is dead wrong, not because spirituality is supposed to be inviolate in and of itself (and should therefore be exempt from the harsh scrutiny of rationality) but rather because using rational reasoning on them and reducing them to facts is mostly going to fail because those methods are nearly orthogonal to the phenomena.
It’s like those Victorians that tried to prove the factuality of the soul by trying to measure its electrical charge or weight. Of course they found nothing: it’s like using a Geiger counter to solve the Chinese Room problem in cognitive science. It can't be done because it’s the wrong tool.

The rational scientific method has been phenomenally successful - in its own area. But we’ve all but forgotten that that’s not all there is to life, the universe, and everything. Skeptics refuse to acknowledge that and claim that rationality can eventually cover it all, given enough time and effort and accuse everyone who thinks otherwise of obscurantism or delusion. And as said, many religious people are unknowingly agreeing with the skeptics about the nature of reality at least (though not necessarily about its contents) by claiming the factuality of their belief’s tenets.

So, hasn't it always been a self-evident, completely obvious characteristic of, at one hand, facts observed in the outward world, and our imagination on the other, that every sensible person inevitably comes to the conclusion that one is fundamentally 'false' and the other one 'true'?
A! Suilannon le - elin velui, dîn dolog, aduial lúthad!

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