My Inheritance, North and South

Inheritance is an odd thing.

We take on so much from others and from the world around us. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. We are just who we are. We think of ourselves as indidviduals with lives built up from choices we’ve made, but ultimately we are just a conglomeration of factors that came together in a unique way, none of the factors being what we can take credit for. We may have some choice in the arrangement, not necessarily much else.

I’ve thought about this in many ways. As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m a product of my environment, a result of the past. This life I was given certainly wasn’t of my own choosing, even if not to claim being a mere victim of circumstance. It’s more of an experience of being humbled by how immense and complex is the world. All of society (countries, ethnicities, communities, religions, families, etc) has been built up over centuries and millennia, shaped by the hands of forgotten generations of people.

The most obvious inheritance is that of genetics. Through genetics or other pathways, I’ve inherited all kinds of personality traits, cognitive patterns and behavioral tendencies. I’ve also inherited much from the culture around me, from being a part of Western civilization and specifically from being a descendant of immigrants from Northern Europe and the British Isles, from being a citizen of the United States which is a country that arose directly out of Enlightenment thinking, from having been brought up in the New Thought Christian Unity Church which itself came out of the Evangelical tradition during the Populist Era, from being born into Generation X as the Cold War was coming to an end, from being raised a Midwesterner right dab in the middle of the origin of Standard American English, from having spent many years of my formative youth and young adulthood in the South, etc.

There is, of course, an endless list of things I could add. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be if I changed even a single one of those factors.

Let me share more specific examples.

I have my mom’s scatterbrained mind with a certain kind of mental focus that has the potential for being nearly obsessive-compulsive. I have my dad’s intellectual curiosity and emotional sensitivity, of which he inherited from his parents; and apparently somewhat skipping a generation I manifest his mother’s spiritual sensibility and predisposition of laziness/efficiency along with shyness and a need for privacy/personal space, although my social awkwardness also seems to come from my mom. I have a large helping of depression and moodiness from both sides of my family. Sadly, I have a bit of an unforgiving nature and occasional interpersonal bluntness which goes along with the depression and moodiness of my mom’s family.

As for physcial attributes: I definitely have the features of my mom’s family, mostly seeming Germanic: large bones, big feet, long toes and fingers, thick hair, hazel eyes, bump on the ridge of my nose, and receding chin. But when younger I had features from my dad’s family (Steele) which seem more English such as straight, blonde hair, although oddly when really young I had eyes slanting in the way common with Asians.

For whatever reason, my mom’s genetics seem to be overall more pronounced in me. I do feel more of a connection with my mom’s family, partly just because I saw them more often growing up. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the Clouse family on my mom’s side. Her dad was definitely a patriarch and acted that way (her mother playing the submissive wife). He was an alcoholic which was probably his way of self-medicating depression. I can understand the self-medication part and I understand the addictive aspect of alcoholism, although alcohol has never been my preferred addiction.

I was particularly thinking about the Clouse tendency toward grudges that go on for years. I know I have some of this capacity as well and I’m not proud of it. It’s very sad the kind of impact it has had on my mom’s family. Her brothers and her dad were always fueding and sometimes refusing to speak to one another.

My mom’s dad didn’t even know the name of his grandparents and I suspect the reason for it wasn’t a happy incident. Interestingly, a lady on contacted me who is related on my mom’s side through two separate lines, Clouse and Edwards, which makes her both a third and fourth cousin of my mom on each of those lines. My maternal grandfather’s (Charles Eugene Clouse) grandfather was Charles E. Clouse who married Lucy Hawk. This person from is descended from James Clouse who was the uncle of Charles E. Clouse and who married Lula Hawk, Lucy’s sister.

(For anyone interested: The Clouse lineage descends from James Wesley Clouse of Kentucky and the Hawk lineage descends from Sampson Hawk of New Jersey. I figured both family lines were of German origin, but there are family rumors of Hawks having Indian blood and there is a photograph supposedly of Lula Hawk that could be interpreted as showing some Native American features. As for the Edwards lineage, this lady from and I share the same converging three lines. One descends from Hiram Edwards of Connerley Switch, Indiana whose father may have been from or at some time living in Kentucky. The other two descend through Thursie Mae Edwards of Indiana whose father was David B. Edwards of North Carolina and grandfather was Young Edwards of North Carolina and, on her mother’s side, whose grandmother’s mother was Susan Edwards of North Carolina, possibly descending from another David Edwards of North Carolina. Hiram Edwards’ son, Charles Lester Edwards, married Thursie Mae Edwards. The three Edwards lines then converged in their daughter, Inez Rosemary Edwards, who married Willie Clouse, the son of Charles E. Clouse. They also had another daughter, Jessie Ann Edwards, who is the person who is the ancestor of the lady. Thus, the Clouse and Edwards lines came together in at least two separate marriages just as did the Clouse and Hawk lines.)

This lady and I began corresponding about these links. I mentioned to her about my grandfather Clouse not knowing the names of his own grandparents and I told her about the Clouse inclination toward grudges. Her dad is a Clouse and she mentioned that her part of the Clouse family had the same inclination, her father not talking to his sister for years and not going to his sister’s funeral.

So, separate parts of the same family, unknown to one another in recent generations, manifested the same character trait. I’m sure at least some of it is genetics, but I doubt all of it is. I was wondering if it could be partly cultural. My mom’s family spent many generations in Hoosier Southern Indiana and before that many generations in Appalachia Kentucky. Their inclination toward grudges could be explained by the Southern culture of honor.

My mom’s dad was a very giving person, but it was the type of giving that established a hierarchical and paternalistic relationship for he would never accept charity from anyone else. He expected gratitude and deference for his gifts, maybe even a sense of indebtedness. He wanted to be respected and worked hard to escape the poverty of his working class family. As such, he wanted to be treated with respect and not be challenged. To have his authority, position or opinion challenged couldn’t just be forgiven and forgotten.

Maybe there is some predisposition of this in me, but it doesn’t manifest in this exact same way. I do have a mental checklist where I keep tabs on what people do and don’t do, say and don’t say; I can’t help it for such details of behavior just stick in my memory. And when someone crosses some particular line, I can be one of the most unforgiving people in the world. The difference maybe is that I didn’t grow up in that Southern/Appalachian honor culture and so my grudge-keeping tends to be more mild and suppressed.

It is the Southern/Appalachian culture with which I’ve tried to come to terms. It goes beyond my extended family. I too am partly a Southerner. Despite my self-idenifying as a Midwesterner and chosing Iowa as my home, I must admit that the South shaped me as well and probably in ways I’m unaware of. From 8th grade to graduation, I lived in South Carolina and went to desegregated public schools. I didn’t even know that regional differences existed prior to that time and it was a shock to my system when I first moved there, but after a while it became normal to me. I spent many years in the South following that time while in college in South Carolina and while working in the buckle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.

So, my experience of the South is very personal. My best friend was a redneck and I dated a girl who came from a hillbilly lineage (I don’t use those terms in a disparaging way). I even learned to talk Southern. I used to fall into a Southern dialect without even trying, especially when talking to my redneck friend. To this day, I can unintentionally speak in that dialect for brief moments.

I am and I am not a Southerner. There is both much that I like and much that I dislike about the South.

It’s because of my personal experience, both North and South, that I’ve come to self-consciously identify as a Midwesterner. The South is part of me, but I know that I’m not fully a part of the South. I don’t know it in the way someone knows it who was born and raised there, who lived there for their entire life.

Plus, I never experienced the full reality of what the Deep South once was. I arrived on the scene long after the Civil Rights movement. In high school, I knew kids who dated across the race line and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But hints of the Old South were still around such as my best friend’s mom referring to blacks as “niggers”. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina which is much more cosmopolitan. And in North Carolina, I lived near Asheville which is fairly liberal and alternative, especially for that area.

However, I know the Carolina region of the South better than I know the Mississippi Delta over to the Southern Border. My dad’s mom was born in Texas, lived in Oklahoma until her early teens, and went to high school in Mississipi. She then went back to Oklahoma for college and after that taught for some years in Mississippi and Georgia.

She died when I was so young that I hardly remember her and I’ve never visited any of those places she lived in prior to her moving to Indiana. So, the culture of that area isn’t familiar to me and didn’t influence me in any direct way.

Even as a Northerner, I know the Carolina region of the South better than the entire Northeast. My dad’s dad grew up in New England. But I’ve never visited there either. The closest I’ve come to New England is living in Iowa City which is a New England style college town (i.e., a small town dominated by a single college and surrounded by rural farmland).

My inheritance from my dad’s family feels rather skimpy on the cultural front. Identifying as a Midwesterner, one would think I’m culturally more similar to my Grandmother’s Oklahoma and my Grandfather’s New England… and maybe I am in some gneral ways, but those states aren’t part of my most personal sense of America. I don’t culturally identify as a Southerner in any broad sense and yet the South is intimately connected to who I am, even though I sometimes use it as a contrast to clarify my Midwestern sensibility.

I have lived in Iowa longer than anywhere else. Iowa is unique as part of the Lower Midwest. It is the only Lower Midwest state that isn’t on the borderlands of Appalachia and the only Lower Midwest state to be West of the Mississippi. Just follow the river south and there is the Mississippi Delta (much cultural diffusion went up and down the Mississippi river, in particular the 1927 flood in the Mississipi Delta sent many blacks to the North). Also, Iowa is the Lower Midwest state that is the most influenced by the Yankiedom of the Upper Midwest. The culture of Iowa is massively different than that of South Carolina. The only way to feel culturally further away from South Carolina would be to move to the West Coast.

Generation after generation, my mom’s family slowly drifted westward and northward. Finally, with my brothers and I, our family fully escaped the remnants of Southern culture that pioneers had carried with them into parts of the Midwest such as Indiana. I blissfully was ignorant of the South up to the beginning of my teens, but then my parents brought the family all the way down to the Deep South.

Moving to the South made me self-conscious about regional cultures from a fairly young age. Still, I didn’t begin to feel the depth of the differences until I got a summer job at a YMCA camp in North Carolina. As it was a YMCA, I was surrounded by Christians which in and of itself didn’t bother me. However, as it was in the Bible Belt, I was surrounded by Fundamentalists which made understand how far was the religious right or at least how far right were some of those part of the religious right. The religious right was a worldview that was outside my zone of familiarity. Living in the South, I heard the fire-and-brimstone preaching on the radio, but I had no direct contact with it. The girl I dated there was from a Fundamentalist family. Talking to her family gave me my first experience of a culture that seemingly had little respect for or interest in intellectuality and the broader world of knowledge.

After spending three consecutive summers at that YMCA camp, I permanently moved back to Iowa. In the following years, I was still visiting my parents and the contrast of the two worlds slowly formed into a distinct sense of difference about these cultures. Maybe I was becoming more influenced by the political moderateness of the Midwest and maybe I was becoming more influenced by the liberalism of Iowa City. At the same time, it seemed even more clear that my parents were becoming more stridently conservative the longer they lived in South Carolina. My parents were losing their Midwestern moderateness, although never coming close to the radicalism of God n’ Guns Fundamentalism.

Now, my parents have also moved back to Iowa City. I see them regularly which hasn’t been the case since the mid 1990s. We’ve been coming to terms with our differences which at times has been challenging, but other similarities have made it less difficult. This process, along with recent genealogical research, has forced me to also come to terms with these differences within myself.

How do I grasp all these influences? How do I contain within myself such diversity? What exactly have I inherited?

45 thoughts on “My Inheritance, North and South

  1. Your first couple of paragraphs seem to be speculation on the nature vs. nurture debate, but you don’t really make any firm statement about where you stand on this topic. Then you engage in an examination of your distant family lineage, as if this were applicable to the subject. I don’t agree that this is the case. What really matters is primarily your own past and present environment, i.e. upbringing, and your own immediate genetics. You may have inherited some observable traits from your parents and grandparents, but beyond that, observations on behavior are too far removed (just hearsay or anecdotal) to be scientific, and with the exception of some very few rare dominant configurations, your genetics are not going to be traceable beyond them.

    Your attempt to establish a link of grudge-holding, list-making, and score-keeping are a case in point. This method of keeping track of friends and enemies is as old as humanity and is manifested in everyone to some degree. There probably ARE genes that control it’s degree of amplification in response to the environment. However, looking at people with same last name for subjective evidence of its manifestation is good material for the plot of fiction novels, but is not scientific study. America, as your story illustrates, is the great melting pot, and this creates a formidible barrier not just to tracing your ancestors, but even more so to speculation of the type you engage in in this part of your essay.

    I recall that you have read Bryan Sykes’ books; while interesting, don’t you think that they are unsatisfying from a practical point of view? Even if you can “sort of” prove that your MDNA came from some place where Neanderthals once lived, does that really explain anything on a personal level? The Human Genome project and it’s outgrowths are much more promising. Eventually, we should be able to examine a person’s actual configuration of genes and type them against a scientifically determined catalog of potential responses to the environment. Then you know something much more concrete and useful about yourself rather than just speculation about your past based on very subjective observations, or even MDNA evidence that is limited in application. If I declare that I’m part Neaderthal, and take that as a “fact” in my observations of my own response to my environment, I’m setting myself up for a big mental re-organization if someday the definitive conclusion is reached that modern Homo Sapiens has no Neanderthal genes whatsoever. Then I’m just a stocky Cro-Magnon guy that hates the hot weather!

    I guess a lot of this has to do with my own personal experience. Several years ago, I decided I would like to write a “popular” book on the connection between the geographical origins of a person’s ancestors and certain physical or behavioral characteristics, such as disease. When I started to do my research, I quickly ran up against the problem outlined above. To state it in a nutshell, most people cannot trace their ancestors to a specific place, and even if they can (a la Sykes) this doesn’t necessarily mean they have the genetic configuration in question. Only DNA analysis can give one information useful enough to draw conclusions beyond the links between (observable) dark skin and equatorial sun exposure, for example. I DO find problems of human adaptation in the distant past fascinating and fruitful, it’s just that your essay is about your own specific case, and I don’t think that without specific DNA analysis, you can make those kind of connections.

    I realize I am being overly critical of one aspect of your essay. The other part of your speculation, about the role of your family interactions, locations, and upbringing are are very valid clues as to the person you are right at this minute. These are the inputs that spin the knobs of your own genetic predispositions to produce the responses that compose your unique personality. I’m just convinced that if you don’t know the exact configuration of your genetics, then your conclusions are going to be less than scietific, and should be treated as such.

    To me, some of the MORE interesting questions in the nature vs nurture debate are as follows: To what extent do humans, as the only creature able to purposefully modify their environment, shape their own evolution? If so, does this constitute a new return to legitmacy for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics? Does this inheritance have a mental aspect; can mental changes in an individual be inherited (by others) through feedback from their manifestation in the environment? Is there a possiblity that mental “evolution” CAN cross the Weismann Barrier – ie be directly transmitted to the DNA in germ cells? Does this represent a new, much more rapid path of evolution than traditional Darwinian/Neo-Darwinian methods? Can this method be used to save us from ourselves?

