The Radical Assertion of Difference: God, Fiction, Other Things

Posted: August 16, 2012 in Braak, crotchety ranting, crushing genius
Tags: , ,

So, this is very exciting, I’ve got myself going so I guess I should just keep at it. Let’s say, FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT, that the “Ego” isn’t a thing, exactly, but is better understood as a verb. That sense of self that you and I have, that’s actually our individual, mechanical brains, actively asserting a difference between certain parts of our brain functions. In my last piece on this, at the very end, I wondered if we were just confined to two categories (let’s say C1 “Stuff that is Me” and C2 “Stuff that isn’t”), or maybe if there are more.

Well, and let’s say also that obviously there ARE more, there are bunches and bunches of subsets of things, because obviously in the C2 category, we don’t automatically think that birds and squirrels are the same thing, obviously our brains have the capacity to assert that some things are birds and some things are squirrels (a key difference here, though, is that the C2 categories are, or at least may be, actual things, but the Ego isn’t a THING, it’s the process of putting things into C1).

Let me diverge for a moment. A long time ago, Carl once said that he sometimes has feelings that manifestly do not come from himself, and which sensations he attributes to God. Now, I believe that Carl said this, but I don’t remember exactly WHERE he said it, and Carl has said a lot of things on this blog and so I can’t really find it now. Nevermind. It doesn’t even matter if Carl believes it, I’m sure someone believes it, I’m using it as an example.

I think this is a pretty kind of wild idea, and not just because I’m not a believer and I think that almost all ideas having to do with God are pretty wild. Even granting the existence of a God that is capable of and interested in sending you thoughts or feelings or what have you, how can you tell the difference between a thought that you had and a thought that came from God? I mean, unless you saw like, a glowing bird fly down from the sky and enter into your body and then suddenly you had the thought, sure, that’s pretty reasonable. But if you suddenly just have a thought that you’ve never had before, and that seems different from all your other thoughts, why do you assume it comes from outside, rather than assuming that inside is more complicated than you’d previously imagined?

I think it’s pretty clear where I’m going with this, but I’m instead going to diverge again and see if I can bring these ideas together. So, let’s talk briefly about the Conversion Experience. I read about a dude’s conversion experience once, he said he was sitting in a dentist’s office and then suddenly he had something like a stroke and he imagined he heard God’s voice telling him stuff, and God continues to speak to him and (I think) tells him to oppose gay marriage. (It doesn’t really matter, for the purposes of this argument.)

So, let’s say that you’re brain has been practicing the Radical Assertion of Difference over and over every day for your entire life, and it has gotten really good at figuring out which things belong in C1 and which things belong in C2. And then one day something comes along that just throws your brain for a loop — for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s something like a temporal lobe seizure that maybe also gets tangled up with your auditory processes. Suddenly the brain functions: “This Feels Meaningful” and “There is a Mind Nearby” and “I’m Listening to a Voice”, they all go off at once, and this particular combination has never happened before, so the Assertion doesn’t know what to do with it.

It’s clearly coming from inside the head, not following any of the standard channels for C2. And C1 is so neatly partitioned, clearly this new stuff doesn’t go there. Well, maybe what happens is that there is a second Assertion, the Assertion of an additional personality, that once established, the Assertion keeps attributing stuff to it.

Maybe also a person who practiced, since young days, attributing certain experiences or feelings to something other than the C1 or C2 categories, who added a C3 category that was for a particular type of sensory data or cognitive action, might also end up with a notion that a thing can occur within the mind, but its source can be attributed somewhere else (it is, after all, manifestly not being Asserted into the Me Category).

Well, that’s all well and good. I’m not saying, incidentally, that I think this is bad. I think it’s probably a pretty good thing to do, all things considered. Socrates imagined that he had a Daimon, a sort of contentious version of himself that he would argue with, and a lot of people feel, in a way, disassociated from their consciences. The history of magical and shamanic practice has often included a kind of communion with a totemic spirit, and what I am saying is that maybe it’s a pretty healthy thing to do but what I am ALSO say is: maybe you can make one on purpose.

Grant Morrison obviously thinks that you can, though he’s got a broader, pantheonic notion of Theurgy I think, and I’m not actually specifically talking about conceiving of aspects of the world as being personalized. What I am saying is that what if you could, through habituated ritual, begin to establish certain functions of your mind into a C3 category — like, what if you could actively, purposefully, and mindfully Assert some of the things in C1 into this new category, and build a…well, I guess a second Ego inside your head.

If you did it right maybe you’d create an Ego that was both critical of you when you did bad things, but was loving towards you constantly nonetheless, and in this way you’d have a sort of clear model that isn’t just an example but, for all intents and purposes, a real, living psychic entity that is clarified — goodness distilled from the muddiness of the ad-hoc Ego, which was mostly just your brain taking guesses at what belonged where, anyway.

There is some evidence that Theists tend to think of God not just as an actual person, but in the same way that they think about other people — that the treatment of the entity of God isn’t an abstract belief, but a concrete experience of a second entity.

  1. Moff says:

    Have you read Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind? I have not, except for a bit at the beginning, but I think it’s relevant to what you’re working on here. (Snow Crash also touches on it.)

  2. braak says:

    I have not, I am just making this up as I go along. I have a bit about fictional characters that I meant to do with this one, too, but it will have to be a separate post.

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