Thursday, December 31, 2015


For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about this subject in a way that isn’t moralistic or hierarchical.  I can’t figure out how to escape the cultural encumbrances, esp the stigmatized ones.  Anyway it’s a set of concepts more felt than analytical which is not so much a problem for me as much as for those trying to understand what I mean.  This is only another attempt.

We are so locked into the ideas of ranking and best and awarding of privilege and compensation accordingly that it’s almost impossible to think of synergy, fittingness, reciprocity and ecology,  

But try.

Think of overlapping circles, Venn diagrams if you like.  Circles for parenting, nursing, teaching, feeding, and the people who do those things.  (Ignore culture- based gender assignments.)  Now think of counselors who provide specialized advice like how to get into college or find a job.  Another sort of thing might be leaders of what we used to call “growth groups” where people with issues in common sit together and try to work them out, to understand and possibly change.

Change focus a bit.  It’s Sunday in a Protestant non-liturgical church and the people are singing and praying together with clergy as sort of orchestra leader who preaches to provide a theme and images.  Now a liturgical church where the leader is a kind of performer doing prescribed near-magical actions.   And now a confessional where a moral and spiritual advisor speaks privately in a ritualized conversation with a barrier between the two.  (In some Asian versions the barrier is simply that the priest and petitioner are sitting on the floor with an offering between them in a large space where a lot of people are present.)

Now change the context to physical intimacy.  A person performs a sexual act, maybe quite stylized and prescribed or maybe just “doin’ it.”  Usually paid.  Or there may be performance without interaction.  The goal is arousal to climax and resolution.

Change again.  This time the arousal is hoped to take the person into a virtual world.  “Virtual” has nothing to do with being virtuous.  It refers to a coherent alternative reality.  Brains can do this spontaneously or can be manipulated as in hypnotism.  It can be organic, imposed by a tumor or chemicals.  Young children do it to escape abuse and so do adults in incredibly traumatic circumstances.  In our society, medically, these are thrown together as dissociations.

In other cultures the virtual worlds may be shared in imagination and elaborated with metaphor.  Our culture is so rigid and prescribed, that many people are interested in “going” to cultures that provide other options.  They go to medicine men or peyote cultists or gurus in India.  One form imagined by Western people is called a “shaman.”  There are two versions: one is sort of an all-purpose wizard who is bizarre and possibly sequestered, meant to be inscrutable and uninterpretable, magical, capable of causing mysterious effects.

The other is quite formal, as defined by anthropologists visiting circumpolar regions.  This person is like Rome’s Charon, one who accompanies death.  In the Greco-Roman context, he has a boat to cross the river Styx.  In the circumpolar context, he rides a skeletal horse capable of jumping an abyss at the bottom of which are piled up bones of the dead.  But he can sometimes bring the dead back.  Charon cannot.  It can’t be accomplished by love as Orpheus discovered.   In fact, the circumpolar Shaman is understood to have died himself, to have had his bones removed and replaced by quartz.  Before brushing this off as fantasy, consider that today many people are walking around on ceramic replacement hips. 

The most recent physics does not reject the idea of virtual worlds, but actually premises their existence — not somewhere else in our familiar space and time, but in a different state or dimension which is somehow present but undetectable with our own physical equipment for our own physical “reality,” which is only considered real because most of us are detecting approximately the same waves of electro-chemical impact in the same spatial arrangement.  Those who are living in a different reality will be urged to come back to be with the majority, even if their “world” is coherent and based on their own experience.  Not everyone has a single coherent identity.  Brains are capable of organizing several identities in the same tissue.  How and why is unknown now, but it seems related to self-splintering trauma.

People living in confusing times are not likely to welcome the ideas that there is no “reality” nor is identity stable, but rather is a process that it is constantly reassembling itself on many levels: physical, emotional, memory-based, role-based, aspirational, relational — virtual.  And yet, most people, given a little space and support, will maintain and present a “self” that other people can know and love.

But it is not necessarily a word-based or even consciousness-based self.  Rather it is controlled at the connection between skull and spine from evolved creature-functions in the whole body and possibly sent along through functions of neurology and metabolism to a culturally agreed-upon version of reality.  But it rests in the animalness of the person and keeps them alive through the night while the consciousness roams the galaxies of virtuality.  We call them “dreams.”

All this may be seamless and healthy if things are going well.  If not, the result may be depression, self-harming, violence, withering — as the legal definition goes, “capable of harm to self or others.”  It can be extremely subtle, to the point of not being detected by others, even if they are trained and searching.  Down at our most basic kernel of being, each is alone in the body.

There is a lot of writing and talking about all this, and now we can add research done with the aid of instruments of detection.  But the detection equipment, like fMRI or screened interpretations of oxygen consumption cell-by-cell or even optical fiber implants that flash colors, are finding something “real” as molecules and atoms doing something.  There is still no detection of “spiritual” or “virtual” matters except in terms of the reactions of tissue, real cells supported by real blood with all its controlling hormones.

But perhaps we underestimate the uses of empathy, so that what goes on in one person can be “felt” by another closely attending person who is willing to allow such a possibly painful thing.  But I would not want to deny or reject that it’s possible.  In fact, I think it is the growing edge of being human that may preserve the species.  

If all the instruments and experiments cannot touch the reality of empathy, then how do we know about it?  Stories.  We share our selves with stories.  They might be danced, painted, sung, or applied to the walls with spray cans, but they tell ourselves who we are.


When I finish a post, I often swing it by Aad de Gids, the Netherlands poet, philosopher and psychiatric nurse, because he is so much better educated than I am when it comes to philosophy.  Besides my night is his day and when I wake up, he has left a bit of ecstatic elucidation that I love.  It's always a kind of poetic storm of words.  This is what he said this time:

"precisely in its evasiveness, it can be described"  "the words organise themselves around what seems disappeared and form an emblem with which they convey what is evasive" (frankfurt school). they already in the 40s of the last century articulated what escaped logical empiricism (contradictio in terminus), logical positivism (popper,russell), analytical mathematicism, reductionist semantics. 

Then henceforward, Mary uses still the findings of all philosophical, neurophysiological, liturgical, theoretical, progressive comparative theology plus the ones radicalising even the "frankfurter schule": the poststructuralists, to try to get at last a grasp of what tends to escape, reductionist "findings" of what is now called: governments-financed economy-empiricist, societal conventionalist, answering to the average common denominator scores, the "discovered" uniconsciousness, unipersonality in deceptively funky language transponded psychologies as psychiatries, other western centered antropocentered MODELS OF EXPLANATION.

Then in reading this note one gets a clear grasp what in these archaic models of definition is reduced (even vanished)  which could have been surfaced with other modes of experience, roomier and
worldlier and definitely more modern. Those are new forms of consciousness, in more ritualistic or collective forms, consciousness not solely located in one individual or even in one place, even at an "outside" where the means of expression tend to indicate outervisceral but also precisely visceral and not solely cerebral, consciousness, empathy, sense of communality, the animality of a cogent socius, new forms of expression, intercultural or transcultural neopostforms of interreligion or transreligion, interphilosophy or transphilosophy.

These archaic modes of explanation (capitalist, post communist, islamist, euro-american westerncentered) get good press and are supported by the journaille streams of disinformation and
subsidised modes of research of niches and seclusive elements of what is in broader perspective to be seen.

And it IS seen (and FELT) as is documented by new modes of neurophysiological research and new invigorative philosophical science: theoretical and "somatic" and "societal" thought about the omissions of "regular science"....


Neil Parsons said...


Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Hello, Neil! If you are in Browning, I hope you have a snug place to stay.

Cute dog!

Prairie Mary