Tuesday, June 01, 2010


These conversations go on on the World Pantheism Movement website:

Perhaps I ought to admit that I completely understand any human beings desire to say that writing a symphony is many orders higher than my little vacuuming machine, but if you take the day by day composition of a symphony (and I've written four, yes, unpublished novels, plus many other false starts, long projects, plus ten or so volumes of poetry, TV scripts, several big near misses but no cigars) and break it down minute by minute as the hours pile up each day, each decision that is constructing that novel (or symphony) is a feeling by feeling, irrational, process of words coming forth "out of nowhere" that arise from an intense concentration on the job at hand. As far as the bird metaphor, I'm sticking to the facts that the bird is "making decisions" that guide his flight path just as surely as a man walking down a street is making decisions about every twist and turn of his journey. It's when we do our journey while distracted and arrive at our destination with no memory of how we got there that we understand that our decisions are exactly like the bird's. Here's a poem of mine that has been published in a reputable literary magazine from which I'll build a further case for the supremacy of feeling over consciousness as the director of human behavior:


Back to the wind, I held it
And tied to it a knotted tail.
Spring, and all that wind was with me.
Muddy feet that made me clearly dirty,
I was a thing of earth who sought the sky.
Then I ran and let it go and let it out,
And felt it lift to take the wind. Whipping
Madly in a rush, it sought a surface far above me
Until I lost control of it and it flew itself,
And what I held was something in the wind,
A line that curved to nothingness.

For one full windy afternoon, I watched it
Whip and twist at nothing I could see.
All control I had was in the knotted tale
I'd been sure to fasten to it
To hold it straight and true into the wind.
And then that wind became a calm,
And it began to flutter down and
Down, to lay my line along the earth.

"Muddy feet that made me clearly dirty, I was a thing of earth who sought the sky... Whipping madly in a rush, it sought a surface far above me... And what I held was something in the wind... A line that curved to nothingness." How well I recall to this day the skin-tingling elation with which those words, sans any meaning other than a sort of music that came with them, arrived into my consciousness out of nowhere. The choices were being made for me.... By Whom? By What?

In retrospect, you'd think that this poem with its very clear metaphor of kite flying is a conscious and rational process of putting together a creative work about the search for God that ends in atheism, but that ain't so. The title which eventually encapsulated what I imagine the poem is about came long after the basic lines were on the page. As an afterthought, that search is what the poem seems to be about, but there was nothing conscious or willful about the trip from the first words that spilled out of my unconscious onto the page. At first the writing flowed from a feeling about kite flying, a memory loaded with emotion about childhood, and a descriptive process, words tumbling after words, filled with elation but no sense of where it was going to land. At the time, I was still not the atheist that I am now, so the ending was a delightful surprise to me when it arose from the sky down into my awareness.

Later, too, I realized, another flash of insight, that if one describes something in the material world with enough accuracy and emotional force, that material description comes to "feel like" a comparable intellectual process, i.e. kite flying and searching for God. A canoe trip that ends with falling off the end of the world into existentialism. A combat flight that ends up with being shot down and finding a grape arbor from which one selects a grape and eats it like a sip from a chalice of blood.

The interesting thing about good poetry is that it's a discovery, a discovery of a poet's inner landscape that was hidden from him until a metaphor, firmly lodged in the material world, tugged out the flow of words that become the poem. A good poem is as much a delight of discovery to the reader as it is to the poet who created it. The more conscious the poetic process, usually, the worse the poetry. Even the polishing that goes on is an unconscious process. On rereading and rewriting, the poet goes over the work dozens if not hundreds of times and, in each reading, new words and arrangements of words suggest new directions and set off more feelings of correctness. The final "choice" of each word is based on a "sense of rightness" that is not logical or reasonable. It's an emotional choice. The writing of a poem is a purely emotional process during which the words come out of nowhere (usually triggered by an emotion laden metaphor that came out of nowhere, stimulated by something in the landscape, inner or outer). Unbidden, the words scramble out of the unconscious to pass swiftly across the screen of consciousness, unbidden and blindly scurrying to join the other words that call to them to come join their brothers already on the page.

