Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

It’s All Mush: A Co-Creative Metaphysics

Originally posted on March 21, 2011

Around 25 years ago I was sitting with my sweet wife, Allee, in Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart, Texas, and I asked her, “What’s it all about?” She answered, “It’s all mush. You can do anything you want with it.” It was a playful remark, but at a deep level I experienced a certain core of truth that has stayed with me. “Mush!” What is mush? In my mind, I think of hot cereal: heat it up, the bubbles form and gradually make their way to the top. It’s a metaphor for boiling and also for the breakdown of the cellulose cell walls of starch granules (which is why we boil grains, so our digestive juices can get at the nutrients).

Recently, this metaphor came up as I’ve been contemplating physics and metaphysics. For example, in the fields of contemporary cosmology and sub-atomic physics, some folks have proposed a many-worlds theory—each quantum event spinning off another universe in which the opposite possibility played out. At one level this idea seemed to me to be nonsense, a severe violation of Occam’s rule to not multiply hypotheses unnecessarily. On the other hand, one way this theory might be valid has occurred to me: If mind is a dimension, a kind of universe, maybe the suggestion has a germ of usefulness if not truth.

I entertain the intuition that mind is as much a reality as matter, time, energy, and space. (Mind has its own mushy way of experiencing these quasi-qualities. Energy, for example, involves many qualities that transcend ordinary laws of physics, or even reverses them: Mind energy expands with interest or excitement, for example, countering the laws of entropy that apply to thermodynamics—i.e., that apply to purely physical particles in three-dimensional space-time).

Another theme wove in: I’ve found that the writings of the contemporary philosopher, Ken Wilber, to be useful: He has proposed that what we call reality is a mixture of four elements: Personal subjectivity; inter-subjectivity; personal objectivity; and collective objectivity, all operating in dynamic interaction. I think this is so.

Its implications are both horrifying and liberating. For one who has a strong attachment to the illusion that there must be a fixed point of objective truth, a reality that is given and need not be co-created by oneself, the idea that reality involves subjective and inter-subjective processes would be disconcerting, even horrifying. This is because folks have a need for the illusion of an out-there, fixed true truth. I consider this need to be a deep parental transference— the fantasy that others are benign and will make it all better—, combined with a sense of helplessness about self-management. One’s own dark impulses are dimly sensed as being un-controllable,  overwhelmingly fixed. (This is true for the immature psyche!)

The idea that our beliefs, ideas, wishes, and co-created world is also part of reality is liberating is because, for those with a more mature psyche, there is an awareness that we can learn to direct our minds and hearts toward more constructive, nicer, more loving realities. Nodding and smiling and helping each other a bit is a readily available start.

All this revolves around the idea that reality may be mushier than the mainstream world-view of the 20th century has imagined.

Part of the resistance to the new paradigm, I think, involves the fear of responsibility, and the need for responsibility. Our species as a whole has been ignorant of the subtle psycho-technology of self-management. The collective psycho-social technology of politics is only recently getting worked out as democracy, and this system is far from perfect. (As Winston Churchill observed, it’s just that it’s less ultimately other-and-self-destructive than any other system—i.e. democracy is the worst political system, except for anything else.)  This makes more sense when, in a broader sense, we begin to recognize that we are all co-creating our reality, and to that extent, we are all co-responsible.

Is there any rock-solid truth? Other than superficial platitudes, I doubt it. I have discovered a pretty solid belief down at my core: Make the world a nicer place. I haven’t been able to shake it. I am vaguely aware that this belief was in part an illusion—as all “should”-type statements are—, but it seems to anchor my personality. I’ll watch it. Still, it does seem to be a stabilizing element, a fulcrum on which much of the other philosophical ideas hinge.