    One more quick observation. My above critique is from a scientific point of view. I can gather from your self-description, and your writing, that you are proably a very well-balanced. probably transcendental thinker that relies often upon your intuition. I believe that without a healthy dose of speculation based on intuition, very little progress would ever have been made in science. If I said that your latest output strikes me more like your own intuition at work, and your essay is kind of like the margin notes from that activity, maybe that would be closer to the truth? Somewhere in your head you probably leapt a significant non-logical boundary, went somewhere profound, and all we got was this essay! Either way, I hope you won’t hold it against me! 🙂


  2. Hold it against you? If you consider your commentary as being overly critical, then bring on the over-criticalness. I can’t stand ignorant or pointless criticalness, but intelligent analysis is a whole other matter.

    You are most definitely my kind of writer. You not only will read lengthy writing, you’ll also offer lengthy commentary. It’s comments like yours that I always hope to get.

    As for my post, it wasn’t badly written for what it is, but I have no doubt I could have developed my thoughts better and communicated them more clearly. A post like this is largely just my process of thinking out loud. I’d like to have people read what I write and even better respond, but with longer posts I realize most people won’t take the time. It’s the rare post that ever gets any significant comments.

    Almost any comments are welcome. The problem with the typical comment of the critical variety is that it rarely is paired with critical thinking skills, much less knowledge and insight. However, I don’t think I have to worry about that with you.

  3. Yes, the beginning of my post is speculation. All of my post arose out of or otherwise was informed by speculation. As I said, I was thinking out loud… as I’m wont to do.

    I state no clear or strong opinions about the nature vs nurture debate because I’m not sure I have any. The most I could say is that I’m a both/and kinda guy. However badly communicated, that is more or less what I was trying to convey. I don’t see any easy and certain way of disentangling all the strands.

    It goes without saying that genetics influences all aspects of humanity, one way or another. However, without thorough research, the extent and specifics of that influence are unknown. Hence, the speculative nature of my thoughts.

    That said, I have some familiarity with genetics research. I have read books such as those by Sykes and similar popular science writers. Also, from my longterm affliction with depression, I’ve read a decent amount about psychologial/psychiatric/neurological research related to genetics and inheritability.

    I know, for example, that predisposition to depression can be inheritable. both sids of my family have depressive tendencies, one side diagnosed and the other undiagnosed. Almost everyone in my immediate family has been on antidepressants at one time or another. Given these factors, it is highly probable that my depression is at least partly an inherited predisposition.

    Still, this is just a working hypothesis, i.e., speculation.

  4. I was just now considering the origins of my thoughts, my speculations if you will. I suppose it was my depression that first got me to more deeply consider my own life in relation to my extended family. That depression connection formed the basis for other possible connections.

    In myself, I can sense how closely intertwined are depresson and the grudge issue. This seems true for my mom’s family as well. I don’t know that this correlation is more than mere accident, butitseems fairly safe to assume that undepressed happy people are probably less likely to hold grudges.

    I should clarify one thing. I’m not talking about normal levels of grudge-holding, list-making and score-keeping. It’s like the difference between having severe depression and having a bad mood.Clinical depression goes so far beyond simply feeling down or unhappy.

    I don’t want to go into personal details. You’ll just hve to trust that I’m talking about something beyond the normal condition of humanity… or not… whatever…

    I make no apologies for speculating. It is what I do. You are correct that I’m of the intuitive persuasion. I’ve never claimed to be a scientific expert, bu everything is fair game, science included. Just because I can’t make absolute conclusions, that is no reason to limit the hypothetical possibilities.

    What would the fun be in that?

    My thoughts here are a work in process, an ever evolving sense of the world around me, a growing awareness of self-understanding. My insights are imperfect, my observations biased, and my knowledge partial. That is just being human. We are all forced to speculate, to follow our intuition, even in thinking critically.

    I can only express in my writing from out of what I am. This is particularly true in writing about the personal. There is no way to be purely scientific in contemplating the deeper meanings of family and culture.

    None of this is to imply there is necessarily any fundamental disagreement between us. The criticisms you bring up are issues that concern me. The questions you ask also interest me. It’s all food for thought.

  5. You said: “Hold it against you?”

    Me: That was an attempt at a joke. You know, score keeping, grudge holding… 🙂

    I’m glad you appreciate my style of criticism and weren’t offended. I too find it much more productive for my own thinking when I’m somewhat vigorously attacked by someone with an informed but honest point of view. (Not to be confused with these Presidential debates, for instance, where the goal seems to be to score as many points as possible with little regard for the truth.) I find that most of the time my mind is functioning robotically, only peripherally engaged, and only when I’m speaking or writing to someone intelligent and interested, such as yourself, do I rise out of the doldrums and go to where I need to be.

    This too has a genetic component, I believe. I think that Homo sapiens is approaching an evolutionary cusp, where we will cross a new barrier and instead of being characterized as “thinking man” we will become “teaching man.” Somehow, when I’m not exchanging ideas, both teaching someone myself and learning from others, I feel like I’m acting counter to my evolutionay destiny.

    My handle, “ethicalanimals” is a reflection of this concept. I chose it based on the title of one of my favorite books. “The Ethical Animal” by my most revered evolutionary biologist and geneticist, C. H. Waddington. Although published in the 1960’s, I find this to be the most complete proposition, from both a scientific and speculative standpoint, of many of the topics of interest which I listed in my previous post. In short, Waddington proposes that humans have advanced beyond traditional Darwinian evolution and into a new realm of cultural evolution, where ideas and not genes are the units of information which are inherited. Because cultural evolution (he calls it ethics) operates at a much more rapid pace than traditonal evolution, it has become the actual driving force in our species. Other authors have since taken this concept much further, (Richard Dawkins, with his “memes” for example) but Waddington still presents the most convincing basic argument for the leigitimacy of this concept, in my opinion. Since evolution involves the transmission of information to subsequent generations, it follows that teaching is the mode of this transmission, and is a valid description of our new state of being.

    I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it is to hear of your interest in the connection between genetics, environment, and mental health. This was the area that first got me interested in human evolution as well. While you mention depression, my own initial investigations involved ADHD and schizophrenia. Regarding this however, I have to say that my own current opinion on the nature of mental health is derived from the views given most concisely in a book called “A New View of Self” by Siever and Frucht. To summarize, they propose that most of the designations of clinical personality disorders are not really hard and fast because any person’s given mental state is a function of the fluctuation of (to oversimplify) the concentration of a number of different neurotransmitters in the brain at that particular time. If you picture a three dimesional cube or sphere, where the X, Y, and Z axis are say serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and absolutely “normal behavior” (obviously subjective) is located at 0,0,0, then your current mental state right now will lie somewhere within that solid shape. If your current snapshot shows that your brain is somewhere near say -1, -1, 0, based on your brain chemisty, then you might be feeling depressed. This may be where you usually “hang out” and so you name yourself as a sufferer from depression. But tomorrow, based on environmental influences (and I say specifically THE KIND OF THINKING YOU ARE ENGAGED IN), tomorrow you may be somewhere else within the continuum. Seen within this paradigm , for investigative purposes, all mental states can be treated as similar objects – as various configurations of brain chemisty.

    Why is this interesting to me? Because we are recently discovering that there is a link (maybe many) between chemisty and evolution, for all practical purposes Lamarckian, and there may be ways that chemicals can possibly transcend Weismann’s Barrier, and influence the genetic makeup (DNA) of our offspring in our germ cells. Think about that, for a minute! If a connection between brain chemist and DNA can be proven, your patterns of thinking, by influencing your brain chemistry, may influence the DNA of your children. And to approach the problem from a different angle, the mental environment we create (our culture) can have an influence on our evolution beyond just the survival of the fittest “memes”, as Waddington proposes, indeed the ideas or atmosphere of our culture affect your mental state, so that the way that your community, or your parents, react to depression, or schizophrenia, for example, may by the same pathway possibly influence the actual genetics of your children. If you have observed that depression seems to run in your family, perhaps it is “running” both genetically and environmentally. Have your perhaps read anthropolgist cum-multidisciplinay savant Gregory Bateson’s writings on the “Double-bind theory of schizophrenia” collected along with other absolutely amazing essays in his “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”? It is a brilliant theory, and, I think, a perfect illustration of this dual influence of nature and nurture working within a family unit to manifest the clinical symptoms of Schizophrenia. It is certainly likely to have a counterpart involving depression. Similarly, there is an essay out there called “The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy” by Harold Searles, a Freudian psychoanalyst, in which which he gives an amazing account of how the schizophrenic meme (my terminology) seems to seek to propagate itself from one individual to another, ostensibly I think to validate it’s particular world-view.

    Furthermore and in conclusion… I am a firm believer in synchronicity, and I am holding in my hand right now a well-annotated copy of a book called “Lamarck’s Signature – How Retrogenes are Changing Darwin’s Natural Selection Paradigm.” It’s about how retroviruses can convey chemical information across Weismann’s Barrier and establish it in germ cells to be passed on to our offspring, and how this process may very well have played a huge part in the rapid evolution of Homo sapiens, especially of our large brains. The author first proposed this association back in 1979, and was pretty much laughed at, because just raising the possibility of Lamarckian inheritance was like a death sentence to a biologist’s career back then. Now he’s been re-hab’ed and he’s one of my heros too.

    The author’s name is Edward J. Steele.

    • I tend to see the world as complex. Most things in life have mulitple causes and many results are themselves causal factors in return, causation going multiple directions creating self-reinforcing loops of change. I have been fascinated by Lamarck’s theory of evolution ever since I learned of it. It does make one wonder.

      That is part of the reason I so often emphasize culture. Few people understand or take seriously culture. Your teaching interpretation definitely entices my curiosity.

      The scientific knowledge about many things is still in its infancy. Recently, there was research that brought in a whole new angle to what I previously understood about depression. What was discovered is that some depressed people overproduce some chemical when stressed and it causes the immune system to overreact. So, some depressed people are literally allergic to stress.

      Chemicals are strange things. We are presently attempting a mass experiment on the entire earth’s population of species and ecosystems. No one has a clue what will come of all these chemicals being introduced into the environment and into our bodies. We may be speeding up this chemical experimentation, but evolution has been playing around with chemicals for much longer.

      Plants, trees, and fungii are chemical factories. This gets even more interesting with plants that alter cognitive functioning, especially psychedelics. Almost every culture throughout history has used natural psychedelics. Many other species also will intentionally consume psychedelics. No one knows why, but I’d guess it relates to some evolutionary advantage. Also, maybe some plant chemicals might alter our genetics, switching on traits and helping them to be passed onto the next generation.

      Fun with chemicals! I must say that I feel some trepidation in our over-eagerness with mass chemical experimentation. I’d rather choose which chemicals I want to experiment with rather than having them forced onto me, whether I want them or not.

  6. Whoops! It looks like our last two respective nuggests of wisdom crossed in the mail!

    I hope you’re not feeling defensive about my initial comments on your essay. Ok, it’s not going to win any awards for composition or for making a strong argument for a particular point of view. But as a whole, it conveyed exactly what you said it was intended to convey. I was struck, for example by the atmosphere that you created – the lack of firm direction and organization seems to be an accurate reflection of the state of your thoughts and feelings on the subject you chose.

    Talking, especially writing, about the non-logical aspects of any topic are very difficult and subject to gross misinterpretation. The “count to ten before pressing send” rule should probably always be invoked, but then, maybe not. I think I “read” your communication as you intended, but chose to respond mainly to the scientific aspect to avoid misunderstanding. We barely know one another’s keyboard quirks and personas right?

    I was an ADHD child, which I managed to suppress when I went to college to study engineering. I suppressed it so well that I buried the positive aspects of that personality type, one of which is intuition. Fifteen years later, and I was an uber-logical skeptical engineer. Suddenly, all the pent-up suppression exploded and I went all anti-logical and mystical for a while. God was involved. (Currently, I’m backsliding.) As someone who not too long ago could actually channel a REAL haiku, I believe I know from experience about the ineffable nature of atmosphere. At the same time that, on one level I was analyzing your words, your essay created a “picture” in my mind of your mental state when you wrote it – kind of like the way the Neanderthals communicate in William Golding’s “The Inheritors.” (recommended!) Conveying that was the intent of my last paragraph.

    The ability to create an atmosphere beyond words, whether intentional or not is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a very powerful and well-balanced mind. Have you ever met a person who responded to your question (usually about a subjective topic) by creating a metaphor or even arranging events in such a way as to convey an answer without using the mundane and inadequate method of explanation? I saw glimpses of that in your essay and that is why I decided to respond at length.

    I have only met a few people with that quality and I seek it out and follow it whenever I can. In college I had the unbelievable good fortune to attend a dinner with James Michener, the author, and he was such a person. I got to ask him a few questions, and I chose to ask him about his book “The Source” which is in fact a precursor to all the Bart Ehrman-like books on the subject of early religion. One question I asked was “Does your portrayal of the development of Christianity in the book reflect your own personal viewpoint?” (The book seems to show the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as a natural progression of humans trying to gain some kind of influence over their environment. Evangelicals would NOT approve. It starts with prehistoric humans praying to the sky for rain.) His answer was not a direct reply to my question, instead he created a kind of picture of different belief systems and what he considered their laudable characteristics and good works. He never mentioned God. It wasn’t until after he was done that I realized he had answered my question. It was like a Noh performance, like a haiku. (His wife was Japanese, btw.) It created a profound appreciation in me for the quality of his mind, that he could do this, that he must be able to do it often, without effort, as a matter of course.

    Changing the subject, unless you count Japan, the “cure” for the “Inner Scorekeeper” is Zen meditation. At least, it worked for me. I don’t make a habit of recommending it, however, because it is dangerous I think for certain types of people, those with fragile egos who would fall apart without their public masks and their drive and ambition. No, it is not good for most people in our current culture of money and power.

    • “I was an ADHD child, which I managed to suppress when I went to college to study engineering. I suppressed it so well that I buried the positive aspects of that personality type, one of which is intuition. Fifteen years later, and I was an uber-logical skeptical engineer. Suddenly, all the pent-up suppression exploded and I went all anti-logical and mystical for a while. God was involved. (Currently, I’m backsliding.)”

      Prior to my diagnosis of depression, I had a learning disability that caused word recall difficulties and delayed my learning to read. But I received some help early on from a specialist which made massive difference. Even so, I struggled with education for the rest of my schooling.

      I never managed to suppress my psychological/cognitive/neurological issues. If I knew how to suppress them, I suppose I would have. My intuition has always been manifest in my thinking and perception. These are the contributing factors to my dropping out of college. So, formal education never fully destroyed my natural predisposition. I escaped.

      I have, though, gone through phases where I’ve been more focused on and expressive of my intuitive side. Also, like you, I’ve gone through phases of a more extreme ‘spiritual’ experiencing of self and world.

      “The ability to create an atmosphere beyond words, whether intentional or not is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a very powerful and well-balanced mind. Have you ever met a person who responded to your question (usually about a subjective topic) by creating a metaphor or even arranging events in such a way as to convey an answer without using the mundane and inadequate method of explanation? I saw glimpses of that in your essay and that is why I decided to respond at length.”

