It’s hard to imagine something more fundamentally human than self-experience. But as it happens, we’ve been doing self-experience wrong. Not entirely wrong, of course, but quite a bit.
Now, when I say “wrong,” that’s not just a personal opinion; I’m basing it upon a system analysis: examining the fundamental parts/factors involved and how they interact with each other. “Right,” within such an analysis, would be a condition in which the various parts were interacting smoothly. “Wrong” would be where the various factors were working against one another.
And so, as you’ll see, we have been doing it wrong. But you’ll also see how we can do it right.
As we go, I’ll be defining and analyzing the operations of human consciousness. But I’m also going to add something else, and that will be passages from Jesus of Nazareth. I’m doing that for two reasons:
I want to illustrate just how well they line up with the conclusions of this system analysis.
Because Jesus lies (or used to lie) near the center of Western civilization, the most productive civilization humanity has ever known, and one I’m not willing to abandon until a better alternative appears.
Bear in mind, however, that when I refer to Jesus, I am doing so very precisely: I’ll be showing you what Jesus taught, not what Christianity teaches. As I’ve noted many places recently1, there is a great divergence between those two, and I greatly prefer Jesus to Christian belief and practice.
What we’ll be finding, in the end, is a new model of experiencing ourselves. This new model isn’t foreign to us, of course; we’ve all experienced it. But it’s a way of being that most people have grasped only fleetingly or partially.
By identifying the components of human operation and by defining how and why they operate together, we help ourselves past the mental inertia of doing things the same as we always have. Knowledge of how and why ferries us across the fear of self-condemnation. (We’ve always done it that way. By changing we’re admitting we were wrong!)
Such barriers are foolish, of course, but humanity at present is beset by such foolishness and if analysis helps us across, then analysis we shall do.
Our Lens of Perception
I’ll begin with our model of seeing the world. Since such models – such assumptions – tend to color our thinking, they are a necessary first consideration. And the fact is that nearly all of us have learned to see the world as a very mechanical thing.
This mechanical view took hold in the Enlightenment period, especially following the spread of Newton’s mathematic model of the universe2. This was a tremendous development, of course, and one that has blessed mankind in many ways, but it also spawned something of a universal view that everything was basically mechanical and ought to be mechanical.
The mechanical view is wonderful for science, machines and analysis. It has brought us tremendous advances. So, I am not saying that the mechanical model is bad. Rather, I’m saying that the mechanical model is not all. And what I’m saying in particular is that the mechanical model is a poor one for us.
Humans are not machines, we are organisms. We are not one system, but a plethora of interacting systems. We grow, we change, we adapt and evolve… and we should do all these things. And so an environment that supports growth and change allows humans to function most effectively and harmoniously.
And this organic model of development is precisely what Jesus prescribed:
This better way (“the kingdom of heaven”) comes like a man casting seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
To what will we compare the kingdom of God (the way of the higher realm)? Or in what parable will we put it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed. When it’s sown it is the smallest of seeds, it grows, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the air can lodge under its shadow.
According to Jesus, the better way… the path of positive human development… is sown into the world. He talks incessantly of seeds, planting and bearing fruit. And as we proceed, we’ll see precisely why that model is better for us.
The organic model is a model of growth (and decline) while the mechanical model is a model of steady operation (or failure):
Bodies grow, develop, and then slowly decay.
Machines are built, operate steadily and then break rapidly.
These models are different, and it would be no surprise that operating an organism under a regimen of mechanical principles would cause problems.
The humans of our era have been trained since early youth to judge themselves by external standards, which is very mechanical. “Obey the law” is binary: on/off, good/bad, allow/punish, and so on. This is a machine model; not bad of itself, but bad for an organism.
Organisms exist as multiple interacting systems – conscious, unconscious, respiratory, immune, reproductive, and so on at length – all functioning both separately and in concert. If there is any single operating model for an organism, it is homeostasis, the continual balancing of systems for the overall good of the organism.
