Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Archetype of Complacence

Originally posted on January 3, 2014

This phrase describes the deep tendency, when we learn or discover or invent something, to settle into that novelty as if it’s the end-point. Of course, it is not: There is always more to know, discover, and further refinements to whatever we invent or use. Since we don’t know what might be better, our experience compares what is novel and still has the aura of the “aha!” with what we now recognize as our past illusions, ignorance, simplicity. This has happened so often that we don’t think much about it.

This archetype of complacence also leads us to think we know when we really don’t. A variation of this is the tendency to think we know more than we do know, in relation to what there is to know. Another variation as I mentioned is that when we discover something, the relationship between what we know now and what we knew then seems so vast as to make it feel plausible to imagine that we really do know pretty much all that there is to be known. And while we may know intellectually to varying degrees that in fact we do not know it all, there is still this tendency to feel that we do. It’s sort of like it being hard to believe that invisible germs exist when we can’t see hide nor hair of them. (Those who try to maintain high standards of relative cleanliness in hospitals fight against this tendency all the time. For example, doctor’s ties are often prime contaminants!)

I suspect that the archetype of complacence is a fairly basic illusion of the mind, like the illusion that we exist as an identifiable self. (In fact, our “self” is the archetypal capacity to weave together our various complexes and functions, offering the illusion of coherence and continuity. We are susceptible to a similar illusion when we visually perceive a projected moving picture and experience it as actual events moving in time rather than similar yet slightly different pictures. The mind fuses these.) There’s no differentiation between true enough for now, and absolutely true. The latter inhibits the continued edge of creativity or discovery. It’s the tendency towards settling in to what feels true, even if it’s only relative to our dim perception of our previous ignorance.
I must confess that I’m tempted to view people who think they know when they don’t as if I were above that, but I realized that I too probably overlook many things I don’t know that I don’t know. If I think about it, it’s clear that there are many such things, but it occurs to me that what I don’t even know that I don’t know might yet be a hundred or a thousand times greater than what I even theoretically suppose. Indeed, I cannot know how much I don’t know. With effort I can counter the archetype of complacence by consciously making an effort to make allowances for this category of what is not known yet, but it may be may far greater than I can even estimate! I realized that my mind settles into the perception of what I know as if that field constitutes what there is to be known, and I cannot escape at least partially succumbing to this illusion. Wow!

I contemplated the way the unconscious “covers for us,” keeping us in line. It further turns away from opening to how very much might happen unexpectedly. I mean, I do allow to some degree for the unexpected, but then if I really contemplated the aggregate probability of the many potentially unexpected events that might happen, that would paralyze me with fear. Best to turn away and ac-cent-chew-ate the positive.

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