There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul. -Arnold Bennett
Reading closely, truly hearing another author is something like trying really hard to access that word or idea that’s on the tip of your tongue. Frustration in the latter endeavor is most often the result of another word or idea that is extremely similar “taking up too much space,” so to speak. In order to clear this “near hit,” one must usually stop using willpower to “push through,” as you are essentially just pushing this “near hit” into view over and over again. That is, the original “struction” that started the chain of associations or imaginings has subtly been changed to this “near hit,” on account of how closely it resembles the actual answer. Continuing to exercise willpower at this point is like talking to someone over a prison phone and continuing to yell “Is THIS what you mean, here, this right here? Sure its not this? This must be what you mean? IS This it? Let me say it again,” and so forth. When you take a break, your memory “cache” gets cleared and you will often find the object of your search pop into mind effortlessly, while your consciousness attends to something seemingly irrelevant. Now, how does this relate to truly hearing another author’s perspective? Well, to borrow an aphorism from Schopenhauer: “Reading is equivalent to thinking with someone else’s head instead of with one’s own.” For the “free thinkers” among us, this creates a strong tension as our own thoughts, imaginings, and strong feelings compete for computational resources. That is, truly listening to the author’s perspective requires suspending or more accurately repressing your own self for the time being, especially if you disagree with that author. However, if you keep repressing these thoughts and ideas, often you will find that they have crept back in and polluted the message of the book with your own thoughts and biases. The only solution that I am aware of to this problem is writing. This is pretty much the whole reason that I write on this blog. Every single post and each idea therein was nearly aborted while “thinking with someone else’s head.” But such routine mental abortions are actually extremely damaging to the self. These abortions literally alienate your own “voice.” This is the single biggest problem with nearly every school system, as Sir Ken Robinson so artfully points out: they force this patience and discipline on students without also teaching them how to think with their own head! That is, they are forcing children into an abusive relationship with their Will, with their authentic voice.
I started this blog anonymously over a year ago. You can read my “notes to my reader” page to see my intentions towards the public, but, as with any journal, the “public” for which my writing is intended is ultimately myself, for, as Whitman puts it, “I contain multitudes.” I want my whole self to take these ideas seriously, instead of simply that part of my will that has identified with the thought. I nearly aborted every thought on this blog because I am working to become a psychologist, and a good one at that. I am working to read and understand these great thinkers and must give them most of my attention, leaving little attention left for my Will, the very master of Reason. I do not have time to pander to every little spark of fancy, right? Well, I’m glad that I didn’t edit out these feelings, but instead gave them a voice that unfolded in thought. I don’t claim total responsibility for all of these thoughts, as they are not representative of my whole being and usually only voice a fragment of my self at a time, and this is partly why I continue to publish anonymously. My remaining anonymous is more genuine than claiming that these ideas are representative of Jeff. I do have to claim responsibility for the totality of these fragments of self, however, for my Will as a whole. A huge element of claiming responsibility in this sense is to actually hear out all of the crazy little voices and reactions that one has to authors that he disagrees with. The more those voices are suppressed, the more they will creep into thought unnoticed anyway, producing conflict after conflict that obscures both the message of the author you are working to understand, as well as the whole, integrated “voice” of your will.
This blog helps me clear the “near hits” from my cache. It allows me to commune with the denizens of my will and bring them into better alignment with each other. All of my opinions are coming from a true source, but an isolated or alienated part of my will often gets translated into opinion by Gazzaniga’s “interpreter module” without the time or attention necessary to feel the other parts of my will relating to this rogue voice, rounding it out, bringing it back into accord with a bigger perspective of self. This process is crucial to being an honest thinker; to being a philosopher. The reason is very simple. Whether you are attending to perception or lost in the heady rhetoric of someone else’s book, your conscious mind cannot attend fully to your own voice and must use your “gut feelings” as a rough guide; a “pocket-map” of your Will. If you chose to sink back into introspection while pasting this feeling into view, an intuition will emerge or unfold from that feeling, but will exclude outward perception and certainly the mind of the author you are grappling with. Because we cannot introspect every time we have a feeling while reading a book we run the risk of misunderstanding our own feelings, misunderstanding this pocket map, and in doing so, misunderstanding the perspective of the very author that our willpower is straining to simulate. You see, the Will will never lie to you. It can, however, give you something less than the whole truth. However, the Will is not really committing lies of omission as this would suggest. Instead, Reason, the great interpreter and confabulator, is clearly at fault, for it decides with its veto how long it is willing to indulge or attend to a given passion. If Reason allows full voice to every denizen of the will, it has enough accurate data to create a truthful interpretation or “pocket-map” of the authentic self.