Now it would seem to be easier to achieve this is we could all get on the same page, come to some agreement as to the truth. And it would seem that the truth is discover-able—but is it in fact all an illusion based on what we would like rather than what is? There “seem” to be innumerable examples that confirm the illusion that truth is discover-able,  because humans have discovered if not ultimate truths, at least more truth, objectively, and these discoveries have served us as the basis for massive developments in technology and industry and the building of an ever-more-complex civilization.

But this is in the more material world of ordinary physics and chemistry. It gets weird and edgy in the phenomena noted that involve vast distances—at which astronomers detect rule-breaking dynamics that they name—but clearly don’t understand at all—i.e., dark matter and dark energy. Similarly, in the sub-atomic world, for whatever progress has been made, there are yet many mysteries and questions that have not yet been adequately answered.

In the everyday world, though, there is another type of mush, the part that involves human minds and the worlds they create together, phenomena such as love and hate, cute-ness and beauty and ugliness, social and political realities. And it’s clear that in this psychologically influenced world, irregularities dominate. No only does everyone not fit in the great machine in a nice neat fashion, but at a finer-tuned level, nobody does! We are so complex that we are correspondingly unique!

So part of the mush is that, whatever the external reality is, there are many who don’t fit neatly:  they want it warmer or colder, faster or slower, bigger or smaller, more or less personal, etc. What has become increasingly clear is that no single truth applies to everyone, and this is because each person generates a complex inner world that overlaps with the external world somewhat; and overlaps with the inner world created by others—and in doing this, generates an inter-subjective world. And here’s the problem: In terms of actual experience, the inter-subjective world generates something on the order of half to two-thirds of our lived lives.

Consider that reality doesn’t just consist of mountains or chairs, but also people in relationship, and here’s where reality gets really interesting. Reality is not just stuff, but far more, what is important to you. And in terms of relevance, for most people, the answers lie in some of the following:
  – being loved by others
  – being useful to others, needed
  – feeling that one’s love is meaningful to others, above and beyond what you can actually do
  – feeling some belonging with families and various groups
  – feeling some allegiance and the illusion that you’re even in a tiny way “helping” by belonging to larger collectives, political parties, causes, even though 99% of the people don’t know who you are
  – feeling enjoyment of things that are beautiful, cute, funny, exciting, etc.
  – vicariously participating in regional sports contests and other contests
  – feeling that you’re part of a world process, a sense of meaning in life, whether that be political, religious, philosophical, scientific, medical, or various combinations thereof
. . . and so forth.
These efforts only use physical reality as a prop: Most of their energies are symbolic, illusory, archetypal, mind-like, emotional, semantic (the emotional way we use language), and so forth. They are subjective and inter-subjective.

This is okay with me, but it’s mushy rather than crisp and nicely defined. There’s no point arguing whether it should be this way—it is this way, more for some, less for others, but only a little more or less. I suspect that the idea that there is a correct way to be alive—one way for everyone—is an illusion. I suspect strongly that it’s equally impossible to experience life without any illusions. Instead, I think that what we need to do is to identify and replace obsolete or non-functioning illusions with more contemporary and useful ones, like replacing the plumbing in our home when it wears out or better fixtures come to our attention.

What we call myth is simply an illusion-complex. It’s necessary to generate myths, complexes of mind that serve as our psychic homes or frames of reference. There is no way of being human that doesn’t involve creating such myths, whether they be consciously defined or (as is far more prevalent) unconsciously serving as the taken-for-granted frames of reference for other created imaginings and thoughts.  (If I’m mistaken about this, I invite your reasoned response. If I agree that you make good points. I’ll include our correspondence and, if you wish, your name.)

It’s just that at our present degree of cultural, species-wide evolution, our technology has made it important to make all of this somewhat more conscious, so we can better choose wisely rather than childishly among our mythic and illusory and belief-based ideas. (One way technology has pushed this is through mobility and communications, so we are coming increasingly into contact with other people who have moderately or radically different world-views. Homogeneity is breaking down. Other people used to be more like us, or so it seemed. This kind of thing happens in small towns and isolated human communities, tribes. But tribes grow differently, in language, religion, customs, etc., and nowadays, technologies are bringing tribes into contact, and even intermixing people from different tribes—they’re falling in love, getting married, having babies, and the grandparents are meeting the grandparents on the other side, the in-laws, and that makes for interesting cross-cultural friction and/or expansion.)

