Archive for the ‘Mysticism’ Category

Thinking About Thinking: Start Thinking About What You’re Thinking!

October 24, 2009

I would suggest a new concept today. Well, kind of. Kind of an addition to an old idea, too.

Imagine what happens when you say something to someone else. If they’re paying attention, they remember what you said, and those words and ideas are, in a sense, absorbed into them. After that, all their actions after that, everything they do and say, is influenced, to some degree (however potentially incredibly small) by what they heard. And everything they say to other people becomes part of them, not only propagating their own ideas, but the influence your ideas had upon their ideas.

Thusly, everything you do and say can potentially, over time, influence any and every other person in the human species, to some degree. Ideas don’t just get propagated consciously, but eventually become subliminated to some degree in the behavior of many more individuals, perhaps to emerge without prompting, or even without the understanding of the person taking the action.

This produces a massively intricate system of human thoughts and behaviors, kind of like a cognitive ecosystem. Unlike most ecosystems, however, this one is entirely artificial, created by people, for people. Yet, in many ways, it behaves similarly.

A natural ecosystem is a robust thing, able to absorb and adapt to radical changes, though individual parts of the ecosystem may disintegrate. The components of ecosystems, however, grow more delicate the more complex your ecosystem gets. And ecosystems tend to be changed slowly, but respond to sufficient change quickly – changes will build up towards a critical mass which will start a chain reaction that, when the criteria are met, will flash through the ecosystem.

Our mental ecosystem behaves similarly in all these ways, right down to the fascinating similarities involving punctuated equilibrium phenomena. And this is an important part, as it implies that for something really big to happen in our society, it has to sufficiently suffuse itself among us, a process that basically requires us to talk with each other about it a lot, until eventually, one day, when we try to talk about it, we find that we all already agree with each other – and from there, we do something about it, all at once.

So, what does all this mean, you ask. It means that, if our minds, our culture, is like an ecosystem, then we desperately need some way to control pollution. And that control has to come from us as individuals.

It means that you should think about every word you say.

And to do that, it means you need to understand every word you say. If you’re about to say something, you need to ask yourself, “Do I know this is true, or is it just something I heard but never thought about? How do I know it’s true? What does it mean if it’s true?”

If you don’t know something is true, then don’t say it – or at least, make clear that you don’t know if it’s true. Always be able to answer the question, “But how do you know that?”, and always be willing to ask it to others.

The same applies to everything you do, too. “What’s the reason I do this? Do I know it’s a good reason? How do I know it’s a good reason?”

If you don’t have a good reason to do something, then don’t do it – or at least, do it with the understanding that you might not be doing the right thing. Always be able to answer the question, “Why do you act like that?” and always be willing to ask it to others.

It also means that we might not see the impact of what we’re doing – at least, not immediately. But thoughts and actions build up inertia, until eventually they burst, all of a sudden, into very real and very visible effects.

Categorizing Mysticism

May 31, 2009

So, my thoughts on mysticism have led in the direction of trying to describe some sort of model for dividing/specifying the functions of mysticism into modular parts. I’m not really familiar with any attempts to do this sort of things, so I’m just going to make up the terminology whole cloth using my general guideline for labeling: use nifty words.

By describing individual mystical functions, I hope to be able to pursue each of the functions independently, and work with them interrelated later, in the ultimate hope of being able to make a wholly artificial mystic experience (presumably, using some artistic medium as trigger, as I lack the ability to directly cause divine experience).

I’ve identified four different categories of mystical functionality based on what kinds of actions they encourage individuals to take. I have named the categories as follows: Anima, Ki, Logos, and Glamour.

Anima:

In spiritual terms, Anima is the interaction with the ‘spirit’ of a thing. It’s what you do when you worship an ancestral spirit, or pray to the god of math tests that you pass that final exam, or even when you threaten your computer to start working or else you’ll scrap it (it also describes my relationship with a specific traffic light I pass through on the way to work – that light’s a bastard, I tell you what).

In practical terms, Anima is anthropomorphism. Humans are social creatures, and our social capabilities do not simply turn off when we interact with things that aren’t humans (or even alive) – thus, our brains insist on trying to treat everything we interact with as if it were a person like us.