As a first example of mechanical ways being harmful to us, consider that rules require our minds to fight themselves. We all know that to keep rules we must force ourselves. Put simply:
Not doing something because it’s stupid, would be a natural process.
Not doing it because of fear, forces us to act against ourselves.
By forcing ourselves to “do the rule” we fight against ourselves, which subtly leads us to philosophies of human depravity. That is to say, the keeping of rules involves us subduing our inner selves, which also leads us toward the belief that those inner selves are fundamentally bad.
Furthermore, the adoption of rules first requires an injury. This injury generally involves an application of fear, but in many types and shades, running from confusion, through intimidation, the assumption of deficiency, and ultimately the application of pain.
Fearing exposure to shame and ridicule (for judging wrongly), we adopt rules to save us from the risks caused by thinking. Then, if we make a mistake, it will be the rule that was wrong, not us.
Fearing the wrath of a violence-backed authority, we conform to the edict or dogma.
Fearing overwork and/or punishment, we comply with the rule as an energy-saving maneuver.
In all of these cases, and many others like them, forcing ourselves to follow the rule… to follow the mechanical model… we alter our organic operations. That is, we stop them from balancing as they were, and force them to rebalance in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. Being that we are remarkably adaptive beings we can survive this, but we will always be diminished by it. Said differently, this will always inject entropy into our operations, making it that much harder to function as we would otherwise.
Seen from a meta view, we see the failure of the mechanical model:
Humans have been assiduously pursuing improvement via rules for thousands of years. We should all be saints by now, but we’re not.
Where rules have succeeded is in controlling and regimenting humans. All men and women of sufficient capacity discover that regimentation is a blight upon the race, but this is clearly where rules excel.
Again taking a meta view, we notice that people especially devoted to the mechanical model end up detesting human nature. This is something that Eric Hoffer noted in The Ordeal of Change:
There is an element of misanthropy in all determinists. To all of them man as he really is is a nuisance, and they strive to prove by various means that there is no such thing as human nature.
That is, people emotionally tied to rules and the binary/mechanical model are frustrated by the organic nature of humans and end up with malevolence toward them.
Furthermore, rules are unable to deliver moral clarity. First, they inevitably lead to complexity: Any set of rules large enough to address human action will be too large to be known and understood. Secondly, all large sets of rules must leave gaps or contradict themselves. This is a result of what mathematician Kurt Gödel described in his incompleteness theorems, and they apply directly to rulesets.
All of us, I hope, have felt moral clarity at least a certain number of memorable times. Knowing for sure that we’re right is healthful to us, and so we have suffered considerable damage by being deprived of it.
Again from the meta view, but looking in the other direction, we see that the organic model spawns the best human characteristics. Here, briefly, are some passages from the work of Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who studied the healthiest people he could find:
I can certainly say that descriptively healthy human beings do not like to be controlled.
Self-actualizing people, in other words, seem to do what they do for the sake of ultimate, final values.
The organism has more tendency toward choosing health, growth, biological success than we would have thought a century ago. This is in general anti-authoritarian, anti-controlling.
The more evolved and psychologically healthy people get… the more handicapped will be an enterprise with an authoritarian policy.
Human beings seem to be far more autonomous and self-governed than modern psychological theory allows for.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here.
Man As The Primary Rather Than The Derivative
Through all of our lives and for many generations before us, the organic human model has been placed in a secondary or derivative position, beneath a mechanical model. Above I’ve given you reasons to believe this is less than ideal.
The alternative model, however, is frighteningly radical when seen from within the current social order. Good analysis, however, takes us out of that milieu and allows us to view the world separately from our fears and conditioning. And so we will consider the human consciousness as a primary rather than a secondary object. We’ll also consider the likelihood of it yielding better results.
And as it happens, this is precisely what Jesus taught. As we noted back in FMP #44, he placed human consciousness in the top position, not the subservient position:
Jesus did a fundamentally new thing; something that the world hasn’t remotely caught up with: He defined an entirely new way of judging right and wrong. And he did this by placing human consciousness and its natural operations as the essential component, dethroning rules.