My understanding of the poetic and novel-writing process is, in my declining years, further proven to me by the fact that the level of concentration from which arose my best poetry has fallen off. I haven't written a successful poem in years because the unconscious connections can't be called upon without the missing intense emotional concentration. Some of that may also be due to my emphasis on rational forms like working algebra problems. It's no accident, either, that many poets in the past have refused counseling because they were afraid it would harm their art by making them more conscious of the artistic process. Some of them ended in suicide. You might put Hemingway in that camp to name but one. The healthier I become, the more difficult to contact my muse which probably was a very nasty muse, something like the one that plagued Ernest Dowson. And, again, I did not have the courage to pursue that particular muse any farther, but wonder of wonders, the less emotional my approach to writing, the more I am able, far beyond anything I've ever experienced before, to explain and describe rational processes that escaped me before, yet, as always, the words flow out of nowhere and tell me what I'm thinking, rather than the other way around.

I hope all concerned will understand that the preceding arguments are ON TOPIC and have everything to do with my belief that when it comes to decision-making (specially at those higher creative levels that some of my friends on this site cite as proof that man is more free than I imagine he/she is) humankind is making the decisions first in the unconscious and the rationality comes afterwards. Even mathematicians say there are proofs more beautiful than others. I agree with that as a further proof of my argument. What is beauty other than a most personal emotional response to a woman, a book or a painting, a mathematical proof? Afterward, we try to justify our choices, but the choices are emotional and determined beforehand by the entire synaptic landscape of hidden connections beneath the rational world.

James Doerfel said:
I have no problem classifying both birds and humans as eukaryotes, nor calling the organ housed by a bird skull and the organ housed by the human skull both “brains,” nor placing human intelligence and bird intelligence on a continuum, nor relating bird behavior and human behavior to their eukaryotic organisms. I do wish to maintain that birds and humans are different species—they cannot viably mate. I recognize a different design in bird bodies and in human bodies, despite the fact that they are made from roughly the same stuff. [Given a cup of bird stuff (molecules) and a cup of human stuff I doubt you could tell me which one belonged to which.] I recognize different structures in their respective brains, including structures in human brains which never evolved in bird brains. I also wish to point out for the record that no bird yet discovered is a scientist or an Olympic competitor or a pantheist. And I account for a bird navigating by the stars and a human being composing a symphony by different explanatory matrixes—you know, like science does. Biologists speak of humans evolving a capacity for deliberative choice beyond that of any other known species, and they identify this capacity as the number-one reason for our species’ success on planet earth.
Regarding math, my philosophical aporia does not owe my distrust of mathematics but to the comparative absoluteness of my/our trust in mathematics. What makes math so &%$@ trustworthy… so decisive? I consider mobility, the ability to move up and down the various levels of complexity and emergence, the ability to pan in and pan out, to synthesize a coherent representation from multiple points of view, the benchmark of reason and the scientific method—you know the reason and method we Pantheists respect “as our best way of understanding nature and the Universe.” And, yes, we have the evolution of our bodies with their big brains—brains capable of reason and science—to thank for that.
George Thomas said:
James Doerfel said:
I can see no difference between a bird's flying by the stars and human's learning things to store in memory, memory being the storage capacities of synaptic patterns in the brain for recall when something in our environment compels those favorable memories back into the thin sliver of awareness. Memories, of course we all know, are stored with emotions and people without the capacity to feel (some of whom have been studied) that summons the connected thoughts, are unable to make decisions. (This last sentence is why I say that first comes the feeling (the instinct), then follows the thoughts that some of us believe are the impulse toward a behavior when, actually, it is the voiceless feeling that triggers the behavior, not the thought.) What we and birds do instinctively, we humans have learned the clever trick of discussing (ruminating, predicting) it afterwards. Step by step these improvements in learning capacities increased and at each step, the instinct preceded the thoughts about that capacity.

Jim, I can't help noticing that you express a distrust of the abstractions of mathematics but that in discussions of free will and/or consciousness, you do believe in going "up" several levels of abstraction and speak of "top down" reasoning toward the problems of consciousness and free will.

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