Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Thinking About Believing

Originally posted on January 26, 2011

A friend cited a book by Julia Kristeva (a psychoanalyst / philosopher / writer): "This Incredible Need to Believe,” and noted one of her points: We cannot interact with this world, even speak one word, without believing: – that there is a real person opposite one; and – that this world is real, not some dream. My friend then asked, “So where does this leave us vis-a-vis ‘faith’?” 

(I must say that I enjoy with this friend a pleasant give-and-take, as I do with other  intellectuals — defined as those who are sincerely interested in ideas—and who are kind but willing to joust a bit. It’s a sort of rough-and-tumble game among friends. Being right or having to win is unimportant, but more of what do you think of this is played out in the service of each person’s sharpening his or her own thinking.)

In response: I think that believing involves is a variable degree of consent, of affirmation, as to what is going on. There is a small pulse of intention or will, of assent, whether a perception or thought is real or a dream,  is significant or trivial, is positive or negative, and some weighting as to how I interpret that perception in terms of whether it fits or clashes with my desires or intentions (the conative function); how it fits within my other thoughts about the world (the cognitive function); and whether it seems to be associated with experiences that are pleasurable or unpleasureable—and which kinds feelings or modes (the aesthetic function). Belief is our subtle stamp of going along with it.

Belief is not only about factual or objective reality; it can speak to the future—the song, “I believe in you,” or “I believe in music, I believe in love.” Belief has been slightly co-opted by traditional religion, but that associates the process with a specific content. People can believe in rather vague things like love, while not committing to anyone’s official opinions as to what that should or should not include.

In terms of clear thinking, we shouldn’t believe everything we think, think everything we feel, feel everything we believe, and in general we should disconnect these elements and evaluate them. Illusion can intrude everywhere.

There’s a spectrum also of faith in acting upon what you gently and tentatively believe, even if you negotiate these ideas with others, reality test them, so to speak. You can pulse it into light and love or choose to reinforce your temptations to believe that the best defense is a good offense. It’s easy to turn to fear and defensiveness, resentment and sucking on your hurt pride, your shame, guilt, anger at the lack of respect shown, and so forth.

My latest theory is that there’s an amplifying element in the psyche—it may not operate within the physical brain or material level of existence—and if you turn towards the positive, you get it back tenfold—it’s called Grace. If you accentuate the negative, you get mental illness, sociopathy, bad karma, you make hell and get hell back. The song “Ac-cent-u-ate the Positive” has a line, "and don’t mess with Mister In-between," but that’s what 93% of people do. They give the amplifying function double messages: I want the privileges of childhood and the lack of responsibility, but I want to be treated like an adult and have all the privileges they get, too. And I don’t want to recognize that I’m being a fool in wanting and expecting outrageous impossibilities. And so forth. The amplifying function says, "Okay, I’ll give that back to you tenfold" but what it doesn’t say overtly is that the price of this mister-in-between double-message intention is that your amplifying unconscious will make you stupid, and fixed in your stupidity. Excuse me, I mean massively repressed, full of denial, and self-satisfied with the temporary equilibrium it delivers.

So I sort of agree with Kristeva but find that statement is perhaps a bit over-dramatic. Of course we can interact with the world with a minimum of belief. It’s called foolin’ around, as I do promiscuously.

This amplifying function, in summary, can reinforce belief to the point of delusion, fanaticism, the feeling of enlightenment, and so forth. My friend cited a quote by the late-19th century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” So while in a general sense I support the exercise of a positive faith, I also have some hesitation, as people tend to direct their minds, the amplifying function amplifies and intensifies the effective vector of this energy, and then gives it back strongly so that it is strengthened, sometimes in the direction of love and wisdom, sometimes in the direction of wickedness, and most often in support of avoidance, complacency, and simplistic thinking (on the surface) which disguises strong currents of childish desire and fantasy underneath. Thus, a parallel exercise of discernment, assessment, re-evaluation, also serves the task of “responsible-ing,” which is as needed in life as love-ing and faith-ing.

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