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The Philosopher's Stone
Newsletter - 2014
January 7, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
10. The New Reformation
We now switch focus from science and philosophy to religion. Even in 1932, all too many scholars considered religion passé and limited philosophy to epistemology, dissing metaphysics. In this chapter, Whitehead as a good philosopher is an equal-opportunity gadfly, stating what was wrong with the Christian religion in the past as well as emphasizing its great contributions. He begins by contrasting Protestant Christianity ("shewing all the signs of a steady decay") as "one side of the contrast" with the fact that "the religious spirit as an effective element in the affairs of men has just [April, 1931] obtained one of its most signal triumphs", and goes on to describe it.
In India the forces of violence and strife, between rulers and people, between races, between religions, between social grades,—forces threatening to overwhelm with violence hundreds of millions of mankind—these forces have for the moment been halted by two men acting with the moral authority of religious conviction, the Mahatma Gandhi and the Viceroy of India [Lord Irwin]. (Page 160)
Whitehead calls the religious motive behind this "the response to the divine persuasion", and in this "the protestant populations of the British Empire, and . . . the United States, have sustained their part". So the contrast is
decay and survival. We have to estimate what has decayed, and what has survived. My thesis is that a new Reformation is in full progress. It is a re-formation; but whether its issue be fortunate or unfortunate depends largely on the actions of comparatively few men, and notably upon the leaders of the protestant clergy.
I do not hold it to be possible, or even desirable, that identity of detailed belief can be attained. But . . . . it is possible, amid these differences, to reach a general agreement as to those elements, in intimate human experience and in general history, which we select to exemplify that ultimate theme of the divine immanence, as a completion required by our cosmological outlook. In other words, we may agree as to the qualitative aspects of religious facts, and as to their general way of coordination in metaphysical theory, while disagreeing in various explanatory formulations. (Page 161)
This is not simple. "Simple solutions are bogus solutions. It is written that he who runs, may read. But it is not said, that he provides the writing. For religion is concerned with our reactions of purpose and emotion due to our personal measure of intuition into the ultimate mystery of the universe. We must not postulate simplicity." We need "systematic formulations" and "the effort of Reason to provide an accurate system of theology", or else we see "religion . . . sunk into the decrepitude of failure." So "liberal clergy and laymen" in attacking systematic theology, "were throwing away the chief safeguard against the wild emotions of superstition. . . . History has authority so far . . . as it admits of some measure of rational interpretation."
But the "great minds who laid the foundations of our modern mentality" were dissatisfied with "the traditional dogmatic theology", even if not for precisely the right reasons. "Their true enemy was the doctrine of dogmatic finality, a doctrine which flourished and is flourishing with equal vigour throughout Theology, Science, and Metaphysics." Modern mentality "introduces criticism. Such a notion hardly enters into any book of the Bible, either in the mind of Jehovah, or of any of his worshippers." To develop systematic theology, we must accompany it "by a critical understanding of the relation of linguistic expression to our deepest and most persistent intuitions. Language was developed in response to the excitements of practical actions. It is concerned with the prominent facts", which we mostly learn through our sense-organs. "But the prominent facts are the superficial facts. They vary because they are superficial; and they enter into conscious discrimination because they vary." There are "other elements . . . on the fringe of consciousness . . . . [I]t is our consciousness that flickers, and not the facts themselves."
Whitehead then gives us a process cameo description of how our perspective shifts from one occasion of experience to the next. Our language may not be adequate to describe this, but elements of experience are not important "in proportion to their clarity in consciousness. The appeal to history gains its importance by reason of this complex character of human experience. Metaphysics and theology alike require it. The requisite evidence cannot be gained by mere acts of direct introspection conducted at one epoch by a few clear-sighted individuals." We learn from age to age, with different "interpretations of feelings, motives, and purposes". This discrimination requires
a criticism founded upon taste, and a criticism founded upon logical analysis and inductive probability. The two grounds of criticism, aesthetic and logical, are welded together in the final judgment of reason as to the comparison of historical periods, one with the other. Each age deposits its message as to the secret character of the nature of things. Civilizations can only be understood by those who are civilized. . . . [T]he great periods of history act as an enlightenment. They reveal ourselves to ourselves. (Page 164)
Whitehead now tells us, "Christianity bases itself upon an intensive study of the significance of certain historical occasions scattered irregularly within a period of about twelve hundred years, from the earlier Hebrew prophets and historians to the stabilization of western theology by Augustine." He whisks us through a list of the principal figures, all of whom "could with equal right appeal to history". New Thoughters will be happy to note that one of our "friends in high places", George Fox, is on the list.
The conclusion to be drawn from the appeal entirely depends upon the value-judgments guiding your selection, and upon the metaphysical presuppositions dictating your notions of a coherent theology. The appeal is to the actions, thoughts, emotions, and institutions, which great persons and great occasions had made effective on the shores of the Mediterranean within that earlier period of time.
In this appeal to history we must remember the gaps in time between the extant, written Gospels and the events which they relate; the discordances in accounts, the translations of tradition from language to language, the suspicious passages: also the seeming indifference to direct historical evidence, notably in the case of St. Paul, who retired to Arabia when we should have expected him to have recourse to the disciples who had seen his Lord. . . . [A]ny modern reformation of the religion must first concentrate upon the moral and metaphysical intuitions scattered throughout the whole epoch. This conclusion is a commonplace of modern thought. (Page 165)
But still, he states, "[T]he culminating points of the period embody the greatest advances in the expression of moral and intellectual intuitions which mark the growth of recent civilization." And then we’re off again:
The period as a whole begins in barbarism and ends in failure. The failure consisted in the fact that barbaric elements and the defects in intellectual comprehension had not been discarded, but remained as essential elements in the various formulations of Christian theology, orthodox and heretical alike. Also, the later Protestant Reformation was, in this respect, an even more complete failure, in no way improving Catholic theology. The Quakers perhaps form a minor exception to this statement. But George Fox lived a hundred years after the age of Luther. The issue of these failures is the tragic history of Christianity. (Page 166)
Apart from that, it’s a terrific religion.
Whitehead next takes up a discussion of
three culminating phases which, in theological language, constitute its threefold revelation. The first and the last phases were primarily intellectual, with a sufficient background of moral insight. The middle phase, which forms the driving power of the religion, is primarily an exhibition in life of moral intuition, with a sufficiency of intellectual insight to give an articulate expression of singular beauty. The three phases are bound together as intellectual discovery,—then exemplification,—finally metaphysical interpretation. (Page 166)
Phase One is "Plato’s publication of his final conviction, towards the end of his life, that the divine element in the world is to be conceived as a persuasive agency and not as a coercive agency. This doctrine should be looked upon as one of the greatest intellectual discoveries in the history of religion."
Phase Two is "the supreme moment in religious history, according to the Christian religion. The essence of Christianity is the appeal to the life of Christ as a revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world." Whitehead adds, "I need not elaborate. Can there be any doubt that the power of Christianity lies in its revelation in act, of that which Plato divined in theory?"
is again intellectual. It is the first period in the formation of Christian theology by the schools of thought mainly associated with Alexandria and Antioch. The originality and value of their contribution to the thought of the world has been greatly underestimated. This is partly their own fault. For they persisted in declaring that they were only stating the faith once delivered to the saints; whereas in fact they were groping after the solution of a fundamental metaphysical problem, although presented to them in a highly special form.
These Christian theologians have the distinction of being the only thinkers who in a fundamental metaphysical doctrine have improved upon Plato. It is true that this period of Christian theology was Platonic. But it is also true that Plato is the originator of the heresies and of the feeblest side of Christian Theology. (Page 167)
Plato turns out to be stuck in his own famous cave. But he was just trying to stay out of trouble:
What metaphysics requires is a solution exhibiting the plurality of individuals as consistent with the unity of the Universe, and a solution which exhibits the World as requiring its union with God, and God as requiring his union with the World. Sound doctrine also requires an understanding how the Ideals in God’s nature, by reason of their status in his nature, are thereby persuasive elements in the creative advance. (Page 168)
The Christian theologians "had to consider the nature of God". They also "had to construct a doctrine of the person of Christ". This is how they ended up with the Trinity, and Whitehead declines to pass judgement on it. They were pointing the way for Plato’s metaphysics "to give a rational account of the rôle of the persuasive agency of God."
Unfortunately, the theologians never made this advance into general metaphysics. The reason for this check was another unfortunate presupposition. The nature of God was exempted from all the metaphysical categories which applied to the individual things in this temporal world. The concept of him was a sublimation from its barbaric origin. He stood in the same relation to the whole World as early Egyptian or Mesopotamian kings stood to their subject populations. . . . [T]heir general concept of the Deity stopped all further generalization. . . . It is only by drawing the long bow of mysticism that evidences for his existence can be collected from our temporal World. Also the worst of unqualified omnipotence is that it is accompanied by responsibility for every detail of every happening. (Page 169)
Whitehead suggests, "Protestant theology should develop as its foundation an interpretation of the Universe which grasps its unity amid its many diversities. The interpretation to be achieved is a reconciliation of seeming incompatibilities." And then he lets them have it both barrels:
It is the business of philosophical theology to provide a rational understanding of the rise of civilization, and of the tenderness of mere life itself, in a world which superficially is founded upon the clashings of senseless compulsion. I am not disguising my belief that in this task, theology has largely failed. The notion of the absolute despot has stood in the way. The doctrine of Grace has been degraded, and the doctrines of the Atonement are mostly crude. The defect of the liberal theology of the last two hundred years is that it has confined itself to the suggestion of minor, vapid reasons why people should continue to go to church in the traditional fashion. (Page 170)
Finally, Whitehead states:
The leaders of religious thought should today concentrate upon the Christian tradition and more particularly upon its historical origins. In the case of the more conservative schools of thought such advice is . . . unnecessary, and indeed impertinent. But it is a question for discussion why the more radical schools should not cut entirely free from any appeal to the past, and concentrate entirely upon the contemporary world and contemporary examples. The summary answer is that in so far as such an appeal to tradition can be made with complete honesty, without any shadow of evasion, there is an enormous gain in popular effectiveness. (Page 171)
He adds, "The history of religion is the history of the countless generations required for interest to attach itself to profound ideas. For this reason religions are so often more barbarous than the civilizations in which they flourish." Language is always a problem: "Desperate intellectual battles have been fought by philosophers who have expressed the same idea in different ways." He concludes, "Must ‘religion’ always remain as a synonym for ‘hatred’? The great social ideal for religion is that it should be the common basis for the unity of civilization. In that way it justifies its insight beyond the transient clash of brute forces." But it takes "this whole period of twelve centuries, with its legendary antecedents and its modern successors . . . to complete the tale of the Christian religion." And the cherry on the sundae:
The task of Theology is to show how the World is founded on something beyond mere transient fact, and how it issues in something beyond the perishing of occasions. The temporal World is the stage of finite accomplishment. We ask of Theology to express that element in perishing lives which is undying by reason of its expression of perfections proper to our finite natures, In this way we shall understand how life includes a mode of satisfaction deeper than joy or sorrow. (Page 172)
And our Philosopher has marked that with one of his squiggles.
Next week: "Objects and Subjects", and the Philosopher’s pencil has been really busy.
January 14, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
Part III. Philosophical
11. Objects and Subjects
We’re into the Philosophical section, so now we’re really for it! The Philosopher was obviously in his element, for he adorned the margins with garlands of squiggles and even put squiggles in the corners of five out of fifteen pages, with plenty of squiggles and underlines on the other pages as well. But this is Extreme Philosophy; do not try this at home! Whitehead lists twenty topics to discuss, but they do not lend themselves well to sound bites, and for me to even try to summarize all of them is rather like describing the molecular structure of the kitchen table when all you wanted to do was set your groceries on it. Accordingly, I will just hit the high spots, supplying a few principles or general comments that you might find interesting or useful.
Whitehead’s prefatory remarks explain, "When Descartes, Locke, and Hume undertake the analysis of experience, they utilize those elements in their own experience which lie clear and distinct, fit for the exactitude of intellectual discourse." Everybody but Plato assumes "that the more fundamental factors will ever lend themselves for discrimination with peculiar clarity. This assumption is here directly challenged." So he’s flinging down the gauntlet: he’s saying that those guys were ducking the tough stuff and implying that things would steadily become clearer and more refined. Not so.
This is particularly a problem with philosophers’ accounts of the object-subject structure of experience. The old guys described this as a bare-bones "relation of knower to known", which doesn’t tell us very much. Whitehead agrees that the subject-object relation is "the fundamental structural pattern of experience . . . but not in the sense in which subject-object is identified with knower-known. I contend that the notion of mere knowledge is a high abstraction, and that conscious discrimination itself is a variable factor only present in the more elaborate examples of occasions of experience", such as the ones that make up us human beings. "The basis of experience is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originating from things whose relevance is given." In other words, the old guys were making it much too simple and not even trying to unpack a very complex thing. That’s why they glibly said that it would become steadily clearer. And the Philosopher adorned these statements with several squiggles. Everybody is trying to be so reasonable and logical, but "the basis of experience is emotional". Stop the presses!
Whitehead likes the Quaker term concern. Big squiggle: "The occasion as subject has a ‘concern’ for the object. And the ‘concern’ at once places the object as a component in the experience of the subject, with an affective tone drawn from this object and directed towards it. With this interpretation the subject-object relation is the fundamental structure of experience." The more formal version of this is what Whitehead calls prehension (think of a prehensile tail, apprehend, comprehend, all rolled into one). It’s all about relationships; subjects and objects frequently change hats with each other, and neither is passive. I as subject take in you as object, and you as subject take in/grasp me as object. You may have encountered this in Psychology 101, or in English grammar, if you were so extremely fortunate as to have studied any of it.
Another big collection of squiggles: each developing occasion has its moment in the sun, referred to as individuality:
The occasion arises from relevant objects, and perishes into the status of an object for other occasions. But it enjoys its decisive moment of absolute self-attainment as emotional unity. As used here the words ‘individual’ and ‘atom’ have the same meaning, that they apply to composite things with an absolute reality which their components lack. . . . The creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact. It is the flying dart . . . hurled beyond the bounds of the world. (Page 177)
Then we discuss knowledge:
All knowledge is conscious discrimination of objects experienced. . . . . [K]nowledge is nothing more than an additional factor in the subjective form of the interplay of subject with object. [Big squiggle:]This interplay is the stuff constituting those individual things which make up the sole reality of the Universe. These individual things are the individual occasions of experience, the actual entities.
But we do not so easily get rid of knowledge. After all, it is knowledge that philosophers seek. And all knowledge is derived from, and verified by, direct intuitive observation. I accept this axiom of empiricism as stated in this general form. The question then arises how the structure of experience outlined above is directly observed. In answering this challenge I remind myself of the old advice that the doctrines which best repay critical examination are those which for the longest period have remained unquestioned. [Squiggle series] (Page 177)
We can begin to see how some of the unfortunate worldviews have arisen in the past and how this sort of "unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly" (William James) can help set us all straight.
Whitehead next gives us a lengthy discussion of perception, which usually means perception by means of the physical senses. That’s fine, but it needs to go a lot wider to include our interpretation of the incoming data. Squiggles point up: "[A]n object must be a thing received . . . . Thus the process of experiencing is constituted by the reception of objects into the unity of that complex occasion which is the process itself. The process creates itself, but it does not create the objects which it receives as factors in its own nature." One might think of objects as the data for an occasion. Now we’re into creativity:
The initial situation includes a factor of activity which is the reason for the origin of that occasion of experience. This factor of activity is what I have called Creativity. [Squiggle] The initial situation with its creativity can be termed the initial phase of the new occasion. It can equally well be termed the ‘actual world’ relative to that occasion. It has a certain unity of its own, expressive of its capacity for providing the objects requisite for a new occasion, and also expressive of its conjoint activity whereby it is essentially the primary phase of a new occasion. It can thus be termed a ‘real potentiality’. . . . The creativity is the actualization of potentiality, and the process of actualization is an occasion of experiencing. Thus viewed in abstraction objects are passive, but viewed in conjunction they carry the creativity which drives the world. The process of creation is the form of unity of the Universe. [Big squiggle] (Page 179)
Now we come to a triple-squiggle plus vertical mark by a paragraph that is going to explain "why an occasion of experience by reason of its nature requires objects:
The objects are the factors in experience which function so as to express that that occasion originates by including a transcendent universe of other things. Thus it belongs to the essence of each occasion of experience that it is concerned with an otherness transcending itself. The occasion is one among others, and including the others which it is among. Consciousness is an emphasis upon a selection of these objects. Thus perception is consciousness analyzed in respect to those objects selected for this emphasis. Consciousness is the acme of emphasis. It is evident that this definition of perception is wider than the narrow definition based upon sense-perception, sensa, and the bodily sense-organs. (Page 180)
Whitehead then proceeds to set up a straw man and demolish it, complimenting Hume and then destroying his argument in the process. He gives a very complex but persuasive illustration, then comments, accompanied by a big squiggle:
[T]he evidence on which [our habitual interpretations of sensa] are based is entirely drawn from the vast background and foreground of non-sensuous perception with which sense-perception is fused, and without which it can never be. We can discern no clean-cut sense-perception wholly concerned with present fact.
In human experience, the most compelling example of non-sensuous perception is our knowledge of our own immediate past. . . . It is gone, and yet it is here. It is our indubitable self, the foundation of our present existence. Yet the present occasion while claiming self-identity . . . nevertheless is engaged in modifying [the bygone occasion], in adjusting it to other purposes. The present moment is constituted by the influx of the other into that self-identity which is the continued life of the immediate past within the immediacy of the present. [another big squiggle] (page 181)
Next, Whitehead tells us: "the subjective forms of the immediate past are continuous with those of the present . . . . Thus non-sensuous perception is one aspect of the continuity of nature." After another illustration and a reframe of Hume ("This appeal to Hume has the sole purpose of illustrating the common-sense obviousness of the present thesis"), he gets into "the flux of energy" and explains:
An occasion of experience which includes a human mentality is an extreme instance, at one end of the scale, of those happenings which constitute nature. . . . Any doctrine which refuses to place human experience outside nature, must find in descriptions of human experience factors which also enter into the descriptions of less specialized natural occurrences. If there be no such factors, then the doctrine of human experience as a fact within nature is mere bluff, founded upon vague phrases whose sole merit is a comforting familiarity. We should either admit dualism . . . or we should point out the identical elements connecting human experience with physical science. (Pages 184-185)
This means that a bunch of people are hoist on their own petard. Most of Christianity is dualist, and all too many in the physical sciences are materialist. How is Whitehead going to get them together? In physics, a "natural occasion" is "a locus of energy. . . . [P]hysical science recognizes qualitative differences between occasions in respect to the way in which each occasion entertains its energy." We then learn about "the flux of energy", "the way in which the occasions in question have inherited their energy from the past of nature, and in which they are about to transmit their energy to the future. . . . This is a conception of physical nature in terms of continuity." Then we come to another big squiggle: "These contrasted aspects of nature, continuity and atomicity, have a long history in European thought, reaching back to the origin of science among the Greeks. The more probable conclusion is that neither can be dispensed with ...."
We then romp through a comparison of mind and nature, ending, garlanded with squiggles: "The mere phrase that ‘physical science is an abstraction’, is a confession of philosophic failure. It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete fact from which that abstraction is derivable."
The Philosopher, who studied with the Boston Personalists, was ecstatically squiggly over the remarks on Personality: "Any philosophy must provide some doctrine of personal identity. In some sense there is a unity in the life of each man, from birth to death. . . . [T]he problem remains for [the two modern philosophers rejecting a self-identical Soul-Substance]. . . to provide an adequate account of this undoubted personal unity, maintaining itself amidst the welter of circumstance." Another squiggle:
[O]ur consciousness of the self-identity pervading our life-thread of occasions, is nothing other than knowledge of a special strand of unity within the general unity of nature. . . the doctrine of the immanence of the past energizing in the present. This doctrine of immanence is practically that doctrine adumbrated by the Hellenistic Christian theologians of Egypt. But they applied the doctrine only to the relation of God to the World, and not to all actualities. (Pages 187-188)
And Whitehead ends the chapter by revisiting dualism:
I have endeavored to put forward a defence of dualism, differently interpreted. Plato, Descartes, Locke, prepared the way for Hume; and Kant followed upon Hume. The point of this discussion is to show an alternative line of thought which evades Hume’s deduction from philosophical tradition, and at the same time preserves the general trend of thought received from his three great predecessors. The dualism in the later Platonic dialogues between the Platonic ‘souls’ and the Platonic ‘physical’ nature, the dualism between the Cartesian ‘thinking substances’ and the Cartesian ‘extended substances’, the dualism between the Lockian ‘human understanding’ and the Lockian ‘external things’ described for him by Galileo and Newton—all these kindred dualisms are here found within each occasion of actuality. Each occasion has its physical inheritance and its mental reaction which drives it on to its self-completion. The world is not merely physical, nor is it merely mental. Nor is it merely one with many subordinate phases. Nor is it merely a complete fact, in its essence static with the illusion of change. Wherever a vicious dualism appears, it is by reason of mistaking an abstraction for a final concrete fact.
The universe is dual because, in the fullest sense, it is both transient and eternal. The universe is dual because each final actuality is both physical and mental. The universe is dual because each actuality requires abstract character. The universe is dual because each occasion unites its formal immediacy with objective otherness. The universe is many because it is wholly and completely to be analysed into many final actualities—or in Cartesian language, into many res verae. The Universe is one, because of the universal immanence. There is thus a dualism in this contrast between the unity and multiplicity. Throughout the universe there reigns the union of opposites which is the ground of dualism. (Page 190)
Next week: Past, Present, Future.
January 21, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
12. Past, Present, Future
For this chapter, Whitehead believes that he has already said enough about "the immanence of past occasions in the future, relatively to them . . . . The past has an objective existence in the present which lies in the future beyond itself." But he hasn’t gotten sufficiently into how "the future can be said to be immanent in occasions antecedent to itself, and the sense in which contemporary occasions are immanent in each other". So he’s going to start with "the future certainly is something for the present. . . . Cut away the future, and the present collapses, emptied of its proper content. Immediate existence requires the insertion of the future in the crannies of the present." Huh? Maybe it will become clearer as we go along.
Literary training messes us up: "We think of the future in time-spans of centuries, or of decades, or of years, or of days. We dwell critically upon the mass of fables termed history. As a result we conceive ourselves as related to past or to future by a mere effort of purely abstract imagination, devoid of direct observation of particular fact." If so, we have no idea whether there was a past or will be a future. "Literature preserves the wisdom of the human race; but in this way it enfeebles observation of past, or of future, we should confine ourselves to time-spans of the order of magnitude of a second, or even of fractions of a second." Keeping ourselves there, each moment of experience is "a transition between two worlds, the immediate past and the immediate future". But the future, immanent in the present, is to be "understood in terms of the account of the process of self-completion of each individual actual occasion". The Philosopher has squiggled:
This process can be shortly characterized as a passage from re-enaction to anticipation. The intermediate stage in this transition is constituted by the acquisition of novel content, which is the individual contribution of the immediate subject for the re-shaping of its primary phase of re-enaction into its initial phase of anticipation. This final phase is otherwise termed the ‘satisfaction,’ since it marks the exhaustion of the creative urge for that individuality. (Page 192)
And all of this gets packed into a split second! A further squiggle:
Thus the self-enjoyment of an occasion of experience is initiated by an enjoyment of the past as alive in itself and is terminated by an enjoyment of itself as alive in the future. This is the account of the creative urge of the universe as it functions in each single individual occasion. In this sense, the future is immanent in each present occasion, with its particular relations to the present settled in various degrees of dominance. But no future individual occasion is in existence. The anticipatory propositions all concern the constitution of the present occasion and the necessities inherent in it. This constitution necessitates that there be a future, and necessitates a quota of contribution for re-enaction in the primary phases of future occasions.
The point to remember is that the fact that each individual occasion is transcended by the creative urge, belongs to the essential constitution of each such occasion. It is not an accident which is irrelevant to the completed constitution of any such occasion. (Page 193)
You can at least get an inkling of the notion that this is indeed a constructive, positive philosophy, with words such as creative, enjoyment, novel. And each occasion is anything but passive, so we collections of serieses of occasions are definitely putting our oar in. And somewhere in here is "an intervening touch of mentality".
Whitehead next treats us to a interesting discussion of real and actual:
The actualities of the Universe are processes of experience, each process an individual fact. The whole Universe is the advancing assemblage of these processes. . . . ‘[T]o be something’ is to be discoverable as a factor in the analysis of some actuality. . . . [T]he term ‘realization’ refers to the actual entities which include the entity in question as a positive factor in their constitutions. Thus though everything is real, it is not necessarily realized in some particular set of actual occasions. But it is necessary that it be discoverable somewhere, realized in some actual entity. There is not anything which has failed in some sense to be realized, physically or conceptually. The term ‘real’ can also mark the differences arising in the contrast between physical and conceptual realization. (Page 197)
And some interesting—er—occasional comments:
Any set of actual occasions are united by the mutual immanence of occasion, each in the other. To the extent that they are united they mutually constrain each other. . . . Any set of occasions, conceived as thus combined into a unity, will be termed a nexus. . . . [D]ifferent types emerge, which may be respectively termed Regions, Societies, Persons, Enduring Objects, Corporal Substances, Living Organisms, Events, with other analogous terms for the various shades of complexity of which Nature is capable. [More about them in the next chapter.] (pages 197-198)
Then Whitehead discusses freedom and constraint:
We think of Constraint and Freedom in terms of the values realized in connection with them, and also in terms of the antithesis between them. But there is another way of considering them. We can ask what there is in the physical nature of things constituting the physical realization either of freedom, or of constraint, or of a compatible association of both in a suitable pattern.
In fact we do habitually interpret human history in terms of freedom and constraint. Apart from the realization of this antithesis in physical occurrences, the history of civilized humanity is a meaningless succession of events, involving a play of emotions concerned with concepts entirely irrelevant to the physical facts.
[Squiggle] The causal independence of contemporary occasions is the ground for the freedom within the Universe. (Page 198)
And what I found interesting:
[I]n any two occasions of the Universe there are elements in either one which are irrelevant to the constitution of the other. The forgetfulness of this doctrine leads to an over-moralization in the view of the nature of things. Fortunately there are a great many things which do not much matter, and we can have them how we will. The opposite point of view has been the nursery of fanaticism, and has tinged history with ferocity. (Pages 198-199)
Whitehead rounds out the chapter by backing off into a sort of big picture:
The understanding of the Universe, in terms of the type of metaphysic here put forward, requires . . . . [the] type of understanding ...contained in the phrases, Constraint and Freedom, Survival and Destruction, Depth of Feeling and Triviality of Feeling, Conceptual realization and physical realization, Appearance and Reality. Any account of the Adventure of Ideas is concerned with Ideas threading their way among the alternatives presented by these various phrases.
When we examine the structure of the epoch of the Universe in which we find ourselves, this structure exhibits successive layers of types of order, each layer introducing some additional type of order within some limited region which shares in the more general type of order of some larger environment. Also this larger environment in its turn is a specialized region within the general epoch of creation as we know it. Each one of these regions, with its dominant set of ordering relations, can either be considered from the point of view of the mutual relations of its parts to each other, or it can be considered from the point of view of its impact, as a unity, upon the experience of an external percipient. . . . The percipient may be an occasion within the region, and may yet grasp the region as one, including the percipient itself as a member of it. . . . Thus the region with its Laws of Nature is a synonym for the enduring substance with its Essential Character. (Pages 199-200)
In other words, you can be in the house and aware of yourself as being in the house.
Next week, we’re going to Group Occasions.
Lagniappe: Sing, choirs of angels! I am finally moving into my new house tomorrow. The new contact information is available on the Contact page, should you need to contact me. I will be out of touch by computer most of that day.
January 28, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
13. The Grouping of Occasions
In this heavy-duty but mercifully short philosophy chapter, the Philosopher has only marked one passage, probably because this material has already been covered in other Whitehead books. There are a few points worth our notice, even though much of it is too jargon-y for the average person.
The Grouping of Occasions is the outcome of some common function performed by those occasions in the percipient [the one doing the perceiving] experience. The grouped occasions then acquire a unity; they become, for the experience of the percipient, one thing which is complex by reason of its divisibility into many occasions, or into many subordinate groups of occasions. The subordinate groups are then complex unities, each belonging to the same metaphysical category of existence as the total group. This characteristic, namely divisibility into groups of analogous type[s] of being, is the general notion of extensiveness. (Page 201)
Such a connected group is called a Nexus, and you can see how this could all lead to a lot of philsophical fun, which we will bypass. "A nexus can spread itself both spatially and temporally. In other words, it can include sets of occasions which are contemporary with each other, and it can include sets which are relatively past and future", as we have seen a bit of last week.
Whitehead then elaborates:
The notion of the contiguity of occasions is important. Two occasions, which are not contemporary, are contiguous in time when there is no occasion which is antecedent to one of them and subsequent to the other. . . . Spatial contiguity is more difficult to define. . . . But the principle that the inter-relations of the present are derived from a reference to the past is fundamental. It gives the reason why the contemporary world is experienced as a display of lifeless substances passively illustrating imposed characters. (Page 202)
What really comes through— again—is how all this is sufficiently complex to support both science and religion in a complex world, and that is why we bother with it.
Next, we shall make our entrance into Society:
A Society is a nexus which ‘illustrates’ or ‘shares in’, some type of ‘Social Order’. ‘Social Order’ can be defined as follows: — ‘A nexus enjoys "social order" when (i) there is a common element of form illustrated in the definiteness of each of its included actual entities, and (ii) this common element of form arises in each member of the nexus by reason of the conditions imposed upon it by its prehension of some other members of the nexus, and (iii) these prehensions impose that condition of reproduction by reason of their inclusion of positive feelings involving that common form. Such a nexus is called a "society", and the common form is the "defining characteristic" of that society’.
Another rendering of the same definition is as follows: ‘The point of a "society" as the term is here used, is that it is self-sustaining; in other words, that it is its own reason. . . . To constitute a society, the class-name has got to apply to each member, by reason of genetic derivation from other members of that same society. . . . [A] set of mutually contemporary occasions cannot form a complete society. . . . [A] society must exhibit the peculiar quality of endurance. The real actual things that endure are all societies. They are not actual occasions. It is the mistake that has thwarted European metaphysics from the time of the Greeks, namely, to confuse societies with the completely real things which are the actual occasions. . . . But an actual occasion has no such history. It never changes. It only becomes and perishes. Its perishing is its assumption of new metaphysical function in the creative advance of the universe. [Footnotes indicate that Whitehead is borrowing from himself in Process and Reality, and he adds in a footnote here, "This notion of ‘society’ has analogies to Descartes’ notion of ‘substance’".] (Pages 203-204)
I wish that Whitehead had seen his way clear to distinguish between societies for living things, and aggregates for things that are as dead as a doornail, such as a rock, even though it is made up of occasions of experience that are alive and have at least some tiny bit of choice. But I’m sure he had his reasons. He has stressed "nature lifeless" (the old view of science) vs. "nature alive", his own view.
He does say:
The simplest example of a society in which the successive nexus of its progressive realization have a common extensive pattern is when each such nexus is purely temporal and continuous. The society, in each stage of realization, then consists of a set of contiguous occasions in serial order. A man, defined as an enduring percipient, is such a society. This definition of a man is exactly what Descartes means by a thinking substance. . . . Descartes states that endurance is nothing else than successive re-creation by God. Thus the Cartesian conception of the human soul and that here put forward differ only in the function assigned to God. Both conceptions involve a succession of occasions, each with its measure of immediate completeness.