Ki:

In mystical terms, Ki is the manipulation of internal energies and emotions, sometimes with the intent of directly affecting the outside world. It’s something that can be invoked in emotion-controlling meditation, and it’s what triggers our fervent belief that we really can kill someone by just hating them hard enough, or a sudden second wind in an athletic event when we know people are cheering for us.

In practical terms, Ki is the logical extention of our empathic functions as people. It represents both an expectation that our emotions affect the world around us, and that the emotions we percieve of the world around us affect us. This function is similar to Anima in that it too exists because our social capability is ‘on’ all the time, in all situations – it causes us to get emotional impressions from things that do not actively express emotions, and it causes us to subconsciously expect objects to react to our own emotional expression as if those objects were human like us.

Logos:

In mystical terms, Logos is the sensation of ‘getting it’ – something which we feel when we learn and contemplate correct things (I imagine Colbert would sue me if I tried to call it “Truthyness”, but that wouldn’t be a bad word to use either).  Logos is what gives us confidence that what we know is correct, allowing us to trust in the world that we perceive.

In practical terms, Logos is a feedback loop caused by contemplating a series of thoughts that feature recursion (Example: A leads to B, B leads to C, C leads back to A). It’s arguably the foundation of modern learning systems, and it’s also the foundation of self-reinforcing systems of ‘facts’ which can cause cognitive dissonance by causing an individual to view all new information exclusively in the self-reinforcing context.

Glamour:

In mystical terms, Glamour is an indescribable, ineffable experience, frequently attributed as divine in nature.

In practical terms, Glamour is the effect of an extremely strong behavioral reinforcement function – neurologically, it’s probably a form of temporal lobe epilepsy – of course, knowing how it works doesn’t make such an experience any less intense. Understanding the precise triggers and functions of Glamour will probably prove harder than the other forces, despite our culture’s greater neurological understanding of it.

The next step, I imagine, would be to try to learn how to activate these functions at will in some way. Perhaps we can utilize the Logos that leads people to memorize and think in terms of intricate conspiracy theories, and turn it towards improving memory capacity? Or perhaps we can gain insights from wise use of our anthropic mystic functions, Anima and Ki, on inanimate objects or even abstract ideas? Maybe I could get the God of Mathematics (Checked Wikipedia, apparently there’s no patron saint) to help me on my trigonometry.

I’m pretty bad at trig.

The Cognitive Power of Belief

May 29, 2009

There are people who believe in very, very many things out there. That medicine can become more powerful the less of it you take, that Atlantis was a super-advanced civilization that interacted with aliens, that the universe is six thousand and change years old, that the leader of a group is in fact a god come to earth, that everything, including abstract objects like rivers and mountains, have souls, that our government is secretly working against us all, that our government isn’t working against us all… and so on. The gamut of human belief is absurdly wide, and the depth of human belief is similarly stunning.

I can’t help but think there’s something to that.

It seems clear from these beliefs that human beings are not rational creatures, that we function using some other fundamental thought method that only incidentally supports rationalism. But what method could that be?

I’m of the personal opinion that what we describe as ‘spiritualism’, ‘mysticism’, ‘religiousity’, and so on (henceforth to be called ‘mysticism’ ’cause I think the word sounds cool) functions as a kind of emotional interface to our conscious, cognitive and linguistic abilities, by functioning as a system of triggers that when activated cause us to learn associated ideas and behaviors quickly and persistently. So persistently, in fact, that we could have difficulty overcoming them consciously even if on a rational level we know they are incorrect.

The existence of the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance in regards to mysticism, in particular, fascinates me. What I imagine, is that what someone learns with strong facilitation by such a ‘mystical’ drive is something well-learned indeed, and unlikely to be overridden except through use of a comparably powerful cognitive tool.

All in all, it seems that mysticism, long used by hucksters and cult leaders to mislead and confuse people, could be used as a tool for good – and considering its’ power, used very potently indeed.

The first question would regard what we could use mysticism for – to that end, I would posit that the collective functions of mysticism serve two purposes for the human mind: To describe the world around us in an intricate and emotionally engaging way (descriptive mysticism), and to proscribe to us correct behaviors on a largely emotional level (proscriptive mysticism).

It seems to me the bigger question, though, is to precisely how to go about using mysticism constructively, a task which additionally entails coming to understand mystical functions in the human mind in greater depth.

I’m musing (pun appreciated, but not intended) on that one.