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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Comfortably Dumb

Once again I commend you to read Dailyg's blog  and the post "The Importance of the Question of Free Will."with its link to Adam Curtis's blog.

The questions raised, and the avenues explored, are best considered with a stiff drink to hand and when one is in a strong frame of mind. For me, at 16:38 on a dark winter's afternoon the ominous, threatening shades that rose up as I learnt more about how we may be manipulated and how those clever men in Whitehall, for all the best of intentions, view us as cyphers on which to impress their views and wills, were enough to drive me to drink.

I found that a glass or two of a cheeky French Cab Sav worked wonders producing,  in double quick time, a sense of annoyance, outrage and a satisfying "up yours, Cameron" attitude which I attribute to the yeoman stock of my mother's ancestors.

However, a little reflection showed clearly that I was indeed a blank sheet on which my masters can write as they will.

Fact One. I bought a hugely expensive phone, attached to which was an extravagantly priced mobile tariff. The phone was my Pavlovian response to an ad on the web. Before I knew it and before I could put my tongue back into my mouth I'd signed up for 18 months of almost unlimited minutes and texts. Every month I receive my on line bill I regret that need for instant gratification and I've still 6 months to go!!!

Fact  Two: Two years ago I bought a note book from Peter Jones in Sloane Square, Chelsea. The store and location is vitally important. Because once I step into that shop I become a different person. I am no longer the ex middle ranking civil servant living on a modest pension, but some Arabian potentate or Belgravian sophisticate with acres of notes to splash around.

The excitement was overpowering as the assistant helpfully grabbed my credit card and indicated that I'd joined a select bred of edgy movers and shakers instantly connected to all that was cool and happening.

I have used it once in Costa Coffee before they discontinued their free wi-fi in Loughton, Essex.  It sits in the second bedroom, with its manual and case, a constant reminder of my sucker personality so beloved of tyrants everywhere.

Fact Three: I bought a DAB radio for the car in Marks and Spencers. We went there to buy a pair of comfortable shoes for Christ's sake. But no; this little gem twinkled and I handed over my card and thought what a great buy 'cause we love BBC 7 and that only broadcasts on digital. I had  a soft focus vision of us laughing merrily as we pulled up at a set of traffic lights, other drivers bemused by our goodnaturedness.

Unfortunately, shortly after I purchased the thing, I saw a notice warning car owners that thieves were targeting cars with sat navs: and a DAB car radio has the same characteristics as a sat nav. So I thought if I fix this gadget in, I'll have to remove every time I left the car and replace when I  returned . Having at long last opened the box which contained the blessed thing - after six month - I decided that there were so many wires and bits and bobs that the car would look a mess if the thing was installed.  Anyone fancy dabbing their toes?

Fact Four: The killer fact. I bought a new frost free, integrated fridge freezer - see here  for details. True our existing fridge was prehistoric and held more ice than food, but the new fridge freezer didn't have to be so high tech, high spec, high end and cool!

I was sucked in by the spiel, and I was so clever. I got myself a new credit card with 12 month's interest free credit. The frost freezer is so fabulous, it's a technological marvel.

Except it cost so much that we can't afford to put food in it and each month I have to shovel spade loads of cash into the new credit card so I don't end up paying interest at the end of 12 months.

Am I a pigeon or what!


Selina Kingston said...

Let me tell you how dumb I am ...when I was reading your post I thought the note book you acquired from Peter Jones was a note book. You know a book for taking notes !! That's how stupid I am and I got excited because that is exactly the sort of thing I do. Spend lots of money on pretty books and pens and cards and wrapping accessories and on and on and on.... I'm such a fool!

Barry Coidan said...

Selina, a note book would have been infinitely more useful.

Anonymous said...

Don't hit the bottle Barry! A cup of tea does me just fine! :-)

Richard DeMartino wrote the best articulation of the 'right answer' to the question of free will in his essay 'The Human Situation and Zen Buddhism'. Unfortunately, just because an academic is right doesn't mean that he becomes widely read and accepted: his essay still seems to be mostly unheard-of outside scholars of Zen, even though his language owes a lot more to modern psychology than to Buddhism.

Meanwhile, we get caught up in the sterile argument between people who promote naive versions of free will, which contradict the experience of any human old enough to have made mistakes, and people who contradict their very being by promoting mechanistic models of human beings. Both are wrong answers with harmful effects.

In a nutshell: I am alive, I am the universe (obviously - this body is inseparable from the world in which it exists), therefore the universe is alive. There - in a few words we've established a basis for a non-mechanistic, spiritual worldview. And we can continue: as I self-reflect, it is obvious that consciousness is itself a form of causation. If consciousness did not cause events this discussion would be impossible. Therefore non-mechanical factors influence human actions.