Societies of the general type . . . will be termed ‘personal’. Any society of this type may be termed a ‘person’. Thus, as defined above, a man is a person.
But a man is more than a serial succession of occasions of experience. Such a definition may satisfy philosophers—Descartes, for example. It is not the ordinary meaning of the term ‘man’. There are animal bodies as well as animal minds; and in our experience such minds always occur incorporated. Now an animal body is a society involving a vast number of occasions, spatially and temporally coordinated. It follows that a ‘man’, in the full sense of ordinary usage, is not a ‘person’ as here defined. He has the unity of a wider society, in which the social coordination is a dominant factor in the behaviours of the various parts. . . . Each living body is a society, which is not personal. But most of the animals, including all the vertebrates, seem to have their social system dominated by a subordinate society which is ‘personal’. . . . Thus in one sense a dog is a ‘person’, and in another sense he is a non-personal society. But the lower forms of animal life, and all vegetation, seem to lack the dominance of any included personal society. A tree is a democracy. . . . [And the part that the Boston Personalist Philosopher considered important enough to mark:] There is no necessary connection between ‘life’ and personality’. A ‘personal’ society need not be ‘living’ . . .and a ‘living’ society need not be ‘personal’. (Pages 205-206)
See what I mean?
It is evident that the previous definition of ‘society’ has been phrased so as to suggest an over-simplified concept of the meaning. For the notion of a defining characteristic mst be construed so as to include the notion of the coordination of societies. Thus there are societies at different levels. For instance, the army is a society at a level different from that of a regiment, and similarly for a regiment and a man. Nature is a complex of enduring objects, functioning as subordinate elements in a larger spatial-physical society. This larger society is for us the natural universe. There is however no reason to identify it with the boundless totality of actual things. (Page 206)
This last sentence is Whitehead guarding against pantheism.
Heading toward his conclusion, Whitehead comments:
The essence of life is the teleological introduction of novelty, with some conformation of objectives. Thus novelty of circumstance is met with novelty of functioning adapted to steadiness of purpose. . . . It is evident that according to this definition no single occasion can be called living. Life is the coordination of the mental spontaneities throughout the occasions of a society. (Page 207)
This is even more subtle than the notion that an aggregate is made up of living occasions. Even if we cannot yet fully wrap our minds about this, we can see its power in accounting for life and the world as we know it. We seem to be picking up the old Eastern notion of taking into account the spaces in between things.
Then Whitehead concludes with a passage that I am surprised that the Philosopher did not mark:
But apart from life a high grade of mentality in individual occasions seems to be impossible. A personal society, itself living and dominantly influencing a living society wider than itself, is the only type of organization which provides occasions of high-grade mentality. Thus in a man, the living body is permeated by living societies of low-grade occasions so far as mentality is concerned. But the whole is coordinated so as to support a personal living society of high-grade occasions. This personal society is the man defined as a person. It is the soul of which Plato spoke.
How far this soul finds a support for its existence beyond the body is: —another question. The everlasting nature of God, which in a sense is non-temporal and in another sense is temporal, may establish with the soul a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence. Thus in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependency upon the bodily organization.
But it is to be noticed that the personality of an animal organism may be more or less. It is not a mere question of having a soul or of not having a soul. The question is, How much, if any? Any tendency to a high-grade multiple personality would be self-destructive by the antagonism of divergent aims. In other words, such multiple personality is destructive of the very essence of life, which is conformation of purpose. (Page 208)
Although this is not easy reading, one can readily see that this is far more than a "nothing but" view of the universe. It takes into account current reality, or current actuality if you are a philosopher, and yet provides for the requirements of both science and our souls’ growth. That is why the Philosopher considered it a more suitable underpinning for New Thought than an unsound pantheism or any of the traditional approaches.
Next week: Appearance and Reality.
February 4, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
14. Appearance and Reality
Appearance and reality are the two contrasted characters into which the objective content of an occasion of experience sorts itself out. This division between appearance and reality covers only the objective content of the experience, and it is only important
in the functionings of the higher phases of experience, when the mental functionings have achieved a peculiar complexity of synthesis with the physical functionings. . . . Thus the foundation of metaphysics should be sought in the understanding of the subject-object structure of experience, and in the respective roles of the physical and mental functionings. (page 209)
Whitehead goes on to explain that "metaphysicians from the Greeks onward" have made the unfortunate error of starting from mere appearance. "This error has warped modern philosophy to a greater extent than ancient or mediaeval philosophy." As a result, modern philosophers have relied on "sensationalist perception as the basis of all experiential activity. It has had the effect of decisively separating ‘mind’ from ‘nature’, a modern separation which found its first exemplification in Cartesian dualism. But . . . this modern development was only the consistent carrying out of principles already present in the older European philosophy." It took two thousand years "for the full implications of those principles to dawn upon men’s minds . . . ."
So he is now going to set them straight with a complicated but precise description. He then explains, "‘[A]ppearance’ is the effect of the activity of the mental pole, whereby the qualities and coordinations of the given physical world undergo transformation. It results from the fusion of the ideal with the actual. . . ." He adds, "There can be no general metaphysic principles which determine how in any occasion appearance differs from the reality out of which it originates. The divergencies between reality and appearance depend on the type of social order dominating the environment of the occasion in question." There is no novelty introduced in the mental activities of "occasions which compose the societies of inorganic bodies or of the so-called empty spaces, there is no reason to believe that in any important way the mental activities depart from functionings which are strictly conformal to those inherent in the objective datum of the first phase." This is what "constitutes the laws of physics. There is no effective ‘appearance’."
But the picture changes when we get to
the high-grade occasions which are components in the animal life on the Earth’s surface. Each animal body is an organ of sensation. It is a living society which may include in itself a dominant ‘personal’ society of occasions. This ‘personal’ society is composed of occasions enjoying the individual experiences of the animals. It is the soul of man. The whole body is organized, so that a general coordination of mentality is finally poured into the successive occasions of this personal society. Thus in the constitutions of these occasions, appearance is sufficiently coordinated to be effective. (Page 211)
Now consciousness enters the picture:
Now appearance is one product of mentality. Thus in our conscious perceptions appearance is dominant. It possesses a clear distinctness, which is absent from our vague massive feeling of derivation from our actual world. Appearance . . . lives in our consciousness as the world presented to us for our enjoyment and our purposes. It is the world in the guise of a subject-matter for an imposed activity. The occasion has gathered the creativity of the Universe into its own completeness, abstracted from the real objective content which is the source of its own derivation.
This status of ‘appearance’ in the constitution of experience is the reason for the disastrous metaphysical doctrine of physical matter passively illustrating qualities, and devoid of self-enjoyment. As soon as clarity and distinctness are made the test of metaphysical importance, an entire misapprehension of the metaphysical status of appearance is involved. (Page 212)
Whitehead continues, "When the higher functionings of mentality are socially stabilized in an organism, appearance merges into reality. . . . [I]t is a fusion proceeding throughout nature. It is the essential mode in which novelty enters into the functionings of the world."
It is a mistake to supposed that, at the level of human intellect, the role of mental functionings is to add subtlety to the content of experience. The exact opposite is the case. Mentality is an agent of simplification; and for this reason appearance is an incredibly simplified edition of reality. There should be no paradox in this statement. A moment’s introspection assures one of the feebleness of human intellectual operations, and of the dim massive complexity of our feelings of derivation. The point for discussion is how in animal experience this simplification is effected. (Page 213)
He illustrates this by describing
the perception of a social nexus as a unity, characterized by qualitites derived from its individual members and their interconnections. . . . [T]he orchestra is loud as one entity, and also in virtue of the perceived loudness of the individual members with their musical instruments. The transference of the characteristic from the individuals to the group as one can be explained by the mental operations. . . . The discipline of a regiment inheres in the regiment in a different mode from its inherence in the individual soldiers. (Page 213)
[A]long the personal succession of the soul’s experiences, there is an inheritance of sense-perception from the antecedent members of the personal succession. Also incipient sense-percepta may be forming themselves in the nerve-routes, or in the neighboring regions of the brain. But the final synthesis, with its production of appearance, is reserved for the occasions belonging to the personal soul. (Page 215)
Whitehead then discusses "the enormous emotional significance" of "qualities termed ‘sensa’", which he says "the learned tradition of philosophy has missed". But he sets them straight: "The true doctrine of sense-perception is that the qualitative characters of affective tones inherent in the bodily functionings are transmuted into the characters of regions."
Next, he gives a technical description of how "the inheritance from the past is precipitated upon the present. It becomes sense-perception, which is the ‘appearance’ of the present." The Philosopher has underlined
But sense-perception, as conceived in the isolation of its ideal purity, never enters into human experience. It is always accompanied by so-called ‘interpretation’. . . . [T]he concept of mere sensa is the product of high -grade thinking. . . . In fact the hypothesis of a mere sensationalist perception does not account for our direct observation of the contemporary world. There is some other factor present, which is equally primitive with our perception of sensa. . . . The immanence of the past in this percipient occasion cannot be fully understood apart from due attention to the doctrine of the immanence of the future in the past. Thus the past as an objective constituent in the experience of the percipient occasion carries its own prehension of the future beyond itself. [Squiggle] This prehension survives objectively in the primary phase of the percipient. Accordingly there is an indirect prehension of contemporary occasion, via the efficient causation, from which they arise. For the immediate future of the immediate past constitutes the set of contemporary occasions for the percipient. . . . The great dominant relationships. . . . are the general, all-pervasive, obligations of perspective. Such relationships are what we term the spatial relationships as perceivable from the standpoint of the observer. (Pages 217-218)
[T]he contemporary world is not perceived in virtue of its own proper activity, but in virtue of activities derived from the past, the past which conditions it and which also conditions the contemporary percipient. [Squiggle] These activities are primarily in the past of the human body, and more remotely in the past of the environment within which the body is functioning. . . . [T]he exclusive reliance on sense-perception promotes a false metaphysics. This error is the result of high-grade intellectuality. The instinctive interpretations which govern human life and animal life presuppose a contemporary world throbbing with energetic values. It requires considerable ability to make the disastrous abstraction of our bare sense-perceptions from the massive insistency of our total experiences. Of course, whatever we can do in the way of abstraction is for some purposes useful—provided that we know what we are about. (Page 219)
Well, although New Thought has always been anti-intellectual, I don’t think that most of us are quite ready to function on Whitehead’s level!
Next week, the Philosophy section winds up with a chapter on Philosophic Method.
February 11, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
15. Philosophic Method
This very interesting but extra-long chapter contains some aphorisms that we can comprehend and utilize, but some of the explanations and illustrations are a bit abstruse for most of us. Accordingly, I will attempt to pick out quotable quotes that can stand alone. Those able to deal with philosophical jargon are once more encouraged to read the book on their own.
Whitehead’s aim for this wind-up chapter of the Philosophical section of the book is to discuss "some methods which can usefully be employed in the pursuit of speculative philosophy". Thing One: "[T]heory dictates method", and Thing Two: "[A]ny particular method is only applicable to theories of one correlate species", partly because "the relevance of evidence depends on the theory which is dominating the discussion. This fact is the reason why dominant theories are also termed ‘working hypotheses’." Whitehead adds:
A great deal of confused philosophical thought has its origin in obliviousness to the fact that the relevance of evidence is dictated by theory. For you cannot prove a theory by evidence which that theory dismisses as irrelevant. This is also the reason that in any science which has failed to produce any theory with a sufficient scope of application, progress is necessarily very slow. It is impossible to know what to look for, and how to connect the sporadic observations. Philosophical discussion in the absence of a theory has no criterion of the validity of evidence. . . . [E]very method is a happy simplification. But only truths of a congenial type can be investigated by any one method, or stated in the terms dictated by the method. For every simplification is an over-simplification. (Page 221)
On to Section II: "Philosophy is a difficult subject, from the time of Plato to the present time haunted by subtle perplexities. . . . [T]he very purpose of philosophy is to delve below the apparent clarity of common speech."
Speculative Philosophy can be defined as the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. . . . Thus speculative philosophy embodies the method of the ‘working hypothesis’. [Its purpose] is to coordinate the current expressions of human experience, in common speech, in social institutions, in actions, in the principles of the various special sciences, elucidating harmony and exposing discrepancies. No systematic thought has made progress apart from some adequately general working hypothesis, adapted to its special topic. (Page 222)
Philosophy has been afflicted by the dogmatic fallacy, which is the belief that the principles of its working hypotheses are clear, obvious, and irreformable. Then, as a reaction from this fallacy, it has swayed to the other extreme which is the fallacy of discarding method. Philosophers boast that they uphold no system. They are then a prey to the delusive clarities of detached expressions which it is the very purpose of their science to surmount. Another type of reaction is to assume, often tacitly, that if there can be any intellectual analysis it must proceed according to some one discarded dogmatic method, and thence to deduce that intellect is intrinsically tied to erroneous fictions. This type is illustrated by the anti-intellectualism of Nietsche and Bergson, and tinges Amerian Pragmatism. (Page 223)
Sections IV and V:
To point at nothing is not to point. . . . The difference between ancients and moderns is that the ancients asked what have we experienced, and the moderns asked what can we experience. But in both cases, they asked about things transcending the act of experience which is the occasion of asking. . . . The mistakes go back to the Greek philosophers. What is modern is the exclusive reliance upon them. (Pages 224-225)
The brain is continuous with the body, and the body is continuous with the rest of the natural world. Human experience is an act of self-origination including the whole of nature, limited to the perspective of a focal region, located within the body, but not necessarily persisting in any fixed coordination with a definite part of the brain. (Page 225)
We have now reached the heart of our topic. What is the store-house of that crude evidence on which philosophy should base its discussion, and in what terms should its discussion be expressed?
The main sources of evidence respecting this width of human experience are language, social institutions, and action, including thereby the fusion of the three which is language interpreting action and social institutions.
Language delivers its evidence in three chapters, one on the meanings of words, another on the meanings enshrined in grammatical forms, and the third on meanings beyond individual words and beyond grammatical forms, meanings miraculously revealed in great literature.
Language is incomplete and fragmentary, and merely registers a stage in the average advance beyond ape-mentality. But all men enjoy flashes of insight beyond meanings already stabilized in etymology and grammar. Hence the role of literature, the role of the special sciences, and the role of philosophy: —in their various ways engaged in finding linguistic expressions for meanings as yet unexpressed. . . .
In the world, there are elements of order and disorder, which thereby presuppose an essential interconnectedness of things an essential interconnectedness of things. For disorder shares with order the common characteristic that they imply many things interconnected. . . .
Thus an appeal to literature, to common language, to common practice, at once carries us away from the narrow basis for epistemology provided by the sense-data disclosed in direct introspection. The world within experience is identical with the world and the world is within the occasion. The categories have to elucidate this paradox of the connectedness of things: —the many things, the one world without and within. (Pages 226-228)
This is why Whitehead says elsewhere, "The many become one, and are increased by one."
[S]ince the life-time of Plato nearly two and a half thousand years have intervened, including the continuous activity of European philosophic thought, pagan, Christian, secular. It is widely held that a stable, well-known philosophic vocabulary has been elaborated, and that in philosophic discussion any straying beyond its limits introduces neologisms, unnecessary and therefore to be regretted.
This alleged fact requires examination. In the first place, if the allegation be true, it is very remarkable. It decisively places philosophy apart from the more special sciences. Modern mathematics, most secure and authoritative of sciences, is largely written in verbal and symbolic phrases which would have been unintelligible eighty years ago. In modern physics the old words, where they are still used, convey different meanings, and the new words are abundant. But it is futile to make a catalogue of the sciences accompanied by this refrain. The conclusion is obvious to the most cursory inspection. (Pages 228-229)
Undoubtedly, philosophy is dominated by its past literature to a greater extent than any other science. And rightly so. But the claim that it has acquired a set of technical terms sufficient for its purposes, and exhaustive of its meanings, is entirely unfounded. Indeed its literature is so vast, and the variations of its schools of thought so large, that there is abundant evidence of most excusable ignorance respecting verbal usages. (Page 229)
So of course Whitehead created his own now-famous—or infamous—technical terms!
Surely the proper method of choosing technical terms is to adopt terms from some outstanding exposition of an analogous doctrine. It throws an interesting light on the belief in a well-understood technical phraseology reigning in philosophy, that an accomplished philosopher censured in print, my use of the word Feeling as being in a sense never before employed in philosophy. (Page 231)
We had better get out of this section before it turns into a food fight! But he does smooth troubled waters in Section XII. In Section XIII he gets into a rather technical discussion of Leibniz.
The main method of philosophy in dealing with its evidence is that of descriptive generalization. Social institutions exemplify a welter of characteristics. No fact is merely such-and-such. It exemplifies many characters at once, all rooted in the specialities of its epoch. Philosophic generalization seizes on those characters of abiding importance, dismissing the trivial and the evanescent. There is an ascent from a particular fact, or from a species, to the genus exemplified. . . .
Philosophy is the ascent to the generalities with the view of understanding their possibilities of combination. The discovery of new generalities thus adds to the fruitfulness of those already known. It lifts into view new possibilities of combination. (Pages 234-235)
[T]he term ‘together’ is one of the most misused terms in philosophy. It is a generic term illustrated by an endless variety of species. Thus its use as though it conveyed one definite meaning in diverse illustrations is entirely sophistical. Every meaning of ‘together’ is to be found in various stages of analysis of occasions of experience. No things are ‘together’ except in experience; and no things are, in any sense of ‘are’, except as components in experience or as immediacies of process which are occasions in self-creation. (Page 236)
Section XVI (brace yourselves!):
Thus to arrive at the philosophic generalization which is the notion of a final actuality conceived in the guise of a generalization of an act of experience, an apparent redundancy of terms is required. The words correct each other. We require ‘together’, ‘creativity’, ‘concrescence’, ‘prehension’, ‘feeling’, ‘subjective form’, ‘data’, ‘actuality’, ‘becoming’, ‘process’. (pages 236-237)
Section XVII (the conclusion):
At this stage of the generalization a new train of thought arises. Events become and perish. In their becoming they are immediate and then vanish into the past. They are gone; they have perished; they are no more and have passed into not-being. Plato terms them things that are ‘always becoming and never really are’. But before he wrote this phrase, Plato had made his great metaphysical generalization, a discovery which forms the basis of the present discussion. He wrote in the Sophist, not-being is itself a form of being. He only applied this doctrine to his eternal forms. He should have applied the same doctrine to the things that perish. He would then have illustrated another aspect of the method of philosophic generalization. When a general idea has been obtained, it should not be arbitrarily limited to the topic of its origination.
In framing a philosophic scheme, each metaphysical notion should be given the widest extension of which it seems capable. It is only in this way that the true adjustment of ideas can be explored. More important even than Occam’s [Razor] doctrine of parsimony—if it be not another aspect of the same—is this doctrine that the scope of a metaphysical principle should not be limited otherwise than by the necessity of its meaning.
Thus we should balance Aristotle’s—or, more rightly, Plato’s—doctrine of becoming by a doctrine of perishing. When they perish, occasions pass from the immediacy of being into the not-being of immediacy. But that does not mean that they are nothing. They remain stubborn fact [.] . . .
[P]erishing is the initiation of becoming. How the past perishes is how the future becomes. (pages 237-238)
Next week, on to Civilization (Part IV) and Whitehead’s thoughts on Truth.
February 18, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
"Truth and Beauty are the great regulative properties in virtue of which Appearance justifies itself to the immediate decision of the experient subject." I think we’ll have to stick to sound bites here, too.
The Philosopher has supplied one squiggle at the beginning of this passage:
Truth is a qualification which applies to Appearance alone. Reality is just itself, and it is nonsense to ask whether it be true or false. Truth is the conformation of Appearance to Reality. This conformation may be more or less, also direct or indirect. Thus Truth is a generic quality with a variety of degrees and modes. In the Law-Courts, the wrong species of Truth may amount to perjury. For example, a portrait may be so faithful as to deceive the eye. Its very truthfulness then amounts to deception. A reflexion in a mirror is at once a truthful appearance and a deceptive appearance. The smile of a hypocrite is deceptive, and that of a philanthropist may be truthful. But both of them were truly smiling. (Page 241)
One object as a real fact obtains a re-adjustment of the relative values of its factors by reason of its analogies to another object. In other words, it becomes a real fact tinged with Appearance. By itself, its factors would not be felt in those proportions. To know the truth partially is to distort the Universe. For example, the savage who can only count up to ten enormously exaggerates the importance of the small numbers, and so do we whose imaginations fail when we come to millions. It is an erroneous moral platitude, that it is necessarily good to know the truth. The minor truth may beget the major evil. And this major evil may take the form of the major error. Henri Poincaré points out that instruments of precision, used unseasonably, may hinder the advance of science. For example, if Newton’s imagination had been dominated by the errors in Kepler’s Laws as disclosed by modern observation, the world might still be waiting for the Law of Gravitation. The Truth must be seasonable. (Page 243)
And we are now going to be propositioned:
A proposition is a notion about actualities, a suggestion, a theory, a supposition about things. Its entertainment in experience subserves many purposes. It is an extreme case of Appearance. For actualities which are the logical subjects are conceived in the guise of illustrating the predicate. The unconscious entertainment of propositions is a stage in the transition from the Reality of the initial phase of experience to the Appearance of the final phase. In the lowest types of actualities in whose processes propositions hardly arise, there is practically no Appearance differentiating the final and initial phases.
It is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true. This statement is almost a tautology. For the energy of operation of a proposition in an occasion of experience is its interest, and is its importance. But of course a true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one. Also action in accordance with the emotional lure of a proposition is more apt to be successful if the proposition be true. And apart from action, the contemplation of truth has an interest of its own. But, after all this explanation and qualification, it remains true that the importance of a proposition lies in its interest. Nothing illustrates better the danger of specialist sciences than the confusion due to handing over propositions for theoretical consideration by logicians, exclusively. (Page 244)
The most conspicuous example of truth and falsehood arises in the comparison of existences in the mode of possibility with existences in the mode of actuality. . . . [I]n the realm of truth there are many mansions; and we have to analyse the types of truth and of falsehood which sense-perception is capable of. (Page 245)
On to sense-perception:
Th[e] notion of the sensa as qualifications of affective tone is a paradox for philosophy, though it is fairly obvious to common sense. A red-irritation is prevalent among nerve-wracked people and among bulls. The affective tone of perception of a green woodland in spring can only be defined by the delicate shades of the green. It is a strong aesthetic emotion with the qualification of green in springtime. The intellect fastens on smell as a datum: our basic animal experience entertains it as a type of subjective feeling. The experience starts as that smelly feeling, and is developed by mentality into the feeling of that smell. (Page 246)
Whitehead next discusses symbolic truth:
The relation of Appearance to Reality, when there is symbolic truth, is that for certain sets of percipients the prehension of the Appearance leads to the prehension of the Reality, such that the subjective forms of the two prehensions are conformal. There is however no direct causal relation between the Appearance and the Reality; so that in no direct sense is the Appearance the cause of the Reality, or the Reality the cause of the Appearance. A set of adventitious circumstances has brought about this connection between those Appearances and those Realities as prehended in the experiences of those percipients. In their own natures the Appearance throw no light upon the Realities, nor do the Realities upon the Appearances, except in the experiences of a set of peculiarly conditioned percipients. Languages and their meanings are examples of this third type of truth. There is an indirect truth-relation of the sounds or of the visual marks on paper to the propositions conveyed. We are confining the discussion to the relation of written of spoken sentences to propositions. There is a right and a wrong use of any particular language among the group of people who are properly conditioned. Also, having regard to the aesthetics of literature, language not only conveys objective meaning, but also involves a conveyance of subjective form. (Pages 248-249)
But after all, it is the blunt truth that we want. The final contentment of our aims requires something more than vulgar substitutes, or subtle evasions, however delicate. The indirections of truth can never satisfy us. Our purposes seek their main justification in sheer matter-of-fact. All the rest is addition, however important, to this foundation. Apart from blunt truth, our lives sink decadently amid the perfume of hints and suggestions.
The blunt truth that we require is the conformal correspondence of clear and distinct Appearance to Reality. In human experience, clear and distinct Appearance is primarily sense-perception. (Page 250)
And the conclusion:
The point to be decided is whether the green meadow in spring-time, as it appears to us, in any direct way conforms to the happenings within the region of the meadow, and more particularly within the regions of the blades of grass. Have we any grounds for the belief that in some way things really are in those regions as our senses perceive those regions? In the first place, such conformation evidently cannot arise from the necessities of nature. The delusive perceptions prove that. Double vision, and images due to reflexion and refraction of light, show that the appearance of regions may be quite irrelevant to the happenings within regions. Appearances are finally controlled by the functionings of the animal body. These functionings and the happenings within the contemporary regions are both derived from a common past, highly relevant to both. It is thereby pertinent to ask, whether the animal body and the external regions are not attuned together, so that under normal circumstances, the appearances conform to natures within the regions.
The attainment of such conformation would belong to the perfection of nature in respect to the higher types of its animal life. There is no necessity about it. Evidently there is failure, interference, and only partial adjustment. But we have to ask whether nature does not contain within itself a tendency to be in tune, an Eros urging towards perfection. This question cannot be discussed without passing beyond the narrow grounds of the truth-relation. (page 251)
Next week: Beauty, of course!
February 25, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
Philosophers are very interested in beauty as a value, considered as part of axiology, which may be surprising when you consider how very un-beautiful most philosophical writing is! Whitehead was very interested in beauty, which has been waiting in the wings since the beginning of the last chapter: "Of course the present can be sacrificed to the future, so that Truth or Beauty in the future can be the reason for the immediate attenuation of either." Psychologists would call this delayed gratification. So we had to eat the spinach of truth before we could get to the dessert of beauty.
Whitehead begins his chapter, "Beauty is the mutual adaptation of the several factors in an occasion of experience." (The Philosopher liked that.) He then tells us, "There are gradations in Beauty and in types of Beauty. ‘Adaptation’ implies an end. Thus Beauty is only defined when the aim of the ‘adaptation’ has been analysed." The idea seems to be that "the intensities of subjective form" don’t inhibit each other. "When this aim is secured, there is the minor form of beauty, the absence of painful clash, the absence of vulgarity." The Philosopher also liked that but didn’t go on to mark the major form of Beauty, stated in Whiteheadian Philosopherese. We do get a small squiggle next to "In other words, the perfection of Beauty is defined as being the perfection of Harmony; and the perfection of Harmony is defined in terms of the perfection of Subjective Form in detail and in final synthesis. Also the perfection of Subjective Form is defined in terms of ‘Strength’." Beautiful! I also noticed, "Consciousness is a variable uncertain element which flickers uncertainly on the surface of experience", but I must admit to not understanding just what that has to do with beauty.
A distinction must now be made between two meanings of the term Beauty. There is the primary meaning which has been given in Section I of this chapter. This is Beauty realized in actual occasions which are the completely real things in the Universe. But in the analysis of an occasion, some parts of its objective content may be termed Beautiful by reason of their conformal contribution to the perfection of the subjective form of the complete occasion. This secondary sense of the term Beauty is more accurately to be considered as a definition of the term ‘Beautiful’. The Beauty realized in an occasion depends both on the objective content from which that occasion originates and also on the spontaneity of the occasion. The objective content is ‘beautiful’ by reason of the Beauty that would be realized in that occasion by a fortunate exercise of its spontaneity. In the same way any part of the objective content is ‘beautiful’ in a still more indirect sense, capable of slight variations in meaning. It may be beautiful by reason of the Beauty that would be realized by a fortunate association with other data combined with a fortunate exercise of spontaneity by the occasion prehending it. But such supreme fortune is an ideal, not for this world. . . . But in all its senses, ‘beautiful’ means the inherent capability for the promotion of Beauty when functioning as a datum in a percipient occasion. When ‘Beauty’ is ascribed to any component in a datum, it is in this secondary sense. (Pages 255-256)
We then get into a discussion of perfection:
It follows from this discussion that in the definition of Beauty a distinction has been overlooked. The subjective feelings which are of the type of an emotional experience of aesthetic destruction must be excepted—or rather, as we shall find, belong to a class requiring special treatment. ‘Perfection’, properly so called, requires the exclusion of feelings of this class. On further consideration we shall find that always there are imperfect occasions better than occasions which realize some given type of perfection. There are in fact higher and lower perfections, and an imperfection aiming at a higher type stands above lower perfections. The most material and the most sensuous enjoyments are yet types of Beauty. Progress is founded upon the experience of discordant feelings. [Psychologists might call this cognitive dissonance. In control theory this is called a perceptual error.] The social value of liberty lies in its production of discords. There are perfections beyond perfections. All realization is finite, and there is no perfection which is the infinitude of all perfections. Perfections of diverse types are among themselves discordant. Thus the contribution to Beauty which can be supplied by Discord—in itself destructive and evil—is the positive feeling of a quick shift of aim from the tameness of outworn perfection to some other ideal with its freshness still upon it. Thus the value of Discord is a tribute to the merits of Imperfection. (Page 257)
Whitehead next turns to a discussion of the value of discordance, using ancient Greek civilization as an illustration. They had "a great ideal of perfection. . . . Perfection was attained, and with the attainment inspiration withered. . . . [F]reshness gradually vanished. Learning and learned taste replaced the ardour of adventure." It went on for two thousand years:
The Greek schools of philosophy . . . arguing with barren formulae: Conventional histories: A stabilized Government with the sanctity of ancient ceremony, supported by habitual pieties: Literature without depth: Science elaborating details by deductions from unquestioned premises: Delicacies of feeling without robustness of adventure. . . .
The Chinese and the Greeks both achieved certain perfections of civilization—each worthy of admiration. But even perfection will not bear the tedium of indefinite repetition. To sustain a civilization with the intensity of its first ardour requires more than learning. Adventure is essential, namely, the search for new perfections. (Page 258)
One could say the same thing about sustaining a marriage! There is an old saying, "The good is enemy of the best." Or, to quote Browning, "Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?" Whitehead adds:
There is nothing to be astonished at in this conclusion. Spontaneity, originality of decision, belongs to the essence of each actual occasion. It is the supreme expression of individuality: its conformal subjective form is the freedom of enjoyment derived from the enjoyment of freedom. Freshness, zest, and the extra keenness of intensity arise from it. In a personal succession of occasions the upward path towards an ideal of perfection, with the end in sight, gives a thrill keener than any prolonged halt in a stage of attainment with the major variations completely tried out. Thus the wise advice is, Not to rest too completely in any continued realization of the same perfection of type. (Page 258)
One starts with "variations which do not introduce discordances into the type of perfection attained", but that runs out fast. "Bolder adventure is needed—the adventure of ideas, and the adventure of practice conforming itself to ideas. The best service that ideas can render is gradually to lift into the mental poles the ideal of another type of perfection which becomes a program for reform."
Whitehead now defines evil as "destruction as a dominant fact in the experience". The Philosopher has squiggled and marked:
The intermingling of Beauty and Evil arises from the conjoint operation of three metaphysical principles: —(1) That all actualization is finite; (2) That finitude involves the exclusion of alternative possibility; (3) That mental functioning introduces into realization subjective forms conformal to relevant alternatives excluded from the completeness of physical realization.