      I don’t know about well-balanced. I guess I’m not entirely out of balance at the moment. I try my best.

      Have I met such a person? If I understand you correctly, I’ve known some people that have an ability something like that. I currently have an online friend who has a very imagisitc way of writing. It took me a while to enter into his very subjective and idiosyncratic use of words.

      My own thinking is maybe less imagistic, although it can be that way at times. I more think about things in web-like relationships and intuitive resonances. I see multiple connections all at once. It takes me a while to sort them out, deciding which are important and interesting. Posts like this are part of that sorting out. It’s my method of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.

      “Changing the subject, unless you count Japan, the “cure” for the “Inner Scorekeeper” is Zen meditation. At least, it worked for me. I don’t make a habit of recommending it, however, because it is dangerous I think for certain types of people, those with fragile egos who would fall apart without their public masks and their drive and ambition. No, it is not good for most people in our current culture of money and power.”

      I used to meditate all the time. I still do on occasion. It has helped me quiten or else mitigate that nagging voice in my head. However, it isn’t an entirely negative thing. I just have a natural ability and inclination to notice and remember human behavior. I build up my sense of people through careful observations. Some things I’m horrible at remembering (such as in traditional school memorization), but other things (human behavior along with ideas) stick in my mind with little effort,

      I’m naturally a contemplative guy and it isn’t overly difficult for me to sink into a wordless state of mind. Besides practicing various meditative techniques, I’ve also done my fair share of psychedelic experimentation. Altered states are something I’m familiar with and I’m also familiar with the risks involved. I’ve lost or felt slipping away my egoic sense of self many times, but it always comes back… so, no worries.

      • Benjamin, you say you were “diagnosed” as depressive. Do you remember what criteria were involved in your diagnosis? Did it involve chemical tests or the subjective observations of the doctor, or did you diagnose yourself? I’d like to know if you agree with what I said about ALL mental states being quantifiable on the same kind of N-dimensional “space” based on brain chemistry. I’m not proposing this as a radical new idea, but it is one that is gaining more acceptance. The upshot is that mental health practitioners are stepping away from tossing people into those “boxes” of depression, ADHD, etc, and recognizing that things are a lot more “fuzzy” when it comes to diagnosing mental illness. In my opinion, brain chemistry can be influenced by what you do, and especially, what you think. It is a very fluid state. When you read, what you read influences your brain chemistry. When you correspond with someone, when you teach or learn, it affects you brain chemistry. Things that you do, like prayer or meditation, can change your personality, and your underlying brain chemistry. Again, this is not profound, I think we recognize this instinctively.

        If we can agree thus far, now I’m going to perhaps disagree with you on one thing. You spoke of meditation as if you could take it or leave it. You said “I’ve lost or felt slipping away my egoic sense of self many times, but it always comes back…” That is not my experience of Zen. I practiced it rigorously for three years, and the influence was negligible. I never found myself gradually becoming less egotistical. Only with stamina on loan from God, and the advice of some very good books, did I keep at it. Then, all of a sudden – bang! Just like they say in the books, you fall off a cliff, and you view of the world changes. You just can’t look at your old life or your old self the same ever again. The list-maker, the scorekeeper, the judge, this is your ego. They are still there, but they are detached, disengaged from your self. You laugh at the hold they had over you. The purpose of Zen is that one moment and that one moment only. Yes, the ox-herder must return to the world, but if nothing has changed, what is the point? Words fail around here.

        Back on topic. The changes to your personality from Zen practice, and many other things you can do, represent to me a permanent relocation of the center point of your brain chemistry sphere. Zen, by short-circuiting the overbearing effects of your ego, permanently shifts your normal brain chemistry to a new place, towards a part of the continuum where pattern-based thinking is more probable. So what would happen if we could analyze these kinds of events in a scientific way, and set about to create a culture that encourages them, instead of stamping them as impractical because they don’t lead to the acquisition of power and money? Conversely, what if, by embracing an agricultural culture that rewards ego, technology, power, and money, we have practiced the “anti-Zen of materialism” and caused our mental centers to shift to a place where all pattern-based thinking is so rare as to be regarded as abnormal, or, labelled as “mental illness.” Maybe you are depressed because you are a pattern-based thinker in a culture that tells you you should be depressed for thinking that way. Maybe you and us ADHDers are “hunters in a farmer’s world” as Thom Hartmann so excellently described it.

        No not to beat the poor ox any more than I have to, but what if there is actually information passing between brain chemistry and DNA? That would explain why the culture we live in might be creating more and more linear thinkers as time goes on. The obvious environmental bias towards linear thinking may be reinforcing the genetic one that predispose minds to think that way. But when our money-power culture collapses, as it seems near to doing, where will our species find the brilliant new thoughts, ideas, and paradigms from which to craft a plan of action for survival? Not from the people who have been selected to think in only one narrow channel, the one that caused the collapse in the first place.

        So, have I come full circle now? First I commented scientifically on the inheritance aspect of your essay, which you said you appreciated. Now, I hope, I am making an indirect comment on the environmental aspects; of North vs. South, (which I think are boxes which are too big to be useful to your argument) and liberal vs. conservative, and bigotry vs. diversity, and depressed vs. “normal”, all of which are “practices” that can be plugged into the equation at the same spot as Zen, and which move the needle of brain chemistry back and forth and define what is normal and what is not, and may have done so to your parents, and you, and ultimately to do the same for you unborn children as well. Obviously in your case, the transcendent, pattern-based influences have outweighed the repressive linear ones. Figuring out which of the many influences you named caused you to be that way is probably the topic for scientific analysis. Zen is not a warm and soothing, nurturing practice. My mother reacts to stimulants as if they were depressants and vice versa. Caffeine in high doses makes me sleepy. Maybe sometimes it’s the stressful activities that force your brain out of it’s habitual pathways.

        I see you have posted again! I’m going to toss this out there before you have a chance to change my mind!

        • I mean diagnosed in the technical and professional sense.

          This was about 15 years ago and so I can’t speak to the specifics. I don’t know, for example, what kinds of tests I was given, besides psychiatric tests. At the time, I was resignedly and apathetically uninterested in the whole process, just going through the motions because that was what was expected of me.

          I was diagnosed with depression after I attempted suicide. I was in a psychiatric ward for a short while. Prior to that time, I didn’t even understand what depression was, but I did understand that I was severely unhappy and dissatisfied for many years prior to that. I even remember a high school teacher asking me if I was depressed. Interestingly, it was that teacher (of art) who first taught me to “think outside the box”.

          You might find it even more interesting that I was simultaneously diagnosed with some kind of borderline thought disorder. To this day, I don’t know what the diagnosis meant. Along with antidepressants, I was put on antipsychotic meds. My guess is that the meds were to help focus my thinking, thus lessening the multidimensional and multidirectional overactivity of my mind.

          In combination with my learning disorder, it seems there is clear evidence that my mind operates somehow differently. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. There are various ways I learned to compensate with my learning disability.

          For word recall issues, I taught myself a very large vocabulary. So when I can’t remember a particular word I’ll use another instead. This also connected to reading comprehension issues. I quickly went to not being able to read to being to being grades ahead of the class.

          For memorization issues in general, I learned to analytically break things down into their component parts and to find the relationships between those parts along with the relationships to other things. As a child, I had very little analytical ability and it took me a long time to develop it.

          What I’ve always had is a pattern-based mind. At first, teachers suspected I might be low IQ. But an IQ test showed I was high IQ. The one ability I most excelled at was in solving visual puzzles. That part I tested at a 12th grade level and I was being tested at the beginning of elementary school. So, my pattern-based mind is my saving grace and maybe my Achille’s Heel.

          • So in the final analysis, do you blame your depression on life events or a genetic predisposition to it, or both? I have always seemed to have led a very lucky life, so I had no way of knowing if I had any predisposition to depression; nothing in my environment was there to activate it. Recently, things have turned pretty crappy for me, and I think I have several times begun slipping into the beginning stages myself. My father, whom I never knew very well, seemed to be a melancholic personality type. My mother has Alzheimers – I’ve been taking care of her myself for the last 6 years; the last year and a half she has been bedridden. Of course. being tied down like this is not conducive to having an active social life. First my girlfriend left me, then my freinds deserted me, then my dog died (yeah, really.) Lately, I’ve been getting very tired and worn out, and it’s harder to do the things I need to do. When a whole rush of things come at once, sometimes I think it would be easier just to give up. When I’m able to share some of the ideas I have with someone intelligent and insightful like you, I think on some level our exchanges are pushing the brain chemistry needle away from the danger zones, so thanks!

            Another book which I found very insightful on mental health issues is called “Shadow Syndromes” by John J. Ratey, who was also the co-author of one of the more famous books on ADHD (“Driven to Distraction”) The premise of Shadow Syndromes is similar to the ‘New View of Self” in that he makes the case that many, if not most people suffer at times from less severe forms of what are classified as full-blown mental illness. This is important to my thinking because I believe that the really productive new modes of thinking come from these individuals – the ones who have their needle located in a intermediate spot rather than those who have it so far out from normal as to make them totally dysfunctional, or dead. It makes sense – what good are the unusual ideas of a shizophrenic if that person can’t survive, or reproduce, or is unable to communicate their thoughts? On the other hand, shadow syndrome people can be very unique, creative, charismatic people who are very good at attracting mates and getting their unusual genes into the gene pool.

            Borderline Personality Disorder, if that’s what you were diagnosed with, is (in my unprofessional opinion) the most nebulous of all the commonly diagnosed mental conditions. In fact, when I said previously that mental health professionals are stepping away from solid diagnoses, this is kind of the catch-all term they use now for something they can’t easily categorize. If you look it up in wikipedia and check out the “symptoms”; you’ll see what I mean. A total grab bag. In my opinion, BPD is synonymous with “Shadow Syndrome.” This leads to another point I wanted to make about the genetics of the mind, and that is; if there are genes that control a predisposition to having ones “center point” located more towards a particular region of the brain chemistry “probability cloud”, then there is also probably a gene or genes that control how easy it is for a given brain to slip around from one region to another. To use another metaphor, if there’s a screw that serves to clamp the needle down in a person’s natural center point, there is a gene that determines how tight that screw is. So Borderline people, in my metaphor, really do have a “screw loose” – they can more easily flow to different parts of the brain chemistry sphere, and may exhibit shadow syndromes of a number of mental issues at different times. In terms of genetics, this would be called “flexibility” or “adaptability” – an important characteristic for a species to possess in times of stress or environmental upheaval. To build on my previous evolutionary scenario, if some mental states are conducive to a new, pattern-based mode of thinking, the degree of the human species’ flexibility determines how easily those new modes of thought will be accepted and established within the gene pool. So borderline folks are more accepting of new and different modes of thought.

            With regards to memory, I have an average memory for words, but my visual memory is very acute. I can almost always tell, when I’m in the woods, or driving, or looking at pictures on the Internet, if it’s some exact spot that I’ve been to before. I’m very good at looking at a picture and instantly being able to tell what part of the world it is in; if it’s an environment or an ecosystem that I’ve been in before, I’m very accurate, but I can do pretty good with places that I’ve just seen pictures of too. I’m good at finding a path through the woods, and at noticing anomalies in the terrain pattern such as invasive plants or wildlife hiding, or picking up the faintest sight or sound of movement. I think this is all related to being a “hunter” type of human, as opposed to a “farmer.” (Notice I didn’t quite commit to the Neanderthal word.)

            There is another interesting book (did you surmise that I own 1000’s of books yet?) called The Open Mind by Dawna Markova, which is definitely worth a read, or better yet a listen if you can find the set on cassette, because the tapes includes subject interviews. In this book, she analyses the three methods that work best for different people to learn new things; the methods are Auditory (by words), Visual (by watching), and Kinesthetic (by doing). She further proposes that we can assign one of these methods to each of our three states of mind; conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. She provides methods and examples to help you classify (box warning!) yourself into a particular type of communicator. She gets overly complex (and new-agey) but her conclusions are, I think, pretty insightful about which style of learning and type of teacher will work best for you. (I was a “VKA” which means my conscious mind is strongly visual, which makes sense, but I was kind of amazed, since I analyzed myself at the height of my reading days, that the Auditory was assigned to my wimpy subconscious. Weird, huh? But to come around once again, I think these things are also pegged to brain chemisty, and a lot more flexible than people expect. Most ADHDers are very Kinesthetic (jump right in and get ‘er done!) and that’s something that definely came to the fore in me again when I “reclaimed” my hunter heritage!

          • What do I ultimately blame for causing my depression? I don’t usually think of it as blame, per se. It’s just bad luck of circumstances, life’s lottery. I’m sure many factors contribute, but I couldn’t say which contributes the most.

            I can say that, unlike most people, I have little faith in freewill. From the nurture perspective, I had a lot going for me. I was raised in healthy communities with low poverty and crime. I went to some very good pubic schools, many of them neighborhood shools in nice neighborhoods, and I had some very helpful teachers. I was raised in a stable two parent upper middle class family with parents who believed in family values and who instilled in me a sense of honesty, responsibility and work ethic. My parents modeled what our society idealizes as a successful life. The church I was raised in taught a theoogy of positive thinking and empowerment.

            I put heroic amounts of effort in trying to live a life of positivity, empowerment and success. I internalized all those lessons I learned from my parents and church. I tried with my heart and soul to not jut give into depression, but depression has a way of wearing you down.

            I’ve tried almost anything you can think of. I didn’t give up easily. I’ve been on medications and been to numerous psychiatrists and psychotherapists. I spent many years trying to live a healthy lifestyle in every possible way. I ate well and exercised. I meditated and practiced yoga. I went to church and included regular socializing. I even completely stopped reading for a lengthy period in order to get out of my own head.

            If there was justice in the world, I would not still be suffering from depression. You can do everything right in this life, but nothing i guaranteed. Meanwhile, others have lives that work out fairly easily. But of course the successful people in the world take personal credit for all the unknown factors that they had litle to no control over. It pisses me off.

            Overall, though, I’ve become more accepting of life. This is my survival strategy. Play dead and maybe the bear will stop mauling you after a while. Life is like the old images of the Wheel of Fortune where the wheel carries you up and then brings you back down again. Life can change quickly, both for the bad and the good. No one knows what life has in store for them.

            The ironic part is tha we can exacerbate our problems by trying to solve them. If you find yourself in quicksand, struggling is the opposite of helpful. I’ve found my depression became more manageable since I stopped fighting it.

            If I’m going to blame something, I’d put a lot of blame on my positive thinking religious upbringing. I came to realize how that worldview inevitably blames the victim. Positive thinking idealism can really fuck with your head.

          • Hey! Your writing sounds very negative today. I hope our conversation is not responsible for this? While I’m not technically a Buddhist, I do like to think that I’m helping and not harming. This goal is what keeps me going, taking care of my mother. If my writing seems hopeless or flippant or is disappointing you, I will not be offended if you would like to stop. It would not be the first time. As I’ve said before, so much gets lost or ignored in written communication, especially empathy. I don’t think my experience with depression can begin to compare with yours, so if my probing is insensitive, and my discussion of the possible existence of a positive side strikes you as unjustifiably optimism, I’ll take your word for it. I know the psychologist R. D. Laing had a similar optimistic view of schizophrenia, to which his colleages mostly answered: “Good lord! Look at these people – they’re hopelessly insane, how can say such a thing?” So if you don’t want to continue our correspondence, then I’m sorry. Like I said, I find it helpful to me, but I’ve known some emotional “vampires” before, and I don’t want to be one! I’m not going to continue unless you want me to.

