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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

The emperor has no clothes

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
Albert Einstein

For centuries now, the inclination to defer to the will and opinions of people in positions of authority has been something the average citizen in the majority of societies across the world has accepted as ‘natural’. It’s just what you do. They know best. Our history books are full of accounts of times when it became obvious that various hereditory kings and emperors were as daft as the proverbial brush and had to go, but the mantle of emperorship simply shifted to a different class of ’emperor’ and in no time the citizenship were once more repeating the mantra ‘they know best’. Ditto with religious authority, overturned in favour of science, much of which has now degenerated into little more than religious repetition of assumptions which have long ago been shown to be false. But still we’re singing the same old song “they know best”.

Do they?

More and more these days it seems that what reaches us through the media concerning government, corporate and scientific reasoning and endeavour, and in the op-eds and interpretations of the stories by the media itself, are so lacking in basic common sense as to appear little short of idiotic (for recent examples from this blog alone, see Bees on their kneesAnti-nonscience and Dumb and dumber). More insidiously and significantly, fear-based psychic epidemics are whipped up and propagated to justify actions that no citizen of a democracy could possibly condone were they not spinning hopelessly in the vortex of terror that they’ve bought into by reason of their faith in the various ‘authorities’ involved. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Bird flu? It’s becoming ever more obvious that not only the emperor, but his entire entourage, administration, advisors and reporting structure, have barely a stitch of clothing between them.

Emperor's new clothes

The Emperor’s New clothes. Illustration by Cyril Bouda, 1956

And while all this is going on, ‘ordinary’ people communicating through the internet are showing more and more evidence of having worked things out for themselves and come to rational conclusions that have much greater coherence, make far more sense than anything the supposed ‘experts’ have to say on the subject. It seems the ‘experts’ have been barking so long up the individual tree of their particular niche specialty, that they’ve long ago lost all sight of the wood.

I’m old enough now to look back and say once there was a time when we could trust ‘the experts’ to come out with something sensible, and if we couldn’t, then the independent intelligent media would soon sniff them out and expose their mistakes. Or was that just an illusion too, based on a belief I held then which I no longer do now? In many ways, the degeneration of the whole set-up into the pastiche it’s now become forces us to face the fundamental mechanisms underlying this misguided behaviour and finally see it for what it is. This is the only thing that will ensure it’s not continualy repeated as we once more come to the threshold of deposing one set of authority figures in favour of another.

Ultimately it all seems to boil down to the belief in an objective reality in which there can be only one ‘correct’ interpretation, one way of doing things, one ‘truth’. Despite all the evidence to show that there are innumerable valid perspectives on things, that even ‘our’ perspective, ‘truth’ and methods are constantly changing so can hardly amount to ‘the one true way’, we are collectively driven to trumpet the supremacy of our own particular perspective, bully others into accepting it, and discredit any evidence to the contrary.

Yet invariably it’s the case that there’s truth lurking in our basic impulses. It’s in the interpretation that we get it all back to front and inside out. The sense of ‘there can be only one’ is true. At the level of collective consciousness, we are inseparable from the entirety of existence. We are one, purely and simply. But unity is NOT uniformity. It becomes uniformity when the basic apprehension of unity becomes warped and twisted by the illusion of separation, and by virtue of its torsion acquires kinetic potential – ie. it creates an impulse to move, to motivate, to enforce uniformity, which is a warped expression of unity.

In realising that we are fundamentally, completely and utterly inseparable from the entirety of existence, no matter what, the illusion of separation and disconnection melts away, resulting in far greater tolerance of individual variation in perspective, method, thought. Quite simply, if you can’t be disconnected, then you always ‘belong’ and are free to REALise the expression of your relatively individualised consciousness with its unique perspective which is no more and no less valid and valuable than every other single perspective on the planet. You are your own authority, your own expert, and nothing can invalidate your point of view. Even if it’s apparently incoherent with a collectively-held viewpoint, your point of view is what in-forms your own experience of reality and is thus ‘true’ at your own individualised level of experience. But equally well, it’s no more ‘true’ than anyone else’s viewpoint, and thus cannot be forced on others as ‘the only way’. The validity of your viewpoint cannot invalidate anyone else’s.