Again I’ll pass over a great deal and merely note a few of the surprisingly many passages where he teaches this model:
Whatever you would have men do unto you, do so to them.
With whatever judgment you judge, you shall be judged.
By your words you will be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.
None of these are rules operations; all are self-reference operations. Also interesting is the passage, “First cleanse the inside of the cup, that the outside may also become clean.” In other words, we get clean because of internals, not because of externals.
And this recognition of man as fitting for primacy is something that others have noticed. Here, for example, is a passage from Buckminster Fuller, quoted in An Autobiographical Monologue:
I decided… that man was, in fact, designed to be an extraordinary success. His characteristics were magnificent; what he needed was to discover the comprehensive patterns operating in the universe.
What Is Man?
Analyzing this human consciousness, of course, implies that we can define what it is. And the fact being that humans are organisms with multiple systems operating simultaneously, and sometimes at somewhat cross-purposes, no single definition fits. Organisms are not just one thing, or even a dozen things. We are complex systems, and so, instead, we must look at the outputs of those systems.
I explain human fundamentals beginning with life itself:
All inanimate things are entropic. Eventually they all wind down and wear out.
Living things reverse entropy. A fruit tree, for example, takes in gasses from our atmosphere, light from the sun, minerals and water from the ground. Then it organizes, concentrates, and harmonizes them… and produces fruit. This is perhaps the central characteristic of life.
Plants and animals reverse entropy in defined channels. Each is able to reverse entropy in certain preprogrammed ways, but not in others.
Humans can reverse entropy willfully. We choose how we will reverse entropy, and we do so almost infinitely. Or, we can evade such choices.
Humans, then, are inherently creative beings. We cannot create matter out of nothing, but we can mold it to an infinite number and variety of uses. We are the fountains of new and beneficial action in the universe.
Human life, then, is a cardinal value in the universe, making the restraint of human life a cardinal offense.
And there is more: Humans have tremendous information-processing abilities, able to take in dozens of inputs, to search through amazingly rich databases, and to process any proposed conclusion through a near-perfect morality mechanism3.
To sum this up, humans are inherently creative beings, massively capable beings and innately moral beings. That some percentage of humans deviate or use their abilities badly cannot change what the vast majority of us are. To turn away from this would be the height of foolishness.
In the current, fear-infused milieu, however, this is opposed, as Eric Hoffer noted:
How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization!
Still, analysis bypasses fear, and we can too.
And Jesus taught the same:
Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not to be put on a stand? Let your light so shine before men. (We are the lamp.)
The kingdom of God is within you. (Already.)
Will: The Incarnator of Life
All healthy humans possess will. That is, we have the ability to choose and to hold to our choices. Furthermore, the creativity we noted above functions by will. Our bodies reverse entropy in certain preprogrammed ways, but our wills are able to function far beyond those limits.
By willing and acting, moreover, we reprogram ourselves and create our future selves.
Our special abilities are controlled by our will. Men’s wills, therefore, should be protected more diligently than men’s bodies. Freedom of conscience is more important than even its advocates have believed.
Furthermore, creating tends to draw all our systems into harmonious operation. This scientific analog to this statement was expressed by biophysicist Harold Morowitz:
The flow of energy through a system acts to organize that system.
In the moral realm we see the same thing. Here’s how I described it in The Breaking Dawn:
… the feeling we experienced when we used our own wills to do things that we knew were good: when we had gone against the grain to defend people under attack, when we helped the abandoned deserving, or when we forgave sincerely. We knew the euphoric satisfaction we gained from those experiences, but we hadn’t realized that they were the actual integration of life into the world… the insertion of life into the universe by the action of our individual wills.