          • Don’t mind me. It’s all good. 🙂

            This is just the kind of commentary often running through my head, but it is usually just background noise. It has othing to do with you personally. I doubt you are a vampire of any variety.

            This is just me being honest. Whether or not I speak it out loud. thes thoughts run through my head. I usually don’t pay them much heed. They are just thoughts.

            You have to understand my philosophy of acceptance. I accept life as it is, including my ‘negative’ thoughts. Like all of life, thoughts come and go. I’m just along for the ride, going with the flow.

            That said,I can be an overly serious fellow. If someone doesn’t like the overly serious rantings of a depressive, then they wn’t like me. I have a tendency of beingopenly honest about my emotional state, especially the more connect with someone and feel comfortable around them.

            So, don’t worry about. My ranting about suicide is over for the time being. I’ve lasted this long that I’m apparently tougher than I realize. I’ve always had a high pain threshhold.

            Life amuses me. Even my own rantings and worryings amuse me. Your response about being a vampire amuses me. Years of depression have made me easily amused. I guess it’s a coping mechanism… or maybe it’s just my personality.

          • I should add that I’m not against lloking at the positive. I just have an odd and sometimes dark way of looking for the positive.

            I definitely wasn’t negatively reacting to your theorizing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. I hope I didn’t turn you off with my personal rantings about depression.

            This blog is very personal to me. I used to journal a lot. My antings in the past were mostly a personal exercise. But now my blog rantings are seen by anyone who happens along. I try to limit such rantings as I’m sure they wouldn’t interest too many people. But in the end, I’m not very capable of separating the personal element out from my public writings.

            I do like to interact with people in my blog (and in the blogs of others). I just like to let people know where I’m coming from. But I wouldn’t want to depress others by talking about my own depression. For me, depression is simply part of my daily existence. It’s just there. Talking about depression is like talking about what I ate for breakfast this morning. But I understand my personal reality isn’t similar to the personal reality of mostothers.

            There ya go. Take it or leave it. No worries.

          • I’ve heard of the idea of shadow syndromes, but I’ve never read the book. Allthat you say about imakes snse to me. Your worldview is very close to my own.

            As for he borderline diagnosis, I’ve never put much stock in it. Borderline seems ambiguous and hypothetical. I like the way I think and don’t see it as an illness.

            On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind if someone could make my depression go away. My depression has had some obvious negative consequences. I’m a bit dysfunctional by the standards of mainstream society. There is a high probability that depression will overwhelm me one day. If and when that happens, I might end up successfully killing myself, I might permanently be institutionalized in a psychiatric ward, or I might find myself homeless. I will be lucky to die young of natural causes.

            I can be such a present-focused person for practical reasons. The future always looks bleak to me, on the personal level at least. If I thought too much about the future, I would have killed myself long ago.

            Here is the fun fact of the day:

            On average, it takes 8 uicide attempts before a person succeeds.

            You mentioned another book. I don’t recall ever coming across The Open Mind. But I’m familiar with some of the basic ideas. I came across similar information in reading about NLP.

            I find more interesting the theory and research related to personality. I’m very familiar with Myers-Briggs based On Jung’s typology. Traits theory such as Big 5 is very similar to Myers-Briggs and there is a lot of trait research done in relation to other areas of psychology, sociology and psychiatry. A simpler and yet very fascinating model is Hartmann’s bounday types which offers a lot of explanatory power.

            Are you familiar with any of these?

        • I don’t fully understand the theory of n-dimensional “space”. But I get the gist of it. Generally speaking, everyone has the potential for every state of mind, including psychiatric conditions, psychedelic experiences, meditative states and psychological traits/types.

          As for my meditation experiences, it isn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing. You have no way of knowing my experiences. I’ve meditated off and on for around that same 15 year period. Some of that time was spent doing extensive meditation every day for hours a day. All I can say is that I know my own experience.

          During several years of rigorous meditation, I got to the point of almost continuously being in a particular state of mind. It was like a vast emptiness all around me. Also, the me in question had become less solid. I felt like a single step could send me over an unseen edge. It was a sense of just being, an openness to the world around me.

          This experience did and did not change me. The very concept of change seems meaningless in the context of this experience. But of course, I can’t say anything about your experience. At best, we could discuss our respective interpretations, but never directly or respective experiences.

          I would emphasize the potential importance of psychedelics. It was my earlier psychedelic experiences that prepared me for my meditative experiences. Even in my deepest meditation, I’ve never experienced the utter loss of self (i.e., loss of the normal ego orientations) as I’ve experienced with psychedelics. It was psychedelics that saved me during those years of my awakening to the severity of depression. A vast horizon opened up to me and the sense of being trapped dissipated.

          The interesting thing about psychedelics is that the human neurology co-evolved with the chemistry of plants. Certain plants create chemicals that interct with our brain in a way that seems far from mere coincidence. Some psychedelic plants can cure life-long addiction with a single dose. Apparently, plant-bsed chemicals have the ability to completely reset our brain chemistry.

          There are lots of possible connections to be explored: the relationship between humans and plants, the relationship between chemistry and DNA, the relationship between culture and evoution, etc. I hope I live long enough to see the present mainstream scientific paradigm turned on it head.

  7. This probably belongs below your “Thinking Outside the Box” essay, since I’m riffing off of that post, but I decided to put it here for the sake of continuity:


    These “boxes” that you speak of – are they real? I don’t think people or objects or thoughts actually inhabit these boxes except within our own minds. A la Plato, everyone has their own definition or name for a “box” but they are all unique, based on our own observations, and often, preconceptions. To quote Gregory Bateson (quoting Korzybski) “The map is not the territory.” There is no box the characteristics of which everyone can agree upon. They are in fact more like “probability clouds” where the possibility that an object will inhabit that “box” is not guaranteed, only that we personally have decided that there is a good chance it will be found there at a given time. When we refuse to acknowledge that this is the case, when we assign artificial boundaries and borders, then we are stereotyping.

    Our propensity to categorize and sterotype more than likely evolved in conjunction with our brains and our unique ability to imagine, plan, and conceptualize. It is difficult to manipulate fuzzy mental objects into future scenarios or plans of action. Therefore, we make lists and keep score, and use this information to generalize specific objects into groups that we imagine to have handles that we can more easily manipulate.

    Typical of the enigmatic human animal, this ability is both necessary for survival, and a big trade-off. When we assign all objects to a given type, almost by definition we ignore the outliers, and it is often in the outliers where the most fruitful new characteristics emerge. An obvious analogy exists in the process of evolution and natural selection. If we were all exactly alike, then there would be no mutation, no emergence of new characteristics upon which selection could operate. Evolution would cease to function and we would be stagnant.

    This argument leads to a theory of mine which perhaps you’ll appreciate. One of the concepts I’d like to explore is that mental illness may possibly be a survival trait. First, I’d start with the question “If mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or depression, are so detrimental to the survival of an individual, why is it that the genes for them persist within the human race?” If you think of my previously constructed picture of “mental health” as a probability cloud, then schizophrenia and depression could be thought of as the outliers in that cloud. In fact, these are areas where human mental function gets a little fuzzy. That makes them “annoying” for the purpose of broad, practical generalizing about the human mind, but it also makes them an area of great potential development and diversity.

    Consider the case of schizophrenia, where the patterns of thinking can get bizzare to the point of non-functioning, but also, where unanticipated connections can be made which result in profound new concepts. Many of humankind’s greatest artists and thinkers (Newton, Van Gogh, Blake, Nijinsky) were almost certainly schizophrenic to some degree. I would argue that their genius was the result of their ability to transcend typical human linear thinking and function at least for a time, in a realm of pattern-based or network-like thinking.

    This may be what you are refering to when you say “lateral thinking”, but that term seems inadequate, painting the picture of a linear “train of thought” which “jumps the tracks” onto another route. This is part of it, but the whole concept is more like the possibility in which the train can choose to travel down many more routes, simultaneously. In fact, it seems to be a picture of how the network of neurons in our brains actually function, with each thought kind of like a lightning flash that briefly illuminates a pattern or context of possibilities.

    To carry my theorizing further, I believe that humankind, with the advent of agriculture and the need to calculate the growing seasons etc, became more and more dependant on “linear” thinking, and that ever since, pattern-based thinking has been selected against in our evolution. (We’re only talking about 10,000 years, so this selection is incomplete, and there are certainly remnants of the prior ways of thinking.) Can you see where I’m heading with this?

    If the human species is at a point where mental (cultural) thinking is becoming the driving force in evolution, at the same time that linear (scientific, inflexible, stereotypical) modes of thinking are becoming the ascendant memes of our culture, we may be headed down an evolutionary blind alley. Certainly our inability to grasp and act upon the “big picture” seems to have rendered us unable to respond to recent changes in our environment, and to have us heading towards ruin and possibly, extinction.

    My contention is that humankind has been flirting with disaster for many hundreds of years, and that the outliers of human thought, those possesing the genes for schizophrenia, ADHD, depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, etc are the part of the gene pool from which have arisen the new concepts and ways of thinking that have in the past pulled us back from the brink, so to speak, and gotten us headed back into more sustainable modes of existence. As a final point, remember – evolution is driven by selection acting upon newly emergent characteristics in response to stresses in the organism’s environment. Is there any doubt that latent schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, etc are very frequently activated by extreme stress in an individual’s life? I believe this is why these genes persist in the human genome – they activate in times of stress and cause individuals to “think outside of the box” and to create a pool of new transcendent memes, from which, hopefully, will be selected the next path to our continued existence as a species.

    • “These “boxes” that you speak of – are they real? I don’t think people or objects or thoughts actually inhabit these boxes except within our own minds.”

      I’m one of those weirdos who believes that our minds are more tangibly real and more tangibly a part of the physical world than we Westerners typically assume. We don’t just inhabit those boxes. We are part of those boxes for those boxes represent profoundly deep realities, fundamental strucutres in mind and matter: archetypes, ecological worldviews, interspecies evolutionary patterns, etc.

      “A la Plato, everyone has their own definition or name for a “box” but they are all unique, based on our own observations, and often, preconceptions. To quote Gregory Bateson (quoting Korzybski) “The map is not the territory.””

      The map is not the territory and vice versa. However, neither are they separate. They are both part of reality. They both give form and substance to reality. All of the world is processed in our mind-brains and all mind-brains operate according to the principles of natural laws. It forms a seamless whole with no inherent division between internal subjectivity and external objectivity, whether or not the reality tunnel we are in allows us to recognize this basic fact of existence.

      “There is no box the characteristics of which everyone can agree upon. They are in fact more like “probability clouds” where the possibility that an object will inhabit that “box” is not guaranteed, only that we personally have decided that there is a good chance it will be found there at a given time. When we refuse to acknowledge that this is the case, when we assign artificial boundaries and borders, then we are stereotyping.”

      All of reality is probabilistic. That is what quantum physics has taught us. Our Newtonian worldview is just that, a worldview, not reality.

      Nonetheless, I’m not necessarily arguing in favor of thinking in boxes. It’s just a metaphor for reality, but it is still pointing to reality and forms out of reality. Metaphors aren’t simply abstract inventions. They are part of the symbolic mind which is rooted in the natural world around us. There are many possible metaphors, many possible worldviews. None are entirely true or entirely false.

      As I hope you can tell, I’m making a more general argument about reality and perception. Life has taught me that reality is harder to discern than simplistic interpretations of sense experience.

      In reference to thinking outside of boxes, I sense that those boxes refer to something more than just categories and stereotypes. I’m speaking more to pattern-based thinking in a larger sense. Patterns aren’t absolute, but neither are they mere subjective interpretations and abstract ideas. Patterns exist in nature. All of nature is nothing more than overlapping patterns. Or else if anything else besides patterns exist in reality, we are unable to perceive them with our fundamentally pattern-based minds.

      I follow where you are heading with your speculations. It’s precisely where I would head as well. This way of looking at the world is easy for me to do as I was raised in New Thought Christianity. I’ve spent most of my life thinking about the idea that the mind potentially influences our personal reality. My thinking on the matter, however, has matured beyond my early religious influences.

      I don’t know what to make of most of this. It’s just interesting. Possibilities upon possibilities, ad infinitum.

  8. I’m starting a new comment because we’re getting squeezed into a corner, literally and figuratively, I think!

    I’m still not entirely convinced we’re Ok, but I’ll continue if you say so. I’m not looking to get my ego stroked, or solicit your agreement with my ideas using emotional trickery or manipulation. Because you are a pattern-based thinker, I’m looking for the unspoken patterns in your posts, and I felt something unhappy in your last one. I’m putting out there the possibility that maybe you are, like me, someone who just has a “loose screw” and probably slides around emotionally more than average. I realize I could be underestimating the pain caused to you by your depression, and that may be very insensitive of me. I have had this situation happen before, but in one particular case, it did have a very positive outcome for both of us.

    I think that I am lucky in that my own genetics have provided me with a loose screw, but tempered with a moderately limited range in which I can venture from the normal. That means when my brain chemistry takes me to some outlying area, there’s a boundary there that keeps me from crossing over into the danger zone. Sometimes (being ADHD), I like to skirt the outer edge and sometimes this makes me insensitive to the intense mental states that cause real suffering to other people.

    I can mention for sure one email realtionship I had with an ADHDer, when I was at the “depths” of my own scientific, rational phase, where she kept trying to describe to me how debilitating her ADHD was for her, especially in her interpersonal relationships. Being the insensitive jerk that I was, I kept remembering my own, much tamer experiences of ADHD, and would make the usual jokes about impulsiveness, etc, which were probably hurtful and counterproductive. Luckily for me, she was used to it, and stuck with our friendship, and when she suggested that we move to talking on the phone, and I could hear the actual pain in her voice, it had such a profound effect on me that I literally had a kind of out-of-body experience, as something inside of me tried to break free and bridge the distance between our physical selves. This was probably the single most important moment in my life. It started a process that really rearranged my way of thinking and being. We later met in person for a brief time and drove all around England where we shared a lot of powerful moments, and our friendship lasted a good ten years and was very productive, though we never met in person again.

    I mention this because now that I think about it, I’ve probably been chasing this relationship ever since. I think I was attracted to your posts because something unspoken in your writing reminds me of her. She too was a very pattern-based thinker, but also tough and had bled some real blood because of her problems. She was very concerned with finding the truth, regardless of the pain involved. But I need to be mindful of the pain that I caused her too. I think that while we were definitely in symbiosis, we were also both draining one another emotionally to get at the truth we wanted. I think the only reason either of us survived and benefited from the experience was because God was directing it, for some reason that to this day I don’t understand. But that’s another long, long story…

    Anyways… if you want to contine talking, be aware that I may try to latch on and suck some truth out of you for my own benefit. As long as we’re both getting something out of that, and I’m not being insensitive and causing you pain, I’m OK with it if you are. But as C.S. Lewis used to say “There are no encores.” (when it comes to God’s grace) meaning that you can’t count on God to intervene a second time. (I’m not saying God isn’t still guiding my life right now – who knows!) But I feel like I’ve been such a bumbling idiot with the gifts I’ve already been given, that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my credit has long since been used up.