William James was right when he stated that “To be a real philosopher all that is necessary is to hate some one else’s type of thinking.” The problem is that the feeling of aversion, the feeling of disagreement, of conflict and discord, the feeling of “hating” someone elses type of thinking doesn’t feel any different than the feeling of a suppressed and alienated denizen of your will groping for your attention. You may think that you hate someones way of thinking when in reality you simply hate one of the ways that you often think! Too many writers like Schopenhauer and Krishnamurti emphasize the importance of engaging ideas and thoughts disinterestedly, or objectively; that is, while disengaging your Will. This is basically the only thing that our educational system does: crush your will so that you can be “objective.” The problem is that the heart and soul of the philosopher is also the heart and soul of the warrior. Thinking is a certain form of violence. The mind divides in order to think and so, as David Bohm has pointed out in his book “On Dialogue,” infuses thought and action with violence. Harvey Mansfield explains that “manliness for Nietzsche is both crude and refined; it is the warrior and the philosopher not merely admiring each other but sharing the same soul.” What he seems to miss is that the true philosopher is a warrior for knowledge in the first place. If you don’t value truth enough to kill for it or die for it, then you are not really a philosopher! You are a sophist who has a mere puppy-love for truth. Philosophy means the love of wisdom. If you are not willing to fight and die for your lover, then what is this thing that you are calling “love?” The wisdom of Schopenhauer and Krishnamurti comes in here to make sure that the violence of thought is turned back on itself, that the impetuous voice of your Will at any given moment is clearly reflected back into the Will to do battle with every other impetuous voice therein. This blog is a battlefield of my articulate passions. What emerges from this battle is the voice of a philosopher. This requires both hatred and disinterestedness, passion and dispassion, Will and Reason. Once this voice has been synthesized, the feelings that one has while reading another author, this “pocket map” of your will, is far more trustworthy and helpful in your realization of the author’s perspective. Your feelings become an ally of your understanding instead of becoming rogue soldiers attacking any perspective that doesn’t cohere with its limited view. Once this has taken place, these soldiers can be properly organized into columns of infantry ready to cut down your intellectual foes if necessary, without doing considerable collateral damage to your self. One must hang on to his hatred of sophomoric positions, sophistries, and untruths of all kinds. Giving up this hatred is to disarm your intellect and betray Sophia; the wisdom of your Will.
Hume tells us that “It is a certain rule that wit and passion are entirely incompatible. When the affections are moved, there is no place for the imagination.” I have defended this very opinion in prior posts, but I can now see where my perspective diverges from this “general rule.” Completely indulging your feelings and emotions leaves no room for the imagination, but without feelings and emotions the imagination has no fuel or inspiration. Without the passions there is quite literally nothing to think about! The passions, then, are like the gas peddle of a fast car: if you slam it to the floor your tires are going to spin and you will get nowhere. You must have total control as you ease your foot down on the accelerator. You must recruit your passions into your thinking without indulging any one of them to the exclusion of the others. This is one reason that I think that the martial arts are such an invaluable tool for becoming a thinker. They force you to keep your passions under control, but not force them completely out of view. You must recruit your fear and adrenaline as allies instead of fighting them as foes or ignoring them as civilians. The art of fighting involves the same “disinterested” mirroring of reality that the above thinkers are championing, but with the invaluable addition of including ones own passions in the total field of “reality” that one is mirroring disinterestedly. After all, as Russell argues, not even a hallucination is an error, let alone a passion. The problem is hasty or ill-formed judgments on either of them. Bohm writes that “suspending an assumption or reaction means neither repressing it nor following through on it, but fully attending to it.” But perhaps the reader has spotted the paradox in my thinking: how can one be disinterested about ones interests; dispassionate about one’s passions? This is where I think that my model of the duality of mind can help; a model that many thinkers seem to implicitly share but lack the conviction to support with an empirical model, as Jaynes did.
David Bohm, for instance, articulates this duality of mind most beautifully. He asks us to “Imagine the information coming in from the senses and being organized in the brain, but then another stream of information comes in from thought, and the two mix in the whole. The net presentation is a result of the two.” That second stream of information coming in from “thought” is the stream produced by the conscious ego or “observer.” Bohm writes thus:
So, the observer is what gathers: it selects and gathers the relevant information and organizes it into some meaning and picture. And that is what’s done by the assumptions in thought. Therefore, the assumptions are functioning as a kind of observer.
If you don’t put the two together, the observer and the observed—if you don’t put the assumptions together with the emotions—then the whole thing will be wrong. If I say I am going to look into my mind but I don’t consider my assumptions, then the picture is wrong because the assumptions are looking. That is a common problem of introspection. You say, “I am going to look at myself inwardly,” but the assumptions are not looked at—the assumptions are looking.
This is why I write on this blog: to make sure that the assumptions of my observer are not “looking” when I am reading the work of another, confusing my perspective with his. My perspective is still modeled in my experience of reading, but in the form of a radically abridged notation that we call “emotions” or “feelings.” These feelings are a literal polygraph that can still be sensed while consciousness is mostly absorbed in “the other.” This is the way to “go deeply into observation, so that you can look at yourself without a ‘looker,’ or listen to yourself, or other people, without a ‘listener,'” Bohm tells us. However, I would hasten to add that the self should stay in view in the form of a subtle polygraph, quietly recording the emotional valence of the contents of consciousness, a very small part of which being this polygraph itself. When the emotions are either engaged, putting the pedal to the metal, or are entirely eclipsed, danger ensues.
This should really scare those “reality heads” out there who believe rather dogmatically in the powers of their Reason. They are not technically being “conscious,” in Jaynes’ sense, when they do the bulk of what they call “thinking.” In fact, they are acting reflexively on “thoughts” that actually do not require consciousness. This is an extremely subtle point, but an invaluable one. You see, when you hastily judge a given feeling or intuition you have created a thought and in so doing you have updated your “rational map” of your universe. This map can now get triggered off reflexively to form a “recognition.” However, “recognition” does not require consciousness as “recall” does. That is, reflexively logical thought is unconscious in Jaynes’ sense. The content was not accessed in a conscious “search,” but instead, reflexively projected. Bohm describes this aptly:
Elementary thoughts may take the form of a series of reflexes. If somebody asks you your name, you have an immediate answer. It’s a reflex. With a more difficult question there’s a way the mind searches in the memory for answers. A “searching reflex” is set up—the mind searches the memory, finds an answer that may seem to fit, and then that answer comes out and you can see whether it fits or not. I suggest that this whole system is a set of reflexes—that thought is a very subtle set of reflexes which is potentially unlimited; you can add more and more, and you can modify your reflexes. Even the whole logical process, once it’s committed to memory, becomes a set of reflexes. And that’s what I want to call “thought”—which includes the emotions, the bodily state, the physical reaction, and everything.
When you leave emotions out of your “rational map,” when the display of this map is not privy to the emotions, or vice verca, then you are not properly conscious. That is, you are as unconscious as Jaynes’ “bicameral man,” only the hallucinations of your god are those of Reason instead of the Pantheon of your passions, as it was for bicameral man. You see, bicameral man reflexively carried out habitual tasks and actions all day too without the need for subjective interiority. Modern man has simply increased dramatically the complexity of those habitual tasks such that they include the habit of various “searching reflexes” and other higher forms of habitual thought. He can pull this off because of brief and fleeting moments of subjective interiority, which he usually fails to let fully blossom into an honest thought. It is only the man who feels his thoughts and thinks his feelings that is truly conscious, but as this post suggests, it takes a long and painful process that I am not sure could come off without writing. Schopenhauer reminds us that “To banish my thoughts in order to make room for those of a book would seem to me to be just what Shakespeare censures in the travellers of his time, that they sell their own land in order to see those of others.” Through reading and writing in the manner suggested above one can become dispassionate about one’s passions or disinterested in ones interests. One can do this without giving up one’s self, which Bohm seems to condone (no doubt due to the influence of Krishnamurti). In fact, doing so creates a conscious self: it creates a match between a robust “rational map” of the self and the intuitive mind or authentic self from which this Ego was born. Just like in the martial arts where routine sparring grants one knowledge about one’s abilities and thus reduces insecurity, so routine sparring between your two minds can provide knowledge of one’s true self; knowledge that will allow one to keep his thoughts “on ice” in a fiery debate, without abandoning that true self and with it any motivation to be in the debate in the first place.