The Hidden Filtering System
I’ll begin with two fundamental statements. While I don’t doubt that in a few centuries people will be able to improve upon them, they are basically true and of considerable importance:
The things we assume to be true constitute our deep beliefs. As such, they both direct and limit our thoughts.
The things we expect focus our imaginations and direct our channels of thought.
Our deepest expectations and our deepest assumptions form a kind of crucible in which our decisions are formed. That is to say:
Our thoughts are formed in the crucible of our assumptions, expectations, and pre-set patterns. In this way they are continuously shaped and colored.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of seeking out and managing our assumptions and expectations. These things color our inner worlds. Productive assumptions and expectations bless us all our days. Bad ones punish us all our days.
The question, then, is whether noticing, grasping and modifying these things can be better done under the mechanical model or under the organic model.
Under the organic model, seeking, finding and updating assumptions and expectations can prove difficult, but it remains a valid and unobstructed operation.
Under the mechanical model, assumptions and expectations sit below rules and below obedience/defiance operations. Thus they are some distance away from primary consideration… which is why we so seldom consider them.
So again we see the organic model as the more helpful.
And Jesus, taught, “According to your expectation, it happens to you,” making the same point4.
By this point the result of our analysis is clear, that the organic model would be better for us. Still, we need to consider general counter-arguments. Those arguments usually follow the concept that “A complex system can fail in an infinite number of ways,” which is more or less true.
An organic system, however, even though complex, is forever balancing. When failure appears in such a system, every part is free to adapt, and if healthy does adapt. Organisms continually adapt to breaks, sags and stresses; they are built for continual failures.
Another systems aphorism is, “any successful large system is built from successful smaller systems,” which is also generally true. But again, the systems we’re talking about arise from many directions and in many precursor forms, such as biological homeostasis and unrestricted speech.
So, our model passes its tests quite well. But we can never forget that this model allows for imperfections. It will never produce the pristine order of a finely tuned engine, for example.
For growing things there is no ultimate and final state… there is only growth and improvement or decline and death. Perfection is a mechanical concept, and doesn’t properly apply to organic models.
And because our model has no perfection state, it also has no inherent limit of operation. That means we don’t know how good we can get.
Living The New Model
Now, with our basic analysis completed, I’m going to tell you what I understand about living according to the new model:
Self-acceptance and revaluation.
Conceiving of ourselves as organic, we escape the “perfection” that is imagined under the mechanical model, and thereby escape the deficit mentality that has punished so many of us.
When we notice conflicts within ourselves, we’ll be able to laugh at them, then to address then. And we won’t judge ourselves as flawed, deficient, or bad because of them. In other words, we’ll be kind to ourselves. Instead of seeing our problems as errors, sins or even damage, we’ll see them as developmental voids, which also makes them easier to address.
Very importantly, we’ll be able to focus on our assets rather than our liabilities. Under mechanical and status models, most of us feel inferior and uncertain most of the time. We neurotically compare ourselves to others and especially to anyone who is smarter, richer, taller, prettier and so on. The crucial fact is this one:
Most people spend their days thinking about what they are not, rather than what they are.
Needless to say, that makes for inefficient and self-sabotaging operations. Under the new model, I am convinced, we’ll consider our abilities at least as much as we do our lacks. We’ll improve and refine ourselves, even when we choose honestly but wrongly. We will progressively clarify our experience of ourselves.
“Come unto me,” said Jesus, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. You shall find rest to your souls.”
A New Moral Organization
Earlier we quoted a biophysicist saying that the flow of energy through a system acts to organize that system. In our case, the flow of creative energy through our new model will reorganize our conceptions of ethics and morality.
Our understanding in this area is still partial, but an early 20th century philosopher named Nikolai Berdyaev did important work on the concept. Here’s a passage from his book, The Ethics of Creativity:
Creativeness in all its aspects… testifies to the presence in man of a certain principle which may be the source of a system of morality different from the ethics of law and the ethics of redemption. It is therefore inevitable that we should pass to the ethics of creativeness, which deals with man’s true vocation and destiny.