    • We’re okay as far as I’m concerned. I know I’m okay on my end, but I can’t speak for you.

      Sure, there was unhappiness in some of my comments. I’m a severely depressed person. That is just the way I am. But it doesn’t otherwise have any grander meaning.

      After a couple decades of severe depression, some of the melodrama of it all goes away. Being depressed is just my mundane everyday reality. Unhappiness is, of course, central to depression… but still only part of it. Depression causes a weird kind of disconnect. I can be pondering the darkest of thoughts while even being in a good mood in that moment. That is why I can be amused so easily.

      I’m not hiding anything or pretending. I’m not playing any games. I’m simply communicating to you who I am, where I’m at, and what I’m all about. Nothing more, nothing less. Also, I can promise you that I have no desire to stroke your ego, whether or not you wanted it stroked.

      I’d be the first to admit that I have a screw loose. That said, my emotions don’t particularly slide around much. I’m your basic garden variety monopolar depression. I don’t have manic phases, although I do sometimes have silly moments. Overall, my mood remains constant. Even when amused, the background state of depression is constant. There is plenty of ‘pain’ with my depression, but a constant state of anything eventually becomes normalized. I don’t have anything else to compare it to. It’s my normal.

      I don’t see any reason to not continue talking. I’ve enjoyed our discussion and you’ve given me no sign that I won’t enjoy future discussions. I have no worries, but I can’t allay your worries. There just not my worries. I don’t even have desire to worry about your worries. So, no worries, unless you want to worry.

      I’m a lover of truth. If you are a fellow lover of truth, all the better.

      • Hi, I be here. Can you tell from within WordPress when someone is checking out your blog? I impulsively started mine and have yet to follow through with learning how to manage it. I haven’t even posted the first article yet. That’s ADHD. And lazy.

        Your blog is impressive. Have you been posting all the way back to 2008? Sorry to have been walking all over your space with my self-absorbed comments. I won’t obsess about the depression any more.

        Those posts you have about Thom Hartmann and the letter from the 99er suicide are heartbreaking. That’s probably me in a couple of years. Sorry, I’m having a bad day today. I wanted to finish my mother’s absentee ballot for the election and drop it off, so we filled it out together (Translation: I explained to her why we didn’t want to vote for any Republicans and she said OK.) then I asked her to practice her signature a few times, but she would only practice one time, but it was a good one. You have to humor people with Alzheimers, so I didn’t push the issue, just put the ballot in front of her and said sign here, and she made a total mess of it. You know what it’s like in Florida with the voter ID laws, so no way this is going to fly. One more old person disenfranchised.

        It’s very hard to resist the urge to blame someone with Alzheimers; you just don’t know whether they are not capable of doing something or whether they are just being lazy and uninterested in making an effort. I think my mother is pretty uncooperative, but she’s better than others in some ways, so I guess it’s a wash. I keep telling myself that her meds are doing a really good job, keeping her from getting worse, but this morning I was looking at my log book from three years ago where I record expenses and events, and it was sad to see that back then she was walking with me to the store to go shopping, and we used to sit together just about every evening and watch a movie. Now she doesn’t understand what she’s watching anymore, it’s just a distraction for her. Except, a friend of mine left her copy of Cher’s “Farewell Concert” DVD over here and I put it in for mom and she watched the whole damn thing with rapt attention. Go figure.

        I’m a big fan of Thom Hartmann’s. Do you know about all the books he wrote about ADHD before he became a liberal, well, what’s his expression, “radical center”, talk show host? I met him once, back before he was as famous as he is now, he was on a lecture tour for his book “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” which, in 1999, was one of the first popular books about the “End of Oil.” He was speaking at a UU Church in Sarasota, and the “opening act” was an even more unknown “Dr. Phil” McGraw. I got to ask Hartmann a question. In his book he speculates about just how many people in a population are necessary to get the entire population over a tipping point, ie how many leaders does it take to get the rest of the lemmings to accept a new paradigm. I asked him if he was aware that both C. S. Lewis and Colin Wilson had written about this same thing. His answer was very un-Michener like; he said “No.” Dr. Phil was lecturing on what sounded like NLP to me, which Hartmann was also involved with even earlier than his ADHD so I guess that was the connection that had them lecturing together. (I have a homemade VHS tape someone made of a young Hartmann teaching NLP that I bought off of Ebay.) Hartmann also practices an esoteric philosophy/religion that is akin to Gnosticism, but I don’t think it’s based on Christian principles. I seem to remember an incident one of his books where his compassionate guru “rescues” earthworms off of the sidewalk after a rainstorm, but I’ve heard that same anecdote about other mystical leaders, so maybe it’s just an urban myth.

        Anyways, it was satisfying to see him going off on that blithe, selfish fatcat.

        • I can’t tell precisely who is checking out my blog. WordPress shows me the number of people who have visited my blog (or rather the number of views) on any given day and any given month. It shows which countries these view(er)s are coming from. It also shows the number of views each post gets. The only other info I can ascertain are the specific searches or links that send me viewers and the links people click on my blog.

          I like wordpress. It is easy to use, mostly intuitive and user friendly. I started blogging on another platform which was closed down and so I had to transfer old posts. I wish I had started with wordpress from the beginning.

          I did start wordpress way back when. I guess that was 2008. I’ve blogged a lot since then, although not as much recently.

          So you read the post about the 99er suicide. It was sad. I’ve been a fan of Hartmann for a fairly long time, but I can’t remember exactly when I first came across him. I’m not familiar with his early career, either ADHD or NLP. I probably first learned of him through his writing about oil.

          I sympathize with your having to take care of your mother. My parents are still able in mind and body, but they are getting up there in age. I don’t deal well with stress. I have a hard enough time taking care of myself.

  9. I looked through some of your old blog posts today, to try to see what topics you find interesting, so as not to bore you to death with my own pet ideas. I’ll throw out some comments on these and other ideas you have already mentioned. Maybe you’ll see something worthwhile…

    Meyers-Briggs/Jungian Personality Types.

    I remember a phase where this swept through my circle of friends and we all typed one another. It didn’t amount to much – we just had a few laughs at one another’s expense, you know, stereotyped a few people and ignorantly mocked them. All harmless fun. I own an awful lot of Jung’s books, most of his collected works and a lot of books about him. My brother, who is a Ph.D and teaches World Religions – his entire philosophy seems to revolve around him. I don’t know why, but I just don’t appreciate him very much. I think he was a genius, no doubt about that, an incredibly original thinker, but… You may dislike me for this (I read your unflattering essay about the Christian apologist – I’m not a Christian, but I do have an unshakable belief in a Higher Power, which if it’s OK with you, I’ll refer to as God) anyways, to me, my impression of Jung’s main thrust in all of his theorizing is to create an explanation for just about everything in existence, that eliminates any possibility of God. He posits myths in place of actual mystical contact, and a collective unconscious in place of an actual external omnipresent being. I remember, at the height of my own mystical experiences, reading his book on Job, and thinking “No! He just doesn’t get it!” (I think it’s still in there in great big letters.)

    I actually enjoy reading Freud as much or more than Jung. I like he detailed case studies, which you can use to form your own conclusions. I give Freud’s conclusions less creedence than Jung’s, but Freud thinks more like me. I think he did most of his “research” on himself, and then when he discovered something, he went out and looked for the corroborating evidence in his patients, and unfortunately sometimes fudged it if he felt it was necessary. I think like that too, (except for the fudging) – because the only experiences we’re really qualified to interpret in great depth are our own – the point you made about meditation. I think that Freud’s rivalry with Jung is what caused him to feel the need to invent evidence. There was a major movie made about this recently, I missed it, but maybe you saw it? Anyways, I read the book – about how they both were infatuated with the same woman patient (a charismatic BPD, no doubt), and each wanted to prove that they were the tops in the new field of Psychoanalysis to impress her.


    Hmmm… I have lots of experience with this, but I don’t know if you will find any of it interesting. Let see… smoked weed from age 12 to 24, when I quit cold turkey. (Not God, Engineering!) I only hallucinated the first few times, but I understand it was less potent back then. My brother the Ph.D hints that it had a more profound effect on him, and he’s usually right. Comments: Destroys short term memory, weakens motivation and drive, enhances that ability to read people, hyperfocus on things like music. Took 12 months to get it out of my system after I quit.

    I read Carlos Castaneda’s books literally as they were coming off the press and arriving in our middle school library (yes, really! Texas ed sure has changed, huh?) so I really, really wanted to have those experiences he described. I lived on the outskirts of of Houston, and used to peddle my bike out to the “desert” and look for those peyotes and mushrooms, but alas… no such luck.

    Then…!!! Moved to Florida when I was 15, and someone took me to “Mushroom Alley” and taught me how to identify Psilocybe cubensis growing, as advertised, in the cow-pies. I’ve heard stories of garbage bags full, but finding them was hard work; except on rare occasions, usually a trip there would net about a dozen ‘shrooms. But once you learned the conditions (middle of summer, after the first hard summer rains) you could find them consistently. We usually made several trips there each growing season. There was a rancher who was cool with us looking, as long as we didn’t bother the cows.

    Unfortunately… I have no mystical mushroom stories to report. I remember the experience being: first a stupid involuntary grin on your face – looking around the room, seeing everyone with the grin, nodding at each other, “Yeah, here it comes!” And then you start to see lots of colors and shapes superimposed on things. If you closed your eyes, the colors and shapes got more vivid, sometimes you would see a strange kind of vignette like a snippet of a film reel, but nothing amazing or profound. Nobody else ever reported anything mystical either. One thing that was interesting – the pictures and shapes that you saw almost always included mushrooms – exactly like those mushrooms you see in psychedelic artwork – all covered with fantastic patterns like paisley for instance. I still can’t explain this – it was more than just suggestion, it was in a way kind of like Castaneda’s descriptions of his visions where the drug itself took on a personality inside of his hallucinations, except there was no personality for me, just a reccuring image like a symbol everywhere. After a couple of hours, the major effects faded, but you were still pretty non-functional, and then the boredom set in – “Oh God, when will this be over with???” It usually lasted a total of 6 to 8 hours. After a season, you were sick of them, but by next year, you were ready to go looking again.

    I went back there one time when I was in my 30’s, after I had stopped taking any kind of substances stronger than beer and caffeine. Sure enough, I found some mushrooms, quite a few of them, and I took them home and made some tea all by myself. This turned out to be one of the most indescribably unpleasant experiences of my life. It was SOOO boring!!! I don’t mean like ho-hum, I mean like every minute I was out of my normal senses seemed like eternity. I couldn’t wait for it to end! I went out into the blazing heat and mowed my lawn four times, trying to drive it out of my system. Because of this, I will never touch those things again!

    So that’s it for my psychedelics. Altogether an normal 70’s childhood. 🙂

    Later on when I did have mystical experiences, no foreign chemicals were involved. Unless you count all that ale in England; a possible factor, I have to admit. When I was trying to make some sense of it all, I avoided even alcohol because I felt like it muddied my clarity of thinking. I did have a debate with myself about caffeine – sometimes it was ok, sometimes it seemed to bring out my aggressive side which I was trying to get under control.

    • I don’t have any strong opinions about Freud. From what i understand, some aspects of Freud’s theorizing hasn’t proven true by research done since then. A lot of psychological theories are that way. I find Jung more fascinating, but most of his writings are speculative.

      There are several reasons that underly my interest in Jung.

      He based his theories both on his professional observations of patients (from his work in a psychiatric hospital and from his private practice) and on his personal observations of his own life.

      On the personal side, Jung was extremely spiritual. He said, in response to being questioned, that he didn’t believe in God because he knew God. This is why tons of books and articles have been written connecting Jung to mysticism and gnosticism. As far as I can tell, Jung never sought to deny or replace God. His theory of archetypes were inspired by religion and, unlike Freud, were never removed from the religious impulse.

      On the professional side, Frued and Jung began there careers prior to quality research. But I know by the end of Jung’s life research was becoming a greater focus. That is why Jung’s typology has interested me more than other Jungian ideas. Myers-Briggs wasn’t just further theorizing. It was primarily focused on the development of a test that would offer practical results in helping people.

      It’s not just the MBTI. that interests me. MBTI research has been correlated with trait research, the latter having been researched across cultures since the mid-20th century. I love, absolutely love research. I’ve learned so much by studying psychological research. It’s amazing what we are beginning to understand about human nature.

    • I’d say a couple of things about psychedelics.

      First, individual responses to them can be highly subjective and idiosyncratic. People often get out of them what expecttions they bring to them which is why context is so important, but obviously there is also a highly unpredictable factor. People bring many other factors along that influence the psychedelic experience: cultural worldviews, religious beliefs, past events, personality predispositions, unmanifest or undiagnosed paychiatric conditions, etc.

      For indigenous people, including those of ancient Europe, psychedelic consumtion went hand in hand with complex rituals, profound religious beliefs, a collective mythology, and massive amounts of both personal and social expectations. All of this is quite different for most modern people.

      Second, there are many objective factors as well. Dosage can make a world of difference. At low dosage, many psychedelics only produce visual effects such as patterns, colors and images. Traditional psychedelic rituals typically include techniques that magnify the effects: fasting, sensory deprivation, chanting, drumming, bodily mortification, combining plants with different chemicals, etc.

      I’ve had psychedelic experiences as you describe, but I’ve also had much more powerful experiences. It might be just a difference of choice of drugs and also maybe a diference of dosage. I did do mushrooms once. It was fairly intense, although far from being the most intense. I’ve also used LSD and Nitrous Oxide numerous times in the years following high school, and both of those I did a few times at high dosage. My mind and my entire sense of self was blown away. A big difference with LSD is that it can be more powerful and longer lasting than mushrooms. LSD is literally a ‘trip’.

      There could be some basic psychological differences between you and I. It’s hard to say why people have the experiencesthey have. However, as I understand it, anyone who tries DMT is guaranteed a mind-blowing and world-transporting experience.

      But all in all, meditation is a safer method, although it requires tons of effort and patience.

  10. Hi. A few days ago, you said:

    “I can say that, unlike most people, I have little faith in freewill.”
    So does that mean that you believe in predestination? I’d like to know the details, if you’re willing.

    I have this really dumb analogy. God is like the fire department. He’s got a general goal in mind: keep us from burning up what he’s created. Usually, he goes about his business and we never see or hear anything. Sometimes there’s a fire nearby, and he sends a truck and all he requires is that we pull over and get out of the way. On rare occasions, he sends a truck to you, and recruits you to fight a fire. So most of the time, we have complete freewill, sometimes we’ve got nearly total freewill, just don’t do one thing, and sometimes, very rarely, we have to choose to surrender our will completely.

