Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Deeper Understanding

Please bear with me a moment while I attempt to explain an idea that’s been evolving within me for a while. If you are charitable in your reading of what I now write, then perhaps you yourself might rephrase it with more understanding and insight than I am able to bring to the subject at the moment. It is after all, just the beginning of an idea, one which began before I came to it and shall continue far beyond anything I have to say.

What if humans have a higher means of relating to the outside world than the intellect, the way many other species do? After all, there is no species as intelligent as us, and yet many of them accomplish feats that we cannot begin to understand. Take birds, for example, that are able to migrate thousands of miles to return year after year to precisely the same winter grounds. Or fish, who return to spawn in the streams in which they were born. There are many species capable of doing amazing things without themselves being able to understand how it is they accomplish what they do.

More importantly, many species have a swarm intelligence, or hive mind. A colony of insects are capable of working together in such a way that is far beyond the will or thought process of any of the individual members of the group.

So what if humans have similar abilities, ones that our intellect would reject should it become aware of them? Because after all, the intellect and the conscious mind are very much biased towards the intellect and the conscious mind. Individual humans are very reluctant to believe that they act according to anything other than their conscious, well-reasoned thoughts. But that is vanity and we can all site examples of people who rationalize their behavior rather than attempting to understand it. Psychiatrists and advertising executives would be more than willing to tell us that human beings often behave according to more primitive and sub-conscious motivators than we like to think. But our egos do not let us admit to such behavior.

So if we were to have senses similar to ones that animals possess, it is most likely our intellect would deny them, just as it denies myriad pieces of evidence that suggest we do not always behave in our own best interest, that we are often not even aware of why we do what we do. That we develop justifications later for the actions we perform now.

Is it not likely then that not only are we capable of operating according to senses we are unaware of, but that we have been doing so all along? After all, it was little more than a hundred years or so that the idea of the subconscious has come into our language.

Of course, while the idea of the subconscious came into common knowledge at about that time, it began somewhat earlier as a new thought in one or two people’s heads. I don’t like thinking of an idea as belonging to anyone, as if one genius created it out of thin air. I prefer to think of an idea as gestating until it is grown enough to leave the womb and make its way into the mainstream. Such ideas are never the child of a single person but the result of a sort of collective conscious that suddenly starts to break out in different minds. Freud is most closely associated with the term subconscious, but he was not the only nor even the first to use the term.

So let us for a moment imagine a concept similar and perhaps even parallel to the subconscious. Let’s give it a name, the superconscious. There, now it has now entered into human thought, perhaps for the first time, perhaps not. Let us just for a moment imagine it exists and it is this idea that has been responsible for such unexplainable phenomena as the Third Reich, market bubbles, and fashions. The concept of a superconscious can perhaps then explain what we find unexplainable otherwise. It is what we sometimes call the mob mentality, the hive mind, the herd instinct.

Maybe it doesn’t exist at all, but perhaps by using it as a place filler it serves as a function to explain the world we live in. If it helps us see more clearly, it really doesn’t matter at all if it exists or not. Just as x in math is used to represent a variable, let us use the idea of the superconscious to solve a problem that might be unsolvable without it. This is not to say it doesn’t exist, it’s just to say that it need not actually exist to be useful.

So what if it exists? Might it not go a way towards explaining things the conscious mind has always had difficulty explaining? Might it not exist in religion, giving voice to feelings that science has never been able to assuage? Might it not exist in things we call intuition, insight, and revelation, things we cannot erase from common understanding and yet cannot explain through science or observable phenomena?

Prior to a couple of hundred or so years ago, we as a society were quite blinded by the idea of a God whose laws were not to be questioned. We did not probe such ideas as I describe then because we felt it sacrilege to do so. We had belief, but not enough to question. In short, we were ruled by a fear of God rather than a faith in him that would have allowed us to explore our spiritual selves and any connection we might have with a “superconsciousness”.

Once human beings started actively questioning reality and meaning without regard for a divinity who took care of us and who provided meaning, the idea of an abyss took hold in our collective imagination so that we feared to gaze beyond, worrying like ancient mariners worried that we would simply fall off the edge of the universe into the great void. Nietzsche said that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you. A chilling thought. And he was not alone. Other thinkers of around his time expressed similar sentiments. As we explored the physical world, we began to truly appreciate how humanity was not the center of the universe. We began to see just how insignificant a part of the whole we are.

The scientific method of observing the universe required putting ourselves outside of the equation. Our inner yearnings, our desire to be part of the whole, did not fit into the mechanistic view of the outside world. But they do exist and we are part of the whole. We cannot deny that. We as human beings have spiritual desires. I won’t bother trying to define them, but it is time we starting exploring this aspect of our humanity that has been common to every culture and every people dating well back into prehistory. This is not to deny science, it is to admit that science does not, can never explain everything about our role in the universe. The intellect and the scientific method are immensely important tools, but a little humility regarding the limits of our intellects might be the greatest wisdom we can hope to achieve. After all, the intellect often misdiagnoses situations our sense of smell or taste might easily make clear to us. It doesn’t matter what the date on the gallon of milk says so much as what our senses relate. It is important to explore all aspects of who we are, not merely what our intellect relates to us. Spirituality, like our other senses, is unavoidably part of what we need in order to understand ourselves and the world we live in.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of humanity we are in a position to explore what spirituality can show us free from fear of offending God or our intellect. There is new territory to experience and map, facets of our being we have been fearful to delve into. It is not supernatural, just another aspect of our nature. As long as we cannot adequately explain the world we live in, as long as supposedly intelligent humans act contrary to their best interests, as long as we use technology to build ever-greater weapons of destruction, and as long as we destroy the planet that will be the only one the vast majority of us will ever know, it could prove suicidal to our species not to humbly seek to learn from it. But of course if you think we’re already on the right path…

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