Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Epiphany or “Epiphanosis”?

Originally posted on December 22, 2010

For several months now I’ve been developing a kind of low-grade epiphany that re-cognizes the unconscious mind as partaking of two levels—one is the ordinary muddle of conflicting desires, immature modes of adjustments, unrealistic expectations, and other elements I discuss in the section called “follies” on this blog, but also another hardly appreciated by Freud and most other psychological theorists: I’ll give it the term “meta-consciousness”—that is a category that includes dreams, psychic phenomena, synchronicity, archetypes, other stuff that can’t be described in ordinary language.

There is a word, “epiphany,” that describes the experience of “it all comes together! I see it now!” that can accompany the feeling of being “born again” or, for some, the distinctly unpleasant experience of tumbling into paranoia. It reflects the mind’s extraordinary ability to find meaning in what had been confusion. The dynamics of “gestalt” psychology and the psychology of illusion partake of this process, but it is still not well understood. I think epiphany relates to that part of the mind that I call the “meta-conscious function,” a function that may well operate far more rapidly and with far greater complexity than can even be imagined by the ordinary mind.

The idea that our own most clever thinking can be far out-performed by other mind abilities is difficult to appreciate. Saying it another way, it’s hard for consciousness to recognize any consciousness greater than its own. Not impossible, but difficult. Or, as a saying I heard goes, “A pickpocket at a convention of saints would only see their pockets.”

I’m not sure whether this meta-conscious mind function operates as a product of the human brain—brain that manufactures and then directs the transmission of ideas—, or perhaps the brain is only acting as an antenna that picks up the far more powerful capacities of “mind” at other levels of existence!  Is such a concept even plausible? Not in terms of the dominant 20th century world view.  (However, there have been thoughtful people who have hypothesized that the mind in some states operates this way; it’s not just my own idea.)

But consider: Ordinary dreams sometimes become quite extra-ordinary: They are able to create the most vivid and compelling scenarios, often of levels of complexity and beauty that could not be replicated by the finest human artists. Might this be part of the meta-conscious mind?

Epiphany in another sense might be an intensification of the capacity of mind to tumble into gestalts of meaning, to discover significance in patterns—perceptions, previous knowledge, the writings of others, remarkable coincidences, etc., —that, when intensified—as the meta-conscious mind can do—leads to whole new theories, breakthroughs, insights, enlightenments (and that’s the good stuff)—it can also lead to the most fixed of delusional systems (on the bad side).

I’m musing on this idea and whether the meta-conscious mind also overlaps with what many folks call “soul” or aspects thereof; or with psychic phenomena, and so forth. I’m pretty sure this term also overlaps with or describes what has elsewhere been called the “adaptive unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson in a book I read a few years ago titled “Strangers to Ourselves” (2002, Belknap Press of the Harvard U. Press).

I am also caught in the paradoxical position of experiencing a slow epiphany (or is it an epiphan-osis?) about this “meta-conscious mind” notion in which a great swath of previously unclassified ideas seem to be organizing themselves into a meaningful pattern. The paradox is that the pattern I’m talking about is this whole idea of the meta-conscious mind—my term—and one of its features is that it compellingly perceives all these various elements as partaking of the same underlying dynamic. In paranoids it all confirms the core delusion. (E.g., “See, that. too, that proves it!”). In paradigm-shifting geniuses, again, a wide range of data become rearranged to confirm the new theory, which is then validated by scientific experiment. That happens some of the time.

Far more often, though, epiphany leads only to personal eccentricity, often harmless, but sometimes leading to the dynamics of cult leadership! Reading about eccentrics and cult leaders, how their compelling ideas would gather steam, so to speak, and become convincing at times to a few or many others—this too made me wonder about this dynamic.

It seems to me—though I also question what seems to be falling into place as things “seem to me” to be reinforcing this new notion—that what we’re talking about, the meta-conscious mind, also partakes of inspiration, that sense of flow, of the ideas just flowing—or actions—and some composers, improvisational musicians, actors, artists, etc.—all are drawing on a source of not just ideas but also a quality of enthusiasm that seems nigh-inexhaustible. What’s this about?

Enough for now. Perhaps it’ll pass, but at present it’s kind of exciting, opening to new horizons. Some writers whom I had held at a distance as a little too “far out” now seem less weird. I sort of see their point of view, at least to some degree. It’s a fascinating trip. More will be written on this over the next few weeks as the process develops or withers.

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