    I’m convinced that when the Bible talks about “fearing” God, it is this loss of freewill that is meant. Think about it – anyone who gets close enough to God to actually get a glimpse of his true nature is going to be scared to the point where they would be in danger of losing their belief in freewill. I think this is why God seldom, if ever, manifests himself directly. (Please pardon the patriarchy – just following convention.)

    As I said before, I believe in a Supreme Being, I believe this being is responsible for creating the world we live in, and that this creation is still ongoing, and that the shape of that creation is determined by evolution. So strictly speaking, I’m an Intelligent Design-er.

    So if evolution is God’s agent, and natural selection requires a difference in order to act, and if mind is the latest frontier in human evolution, then our ability to choose among ideas is necessary for the process of cultural evolution. That’s why I think God not only allows, but requires that we have free will – so that our evolution can proceed. If God ran around performing obvious miracles right in front of people, pretty soon, people would give up and say “what difference does it make what I do?” and our thoughts and culture would cease to evolve.

    This is also my answer to “The Problem of Pain” as C. S. Lewis calls it. (If God is so all-powerful, then why does he allow bad things to happen?) I also believe in Evil. Do you? I have a kind of Gnostic view, that there is a conflict between “God” and “Satan” (just following convention again), but rather than our world being wholly evil, I think it’s just the part of the battlefield we’re familiar with. I think of God as an artist who’s trying to build something, and Evil as a force that’s trying to pervert it from within, and ultimately tear it down.

    I noticed in some of your earlier blog entries, you mentioned that you like horror and fantasy and Sci-fi. Just wondering if you’ve ever read David Lindsay’s “Voyage to Arcturus”? It’s very…interesting, along these lines. Someone like yourself, who seems to be very well versed in formal philosophy, could probably make more sense out of it than me.

    • “So does that mean that you believe in predestination? I’d like to know the details, if you’re willing.”

      To speak generally, I’m ‘agnostic’ about most issues of belief, whether belief for or belief against. i prefer intellectual humility when belief goes beyond knowledge. I’ve often claimed to be an agnostic gnostic. I have faith in faith… and nothing else. I accept the reality of the religious impulse for it is part of human nature and part of the human experience of reality, but I don’t limit that religious impulse to any single religious form.

      Everyone has beliefs. I just try to hold my beliefs lightly. I’m fascinated more by questions than answers. An answer is only worthy to the extent that it allows one to explore the question itself and offers insight into that which provoked the question in the first place. An answer that is uprooted from the act of questioning is meaningless at best and dangerous at worst.

      If you want specifics, then I’d recommend checking some previous posts where I discuss my thoughts about and views of freewill:

      “I’m convinced that when the Bible talks about “fearing” God, it is this loss of freewill that is meant. Think about it – anyone who gets close enough to God to actually get a glimpse of his true nature is going to be scared to the point where they would be in danger of losing their belief in freewill. I think this is why God seldom, if ever, manifests himself directly.”

      I have no strong opinion about your personal beliefs about God, although like you have some inclination toward a gnostic worldview. I rarely if ever have any final conclusions to offer (at least not about theology and metaphysics), but I have plenty of speculations based on my experiences, contemplations and studies. Here are several posts where I grapple with such notions as a hidden God and other similar things:

      “I noticed in some of your earlier blog entries, you mentioned that you like horror and fantasy and Sci-fi. Just wondering if you’ve ever read David Lindsay’s “Voyage to Arcturus”? It’s very…interesting, along these lines. Someone like yourself, who seems to be very well versed in formal philosophy, could probably make more sense out of it than me.”

      As you can see in the links I offered above, I’ve written quite a bit about the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. He is one of my all time favorite writers. I’ve never read David Lindsay’s “Voyage to Arcturus”, but the description of it sounds similar to the writings of PKD. Maybe I’ll read it sometime.

      • Hi, thanks for all the links, I’ll go in search of wisdom in the archives…

        I’m back! *shaking off dust*

        Re: video: speaker “lost his religion” when he encountered a primitive society that required tangible proof of his god…

        …and Jung invented a primitive worldview because he never experienced tangible proof of God!

        (Ok, I’m going to get off Jung’s case – it’s been a long time since I read him.)

        Next: God in the Gutter
        YES! I feel very strongly that this is true, and this is why I think that a few of those “red letters” in the Jesus Seminar belong to the “Jesus preached to the losers” texts in the NT.

        My own experience of grace was a case in point. I was a very skeptical, materialistic person. If I believed in God, it was in a very distant and uninvolved God, and it was only because of some prior experiences that I had had, but couldn’t explain. Agnostic was probably too warm to describe me. For the record, I did pray – I failed to mention that in my prior account; but it was the only time I had prayed in years and years. Now why would God answer me?

        I believe it, but I don’t understand it. If God wanted to use someone, why not pick someone who was already in the bag, so to speak? (Note: I was awed enough to “get out of the way” right away, meaning I didn’t fight it, but it took me a long time to surrender completely.)

        Well…*hefting shovel and pickaxe*

        You can read Lindsay’s book online:

        Here’s a summary: Everyman travels across planet Arcturus, encountering (allegorically) many philosophical systems, every one of which is exposed as “Evil”, trying to masquerade as “God”. When he finally meets “God”, however, he turns out not to be the wholly beneficent diety he expected. Of course, Everyman turns out not to be himself, either.

        • I never went through a strong atheist phase. Maybe it is because I never went through a strong theistic phase.

          It could be my personality as agnosticism seems to be my resting point on the theological spectrum. Or it could just be the religion I was raised in which was less overtly and simplistically theistic.

          I’ve always been attracted to spiritual practices, despite my lack of attraction to orgaized religion. Even as an agnostic, I still continue to pray to god(dess)… or rather informally converse with.

          Belief just never has made sense to me. It’s not about god being real or not. As far as that goes, it’s not about anything being real or not. This is where my agnosticism meets Eastern mysticism, especially nondualism and Buddhism.

          Mostly, I focus my spiritual practice on meditation where experience trumps belief. But that isn’t to say my meditation practice is open-ended. I’ve come to prefer mantra meditation, my main mantra being an evocation of Saraswati who is the goddess of knowledge and creativity.

          This is where Jung’s archetypes come in for me. The archetype behind Saraswati seems to be the same archetye behind the Gnostic Sophia and the Egyptian Isis. What I like about archetypes is that they don’t require belief for they are about allowing the patterns to emrge out of experience. And so you must prove the reality of archetypes in your own experience and in the experience of others.

          I don’t believe in Saraswati. I’m not a Hindu convert. The theological framework is just a way of making sense of experience that is therwise hard to grasp. Our minds naturally think in terms of story which is what Jung understood, and our minds are a part of the larger reality we find ourselves within. So, there is no easy or clear way to distinguish story and reality.

  11. “Mostly, I focus my spiritual practice on meditation where experience trumps belief.”

    What if your experience IS belief? What if I tell you in no uncertain terms that there is “someone” out there that is greater than we are? I know because “he” contacted me, I won’t say “out of the blue” because I did happen to pray, just that one time, so I did invite the contact, but I wasn’t expecting it in the least. I was praying, not for God to come into my life or any born again experience, I was praying for God to help someone else who was in pain, and because I was at a loss for anything else to do.

    Immediately after my intitial experience, my reaction was 1. Am I crazy? Am I imagining this? and 2. If I’m not crazy or imagining this, then what is this “being”? Is it good? It feels good, but is it just evil pretending to be good? God satisfied me, Joe Skeptic, about all of these concerns, entirely by experience. I won’t say that I could never convince you of this; you’re very smart and empathetic and open minded; but I know it would be hard to do because words don’t exist for some of it.

    This friend of mine, whom I described before, she was my teacher in many ways, though not so much with words and logic, rather with experiences that we shared. One of her favorite metaphors was that God was like a disco ball, and no one could possibly see the whole thing; everyone could just see what was reflected back to them from a few facets at one time. My own take is that God expects us to evolve to an understanding, no, a belief, no, a genetic predisposition, for being in oneness with all of his creation. To accomplish this, he has revealed a little bit of himself to many people, and in many cases, religious traditions have accumulated around these people. I believe we are meant to gather these traditions, and put the pieces together. I can’t speak for God as to what the outcome might be – as with Voyage to Arcturas, the completed picture might not be what we expected.

    Now I’m not claiming to be Jesus or Buddha, but I do believe that when God enlists us in this cause, he does infuse us with some wisdom so that we too have something to contribute to the process. Maybe, as I imply in my speculations about genetics, this IS how the process takes place; with changing brain chemistries influencing germ cells and creating generations of people who are ever more in tune with the principle of oneness by default, as it were. I believe that this is possible. I believe that these are “my” facets of the Disco Ball that I was allowed to see. I believe that by sharing them with you, I am fostering the process of evolution according to the design of God. That is my experience of God. What you are reading now are just the words that I, as a deeply inadequate human being, have chosen to describe that experience.

    If you’re thinking about pointing out to me that this all sounds very Jungian, I would agree, except for one point. If you try to build a worldview that encompasses all this, but which doesn’t include God, then it’s like you’re making a very accurate map of the territory but on what planet? And if you KNOW God exists, how can you ever be comfortable with this omission?

    But that’s beside the point. I’m not really attracted to philosophy, except perhaps as a tool that helps us find the right words to share our experiences, if we have any to share. I understand that my experience is not necessarily the way that God reveals himself to everyone. I’d just like to share them with you because, to me, that’s really what existence is all about for me. You can add them to your human interest lists or dismiss them as lunacy.

    So first, I’m asking straight out, do you believe God exists? Right this minute, I don’t care if you call it him or her or Jesus or Allah or The Spirit of the Water Hole. Just as long as it’s out there and sentient and we agree that it’s not just a construct of the human mind or subconscious. If so, what I’d really like to know is, have you had any mystical experiences that involve this being? If so, did “God” tell you anything? Do you think it’s possible to share it with me? Are you willing? Is there anything you’d like to ask me?

    If I’m annoying you or boring you, or you feel that this conversation is just unproductive, or doesn’t belong here on your excellent blog, please just say so!

    • I admire your forthrightness. In some people, forthrightness can be annoying, specifically when combined with such attributes as righteousness… but that doesn’t seem to be the case with you… or at least I can honestly say you haven’t annoyed me so far. I still am enjoying our exchange.

      I’ll talk about almost anything. That is my agnostic attitude combined with my curious nature. There is very little that is too weird for my taste. God talks to you? That is fine by me. I won’t even attempt to deny it or argue against you. That is your experience.

      I’m being very honest with all that I said above. That is the most straightforward way I can explain myself. it isn’t an issue of belief or reality. I don’t believe even that I exist. Do I exist? In a sense I do and in another sense I don’t. As for god(s), three traditions inform my understanding of my own experience:

      1) The Tibetan Buddhists have the idea of worshipping deities, not because they are ultimately real but because they are ultimately unreal and so they help us to understand our own ultimate unreality. This is to say god(s) are as real as we are which may not be as real as we normally assume.

      2) The Taoists have the idea that everything is ephemeral, that everything changes. What has a beginning also has an end. Anything created will be destroyed. Everything born must die. In the end, as in the beginning, only the Tao is real.

      3) The Hindus have their nondual philosophy. This allows for deity worship if that path attracts a person, but it also allows many other paths as well. There is a related notion about a secret heart which could be thought of like the disco ball. The secret heart is a void, emptiness… and yet it contains the potential of all things. We see in the divine what we expect to see. We each get our own personal vision of the divine or the void which means in doing so we don’t see the divine/void on its own terms. This can be a stumbling block.

      I will say that experience is or can be closely related to belief, but I won’t agree that experience is limited to belief. It gets tricky for other meta-beliefs underpin how we view the act of believing. There is no ultimate belief, even if there may be an ultimate reality.

      God isn’t being omitted. God is being given freedom from our beliefs which is the same thing as freeing ourselves. ‘God’ as ultimate reality (or as the Void or as the Tao or as the nondual or whatever) isn’t limited to any belief in God or even limited to the word. When looking for God, the disco ball becomes a funhouse with mirrors on all sides, mirrors reflecting mirrors, ad infinitum. Belief and doubt go hand in hand, forever inseparable. To get beyond this impasse, one needs to let go of belief, even if only for a moment, and sense that something else.

      I’m sorry that this is the best I can offer you. My answer is probably not satisfactory according to your worldview, your belief system. I’m trapped among other beliefs, struggling for the light like everyone else. I’m on my own path, shared by some but not by most. I don’t know where my path leads or if it leads anywhere. Maybe at the end of it I’ll discover your God… or maybe I won’t.

      On the other hand, neither will I claim to disbelieve God, to deny or even doubt. I could interpret my experiences through that lense, but I could interpret my experiences through many different lenses. Ultimately, all I have is the experiences as they are. I can’t explain them nor magically transfer them to anyone else. They are mine and only mine. My sense is we are all ultimately alone in this sense. I also sense that this aloneness isn’t what we think it to be for we aren’t what we think we are. Maybe nothing is at it seems.

      I’ve had mystical experiences or what could be interpreted as such. Then again, I could simply say that I’ve had weird experiences (with the origin of that word with the Wyrd, the Fates that weave the strands of our lives). I don’t know. To be honest and humble, all I can say is that I don’t know. This isn’t to say I don’t want to know. It’s just I wouldn’t even know what it would mean to know and what there is to be known. I openly admit my confusion and uncertainty.

      However I may respond to my own experience, I can’t say anything about your experience, for or against. Unless your god speaks to me, I can’t be convinced. Unless you are initiated into my state of mind, you’ll never be convinced. But it doesn’t matter, at least not to me. I don’t wish to convince anyone.

    • I thought I should add another element that would explain where I’m coming from.

      I sometimes identify as an epistemological anarchist. I developed this view from some influential writers I was reading in the years following high school. The main influences would be Robert Anton Wilson and John C. Lilly. Related to these two, I’d also point to Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. If you’ve studied the literature on altered states, you’d be familiar with these authors.

      Similarly, Philip K. Dick fits into this worldview of epistemological anarchism. His writings are all about perception and reality, but he had a somewhat religious spin in his own philosophizing. Along with Jung, PKD helped me to understand and appreciate Gnosticism (William S. Burroughs gave me another perspective). So, my sense of epistemological anarchism is mixed up with my sense of Gnosticism and Jungian archetypes.

      Later on, I discovered the notion of the imaginal. This idea comes out of Sufism. I may have first read about it in the writings of Henry Corbin. George P. Hansen connected this to the Trickster archetype and paranormal studies. The best overview, however, is the writings of Patrick Harpur. An earlier introduction for me to this type of thinking was Jacques F. Vallée, an astronomer and computer scientist who later was drawn into UFO research.

      This reading list isn’t a common one. I’ve only ever met one other person (Matt Cardin) who has read as many of the same authors as I have read. I mention this because I don’t know if you can understand my views if you’re not at least somewhat familiar with some of these authors. There is a long history behind my agnosticism toward beliefs and belief structures.

  12. I keep feeling bothered by my lack of ability to give you a satisfying answer. I suppose my answer satisfies me or satisfies me as much as I’m going to be, but it doesn’t seem to be what you were asking for and maybe hoping for.