However imperfectly Berdyaev understood this or we understand it now, I think there’s something terribly important here. And this goes right along with things we’ve already noted in this issue, such as,
Positive human development is sown into the world.
Self-actualizing people do what they do for the sake of ultimate, final values.
Man is a primary, not a derivative.
Clean the inside and the outside will also become clean.
Humans are inherently creative and moral beings.
And here are two more lines from Berdyaev:
The creative act is an escape from time; it is performed in the realm of freedom, not of necessity.
Beauty is the image of creative energy radiating over the whole world and transforming it.
I think these ideas are worth returning to every so often. As time goes on, they may help us understand ourselves more clearly.
And again we have Jesus:
No man sews a piece of new cloth into an old garment, because that new cloth will shrink and pull away from the garment, and the tear will become worse. Neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins, or else the skins will burst, the wine will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Men put new wine into new wine-skins, and both are preserved.
What he says here, in other words, is “I am initiating something entirely new and incompatible with the previous way.” And a morality grounded in something other than external edicts – on a fundamentally different principle – is clearly new and different.
Cleansing And Clarifying Assumptions
As noted above, our assumptions about the world and ourselves are terribly powerful, either helping or hindering us all our lives. And it happens that we train ourselves in these assumptions with the stories we tell ourselves, as well as the actions that spring from them.
The most powerful of these assumptions is that of love, which I define as a hunger to bless5. This desire to bless acts directly upon the human core, upgrading it naturally. This is so because love carries within itself the most potent of self-assumptions:
The desire to bless assumes that you are able to bless.
Assumptions, as it appears, are the direct path to our core, and either set walls around the center of our consciousness and abilities, or else draw upon it.. The old Greeks called this center of consciousness the nous, others term it a divine seed within us, but however we see it, our deep beliefs – our assumptions and expectations – function as a doorway to the center of our consciousness.
Cleansing and clarifying our assumptions and expectations, then, is of tremendous importance. I’m not entirely certain of the best ways to do it, but I am sure that active human will is fundamental. By willing and acting, we revise our deep beliefs. An old faith saying was, “If you don’t act on it, you don’t believe it.” I think it runs the other way at least as well: By acting on it, we come to believe it.
Passion is a wonderful thing… an empowering and magical thing. And regardless of beliefs to the contrary, we don’t have enough real passion in the world. I’m not talking about exploding instincts or raw sexual impulses, mind you; I’m talking about something that drives us higher and farther than we’ve ever been… the root of vision and determination, forged in wonder and awe. I’ve long loved two passages from G.K. Chesterton in this regard:
Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a trip to the end of the world.
None of the strong men in strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency.
The great adversary of passion, as we might glean from the 20th century, is less apathy and more vicarious experiencing.
Jesus maintained that he “came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” I think that involves passion.
The root problem with the present world is not that it’s so tragic (though sometimes it is), but that it’s so terribly dull. We are now in our dark ages, and most of us don’t belong here anymore.
We are made for magic and wonder. Our internal structures are built to create, to expand, to grow… to love and to save and to nurture and to discover. This is what we are by nature, and what we need now are conditions that help us grow into it.
It is important to understand that what has actually brought us forward have been things like the golden rule, beliefs in freedom of conscience, religious toleration, open learning, free speech and the dignity of man. These things opened space for growth and expansion, and it is precisely such things that fit into an organic model of human functions.
Our overarching chore for the next few decades is to carve out ways of life… ways of being… that support our new model.
I leave you with one more passage from Nikolai Berdyaev:
In every creative conception there is an element of primeval freedom, fathomless, undetermined by anything, not proceeding from God, but ascending toward God.
* * * * *
See you next month.
2 It wasn’t only Newton who developed this model. I am simplifying.
3 Please see FMP #79 on this point.
4 Matt. 9:29, literal translation.
5 What I’m referring to here is not “I’d love to have that car,” or “I made love to…”