The solution to the question of what has wider or ultimate truth emerges most readily on a level playing field where conscious unity is taken as a basic premise. In such an environment, the sense of ‘self’ is recognised as largely illusory, contingent on a sense of separated existence. The concept of ‘ownership’ of ideas thus becomes an irrelevance, and ego games don’t get a look-in. It’s only in putting all our collective subjective expertise together and testing its coherence in relation to the whole that we finally comprehend that no viewpoints are mutually exclusive and all are informed by our connection with the whole. Each viewpoint is just a different facet of the same gem, and only when you turn a gemstone over in your hand and see all its facets do you understand what the gemstone really is. The ‘expert’ studying a process in minute detail has no more ‘authority’ than the person seeing it in a wider context. To be coherent, both perspectives require inclusion and rationalisation within an overall process which connects with every other process in existence.

And such is the level of synchronicity at the moment, that just as I was finishing up on this, Paul Levy’s latest essay Breaking the vow of silence came in, which addresses much the same dynamic.

Secret government

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

“Today as never before it is important that human beings should not overlook the danger of the evil lurking within them. It is unfortunately only too real, which is why psychology must insist on the reality of evil and must reject any definition that regards it as insignificant or actually non-existent. Psychology is an empirical science and deals with realities.”
Carl Gustav Jung

Two recent articles came in this week. One from the blog Thomas Paine’s corner on the subject of ‘Omnicidal Elitists: Their Killers, Their Science, Their Plan’ and the other from Paul Levy‘s mailing list, entitled The War on Consciousness. Both heavily critical of the behaviour of the present US administration. (For those astrologically inclined: no surprise that both appeared within the shadow of both Pluto and Jupiter stationing retrograde.)

The former veers too far off the scale of plausible rationale for me, though the underlying patterns it highlights are valid enough. Paul Levy’s essay is much more on target, and more so because it acknowledges the complicity and involvement of all citizens in the actions of their governments. The complicity he acknowledges is that of a gullible populace all too willing to swallow everything the Triad of government/corporate/media feed them. His solution to the situation is to wake up and smell the rot, and to say “no!” to what our governments are doing in our name. He continues …

“The solution to winning the war on consciousness is for us to RECOGNIZE the nature of the war we are in, which can only happen through the agency of our consciousness. Realizing that the true war we are in is an assault on our own minds is the expansion of consciousness which is itself simultaneously the solution. From a deeper, more expansive perspective, the war on consciousness is itself the very catalyst and instrument for consciousness to awaken to itself. 

“It is our turn to come together so as to render powerless these sick criminals who have been terrorizing us. We can help each other to access our intrinsic heart-centered power and collectively turn the light of truth upon them so that they have no where to hide from their lies and corruption. For “truth”, to quote the infamous Nazi Hermann Goering, is “the greatest enemy of the state.” Bush and the private interests who keep him in power and profit richly from his actions are absolutely terrified of one thing – the truth. As the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Like pouring water on the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”, when the true light of awareness is shed on what Bush and the real powers behind him are doing, their illegitimate power over us is dis-spelled as the illusion it always was.”

But do we get away quite so lightly? We are more complicit here than we know, and no matter how extreme and insane things are becoming, there is a huge danger in distancing ourselves in any way from the behaviour of our governments at this point in time. We always get the governments we deserve. The populace throws up leaders that are reflective of the state of the collective psyche at any one point in time. It is impossible for us to do anything else: we constitute the body politic. The very reason leaders become candidates for leadership in the first place is by virtue of their personal resonance with the particular archetypes constellating out of the collective, and votes are really neither here nor there. It’s not conscious reasoned choice (or even widespread vote rigging) that decides an election so much as the currents in the collective unconscious, just the same as it’s an individual’s unconscious shadow dynamics that drive their behaviour for much of the time. Our leaders are our representatives in a very real sense, far more so than through the lip service paid to their outward role of representing their constituents’ will.

The more Blair and Bush & Co act out their own shadow dynamics, the more cunning spin they put on their actions to gloss over their fundamental immorality, the more resources they put into the hands of the corporations, the more croneyism they exhibit, the more convinced they become that they alone are ‘right’, the more they seem determined to have things their own way, the more they reflect the very things that the majority of us are doing on our own small scales. Take any ‘average’ individual, magnify and inflate them up onto the world stage with all the power that comes with it, and you’ll get something very similar, even if not so fittingly representative of the entire collective as those who got there by virtue of the perfection of their sympathetic resonance. As above, so below. As below, so above.

So as we continue to add extensions to our houses, or fell another block of woodland to build yet another McMansion, trade in the old saloon for one – no, make it two – of an ever-growing range of ever-larger gas-guzzling 4x4s, continue to subscribe to the idea that permanent economic growth, collectively and individually, is the only measure of success, believe that our viewpoint is the only ‘true’ one, limit our circle of interest and compassion to those of our ‘tribe’ however we might define it (and the rest can go hang), increase our employer’s ‘shrinkage’ budget by helping ourselves to the odd ‘perk’, feel that we’re somehow ‘justified’ in making the odd fraudulent insurance claim, attempt to save face by putting an interesting spin on our actions or otherwise lie to our friends and families and ourselves, throw out perfectly good household items because we want the newer, better model … should we be in the least surprised that we get the leaders we do?