    I was talking to my brother last week. We were discussing UFOs. He saw a series of lights in the sky. Talking to someone he knew, the person explained that those were just flares and that he knew because used to work on a military base. That might or might not be a true explanation. It’s hard to tell the difference between an honest explanation and a deceiving (including self-deceiving) rationalization.

    My brother agreed. He mentioned the orbs he saw many years ago. I suppose it was one of the weirdest experiences of his life. He was on a back road that was known for orb sightings and I think that is why he was there. Along with a friend, he saw an orb. It was hard to pinpoint. At one moment, the orbit looked like it was in the distance. And in the next moment, it looked like it was right in front of his face. He could see it almost as if it were simultaneously both far and near, an indiscernable distance, albeit definitely in front of him somewhere.

    The orb couldn’t be explained away like the lights in the sky. Even scientists have observed orbs and there still is no conclusive evidence of what they are, just many theories. A scientist can’t trap an orb and study it under controlled conditions in a lab. Neither can a scientist get a physical sample or even a measurment.

    That is like so many other experiences in life. But it gets so much more confusing when it is a private experience. You heard the voice of God or a god. Then again, schizophrenics and homocidal murderers have said they’ve heard God speaking. People can have the exact same experience while interpreting them differently and acting upon them differently. Some hear a voice and call it God. Others call it Zeus or Satan or a hallucination or nothing at all.

    Then there are people like me. I’ve never heard any divine voices or anything that might be interpreted as a divine voice. However, I have had many unusual experiences. I could even interpret some fo those experiences as divine, if I so choose and I would have no issue with doing so. I’ve prayed off and on for much of my life. I usually have no sense of who or what I’m praying to or if I’m just talking to myself or if it even matters.

    Nonetheless, I do often sense an ‘Otherness’, a sense of something more, whether or not it is precisely or entirely beyond me. When I sense that ‘Otherness’ it isn’t necessarily other for in those moments my own sense of self can get a bit amorphous and porous. I’ve increasingly turned my focus toward Saraswati in recent years. What she is or represents is genuine to me. There is something ‘there’. But she has never spoke to me.

    I really don’t even know what belief has to do with it. If she is real or not, my belief is irrelevant or so it seems to me. Reality isn’t dependent on belief. It either is real or not. More importantly, all experiences are real as such. An experience is an experience is an experience. The question is whether the interpretation of the experience corresponds to reality, i.e., to the larger realm of shared human experience, including but not limited to present scientific research.

    At best, I could meet you halfway by saying I believer or rather know that my experience exists and that my experience touches upon how some others have spoken of the divine. But that is the most I can do. So, God is at least real in my experience and my experience isn’t limited to what others call objective reality. Does that mean God is real? I don’t know.

    As I see it, God doesn’t cause evolution so much as the very notion and experience of God evolves. God, if he exists, is evolution or integral to it. God isn’t somewhere else. As the Gnostics saw it, we all are sparks of God. Our individual reality is God’s reality. Interpret that however you wish.

  13. Before I decided to go back to school at age 24, I met and fell in love with a woman who had a little son, only about 6 months old. She had separated from her husband who was abusive. We decide we’d eventually get married, but I wanted to get my degree and didn’t want her to be on the hook for my financial aid. So I went away to school in a city 5 hours drive away. This long distance relationship went Ok for about 2 years. Then all of a sudden, she calls me at school and tells me she wants to get back with her ex. Not because she loves him, but because she wanted her son to have a father (that was there, not absent, was the implication.) I tried to talk her out of this, because I knew it wasn’t going to work. She would agree, tell me she really loved me, but then call me back again with the same request. After a few weeks of this, I finally said OK, if you feel you need to do this, then do it. I hung up the phone and then I felt so sorry for her that I did something completely uncharacteristic; I prayed for her. I prayed really hard that God would watch over her and her son, and that he would take her pain, and give it to me to bear for her. I knew she would continue to waver, so I refused to answer the phone for weeks, until she stopped calling. I put it in God’s hands.

    Not too long after this, I was making the long drive home from school, which took me not too far from the ‘shroom fields. I was kind of bummed out about going home and not being with my girlfriend, so I decided to take a detour and go for a walk in the woods. Back when I was in my 20’s getting out in the woods was something I had to do regularly.

    I parked the car by the road and hopped the fence and began walking along the bank of a small stream that flowed out from deeper in the woods. I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, kind of just walking without paying much attention to my surroundings, since I was unhappy. Eventually I stopped and sat down on a log next to the stream. I was just sitting there, not really thinking about anything that I can remember, when all of the sudden a “voice” entered my head and told me to get up. I stood up immediately, before I even had time to process what had happened. Then the voice said “Walk across the water to me.” I knew that the meaning of this was that I should actually walk on the water across the stream, but I was still kind of in shock. The stream was only about 8 feet wide here, so I took a couple of steps and tried to jump across. What happened then was as if I had tried to jump into a wall; some kind of force met me and set me down, right in the middle of the stream, which was knee deep. The voice said “See what happens when you don’t listen to me.” Then it led me across the stream to the other side, and talked to me for a long time, while I just walked around aimlessly in the woods. There were no more words that I remembered afterwords; the voice was just very mild and soothing, and imparted a sense that everything would turn out OK. It walked with me back to the road, and left me there. I had a feeling of euphoria or joy that was incredibly intense; all I wanted to do was sing, and I did sing all the rest of the way home; it was just flowing out of me so strong that I couldn’t stop. The intense “glow” from this encounter stayed with me for more than a day afterwards.

  14. I’ll give you two responses.

    1) I can’t speak meaningfully to your personal experience. But I can speak to your personal interpretation.

    How do you know who you were actually praying to and who actually spoke to you?

    Even assuming a spiritual/supernatural origin, there could be any number of spirits and deities that might have been behind the voice. As you’ve done psychedelic mushrooms and were near that field, maybe this was the psychedelic mushroom spirit/deity speaking to you. As the voice didn’t speak to you anywhere other than this one place, maybe this was a spiritus loci or maybe this was an ancient Native American god who had been worshipped there since ancient times.

    All you can know for certain is you heard a voice.

    Why do you feel so certain about your interpretation?

    The experience itself on its own terms, at least as you describe it, allows for many possible interpretations. I’m not saying your interpretation is wrong. Rather, I’m pointing out that maybe, just maybe the experience is more important than the interpretation.

    Do you disagree? If so, why?

    2) No matter what I think or believe, your experince is still your experiene. Heck, no matter even what you think or believe, the experience remains what it is or rather what it was.

    I’ve never had such an experience. I can only try to intuitively understand your experience and from there contemplate the possibilities as they relate to my own unusual experiences and how I’ve sought understanding. But I’m mostly forced into a position of not knowing and not being able to relate.

    I could imagine this is frustrating for you. That is one thing I can definitely empathize with. I’ve had many experiences in my life that have left me feeling misunderstood and isolated. Some experiences are so personal that they make genuine communication and shared understanding nearly impossible or maybe entirely impossible.

    I don’t intend to be dismissive. But I could see how you might perceive some of my comments as dismissive. Take pity on me. I’d love it if God would speak to me.

    Going by what you say, it seems likely that I’ve spent a larger portion of my life praying to God. My parents taught me to pray as a child and from a young age I aked my parents about God. So many times I’ve prayed to God with all my heart and soul. I’ve longed for God to speak to me or give me a sign. But there was no voice.

    Even so, I’ve had other varieties of profound experiences. I’m not resentful that God didn’t speak to me. I’ve always figured that it wasn’t likely that God would speak in words, anyhow.

    From my perspective, I’d point out that if you’ve never had an experience of vast emptiness, then you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s like finding the space where one thought God should be and instead finding a God-sized hole in reality. It’s a silence that spoke louder than words which is something mystics have written about.

    I really don’t know what to say. You had an experience of a voice that was full of significence. I had an experience of a silence that was full of significance. Maybe the important part was the sense of significance, whatever we may think that significance was. Maybe our two experiences aren’t as different as they superficially appear.

  15. What Interpretation? I’d like to claim that this experience had a profound effect on my life, but it didn’t. I was not a very spiritual person. I didn’t tell anyone about it. It’s not easy to talk about it. I deliberately left out any interpretation. Any of your interpretations could be correct. Really, for all you know, I made it up. Maybe I’m making it up right now. You’ll never know for sure, right?

    To be honest, I felt stymied by your prior post. I think we were having a “communication breakdown” and just missing each other’s intentions entirely. I wanted to change direction. This goes back to my theories about evolution – that we are entering a new phase where teaching, not thinking, will be the dominant characteristic of the human species. If this is true, and if, as I also believe, it is God’s intention that we teach one another, especially about our spiritual experiences, then I think we were experiencing a setback. When this concept of “Man the Teacher” first dawned on me, I remember thinking “The Internet will play a huge role in this! It will bring people together who would otherwise never be able to meet and share experiences!” I had the thought that I might even set up a site that would facilitate this communication. But after twelve years of sharing my experiences with others via the Internet, I’m having my doubts. As I said before, nearly all my “spiritual friendships” I’ve made via email have ended in misunderstanding. Usually, it seems to be ego that gets in the way. There seems to something inherently judgemental about putting forth your own beliefs and conclusions, that others interpret as putting down their own. It seems that when only words are involved, when all the other senses that we use to communicate are absent, then miscommunication is very easy. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. I even wonder sometimes if the Internet is a purposeful invention of Evil, to foster misunderstanding by keeping us all from actually meeting in person and sharing a more full-featured, more meaningful exchange.

    There is a book by Mary Catherine Bateson, duaghter of Gregory Bateson. It’s called “Our Own Metaphor”. In this book, Mary acts as the amanuensis at a “summit” of scholars and scientists and spiritual folks including her father, who gather to discuss the emerging field of cybernetics. But the most interesting thing about the book is how she chronicles the interactions among the individual participants at the conference; the arguments, the misunderstandings, the moments of enlightenment, as a microcosm of the exact problems in communications among cultures and belief systems that the conference was called to address. I’m looking at our exchanges in a similar way. I wonder if it really is possible to attain understanding, to share experiences, via the inadequate method of words and description? Only one way to find out. So I continue…

    • I wrote a long comment, but I had a computer issue and lost it. I won’t rewrite it.

      I’ll just say that you seem to be trying too hard, trying to force people into boxes of your ideals. People don’t like that. They get frustrated and then you get frustrated. Just relax. Don’t try to force an idealized end result by sacrificing the simple process of relating well to others. If that isn’t what teaching is about, then teaching is worthless.

      Don’t let your over-idealism lead you to cynicism. Just because something is imperfect according to your perfect ideals it doesn’t follow that it is Evil. All of life is imperfect in this sense and yet, assuming God exists, it all comes from the Creator, including the internet.

      By the way, we all are interpreting all the time. I truly hope you understand that basic truth of life. Conflating interpretation with experience is another thing that will lead to communication difficulties and frustrating relationships.

      The reason I have become suspicious of interpretations is because a life of depression has humbled me. I’ve had many preferred interpretations which at times I was unable to separate from my experiences, and I’ve come to see the problems in this. My response to your experiences is no different than my response to my own experiences. I still struggle to see past various interpretations, whether beliefs or assumptions or whatever. If we were able to see without any interpretations, then society would be a utopia where everyone had mutually shared objective understanding of reality… but that is obviously not the case.

      There is nothing wrong with anything, unless you insist it be wrong… which you are free to choose. We are just talking here. There need be no grand expectations. Life is simple if you let it be simple.

      I have no answers to offer you. You feel frustrated and so you go around feeling frustrated about relationships. That is your cross to bear, I guess, assuming you continue on the same path. I don’t even know how to solve my own problems. I’m sure you are about as able to deal with your frustration issues as I’m able to deal with my depression issues. We humans are weird creatures, often causing our own problems.

      If God was unable to teach you patience and acceptance, then anything I say probably won’t be perceived as helpful. That is the odd thing about spiritual experiences. They can feel so profound, but then what do you do with them? Rarely do they utterly transform a person. We are brought up to heaven to find ourselves back on earth again… with only a memory remaining of the experience of that something else… in which we, like all the great mystics before us, find ourselves dumbstruck in trying to explain it to others. And we get frustrated or else, if we are lucky, maybe we eventually learn a better response than frustration.

      I’m still seeking out that other way. Like you, I’m just another fellow traveler. Our paths may coincide for a while and later diverge, but neither of us really knows where we’re going.

      • I think I see what the problem is. When I was younger, the definition of an agnostic was someone who believed in “God” but claimed that there was not enough evidence for us to know anything about “him” with any certainty. I just decided to check the definition on Wikipedia, and it seems that either I was mistaken, or the definition has changed somewhat since then, to include a lack of certainty about God’s existence altogether.

        When you called yourself an agnostic, and I said the same, I assumed we had a mutual belief in “something”, and an exploration of the possible nature of that “something” would be interesting to both of us. But if non-belief is part of your worldview, I can see where my constant references to God would seem like I was making an attack on you and totally disregarding or disrespecting your point of view. Maybe you made this point clearly at some time in the past, and I did want to have a dialog with you, so that I purposefully misheard you. Maybe I just focused on your label of agnostic and made the incorrect assumption.

        I guess when I switched to recounting my experiences, this only made it worse. I was thinking that perhaps you were just reluctant to talk, and I was trying to be encouraging by putting some of my own skin in the game, so to speak. I have never shared those experiences with anyone before, except for my brother. I can understand why this would have seemed like I was forcing something upon you.

        I keep coming back to the difficulty of communication by words because I wanted to let you know that I’m aware of the danger of misunderstandings, have experienced this before, so as to reassure you that I would not be jumping to conclusions if you shared your beliefs with me, and look what happened. Doomed from the start. Mea culpa!

        You are right, I do have a very strong belief in something, a being, “out there.” I will not be trying to convince you of this, however, because when I think of what it took to convince me, I know it isn’t possible. It does form the nucleus of my worldview, and all my thoughts and speculations and theories do revolve around this center. And I do see the world in terms of a struggle between good and evil – but isn’t that one of the core beliefs of Gnosticism? Didn’t you refer to yourself as a Gnostic? Oh No! Don’t tell me I screwed it up again!!!

        • It seems like your constantly in a defensive position as if you’re preparing for me to attack you with criticisms. You haven’t screwed anything up and you don’t need to preemptively declare such. I’m not going to attack you or blame you.

          Just chill, dude. lol It’s all good. 🙂

          See, this a teaching moment for both of us. I had no idea about your definition of an agnostic and you had no idea about mine. As I was saying, it’s a process of coming to terms. It takes patience and tolerance to get past seeming conflcts and confusions in general, but if you can go with the flow it works itself out.

          I must admit surprise at your understanding of agnosticism. I always understood agnosticism and atheism as being distinct categores, the former about knowledge and the latter about belief. You’d have a better chance of understanding my complicated uncertainty and indecisive curiousity if you were fully familiar with the writings of Philip K. Dick, especially his Exegesis.

          That goes to my gnosticism as well as it has been greatly influenced by PKD. Actually, my agnosticism and gnosticism go hand in hand, both being about knowledge. One of my favorite labels to apply to myself is that of an agnostic gnostic.