The result is that the concerns of the actual world are deflected from harmony of feeling by the divergent tonalities introduced from the mental poles. The new occasion, even apart from its own spontaneous mentality, is thus confronted by basic disharmony in the actual world from which it springs. This is fortunate. For otherwise actuality would consist in a cycle of repetition, realizing only a finite group of possibilities. This was the narrow, stuffy doctrine of some ancient thinkers. (Page 259)
Whitehead concludes the chapter with a discussion of Harmony and Discord. Here is the beautiful finish:
A mere qualitative Harmony within an experience comparatively barren of objects of high significance is a debased type of Harmony, tame, vague, deficient in outline and intention. It is one property of a beautiful system of objects that as entertained in a succession of occasion adapted for its enjoyment, it quickly builds up a system of apparent objects with vigorous characters. The sculptures on the famous porch of the Cathedral at Chartres at once assume individual importance with definite character while performing their office as details in the whole. There is not a mere pattern of qualitative beauty. There are those statues, each with its individual beauty, and all lending themselves to the beauty of the whole. Enduring Individuality in the details is the backbone of strong experience.
Art at its highest exemplifies the metaphysical doctrine of the interweaving [big squiggle] of absoluteness upon relativity. In the work of art the relativity becomes the harmony of the composition, and the absoluteness is the claim for separate individuality advanced by component factors. . . . The concept of completely passive contemplation in abstraction from action and purpose is a fallacious extreme. It omits the final regulative factor in the aesthetic complex. But of course there are large diversities of action and large diversities of purpose. The final point is that the foundation of Reality upon which Appearance rests can never be neglected in the evaluation of Appearance. (Page 264)
Next week: Truth and Beauty, and the Philosopher goes nuts with the squiggles.
March 4, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
18. Truth and Beauty
And you thought you’d already heard all about truth and beauty! It drove me back to my Oxford Anthology of English Poetry: "‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." If you don’t recognize it, go Google it! I had written in the margins a comment by an exceptionally wise English teacher: "Beauty is never false or deceptive. Truth is always beautiful." OK, Whitehead, top that!
The Philosopher has written "begin" by the title of this chapter and gone nuts with the squiggles from here to the end of the book. Whitehead begins:
It appears from the discussion in the two previous chapters of this Part that Beauty is a wider, and more fundamental, notion than Truth. Of course both terms have ben used here in a very generalized sense. Narrower usages are not marked off from the wider meanings, here employed, by anything except habitual presupposition respecting importance and triviality. Beauty is the internal conformation of the various items of experience with each other, for the production of maximum effectiveness. [Squiggle] Beauty thus concerns the inter-relations of the various components of Reality, and also the inter-relations of Appearance to Reality. Thus any part of experience can be beautiful. The teleology of the Universe is directed to the production of Beauty. [Huge Squiggle] Thus any system of things which in any wide sense is beautiful is to that extent justified in its existence. It may however fail in another sense, by inhibiting more Beauty than it creates. Thus the system, though in a sense beautiful, is on the whole evil in that environment. But Truth has a narrower meaning in two ways. First, Truth, in any important sense, merely concerns the relations of Appearance to Reality. It is the conformation of Appearance to Reality. But in the second place the notion of ‘conformation’ in the case of Truth is narrower than that in the case of Beauty. For the truth-relation requires that the two relata have some factor in common. (Page 265)
The next two big squiggles:
[A] truth-relation is not necessarily beautiful. It may not even be neutral. It may be evil. Thus Beauty is left as the one aim which arises from the fact that modes of Beauty are various, and not of necessity compatible. And yet some admixture of Discord is a necessary factor in the transition from mode to mode. The objective life of the past and the future in the present is an inevitable element of disturbance. . . . Wide purpose is in its own nature beautiful by reason of its contribution to the massiveness of experience. It increases the dimensions of the experient subject, adds to its ambit. Then the destruction of immediate realizations for the sake of purpose is, on the face of it, a sacrifice to Harmony. (Page 266)
[T]he truth-relation remains the simple, direct mode of realizing Harmony. Other ways are indirect, and indirectness is at the mercy of the environment. There is a blunt force about Truth, which in the subjective form of its prehension is akin to cleanliness—namely, the removal of dirt, which is unwanted irrelevance. The sense of directness which it carries with it, sustains the upstanding individualities so necessary for the beauty of a complex. Falsehood is corrosive.
The type of Truth required for the final stretch of Beauty is a discovery and not a recapitulation. . . . The Truth of supreme Beauty lies beyond the dictionary meanings of words. . . . Truth derives . . . self-justifying power from its services in the promotion of Beauty. Apart from Beauty, Truth is neither good nor bad. (pages 266-267)
Another squiggle: "In the absence of Beauty, Truth sinks to triviality. Truth matters because of Beauty." Then we throw in a little Goodness:
Goodness is the third member of the trinity which traditionally has been assigned as the complex aim of art—namely, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. With the point of view here adopted, Goodness must be denied a place among the aims of art. For Goodness is a qualification belonging to the constitution of reality, which in any of its individual actualizations is better or worse. Good and evil lie in depths and distances below and beyond appearance. . . . The real world is good when it is beautiful [squiggle]. Art has essentially to do with perfections attainable by purposeful adaptation of appearance. . . . Of course it is true that the defence of morals is the battle-cry which best rallies stupidity against change. Perhaps countless ages ago respectable amoebae refused to migrate from ocean to dry land—refusing in defence of morals. One incidental service of art to society lies in its adventurousness. [On the other hand, I can think of a lot of atrocities perpetrated in the name of art, usually with an ulterior motive.] (page 268)
More on morals:
Morals consists in the aim at the ideal, and at its lowest it concerns the prevention of relapse to lower levels. Thus stagnation is the deadly foe of morality. Yet in human society the champions of morality are on the whole the fierce opponents of new ideals. Mankind has been afflicted with low-toned moralists, objecting to expulsion from some Garden of Eden. And in a way they are right. For after all we can aim at nothing except from the standpoint of a well-assimilated system of customs—that is, of mores. The fortunate changes are made ‘Hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow’. [Paradise Lost] (page 269)
Consciousness [with a couple of squiggles along the way]
is that quality which emerges into the objective content as the result of the conjunction of a fact and a supposition about that fact. It passes conformally from the complex object to the subjective form of the prehension. It is the quality inherent in the contrast between Actuality and Ideality [squiggle], that is, between the products of the physical pole and the mental pole in experience. When that contrast is a feeble element in experience, then consciousness is there merely in germ, as a latent capacity. So far as the contrast is well-defined and prominent, the occasion includes a developed consciousness. That portion of experience irradiated by consciousness is only a selection. Thus consciousness is a mode of attention. It provides the extreme of selective emphasis. The spontaneity of an occasion finds its chief outlets, first in the direction of consciousness, and secondly in production of ideas to pass into the area of conscious attention. Thus consciousness, spontaneity, and art are closely interconnected. But that art which arises within clear consciousness is only a specialization of the more widely distributed art within dim consciousness or within the unconscious activities of experience.
Consciousness is the weapon which strengthens the artificiality of an occasion of experience. It raises the importance of the final Appearance relatively to that of the initial Reality. Thus it is Appearance which in consciousness is clear and distinct [squiggle], and it is Reality which lies dimly in the background with its details hardly to be distinguished in consciouness. What leaps into conscious attention is a mass of presuppositions about Reality rather than the intuitions of Reality itself. It is here that the liability to error arises. The deliverances of clear and distinct consciousness require criticism by reference to elements in experience which are neither clear nor distinct [squiggle; all between these last two squiggles has been marked]. On the contrary, they are dim, massive, and important. These dim elements provide for art that final background of tone apart from which its effects fade. The type of Truth which human art seeks lies in the eliciting of this background to haunt the object presented for clear consciousness. (Pages 269-270)
We then have more discussion of Art: "The merit of Art in its service to civilization lies in its artificiality and its finiteness." Hmmm, interesting!
[Squiggle] The work of Art is a fragment of nature with the mark on it of a finite creative effort, so that it stands alone, an individual thing detailed from the vague infinity of its background. . . . It requires Art to evoke into consciousness the finite perfections which lie ready for human achievement [another squiggle].
Consciousness itself is the product of art in its lowliest form. For it results from the influx of ideality into its contrast with reality, with the purpose of reshaping the latter into a finite select appearance [big squiggle on this]. . . . In short art is the education of nature [squiggle]. Thus, in its broadest sense, art is civilization. For civilization is nothing other than the unremitting aim at the major perfections of harmony. (Page 271)
A quotation supplied by an English teacher who didn’t remember where she got it: "Art preserves fleeting moments of experience." Wouldn’t Whitehead have loved that!
Whitehead winds up:
Science and Art are the consciously determined pursuit of Truth and of Beauty. In them the finite consciousness of mankind is appropriating as its own the infinite fecundity of nature. In this movement of the human spirit types of institutions and types of professions are evolved. Churches and Rituals, Monasteries with their dedicated lives, Universities with their search for knowledge, Medicine, Law, methods of Trade—they all represent that aim at civilization, [squiggle] whereby the conscious experience of mankind preserves for its use the sources of Harmony. (Page 272) [I would have squiggled that first sentence, too!]
Whitehead is painting on a huge canvas. It is easy to see why this fascinated the Philosopher.
Next week: Adventure, massively squiggled.
March 11, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
The squiggle count (16 in ten pages) reveals that the Philosopher was ecstatic about this chapter. He even added a couple of extra squiggles in the corners of a couple of pages to indicate their overall importance.
Whitehead begins with a discussion not about adventures, but about civilization:
The notion of civilization is very baffling. We all know what it means. It suggests a certain ideal for life on this earth, and this ideal concerns both the human being and also societies of men. A man can be civilized, and a while society can be civilized; although the senses are somewhat different in the two cases.
Yet civilization is one of those general notions that are very difficult to define. We pronounce upon particular instances. We can say this is civilized, or that is savage. Yet somehow the general notion is elusive. Thus we proceed by examples. During the last six centuries, the culture of Europe has guided itself by example. The Greeks and Romans at their best period have been taken as the standard of civilization. We have aimed at reproducing the excellencies of these societies—preferably the society of Athens in its prime.
These standards have served the Western races well. But the procedure has its disadvantages. It is backward looking, and it is limited to one type of social excellence. Today the world is passing into a new stage of its existence. New knowledge, and new technologies have altered the proportions of things. The particular example of an ancient society sets too static an ideal, and neglects the whole range of opportunity. It is really not sufficient to direct attention to the best that has been said and done in the ancient world. The result is static, repressive, and promotes a decadent habit of mind. (Page 273)
Whitehead adds—and the Philosopher squiggles—that the Greeks "were not backward looking, or static. . . . They were speculative, adventurous, eager for novelty. The most un-Greek thing that we can do, is to copy the Greeks. For emphatically they were not copyists." He also reminds us not to "concentrate exclusively upon passive, critical qualities concerned chiefly with the Fine Arts", not to tie civilization down to "museums and studios." His general definition of civilization [big squiggle] is "that a civilized society is exhibiting the five qualities of Truth, Beauty, Adventure, Art, Peace." Now we can clearly see what he is about in these closing chapters. He gives an interesting definition of Peace: "I am not referring to political relations. I mean a quality of mind steady in its reliance that fine action is treasured in the nature of things." He will now zero in "upon a few points in philosophy and history which throw light upon the various functions of these elements in civilization."
Whitehead plans to "concentrate upon Adventure and Art as necessary elements in civilization. It is in respect to these two factors that prevalent concepts of civilization are weakest."
The foundation of all understanding of sociological theory . . . is that no static maintenance of perfection is possible [Big Squiggle]. This axiom is rooted in the nature of things. Advance or Decadence are the only choices offered to mankind. The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe. [Another squiggle] This doctrine requires justification. It is implicitly denied in the learned tradition derived from ancient thought. (Page 274)
All this rests on three metaphysical principles: "[T]he very essence of real actuality—that is, of the completely real—is process." Whitehead adds—and the Philosopher squiggles—"If we omit the Psyche [the Soul] and the Eros [urge toward realization of ideal perfection], we should obtain a static world." We then come to two squiggled and heavily marked paragraphs:
Thus in the modern development of these seven metaphysical notions, we should start from the notion of actuality as in its essence a process. This process involves a physical side which is the perishing of the past as it transforms itself into a new creation. It also involves a mental side which is the Soul entertaining ideas.
The Soul thereby by synthesis creates a new fact which is the Appearance woven out of the old and the new—a compound of reception and anticipation, which in its turn passes into the future. The final synthesis of these three complexes is the end to which its indwelling Eros urges the soul. Its good resides in the realization of a strength of many feelings fortifying each other as they meet in the novel unity. Its evil lies in the clash of vivid feelings, denying to each other their proper expansion. Its triviality lies in the anaesthesia by which evil is avoided. In this way through sheer omission, fewer, fainter feelings constitute the final Appearance. [Giant Squiggle] Evil is the half-way house between perfection and triviality. It is the violence of strength against strength. (Pages 275-276)
Now on to the second metaphysical principle:
[E]very occasion of actuality is in its own nature finite. There is no totality which is the harmony of all perfections. Whatever is realized in any one occasion of experience necessarily excludes the unbounded welter of contrary possibilities. [Squiggle] ...This finiteness . . . results from the fact that there are possibilities of harmony which either produce evil in joint realization, or are incapable of such conjunction. This doctrine is a commonplace in the fine arts. It also is—or should be—a commonplace of political philosophy. History can only be understood by seeing it as the theatre of diverse groups of idealists respectively urging ideals incompatible for conjoint realization. You cannot form any historical judgment of right or wrong by considering each group separately. The evil lies in the attempted conjunction.
This principle of intrinsic incompatibility has an important bearing upon our conception of the nature of God. . . . But . . . this notion of incompatability has never been applied to ideals in the Divine realization [squiggle]. We must conceive the Divine Eros as the active entertainment of all ideals, [squiggle] with the urge to their finite realization, each in its due season . Thus a process must be inherent in God’s nature, whereby his infinity is acquiring realization. (Pages 276-277)
Whitehead adds, "A learned orthodoxy suppresses adventure." This reminds me of the famous statement by biochemist Roger Williams: "When science becomes orthodoxy, it ceases to be science. It also becomes liable to error." After some remarks on satire, Whitehead states:
Satire is the last flicker of originality in a passing epoch as it faces the onroad of staleness and boredom. Freshness has gone: bitterness remains. The prolongation of outworn forms of life means a slow decadence in which there is repetition without any fruit in the reaping of value. There may be high survival power. For decadence, undisturbed by originality or by external forces, is a slow process. But the values of life are slowly ebbing. There remains the show of civilization, without any of its realities.
There is an alternative to this slow decline. A race may exhaust a form of civilization without having exhausted its own creative springs of originality. In that case, a quick period of transition may set in, which may or may not be accompanied by dislocations involving widespread unhappiness. (Page 278)
He then lists three such periods and expresses hope that "our present epoch"  will turn out to be "change to a new direction of civilization" with "a minimum of human misery". He adds, "Before Columbus set sail for America, he had dreamt of the far East, and of the round world, and of the trackless ocean. Adventure rarely reaches its predetermined end. Columbus never reached China. But he discovered America."
[Big Squiggle] "A race preserves its vigour so long as it harbours a real contrast between what has been and what may be; and so long as it is nerved by the vigour to adventure beyond the safeties of the past. Without adventure civilization is in full decay."
[Major marginal scratching] It is for this reason that the definition of culture as the knowledge of the best that has been said and done, is so dangerous be reason of its omission. It omits the great fact that in their day the great achievements of the past were the adventures of the past. Only the adventurous can understand the greatness of the past. In its day, the literature of the past was an adventure. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides were adventurers in the world of thought. To read their plays without any sense of new ways of understanding the world and of savouring its emotions is to miss the vividness which constitutes their whole value. But adventures are to the adventurous. Thus a passive knowledge of the past loses the whole value of its message. A living civilization requires learning; but it lies beyond it. (Page 279)
Then finally, we get to the third metaphysical principle of Individuality. "It concerns the doctrine of Harmony; and its omission is . . . the greatest gap in traditional discussions of that doctrine. . . . [W]ith the predominance of the sensationalist doctrine of perception, modern views of the Harmony characterizing a great experience have reached their lowest point." Whitehead adds, and the Philosopher squiggles:
Sense-perception, despite its prominence in consciousness, belongs to the superficialities of experience. . . . [T]he Aristotelian doctrine of primary substances . . . is a complete mistake. The individual, real facts of the past lie at the base of our immediate experience in the present. They are the reality from which the occasion springs, the reality from which it derives its source of emotion, from which it inherits its purposes, to which it directs its passions. At the base of experience there is a welter of feeling, derived from individual realities or directed towards them. (Page 280)
A couple of closing thoughts that the Philosopher liked:
"The great Harmony is the harmony of enduring individualities, connected in the unity of a background. It is for this reason that the notion of freedom haunts the higher civilizations. For freedom, in any one of its many senses, is the claim for vigorous self-assertion."
The Appearance is a simplification by a process of emphasis and combination. Thus the enduring individuals, with their wealth of emotional significance, appear in the foreground. In the background there lie a mass of undistinguished occasions providing the environment with its vague emotional tone. In a general sense, the Appearance is a work of Art, elicited from the primary Reality. . . . In any case, the Appearance is a simplification of Reality, reducing it to a foreground of enduring individuals and to a background of undiscriminated occasions. Sense-perception belongs to Appearance. It is interpreted as indicating enduring individuals, truthfully or otherwise.
Thus, the basis of a strong, penetrating experience of Harmony is an Appearance with a foreground of enduring individuals carrying with them a force of subjective tone, and with a background providing the requisite connection. [Squiggle] (page 281)
The very last page is marked in the corner with the statement, "Truth is power" (I think. Alan's handwriting was always challenging.) The final paragraph is beautiful:
Also, the importance of truth now emerges. Truth of belief is important, both in itself and in its consequences. But above all, there emerges the importance of the truthful relation of Appearance to Reality. A grave defect in truth limits the extent to which any force of feeling can be summoned from the recesses of Reality. The falsehood thus lacks the magic by which a beauty beyond the power of speech to express can be called into being, as if by the wand of an enchanter. It is for these reasons that the civilization of a society requires the virtues of Truth, Beauty, Adventure and Art. (Page 283)
Next week, the squiggly final chapter, Peace.
March 18, 2014
Adventures in Adventures
This final chapter is positively encrusted with squiggles on nearly every page, along with written comments and underlinings. It is indeed a rich chapter, pulling together previous themes and freshening definitions of terms that have grown commonplace, such as peace.
Whitehead begins as usual by telling us where we have been:
Our discussions have concerned themselves with specializations in History, of seven Platonic generalities, namely, The Ideas, The Physical Elements, The Psyche, The Eros, The Harmony, The Mathematical Relations, The Receptacle. The historical references have been selected and grouped with the purpose of illustrating the energizing of specializations of these seven general notions among the peoples of Western Europe, driving them towards their civilization.
Finally, in this fourth and last Part of the book, those essential qualities, whose joint realization in social life constitutes civilization, are being considered. Four such qualities have, so far, been examined: —Truth, Beauty, Adventure, Art.
Something is still lacking. It is difficult to state it in terms that are wide enough. . . . The notions of ‘tenderness’ and of ‘love’ are too narrow, important though they be. We require the concept of some more general quality, from which ‘tenderness’ emerges as a specialization. We are in a way seeking for the notion of a Harmony of Harmonies, which shall bind together the other four qualities, so as to exclude from our notion of civilization the restless egotism with which they have often in fact been pursued. . . . I choose the term ‘Peace’ for that Harmony of Harmonies which calms destructive turbullence [sic] and completes civilization. Thus a society is to be termed civilized whose members participate in the five qualities—Truth, Beauty, Adventure, Art, Peace. (Pages 284-285)
This is not "the negative conception of anaesthesia . . . not a hope for the future, nor is it an interest in present details". Rather, it is "a broadening of feeling due to the emergence of some deep metaphysical insight, unverbalized and yet momentous in its coordination of values." [The Philosopher wants us to compare this with "the noetic quality of mystical experience".]
Its first effect is the removal of the stress of acquisitive feeling arising from the soul’s preoccupation with itself. Thus Peace carries with it a surpassing of personality. There is an inversion of relative values. It is primarily a trust in the efficacy of Beauty. It is a sense that fineness of achievement is as it were a key unlocking treasures that the narrow nature of things would keep remote. There is thus involved a grasp of infinitude, an appeal beyond boundaries. . . . It preserves the springs of energy, and at the same time masters them for the avoidance of paralyzing distractions. The trust in the self-justification of Beauty introduces faith, where reason fails to reveal the details.
The experience of Peace is largely beyond the control of purpose. It comes as a gift. (Page 285)
But, adds Whitehead, you can’t just aim at Peace, or it turns into
its bastard substitute, Anaesthesia. . . .Thus Peace is the removal of inhibition and not its introduction. It results in a wider sweep of conscious interest. It enlarges the field of attention. Thus Peace is self-control at its widest,—at the width where the ‘self’ has been lost, and interest has been transferred to coordinations wider than personality. . . . It is the barrier against narrowness. One of its fruits is that passion whose existence Hume denied, the love of mankind as such. (Pages 285-286)
More about defining Peace:
Peace is the understanding of tragedy, and at the same time its preservation. . . . Decay, Transition, Loss, displacement belong to the essence of the Creative Advance. The new direction of aim is initiated by Spontaneity, an element of confusion. The enduring Societies with their rise, culmination, and decay, are devices to combine the necessities of Harmony and Freshness. . . . Peace is then the intuition of permanence. It keeps vivid the sensitiveness to the tragedy; and it sees the tragedy as a living agent persuading the world to aim at fineness beyond the faded level of surrounding fact. Each tragedy is the disclosure of an ideal: —What might have been , and was not: What can be. . . . The inner feeling belonging to this grasp of the service of tragedy is Peace—the purification of the emotions. (Page 286)
We then get into a discussion of Youth, defined as "Life as yet untouched by tragedy". But, says Whitehead, "the question here for discussion is how the intuition of Peace asserts itself apart from its disclosure in tragedy." Then follows this amazing description:
Youth is distinguished for its whole-hearted absorption in personal enjoyments and personal discomforts. Quick pleasure and quick pain, quick laughter and quick tears, quick absence of care, and quick diffidence, quick courage and quick fear, are conjointly characters of youth. In other words, immediate absorption in its own occupations. On this side, youth is too chequered to be termed a happy period. It is vivid rather than happy. The memories of youth are better to live through, than is youth itself. For except in extreme cases, memory is apt to count the sunny hours. Youth is not peaceful in any ordinary sense of that term. In youth despair is overwhelming. There is then no tomorrow, no memory of disaster survived. . .
Youth is peculiarly susceptible to appeals for beauty of conduct. It understands motives which presuppose the irrelevance of it own person. . . . Its very search for personal experience thus elicits impersonality, self-forgetfulness. Youth forgets itself in its own ardour. Of course, not always. For it can fall in love. But the test of the better nature, so happily plentiful, is that love passes from selfishness to devotion. The higher forms of love break down the narrow self-regarding motives.
When youth has once grasped where Beauty dwells—with a real knowledge and not as a mere matter of literary phraseology in some poetic, scriptural, or psychological version—when youth has once grasped, its self-surrender is absolute. . . . Youth is peculiarly liable to the vision of that Peace, which is the harmony of the soul’s activities with ideal aims that lie beyond any personal satisfaction. (Pages 287-288)
More on peace:
The vigour of civilized societies is preserved by the wide-spread sense that high aims are worth-while. . . . All strong interests easily become impersonal, the love of a good job well-done. There is a sense of harmony about such an accomplishment, the Peace brought by something worth-while. Such personal gratification arises from aim beyond personality. (Page 288)
And fame: "Fame is a cold, hard notion. Another half-way house between the extreme ecstasy of Peace and the extreme of selfish desire, is the love of particular individual things. . . . In the extreme of love, such as mother’s love, all personal desire is transferred to the thing loved, as a desire for its perfection."
The wide scope of the notion of ‘society’ requires attention. Transcendence begins with the leap from the actuality of the immediate occasion to the notion of personal existence, which is a society of occasions. In terms of human life, the soul is a society. Care for the future of personal existence, regret or pride in its past, are alike feelings which leap beyond the bounds of the sheer actuality of the present. It is in the nature of the present that it should thus transcend itself by reason of the immanence in it of the ‘other’. But there is no necessity as to the scale of emphasis that this fact of nature should receive. It belongs to the civilization of consciousness, to magnify the large sweep of harmony. (Page 291)
Other big squiggles:
"The stubborn reality of the absolute self-attainment of each individual is bound up with a relativity which it issues from and issues into."
Although particular codes of morality reflect, more or less imperfectly, the special circumstances of social structure concerned, it is natural to seek for some highly general principles underlying all such codes. Such generalities should reflect the very notions of the harmonizing of harmonies, and of particular individual actualities as the sole authentic reality. These are the principles of the generality of harmony, and of the importance of the individual. The first means ‘order’, and the second means ‘love’. Between the two there is a suggestion of opposition. For ‘order’ is impersonal; and love, above all things, is personal. The antithesis is solved by rating types of order in relative importance according to their success in magnifiying the individual actualities, that is to say, in promoting strength of experience. . . . The essence of Peace is that the individual whose strength of experience is founded upon this ultimate intuition, thereby is extending the influence of the source of all order.
The moral code is the behaviour-patterns which in the environment for which it is designed will promote the evolution of that environment towards its proper perfection. (Page 292)
The essential truth that Peace demands is the conformation of Appearance to Reality. There is the Reality from which the occasion of experience springs—a Reality of inescapable, stubborn fact; and there is the Appearance with which the occasion attains its final individuality—an Appearance including its adjustment of the Universe by simplification, valuation, transmutation, anticipation. A feeling of dislocation of Appearance from Reality is the final destructive force, robbing life of its zest for adventure. It spells the decadence of civilization, by stripping from it the very reason for its existence. . . . If there were a necessary conformation of Appearance to Reality then Morality would vanish. . . . Art is an issue of Adventure. (Page 293)
We have found the growth of Art: its gradual sublimation into the pursuit of Truth and Beauty: the sublimation of the egoistic aim by its inclusion of the transcendent whole: the youthful zest in the transcendent aim: the sense of tragedy: the sense of evil: the persuasion towards Adventure beyond achieved perfection: the sense of Peace. (Pages 294-295)
And the conclusion:
At the heart of the nature of things, there are always the dream of youth and the harvest of tragedy. The Adventure of the Universe starts with the dream and reaps tragic Beauty. This is the secret of the union of Zest with Peace: —That the suffering attains its end in a Harmony of Harmonies. The immediate experience of this Final Fact, with its union of Youth and Tragedy, is the sense of Peace. In this way the World receives its persuasion towards such perfections as are possible for its diverse individual occasions. (Page 296)
Although I am no philosopher, my devout hope is that at least a few of you will prehend the beauty, the love and order in this approach to life, and that you will work toward helping other New Thoughters understand why Whiteheadian process philosophy provides the best foundation for New Thought.
Next week: Where will Spirit take us?
March 25, 2014
The Other Side of the Coin
Many of you are familiar with the Taoist concept of a balance of yang and yin, of active "masculine" energy melding with passive "feminine" energy. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. In the famous symbol, white yang energy and black yin energy curve together, with each curvy side incorporating a dot of the opposite color. The curvy shapes wax into a large end and wane into a small tail, and those dots are in the large end. This means that at its maximum, each force contains the opposite force, and each force grows as its opposite shrinks. There is therefore an ongoing dance between the two, which go together to create a synergy better than either could have come to on its own. They go together to create the whole.
Now before you go waltzing off into the murky mists of pantheism—which is fuzzy thinking writ large and will bring the Philosopher back to haunt you forevermore—you need to note that you cannot pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end (as Stephen Covey has stated), nor can you have one side of the coin without the other. We’re talking about The Rest of the Story, the overall perspective, the balance between halves of the model. This isn’t pantheism, which is just mental laziness; it’s panentheism (En pasi panta Theos, that God may be all in all). What we are talking about is not pantheism; it’s interconnectedness. The one God indwells all of his creation, and he has given all of it free will, so that it can co-create with him. We are not puppets or serfs; we are the children of God, and we share a common father. (For all you sticklers, I am obviously talking about human beings, not occasions of experience making up a steel bar, even though each of them has a tiny bit of free will.) As children of God, we are made in his image and likeness; we at least have the potential for sharing some of his Ultimate Character Traits. God rejoices when we rejoice; and when free will results in unfortunate things happening, God weeps as we weep. God obviously loves pantheists, because he made so many of them, but he still weeps over them!
Where I am really heading with all of this is toward some of the basic principles of creating anything—or more precisely, co-creating anything. As the Philosopher put it, Past + Divine Offer + Choice = Co-Creation. Notice the "Divine Offer": without God, there can be no novelty in the world, nothing really new. That is an important Whiteheadian principle, and we have just come through twenty weeks of Whitehead, so we need to take this stuff out and road-test it. We can go as high, wide, and handsome as we like—as long as we stay centered on God and leave room for his guidance.
To create a totally happy life, we need to preserve balance between work and play, rest and activity, self-centeredness and other-centeredness, discipline and letting it all hang out. Process thought, the only constructive postmodern philosophy, provides the theoretical base for operations. New Thought provides an excellent model for putting philosophical theory into practice.
And here’s another important point: we need to go back and forth between theory and practice, or we will end up in the ditch. Theory alone will not get us anywhere: "Faith without works is dead." But practice must be directed by theory, or there is a huge amount of wasted motion. If the real-world action disproves the theory in whole or in part ("Another beautiful theory, murdered by a gang of brutal facts!"), then go back to the drawing board, but don’t just junk the theory altogether.
A third important point is made by one of my favorite authors, Robert Fritz, who stresses the importance of the structure of what you are creating. All too often we oscillate between "I can have this" and "No, I can’t", or "I want to lose weight" and "I’m starving!", which, like rocking in a rocking chair, gets us nowhere. What we need instead is a systems approach, where we constantly compare what we really want with what we have at present, working to close the gap. A torpedo reaches its destination by making a series of mistakes, correcting course after each, until it reaches its target. It is always target-aimed, even though it is getting there by a series of zig-zags. And no, we are not servomechanisms; we have servomechanisms. Fritz says:
The mind will work to resolve any tension that it considers. . . . We have useful filters that sort what we want to pay attention to, and what we do not want to spend any time on. . . .
The best thing to do is this: give the mind a job that feeds the brain. That best job is to create. Assign your mind structural tension, which is formed by knowing the end result you want to create, and the current reality you have in relationship to this result. Of course, there are actions to take, strategies to employ, tactics to use, insights to learn on the road from here to there, but, because of structural tension, the mind becomes the best ally in this process, and the brain is thankful for the nourishment. (Elements: The Writings of Robert Fritz, pages 31-32).
For more on process thought, or Process New Thought, see chapter 6 of our jointly authored book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (revised edition 2003), available from Amazon. There is a link on this site in our Book Store.
April 1, 2014
The Creative Advance into Novelty
Last week we looked at the importance of various sorts of balance in our lives, and also how important structure is for our successful creating. We looked at Robert Fritz’s distinction between a structure in which we oscillate back and forth and get nowhere, and a structure that systematically compares what we want with what we currently have, constantly correcting course until it reaches its goal. We also noted that in the Tao, the whole is made up of two opposite halves, which fit together to make the whole.
A whole, a total, is an abstraction. Abstract nouns "refer to qualities and ideas (justice, beauty, realism, dignity)", in contrast to concrete nouns, which "point to immediate, often sensate experience and to physical objects (steeple, asphalt, lilac, stone, garlic)" (Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference,4th ed.) Whitehead famously referred to "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness", by which he meant such things as assuming that the very concrete enemy body count indicated how well the United States was doing in the Vietnamese war (obviously not one of Whitehead’s examples). The enemy count went up as reported in the newspapers, but the guerilla tactics and the determination with which they operated led to a subtle victory. General George Washington lost more battles than he won during the American Revolution. If the British were just counting battles won, they were sadly misled. The total on the scoreboard was a Pyrrhic victory, one that placed an unjustified trust in concrete statistics. Abstractions in their proper place are extremely important. Assessing the true situation in both of these illustrations requires both abstractions and concretions.