If there’s immorality, or at best amorality, in government, corporations and media, then that’s only because the same exists in the general population. Egotistical self-inflation at individual level can only find it’s reflection in egotistical self-inflation at the top of the heap. And not just in our egos: in our bodies, our houses, our cars, our corporations (for more on this theme, see the article Time for a Change of Heart?). We’re fooling ourselves if we think that we’re all right and “they” are the “sick criminals”. We’re hypocrites if it’s only the scale of what our leaders are doing that separates them from us. That’s where the secret government really resides. Not in the endless conspiracies projected onto the rich and powerful (though there’s undoubtedly no smoke without flames), but in the unconscious dynamics that support and maintain them in their positions of power – the Jungian shadow in all of us – the evil that we’re busy denying, acting out and attempting to spin out of existence both individually and through the lens that is our leadership.

There is enormous difficulty in identifying ourselves with the worst excesses of our governments’ behaviours. There is an instinctive rejection of the suggestion that such ‘evil’ resides within each of us, and in many senses that instinct is sound. ‘Evil’ is an abstract concept that stands in stark opposition to ‘good’ and we cannot associate our everyday and mostly well-meaning behaviour with such a polarised horror. Such dualistic judgement isn’t helpful here. But look again. The difference between what we and those around us are doing and what our governments are doing is mostly just a matter of degree. The small badnesses we accept as part and parcel of daily life are easy to overlook and live with, which is what we generally do. It’s only when they’re scaled up to huge proportions that they become plainly ‘evil’ to us. Yet the small and the large are the same thing in essence, and this is what we need to see in the behaviour of our governments. This is the mirror they hold up for us to look in.

‘Evil’ is only ‘live’ back to front, which neatly represents the recipe for its neutralisation. It’s the energy of the disowned part of ourselves that comes back to us warped and twisted through the mirror of life. Attraction OR repulsion signals its existence as a personal shadow issue. Accept it simply for what it is; own it directly, consciously, and its reflection loses its power to make us act out. We are then free to consciously choose. THAT is how to truly dsempower it, because only when it’s no longer representative of a shadow dynamic within the collective psyche does it cease to have power, and only when we each individually have faced our own shadow issues will we cease to throw up leaders who represent them and magnify them for us.

There’s no ‘them’ and ‘us’ here. ‘Them’ and ‘us’ is part of the problem. We’re all in it together.

The last word goes to the great man himself, C G Jung. (Or at least it did until the wonderful video recording of him talking about man as the origin of all coming evil was removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim by Pennsylvania State University. Here is a brief snippet instead.)

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”
Max Planck

Irrational behaviour

Sunday, August 6th, 2006
Fragmented Mind, Mear One

Fragmented Mind by Mear One, Anchorage graffiti artist

“If you do not rest upon the good foundation of nature, you will labour with little honour and less profit. Those who take for their standard any one but nature – the mistress of all masters – weary themselves in vain.”
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

“People who make irrational decisions when faced with problems are at the mercy of their emotions, a study says.” So says the BBC in its report on a study published in Science journal by a team from University College, London. The report goes on to describe the study:

“The researchers found some people kept a cool head and managed to keep their emotions in check, while others were led by their emotional response. In each trial, participants motivated by the promise of real money were first offered a starting amount of £50.

“They were then presented with one of two “sure option” choices, either to “keep £20”, or to “lose £30”, as well as the opportunity to take an all-or-nothing gamble.

“Although both sure options left players with the same amount of cash, £20, people were more likely to gamble when faced with the prospect of losing £30.

“Given the “keep £20” option, volunteers played it safe and gambled only 43% of the time.

“When asked if they wanted to “lose £30”, they gambled on 62% of occasions.

“The decision to gamble was irrational, since in every case the amount of money they stood to gain was the same, while everything could be lost by gambling.”

Yet, rather than the study participants’ behaviour being irrational, it’s the premises and the conclusions of the study itself that appear to be a complete no-brainer.

“Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.”
Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

Firstly, why on earth do we need a “scientific” study to demonstrate that our behaviour is as much governed by our emotions as our rational intellect? Isn’t it a fact of daily existence blazingly obvious to each and every one of us? No decision can be isolated from its context, and the survival of the species is best served by both feeling and rational responses to context. If our feelings are triggered, then there will be a feeling component in the decision which, depending on the strength of the trigger, may predominate. And if not, there won’t. Sometimes the emotional and rational components in the decision will coincide. Sometimes they won’t, in which case the decision, if swayed by the feeling component, is described as “irrational” (with the implication that it’s also nonsensical) . But it’s all entirely dependent on context and the propensity of any one individual to react in a predominantly feeling or rational way to it.

And any feeling-based reaction which appears at first glance to be nonsensical usually reveals its own logic in due course which, in turn, throws a spotlight on the largely false and arbitrary dichotomy between “emotion” and “rationality”.

Secondly the study (or at least according to the report of it since the study itself isn’t freely available) asked people to choose between an all-or-nothing gamble to potentially gain the full starting amount with the odds against winning equivalent to the guaranteed gain/loss split, or to be given a guaranteed, no-risks fraction of the initial sum. So what is being demonstrated, from whichever standpoint (the “gain” or the “loss”), is people’s propensity to take a chance on a potentially greater gain. This isn’t necessarily an irrational decision, so describing acceptance of the guaranteed sum as keeping “a cool head” and “emotions in check” perhaps reveals more about the pervasive (and irrational) delusion that emotions are in some way inferior to rationality (as opposed to a different, but no less essential, part of our being).

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

The study demonstrates a clear bias towards a willlingness to gamble from the standpoint of a reaction to a framework of “loss” as opposed to “gain”. In other words, as a group the subjects were more likely to play safe if they thought they had something to lose (the “gain” tests) than if they thought they’d already lost most of what they had (the “loss” tests), despite the actual amount in both cases being the same. It highlights an instinctive component in risk tolerance – something that can be observed everywhere in nature (species will take greater risks when threatened with loss of the essentials for survival and will take fewer risks when their environment serves them well) as well as in human society. One would expect the results of offering increasing amounts to show that, in aggregate, the more that particpants stood to lose, the less they were inclined to gamble. After all, we can see that operating every week on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

The part of the brain which registered most activity during this study – the amygdala – is not concerned with emotion per se, but with emotionallearning and memory conditioning, particularly in response to fear. With money being such a key element of survival in our society, people’s attitudes towards it can be complex, deep and multilayered. Within that wider context, the range of responses in this study, as well as being entirely predictable, appear to make perfect sense. To attempt to separate them from this context – particularly since the amygdala’s involvement is signalling involvement of long-term memory – and derive conclusions about a pervasive lack of rationality based solely on the parameters of the study seems to be what is somewhat lacking in rationallity here.

What seems even more irrational is that taxpayers are paying good money for studies like this …

And once again fragmented, literal, linear thinking shows itself for what it is.

Study: Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain. Benedetto De Martino, Dharshan Kumaran, Ben Seymour, Raymond J Dolan. Science 4 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5787, pp. 684 – 687

“The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
nature is incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine beings
more beautiful than words can tell.”
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Cartoon conundrums

Saturday, February 11th, 2006

“He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”
Confucius (551-478BC)

It’s interesting how the rapidly escalating furore over the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons illustrating and in some cases satirising the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) dovetails very neatly with the British government’s present focus on respect (see last month’s post Respectfully yours). So much so that the fact that the one can provide the answer to the other becomes rather too obvious to ignore.

The cartoon row has been portrayed throughout as an issue over freedom of speech, but there’s a crucial differentiation to be made between protecting the right of every individual to speak their truth without fear of being censored or intimidated, and speaking that truth with respect. Freedom of speech – however it’s enshrined in cultural codes of behaviour – wasn’t really conceived with the idea of freedom to insult in mind, and can’t be considered in isolation from the responsibilities that all rights carry. If the right is exercised in a disrespectful manner, then all that will happen is that same lack of respect will get reflected right back. Just as if I were to walk up to someone in the street and call them a f*!^#*g w@#*^!r and get a fist in the face for my pains. Bleating about my rights to freedom of speech in such circumstances would be plainly nothing more than an attempt to substitute a red herring for a red face.

It might seem an incomprehensible furore over a few cartoons, but when reactions seem disproportionate, it’s often pertinent to ask what the various dynamics of the situation are touching on at a much deeper level. What’s been demonstrated in the commissioning and publishing of these cartoons is a profound lack of respect for the sensibilities of millions of people of the Islamic faith, exhibiting the same profound lack of respect towards Islamic nations as the West has been displaying for centuries. So long as each side keeps mostly to itself, the situation is perhaps tolerable. But when the West goes marching into two Islamic nations on the basis of a bunch of trumped up lies and is presently flexing its muscles in preparation to do the same thing all over again, such a reaction becomes entirely understandable.