          You are partly correct about Gnostics. Many people, including some scholars, have (mistakenly) generalized all Gnostics as dualists, partly because that is how the Catholic heresiologists portrayed them. However, some people labeled as Gnostics by the heresiologists weren’t dualistic at all. To some extent, the heresiologists were projecting their own dualism onto others.

          Part of the problem in our challenging dialogue is the fault of my atyipical religious background. I was raised in the Unity Church which is New Thought Christianity. Unity might be the least dualistic church in all of modern Christianity. I was never taught to believe in evil and so it is a belief that has never made sense to me.

          A popular book among Unity people is A Course In Miracles (ACIM). It presents a nondualistic vision of the divine in Christian terms. The tradition that the ACIM is closest to is that of Valentinianism.

          Valentinus began as a Catholic and almost became the equivalent of the pope, but the growing dogmatism of Catholicism forced him to start his own movement. He sought to bridge the two extremes of early Christianity. He had a nondualistic view of love which is what motivated his attempt at bridge-building. That nondualistic love is explained in the ACIM and is a cental tenet of Unity.

          So, I’m a nondualist gnostic in the Valentinian tradition.

          For me, what distinguishes Gnosticism from mainline Christianity is its approach toward the divine via knowledge of the experiential variety. This is why I resonate with Jung saying he doesn’t believe in God because he knows God. Belief is unnecessary when you have knowledge. But like Valentinus, I see belief and knowledge as two paths that need not be in conflict.

          Gnostic emphasis on knowledge is the reason I ‘worship’ (meditate upon and pray to) Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. It doesn’t matter if she is ultimately real and so my belief in her reality is irrelevant. She is the personification of Truth, and the Truth itself is more important than the impersonation.

          This isn’t to deny or devalue the divine in human form. It’s just that Truth is real to me in the way God is real to you. However, I don’t believe in Truth in the way you believe in God… for Truth doesn’t need belief nor, for that matter, does it need to deny belief — hence, my agnosticism about the theist/atheist debate. Instead of belief, I emphasize love. So, your believing in God would be equivalent to my loving Truth.

          Does that make sense?

          I don’t know that I can really communicate what this means to me. Truth is a tangible reality to me, something like your hearing the voice of God. Truth is everything to me. I love, love, absolutely love Truth. And my truth is Love. Truth is my mission, my purpose. And Love keeps me going, keeps me from losing my faith in faith.

          Through depression and struggle, I increasingly associated Love withe Suf vision of divine longing. The Sufis described a longing that burns everything away. Loss and emptiness. That creates the space to experience something entirely other, but not something out there for there is no there there just as there is no here here, distance and division are then known as mere illusions.

          This is what I think of as gnostic knowing, a direct experience of reality as it is, no belief or doubt, no hope or fear. I should make absolutely clear that this isn’t just my philosophy. I’ve had this experience or at least glimpses of it.

          For this reason, I can have respect for your experience without it being my experience. I’ll never dismiss an authentic experience of knowing in another person, even when or especially when it leads to a different perspective. Truth is a multifaceted gem.

          • Defensive? Me? I’m always on the defensive. If you ever need anyone to hold the castle gate while plotting the enemy’s next four moves in advance, I’m your guy.

            I get the impression that you think that I think that God speaks to me all the time. It has been a long time since I heard God’s voice inside my head, and even when I used to, it was very very seldom. However I do attach a lot of weight to those moments, and one very specific thing that God used his direct voice to tell me was “Never forget that Evil really does exist.” That was when the scales fell from my eyes, and I realized that maybe God wasn’t as omnipotent as the Christian religions would have us believe. It sure did go a long way towards explaining a lot of seeming contradictions that I was struggling with.

          • Nah, I didn’t think God was constantly talking to you. But I was assuming that the experience had a strong and pervasive presence in your life. If God speaks to you, it is hard to forget that and continue on as if nothing is different.

            Here is the problem I have with claims to divine voices. Generally speaking, only one person hears them. So, as an outside observer of the phenomenon, I’m forced to rely upon comparison to see if any common truth consistently rises to the top, but it’s not clear that anything rises to the top.

            God apparently tells some people that evil is real while telling others it isn’t real. Every voice of God seems tailored to the individual so that it will be compelling or somehow challenging to that one person, but obviously not all these things God says can be true for they contradict ne another.

            This confirms my own sense of the divine. The Trickster is the ultimate archetype that rules over all spiritual/paranormal communications. In different religions and mythologies, Trickster characters play the role of messengers and even prophets (for example, Jesus has some Trickster characteristics).

            Tricksters challenge the status quo, but they aren’t always concerned with objective truth stated in straightforward terms. Tricksters often speak through symbolism that forces us to look deeper or shft our perspective. The one thing I know about God, in terms of the spiritual in general, is that he isn’t a literalist.

            One can think of spiritual experiences as useful means (a Buddhist idea). The queston is what is their use. It’s not so much about the experience in and of itself or the meaning thereof. I wonder about the actual impact it has or else the potential impact. What does the experience provoke? What direction does it push one in? To interpret it literally seems to miss the larger meaning behind it.

            As for evil, even though or maybe because I was raised without such a belief, the idea of it has attracted my attention, even if not my understnding. It is such an amorphous term that it is easy to project upon.

            On the human level, evil is associated with Satan, sin and hell. However, context is everything. In the Jewish tradition, Satan was a necessary challenger on the spiritual path rather than a demonic being, sin simply meant missing the mark, and the afterlife wasn’t divided into a dualistic heaven and hell.

            Evil can mean a million things to a million different people. So, which evil is real?

          • I was thinking about that voice I heard telling me about Evil, and I remembered that after I heard it, I also had a “vision”, a kind of “Panorama of Evil throughout the Centuries” sort of thing, where God took me on a tour, with various examples of how Evil had corrupted good intentions throughout history. Again, I can’t have a logical argument about this. I think we are always going to get down to this basic difference in our worldviews. Your quote of Jung was very appropo – “knowing versus believing.”

            I have been trying to lay a groundwork of experiences, not to win you over to my way of believing, but rather to give you an idea of how a logical skeptic can be transformed into someone who believes despite my inability to logically prove that any of my experiences originated outside of the inner workings of my brain. I admit I could be wrong. Perhaps I’m being misled by Evil; I don’t know. But I don’t believe it. I do believe certain things. I know I can’t prove them to anyone else’s satisfaction. God proved them to me, but the how of this is inexplicable to someone else. I kept a journal at this time and I devoted many pages to trying to put this “proof” into words. In the main it involves both an argument to one’s reason, in which your logic is convinced by synchronicity – a chain of events so overwhelmingly improbable, and yet with such an obvious purpose, that you can’t help but admit that there is an outside organizing force involved. That’s the easy part. The other half is an appeal to your senses, a cascade of feeling which is indescribable. Agape, joy, ecstacy, all of those things at the same time. It just blows away your resistance, and satisfies some sense of inner “rightness” that I didn’t even know I possessed. I called this phenomenon “The Signature of God.” I think that the “gift of grace” as mentioned in the Bible, can be defined as “being attuned” to this occurence. You can feel it coming. It’s like the drumbeats the signal the arrival of Surtur in “Voyage”; you know some form of truth is about to manifest.

            The main obstacle to hearing this presence of God is our ego, that continuous thought process which seeks to dominate and override these manifestations with an insistence on strictly logical, empirical evidence, which cannot be provided, and so, therefor negates God, and end of story. Mission accomplished. Evil subverts another necessary part of the natural world and uses it for it’s own purposes. Logic is not evil in itself. Words are not bad, they are are just subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation, they do not provide the whole picture, and so they can be turned against us.

            In an earlier post, you seem to be suggesting that I tailor my message in the interest of better communication. I can be less forceful, more patient, but I find can’t compromise my basic beliefs. This propensity of evil to turn our words against us is the reason why. I will willingly discuss and even change my own interpretations, or the logical conclusions that I have derived from my experiences, based on arguments or new suggestions from others. This is something I love to do. But In areas where “God’s Signature” is involved, I have to stick to my guns. I hope you don’t see my doing so as an attack on your own beliefs.

            I think Jung is a case in point. This is my theory about what might have happened to him. I think he was a scientist who had a very strong mystical impulse. He made a name for himself with his scientific and speculative probing into the Otherworld. He may have wanted to have a mystical expereince, but it just didn’t happen. Or, and this is the explanation that I prefer, he did have a mystical experience(s), involving an external “being”, but he faced a dilema because they contradicted some of his previous theories. He was in a epistemological “war” with Freud, and to backpedal on his theories would weaken his position. I think that he let his ego get the better of him. Instead of “sticking to his guns”, and accepting the existence of his “being” and revising his beliefs, he chose to try to logically explain this being away, in the interest of “better communication” with his peers and the public, who were more likely to accept a logical explanation than an inexplicable mystical one. So for example we get the concept of syncronicity, a valuable insight, but without the involvement of a real, external organizing agent. Did he just strip out the agent, so that he wouldn’t have to try to explain why it was there in his experience?

            Just my two cents. 🙂

  16. Not too long after the previous encounter, I was again driving across the state, this time heading back to school. It was the middle of the day. I was crossing the Everglades on the road that was called “Alligator Alley”; at the time, it was a narrow two-lane highway, before they turned it into an Interstate. The swamp there is absolutely flat, but the road back then had bridges and “wildlife corridors” which were places where the road rose up a dozen feet or so to pass over a stream or culvert.

    I was driving my old 70 Monte Carlo. I had the windows down, and I was blasting the stereo. The scenery was very monotonous, my mind was probably wandering. I was driving fast, just eating up the miles. In the distance was one of those rises in the road, which are tall enough to obscure your vision of what’s on the other side.
    All of the sudden, I felt the car begin to slow down. My first thought was some kind of mechanical problem. I keep trying to push down on the gas pedal, but it was like I couldn’t exert any force on it at all. Like my ankle wouldn’t bend. My foot wouldn’t respond to my mind! Pretty soon I was just shaking my head, slowing down to a crawl and approaching the upward rise in the road. Right as I got there, I quit fighting the car and coasted over onto the gravel shoulder of the road.

    The very instant I left the pavement, I heard a loud noise and I looked up, startled. Over the rise in the road came a huge 18-wheeler, roaring full speed, and he was IN MY LANE! He was trying to get around a car in a no-passing zone. Just as I looked up, he was right there. His eyes met mine, and I could see the shock in them, because he KNEW what had just happened. He whipped by me so close that the car shook and the wind sucked up gravel and blew it all over me throught the open window. We had just avoided a head on collision by inches!

    Needless to say, I was shaking. A few minutes later, after the truck had disappeared down the road, and I had recovered from my fright, I turned the ignition and the car started. I pulled back out onto the highway, and the car was driving just like it always had. I made it back to school without any further incidents.

  17. I was wondering if and how the last part of the above discussion might fit into the framework of my original post. I think it does.

    I began with the idea of inheritance. This complex because most things we inherit come to us along pathways we are unaware. And having inherited them, they define our entire sense of self, society and reality.

    The individual strands of our inheritance are woven together to create our reality tunnel. All of reality is filtered. The only way we can get outside of one reality tunnel is to step into another reality tunnel, and the only way to gain greater perspective is to take the vantage point of a larger and more inclusive reality tunnel.

    Some would argue that there is an ultimate meta-perspective that is above or includes all other perspectives. This would be the supposed God’s eyes view or, if you prefer, Buddha’s eyes view. I can’t personally speak about such speculative claims. If God exists, I would tend to thnk that only God gets a God’s eyes view.

    But even assuming we could become enlightened or some such thing, we would still need to speak in the language of a particular reality tunnel in order to speak to the natives. Heaven has to be brought down to earth, although I’d love to see someone try o bring the earth up to heaven. Some Gnostics believed the kingdom of heaven was already all around us. That vision does appeal to me and resonates with some aspect of my spiritual experience and intuitive sense of reality. That vision also has some resemblance to PKD’s God in the gutter (deus abscondtus), God come down to earth… or similarly Sophia, the Gnostic Aeon, fallen to earth.

    Brought down to earth or raised up to heaven, the essential meaning is the meeting of two worlds. The beautiful part of the Valentinian vision is that the two worlds always were and always will be one world. The apparent meeting of worlds, in that case, would happen in human perception rathe than in divine reality.

    Also, in the Valentinian vision, evil is nothing other han misperception. This would imply evil isn’t real, but there is an interesting perspective brought by ACIM. As being of divine essence, we share in the power of Creation in making real what we perceive. God will never deny our power to create even when our creations contradict God’s Creation. So, in a sense, we make evil real by our perceiving it as real.

    All these theological visions and traditions, among much else, are part of our personal and collective inheritance. The history if theology and philosopy has been a history of the development and refinement of our ability to interpret reality, generations upon generations of mystics and thinkers. There is another important area of inheritance that I spoke of in my post and hat is of culture in relationship to regionalism along with ideology or ideological predisposition.

    Let me return to the belief in evil from this other perspective of inheritance. I’m willing to bet that, if a survey was done, more Southerners than Northerners would state a belief in evil. It’s not just because there are more atheists in the North, but moreso that there are different religious cultures and hence different religious reality tunnels.

    On a personal level, I would guess that my view of evil is mostly inherited. I definitely was raised in a lack of belief in evil with my childhood church. More broadly, the culture I was immersed in as a child wasn’t a worldview that included a Southern-style of visceral evil. Still, I’m part of the even broader American and Western culture that has a long history of belief in evil… and so I do inherit it, even if only as an opposing view that sharply distinguishes my own more personal inheritance.

    I had one other example of what would appear to be inheritance of this latter variety, although I don’t know if it would be culture or genetics or both. This other example is that of unusual experiences taken on its own terms.

    I have a post somewhere that shares some research on spiritual experience. What is found is that regular church attendees have lower rates of spiritual experience and that after a spiritual experience people tend to decrease their church attendance. Personal spiritual experience challenges traditional beliefs and interpretations. From a psychological perspective, it turns out to be true that experience trumps belief, at least for the type of person who is prone to have spiritual experiences in the first place.

    This is even more interesting when put in the context of some other pieces of data.

    There are higher rate of UFO sightings in heavily populated areas such as the coasts than in rural areas. What differentiates these areas? Urban areas attract liberals and rural areas attract conservatives.

    Research on liberals and conservatives finds that the two types of people correlate to, respectively, thin boundary types and thick boundary types. Thin boundary types are more prone to spiritual experiences whereas thick boundary types are more prone to religiosity.

    One could argue that this is an inheritance from genetics for psychological predispositions have been shownto have various genetic correlates. One might also suspect parental influence, but as my case shows and as research shows peers have more influence than parents. Kids who grow up in multiculural environments (which are usually urban) tend to grow up to be liberals.

    As such, both our proneness to spiritual experiences and our theological interpretations are largely inherited from the social world around us. Genetics form the basic predisposition upon which external factors then build upon.

    All of this, of course, mostly happens on an unconscious level. The end result of who we become is the mystery of a confluence of factors. We come to particular experiences and beliefs without reall knowing why. It simply is who we have become.

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