I am happy to have that as a foundation. Whether this self-reflecting behaviour is predictable or not, deterministic or not, 'free will' or not, I consider secondary. Because the roots of my human nature go deep down into something greater than humanity, into this mysterious 'livingness' that appears to be a property of matter itself. Not only is death not truly 'the end', even the extinction of all organic life would not leave a cold, dead universe because the universe was never dead; life does not begin with thinking - it only becomes aware of itself with thinking.

I think that as humans we are like God trying on a mask at a party, enjoying it for half an hour, then throwing it in the bin before going off to do something else. We are the 'mask' only superficially.

What more 'freedom' could we want or have beyond this?

Barry Coidan said...

Dear TDG - it's too late. Wine, the last vestiges of my very limited mind altering experiences during the late '60's. Newcastle Brown was to main vector.

As I understand we started to go wrong when we set up the "I" and the " out there". My mind observes, it is not part of what it observes, but separate. This is useful in that we can manipulate,measure, experiment without any entanglement.

This separation didn't worry Galileo, Newton or Hooke because for them the nextus was God, in him was the ultimate reality. However, we found that by our scientific method we could " explain" and more importantly, in what was a new,technological age, control, and dictate to, nature. So why the need for God?

We suffer Lucifer's fate: separation from God. We yearn and despise in the same breath. How to get back to the celestial city? We can't because we have permanently turned our backs on that possibility.

We are too proud, too wise, too knowing but we cannot satisfy this ache.

Why not then seek to reverse this diabolical separation. Not by dragging the godhead back into the foreground - into every fibre of creation, but by seeking a connection with creation, through our own being. Because this is now the only place we can begin from.

The question then becomes; how; is it possible without any mediation? In your analysis since we live in the universe we are part of it and it therefore is alive. It is not some impersonal, mechanistic, unthinking form, but a conscious, living "something".

That's as far I get; today at least!

Anonymous said...

I had noticed that your avatar picture looks like a Miltonesqe fall of Satan.

Ego-consciousness is an inevitable part of growing up as a mentally healthy human in human society. It is problematic in a way that animal consciousness is not, but it has the potential for enlightenment that animal consciousness does not. The reason for this is that you have to be able to say "I am" in order to then discover the true nature of this "I".

An infant is thoughtlessly one with everything; a sage is knowingly one with everything. The ordinary ego-self is isolated from everything because its I is just a concept, and a concept must be defined in contradistinction to everything else.

So the solution is not to regress to the mentality of the animal or infant: the solution is to interrogate the nature of this 'I' until the false (the conceptual) breaks down and the true I is exposed.

The I is the centre and foundation of every thought at every moment. Ego-consiousness is subject-object consciousness. Whether you overtly think about yourself or have your attention turned entirely 'outside', there is always a self-subject looking at an other-object.

The subject is as much a mental construct as the object. We feel that if this subject is threatened it is like losing something, even dying. This is the reason for all suffering. Even physical pain only causes suffering because the ego rebels against it. This is the significance of Jesus saying "take up the cross with me."

Thought and reading can get you this far - to laying out the problem in black and white - but to actually cross the river you have to leave all your baggage behind, which is to say, you must, at every moment, reject any self-definition that is even implied in thought. To reject doesn't mean to become a lost amnesiac - it means to recognise your ego as the temporary, unreal thing it is and separate out the true consciousness that you are. All thinking and perception, all mental objects, are not the true consciousness - the true consciousness is the basis of these and cannot be 'perceived' in the normal sense. It cannot be objectified. This is why they say that God is infinite and beyond comprehension.


Anonymous said...

When someone insults you and you react, ask "Who is insulted? Who needs revenge?" When you just admire a sunset, turn your attention inward to the one who perceives the sunset. You will find that even the most innocent activity is mediated by ego-consciousness and therefore limited and sort of pseudo or lifeless. When this ego-structure subsides either by chance or through effort, experience becomes very present-focused and intense, and 'beauty' becomes about a lot more than sophisticated aesthetic standards.

When you do anything at all, ask who is doing it.

You might think that this would drive you nuts, and sometimes it does feel like that, but it's the rebelling against the practice that is stressful. Done properly the practice is really its own reward, but it can take a long time to catch on to the right practice - it's very much a case of trial and error.

It is best to proceed without expectation, disregarding whether you get results quickly or slowly. You can only keep trying. There really is no exit but this. So long as humans evade this call to awaken they are amusing themselves by walking circuits of their prison-yard instead of walking out the gates into freedom.