Peace on Earth can only be achieved by genuine tolerance of differing viewpoints, customs and ways of life, and an attitude of respect for all by all, informed by the fundamental knowledge that we’re all ultimately one. Any absence of conflict achieved by enforcing the ways of the world’s biggest and most powerful bully on everyone else has got no more to do with peace than an absence of symptoms has to do with health. The only possible response that can be elicited by bullying behaviour is ultimately always a reflection of itself. With power to match.

The proof of the pudding

Monday, January 30th, 2006

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
Albert Einstein

Pertinent to mention that most of this month’s blog contributions have been made under the influence of another proving!

This one’s particular focus at the more philosophical end of its spectrum has to do with the way in which the underlying state gives rise to its outward manifestations, and vice versa in how outer manifestations reflect the nature of the underlying state. It highlights the frequently paradoxical nature of the process – or at least paradoxical to western thought – and the way we tend to get things twisted back-to-front and inside-out.

Cosmic Sphere by Camille Flammarion 1842-1925

It was interesting that in response to January 27th’s post, Carol Willis mentioned the Golden Rule (see the Comments to that entry), and it’s right enough that it infuses the moral and ethical standards of most cultures on the planet right down to children’s stories such as Charles Kingsley’s 1863 classic The Water Babies featuring the redoubtable rulers of the water-babies’ kingdom, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. If recognition of the value of such principles is pretty much universal, how is it that we fail so dismally to carry principle through to action?

It lies in the nature of the mirror. The underlying state is not something that can be perceived directly. It’s evident only by the manifestations it gives rise to which are like a mirror to its nature. Since our attention is captured by the reflection, rather than its source, we mistake this for the fundamental “reality” and see things back-to-front and inside-out, often entirely oblivious to the fact that there’s an underlying state generating these manifestations in the first place. The result of this is that we aim for the ultimates, the manifestations of the underlying state, as goals in and of themselves. Because we perceive them as goals, rather than reflections, we attempt to impose them on ourselves and others rather than focusing on the underlying state that naturally and spontaneously gives rise to them (much as Paracelsus highlights in the quote beginning the last post).

“What we are looking for is what is looking.”
St Francis of Assisi

As our self-discipline (or imposed discipline) strengthens and we succeed in acting in ways that are selfless, compassionate, etc, we believe we’ve achieved our aim. Which indeed we have – we’ve succeeded in imposing these qualities on ourselves. But the underlying state remains unchanged. It’s merely been strait-jacketed into a facsimile of the genuine article, but will continue as it always has to make its nature known in acting out, projection onto “other”, or in internal dis-ease, while we, delighted with our successes in overcoming our “base nature” and “doing the right thing”, remain ignorant of the fact.

We’ve made this error with each of the major world religions; the main reason why we’re left now with so much profound fragmentation, conflict and empty ritual. We’re making the same mistake again with the re-emerging spirituality of the “New Age”. Everywhere people are concentrating on the ultimates; trying to be in the eternal now, in universal compassion, etc, etc, learning techniques to impose this discipline or that discipline on themselves in the hopes it will lead to realisation, and ignoring all the reflections in the mirror which tell us what state we’re really in.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
Søren Kierkegaard

This isn’t to say that practicing such techniques can’t help us along the path to the realisation we desire, only that we’re very good at fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve “got it” when we haven’t. We want it so bad we ignore all the signs telling us we’ve still got stuff nailed under the carpet to attend to.

A lot of the stuff under the carpet comes from the basic assumptions we’re conditioned with since childhood, passed down from generation to generation, and which are so universal we can’t see them for what they are. The doctrine of original sin, for instance, has one helluva lot to answer for. The idea that we’re born bad and have to spend the rest of our lives struggling to keep the badness under control accounts for an awful lot of our bad behaviour, not to mention the backlash notion that we’re really full of fundamental goodness and anyone pouring cold water on the unending feel-good fest is just being negative. We’re born neither bad nor good. W’e’re just born: with the potential to destroy or create, to fragment or amalgamate. A potential almost as diverse and limitless as the life-force of which we’re an inseparable part, and equally free of value judgement. How we’re conditioned to see and value ourselves, how we come to terms with that, and the choices we make as a result, are what determine the “reality” of our lives and the quality of our actions.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity … and I’m not sure about the universe.”
Albert Einstein

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard