Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Philosophy & Depth Psychology

Originally posted on June 20, 2013

I’m pretty sure these two categories cannot be adequately separated. I’m not talking about the distortions of recognized mental illness, but rather the distortions and illusions imposed by pretty healthy folks who are moderately introspective and somewhat philosophical. As we have learned more about the prevalence of illusion and how compelling this is, it becomes clear that illusion is not something that just weak-minded people fall prey to, but rather intrinsic to the human condition. It is not clear if any class of people can be adjudged free of illusion, even if they are relatively free of certain specified illusions or types of illusions.

I’m not suggesting that a moderate amount of seeking rational patterns in the cosmos through science, philosophy, or the arts is not a fruitful enterprise. I’ve found that this process continues to be interesting and, I think, productive. Where it gets in its own way is in falling prey to the illusion that its answers can be more than provisional. I’m both pragmatic and  metaphysically apophatic—meaning that I am pretty convinced that human mind—both reason and intuition—can never grasp the Glorious Whole. (That’s an intriguing name for the Wondrous Becoming, the Ground of Being, the Cosmic Awakening, the Unknowable Source, etc.)

Epistemological Limits

Epistemology is the contemplation of how we know what we know, a branch of philosophy, and I don’t know the word for thinking that conscious mind can ever will itself to be the complete master of itself, much less knowledge of the All.

I strongly suspect that thinking that at least in theory it’s possible for the mind to know itself absolutely is one of the most compelling illusions. It appeals to vanity, but I know of no one who has completely succeeded in this. Similarly, complete self-mastery is also a misleading goal.

I do concede that the degrees of self-knowledge and self-mastery can increase and that a number of methods for improving this are being developed and are described in countless self-help books. But this is an asymptotic limit, meaning one of those things like perfection or the speed of light—the closer you get to it the harder it is to advance further.

I also suspect that consistent practice and intent will gradually turn even the unconscious mind toward the goals of the “higher self,” especially if the “lower self” is acknowledged, understood, and properly dealt with. Sometimes this involves making compromises. There must be an alignment of the goals, though; a relative freedom from distraction by other goals (e.g., sex);  relative freedom from unworthy conflicts (e.g., resentments, childish and unrealistic expectations for short-cuts), and so on. People need to appreciate the degrees to which the lower mind can generate rationalizations to suit its purposes. A fair amount of what poses as philosophy really is a more elegant and pretentious form of rationalization.

Associated with this is the illusion that any human mind or even some imagined higher sentient mind can know all that is going on. This is terribly foolish, as if we could look at a mountain and know all the burrows and burrowing animals on that mountain. It’s absolutely impossible. The growth of the field of complexity has made it clear that one would not only need a super-computer to handle the variables, but that no computer could deal with the non-rational slippage among the categories. There are too many frames of reference as well as too many elements involved, so fully comprehending anything is thus rendered an illusory goal. Again, this recognition of limitations should not dissuade us from continuing to extend our knowledge. It’s just that “getting there” should not become a goal—rather, just getting further.

Another illusion arises from language, of finding clever terms, names for complex processes. But just because you can name something doesn’t mean you can have a full grasp of what it’s about. This is especially true for theology. We point to God and talk about God but now and again recognize the absolutely transcendent nature that cannot ever ever be conceived of by the relative simplicity of the human brain. We get arrogant in thinking that we can begin to understand.

The problem of Job is that it’s a caricature of a series of tragedies—bad things happening to good people—set within a primitive theology that imagines God as “doing” or “permitting” them—as if there were a personal “someone-up-there-in-control.”  The reality of the imperfect nature of body and the cosmos, the susceptibility to not just death but also disease and suffering, seems incompatible with the vaunted goodness of the creator-as-king. It also imagines God as being in absolute control, because we project our illusion that we are in control of our actions.

Consider as an alternative metaphor—one I prefer—that God is the cosmos, is unfolding, becoming, is multi-dimensional, is beyond all that you can know, and also this: God is far from perfect—in spite of what we would have Him be—and far from exercising the superficial flow of will and control that we imagine characterizes the essence of humanity as well as super-humanity (God). (As you may gather, while I have come to imagine a wholeness that fits with what Mystics say about God, to some degree, it is yet far from the Biblical version of a male, jealous, law-giver and dispenser of rewards and punishments. That is a parental transference that is created and in turn nourishes and frightens those who can only relate to this kind of mental projection.)

So these are some thoughts about theology at this mid-point of my eighth decade—almost 76 years old. I may yet change my mind, deepen my understanding, toss this whole formulation out. We shall see what we shall see.

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