God is concrete. Nobody needs an abstract god; we need and want a god who is in there with both feet, metaphorically speaking. Alan was fond of saying that God has a finger in every pie. When you speak about God as "all there is"— in other words, as a whole— you just made him into an abstraction. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of a pantheistic worldview. The challenge is that the minute you try to understand God by describing him, you limit him to that extent. That means that we need many metaphors to describe God, and we also need to remind ourselves of the limits of each of those metaphors. This is what philosophers do all day. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and it requires no heavy lifting. William James famously defined metaphysics, one of the principal branches of philosophy, as "an unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly". One of the great contributions of process thought to New Thought is this clarity in the underlying thought, clarity that takes into account the forward march of science that needs to be melded into any religion.
If God created the world, he is in a separate class from it, for a class cannot be a member of itself. But being in a separate class from it does not mean that he is separate from it. As New Thoughters like to say, God is everywhere present and available. In order to give us free will, God had to supply a level playing field, a neutral environment. A large part of this is the laws of the universe, both physical and mental. And a large part of those are such things as the various balances, the yang and yin. "To every thing there is a season . . . .". Having created such a world, God has to live by his own rules, and this means influencing by persuasion rather than coercion, another big process-thought notion. This automatically involves the use of mind power, of thinking, to achieve. Notice that they named it "New Thought".
What all this then leads to is that we need to center on our Creator if we expect to have any novelty in the world (another Whiteheadian concept). Any new creation must be a cooperative effort between God and ourself. Creation often involves the simultaneous entertaining of two seemingly conflicting ideas, such as yang and yin. These get synthesized—and synergized—into a new whole. We as children of God are chips off the old Block as we go on cocreating bigger and better creations. We do this primarily with our thoughts. And perhaps you can begin to see why I define New Thought as "habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline".
Choosing Happiness Again
I was going to call this "Happiness Revisited", but I decided to emphasize the fact that happiness is a choice. I have indeed been choosing to be happy fairly frequently, but I haven’t written much with the spotlight on it lately. So it occurs to me to go back and see what I have written about it in the past, and then go forward and look at a few new wrinkles. This may take a few columns.
In a short piece for Creative Thought in December 1993 I wrote:
Are you afraid to be happy? Do you fear the consequences of happiness? Is happiness something that you have a choice about, or does unhappiness just fly in the window and sit on your head, unbidden? Surprisingly, psychologists now tell us that happiness is a function of the left hemisphere of the brain, the one that governs logical thinking. It is a state of satisfaction that we intensify by the attention we give to it. It is a choice, a feeling resulting from our deeply-held beliefs—which is to say, our thinking. Recent research has shown that people who are optimists do better in just about every way, from health to career to relationships. It also shows that optimism can be learned.
Optimists have learned to choose to hold positive beliefs about whatever situation they find themselves in. In a similar fashion, you can learn to choose to be happy. Because happiness is a chosen state of mind, if you have ever been happy, you can choose to be so again and then make it happen by recalling a former happy time. To recall is to see what you saw, hear what you heard or what you told yourself and do whatever you did with your body (for example, your posture: was your head hanging down or held high when you were happy?)
Many people are afraid to be happy for fear that they will cease to want things to improve or that they will seem unfeeling or unsympathetic to others. But, it is actually easier for you to work for change, easier for you to uplift others who are down, when you are in a happy state of mind yourself. Happiness is not a pleasure on which you are in danger of overdosing; it is your natural state, until you interfere with it. You can be happy and work to make things better, be happy and still have dreams and goals to strive for, be happy and compassionate toward others. Misery may love company, but it isn’t alleviated by it.
Don’t be afraid to be happy. When you are happy, your health will be better, your creativity and problem-solving ability will be freer to function well. Your brain is designed to help you find what you are looking for, what you give your attention to. You may have used it to attract misery. You can just as easily use it to attract happiness. (Pages 18-19)
Then, in both editions of New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality I wrote (it was in one of my chapters):
Happiness, as analyzed by sages from Aristotle to Barry Neil Kaufman (Son-Rise, Happiness is a Choice), boils down largely to a matter of thinking. Certainly, it involves deep and careful thinking, planning, and acting on the plans. Robert Schuller has written new words for the hymn tune by George J. Webb ("Stand Up for Jesus") that begin, "We build a new tomorrow on plans we make today." As Abraham Lincoln put it, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be" (italics ours). Author Jo Coudert has compared happiness to a cat that runs away when chased, but when you are otherwise occupied, comes and rubs up against your leg. Like money, it is the byproduct of other worthwhile activity, rather than something that one seeks for itself. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), happiness is defined as an enhanced state of satisfaction. To be happy, then, you need only notice when you are satisfied and enhance what you are feeling at that time: be more enthusiastic, pay more attention to the details of what you are satisfied with, don’t take it for granted. This is another way of saying that what you give your attention to grows.
Having free will means that we have the power to choose our behaviors—our thinking, acting, and feeling. Because of this, we are responsible for the ways that our lives are going. If we won’t assume responsibility for being where we are today we abdicate or embalm our power to determine where we’ll be in the future. Many people take this to mean that they are to blame. But blame is a useless, negative emotion that just paralyzes us. We are what we say we are. If we say that we are victims, we are writing VICTIM on our own foreheads. Responsibility isn’t blaming the victim; it is giving the victim a ticket out. It says that we have the power to change our minds. If we’re being carried down the rapids in a rowboat, we can lie down and moan that we are about to crash into the rocks, or we can take responsibility by sitting up and steering, no matter why or how we got into the boat. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, when held in a Nazi concentration camp under horrible conditions, discovered that he still had the power to choose his thoughts. (Rev. Ed., pages 82-83)
I have frequently quoted from some of the ongoing research, but I am now tantalized into reviewing it in greater depth. If you are interested in more happiness, stay tuned.
April 15, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (2)
In our second jointly-authored book, Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes (2000) I wrote (Alan’s contribution was to put fingerprints all over it):
Happiness is a state of enhanced satisfaction, enhanced by intensifiying our attention on whatever we find satisfactory. Research has shown this to be a left-hemisphere function. In other words, happiness depends upon our thinking. Once again, the power of the mind can bring us whatever we desire. It can help us to have better relationships and to find greater pleasure in our life’s work. Later in this book we will examine ways to go about this. (Pages 15-16)
Doing what we love, or even visualizing and planning to be able to do what we love at some future date, helps ensure happiness. Happiness is a state of enhanced satisfaction. If we are using our talents to fill others’ needs by doing what we love and doing it well, we will be well on our way to a satisfying life. We can seek to understand and to have win-win relationships with those we love. And we can become very clear about what we want, visualize it, and work with interest to attain it. Success can be defined as achieving what you set out to do.
We had a lot to say about the research on happiness in our first book. To summarize, people are happiest when they are able to lose themselves in the flow of some worthwhile activity, not when they are watching television or otherwise vegging out. Happiness is not a mood, but a function associated with the left-hemisphere of the brain. We become happy by choosing to be happy, to note what we are satisfied with at present, and enhancing our satisfaction by dwelling on the details of it. . . .
Abraham Lincoln observed, "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be," and it’s true. Surprisingly, people who have undergone some terrible physical affliction that leaves them paralyzed or without a limb are usually happy, because they have come to terms with their condition. Happiness also involves feeling that one is of service to others, and one can find ways of serving others even when one is paralyzed and bedridden. Here is where good character comes into play in terms of persisting until difficulties are overcome.
Happiness is a choice, as many people have pointed out. You can choose to look for the benefits in a situation, or at least the humor. Such an attitude empowers you to be more creative and resourceful, and you are more likely to come out of the situation with a solution to your problems. Happiness is closely allied with optimism and with positive expectancy. You will be happy if you are completely engrossed in the present moment, and that is something you can choose to be. People often push their happiness into the future by saying, "I will be happy when I get married," or get a certain house or car or promotion. But why postpone happiness? Choose to be happy now as well as in the future.
Barry Neil Kaufman, in his book, Happiness is a Choice, lists three reasons why people are afraid to be happy. First, they fear that if they were happy all the time, they would become idiotic or at least dull of brain. Yet, as Kaufman points out, "Dispensing with unhappiness is the single most significant activity we can undertake in any effort to sharpen our minds and enhance our ability to think."
The second reason that people are afraid to be happy is that they believe they would lack initiative, energy, and conviction, that they would lose their clear vision. "In contrast," says Kaufman, "happiness bubbles forth from an optimistic, hopeful vision of the universe. Unencumbered by the anchor of misery, happier people move decisively and energetically. . . . Happiness is power! Happiness is self-empowerment."
The third reason that people are afraid to be happy is that they fear that they would be insensitive, because they have learned to associate happiness with superficiality and insensitivity. If we are unhappy, we must care deeply. But as Kaufman notes, if we take on the sadness of another, "what we have then is two sad people," or two angry people, if we take on another’s anger at some injustice. "Happiness," Kaufman indicates, "might, in fact, be the most sensitive and useful tool with which to assist someone we love through a difficult circumstance."
Kaufman repeats the basic truth that all of us always do what we take to be our best, in accordance with our beliefs. If you change the beliefs, the behaviors and feelings resulting from those beliefs will change, too. Kaufman has interviewed child molesters, pathological liars, and others whose behavior the world views as extremely objectionable. In every case, he found that the person had been well-intentioned. By respecting the underlying intention, he has been able to get even such people to change their behavior, though they of course still had to face the consequences of it. "We are the architects of our own attitudes and experiences. We design the world by the way we choose to see it!" he states.
Kaufman has an earlier book with the title To Love is to Be Happy With. He picks up that theme in Happiness is a Choice:
When we are happy with ourselves, we are accepting of ourselves (not judging ourselves). When we are happy with others, we are accepting of them (not judging others). Happiness brings us closer together rather than pushing us apart. But above all, happiness makes love tangible. To love someone fully and completely is to be happy with that person, to accept him without judgments and celebrate our own existence. . . . We can become the gift-givers to others and ourselves, and the gift we can offer is our happiness and the peace, love and acceptance that flow from it.
How do we choose happiness? By making it a priority, says Kaufman. Certainly this "to love is to be happy with" approach is what Jesus taught. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). He also admonished, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1) (Pages 126-129)
To be continued.
April 22, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (3)
Although I and others have often quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be", psychologist Dan Baker has more to say about the subject. He is Director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, the famous spa, and he wrote a book based on his experiences in helping his many clients there, What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better (2003). Lincoln’s statement is technically correct in that "making up one’s mind" is a left-hemisphere activity; here is Baker’s comment, headed "Happiness Trap #5: Trying to Force Happiness":
Abraham Lincoln once said, "People can be just about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
Oh? If that’s true, why did Lincoln dose himself with a crude anti-depressant, mercury tablets (which made him fly into rages)? Why was his wife suicidally depressed? [Could it have been from having a husband given to flying into rages?]
You can’t just decide to be happy any more than you can decide to be taller.
That’s because happiness is not a finite entity unto itself, but is the sum of the 12 most important qualities of happiness: love, optimism, courage, a sense of freedom, proactivity, security, health, spirituality, altruism, perspective, humor, and purpose. These are the things you should make up your mind to achieve.
Of course, achieving these qualities is tough. But that’s the point! Happiness isn’t la-la land. It’s not for the weak or lazy. If you wanted to become physically fit, you wouldn’t expect to get there by just deciding, would you? When people try to be happy by just resolving to be, happiness becomes a mirage, forever fading into the distance. [Resolving to be happy is an ill-defined objective.]
Happiness is hard work—and it’s harder for some people than others, because there is genetic component to it. . . . [I]t’s especially important for people who are not genetically predisposed to happiness to use the happiness tools.
Fortunately, most of the 12 major qualities of happiness—such as love, optimism, and freedom—are intrinsically pleasant, and most of the happiness tools that help generate these elements are innately satisfying. [Remember the NLP definition of happiness as "enhanced satisfaction".]
For example, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to lift your mood is to simply keep a pleasant expression on your face. This was proven in a study in which half the subjects were asked to hold pens in their teeth—which made their expressions approximate a smile—while the other subjects held pens in their lips, which created pouts. Both groups were told a series of jokes. The group with the pens in their teeth rated the jokes as funnier. [On the other hand, it could prove that holding a pen in your teeth impairs your judgement!]
Now you know the key to happiness. Hold a pen in your teeth.
Better yet, use the happiness tools.
The tools are all about action. If you could just force yourself to be happy, through sheer willpower—without doing anything—you wouldn’t need the tools. I’ve seen people try to do this. But it doesn’t work.
Fear is just too strong. Fear, fear, endless fear.
Think about these things: racial tension, tribal clashes, religious hostility. Office politics, backstabbing, sexual conflict. Gang violence. International strife. Jealousy, greed, hate, intolerance, war. They all stem, at the core, from fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of people who are different. Fear of domination. Fear of not being enough. Fear of ideas. Fear of love. Fear of death. Fear of life.
And how much of it makes sense? How much of it is reasonable? Inevitable? None of it. I swear to God, none of it.
If we could just rise above fear . . . what a world we would have.
It’s time to try.
Start by yourself. That’s the only way anything ever begins.
Learn the happiness tools. They can change your life. They’ve worked for others. Now it’s your turn. (Pages 76-78)
Although Baker is making some important points, his underlying perspective needs to be emphasized. What did you just do if you decided to try, to start by yourself? You used your thinking powers. As an old Certified Reality Therapist, I cannot resist pointing out that Reality Therapy’s founder, psychiatrist William Glasser, pointed out a long time ago that if you want to change the way you are feeling (as in this example, scared), the quickest way is to change what you are doing, because if your behavior changes, your feelings will follow. His book of case studies was titled, What Are You Doing? However, psychologist Gary Applegate, who at the time was Glasser’s right-hand man, also pointed out that in order to change what you are doing, your thinking needs to have changed at least a little bit. Over the years, Reality Therapy certainly evolved, coming to incorporate the systems (control) theory principles that underlie its success; but the core steps to take remain unchanged, because they work as they always have.
And so, folks, we’re back to good old New Thought principles: "Change your thinking, change your life." Or, in NLP terms, "Change your mind and keep the change."
And I am just getting warmed up!
April 29, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (4)
Continuing with psychologist Dan Baker’s book, What Happy People Know, we learn:
[H]appiness never comes all at once. Happiness, in the final analysis, is a catchall term for the condition that comes from several indispensable qualities. It’s a by-product.
The sum of the following qualities is happiness. Not all of these qualities must be present for happiness to exist, and they don’t all have to be there in equal amounts. Most of them must be abundant, though, for someone to experience the kind of lasting, rock-solid happiness that endures even when life gets tough to take—as it always does, sooner or later. (Page 19)
Here are Baker’s twelve qualities of happiness:
A sense of freedom Perspective
Baker claims that if people achieve these qualities, "they no longer need to search for happiness—it finds them". He then provides six happiness tools for giving one "a second chance at life":
Personal power (taking responsibility and taking action)
Leading with your strengths, not your weaknesses
The power of language and stories (choosing to tell healthy stories, not horror stories)
Multidimensional living ("Happiness comes from a full life")
He then warns against five happiness traps that "seem to offer the solution to happiness, even as they destroy any chance of ever achieving it":
Trying to buy happiness
Trying to find happiness through pleasure
Trying to be happy by resolving the past
Trying to be happy by overcoming weakness
Trying to force happiness (what Lincoln did)
He observes, "[D]octors have found . . . that building health is often the best way to defeat illness. . . . [P]sychologists have discovered that helping people become happy—without fixating on their anguish—usually solves mental problems even better than fighting the problems directly."
I have often said that New Thought is all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong. Baker has a paraphrased version of that: "Happiness isn’t the art of building a trouble-free life. It’s the art of responding well when trouble strikes." However, you have to have been at work building your happiness tools or your psychological strengths well before things go wrong.
Baker is friends with Dr. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who developed positive psychology after doing pioneering research on learned helplessness (what’s learned can be unlearned) and then on learned optimism (and optimists do better on just about anything you care to measure, so optimism is worth learning). Seligman and his friend, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (whom his happy friends call Mike), represent the core of the happiness literature, and we will have much more to say about and from them. Meanwhile, a few thoughts from Baker, whose book is still well worth reading:
"Four extremely common beliefs . . . seem comforting, but are deadly foes. They are:
1. I’ve been victimized.
2. I’m entitled to more.
3. I’ll be rescued.
4. Someone else is to blame."
When you blame yourself, all you do is reinforce fear. You convince yourself that your worst dread is real: You’re not good enough! . . . .
Even as this happens, though, many people are still proud of themselves, thinking that they are taking responsibility. Blame isn’t responsibility. Responsibility is about using personal power and making changes. Blame is about sabotaging personal power and staying frozen in fear. Responsibility is a call to action; blame is a call to anger. Action solves problems; anger solves nothing. Anger is just fear wearing the mask of aggression.
Because blame is inspired by fear, the strongest force against it is love. When your heart is focused on love, you don’t indulge in blame. (Page 176)
"The secret of happiness is to love the moment more than you mourn the loss."
To be continued.
May 6, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (5)
Back in the day, people felt well-prepared for a writing project if they had a nice new box of wooden pencils. At the same time, they knew that they weren’t going to get far until and unless they took one of those shiny new pencils out of the box and sharpened it. It’s a similar situation with objectives in life. (Some people make a distinction between an objective and goals leading to it, while others use the terms goal and objective interchangeably. Much has been written about the lively art of goal setting.) Regardless of what you call it, if you have a desire, a target, an objective, or a goal, you need to be very clear about it, to sharpen your pencil. Sometimes you know immediately and clearly what you want; at other times, it is a process that takes a while. It’s fine to take a while to establish what you want, provided that you keep working at it.
All too often, however, people think something such as, "I want to be happy", and there their thinking stops. But that is an ill-formed goal, an unsharpened pencil if ever there was one. How would you know whether you had gotten there? What are your evidence criteria? Much more thought is required. Happiness is enhanced satisfaction, so we have to notice what satisfies us. If we can clearly identify something that satisfies and arrange to have it for a moment, we have experienced one moment of happiness. Stretch it out to five minutes, or five hours—you get the idea. We’re back to the basic Biblical/New Thought idea that now is the accepted time, because now is the only time that we can operate in. An emotion follows an activity (including thinking), so if you want to feel a certain way, you have to change what you are thinking or doing. Happiness is not an emotion. If it were, you could just recall a time when you "felt" happy and feel that way again. But like money, happiness is a secondary gain, and as such, you can’t set it as a goal; you have to set the conditions that lead to it.
Dan Baker (last week) called happiness a by-product of the possession of generous amounts of certain qualities, and looking at those specifically may be helpful if they enable us to pinpoint one area in particular for us to work on. If we are seeking a particular person, place, or thing, we can still be happy during the search if we have developed certain mental habits, just as we can have at least a certain amount of money as a by-product of other worthwhile activities.
Probably all of us have heard some version of the story of the bluebird of happiness that someone searches all over the world to find, only to discover it back home in his own back yard. That story is just another way of making the same point. It’s useless to go seeking happiness or money for their own sake; we must seek to think and do things that we find satisfying, then enhance that satisfaction by noticing what creates it and arrange to have or do more of that.
At this point, people start looking for exceptions: conditions that supposedly might make happiness impossible; but there are numerous examples of people with horrible handicaps or difficulties who still manage to be happy. One can still go on seeking greater good while enjoying whatever good one currently possesses, especially since most of us are not facing such dire circumstances. And if you flout the laws of the universe, both physical and psychological, sooner or later you will definitely find yourself unhappy. Even though you may consider eating hot fudge sundaes worthwhile, a steady diet of them is guaranteed not to make you happy! Flouting the laws of money doesn’t work out well, either. In fact, most of us probably need to learn a bit more about eating to build wellness, and about finance. Ways of relating to other people is another area in which most of us could stand to learn a little more.
But to keep all of this centered where it should be, I am going to round things out with a bit of Emmet Fox, from The Sermon on the Mount:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew VII)
There is only one way under the sun by which man can attain harmony, that is to say, health, prosperity, peace of mind—salvation, in the true sense of the word—and that is by bringing about a radical and permanent change for the better in his own consciousness. This is the one and only way; there is no other. For countless generations humanity has been trying in every other conceivable way to compass its own good. Innumerable schemes have been designed to bring about happiness by making changes of some sort in man’s external conditions while leaving the quality of his mentality untouched; and always the result has been the same—failure. We are now in a position to see why this must be so, that it is because the very nature of our being is such that it is only by a change in consciousness that outer conditions can really be altered. This change in consciousness is the strait gate that Jesus speaks of here, and, as he says, the number of those who find it is comparatively small. At the present day that number is growing in magnitude with great rapidity, and as time goes on will increase more and more rapidly, though indeed it is still comparatively small, but at the time that Jesus spoke it was very much smaller still.
The doctrine that what matters is one’s consciousness, because your own concept is what you see, Jesus calls the Way of Life, and he says that all other doctrines are but a broad road to destruction or disappointment. Now why should man be so reluctant, apparently, to try to change his consciousness? Why is it that he seems to prefer to try almost any other method however arduous or even far-fetched it may be? All through history every other conceivable way has been tried to bring about the salvation of humanity, and, of course, all have failed, as we now know that they must; and yet man will seldom try the "strait" way until he is driven to it, individually, by irresistible pressure.
The answer is that, as we have already seen, the changing of one’s consciousness is really very hard work, calling for constant unceasing vigilance and a breaking of mental habits which is sure to be very troublesome for a time. The natural man is lazy, always tends to take the line of least resistance, and so, in this as in lesser matters, he does not get down to bed-rock principles until he is compelled to. (1934, 1935, pages 138-140)
To be continued.
Lagniappe: Someone was offering on Amazon a used copy of the Philosopher’s A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God (the "dog" book) in our original self-published spiral binding for $121.00. I have a few new copies of this delightful dyslexic guide to the Deity that I would be happy to sell to anyone in the continental U.S. for $15.00 in U.S. funds, and I will send it by priority mail (see my address under "Contacts"). There is also a Kindle version available through Amazon, thanks to the great work of Ron Hughes, who has other offerings as well at www.ppquimby.com . I have new copies of Alan’s first book, The Problem is God, available from me for $9.95 plus $5.00 shipping, again in the continental U.S. in U.S. funds. Amazon has More Than Mortal? available in a Kindle edition, and I have a few copies of our original spiral-bound edition available as I do the "dog" book mentioned above.
May 13, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (6)
What does the Bible have to say about happiness? It doesn’t. Happy has a fairly good list, but there is no happiness, no abstract state. In Psalm 144 we find, "Happy is that people whose God is the Lord." Psalm 146 offers, "Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God." Proverbs has the famous passage in Chapter 3:
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
For the merchandise of it is better than silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that retaineth her.
So you had better hang on to wisdom. Also, he who "hath mercy on the poor", "trusteth in the Lord", and "keepeth the law" is happy. The only time that the word happy is attributed to Jesus is in John 13:17, summing up advice on washing each other’s feet, as he has just done ("the servant is not greater than his lord"): "If you know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Paul says, "Happy is he that condemneth not" (Ro 14:22), and James (5:11) says, "We count them happy which endure", referring to the example set by Job and others. But Job was not a lot of laughs until he simply "let go and let God", which may eventually get us out of a rough patch but doesn’t give us much help in how to be proactive about living a happy life.
Can we draw any simple operating principles from any of this? If you do this or that, most of which you have already been instructed to do, others will judge you to be happy, and you will probably judge yourself to be happy, if asked at that time. Are there habits that can be built so that in due course, the whole thing will run on autopilot? Whatever they are, we already know that they require entering in at "the strait gate", meaning a certain amount of self-discipline, delayed gratification, and discrimination.
Wisdom, which Emmet Fox calls a blend of love and intelligence, leads the list. Much of Hebrew scripture and practice revolve around acquiring wisdom. Certainly someone with a bit of wisdom is going to be happier than a heedless jerk. How much emphasis have we placed on gaining wisdom rather than frittering away our free time? The other thing that jumps out is just plain being kind to one another, catering to one another without becoming groveling slaves. Here again, the unspoken "secret" to all of this is balance. Stephen Covey sums this up in his Habits 4 and 5: "Think win/win", and "Seek first to understand, then to be understood". These cut both ways. You start by noting the other guy’s needs, then set forth your own needs; and you can do a better job of that if you have gathered information about the other guy before making your own case. This means establishing your own intention to master these skills and then persevering until you make habits of them. For this to happen, you will have to give daily attention to them in some way; you can’t just continue with business as usual, thinking that some day you will do things differently. There is an old saying: "This week, next week, sometime, never."
Obviously, following the Biblical advice, tested over millennia, will increase your odds of experiencing many more moments of happiness. Genetics may account for some proportion of your unhappiness, but even that one doesn’t hold up nowadays, for the latest research shows that, more than you might care to admit, happiness depends on your choices, moment to moment, day to day.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding". Fear means respect. Respecting and loving God is clearly the focus we need, the one that will center us on good rather than evil, will guide us in all that we do, and will provide us with boundless unmerited grace and love. If you can’t remember anything else, remember to turn to God and experience the peace, grace, love, and wisdom needed for all we do. God wants our highest good, which includes all the joy, laughter, fun, and freedom we can handle.
To be continued.
May 20, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (7)
I had the great pleasure and privilege of studying Reality Therapy with psychologist Gary Applegate, who at the time was closely associated with RT’s founder, psychiatrist William Glasser. Gary has always called himself a counselor, but today he might also be referred to as a life coach. Part of the foundation of Reality Therapy (which has since evolved into Control Theory or Choice Theory) is the notion coming from Abraham Maslow that all of us have certain basic needs that we are constantly trying to satisfy. To do this in a reliable way, Gary came up with a set of what he called psychological strengths. In 1985 he published a book, Happiness, It’s Your Choice, in which he expanded on the description of the basic needs. He also graciously gave me permission to teach the psych strengths myself. Those of us who use Gary’s psych strengths are known as Skill Builders. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Here’s how Gary tells it:
At 7:22 AM, October 22, 1978, I wrote in crayon on my bathroom mirror: "Everything I think and do is purposeful to meet my internal needs."
When this thought struck me, I knew I had begun to see the world differently. At that moment, I felt I had an edge, an insight that would give me a key to happiness. I knew I could gain control over my life as well as teach happiness to others. After many years as a therapist in private practice, I had learned from observation and personal experience that true joy occurs when a person has control over his own life. In the past I put myself in an out-of-control position by working to be an external problem-solver. You tell me your troubles; I lend you a sympathetic ear. I help you find plans to solve your problems, and we both find happiness. Right?
Wrong! Where I was then in my personal life, and where I believe most people are today, is believing that the problem is . . . a million . . . things in the outside world. For me professionally, the problem was my clients didn’t always work productively to change. They wanted to change and even admitted what they had been doing wasn’t always helping. I offered numerous plans, ingenious tools and creative exercises, yet the rate of success was fifty-fifty. Some of my clients seemed to change, and the quality of their lives improved, but others kept going back to the same old troubles and habits. . . .
My journey of discovery began by recognizing how weak we feel when our happiness depends on "out there." If . . . problems come from everyone and everything outside, and since we have no actual control over anyone or anything "out there," then the solution for living a better, happier life comes from how I deal with the world and not how the world deals with me. (Page 6)
Gary then gives a couple of examples of clients for whom "just problem-solving wasn’t the answer."
After hundreds of seminars and questionnaires, and after my own personal journey of self-examination, certain truths emerged. The way for people to change from problem-solvers to Skill Builders must begin with thoughts. [The client] had been asked to act differently, instead of taught how to think differently.
Becoming happy depends on rethinking such things as what we have control over, influence over, and what we cannot control. (Page 11)
Here is how Gary explains his approach:
An effective strategy to fulfill our needs is now available to all who choose to use it. It begins by learning how to evaluate your world and then to rethink in the following five areas:
1. Discovering what we can control. Rethinking from "out there" to "me".
2. Rethinking from a want level to a need level for fulfillment.
3. Giving up our notions of being forced, compelled, or victimized, to rethinking that we have choices.
4. Moving from outcome and learning to also enjoy the process.
5. Rethinking that stress, the difference between what we want and what we have, is not always to be feared. It can be an opportunity to help us grow.
That gets us off to a great start, but it’s not enough. The changed thinking must lead to habitually changed behavior, changed acting. The clearest outline for this that I know of is that of Robert Fritz’s change from an oscillating structure to a creative structure. I have mentioned the work of Fritz frequently, most recently on April 1, 2014. What one is doing in control/choice theory (Glasser’s approach) is to compare what one wants with what one currently has. The difference, or discrepancy, between the two is what Fritz calls structural tension: "Structural tension is the most powerful dynamic of the creative process." "Structural tension is resolved by action."
We will continue next week with Gary’s ideas on how you can choose to be happy.
May 27, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (8)
Before continuing with Gary Applegate’s approach to happiness, I want to go back briefly and outline Reality Therapy. Psychiatrist William Glasser developed it on the spot in desperation while working with a particularly challenging 13-year old boy. The approach is simple: After a bit of time for making friends, the client is asked, "What do you want?", in other words, "What brings you here to me?" This can be pursued further if necessary by asking, "What do you really want?" The next question is, "What are you doing?" (to get what you want). Then, "Is what you’re doing working?" (Is it getting you what you want?) If the answer is yes, then we’re back to "What do you want?" If the answer is no, then the person is ready for change: if what you are doing isn’t working, try ANYTHING else! So the next step is "Let’s make a plan to do better." It doesn’t much matter who makes the plan, but with a client in bad shape, the therapist generally comes up with an initial plan or two, with the client taking over the planning as soon as possible. The rest of RT is rubrics: get a commitment by the client to carry out the plan; no excuses for not carrying it out (all excuses are good excuses, therefore no excuse is acceptable, but the plan may have to be tweaked until it is carried out); and never give up on a client.
Reality Therapy, back in the day, was so successful that people kept asking Glasser for the theory behind it. Well, there wasn’t one, until someone gave Glasser a copy of a book by physicist William T. Powers, Behavior: The Control of Perception; and Glasser lit up and went tilt: here was why Reality Therapy was so successful. Unfortunately, although RT is so simple, the explanation is quite necessarily complex . If you want it in one word, it is psychocybernetics, the word coined by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz (who gave us the definition,"Happiness is a state of mind in which one’s thinking is pleasant a large part of the time"), building on the word cybernetics, the word coined by mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener, from the Greek word kubernetes, steersman. Here I cannot resist quoting from my own doctoral dissertation:
Control theory entails the direct application of cybernetic principles to the understanding of human behavior. Cybernetics, the science of communication and control, has at its heart the feedback loop linking output to input. . . . World War II saw Wiener and Bigelow [a mathematician] become involved in military projects involving mechanico-electrical systems designed "to usurp a specifically human function" (Wiener, 1961, p. 6). Their research led them to conclude that feedback was an extremely important factor in voluntary activity. In order to follow a pattern, the difference between the pattern and whatever motion is actually performed is used to guide motion closer to the pattern. If the feedback is too brusque in, for example, a ship’s steering mechanism, the rudder will overshoot; then feedback in the other direction will make it overshoot still more, until the steering mechanism begins to oscillate wildly and breaks down. It occurred to Wiener that excessive feedback might also be involved in the operation of the human nervous system. Questioning Rosenblueth [who first employed the concept of homeostasis], he learned that in purpose tremor a patient tries to perform a voluntary act, overshoots the mark, and oscillates uncontrollably. This realization led to the study of the performance of the nervous system as an integrated whole, and Rosenblueth, Wiener, and Bigelow (1943) published a paper suggesting this topic for a research program. (Whitehouse, 1985, University Microfilms, pages 26-27)
So it was always more about living creatures than about machines. Living creatures are functioning as part of a control system in that we are constantly comparing what we want (our reference perception) with the perception coming in from the outside world (what we have). Engineers would say that they are comparing a reference signal with an incoming signal. If the incoming and reference signals/perceptions match, we feel a brief burst of pure pleasure, and nothing happens. If they don’t match, that’s called an error, we feel a burst of pure pain, and we immediately start to behave in some fashion to try to get that incoming perception to match the reference perception, which is coming from the model of the world that we hold in our head. There is a lot more to it than this, including a hierarchical set of ten perceptual filters that perceptions go through, but if you can just get the idea that we are comparing what we want with what we have, and then choosing our next behavior according to whether or not the perceptions match. We are born with very few behaviors, so most of our behaviors are learned and can be unlearned (remember constitutionally grouchy happiness guru Martin Seligman from a few weeks ago with his learned helplessness and learned optimism?). So when I tell you that process philosopher A. N. Whitehead’s Modes of Thought turns up in my dissertation bibliography, you should start to get an inkling of what all this has to do with Process New Thought, part of "the religion of healthy-mindedness" according to William James.
Now back to Gary Applegate, who was thoroughly familiar with Glasser’s control theory by the time he wrote his book, Happiness, It’s Your Choice. By then, Glasser, tired of saying "Just do Reality Therapy because it works", had written Stations of the Mind (1981) in consultation with William Powers. Gary begins a chapter, "What I Can Control", with a quotation from Charles Darwin: "The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts." This reminds me of William James’ statement, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude and mind." And Seligman writes: "One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think." He’s late to the party: James died in 1910. Control is what a control system does, and it gets pretty bummed out when it can’t control. So Gary is going to show us how to concentrate on what we can control, and what choice has to do with it. We will look at that next week.
June 3, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (9)
Gary Applegate’s first point concerning what we can and cannot control is that the most effective strategy is not to appear helpless or powerful but to "evaluate what we want or need and compare it to what we have. When we interpret a difference . . . we’ll feel stress. The stress motivates us to do something. We can choose to react or rethink. [Most people] react; Skill Builders rethink."
Rethinking is a process whereby we change our interpretations of the world. With rethinking, we can ask ourselves: What do we control? What do we really need? What are our choices? Are we in process? Can we benefit from this moment? If we can rethink and change our interpretations about what we are perceiving, we can then set priorities to act to achieve more happiness. (Page 17)
This should start to sound familiar: Is the glass half full or half empty? Gary explains, "Our perceptions control what we do." Let’s cut to the chase: The only behaviors you can control are your own. At most, all you can do is influence other people; you can’t really pull their strings. So we need to stick to choosing behaviors of our own that we can control and that have some chance of influencing other people. Here are some of Gary’s suggestions:
* demonstrate caring towards others even if they do things that are different from what we want.
* ask questions that allow for many answers, give others ideas, and avoid criticizing.
* model strong behavior regardless of what others might do.
Of human behaviors: thoughts, actions, and feelings, thoughts always precede actions or feelings. Gary elaborates: "By allowing feelings or actions to come first, we lose control over our interpretation of what we are perceiving. . . . THOUGHT IS THE MOST POWERFUL MODE OF BEHAVIOR IF YOU WANT LASTING CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE." He suggests writing out lists of things we can control or can influence, and of things we cannot control. He points out that for him, the list of things he can influence is much shorter that the list of things he can control, and the list of things he cannot control is the shortest. I can control how I have fun, what I say, giving a compliment, which books I read, when I smile and say hello, how I dress, and what time I go to bed, among many other things. I can influence how my pet behaves, my personal finances, being on time, among other things. I have absolutely no control over the weather, what my favorite team does on television, the past, what strangers may do, or the passing of time, among other things. (I have just chosen a few items from Gary’s lists to start you thinking.) Gary adds, "My suspicions are [that] what you cannot control will stay constant. As a Skill Builder, you have infinite choices to gain more control of what you take in and what you put out. What you can’t control is finite, and what you have influence over is understood as just that—influence."
Next, Gary moves us from what we want to what we need:
When we have information that gives us alternatives to meet our needs, it helps us gain confidence. It is the difference between feeling at the mercy of fate and feeling in-control of what is happening. When we develop skills—new ways to think and act to meet our needs—we are in the process of living successful lives and gaining the feeling of fulfillment. Remember, everything we think and do is directed to meet our internal needs. (Page 28)
This information that gives us alternatives is the understanding of our basic needs, which enables us to develop skills—psychological strengths—to meet those needs regularly and consistently. Experts differ in how many needs they list, but what is really happening is that some needs are being combined with others in their reckoning. Glasser lists just four basic needs, in addition to survival needs for food and shelter: the needs for love, for a sense of self-worth, for fun, and for freedom. Gary lists eight basic needs: security, faith, worth, freedom, belonging, fun, knowledge, and health. Although I see the validity of Gary’s points of view, I stick with Glasser on this one and keep things as simple as possible. Security is either a survival need or it is related to worth: Gary describes it as "a sense of personal strength, when I have control over my life, when I realized I can’t control what anyone else does or thinks." He describes faith as "a belief in me to meet my needs to be happy, as well as a belief in a greater power. Faith is a positive attitude about myself and life in general". I would say that if we have belief in a higher power that is more than "little faith", if we have belief in "a God worthy of worship", we will have "the belief in me to meet my needs to be happy" and a positive attitude. Like air, that faith permeates everything and is related to all the other needs. Gary calls belonging what Glasser calls love, and certainly that is tied up with faith. A need for knowledge can be distributed among all the other needs, and a need for health is really closely related to the basic survival needs. But if you choose to break open one or more of Glasser’s needs and divide it into Gary’s needs, go right ahead.
If the needs (four or eight) are pictured as wheels on the sides of a wagon, our wants are the spokes of the wheels that keep them from collapsing. If we have only one spoke on a wheel, for example, only one of possible "choices, options, pathways, or alternatives available to us to meet our needs", then we are at risk for a wagon wreck. Imagine someone who wants only one person to fulfill all needs for belonging, and then that person dies or goes away. Assorted wants to meet our basic needs give us more choices. By letting go of our want for that one person, whom we can’t control, to satisfying our need for love/belonging by meeting other people and doing other things, we are able to roll along a lot better, having added more spokes to our wheel.
Gary states that there is no particular hierarchy of importance for these needs, since the most important is the one we are not getting met at the moment:
To change actions you first change thoughts. You want control? You need worth. You want the beach? You need fun. You want peace and cooperation? You need belonging. If you can’t get exactly what you want, are you able to change your thoughts . . . and still get what you need? . . . Thinking on a need level will help you understand that you have many choices, and the world is not a place where every stimulus produces a set response. . . . [Y]our action will depend upon your interpretation of what you perceive."
To be continued.
June 10, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (10)
In Happiness: It’s Your Choice, psychologist Gary Applegate has explained basic control theory: we are constantly comparing what we want with what we have/are getting from the outside world and then choosing behaviors that we think will make the two match. The notion of what we want comes from our basic needs. Any behavior that we are not born with is chosen, consciously or unconsciously. Many of our choices do not serve well to get us what we want, at least not in the long run. Once such choices have become habits, it is more difficult to change them to something more effective. Gary, emulating Glasser, describes such choices in active language: depressing, angering, fearing, burning out, substance-abusing, acting crazy:
Acting crazy may not seem like efficient behavior, but I assure you that it is a powerful way to control others. . . .
In case you wonder if acting crazy is a choice, I’ll share an experience I had while working at Camarillo State Hospital. I observed many severely disturbed patients, and I noticed that none of them, no matter how disturbed they might be, acted crazy all the time. Even the most erratic person had moments of acting "normal." In retrospect, I realize that even seriously disturbed people don’t act crazy all the time because their needs can be met in other ways. Sometimes they perceive that "normal" pathways may not give them what they want, so they choose crazy alternatives that with time become habits for an unfulfilled lifestyle. (Pages 57-58)
I once read a psychiatrist’s account of a mental patient who stopped acting crazy and acted totally sane and cooperative because he needed help for a serious physical ailment. Once the ailment was cured, the patient went back to his crazy behavior.
Gary suggests thinking, instead of should or must, I choose or I prefer. If you "decide that what you are now thinking and doing is not bringing you enough happiness", you can make the value judgement that you want to replace inefficient choices with better ones and become a Skill Builder.
In words that are very much in harmony with Process New Thought, Gary tells us to place our attention on the present rather than the past or future: "To make today the happiest day of our life, we can adopt the strategy of meeting our needs now. That strategy is the process of Skill Building." Our attention is on process rather than on outcome, and getting there is half the fun, as the saying goes. "We can choose to take control of our thoughts and actions, to make plans for each day and, in the same day, act spontaneously to meet our needs."
All of us find ourselves unexpectedly in stressful situations, made even more stressful because there is little or nothing we can do to change a particular person, place or thing. "Skill Building is a direct, in-control way to create pathways to meet all our needs all the time." Even if we are trapped in traffic, we can choose to think constructive thoughts, plan some other event, or listen to a cd we have been promising ourself to listen to: "I believe human beings use motivation as fuel, and the basis for motivation is the universal desire to be happy. We are happy when our needs are met or when we are in the process of meeting them." After all, the wheel was invented out of frustration and stress. We can’t eliminate stress, but we can learn to deal with it wisely.
It was Gary who taught me the eight criteria of good plan making. A good plan is:
Simple. Begin with something easy and don’t complicate it.
Specific. Write down what steps to take, where, when, etc.
Start not stop. Don’t plan to stop a bad habit; plan to replace it with a better one.
Repetitive. Practice a new habit daily, or at least often.
Independent. Contingent only on you, not on changing others’ behavior.
Immediate. Something you can start doing right away or very soon.
If you want a mnemonic device for remembering these, shuffle them like this:
Start, not stop
This gives you IRS, or IIRSSS, and who can forget the IRS? And you have two eyes.
In any case, write the plan down, so you know that you are serious about it. And if it doesn’t work out at first, revise the plan or scrap it altogether and start over, but never give up (remember the steps of Reality Therapy).
To be continued.
June 17, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (11)
Quotations from Gary Applegate concerning each of his eight basic needs:
Security: "Strength comes from developing your own skills rather than depending on others. Security comes from having the skills to take control of your life and knowing that no matter what happens, you will continue in the process of building new skills on a daily basis."
Faith is the belief that you are capable of getting what you need, that you are able to achieve. Faith has nothing to do with anything external. Belief, trust, and confidence are thoughts that dwell within us. . . . Faith is positive. Therefore, we must view the negative as the absence of faith. . . . Here are some efficient ways to increase your faith in a greater power. It feels good to acknowledge that there is more than just us in the universe. Observe the grandeur of creation present everywhere around us. . . . let go of the insistence that everything must have a logical reason. Simple acceptance is an act of faith. (Pages 100-114)
Worth: "Worth is the need for action that comes from faith in ourselves." "No one else can give you self-worth. You get it by what you do, not what others think." "Worth requires achievement. It doesn’t have to be a major achievement." "Motivating others to want to change and teaching them skills to help them change is the most efficient process to meet their own needs." You can control your own demonstrating caring, asking questions, giving alternatives, and modeling a successful lifestyle.
You have seen how faith is the thought, "I can do it," and worth comes from the action you take as a result of that thought. With freedom, you come to the ability to exercise a choice over what you take in and what you send out. It is having a choice over how you perceive the world and how you act in it. The more choices you have to meet your needs, the more free you feel. (Page 135)
Many things that make people feel free turn out to be inefficient because of the negative consequences. "The efficient choices to meet our need for freedom come from understanding those choices we have control over and those choices that are beyond our control." "In order to get from pure feeling to efficiently meeting your needs, you can move from an emotional state to a rational state. You can choose to ask yourself questions that will cause you to think, instead of just react to negative feelings."
Belonging: "Most people have the false belief that belonging is controlled by the behavior of others. . . . Rejection causes a person to feel a loss of belonging which conveys loneliness." But as we have already seen, the only behavior we can control is our own. Rejection causes us to feel a loss of belonging, but what is under our control is various kinds of asking, not the response we may get. We can keep asking various people in various circumstances, or merely keep giving positive attention to others, thus meeting their need for belonging. Gary used to send clients to public places with the assignment of smiling at a certain number of people while noticing what color their eyes were. We can ask someone to go to a movie or out to lunch, with no control over whether or not that person says yes, but we have 100% control over continuing to ask people until someone does say yes. There is an old wheeze about a young fellow who kept propositioning every woman he encountered, until he found the one in a hundred who said yes. Meanwhile, his objective was to collect slap marks! Gary, a consummate jokester, once went around telling women that he was taking a course in people reading and asking them if they would mind if he read them. He encountered one woman who told him, "Well, I’ve already been read, but you’re welcome to browse a bit."
Fun: "The whole idea of a happy life is being able to perceive the fun in the world. . . . Being able to laugh at yourself, to see the incongruities in situations, starts with thinking. When you think fun, you start making fun." Collecting jokes is one way to go about it. My favorite Gary joke (and his book is larded with them) is the one about the highway patrolman who sees a VW bug, totally filled with penguins, going down the highway. He waves it over and impatiently tells the driver, "Take those penguins to the zoo!" Next day, same highway, same officer, same VW, same penguins, but this time, all the penguins are wearing sunglasses. The cop waves them over and expostulates, "I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!" "Yes, officer, I did", was the polite reply, "And we had such a good time, today I’m taking them to the beach!"
Knowledge is power only if you use it efficiently and work to expand on rethinking the five areas of: out-of-control to in-control, want to need, forced to choice, outcome to process, and negative stress to positive stress. The more you use rethinking, instead of reacting, the more power you will have. Power is not knowing how to change others to get your needs met, but in knowing how to change yourself to feel better. (Page 207)
"Each day you could choose to learn something new and in so doing you will never be the same again."
Health: "Health is being in balance. If you are familiar with the holistic health movement, you have an understanding of what I mean by this statement." For those of us in New Thought, he’s playing our song. "The signals of ill health are a friend just as stress is a friend. . . . The message is that we are either perceiving or doing something wrong. We are out of balance. . . . [C]heck out the need areas for any inefficiencies." The criteria for a good plan definitely apply here as we rethink and gradually change our lifestyle to a healthier one.
We have barely scratched the surface of what Gary has to teach us in his book.
Next week, Gary’s Psychological Strengths
June 24, 2014
Choosing Happiness Again (12)
Here, as promised, are Gary’s original Psychological Strengths.
At the time that he introduced them, Gary was working with Glasser’s short list of four basic needs in addition to a need for survival (because if you don’t survive, all bets are off anyway). So, he came up with a list of four basic psychological strengths that one could develop and make habitual to assist one in meeting one’s four basic needs. We never discussed it, but presumably one could meet one’s basic need for survival by keeping one’s slingshot handy and collecting smooth stones from the nearest brook. Then one could practice with the slingshot and develop skill at hitting something and dragging it back to one’s cave. The aftermath was a lot more pleasant after the discovery of fire.
So, once we are fed and in out of the rain, we turn to the first basic need, the need for love and belonging. To meet this need, we will need to communicate with other human beings, since communicating with a cockatoo or cocker spaniel is a bit limited. We will have to leave the cave and go out into the marketplace. To avoid leaving everything to chance, we must develop and practice the first Psych Strength: APPROACH OTHERS FIRST. We say hello (or maybe just smile at first) and note the eye color of a certain number of people. The plan is not for others to smile back, because that is not a behavior we can control. If they smile back, that is gravy. At first, we do this a certain number of times a week until it becomes easy and the habit is formed. Why do we note the eye color? Because to do that, we must look the person in the face if not the eye. Noting eye color gives us a little something to do so that we don’t stare fixedly, which can be annoying. Please note that this meets all the criteria for a good plan: it’s dependent only on us, it’s something we can do almost immediately, it’s repetitive, it’s simple, it’s something to start doing, and it is very specific. So even if you are a modern-day troglodyte, terrified to be out of the cave, you can probably manage this. If you are already sophisticated enough to be good at this, you can move right along to the next psych strength.
The second basic need is the need for a sense of worth to oneself and others. We have this sense of worth if we know from experience that we have abilities for somehow interacting with the world in useful, successful fashion. The psych strength for this is: MAKE PLANS AND CARRY THEM OUT. We just looked at an example of this for developing our first psych strength, and we reviewed the criteria for a good plan (first given a few weeks ago, if you can remember the IRS). We can make simple, specific plans for asking a person or persons to go to the movies with us (which also meets our need for love and belonging). If we did this once a week or so, we would have a repetitive plan. Some plans begin with a simple step, such as buying an inexpensive notebook, but that is not a repetitive plan, or we would quickly end up with a pile of notebooks! So the idea of coming up with something that we can repeat is important.
The third basic need is the need for fun. You may find it somewhat surprising to find fun on a short list of basic needs, but there it is. Fun is how we learn: think of children at play. The best way to memorize something that is important for you to remember is to tie it to something silly. One of the best ways to get yourself to do something onerous is to include an element of fun, such as cleaning out your inbox while seated in a deck chair outdoors in pleasant surroundings (this is considerably easier today than it used to be). So the third Psych Strength is PLAN TO HAVE FUN. The criteria for a good plan still apply, but you can often meet more than one need with one plan. Do keep it simple, or it probably won’t be much fun. There are many good plans that require little or no money and not much time, so remember that all excuses for not carrying out your plan are good excuses, and all excuses are worthless.
The fourth basic need is the need for freedom. All sentient beings are unhappy if they perceive themselves as not free. What’s surprising here is the psych strength that brings us greater freedom: DISCIPLINE YOURSELF. At first, that sounds like even less freedom, but wait a minute: Who has more freedom, a dog who has been through obedience training and is therefore civilized enough to be allowed into the living room with the folks, or a dog with no manners who jumps up on people, and is not housebroken? Training supplies additional behaviors to choose from, be you Husky or human. This training, this discipline, must eventually be internalized, so we refer to it as self-discipline, meaning that you don’t jump up on the furniture just because you think no one is looking. Most of the time, self-discipline boils down to delayed gratification: there was a charming study done of young children presented with a marshmallow and told that it was theirs to eat, but that if they would wait until the experimenter returned to the room ten minutes later, they could have an additional marshmallow. A hidden camera recorded the many various things that some children did to successfully delay eating the marshmallow.
Obviously a short column does not permit elaboration on these basic strengths, but you can use your imagination to suggest to yourself ways in which you might apply these strengths to your particular situation. You might need self-discipline to finish school or to make the necessary preparations for starting a business. Whatever you do, you will need to start with something simple and specific and build from there. And the strengths do overlap: you can have fun acquiring a discipline or making a plan and carrying it out, or ask someone to participate with you.
We have been examining happiness for twelve weeks now. If you aren’t happy yet, you probably aren’t trying. Go back and reread the past twelve columns, choose something, and get to work on it. Remember, if what you are doing isn’t working (in this case, to bring you more happiness), try ANYTHING else. But keep it extremely simple at first: one way people set themselves up for failure and misery is to make things so complicated that they won’t do them. You can always build on your small successes until you reach a state of suitable complexity for putting yourself in flow.
What does the whole subject of happiness have to do with Process New Thought? God’s unlimited love and wisdom constantly supply us with all we need for happiness. In a world of experiences in endless succession, our habitual thoughts, guided by God, can take us anywhere we wish to go .
July 1, 2014
Laughing : How Does It Fit With Living and Loving?
We’ve all seen the plaques that say "Live, Laugh, Love". In combination, they sound so very appealing, but exactly how does laughter fit into life and love? This seems like an appropriate segue from twelve weeks on the subject of happiness: Even if you are alive, and giving and receiving love, something may be missing if you aren’t frequently finding occasions for laughing.
We have recently learned that one of our basic needs—once we are in out of the rain and fed—is the need for fun, because fun is how we learn. Last week we learned that the way to ensure plenty of fun in our lives is to make regular plans to have fun. We also know that the criteria for a good plan guide us in how to go about this. Fun means being playful and doing playful, often creative things. When something strikes us as funny, we laugh, so laughter is involved in all this, but how? Well, the basis for all humor is incongruity, so if something strikes us as incongruous, we laugh. We as individuals may not see the incongruity in a specific situation, and therefore we will laugh at different things.
Happily, Dr. Robert Provine has been studying laughter for 20 years. Research has shown that we are neurologically programmed to laugh, born that way. This means that laughter is a universal language that we can use to communicate with anyone. However, laughter differs from language in that it occurs unconsciously: if we just try to laugh, it doesn’t feel authentic. This is because involuntary laughter involves brain mechanisms that affect the whole body. This helps explain why laughter is so good for the health of the body. But why specifically do we laugh?
Provine’s first clue is that social laughter is 30 times more frequent than solitary laughter. Dr. Joseph Mercola in reviewing Provine’s work notes, "The critical laughter trigger for most people is another person, not a joke or funny movie." The research showed that only about 10-20 percent of the time does laughter follow jokes. Adds Mercola, "In most cases, the laughter followed a banal comment or only slightly humorous one, which signals that the person is more important than the material in triggering laughter. Often, there was a playfulness in the group and a positive emotional tone as well." In the group setting, the speaker rather than the audience was doing the laughing about half the time, so one of our key reasons for laughing may be "to bond with others and strengthen our relationships". Provine states that people alone are not likely to laugh; they talk to themselves or perhaps smile rather than laugh: "However happy we may feel, laughter is a signal we send to others and it virtually disappears when we lack an audience." We have long been told that man is a social animal and that man is the only animal that laughs (presumably, that still allows for angels and demons as non-animals to laugh). If we are made in the image and likeness of God, that clearly indicates that God has a sense of humor!
The next clue is that, speaking of emotional and social bonding, men and women have distinctly different laugh patterns. In cross-gender conversations, women laugh 126 percent more than men. You can guess why: Men prefer to be the one prompting the laughter. Provine studied more than 3,700 newspaper personal ads and found that women were 62 percent more likely to mention laughter and that they were seeking a mate with a sense of humor. Men were more likely to supply humor in their ads. He concludes, "The laughter of the female, not the male, is the critical index of a healthy relationship. Guys can laugh or not, but what matters is that women get their yuks in." However, these gender patterns of laughter "are fluid and shift subconsciously with social circumstance". Executives, be they men or women, are less likely to "giggle in the workplace than while out with their friends". It seems to me that this indicates that the pecking order trumps gender. Besides, human beings are all androgynous to varying degrees. Still, as the old song goes, "Don’t laugh/At my jokes too much; People will say we’re in love".
Provine’s third clue is that laughter really is contagious. Mercola summarizes:
The sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortical region of your brain, which is involved in moving your facial muscles to correspond with sound. . . . [L]aughter may have occurred before humans could speak as a way to strengthen group bonds, as even today our brains are wired to prime us to smile or laugh when we hear others laughing. (Mercola.com online article, 6/19/2014)
What I find more interesting still: According to Provine, "laughter rarely occurs in the middle of a sentence. Instead, laughter tends to occur at the end of sentences or during a break in speech, which suggests language is given the priority." This implies: "a neurologically based process governs the placement of laughter in speech, and that different brain regions are involved in the expression of cognitively oriented speech and the more emotion-laden vocalization of laughter."
The evidence shows that not only does laughter make you feel good, it makes you healthier physically. Journalist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease for which he was given a one in 500 chance of recovery. With little or no help from the medical profession available, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a five-star hotel with lots better food, took megadoses of Vitamin C, and watched old Candid Camera films. He found that a few minutes of belly laughter enabled him to sleep and be free of pain for longer and longer periods, until he made a complete recovery. Observant New Thoughters will also note the holistic approach of an improved lifestyle all around, and New Thoughters are famous for their belly laughs. When the Philosopher and I were on the Executive Board of the International New Thought Alliance, business people on their way to other meetings in the hotel would pause longingly at the gales of laughter coming from our meeting room and comment that they wished they were going to our meeting instead of theirs! Most laughter is positive and results from pleasant, upbeat thoughts, but laughter that is cruel or directed at an individual can break social bonds and do serious emotional harm. Laughter can be abused as a tool for exclusion, manipulation, and social control. Positive laughter begins in infancy and lasts for the rest of your life, if you encourage it. Mercola comments, "When done in a positive light, laughter is freeing and stress relieving, offering so much benefit that some experts recommend everyone get 15 to 20 minutes of laughter a day...."
So we are certainly more likely to be happy and healthy if we plan to include opportunities for laughter in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in our problems and forget to look not only for the good, but also for the delightful incongruities of life, which is definitely too short to be taken seriously. The latest research supports the old adage: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone."
July 8, 2014
Staying Out of the Ditch
Although there are lots of ways to end up in the ditch, ending up in the ditch is mostly undesirable. Highways get us places quickly; ditches serve at best to keep us out of worse trouble and require effort to extricate ourselves. Yes, they supply a sort of relative safety zone; yes, they carry off rainwater that would otherwise render our trip more hazardous; but that’s about it. Actual or virtual (metaphorical), the ditch is a great place to stay out of.
Switching to virtual ditches: they mostly result from an imbalance: we go too far to one extreme or the other, and whoops! There we go, down the slippery slope. To avoid imbalance, we need to be aware that there are two poles of a continuum involved, and that we ignore either pole at our peril. And no, this is almost never a 50-50 split; we end up taking perhaps 98 percent of one pole and 2 percent of the other, for the express purpose of keeping in balance. During the chaos of creation, this balance point may shift at different times in the development of an idea. Maturity has been defined as the ability to entertain two opposing ideas at the same time. This is what leads to synergy, or an idea that surpasses either of the two opposing ideas from which it sprang.
Like televangelist Robert H. Schuller, when things get really rough, I need to go back and reread my own writings:
[W]e need to go back and forth between theory and practice, or we will end up in the ditch. Theory alone will not get us anywhere: "Faith without works is dead." But practice must be directed by theory, or there is a huge amount of wasted motion. If the real-world action disproves the theory in whole or in part ("Another beautiful theory, murdered by a gang of brutal facts!"), then go back to the drawing board, but don’t just junk the theory altogether. (Moi, March 25, 2014)
Here is a very common imbalance: practitioners turn up their noses at theoreticians, and vice versa. Theory and practice are two sides of the same coin. The creative process, even when it breaks out of the box, is driven by basic principles or understandings that are derived from theory. Practice tests and fine-tunes the theory.
But just staying at the level of oscillation between theory and practice on a particular idea will keep us stuck. It is said that around any circle a greater circle can be drawn, and here is where a dash of novelty (translation: God) gets us moving forward again. We need to move to that metaposition and look at the overall structure of our situation:
[O]ne of my favorite authors, Robert Fritz. . . stresses the importance of the structure of what you are creating. All too often we oscillate between "I can have this" and "No, I can’t", or "I want to lose weight" and "I’m starving!", which, like rocking in a rocking chair, gets us nowhere. What we need instead is a systems approach, where we constantly compare what we really want with what we have at present, working to close the gap. A torpedo reaches its destination by making a series of mistakes, correcting course after each, until it reaches its target. It is always target-aimed, even though it is getting there by a series of zig-zags. And no, we are not servomechanisms; we have servomechanisms. Fritz says:
The mind will work to resolve any tension that it considers. . . . We have useful filters that sort what we want to pay attention to, and what we do not want to spend any time on. . . .
The best thing to do is this: give the mind a job that feeds the brain. That best job is to create. Assign your mind structural tension, which is formed by knowing the end result you want to create, and the current reality you have in relationship to this result. Of course, there are actions to take, strategies to employ, tactics to: use, insights to learn on the road from here to there, but, because of structural tension, the mind becomes the best ally in this process, and the brain is thankful for the nourishment. (Elements: The Writings of Robert Fritz, pages 31-32).
"Give the mind a job that feeds the brain": doesn’t that sound like getting into a flow state, which we have recently visited in connection with research on happiness?
But there is another kink. The Philosopher’s patron saint, Alfred North Whitehead, states, in Modes of Thought (1938):
System is important. It is necessary for the handling, for the utilization, and for the criticism of the thoughts which throng into our experience.
But before the work of systematization commences, there is a previous task—a very necessary task if we are to avoid the narrownesses inherent in all finite systems. Today, even Logic itself is struggling with the discovery embodied in a formal proof, that every finite set of premises must indicate notions which are excluded from its direct purview. Philosophy can exclude nothing. Thus it should never start from systematization. Its primary stage can be termed assemblage. . . . Systematic philosophy is a subject of study for specialists. On the other hand, the philosophic process of assemblage should have received some attention from every educated mind, in its escape from its own specialism. . . . Systematization is the criticism of generality by methods derived from the specialism of science. It presupposes a closed group of primary ideas. In another aspect philosophy is the entertainment of notions of large, adequate generality. Such a habit of mind is the very essence of civilization. (pages 2-3)
Are you confused? Me, too! But psychiatrist Milton Erickson, the father of hypnosis as a respectable scientific discipline, considered confusion/pattern interrupt a teachable moment. This is where we need to sit back, relax, let go and let God. Whitehead continues:
Philosophy is the attempt to make manifest the fundamental evidence as to the nature of things. Upon the presupposition of this evidence, all understanding rests. A correctly verbalized philosophy mobilizes this basic experience which all premises presuppose. It makes the content of the human mind manageable; it adds meaning to fragmentary details; it discloses disjunctions and conjunctions, consistencies and inconsistencies. Philosophy is the criticism of abstractions which govern special modes of thought.
It follows that philosophy, in any proper sense of the term, cannot be proved. For proof is based upon abstraction. Philosophy is either self-evident, or it is not philosophy. . . . The aim of philosophy is sheer disclosure. (Pages 48-49)
This is why we can trust constructive postmodern philosophy as a sound foundation on which to build a faith, respecting the past while looking forward to the future from the vantage point of the present. Steer to the middle of the road, like a torpedo seeking its target through a series of mistakes and corrections. And what is the ultimate target? "Thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they repose in Thee."
July 15, 2014
Walking Your Talk, Every Moment
The hardest part of New Thought is doing it. If that sounds strange, bear with me for a few moments. Reading New Thought literature or attending a New Thought service (whatever we’re calling it this week) is certainly easy and pleasant, if not downright uplifting. We agree that positive thoughts are powerful, that God by whatever name is totally good, that thoughts are things, that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real, that we become what we think about all day long. We find comfort and inspiration and encouragement in such words and in the enthusiastic presence of other New Thoughters.
Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple is quoted as saying, "When I say my prayers, I find that coincidences happen." People in earlier times might have said miracles instead of coincidences, and we would agree as long as we define miracle as the operation of an as-yet-undiscovered physical, mental, or spiritual law. Others might say that it is God operating anonymously. What God can do, God is already doing and will continue to do, as long as we with our free will don’t get in the way and mess things up too much. "Saying our prayers" facilitates God’s work in the world. God can be temporarily frustrated, but in the long run, he gets his way, and it is always for the highest good of all concerned.
But then we close the book, or the service ends, and the stream of time resumes. All too often, the beautiful bubble of consciousness bursts, and our peaceful state flies out the window. Archbishop Temple also said, "When I stop praying, coincidences stop." All too often we slip right back into what psychiatrist and hypnotist Milton Erickson called ordinary waking trance, by which he meant—yes—that we’re mostly all walking around in something other than our rightful mind. The old mental habits take over again, and we get jerked around by the news, the neighbors, friends and family, problems, or whatever happens to cross our path. It’s easy to talk the talk, to agree with what we read, to enjoy the temporarily uplifted state of consciousness, but how can we sustain it? How can we break free of old mental habits and practice our religion, which includes our actions along with our beliefs and attitudes? How can we walk our talk?
Process New Thought holds that we are quite literally new every moment, choosing in each moment how much of the past to retain and combine with God’s perfect possibilities for that new moment, that occasion of experience that is in the process of forming every tenth of a second. The Philosopher expressed this as an equation: Past + Divine Offer + Choice = Co-Creation, for all creation is co-creation between us and God. In process terms, we are like a torpedo seeking its target by making a whole series of mistakes and correcting after each, so that the mistakes get smaller and smaller, and the torpedo eventually reaches its target. If we want to get mystical, we can look at Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the omega point, which can be seen as pulling us onward and upward.
Perhaps the best metaphor for us to operate by is New Thought author and minister Emmet Fox’s "Keep on the Beam", from his collection, Alter Your Life, probably first written in 1931. The technology is a bit dated, but the metaphor is as clear as ever:
Today most commercial flying is done on a radio beam. A directional beam is produced to guide the pilot to his destination, and as long as he keeps on this beam he knows that he is safe, even if he cannot see around him for fog, or get his bearings in any other way.
As soon as he gets off the beam in any direction he is in danger, and he immediately tries to get back on to the beam once more. . . .
As long as you have peace of mind and some sense of the Presence of God you are on the beam, and you are safe, even if outer things seem to be confused or even very dark; but as soon as you get off the beam you are in danger. . . .
Keep on the beam and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Page 157)
Fox explains that whenever you are experiencing some negative emotion such as anger or fear or depression, you are off the beam. To get back on the beam, turn to God, calmly and quietly, affirming his presence, his love and intelligence, "and that the promises in the Bible are true today." Your feelings and the outer conditions may not change immediately, but if you stay on the beam, you will experience the change.
To stay on the beam is to monitor your thoughts and actions frequently, and when you find yourself off course, get back on by reminding yourself of New Thought principles, which are ancient Judeo-Christian principles kept up to date by recent findings in science and understandings in philosophy. Read your Bible (with appropriate commentary so it makes sense to you), guard your tongue, and guard your thoughts by immediately dropping the ones you recognize as negative in favor of some that are more positive, both for and about yourself and others, as well as other situations.
To be continued.
July 22, 2014
Walking Your Talk, Every Moment (2)
How can we change our minds and keep the change, as Neuro-Linguistic Programmers Steve and Connierae Andreas once put it? Last week we looked at some of the difficulties in breaking free of old habits, of noticing that we are "off the beam" and getting ourselves back on it. Now I want to supply a couple of other pointers.
1. Notice what you’re doing wrong, not to punish, but to fix. We looked at the pattern of a torpedo zig-zagging toward its target by correcting a series of mistakes. In reality, it is off course most of the time, but it still gets there eventually by noting the error and correcting it. We human beings are teleological (goal-oriented). Each of us is a part of our own individual input control system. A control system works by controlling the input it gets from the outside world into a comparing station in our head, where we compare the incoming perception with the reference perception we have on file. If they match, great! We feel a little burst of pleasure and don’t change anything. But if the reference perception and the incoming perception don’t match, bummer! We feel a little burst of pain, and we are motivated to behave in some fashion to try to alter that incoming perception, that input, as engineers would call it. We already have control of the output, our behavior, which we choose to change to get the result we want: matching reference perception and incoming perception. We usually have many such comparing stations open for business at the same time; only in an altered state of universal oneness, a tenth-order perception, would we have only one or two stations open. So, as we say in Reality Therapy, if what you are doing isn’t working, i.e., you are getting an error signal from a comparing station, don’t just sit there, do something. Try ANYTHING else! It might be as little as substituting a different thought that you have determined is a useful thing for you to think at certain times.
2. Keep your eye on the target, not on your mistakes. Like attracts like. Dwelling on mistakes is just going to facilitate your making more of them. Learn the lesson, then let go of the thought of the error . If you have harmed someone else, make whatever restitution is necessary, which may or may not involve going directly to the other person. The torpedo is programmed to "think" about its target constantly, resetting its course as soon as it "realizes" it is off course. We as input control systems operate in similar fashion, but we have one huge advantage over the torpedo, which is an inanimate object. We are human beings, not machines. As human beings, we are each a nonphysical self or soul, which connects us with our Creator by means of prehension, Whitehead’s word for nonsensory perception. We have a physical body, a sort of space suit that we occupy at present, which we govern by our thoughts and by our physical actions. Once our thought has "congealed" into something material/physical, it is harder to change, and it operates according to the laws of the physical universe. So keep looking in the direction in which you want to go, making course corrections as you recognize the need for them.
In our second jointly authored book, Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes, I wrote, under the heading "Changing the Pattern of the Past":
The good news from process thought, and especially Process New Thought, is that we can change our lives, one experience at a time. These increasingly positive experiences pile up and form a new pattern of the past as a background behind us. As we gradually create closer and closer approximations of what we want our lives to be like, the difference between the pattern of the past and where we would like to be grows less and less. The trick to changing the pattern of the past is to work in the present, which immediately becomes the past. Hence, it becomes easier and easier to choose God's perfect plan, as the contrast between it and the past decreases.
Have you ever been to a fast food place where there are huge nets filled with styrofoam balls of different bright colors, for children to climb into and play with? Imagine that you are standing in front of a huge pile of those balls, each one representing an experience. You decide that you would like your background to be red, so you begin to choose red balls, one at a time, and throw them back over your shoulder. Gradually, your background gets redder and redder, unless you suddenly switch to selecting blue balls, or a sign descends from heaven reading "Green is a popular color this year," and you change your mind. And all the time, God is helping you, holding out perfect possibilities ("There's a red ball right over there"; "Look over to your left"). And if you sin and grab the wrong color, or your aim is off, God does not judge or condemn. The sign descending from heaven never reads, "YOU IDIOT!" But you are still subject to the laws of the universe: God can't just turn off the law of gravity so that your balls/experiences will pile up faster, or pour red or green paint from heaven to color all your balls at once. So we have this exquisite balance of love and law. Law, an abstraction, cannot act. Laws merely describe the way that experiences habitually act.
The pattern of the past that you are trying to create might be wellness, or financial prosperity, or a better relationship. You create it one thought at a time, one experience at a time. And you exist one experience at a time; you really are a new person many times per second. (Pages 87-88)
So this is how you practice New Thought: one moment at a time, constantly correcting as needed, until those new-habit experiences accumulate into your desired result. Keep on keeping on, for physical, mental, and spiritual change.
July 29, 2014
The New Thought Movement Home Page
On October 5, 1995, the Philosopher created the New Thought Movement Home Page. This was still relatively early in the history of the Internet, which only became available commercially in 1988. The World Wide Web came into being in 1993. Alan, instantly seeing the potential for New Thought in this new means of communication, bought himself a couple of books on HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) and set to work. The bookstore receipt for one of those books is still in it (a classic move of the Philosopher’s), and it is dated September 16, 1995. The title of the book: Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week. All right, so it took him three weeks.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment, you have to understand that the Philosopher typed with one finger. Not two, one. One finger did the typing, and the other hand held open whatever book he was quoting from. Watching him work was like watching a medieval monk in the scriptorium, and I couldn’t bear it for more than about ten seconds. The majority of his generation either skipped the computer thing altogether or perhaps acquired a simple word processor so they could keep in touch with their grandchildren. But by 1995 Alan had published several books—including the first of the two that we authored jointly—and innumerable papers. He was one of the first kids on the block to acquire a word processor, soon replaced by a full-fledged computer. Academics were on the cutting edge of such things anyway, and Curry College did supply an email address. Alan and I each had our own computer and our own specialty: I did most of the formatting chores, including indexing our first book (which will be the last index I ever do!), and he handled the Internet. He was excellent at English grammar and composition (except for never knowing when to quit), but it took him many years to comprehend the beauty of being able to strike ALT-F3 (Reveal Codes) in WordPerfect and discover what idiot thing he had done that caused mysterious gaps in his prose. But our hero resolutely tackled the task of mastering HTML, and succeeded brilliantly. One thing led to another as he added links and developed descriptions of the various divisions of New Thought. He played with colors and color coding, added wallpaper to some articles, and generally had fun. He was better at links than I’ll ever be, and he set up traps for the unwary such as his "If you want to skip prehension [a complicated topic, to say the least], click here." If you were foolish enough to click on it, you got the equivalent of "Nyah, nyah, you can’t skip prehension, because it underlies all that is."
But I am getting ahead of my story. In order to create his magnum opus, the Philosopher needed a very large blank canvas, as it were. This was provided for him by a knight in shining armor named Brad Jensen (well, that was the knight’s name; I don’t think the armor had a name), the founder and proprietor of Elstore , an online electronic storage company. Brad’s web address is websyte.com, and he created a partition for Alan to work in: http://websyte.com/alan . It was Brad who named it, not Alan, but I am happy that Alan’s work has been immortalized in that fashion.
Alan’s site continued to grow over the years until he suffered a stroke in 2003, from which he recovered quite well, but some things had become challenges. He made updates to the site in May of that year, but that was about it. He was able to handle his email, to write papers, and to play Stump the Philosopher, which was always what he shone brightest at: you just couldn’t stump him! We had a much smaller site that he was able to maintain for a while, but even that grew beyond his abilities, and we shut it down in favor of the site you are looking at, which I created in a manner and on a scale that I could manage. Much of the boilerplate at the beginning was taken directly from the other site and—with a few tweaks—was essentially Alan’s work. In addition to vetting every word I wrote (at my request), he contributed a few columns to the Newsletter. It took a while, but I think he even grew to enjoy the persona of the Philosopher that I had created, although he did grumble a bit at the descriptions of him seated on the Stone out in a tropical downpour in his cute little bikini. Well, it was a virtual stone and a virtual bikini!
Another major contribution to the site came in 2002 when Quimby world authority Ronald A. Hughes put up http://ppquimby.com , and Alan (by then, they were fast Internet friends) lost no time in establishing links to that enormously important site. In case you just wandered in, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby was the fountainhead from which the entire contemporary New Thought movement sprang, "the father of New Thought", without whom there would have been no Mary Baker Eddy, no Emma Curtis Hopkins, none of the great New Thought figures, even thought the name New Thought did not come into existence until 1895. And while I’m on the subject, much of websyte.com/alan is devoted to distinguishing between New Thought and New Age, two movements with some overlap but 100 years apart in their initial appearances and very different in their objectives. Much of chapter 5, "New Thought and New Age", from our first jointly authored book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, is available through websyte.com/alan. If you read it and enjoy it, the entire book (2003 revised edition) is for sale through Amazon, in paperback or Kindle edition. There is a link on the Book Store page of the present site.
August 5, 2014
One important characteristic of New Thought is that it is creedless: one is never required to recite or swear allegiance to any particular set of beliefs. The INTA Declaration of Principles is an outline of a centrist position into which the majority of New Thoughters would fit fairly comfortably; it was last revised in 2000 by the Philosopher and Rev. Leddy Hammock, then voted on by the entire Executive Board. All of us felt that we could live with it as they had worded it, which was a small miracle!
This loosey-goosey approach to doctrine in the New Thought movement is a great strength and at the same time a weakness. Its strength is that it frees one to develop one’s own relationship with Ultimate Reality, free from others’ beliefs that may have proved insubstantial or even toxic. Its weakness is that which always accompanies a lack of standards: almost anything can and does creep in under the tent. If you don’t weed your garden, you soon no longer have a garden.
To the extent that it is New Thought, Process New Thought leaves one free to believe whatever fits consistently with belief in a good God, an abundant universe, and a moral code recognized as coming from that God. The Philosopher (with me cheering him on) established a process foundation for the more-than-a-century-old principles and practices of New Thought. In this, he included some of the beliefs of the personalist philosophers (Bowne, Brightman, and Knudsen) concerning God. These beliefs are one link to traditional Judaeo-Christian beliefs. Here is some of what we have written on the subject:
Many major philosophers and religionists regard personhood as the key to understanding everything. Personalism is an important form of idealism, associated primarily with Borden Parker Bowne (1845-1910) and his successors. Charles Hartshorne, who is not usually classified as personalist, says that "personality is the only principle of wholeness, of integration, on a complex level such as the universe must involve, of which we have any experience."
Person does not always mean human being. As personalist philosopher Edgar S. Brightman puts it,
A person is a self that is potentially self-conscious, rational, and ideal. That is to say, when a self is able at times to reflect on itself as a self, to reason, and to acknowledge ideal goals by which it can judge its actual achievements, then we call it a person.
All normal human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings. If certain animals, such as dolphins and whales, are as advanced as we are led to believe, they may be persons; if there are angels, presumably they are persons. There may be many kinds of non-human persons inhabiting planets throughout the universe. Above all other persons is the ultimate Person, God, personal not only in relation to us, but in Godself. God is the only complete person; we are fragmentary persons. There is no impersonal Ultimate beyond or underlying the personal God.
We emphasize that person and personal as used here do not refer to one’s more-or-less superficial mask (what the words literally refer to) or guise or public role covering one’s deeper character or individuality, but to that basic individuality itself.
To some, it seems conceited and unduly human-being-centered (anthropocentric) to think that something more like us than like a rock (which is about as impersonal a thing as you can imagine) could be the highest reality. But ask yourself whether you can conceive of the highest, most basic reality as something lacking in individuality (unity), self-consciousness, self-control, rationality, wisdom, love, ethical sensitivity, sense of humor, ability to choose one course of action rather than another, appreciation of beauty. Can you believe that a reality having such qualities is dependent on anything lacking them, or arose out of such a dull existence? To believe that it, or we, could have done so is to embrace a materialism that dispenses with anything worthy of being called God. Knudson corrected a common misplacement of God and ourselves when he noted, "In emphasizing the personality of God we affirm, not the likeness of God to man, but rather the likeness of man to God." Bowne maintains that " complete and perfect personality can be found only in the Infinite and Absolute Being, as only in Him can we find that complete and perfect selfhood and self-possession which are necessary to the fullness of personality." Bowne warns against
transferring to [the Supreme Person] the limitations and accidents of our human personality, which are no necessary part of the notion of personality, and think only of the fullness of power, knowledge, and selfhood which alone are the essential factors of the conception.
New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (Rev. Ed. 2003), pages 136-138
If God lacks personhood, we have a situation in which the creature is more advanced than the creator. Personal does not mean in philosophy what it means in common parlance: something for one's private use, such as a monogram, or a diary. Nor does it correspond to traditional religious use, such as the expression "my personal Savior." Nor does it mean a lesser appearance of one's underlying self.
God has the positive aspects of personality, but not its limitations. God is not prejudiced or angry or lazy. God's personality is utterly loving, dependable, wise, honest, and impartial. Sadly, some New Thoughters refer to God as "It," a cold, impersonal term that does not acknowledge the personhood, let alone the love, of God.
We keep remembering the story about the little girl who was afraid of being left alone in the dark, and her mother told her not to worry, because God was there. "But I want a God with skin on," was the reply. She wanted a personal God, one she could relate to, one who seemed real to her, not some kind of abstraction. Some Christian writers say that we view God through a Christ-shaped keyhole. Jesus did indeed relate to God as personal, and taught us to do so, too.
Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes (2000), page 85)
August 12, 2014
Most philosophers are very good at defining their terms, like Humpty Dumpty: "‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’" That’s about all most destructive postmodern philosophers do: nitpick over words, having embalmed their powers to do much else. Even constructive postmodern philosophers must pay close attention to precise wording. William James earlier defined metaphysics as "an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly" (Principles of Psychology, v. 1, p. 145).
Mathematician-turned-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, produced some of the newest thinking in centuries, if not millennia. He felt that it was extremely important that people not read his words and assume that they knew what was meant, especially if they were familiar with philosophical jargon. He therefore came up with very unusual terms to describe abstruse concepts—so unusual that they drove most people crazy. For example, rumor has it that some newspapers had automatic "kill" orders for any article submitted containing the word prehension, one of Whitehead’s favorites.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Tenth College Edition, to my surprise, lists prehension as dating back to at least 1828 (the date of Noah’s first dictionary) and defines it as 1. the act of taking hold, seizing, or grasping 2. a: mental understanding : COMPREHENSION b: apprehension by the senses. A Google search of prehension produces a link to Wordnik, which states: "Alfred North Whitehead, in Process and Reality, introduces the notion of prehension, that interiority is fundamental all the way down to the most basic levels of the universe." It means that our primary way of taking in information is non-sensory. This was a revolutionary idea that deserved a revolutionary word to get the reader’s attention to just how revolutionary it was. Wordnik adds: "Whitehead uses the term ‘prehension’ rather than ‘perception’ because he doesn’t think that entities like electrons are conscious, even though they do have a form of proto-perception called prehension." It continues: "The doctrine of prehension developed by Whitehead but also enthusiastically endorsed by [Charles] Hartshorne, insures that the world is in some sense, part of God." Further: "This is especially the case in the universe as conceived by process theism where feeling (prehension) is a metaphysical category." A philosophical dictionary definition adds: "An interaction of a subject with an event or entity that involves perception but not necessarily cognition". If you take a deep breath and read that over slowly, you start to see why this is special enough to warrant the use of an unusual term. It allows for the similarities as well as the differences between people and protons.
The second link under prehension Whitehead takes us to a paper by Hartshorne delivered at a conference in 1979. The title is "Whitehead’s Revolutionary Concept of Prehension". It explains that Whitehead is building God into his metaphysical system as essential, for without God there could be no genuine novelty or creativity, nor could there be if God were totally timeless and changeless, as has been traditionally taught. Says Hartshorne: "The notion that all truth is timeless is the ghost of medieval theology." It’s high time we laid that ghost to rest. "Consciously or unconsciously, people as well as electrons incorporate aspects of the perceived thing into the perceiver’s self." The paper, which is not enormously long, is well worth reading for those with a little background in philosophy. Hartshorne is somewhat easier reading than Whitehead himself.
The fourth entry from the top under prehension Whitehead takes us to http://websyte.com/alan/prehen.htm , where my beloved household Philosopher and creator of "The New Thought Movement Home Page" has written an entire article titled "Prehension". A couple of weeks ago, I wrote at length about websyte.com/alan, and here it is showing up on a Google search! You can click on the link, which does seem to work! If you want to see the original "A Practical Spirituality: Process New Thought" mentioned, it is here on this (neweverymoment) site under "Writings—Alan" (one of the blue tabs on your left). The link at the bottom of the Prehension page on websyte tries to reach it and falls just short, but I clicked on the "Writings-Alan" tab from where it halts, and it worked!
Henry Wood (1834-1909) observed in Ideal Suggestion (1893):
While mankind generally, as individuals, earnestly desire to find the truth, formulated systems, backed by prestige, literature, and authority are ultra-conservative. They yield not an inch, except by compulsion. When final acceptance becomes imperative, the New—after being freshly christened—is dovetailed in as a part of the Old. You are assured that it is but a slight modification of what was there before, and finally, that they always thought so. (Page 17)
With prehension, it hasn’t happened yet.
So the next time someone asks, "What’s new?", you can reply, "The understanding that the most basic way of taking in information is not through the physical senses; it’s non-sensory. It’s known as prehension." That notion has only been around for 85 years (Process and Reality was published in 1929), which in philosophy means that it’s still new. So, the assorted sensationist/atheist/materialists will continue to fight it tooth and toenail, but it isn’t going to go away, no matter what name we give it. Whitehead’s popularity continues to grow, even in places such as China. Besides, we are new every moment in God’s love.
August 19, 2014
The Subconscious Mind in Business
Wandering into the Philosopher’s library is always an adventure because he was a book-o-holic who haunted remainder tables and such places as wherever they disposed of the library of the Metaphysical Club of Boston. Books quite often fall on my head—well, at least catch my eye, especially since he made his transition. The other day my glance happened to fall on a little volume titled The Subconscious Mind in Business. Catchy title; not the first thing you generally associate with business, especially when I flipped the book open and discovered that it was published in 1929!
The Philosopher was usually conscientious about dating his acquisitions and noting where they came from, but not always. This book had only a couple of penciled numerals that could have been prices or numbers in a series of books on a shelf. So, if he just picked it up at a random sale somewhere, why did he pick it up?
I can usually figure out what Alan was doing with something, whether it was an overall theme or a particular chapter or paragraph that had caught his eye. I have known him to buy a book just for a paragraph or chapter and maybe never read all of it, but he always seemed to know accurately what a book was about. I had to read the whole book to figure things out. The author, Robert R. Updegraff, wastes no time getting to the point:
When a man takes a position with a business enterprise in an executive or administrative capacity, he brings with him a two-part mind: conscious and subconscious. The business that employs him is entitled to the services of both parts of his mind, but in far too many cases it gets the benefit of only one. The conscious mind goes on the pay-roll as a matter of course, but the subconscious mind which as a rule does far the better work, is allowed to loaf on the job.
Manifestly, this is unfair to the business; and it is just as unfair to the man—and to his wife and children, if he has a family. He is hiring out his shallow surface mind and letting the rich depths of his subconscious mind slumber in disuse while time hastens him on toward the end of his usefulness. A man has at best only a brief span of years in which to build a business, raise a family, and earn a competence for his old age.
That so few of the thousands of men in business do build a business that will support them, or do succeed in accumulating a competence, is rather striking proof that they accomplish too little in a day—too little that counts in progress. (Pages 1-2)
In other words, people (man used in the sense of humankind) "take only half a mind into business with them. The result is that they work their conscious minds too hard—too many hours of the day and too many days of the year." Whoever is in the driver’s seat of a business and has the view of what is ahead can’t afford to have his vision "dulled by weariness of brain". Therefore, Updegraff is campaigning for a no-more-than-six-hour day instead of an eight-hour day:
There is, of course, a time to concentrate in business. . . . for intensive application, and sometimes over long periods. . . . even a time for rushing. But there is also a time to stop and smoke and whittle and let the subconscious mind do its part of the work. . . . it is accomplishment that we are all after, not activity. (Page 10)
Updegraff goes on to criticize those who spend many hours at a desk: "Desks are not thinking machines", and reminds us that Henry Ford seldom used a desk. "Mental desk-boundedness results in the golden-oak superficiality of so much of our business thinking: thinking that is only as deep as the varnish on the surface of the office furniture!" People should arrange to do their thinking wherever they do it best; for example, walking outdoors. They need to take full advantage of what we might now call the other-than-conscious mind:
Consider thinking as a process of cooking. Our minds are cookers. Our conscious minds cook with fire—with mental energy, consciously applied. Our subconscious minds operate as fireless cookers.
Obviously, if we insist on cooking everything with fire, we burn up our mental energy at a fearful rate; and obviously, also, if we never put anything in the fireless-cooking part of our minds to cook, nothing will get done in it and it will grow cold and unresponsive from lack of use.
A third fact, which is not so obvious until it is pointed out, is that dumping cold ideas and facts into the fireless compartment and expecting them to cook is merely filling the compartment, without any chance of stewing up any solutions. Nothing happens because nothing has been started. The whole principle of fireless cooking is to start the cooking with heat, and then lay away the thing to be cooked in the fireless compartment to finish cooking. . . . if the cooking has been started right the solution will eventually generate enough steam to blow off the lid. Out will come the solution, and with it a conviction of its rightness that will make it doubly potent. (Pages 21-23)
We have all had the experience of having a great idea or problem solution pop into our heads while we were doing something totally unrelated. But this can only happen when we have first done some serious thinking on the subject and then set it aside to incubate. People, Updegraff has observed, make the most mistakes when they have tried the hardest to think rationally and logically. The conscious mind doesn’t know as much as the other-than-conscious mind, which can only come to our rescue when we get the conscious mind out of the way. Many very creative people spend long periods relaxing, perhaps traveling or loafing. "Relaxation is the key to the door of the subconscious mind." Adds Updegraff, "A happy mind is a healthy mind, and a healthy mind, like a healthy body, puts drive back of a man’s activities." He then quotes industrialist Andrew Carnegie: "My young partners do the work and I do the laughing, and I recommend to you the thought that there is little success where there is little laughing."
Logic and rationalization, explains Updegraff, are "highly useful in starting the mental cooking. They are, in fact, the fuel." Intuitions and hunches are important in business, but only after we have supplied them with the conscious-mind fuel. The book ends with a quotation from Henry David Thoreau:
The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his tasks surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.
Alan never stated this theory aloud, but he lived by it informally, constantly reading or watching educational TV or searching things online, then writing a few paragraphs and leaving them to incubate. Conscious-mind philosophical discussions frequently incubated for a while and then surfaced in some refined form. But there is another piece to this, one which I think is the real reason he picked up the book: the other-than-conscious mind is our means of contacting Infinite Intelligence/Wisdom/God. And the way in which that is accomplished is known as—wait for it—prehension (see last week’s newsletter).
It is interesting to me that two of my favorite authors, Robert Fritz and Mark Forster, arrive at this same conclusion. Fritz describes the creative process (as opposed to a reactive process that doesn’t go anywhere) as one in which we get very clear about what we want and what has to happen first, then basically turn it over to the subconscious/God to help bring it about. Forster developed a time-management system that started with his book, Do It Tomorrow, an approach that by writing down things to do but almost never doing them immediately, builds in an incubation period. For the latest version of Forster’s approach, visit http://markforster.squarespace.com/.
August 26, 2014
"THIS MEANS ME"
2013 was one of the most challenging years of my life. I could recite a catalog of losses and difficulties enough to take the heart out of anyone. Someone has compiled an index of stressors, ranging from the death of a spouse down to the Christmas holidays. If one scores above a certain number of points in a given year, one will supposedly develop a physical illness. I didn’t even get a sniffle.
What carried me through? Grace, unmerited, unearned, yes, but in addition, I have devoted daily attention to my faith for many years. Some days, there wasn’t much of it; other times I was steeped in it as I worked on some project or other. Some days, it is easier to find things to thank God for, to give one’s attention to, knowing that what one gives one’s attention to grows. Other days, it is a triumph just to get out of bed. We all have our peaks and valleys. I like to mark particularly inspirational passages in my Bible in color, so that I can find them quickly when flipping through, looking for comfort or a lift to my spirits.
New Thought is "the religion of healthy-mindedness", according to William James. And from P. P. Quimby onwards, in New Thought great emphasis has been placed on daily reading of the Bible. Two of the most widely known and best-loved New Thought authors, Catherine Ponder and Emmet Fox, both emphasize the Bible. One of the most important hallmarks of New Thought is the symbolic interpretation of the Bible. This is true regardless of which portions you accept or reject, what you take literally or what you take figuratively as myth or parable—teaching tales. There are many layers of meaning, and the inner layers do not discount the outer. No matter which New Thought writings we enjoy or which affirmations appeal to us, the ribbon running through it all is the Old and New Testaments. Even though we are free to add other truths as we come across them, our heritage is Judeo-Christian.
Now, certainly we need assistance in interpreting these ancient writings, of which the originals have been long since lost. This assistance can come from many places, but New Thought authors are among the best. Let’s begin with Emmet Fox’s Golden Keys to Successful Living, writings pieced together and amplified by Fox’s close friend and colleague, Herman Wolhorn:
The Bible is the most precious possession of the human race. It contains the key to life. It shows us how to live so that we may have health, freedom, and prosperity. It meets everyone on his own level and brings him to God. . . . the real value of the Bible lies in the spiritual interpretation. . . . The Bible is not primarily intended to teach history, or biography, or natural science. It is intended to teach psychology and metaphysics [philosophy]. It deals basically with states of mind and the laws of mental activity; and anything else is only incidental. Each of the principal characters in the Bible represents a state of mind that any of us may experience; and the events that happen to the various characters illustrate the consequence to us of entertaining such states of mind, either good or bad.
Now a state of mind cannot be viewed or pictured directly as can a material object. It can only be described indirectly, by a figure of speech, an allegory, or a parable, but, unfortunately thoughtless people have always tended to take the figure of speech or the allegory literally, at its face value, thus missing the real meaning, because it lies hidden beneath. The veil of Isis comes to be worshiped while Isis herself is forgotten. Another evil that follows from this course is that, since many parables obviously cannot be literally true, such people, unable to accept the authenticity of the story, proceed to reject the Bible altogether as a collection of falsehoods or myths. (Pages 58-59)
All of Fox’s books contain Bible interpretation. In Diagrams for Living: The Bible Unveiled, he tells us:
In the Bible, every story about people who lived thousands of years ago is a story for you and me today because the Bible is the Book of Every Man. If I had my way, I would have all Bibles published with this phrase printed in large letters on the outside cover: THIS MEANS ME. (Page 70)
Healer Agnes Sanford, who grew up in China as the child of Christian missionaries, writes in The Healing Power of the Bible:
Our doubts are quite reasonable, and they are not insoluble. We find our answers not in evading doubts but in seriously looking for answers to them.
Where then shall we look? First of all, I believe we should learn as much as we can of the sciences that concern the universe. Science is the honest attempt of honest men to arrive at truth.
Second (rather at the same time, for the two belong together), we should look again at the Bible, giving its ancient manuscripts the same respect and thoughtful consideration that we give to other ancient manuscripts, endeavoring to see how science and the Bible fit together, and how the one helps us to understand the other. (Page 8)
I can affirm from my own personal experience that daily reading of the Bible and study of it with the help of the best scholars we can find, help build the faith that carries us when the storms of life arise. Like fire drills, this prepares our minds to think and act constructively when we most need it. Process thought founders Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne were both the sons of Anglican clergymen and well grounded in the Bible. Alan’s friend and colleague W. Russell Pregeant is a process theologian, New Testament scholar, and Methodist minister who has written numerous helpful books.
September 2, 2014
Our Highest Good
One great and widespread shortcoming among Christians is believing that God’s will is for something other than our heart’s desire. Being obedient to God, doing God’s will—too many Christians fear—means gritting our teeth and succumbing to something unpleasant. The very word obey makes some of us want to immediately kick over the traces and rebel, affirming our own will and demanding our own way, with the weird assumption that our will is automatically diametrically opposed to that of God, and that obedience means some sort of surrender. Nothing could be further from the truth, unless our will happens to be for something that would be detrimental to us in the long run, or detrimental to someone else.
We believe in a totally good God, and that we are his offspring. Earthly parents know how to do good things for their children; how could God possibly be any less? Our heavenly Father knows what we have need of and bountifully supplies our needs. (All these statements are paraphrased Bible quotations.) The question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are aligned with God’s side, which is how we will get what we truly want, which in the long run will be good and beautiful and pleasant and joyous and delightful and fun.
God has given all sentient beings free will, in degrees varying with their complexity, from the occasions of experience composing a steel beam to the occasions of experience composing a human being. He has created a neutral universe in which that free will can operate, for if I can make it rain on you and not on me, that doesn’t do much for your free will. It is a universe that operates according to law, and that overall system isn’t going to change.
Many New Thought writers have described the Bible as being really all about our thinking (see last week’s post). Thoughts are indeed things, and our earthly lives and bodies represent the sum total of our thinking over the years. God has been metaphorically jumping up and down and screaming, for the millennia that human beings have been in existence, trying to get us to understand that it is our thoughts that get us into difficulties and our thoughts—when aligned with his—that can get us out again.
Leslie Weatherhead was a Methodist minister whose London church was destroyed during the blitz in World War II. He shepherded his congregation through those dark days with wonderful comfort and was much loved and respected. Of his numerous books, one of the best-known is a small collection of five sermons on the will of God. He gives several examples of how people in grief over terrible circumstances attribute whatever has happened to "the will of God", which he refutes as using the phrase too loosely. Then he outlines his own approach, which is to speak of the intentional will of God, the circumstantial will of God, and the ultimate will of God.
The discipleship of men, not the death of Christ, was the intentional will of God, or, if you like, God’s ideal purpose—and I sometimes wish that in common language we could keep the phrase "the will of God" for the intentional will of God.
But when circumstances wrought by men’s evil set up such a dilemma that Christ was compelled either to die or to run away, then in those circumstances the Cross was the will of God, but only in those circumstances which were themselves the fruit of evil. . . .
Then there is a third sense in which we use the phrase "the will of God," when we mean God’s ultimate goal—the purposefulness of God which, in spite of evil and , as we shall see, even through evil, arrives, with nothing of value lost, at the same goal as would have been reached if the intentional will of God could have been carried through without frustration. . . . God cannot be finally defeated . . . nothing can happen which finally defeats his will. (The Will of God, pages 14-15)
Weatherhead explains further, "[E]vil does not make good qualities. It reveals them and gives them exercise, but there is always the possibility—and surely this is God’s intention—that those same qualities may be revealed and exercised and manifested as a response to goodness." There is a will of God within evil circumstances that will eventually lead to God’s ultimate will.
The omnipotence of God . . . does not mean that by a sheer exhibition of his superior might God gets his own way. If he did, man’s freedom would be an illusion and man’s moral development would be made impossible. No "end" which God has in mind can be imposed from without; for his end . . . must come from man’s choice of God’s way, not the imposition of God’s will in irresistible might which leaves no room for choice. Power means ability to achieve purpose. Since the purpose is to win man’s volition, any activity of God’s which denied or suppressed man’s volition, in that it would defeat the purpose, would not be a use of power but a confession of weakness and an acceptance of defeat. . . .
What is meant by the omnipotence of God is that he will reach at last his ultimate goal, that nothing of value will be lost in the process, however man may divert and dam up the stream of purpose nearest him, and that God—if he cannot use men as his agents—will, though with great pain to himself and to themselves, use them as his instruments. (Pages 50-51)
The final sermon of the series is titled "In His Will is Our Peace". That says it all.
September 9, 2014
Opposites can be very entertaining. Perhaps as a child you had a set of those black and white Scottie/Westie dog magnets. Entertaining yourself with them by the hour, you quickly learned that like repels and that opposites attract. Thus you began to master the basic principles of magnetism. Play is one of the important ways that children learn.
In the 1950s the team of Isabel Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was a personality type indicator based on depth psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. The mother-daughter team’s tool identified sixteen different patterns of action, which in turn fit into the four temperaments going back to ancient times. Proponents of the Myers-Briggs approach David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates explain thus:
Suppose it is so that people differ in temperament and that therefore their behavior is just as inborn as their body build. Then we do violence to others when we assume such differences to be flaws and afflictions. In this misunderstanding of others we also diminish our ability to predict what they will do. Likewise, we cannot even reward others should we want to, since what is reward to us is . . . a matter of indifference to the other. To each his own, different strokes to different folks. To achieve the intent of these sayings will take a lot of work in coming to see our differences as something other than flaws.
The payoff of such work is that you can look upon your spouse, for example, as a DIFFERENT person—someone you don’t quite understand, but someone you can, with a sense of puzzlement perhaps, gradually come to appreciate. Similarly, you can gain an appreciation of your offspring, parent, superior, subordinate, colleague and friend. Much to gain, nothing to lose.
But first it is necessary to study yourself. If you don’t have yourself accurately portrayed, no way can you portray anyone else accurately. (Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, page 4)
These types are built from four continua, resulting in sixteen four-letter types, or eight pairs of opposites. These in turn reduce to four pairs of preferences or temperaments. All of these are value-neutral; no one preference is better than any other morally or otherwise. People have the easiest time getting along with others of their four-letter type, but to build a balanced team and for real growth in understanding, it is necessary to turn to opposites. Opposite temperaments, different ways of viewing and working with the world, are what make for the difficulties in relationships. Opposite types attract, like the magnets, even though it may make for rather challenging relationships.
To understand and work with others, we must entertain them, must let them and their preferences in out of the rain. We still have a right to our own preferences, and negotiation is frequently necessary. But as best-selling author Stephen Covey once put it, if two people see things exactly the same way, one of them is unnecessary.
Still, entertaining opposites has its limits. It is a hallmark of maturity to be able to entertain two opposing ideas at the same time for purposes of evaluation, but it is definitely not a good idea to continue to entertain ideas or behaviors that violate one’s moral code, such as the guidelines given by God to help us live happy and fulfilling lives. Negative thoughts may pop into our head, but the instant that we recognize them as negative, we should evict them. New Thought author Emmet Fox compares this to having a cigar ash land on one’s sleeve: if we brush it off immediately, no harm is done. Only if it lingers, if we entertain a negative thought, is there damage.
There are several old stories, including a number of the parables of Jesus, of a wealthy homeowner who goes on a journey, leaving his trusted steward in charge of his house and lands. But his steward is somehow corrupted into allowing undesirable people to come and stay in the house, where they do a great deal of damage to the owner’s belongings and use up his supplies. When the owner returns, he must evict these undesirable visitors along with the faithless steward in order to set things to rights.
Whether it is an undesirable thought, an unsuitable person, or an unworthy behavior or condition, we need to pay careful attention to what we entertain and what we brush off or discard.
September 16, 2014
Telling the Story
I have just finished rereading The Second Mrs. Wu, a novel by one of my favorite authors, Agnes Sanford. Known for her abilities as a healer, she was also an excellent writer of both fiction and nonfiction as well as a coach for aspiring writers. Her novels draw heavily on experiences of her own, one of the principles that she taught to her writing students.
Born and brought up in China in the late nineteenth century, the child of Presbyterian missionaries, Mrs. Sanford was very much at home among the Chinese people, whose culture she well understood and in whose language she was fluent. She vividly describes her life as it was then through the eyes of her fictional characters. She was of course steeped in the Christianity that her parents worked so diligently to instill in the Chinese people, but various events caused her to question the details of that faith and at times even to question the existence of God, especially as he was being described to her then.
The clash of two very different cultures automatically brought difficulties. The missionaries lived a prim, rather Victorian lifestyle, although they made a few concessions to the local lifestyle out of necessity. Many of the details that appear in the book are also described in Mrs. Sanford’s own autobiography, Sealed Orders. The Second Mrs. Wu is narrated through the eyes of a partially autobiographical twelve-year-old girl. Life was rather primitive for everyone, but rich people —and, ironically, the Christian missionaries—enjoyed the luxury of having hordes of servants. That in turn led to very little privacy. The Chinese culture was even more restrictive, bound by its traditions. This particular novel makes very clear the clash of cultures and the resulting difficulties. There also are clashing opinions concerning what to do about violations of Christian teaching (bigamy), which becomes a problem when a Chinese Christian missionary priest baptizes a man and his two wives. The Chinese cannot understand why this should create any difficulty, since the Bible is full of accounts of men—heroes—with more than one wife! Unbaptizing them is not an option. One missionary is inclined to be tolerant; his superior wants him banished and the second wife sent away, which nearly leads to her suicide. Then there are warlords, beheadings of petty criminals, children dying for want of diphtheria antitoxin, marital difficulties that might happen in any culture, heat and drought.
Otherwise, life was terrific! The story unfolds as does the life story of each of us: uncertainties followed by certainties, problems eventually resolved, and strong faith in God rewarded by frequently off-the-wall solutions. Those who sow in tears often reap in joy. In addition to being an amazing storyteller, Mrs. Sanford has a wonderful sense of humor, which she had even as a child. She is able to see the incongruity of the two cultures and the silliness of some of the situations that people get themselves into. Despite all the darkness, the book makes me laugh out loud and feel my own faith restored by being made aware that all things come to pass. Efforts to love one’s enemy are rewarded in amazing ways, and healings take place as a result.
It is a bit of a stretch to call Agnes Sanford a New Thoughter, but her approach is quite congenial to New Thought. She believed in the power of prayer to heal and that thoughts make a difference. She herself was healed of clinical depression and healed others who were in mental darkness, with no drugs. She married an Episcopal priest who ran a boys’ school in China, and her Presbyterian family lost quite a bit of sleep worrying about whether the Episcopal church was "sound"! Happily, they decided that it was. Confirmed as an Episcopalian, Mrs. Sanford had to find her own way of reconciling the two faiths. Later in her own lay ministry, she worked with people of various faiths. Her other novels give glimpses of these adventures.
Though long out of print, there are usually second-hand copies of Mrs. Sanford’s books available through Amazon or elsewhere. Like hers, our present lives and problems are as if we were reading the adventures of others in a book the ending of which has not yet been written. We may not yet know the outcome, but with God’s guidance, we can influence it with our thoughts and actions, sure that it will be good.
September 23, 2014
One dictionary definition of revolution is "a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something". This is what we mean when we speak of scientific revolutions. When we remember that philosophers were the first scientists, and only later did science split off from philosophy as a separate discipline, it makes sense that scientific revolutions are driven by revolutions in philosophy, specifically in metaphysics.
Metaphysics is the discipline that attempts to answer the question of how things have to be in order to be at all. What are the building blocks of the universe? The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus told us that you can’t step into the same river twice, and the atomists told him to sit down and shut up. Today we know that he was right and they were wrong. The basic building blocks of the universe are not atoms, but bursts of energy, quanta. Life is a steady stream of events, each lasting perhaps a tenth of a second. Change is the only constant. Instead of visualizing a still photograph, we are to visualize these bursts, these occasions of experience, as frames of a moving picture, not static, dynamic.
At first, such ideas may seem upsetting in the emotional sense. Our stability seems swept away on a tide of change. Order is broken up by chaos. But chaos theory teaches that the greater the chaos, the greater the resulting order. This is how the universe evolves, how we grow. In order to make an omelet, you have to first break the eggs. We evolve upward from chaos to greater order, to more chaos, to higher order. Some describe this as the universe breathing in and out.
Process theology provides the stability and comfort in this brave new world, for Whitehead found that he could not account for any novelty in this dynamic picture without postulating the existence of God. Each occasion of experience forms itself out of some blend of the past plus God’s perfect possibilities tailor-made for that experience plus our free choice of how much of each to use. This is how God is everywhere present, and he also lovingly preserves all past occasions of experience. God’s loving, dependable character does not change, but God grows as we grow, since we are all in this manner part of God.
In this "stranger-than-we-can-know" world, we are all interconnected. What we do affects everyone else, and vice versa. We band together to accomplish things, the bucket brigade being a rather obvious example compared to the subtler instances of thought. Kindness and cruelty make their mark, and their consequences come back to bless or haunt us. In a system, disturbing something on one side makes something on the other side say ouch. At times we may feel insignificant, but here is the evidence that we matter very much. Poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) in his poem "The Mistress of Vision" expresses it thus:
All things by immortal power,
Near or far
To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star. . . .
The good that you do, even the briefest positive thought, goes into the mix and makes a difference. Moment by moment, the pattern of the past builds up, until the moment when the vision is reached. The great revolution in thought that at first seemed to sweep all security away proves to have brought it back again on a far more sound scientific basis. Help is always at hand for us, and we are already plugged into it. God is still "our help in ages past, our hope for years to come", but the old limited views of God have dissolved back into chaos, to be replaced by a more suitably complex explanation, better than ever. Francis Thompson also wrote "The Hound of Heaven", the story of his own attempt to run away from God, who continued to pursue him until he could run no more. Only then did he find the love of God: "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am he whom thou seekest!" God is inescapably present and available all the time, if we will just stop running from our seeming problems and feel our connection with him and with each other.
September 30, 2014
Quis ut Deus?
Yesterday was the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, an especially nice feast day because it does not commemorate anyone’s getting martyred or other unpleasantness. Instead, it’s all about heavenly help for earthly challenges of all sorts.
Long ago, during my Anglo-Catholic phase, I decided that I needed a patron saint. I was born on the Feast of the Venerable Bede, an Englishman who never got all the way canonized because the Anglican church embalmed its power to canonize. Maybe Bede was venerable, but I didn’t find him particularly inspiring, nor did I cotton to St. Deborah (who?). I wanted someone distinctive, a role model that I could look up to and turn to for inspiration and assistance. Who better than the Archangel Michael, chief of all the angels, patron of Jews and Christians, found in both Old and New Testaments, warrior and healer, formidable in battle, yet who wins with the force of allegiance to God rather than violence (his armor and spear are symbolic). His motto is "Quis ut Deus?" Who but the Lord, indeed! I bought myself a sterling silver medal with a lovely depiction of Michael in full armor with his spear ready to plunge into a recumbent winged Satan. It occurred to me to wonder whether I had any business bothering such an exalted and busy personage, but I figured that he would be understanding. Like a Navy Seal or a modern Marine, Michael could continue to perform his duties with me tucked safely under one wing. These days I don’t usually sit down for a chat with him except on his feast day, when I join the other angels in honoring and thanking him and them for doing such a great job of looking out for me.
For New Thoughters, a good place to start is usually the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary. It gives the meaning of Michael as "who is like unto God?, who is like God; who is assimilated of God; Godlike, who is like expanding power". It continues:
"The archangel" (Jude 9), or "one of the chief princes" who came to help Daniel (Dan. 10:13). He is mentioned in Revelation 12:7 as the leader of the heavenly army that wars against the dragon.
Meta. Divine inspiration, and a realization of the all-conquering power of God; also a Godlike or perfect state of being.
A certain twitchiness makes me aware that the Philosopher thinks I should take this discussion into the realms of philosophy. Mortimer Adler, black-belt philosopher and ace encyclopedia salesman, has written an entire book on angels, The Angels and Us (1982). In it, he stubbornly defends the value of discussing angels philosophically whether or not they exist—and he appears not to believe in them himself! He concludes:
Some people, including some of the readers of this book, may think it odd for a philosopher (especially one, such as I am, who holds that philosophical thought has its roots in common sense) to be seriously concerned with angels as objects of philosophical thought. They have no place in common experience [that’s what he thinks!] and are way beyond the reach of common sense.
In response, I would like to point out that a philosophical consideration of angels is not an odd excursion in thought for persons who are addicted to, and respectful of, common sense. On the contrary, both theological speculation about angels as objects of religious belief and the philosophical consideration of angels as possible beings have proved indispensable to exposing the angelistic fallacies at the bottom of a wide variety of theories and opinions. It is these theories and opinions that are far out, not angelology. . . .
One very important lesson to be learned from the history of human thought is this: no theory or opinion is so strange or weird that it is beyond the power of the human mind to confect and cherish. (Pages 176-177)
In this vein, I suspect that process theologians would also have to let angels in out of the rain, as it were, because of their belief in prehension (non-sensory perception). An article on angels in The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) (M. Eliade, ed.) ends by noting that although the Copernican revolution may have undermined belief in angels, the work of depth psychologists has reinforced it. "With the insights into psychic conflict provided by modern psychology, the image of angels and devils fighting over individual souls assumes new meaning and relevance."
What do I believe? I don’t buy the idea that God couldn’t be everywhere, so he invented mothers. I think it’s more like angels being somehow what God uses to get things done. There is no organized power of evil, but there may be demons, so there have to be angels.
Send thine archangel Michael to our succor: Peacemaker blessed, may he banish from us
Striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful/ All things may prosper.
St. Rabanus Maurus, 776-856
October 7, 2014
A Fresh Look at Heaven and Hell
A few months ago I received a communication from Stafford Betty, a colleague of the Philosopher (I believe their connection was a scholarly association formerly known as the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research). Betty, a university professor who specializes in afterlife study, has written a new book, Heaven and Hell Unveiled: Updates from the World of Spirit (2014), available from Amazon. For many years Alan taught a course, "Life After Death", and this would have been right up his alley, so I sent for it. I’m glad I did.
Many if not most New Thoughters believe in life after death, not to mention reincarnation, which has a chapter in Betty’s book. This book deals with books that have been composed and channeled in the last 160 years, during which time serious scholars have worked assiduously at "sorting out the spurious and fraudulent from the legitimate and worthy". Here is Betty’s take on the subject:
What the "dead" are telling us—I’ll usually refer to them as "spirits" or "our spirit friends"—is that the answers provided by earth’s religions are simplistic and often seriously misleading. These spirits see things more clearly than we do, and this clarity gives them an advantage that we lack. . . . I have read a great deal of theology and spiritual literature over the course of a long life, and much of it has been helpful, but most of it doesn’t match up to the spirit classics I’ll introduce you to here. . . . What distinguishes them is that they are based on actual experience rather than an ancient scripture or theological reasoning. . . . We are all about to enter a fascinating world. And the more we know about it, the less scary death will be—at least if we are basically decent people. . . . We will never look at heaven and hell the old way we used to. Our religion, if we have one, will be changed. Everything will begin to make more sense than it ever did before. (Pages 1-2)
None of this changes the basic dictum that while we have physical bodies in a physical world, that is where the vast majority of our attention should be: on making the most of this life rather than obsessing over the life to come. Let me reiterate Alan’s favorite definition of religion as a set of attitudes and actions concerning Ultimate Reality. That is a philosophical (metaphysical) position, and once it is determined, theology is the resulting study of where that philosophy takes us. Some of what we learn from "our spirit friends" may change some of this for us, but such change should take place carefully and thoughtfully. "The mount for vision, but below/ the path of daily duty go." Nothing that I have seen so far upsets the New Thought apple cart, and process thought makes room for it as well.
Hoping to tantalize you into reading the book for yourself, here are a few of Betty’s conclusions:
"[O]ur spirit friends unanimously place great value on what we do between earth lives. It too provides a venue for growing our soul. All states do. . . . But the will is always free."
"In all my research into the afterlife I’ve never come across an account of an attempted conversion from one of earth’s religions to another. That’s because it becomes quickly clear to spirits living in the regions of light that character, not belief, governs one’s place in the heavens."
"[Our spirit friends] don’t claim to ‘see God,’ as if God had a face and was situated in space, and their lives are full of every other kind of activity. But there are times for worship for those so inclined."
"God" is a troublesome word for many of us. What does the God of our spirit friends look like? First . . . their God is personal, not an It. [I can hear the Philosopher cheering!] But not personal in the fallible, limited way we are, not categorizable by a Myers-Briggs personality test or how S/He would treat a waitress, but having a unique intellectual and emotional structure infinitely beyond ours. Not an impersonal mystical power like the "Force" served by Jedi warriors, but a matchless Being who knows us, values us, even loves us—loves us because we are that Being’s creations. More than that, because this Being ensouls us. We are not related to the Divine as pottery to the potter, but as child to parent. At our core we are made of the very stuff of the Divine; we are tiny atoms of light one and the same with the Light itself. (Page 139)
Process thinkers might not care for that "tiny atoms of light", but it’s close enough for horseshoes. There probably aren’t too many souls running around in the afterlife talking about occasions of experience, so it may take a while for them to get fully up to speed. Meanwhile, you can read Betty’s book, and, if you haven’t already come across it, read Alan’s (C. Alan Anderson) More Than Mortal? Contrasting Concepts and Enigmatic Evidence About Life After Death, available in a spiral-bound 8 ½" x 11" first edition from me for $10.00 + $5.00 priority shipping, U. S. funds and addresses only, mailing address listed under the "Contacts" tab on your left. It is also available in a Kindle edition through Amazon or from Ron Hughes at www.ppquimby.com .
October 14, 2014
More Than Mortal
No, I didn’t forget the question mark; I deliberately left it off to indicate that the Philosopher, having given careful attention to the arguments for and against life after death, came down very clearly on the for side. To him, we are unquestionably more than mortal. The book, More Than Mortal? Contrasting Concepts and Enigmatic Evidence About Life After Death, is available in a spiral-bound 8 ½" x 11" first edition from me for $10.00 + $5.00 priority shipping, U. S. funds and addresses only, mailing address listed under the "Contacts" tab on your left. It is also available in a Kindle edition through Amazon or from Ron Hughes at www.ppquimby.com .
More Than Mortal resulted from my rekeying Alan’s first book, The Problem is God, and pulling out all the chapters relevant to life after death. Alan then revised them, adding some new material, and the 64-page spiral-bound self-publication was the result. Alan used it as one of the texts for his "Life After Death" course at Curry College for nearly ten years. In a conventional binding and size, it would have had considerably more pages. It dealt fairly— and with reasonable thoroughness for an introductory text—with the various topics related to the overall subject, including definitions, concepts of life after death, grounds for belief, experiential evidence, near-death experiences (which are much more common nowadays because of medical resuscitations), arguments for and against there being life after death, karma and reincarnation, and a discussion of what postmortem life may be like.
In his Preface, Alan asks:
We know that our physical bodies are going to die some day, that they are mortal. But are we more than mortal?
. . . . Since people’s lives are shaped by their beliefs, there is good reason for examining the possibility that people are not just their bodies, and that we are in the middle of a most remarkable universe of perfect love and justice. With so much at stake, it’s worth a little investigating.
This book is a rather brief presentation of problems and possibilities. . . . Some of the possibilities may be surprising. Whatever beliefs you adopt will help to shape the life that you are living here and now. (Page 1)
Although "the most persuasive arguments for immortality" are those "founded on the existence of a good and wise God", the Philosopher’s own contribution is
a "pessimistic" argument for immortality, which also could be called the argument from the complexity of life. This bit of reasoning maintains that it is altogether unrealistic to think that anything as complex as life can be got rid of so easily as by the death of the body. The Epicureans and their descendants have been hopelessly optimistic in thinking that they could lose their lives. You are stuck with your life forever; you cannot make the big getaway into what C. D. Broad longingly calls "the safety of annihilation" (1962, p. xi). So you had better get busy making your life more worth living. (Page 36)
He is equally pragmatic on the subject of reincarnation:
While I view reincarnation as an intriguing possibility, it is with some reluctance that I turn to it. I must confess that I have little taste for the prospect of having to endure repeatedly the inconveniences and indignities of growing up. Being burped, diapered, and subjected to the multiplication table again and again scarcely holds much attractive for me. But I sometimes suspect that my current preferences were not uppermost in God’s mind when he was designing the universe. So my lack of enthusiasm probably does not matter much. Moreover, I do find many enjoyable and educational (often the same) possibilities in reincarnation. (Page 46)
He adds, "Reincarnation is a tail that must not be allowed to wag the dog."
One can wait and see, but if there is any truth to the reports referred to above about the afterlife, the more enlightened one’s views about it are now, the greater will be present enjoyment of life and the easier will be the transition to life in another dimension of reality when one gets there—whoever that one may be understood to be then. (Page 59)
I had the pleasure and privilege of being in on the creation of this book, and I most definitely found my own belief in an afterlife strengthened and enhanced by these and other accounts such as those supplied by Stafford Betty (last week). Scholars are wisely advised to discount anecdotal evidence, but when the anecdotes become so numerous and so repetitively consistent that they can no longer be ignored, they become the new database.
October 21, 2014
Is positive positive? What exactly is positive? If I am positive that I saw the burglar in the moonlight, is that good or bad? If I am suffering from discomfort in my physical body, and the medical tests come back positive, should I be encouraged or discouraged? Divine Science minister and electrical engineer Emmet Fox used to say that we should be positive to all that was not for the highest good (below us) and negative to the leadings of God, as coming down from above.
When Christian minister Norman Vincent Peale first wrote his best selling book, The Power of Positive Thinking, critics had a field day. Peale was ridiculed as impractical, as out of touch with reality. Really? A minister who daily dealt with people who were struggling with all the difficulties of life, visiting them in sickness, holding services for the dead and comforting the mourners, counseling individuals in various dilemmas and temptations? Most readers evidently understood Peale’s message, but in an effort to further clarify what he meant by positive thinking, Peale eventually wrote a sequel, The Tough-Minded Optimist.
I have frequently quoted Martin Seligman on the subject of learned optimism. He stated:
Learned optimism is not a rediscovery of the "power of positive thinking." The skills of optimism do not emerge from the pink Sunday-school world of happy events. They do not consist in learning to say positive things to yourself. We have found over the years that positive statements you make to yourself have little if any effect. What is crucial is what you think when you fail, using the power of "non-negative thinking." Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism.
What Seligman is referring to here is mindless repetition rather than desire backed with patience, a plan, and follow-through with the expectation of eventual success. It’s rather like the definition someone once gave for confidence: "going after Moby Dick with a harpoon in one hand and a jar of tartar sauce in the other". —New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed., pages 187-188
We get what we truly, deep-down, expect. We govern our expectancies by developing the habit of monitoring the thoughts that come into our consciousness and refusing to entertain those that are destructive. But this does not mean putting our heads in the sand or failing to revise our plans in keeping with current circumstances. It means continuing to sustain our desired vision despite setbacks and disappointments, continuing to tweak the plans as necessary.
Still, life is what happens while we were making other plans, as the saying goes. The nightly news dwells on the latest political scandal or medical nightmare, a friend has a terrible experience that starts us thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I", which starts us wondering why we were immune, or what might be waiting out there to get us when we least expect it. What, then, is the definition of positive, or at least of non-negative?
The dictionary describes positive as synonymous with anything from prescribed to confident to unconditioned to incontestable to unqualified to sure, not terribly helpful for our purposes. I go back to the definition I cobbled together years ago for New Thought: habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline. The discipline involves keeping your mind off of what you don’t want and on what you do want to be, do, and have. You get what you expect, and what you give your attention to, grows. Make sure that what you are growing is what you really want, for yourself and for the world. And make sure that you are operating in line with God’s guidelines for a happy, successful life.
October 28, 2014
Turning the Golden Key
Some day some great humanitarian is going to generate a concordance for the writings of Emmet Fox, the New Thought author that I would take to a desert island with me if I could only choose one author (other than the Philosopher, of course!). I recall a story or observation, but there is no way to locate it short of going through book after book searching for it, unless I happen to remember the exact context of whatever I am looking for. Although there is no concordance, there are three biographies of Fox that I know of: Emmet Fox: The Man & His Work (1952), Harry Gaze; Emmet Fox’s Golden Keys to Successful Living (1977), Herman Wolhorn; and Emmet Fox: His Life Story (2004), JoAnn Pecoraro Corsiatto. The first two are out of print but can occasionally be picked up second hand, and the third is available through the author’s web site, www.emmetfox.net.
Gaze met Fox in 1914 at the time of the founding of the International New Thought Alliance and was influential in getting Fox involved with the New Thought movement and coming to this country. He took over the ministry of the Church of the Healing Christ after Fox’s death, and was joined and later succeeded by Herman Wolhorn, who along with his wife, Blanche, was a close friend of Fox. Divine Science minister JoAnn Corsiatto lectured at the Church of the Healing Christ in the Eighties and learned much about Fox first-hand from the Wolhorns.
Fox was an exceptional person from early childhood on. He was brought up in a staunch Roman Catholic family. At age six, he was a healer. He had Jesuit training, but his interest in New Thought led him to change his schooling and study electrical engineering, which was his career for some years. He practiced what he preached, devoting much time to study and meditation, living in the Presence of God. He was an ordained Divine Science minister, but he was very un-doctrinaire in his approach and never sought to found a church. Yet he lectured to packed houses of thousands, touching lives constantly with healings of mind and body. Through his secretary’s mother, he was connected with the founders of AA, and his writings were used by AA until they developed their Big Book. Many a recovering alcoholic is familiar with his work.
He was a quiet person who never quite overcame boyhood shyness, but he was prized by his close friends for his charming sense of humor and love of life. The Church of the Healing Christ closed for three months every summer, during which time Fox traveled, lectured, and wrote. The Wolhorns, his regular traveling companions, are the source of many entertaining anecdotes. Yet when Fox returned to his church in the fall, there were always overflow crowds waiting to hear him. Asked how he was able to maintain the interest of a congregation while he was gone for so long, he replied, "I always take them with me." Lines formed to meet him after his Wednesday night healing services, and he always stayed for as long as it took to greet each and every one, sometimes remaining all night. There are accounts of instantaneous and near-instantaneous healings.
Fox was a highly intelligent and well-read man, the son of a physician and Member of Parliament who hoped that his son would go into medicine. His mother hoped and believed that Emmet would become a Roman Catholic priest. He did neither—and both, in his own way. His writings are simple, easily understood, and uplifting without being chirpily cheerful.
On one occasion:
he was scheduled to address the Business and Professional Women’s Club in London at an annual luncheon. It was quite an impressive gathering including many doctors and teachers. Just as he was about to be introduced the chairman of the program committee informed him he was free to discuss anything that he wanted to provided it had nothing to do with religion or controversial subjects. Since he had nothing else he wanted to discuss he proceeded to give his lecture on the Golden Key, and the use of Scientific Prayer in healing. (Gaze, p. 92)
In 1931, Emmet published a little pamphlet called, "The Golden Key," which became his most famous essay. Emmet coined the term, "The Golden Key," inspired by his father who was presented with a golden key while serving in parliament. After his father made his transition, Emmet’s mother gave him the golden key. He is turn passed the idea of the golden key on to his students in the form of his writings. (p. 44)
His famous Golden Key message is available on the Emmet Fox website (www.emmetfox.net) and also within Power Through Constructive Thinking. His idea was to make his instruction as short and simple as possible, covering any and all situations. The Golden Key is: "See God where the trouble seems to be; think about God instead of the difficulty". If you are thinking about the problem, picturing the problem, struggling to imagine a solution, you are not thinking about God. You are to rehearse whatever you know to be true about God, as learned from the Bible or from experience, yours or others’. Can’t get much simpler than that! This is why there are so many "closet" fans of Emmet Fox in other religions or religious denominations.
Like many mystics, Fox is often accused of pantheism, and his own writings seem to uphold the charge. This drove the Philosopher up a tree, with me not far behind. But we would all agree along with the American founders that what one believes is an individual thing and should not be allowed to divide us. With sufficient discussion, many such seeming differences in beliefs would evaporate. There is far too much of the Presence of God present in the life and works of Emmet Fox to allow beliefs to separate us from what he has to offer.
November 4, 2014
God: Principle or Person?
Of the three Corsiatto books on Emmet Fox, my favorite is The Science of Living: In Class with Emmet Fox. It is simple and down-to-earth. As his fellow Divine Science minister, Robert Winterhalter, wrote in a book review:
The most obvious trait of The Science of Living is its practical nature. It is a handbook that reveals how the spiritual universe actually works in terms of people’s everyday lives, and how the individual can relate favorably to the spiritual universe in terms of releasing health, harmony, and abundance into everyday experience. It is said of some books that it is written to be used, not to sit on the shelf. This is just such a book.