All this has a lot to do with our fundamental philosophy: The postmodernists on the whole were active, extending the work of the modernists in the arts, in challenging fixed customs and beliefs and even the notion that there is a fixed objective reality. (I think there is, interestingly enough, but it’s inextricably mixed with the subjective and inter-subjective at the sub-atomic level, so that there’s more substance to our existence. Materiality makes for more sustained experience.)

But what if it’s all mush, in that it can be cooked and is more malleable, plastic, capable of being co-created anew, understood from a fresh perspective? What if paradigms do change and along with those changes, reality also shifts?

Let’s own what we’ve learned from psychology, here. People want there to be a there that, if they only knew what it was, would make it all clear, and then they could relax. The goal is to get there, to find out, to stop. If we could only know the big picture, the final answer, the ultimate truth, then we could all be aligned.

But what if it turned out that there were two ultimate truths, and, say, half of humanity believed that their truth was good and all others were evil, and only through violent confrontation and ultimate triumph, with the murder and complete extirpation of every last vestige of evil could truth and goodness survive? Yuck! What a nasty, painful, mess. Oh, don’t forget what we’ve learned in politics: Once “we” have won, we then fall to squabbling among ourselves as to which sub-version of the ultimate truth is really true and then we have to murder those subversives and heretics who don’t agree—or maybe they feel they need to murder us, and it starts all over again.

The trouble with truth is that to say that it all is one doesn’t really guide us in any specific way; and if there are two ultimate truths, at some point they will come into conflict as to which is more relevant to political or practical choices to be made. If there are four or fourteen deep truths, that further makes it impossibly complex. And in an operational sense, that does seem to be part of the problem: As Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in his discussions of the foundations of morality, differences in criteria for valuing does underlie a number of political and religious differences.

But if it’s all mush, then we get a kind of reversal: If mind is a dimension, and people are individuals, then there will be an infinite number of truths and sub-truths and gradients of more or less truths, depending on the individuals who experience them. Further, the boundary between what is “true” for me and what is a “preference” is blurred. Trying to impose clarity and firm boundaries becomes increasingly impossible!

Or what if we dissolve the concept of truth and make it mostly preference? Now we’re just beginning to clear the air, because if you have a different preference I can’t imagine you to be ultimately evil. You’re just…. different. I may not be able to appreciate how you can prefer that piece of art, or this kind of music, but it hardly justifies my killing you.

And the more I look around, the more I realize that everyone is different. My own mother! (Get past the sense of betrayal and grow up.) My sweet spouse! We’re so alike in so many ways. . . but then there are also all these differences in what we prefer? So which is the right way, which approximates the truth? Oops, let’s not slip back into that non-productive way of thinking.

What are the full implications of the idea that individuality is ubiquitous, that uniqueness is ever-present? I think one implication is that our contemporary myths, religions, and philosophies need to incorporate that principle as fundamental? On a more personal level, it needs to open our minds to being more mellow, easy-going, tolerant. Differences in preference need not make me wrong and you right, or vice versa, but simply they open the door to an amused acceptance.

Back to near the beginning: For me, even if “it” is mush, I am inclined to think that our role is to help make the world a better place, a nicer place, a kinder place; I suspect that this still remains pretty close to the truth. I’m not going to worry about whether it’s spot on. Close enough. Better to be nice than wallow in the illusion that I’m “right.” Being right doesn’t get you as much as you thought it would.

Summary: if it is indeed, mush, to some large degree, then coping wisely in life requires taking more responsibility, and that involves learning more ways to be conscious. What those ways are will be and has been discussed by me in other blogs and on my website.

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