Posts Tagged ‘Steven Pinker’

Solar panels

December 4, 2011

I was thinking about what might link depression with overeating, and I wondered whether increasing energy physically through caloric intake could be a sort of a misguided attempt to increase psychic energy.  And then I thought about why a depressed person might be having trouble maintaining adequate psychic energy and how some depressed people seem to implode.  And that reminded me of trying to open the heart and receive energy from the universe.  So, I thought, maybe that’s like what we’re trying to do with solar panels, collect energy from the universe.  But instead of seeking energy that warms us from within, we have constructed elaborate technology to keep us warm from without — houses, central heating, and the like — and try warm ourselves externally.

That, I think, is actually what the “fall” depicted in the story of Adam and Eve is all about.  Somehow, knowledge and knowing got shifted from spiritual understanding that supports a person internally from within through the travails of life (and also give understanding of how to react to life’s positive experiences) to intellectual thought about how to try to master the physical world in order to try to avoid or minimize the travails.

But the good news, as I see it, is that we can relearn the internal process from this translation into an externalized physical manifestation of the same process:  our hearts should unfurl so that like solar panels they can absorb energy from the universe.  Solar panels, and other things in the material world, can function as learning aids to help us recollect what we used to know.

That much understanding I think most of us still have, that is, what our “hearts” are and how to open them.  For some people it is through music, others through raising children, for others through contact with nature, maybe through physical exertion in labor or sports — I don’t know all the ways people experience that opening of enhanced perception.

We also clearly remember that we need to clean ourselves up emotionally in order to appreciate this energy without distortion — confession, 12 steps, prayer and fasting, making amends and resolutions to do better in the future, psychotherapy, the self-help industry, I think are examples of our systems for trying to do this.  I suspect for most people the heart doesn’t open enough to receive the strongest energy until the emotions have been quieted, but when it does happen, I think the result is what we call psychopathology.  The emotions and lack of self-awareness and insufficient ability to pull aside the ego and its fears and desires make us see things that aren’t there — projections of our internal stuff onto the world outside of us, like a moth caught against the lightbulb in a movie projector showing up on the screen, or something.

But I think the usual process is something like cleaning oneself up a little and opening one’s heart a little more, and then cleaning oneself up some more and opening the heart still further — like inserting a series of progressively larger shims or wedges into the small opening in the heart most all of us have access to.

My solar panel analogy is not only helpful for me in particular as I try to articulate what has gone wrong, but I’m thinking it might also be helpful to people oriented towards science and technology who are looking for spiritual ideas they can relate to:  we have something like a Mars Rover inside of us — our hearts — and we just need to deploy it and unfurl its solar panels to receive the kind of energy that allows us to be ourselves most fully and navigate life in a way that serves us and the world most helpfully.  That kind of energy is what we need and what, I think, at least some part of the population of depressed people are aware enough to be seeking but are having trouble actually doing.

Just my thoughts, but they also lead me to wonder whether if we’ve become less violent, as Steven Pinker maintains, we have also become more generally angry, bitter, and closed off from the universe.  That kind of estrangement I think is an even bigger problem for (the survival of) human society on this planet in the long run.




December 1, 2011

I was reading what the NYTimes is calling “Pinkerisms,” and my reaction is to listen to Neil Diamond’s song “Men Are So Easy” to remind myself to locate my compassion before I finalize my reaction.

I can’t say I know for certain that it really has anything to do with gender, but I do associate it with gender; maybe it’s an issue overrepresented among men.  There’s more to us than our “monkey minds,” a “language” more basic than verbal language.

This morning I discovered in the shower, in the sea sponge I’ve been using for quite some time, a tiny little shell buried inside.  I worked it out, it’s quite sweet.  I felt moved to put it with my little piece of meteorite, in one of its crevices.  A harmless but maybe eccentric thing to do.  But it allows me to tell the ending to a story that needed telling, and it represents for me an example of things I could never have understood had I insisted on trying to understand them through verbal language.

Shell creatures don’t have verbal language, nor do geese nor rabbits nor the earth itself.  We talk about horse whisperers, joke about squirrel whisperers, probably as pet owners acknowledge non-verbal communication with them.

Why is non-verbal communication important?  Well, maybe it was the normal currency for millennia, maybe it’s still a lingua franca in this world.  Why is it important for humans to be conscious participants in non-verbal communication?  For me, it is the way I happen to understand, and it allows me to help others with whom there is no other means of communication.  This could be a severely distressed adult, a disabled baby, someone who speaks another verbal language, someone who has no verbal language.  By translating their communication from a more basic mode of communication, I can do kind of what I think a talk therapist does — help bring the issue into the light of day, where it can be seen for what it is, re-framed and re-interpreted as necessary, stripped of it emotional tyranny by stripping it of emotional baggage.  The intellectual stratum that’s left is the pure “information” of the situation that produced the emotional response.  At higher levels of understanding, that’s all there is.  But to begin the process, one must start at the level of communication of emotion.

So, why not, “de gustibus non disputandum est,” or rather, de gustibus linguarum non disputandum est?  Because we need to use that more basic mode of communication more than we do if we are to improve our world.  We keep going off in a particular direction of control it, fix it, change the material world to suit our fears and desires, and we all agree to go down that path, congratulate one another for accomplishments along those lines, but ultimately it’s a dead end.

My saying so is not going to change much if anything.  Nor would my gussying up this blog or acceding to other people’s sense, so far, of what would help me.  It’s like the way people say work for peace, don’t wage a war to try to produce peace; if I were to go back to same-old, same-old, for sure nothing would change and I would feel I had wasted my opportunity to serve and what I have accomplished so far.  If all I can do is maintain what ground I have gained for another to use further, then that will have been my contribution.  If I can figure out a further way to develop the ground I have recovered, I’m open to it.

Violence measured per species or across species?

October 26, 2011

Having encountered yet another discussion of the recent book The Better Angels of  Our Nature:  Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker, and having wondered myself whether violence is just a symptom of something else that actually hasn’t decreased and is manifesting elsewhere, I am wondering whether the argument in this book takes into account violence expressed against other species, such as in overfishing or deforestation.  Maybe I should read the book.