That said, the Philosopher and I still have a few bones to pick with Fox concerning his view of God. One is a topic about which both of us have written repeatedly: Is God a person or a principle? For the most part Fox, schooled by the Jesuits, is a very clear thinker, but here his thinking breaks down. In The Science of Living, Fox states:
Now we come to the consideration of the Law. A great deal is heard of the Law but many people lack a definite understanding of what it really means. Briefly, the Law is this: there is an unbreakable sequence of cause and effect right throughout the universe. This sequence is never broken, and therefore there is no such thing as favoritism, special providences, hard cases, or anything of that sort. As we sow we reap. Every deed results in certain consequences, and these consequences come to us as the result of the deed, and that is all about it. This is the Law, and once we understand this we have taken the first great step on the road to freedom. We then understand that if we do not desire certain consequences to come into our lives, we must not set them going by taking the corresponding action. If we do not want the goods delivered we must not order them. (Pages 41-42)
So far, so good. Fox goes on to explain that this is the Eastern Law of Karma, or sowing and reaping. As Paul said in Galatians 6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." We have no argument with the idea that the universe operates lawfully, predictably, dependably. Laws are descriptions of how things work; they are abstractions. The Harry Gaze biography, paraphrasing Fox, states:
The least understood aspect of God is Principle. He is the Law of Being as revealed in His creation. At the center of things there is a preserving Principle, a Law of perfect harmony. There is the way that everything ought to be. Disharmony, unhappiness, and consequent evil are the violations of this Law of Being. "The great Law of Being is that we reap as we sow, that according to the thoughts we entertain and the things we believe, so will our experience be. This is a cosmic law. It is true on every plane and at all times. Being a law it is never broken. It is absolutely impersonal and inflexible, and to obey this law is the way into heaven or perfect harmony. The whole metaphysical movement exists to teach this Law, and our progress is measured by the extent to which we understand and obey it." (Page 45)
Here is where the wheels come off. A law is an abstraction. God is real, not abstract. He (and notice that Fox makes a point of referring to God as He, not "It") has created and maintains a lawful, orderly universe. Yes, things at times go into chaos, but the greater the chaos, the greater the resulting order. Fox also says, "God is not a magnified man, a projection of our own personalities", and we wholeheartedly agree. Nor is God a thing, an It, for an It cannot love. The Creator must be higher than his creation, and we can love; we are not Its. God is the Ultimate Person, the highest, most complex Person. All human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings. A person is defined as one who is self-aware, purposive, and rational. We are made in the image and likeness of God, not the other way around. It is not surprising that we would bear some resemblance to our heavenly Father, nor is it surprising that if we learn about the laws of the universe and operate in harmony with them, things go better for us. God is the source of these laws, but that is not at all the same thing as saying that God is law.
Stephen Covey put it well in his blockbuster best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural [the Philosopher preferred moral] laws that cannot be broken. As Cecil B. DeMille observed of the principles contained in his monumental movie, The Ten Commandments, "It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law." (Page 33)
We believe that it is possible to take into account the important points being made on either side in this issue. Synergy, higher than either side could have arrived at on its own, occurs when we take a thesis and an antithesis, let each serve as a corrective on the other, and shake out the errors in both.
The Corsiatto books are available from www.emmetfox.net .
November 11, 2014
Today is Veteran’s Day, which was originally Armistice Day, when we observed one minute of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of 1918, when hostilities ceased and guns fell silent in what was then known as the Great War. Later, the name was changed to Veterans Day, and the observance was expanded to honor all of America’s veterans for their "willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good". I have seen on monuments inscribed with the names of those who died the inscription, "They gave their lives in war that we might live in peace."
On Armistice Day, the fighting stopped. All veterans, those killed as well as those who survived, worked for peace. It has been said that the greatest battles are those which do not have to be fought. This does not mean gutless surrender; it means being able to arrive at agreement by reasonable, peaceful means. I can remember being on jury duty and spending a very dull morning with nothing to do but sit around and read old issues of Popular Mechanics, which interested me not at all. Then at noon the judge came down, thanked us for our service, and dismissed us. He explained that because we were there, on deck and ready to serve, the battling factions had agreed to negotiated settlements, and the cases did not have to come to trial.
There are international situations like that: if military might is available and ready to fight, those who might otherwise seek unjust gain of some sort think twice about it. Long ago, there was a culture in which men and women were equal partners, art and literature flourished, and life seemed idyllic. Unfortunately, this society was unwilling or unable to defend itself, and it was overrun by male-dominant barbarians and sank into obscurity. No matter who said it (and apparently it was not Thomas Jefferson, even though he would have agreed with it), "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance". The point is not to glorify war, but rather that there is less likely to be war when we are prepared to fight for what we hold dear.
But there are times when it is necessary to fight. In our own Civil War, families were divided, and our finest military leaders fought on both sides of the conflict. The ultimate triumph was the abolition of slavery, which had been taken for granted as necessary for thousands of years of human history. Reconstruction took longer and was more painful than it needed to be because people were unwilling to forgive, move on, and heal the wounds that had divided the nation. But there was an even bigger thing at stake, one which did not appear until half a century or so later. The tide turned at Gettysburg, when the North was able to stop the advance of the South. How? Lincoln had all sorts of difficulties, but the turning point came when one man, Joshua Chamberlain, a man described as "musician, linguist, college professor, farmer, husband, and father", certainly not a career soldier, was given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment. He was assigned to cover a certain critical point in the lines. He was warned that if the South got past that point, they would be able to get behind the Northern lines, and all would be lost. Chamberlain’s unit had survived waves of attacks, their numbers were decimated, and they were out of ammunition. They were told to take what was left from the dead and wounded, but that had already been done. No reinforcements whatsoever were available, and it was completely foolhardy to mount another offensive themselves. Then, they heard the chilling sound of the Rebel yell that meant that the 15th Alabama was getting ready to charge again. Chamberlain was already wounded in the thigh and had a bullet graze his head, but with absolutely nothing going for him but belief in the rightness of his cause, he gave the order, "Fix bayonets!" They had no bullets, only bayonets. He leaped upon the stone wall behind which they had been crouching, and yelled, "Charge!" Believing he had reinforcements, the astonished Southerners surrendered. Wounds and all, Chamberlain rallied his exhausted men and crept around by night to capture Big Round Top. He continued to fight in other campaigns and to receive additional wounds, eventually spending five months in hospitals, but recovered even after doctors said there was no hope for him. General Grant selected Chamberlain for the honor of receiving General Lee’s sword in the surrender at Appomattox that ended the war. Even as the Rebels stood defeated, Chamberlain ordered his own men to salute their former enemies. A Confederate general recognized the honor, "rose in his saddle, reined in his horse, and boldly returned the salute". Word of this kindness on the part of Chamberlain spread and "made him very popular among his former foe".
Chamberlain returned home, became governor of Maine, then later president of Bowdoin College, dying at the age of eighty-five. But the real victory lay ahead. Had Chamberlain not turned the tide at Gettysburg, the South would have won the war, and the nation would have been divided into two or three nations. Such a split would have meant that there was insufficient power in a United States of America to stop Hitler and his Axis. One man, one very brave soldier, changed the history of the world. It is this spirit that we honor on Veterans’ Day as we enjoy the picnics and parades that these heroes fought for us to have.
My quotations come from a children’s book by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War.
November 18, 2014
I always find November somewhat challenging. In our hemisphere, the days get shorter, even in Florida, where they also get cooler in a pleasant way. It’s a bit too early to be carried along by the excitement of getting ready for Christmas. For me, personal sad memories outnumber the happy memories in this particular month. It would be nice to have a large spray can of instant Gloom Go that I could just spritz about.
But wait a minute; that’s not how things work. If I walk into a dark room, I don’t have to chase the shadows out of the doors and windows; I just turn on the light. Darkness is simply the absence of light; it has no substance, like cold (absence of heat), gloom (absence of cheer), and even evil (absence of good). Since God is always and everywhere present, that absence of good is never total. So what do I need to turn on in order to make the gloom go away?
I don’t think that anyone has managed to bottle thought, although canned air probably comes close. But a change in thought, if continued and allowed to grow, is what chases the gloom away. It does require self-discipline to change gloomy thoughts into something more pleasant, because our feelings are what doesn’t feel good. Duh! Feelings are the last to change. Psychiatrist William Glasser used to teach us, "Change what you’re doing and the feelings will follow". Naomi Glasser edited a book of Reality Therapy case histories titled What Are You Doing? That is the basic working question used in Reality Therapy, coming right after therapist and client have made friends with each other and gotten clear on just what it is that the client wants. Then, if the client decides that what he or she is doing (or not doing) isn’t working to get what is wanted, counselor and client make a plan to do better, to get more of what is wanted. The plans always begin with very simple baby steps that won’t seem too difficult but that include starting to do something.
But here’s the little secret: Before any change in the doing/acting takes place, there has to be at least a little change in thinking, because thinking always precedes acting, which precedes feeling. When you are in any sort of a bad mood, one that is other than good, the last thing you feel like doing is thinking any sort of pleasant thoughts, because they don’t match your current mood. That’s where the self-discipline comes in: As soon as you notice that you are in an other-than-good mood, change your thinking. I find it helpful to keep a list of little things that make me feel good immediately and trying to work several of them into a day or at least into a week. Even if all I have done is plan to do something pleasant in the near future, I can anticipate that activity with pleasure. My thinking has changed a bit in order to do the planning.
In an other-than-good mood, one’s energy drops, or if one’s energy is low for physical reasons, one probably will not be in the best of moods. Either way, inertia sets in and needs to be overcome. I have discussed the importance of laughter (see post for July 1, 2014) for high-level wellness. I remember hearing about a psychologist who worked with extremely ill, weak individuals. In such a debilitated state, he couldn’t expect them to produce a full-bodied, "Ha, ha!", so he would just coax them to come out with a single "Ha!" This half a laugh started to strike people as funny, and surprisingly quickly, they were able to laugh spontaneously, to the great improvement of their health. Most probably, if you are reading this post, you are in better shape than that!
So, "when the gales of November turn gloomy", and things seem dark, I take my own advice and start looking around for something pleasant that involves at least a modicum of activity on my part. I’m not a couch potato because I don’t own a couch, so I’m off to a good start. I also just finished playing Lady Ella, one of the principals in a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience. Gilbert and Sullivan are famous for absolutely daffy plots, beautiful music and dancing, and preposterously rapid patter songs. Patience is one of the best for toe-tapping tunes and for choruses singing contrasting things at the same time. We had intricate dance routines to practice, and amazingly, it all came together beautifully for the performances. Now all I have to do for the remaining two weeks of November is plan for the next bit of theatrical nonsense I am going to get involved in, and start preparing.
November 25, 2014
When to Give Thanks
One of the basic New Thought techniques is to give thanks in advance. If you are new to New Thought, perhaps that sounds a bit strange, but we didn’t think it up. You’ll find thanksgiving in the Bible; there are a number of examples from Leviticus, or check out Nehemiah 12:26: "For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God." There are eight references to thanksgiving in Psalms; perhaps the best known are 95: 2 and 100:4. It is mentioned several times in the prophets, then in the New Testament, in the Epistles of Paul; and finally, in Revelation 7:12, where all the angels round about the throne worship God, saying, "Amen, Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." This, of course, has been further immortalized by being included at the end of Handel’s Messiah.
None of those explicitly mention giving thanks in advance of having received some blessing, but in our everyday world, we do this as a matter of course, as good manners. "Thanking you in advance, I remain Sincerely yours,". It’s part of faith in the workaday world. You are trusting the other person to crash through with whatever has been promised. You just went over to the car dealer and ordered a new car to be built for you at the factory. You think nothing of thanking the dealer in advance, in the firm belief that he and the factory will actually built your car to your specifications and deliver it to you in due course. You can absolutely picture that car; you may even have a photograph of a similar model, perhaps even in the same color. Every time you order something over the Internet you are expecting it to turn up in due course, as promised, whether it is something as large as a new car or something more mundane.
Before or after, we give thanks because we are grateful for some good received or about to be received. We feel that attitude of gratitude. If like attracts like, it is easy to see why that’s a good attitude to have, and why giving thanks in advance is a valuable practice. We are opening channels that make it easier for God to answer prayers. Giving thanks in a special, celebratory way, as we do as a nation on Thanksgiving Day, reminds us of the importance of giving thanks at all times. When we are able to get together in families and eat wonderful meals, it is easy to feel grateful and give thanks. Those memories in turn remind us of the importance of giving thanks for whatever our present conditions may be, because that in turn paves the way for new blessings. Thanks for shortages, thanks for exhaustion, thanks for pain-in-the-neck relatives? Yes, because that’s how you transmute them into what you really want. Giving thanks for them blesses them, which is exactly what they need in order to improve, whether they be persons or conditions. Or maybe that attitude of gratitude just improves us, which changes the whole picture.
Emmet Fox is forever talking about treatment. I don’t like the word; to me it sounds like hot compresses or something. I do like the verb treat. Or make that into a noun and give me a treat instead of a treatment. Treat as a verb means what you do with something; how you treat it. Fox reminds, "You are continually ‘treating’ your conditions with the thoughts which you hold concerning them. What you really think about anything, is your ‘treatment’ of that thing." He goes on to explain the need "to treat every side of your life with a series of positive, correct thoughts, and keep to this practice for even a few weeks". In other words, turn it into a habit. "You will be amazed to find how much everything will change for the better."
We are gearing up to celebrate Thanksgiving in another two days. Some of us are alone; we can give thanks for the hassle that we are being spared. Some of us are knee-deep in relatives and preparations, with perhaps unrealistic expectations for how perfect everything needs to be, so that we take on too much. Here it is particularly important to give thanks in advance for having things go perfectly without outlining in too much detail exactly what "perfect" looks like. God delights in orchestrating off-the-wall things that we, too, can find delightful if we will just cut him some slack. We can affirm that everyone including ourselves will have a good time, and we are so grateful for having been the means of that happening. We can give thanks in advance that just the right sort of assistance comes along in a timely way, and picture ourselves happily at peace after everything is over. "In every thing give thanks."
December 2, 2014
Getting Ready for Christmas
Even though there are many who would like to junk the traditional Christian churches and start over, we really need to remain calm about it all and be sure to salvage the bits of good that should be salvaged. One of these is having at least some form of the traditional liturgical year. It’s a Judeo-Christian custom, and the idea was to preserve a sense of history and tradition by going through it all cyclically on an annual basis. For the Jews, this successfully kept their lives centered on their faith, as they were required to speak and talk and act in accord with it. For Christians, particularly in places where people could not read, or did not have access to the traditional writings, reviewing the life of Jesus the Christ over the course of a year, complete with appropriate Scripture readings, helped keep the teachings alive.
The Christian liturgical year begins with Advent. The long season of Trinity (growth) has ended with what we hope was a successful harvest, and the new year begins right after the Sunday Next Before Advent, a.k.a. Stirrup Sunday because of its collect, which begins, "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people". Not a bad sentiment, even if it is an atrocious pun. Its color was purple, a penitential color, because Advent was considered a minor penitential season, one in which we basically do a quick once-over and pull up our moral socks. We are getting ready to welcome the Christ Child into our homes and hearts with all the accumulated festivity that has built up around it, especially in recent centuries, with Dickens and Prince Albert getting much of the credit for the glorious English Christmases. (If you come from a Puritanical background, here is your chance to repent and join in the fun!) If you have an Advent wreath, the candles are three purples and one pink, because on the third Sunday in Advent, all the apprentices (who were still little boys) got to go home for the day to visit their mothers, so it (the one with the pink candle) was known as Mothering Sunday. How appropriate, even though the candles get very lopsided from having the first burn so often and the last not often at all (you can avoid this difficulty by using all-white or all-purple candles and rotating them, since we don’t have many seven-year-old apprentices these days).
Advent is a great idea because it gives us time to get ready for the season ahead, to make our lists and do our shopping or crafting, to bake or buy goodies to freeze and have on hand; but mainly to make our hearts ready to receive the Christ child, the great symbol of Love of all kinds. It’s a great time of year to read the short story titled "A Pint of Judgement" by Elizabeth Morrow, or Elizabeth Goudge’s wonderful Christmas novel, The Sister of the Angels. Santa’s fine, too, as long as we remember that he came into being because a Christian bishop wanted to do acts of charity at Christmas anonymously. That’s why we give all those gifts and do all that baking: to enhance the feelings of love at this time of year that our faith teaches us to have all the time. If we spend all of December pigging out on Christmas goodies ahead of time, our karma comes in the form of having to make up for it at the beginning of a shiny new full-of-promise year. Remember that we are punished by our sins, not for them! This is the time for preparation and planning.
Another tradition, especially for children, is the Advent calendar, helping them count the days until Christmas. It is a beautiful scene with little doors for each day of December, leading up to a manger scene for December 24, Christmas Eve. Some of them have pieces of chocolate behind each door, or small creche figures. The joyous novelty here comes from a British entrepreneur, Jacquie Lawson (www.jacquielawson.com), who has a wonderful line of e-cards for all occasions available year-round by inexpensive subscription. To those she has added for the last few years absolutely breathtaking Advent calendars, just a bit more expensive ($4.00 apiece), which are interactive computer downloads that deposit a beautiful winter-scene snow globe on your desktop. You click on it every day for doors to "open", games to play, and creatures bounding everywhere, full of the joy of the season. The background music is delightful Christmas classics (and I don’t mean Rudolph or Frosty!) Clocks in the scene depicted keep perfect time, for they pull from your own computer. The scene at night is especially beautiful because it is synchronized with day and night at your location. The web site has instructions for adapting the calendar for use on something other than your desktop. This is the absolute pinnacle of computer graphic artistry. I get a great sense of peace and the spirit of the season watching it, not to mention a bunch of chuckles! It reaches out to the child in each of us adults, who may need it more than the children do, at the darkest time of year.
Don’t miss another day (although you can go back to earlier days, not forward before the day has arrived). Send for your own, and share with your children and grandchildren. You have your choice of a beautiful new European market scene or last year’s Edwardian mansion (think Downton Abbey, updated a bit for the new season). There are small samples for you to watch before you decide. If you are nervous about downloads, my brother the computer geek first introduced me to Jacquie Lawson several years ago, and she is very trustworthy. New Thought, remember, is all about love, joy, peace, and beauty. There’s plenty of it here.
December 9, 2014
A Special Person
The other day I was shopping for a card for a relative who has a birthday five days before Christmas. For such people, it is really important to differentiate the birthday from Christmas and not try to get away with sending one card or gift for both. This means not using a Christmas stamp and using non-Christmassy colors. But I digress (already!) Here is a person who deserves to be treated as an individual with his own birthday and not lumped in with another festival. Yes, he’s special. But to the greeting card industry, EVERYBODY is special: a special boy, a special girl, a special grandmother, a special first cousin once removed, a special dog, a special upstairs maid. When have you ever seen a card designed for an ordinary person, average in every way, thoroughly boring? In the immortal words of W. S. Gilbert, "When every one is somebodee, Then no one’s anybody!" Cue the "Fanfare for the Common Man".
On the other hand, just to play devil’s advocate, even identical twins are not fully identical. Much has been made about the differences in fingerprints, and a God who could arrange for every snowflake to be different surely would have no difficulty differentiating his children. Each of us is unique, even though for various purposes our commonalities get pointed out. Life would get awfully complicated if we were each totally different, for absolutely everything would have to be custom made.
What really triggered all this wasn’t the birthday card; it was a recent updating of my background in personality types. In the mid-twentieth century a layman, Isabel Briggs Myers, aided by her mother, Katharine Briggs, a psychologist, picked up on some ideas of Carl Jung and developed them into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an instrument for determining personality types. This became wildly popular because of its usefulness in helping people understand their co-workers, family members, and anyone else they were interacting with. Myers also wrote a book about her work, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type, the name coming from Romans 12: 4-8.
Many years ago, I was introduced to the MBTI and took it. But what I found most interesting was a workshop I attended shortly thereafter, in which an experienced Myers-Briggs administrator explained that she always began by explaining the parameters to her clients and asking them to determine what they thought their type was, then administered the inventory. In ten years, only two people differed from the inventory. One had a psychotic break shortly thereafter, and the other had an equally understandable explanation. I bought a couple of books on the subject, which I read with great enjoyment but still couldn’t really size people up as to their type. Until recently, I didn’t pursue the subject, but then, wanting to understand a particular individual, I sent for several additional books. They were all interesting, especially Gifts Differing, but the one that was the most useful was the second volume of David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me, written many years after the first volume, which I already owned. All that time, Keirsey had continued to research the subject, extending and expanding the work of Myers.
The reason that this personality typing is so useful is that even the things that divide us can actually help us. Our ingenious Creator has made us in such a way that one person’s weaknesses are another person’s strengths. Some of us are comparatively common in type, because society needs more people with those particular skills. Others are quite rare, because there aren’t so many needed. For balance in teams (business or sports), not to mention marriages, we almost always need opposites, or at least types that have some differences. It’s not so much that we lean on each other to do the things that we don’t do as well, as that we shine at our specialties. The more we learn about this stuff, the better we understand the "problem personalities", and the less problematic they seem. Actually, the less problematic they become, because they feel our appreciation of them and their gifts. We are better able to communicate with each other.
The final joke is that the farther you get into the details of this stuff, the more you understand that nobody is going to have all the qualities listed for an SJ or an SP, an NT or an NF, or their newer names of Guardian, Artisan, Rationalist, or Idealist. People are going to vary in their degree of introversion or extraversion, and they are going to change over time and in different situations. With all this great scientific research, we are each still unique. And just about any team or pairing can be made to work, if the people care deeply enough. It looks as if understanding is a form of love.
Oh, you were wondering what my Myers-Briggs type is? It’s INTJ, which represents about one percent of the population. Of that one percent, the vast majority are males. This makes me a rara avis, which sounds a lot nicer than side-show freak. We are very good at digging things out of books.
December 16, 2014
A Process Christmas?
I know that some of you have been waiting with bated breath to hear the details of a process approach to Christmas. Process people come from all over the place, and although the process taproot is Christian (Whitehead and Hartshorne were both the sons of Anglican clergymen), process thought, like New Thought, is "open at the top".
Once you scrape off the mythical accretions at least temporarily, for research purposes, you have the Hebrew tradition with Christianity as its fulfillment, the cherry on the sundae, as it were. You can also probably find commonalities with Buddhism ("once candle lighting another") and Islam (Mohammed was an admirer of Jesus, at least). The biggest commonality is the celebration of the winter solstice (or call it summer and celebrate that in the Southern Hemisphere). The darkest time of year is when light comes into the world anew, and what better time to celebrate the fulfillment of all the Hebrew Messianic prophecies! Easter comes later; for now, we are concentrating our attention on God’s inserting himself into human history more overtly than before (he was always there; "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit"). This is traditionally referred to as the Incarnation (fine, but process people would say that God is inserting himself into human history with every occasion of experience, and NLP people would say that they have micromanaged themselves by chunking clear down to the lug-nuts level and below). Love is the glue that holds the universe together. And process thought is the metaphysical approach broad enough to encompass all the recent findings of philosophy and science, holding on to as much of these spiritual traditions as it makes common sense to do. I have said it before and I say it again: when the angel choirs have ascended back into heaven and the sky is again dark, you are still living in a physical world, and you need to take that into account, even if that is not all the things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy. Like mathematics, which Norbert Wiener saw as a universal language for uniting all the academic disciplines, process thought weaves faiths and philosophies together as much as possible in a world inhabited by fallible human beings who are still growing and changing.
So let’s put back at least the best of the mythical accretions and enjoy ourselves. The peace and joy that accompany the celebration of the birth of a nice Jewish boy named Jesus, the stories and plays and gifts given in love, the return to home and family and tradition, all enhance our spirituality. I have known people from non-Christian, non-Jewish Eastern religions who would put a simple red bow on their front door just to show their support of the celebration that the rest of their neighborhood was having. Red is quite often considered a good-luck color in Eastern beliefs. I have known Christians who send Christmas cards to their Jewish friends and Jews who send Christmas cards to their Christian friends, and vice versa. In so doing, nobody is out proselytizing (a good ten-dollar word that essentially means sheep-stealing); we are just all trying to keep the party going. People draw their lines in different places: maybe you don’t need to have a Hanukkah bush or a Christmas menorah. If "Happy holidays" weren’t an attempt to abolish Christianity and Judaism, it might be a very useful greeting at this time of year to wish others joy in whatever they are celebrating. However, it’s very important that we assert our freedom of speech to say "Merry Christmas" in defiance of those who consider it politically incorrect, meaning that they don’t like it.
What, then, does a process Christmas look like? It reflects the richest and most satisfying traditions of whatever background the individual process thinker comes from. It helps generate love, joy, and peace. It reflects abundance and giving from the overplus. It involves thought and quiet times, giving thanks and praise to God and listening for God’s guidance. It may include anything from banquets to picnics, depending on people’s preferences. It involves a wonderful balance of order and chaos, tradition and novelty. It represents all-sufficiency, not wretched excess. It is meaningful to those celebrating it. It is a refreshing change and renewal in contrast to life as usual. And if you don’t have traditions, explore those of others and adopt the ones that you find most uplifting and satisfying. Jews frequently fill in for Christians on duty rosters during the Christmas holidays, and the Christians reciprocate on the Jewish holidays. A Jewish lady who was very close to our family once explained to us that Christmas Eve was the time that most Jews went out for Chinese food. Nothing wrong with that! One year she joined us for Christmas Eve dinner and various family traditions, and it absolutely blew her away. She was surprised and delighted to learn how meaningful all these things were to us.
So there you have it: a process Christmas. All it is, is remembering that process is shorthand for process-relational. It’s all about how we relate to—and are interconnected with—each other and everything else in the universe.
December 23, 2014
Here I sit in the Florida sunshine experiencing the countdown to Christmas in 75-degree weather and loving it. I don’t need Santa in his Hawaiian bathing trunks or even a Florida snowman: a puddle of water with a hat and pipe floating in it, nor do I need snow or even mistletoe (unless it comes with someone cute of the opposite sex holding it over my head!). It’s Christmas because we say it is, not because of the weather. People celebrate the birth of Jesus with his message of love and a loving Father in whatever way they enjoy. It involves peace and beauty of whatever sort is available in whatever weather conditions are occurring. The main point of the story of the Grinch is that he was unable to stop Christmas from coming, no matter what he took away.
One very delightful Christmas story comes from Laura Ingalls Wilder, in Little House on the Prairie. Mrs. Wilder did say that she hadn’t realized that she was writing history, but I suspect that this particular incident was pretty factual. The family had just moved to Indian territory, and the little girls were concerned that Santa Claus would not be able to find them there. It was cold and windy, but the big concern was flooding rather than snow. They did have a big turkey, and their mother suggested that they hang up stockings "just in case". They awakened in the middle of the night when the dog growled at a knock on the door. It was their bachelor neighbor, just back from town, teeth chattering, shivering with cold. He had swum the rain-swollen creek with his clothes on his back in order to keep dry the Christmas presents he had for them. He told them (complete with corroborative detail!) all about how he had run into Santa Claus and his pack mule (can’t use a sleigh with no snow or get the mule across a flooding creek) in town and agreed to deliver the presents from Santa to the little girls. They each had a new tin cup, a stick of peppermint candy, a heart-shaped cake, and a shiny new penny. Mr. Edwards also brought sweet potatoes that he had had in his pockets to balance the load, just what was needed to go with the turkey dinner. A happy Christmas indeed! This story is retold in Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book, from the Philosopher’s library.
Christmas, is all about the attitude of gratitude in times of abundance, and all about expectation of good times to come, giving thanks in advance in times of austerity. The Bible is full of stories of people who used what they had on hand to create sufficiency. Our loving Father wants to give us good things, but we have to supply the mental state that can attract them. It’s an inside job. The other side of the coin is overabundance, excess, too much, a bellyache—or worse—from too much indulgence. A living room strewn with so many presents and wrappings that one can hardly keep track of them does not really lead to joy. Think back: aren’t your happiest Christmas memories about the time you received one or two very special presents and your great pleasure in playing with them or putting them to use? "You can have anything you want, but you cannot have everything you want" is a lesson to be learned and applied year-round. We have the power to choose, to be selective; and we need to use it.
Certainly Christmas is all about giving gifts in love, beginning with the shepherds and the magi, not to mention the angels with their gift of heavenly song. Since we are presently in material bodies, these gifts will often be material things. Sometimes, though, the greatest gifts can be intangibles such as attention, a helping hand where needed, praise, or thanks. Sometimes being together as a family can be the greatest gift of all, especially when there has been separation of some sort.
Finally, there are times when Christmas traditions must change, either because loved ones have made their transition or because living conditions have changed from a move or otherwise. My family had a tradition of identifying Christmas stockings by means of a shiny glass bauble with the person’s name in white paint sprinkled with glitter, placed on the mantel over the stocking. When the person had made transition or was otherwise not in the picture, we smashed the named bauble with a hammer and used the resulting colored glitter over white paint to decorate a tree branch for the center of the dining room table. It reminded us all in a beautiful way that life goes on, and so does joy and the love of God.
May your Christmas be merry and bright, whether it has your familiar traditions or supplies you with new ones that may become beloved memories as well.
December 30, 2014
It’s Still Christmas!
My Christmas was very peaceful and quiet this year. I enjoyed our large collection of Christmas cds, mostly classical English church music, but also wonderful orchestral versions of the beloved carols. I hung up my collection of Christmas cards, many with notes from people wishing me well or telling of their joys. Relatives sent goodies enough for a disgraceful but delightful pig-out; then it was back to discipline. Our weather was beautifully mild, so I spent a lot of time on the lanai, reading a couple of new books on Gilbert and Sullivan and on personality typing. At dusk, I turned on my simple Christmas lights on the shrubbery out front and on my little live tree, positioned in front of the sliders overlooking the lanai and the pond. It is always pleasant to add light to the neighborhood for the holidays and enjoy everyone else’s light contributions. Portions of my family checked in by telephone, and judging by the decibel level, a good time was clearly being had by all! Although your Christmases may have been quite different, I hope they were equally enjoyable.
But it’s important to note that in the good old days, there was a Christmas octave, a full eight days—or even twelve days—of celebration. They didn’t begin on December 1, so they weren’t quite as tired of the whole thing as some of us may have gotten. Perhaps we taper off on the Christmas carols somewhat, or burn the lights a little less, but we are still in celebration mode even as it spills over into New Year’s Eve. The stores are full of sparkly silly headgear and noisemakers, and there will doubtless be various celebrations, both in private and in public, with the ball dropping or whatever—so I’m told. For many years, we have just gone to bed early, since the Philosopher always preferred quiet, intimate celebrations. Then there is the Rose Parade and other special programming on New Year’s Day.
After New Year’s, customs vary. Some people have to get back to somewhere else and so must take the tree down and put the lights away. The tradition was to leave everything up until Twelfth Night, January 6, the day the Three Kings were supposed to have arrived with their gifts for the Christ Child. Some people only add the figures of the Kings to the manger scene on that day. Some towns celebrate Twelfth Night by holding a big bonfire for burning the non-live Christmas trees. This is not only fun and festive, but removes the fire hazard of having all those dead trees around. Other possibilities include chopping the trees up instead of burning them, putting them to use as shelters for wildlife and such.
All this prolongs the Christmas celebration in a way that lets it sink into our bones a bit. We have varied our usual routines and turned our attention to the birth of love into the world and the fulfillment of the Messianic promises. We in New Thought have long had far greater freedom than most other religions to worship as we wish. We also have been blessed with examples of how to shepherd our thoughts into the direction that we really want them to go, so that they may attract to us our heart’s desire. Now, with the addition of process thought, or process-relational thought, to New Thought to create Process New Thought, we have the added benefit of becoming aware of our relationship, our interconnection, with everyone and everything else, especially God. This is the real purpose of Christmas: to turn our attention again to our relationship with God, who keeps pointing out the way back home to us when we stray from the path. Our God is a God of second chances and third chances and seventy times seven chances to get it right, and the sooner we do, the more fun we get to have, because life goes so much better for us when we play by the rules for what works. This was the message that Jesus came to teach, and this is what we can model for our children, our spouses, and our friends and associates. It’s a message of love, joy, and peace. The lights and bells and presents and candles and carols just help set the mood, for we associate them with the love, joy, and peace that we feel. And if this year things were not altogether what we had hoped for, God’s delays are not God’s denials. Meanwhile, let us steep ourselves in such beauty and peace as we can find. It may take a while longer to pull things together, but by next Christmas, things may look very much brighter, and won’t that be an occasion to rejoice!