Sunday, April 14, 2013

Consciousness and Mysticism

Hal Pepinsky,, skype name halpep, “peacemaking” at
April 14, 2013

                Only in my 69th year have I discovered that for all the advances in telemetry, no one has yet succeeded in measuring or physically mapping the mind’s contents, in particular the contents we are aware of (let alone the subconscious).  No one has yet physically detected the substance of consciousness, or so it is said everywhere I’ve been reading lately about mind and spirit.

                My ethical fallback is that I make my own conscious in self my ultimate epistemological test, my ultimate test of whether to accept what others’ accounts of what they fear, want, and feel.  What part of me has noticed that impulse, such as the impulse to kill or to wash out and refill the contents of someone else’s brain or their own?  What set that feeling off in me?  Under what circumstances would I go with that part of myself?  What else might be going on?

                In a process that my mother used to call my practicing therapy without a license, a process I basically call learning through friendship and empathy.  I act on hypotheses about what might be driving what someone is telling me, and look for confirmation in responses I receive for clues as to whether I get it.  As hypotheses are confirmed, I add to my internal database of stories both of when impulses to violence and impulses to make peace have been allowed free flow.   Stories of violence end in greater separation, division, anger, fear among parties than the parties enter the story having had.  Stories of triggering episodes of transformation of violence end in displays of relaxation and cooperation, sometimes to the point of enjoyment.  I find that these latter stories are quieter in my awareness and others’, but it is from them that I distill common factors like taking time to balance listening with talking.

                My test of whether I believe  the stories I tell myself about myself even in private moments, let alone of whether I accept what others say at face value, is ultimately how I would imagine feeling had the part that is inside myself were to do the same.  That for instance is how it becomes simpler for me to imagine explaining what Compstat had to do with NY police dramatically reducing even “murder” when they began clearing the streets of “suspects.”   What I can most readily driving me to be a part of the “problem” or the “solution” becomes belief that I openly proclaim as I find the occasion to do so.

                What I can both see and feel inside myself, and even talk to myself about, doing or accomplishing myself is ultimately all I ever “know” about what anything means to anyone.  I have not only recently learned that no currently prominent thinker claims to know what consciousness “is”; I have also learned that “mysticism” is a word for claiming no knowledge superior to one’s own personal understanding.  So I guess I’m a mystic.

                That also means that I notice foibles in others only because I want to distance myself inwardly, let alone outwardly, from being the kind of person who would say or do that.  Only this morning, as I was pooh-poohing things a cosmologist was saying in an interview, safe and alone at dawn, I found myself laughing at my own pomposity (a word the cosmologist applied quite appropriately, I thought, to other people) and jotted down some contradictions in myself I’ve sort of given free rein to lately:  I seek to be a leading empath.  I seek to become connected with others by setting myself apart.  And I have to keep telling myself that I don’t have to use compassion to get ahead (any more).  The cosmologist contrasted pomposity or pretense with the humility he believes a calling to science entails, including a willingness to risk making many more wrong guesses about how the world works in order to guess profoundly right on occasion.  Like me, he has reached the conclusion that all of the universe is contained with each of us, including most fearsomely perhaps all the parts of ourselves we most severely condemn in others, lest what little sense of belonging and social security “we” enjoy be taken for being “one of them” or “part of the problem rather than the solution.”  For myself, where there is a problem, I am partly part of it.  That knowledge also gives me a chance to learn, eventually perhaps, that there are certain parts of myself that have become more trouble to act out than all the stuff I got from them before, like the part that drank.  The part is there.  I have nothing against myself for having that part.  I’ve just switched to living and learning from a sober part.  It’s a lot easier when I don’t have to say that one alcoholic personality is subsumes all of me, and try to exorcise it.  Drawing on Eugene V. Debs famous line at his sentencing for seditiously counseling draft avoidance in WWI:  I only know offenders because while there remains any offender in this world, I am one.  Love and peace--hal

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