JAMES P. CARSE ON NATURE, ORDER, CHAOS

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WE CONTROL NATURE for societal reasons. The control of nature advances with our ability to predict the outcome of natural processes. Inasmuch as predictions are but explanations in reverse, it is possible that they will be quite as combative as explanations. Indeed, prediction is the most highly developed skill of the Master Player, for without it control of an opponent is all the more difficult. I t follows that our domination of nature is meant to achieve not certain natural outcomes, but certain societal outcomes.

A small group of physicists, using calculations of the highest known abstraction, uncovered a predictable sequence of subatomic reactions that led directly to the construction of a thermonuclear bomb. It is true that the successful detonation of the bomb proved the predictions of the physicists, but it is also true that we did not explode the bomb to prove them correct; we exploded it to control the behavior of millions of persons and to bring our relations with them to a certain closure.

What this example shows is not that we can exercise power over nature, but that our attempt to do so masks our desire for power over each other. This raises a question as to the cultural consequences of abandoning the strategy of power in our attitude toward nature.

Continue reading “JAMES P. CARSE ON NATURE, ORDER, CHAOS”

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FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES

THERE ARE at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

Since finite games can be played within an infinite game, infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of finite play. On the contrary, they enter into finite games with all the appropriate energy and self-veiling, but they do so without the seriousness of finite players. They embrace the abstractness of finite games as abstractness, and therefore take them up not seriously, but playfully. (The term “abstract” is used here according to Hegel’s familiar definition of it as the substitution of a part of the whole for the whole, the whole being “concrete.”) They freely use masks in their social engagements, but not without acknowledging to themselves and others that they are masked. For that reason they regard each participant in finite play as that person playing and not as a role played by someone.

Seriousness is always related to roles, or abstractions. We are likely to be more serious with police officers when we find them uniformed and performing their mandated roles than when we find them in the process of changing into their uniforms. Seriousness always has to do with an established script, an ordering of affairs completed somewhere outside the range of our influence. We are playful when we engage others at the level of choice, when there is no telling in advance where our relationship with them will come out-when, in fact, no one has an outcome to be imposed on the relationship, apart from the decision to continue it.

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.

There is, however, a familiar form of playfulness often associated with situations protected from consequence-where no matter what we do (within certain limits), nothing will come of it. This is not playing so much as it is playing at, a harmless disregard for social constraints. While this is by no means excluded from infinite play, it is not the same as infinite play.

By relating to others as they move out of their own freedom and not out of the abstract requirements of a role, infinite players are concrete persons engaged with concrete persons. For that reason an infinite game cannot be abstracted, for it is not a part of the whole presenting itself as the whole, but the whole that knows it is the whole. We cannot say a person played this infinite game or that, as though the rules are independent of the concrete circumstances of play. It can be said only that these persons played with each other and in such a way that what they began cannot be finished.

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.

James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games
Read a brief and/or a longer summary here.
Read the whole book here.

BERGSON ON LANGUAGE AND CONSCIOUSNESS IN EVOLUTION

Life is of the psychological order, and it is of the essence of the psychical to enfold a confused plurality of interpenetrating terms. In space, and in space only, is distinct multiplicity possible: a point is absolutely external to another point. But pure and empty unity, also, is met with only in space; it is that of a mathematical point. Abstract unity and abstract multiplicity are determinations of space or categories of the understanding, whichever we will, spatiality and intellectuality being molded on each other. But what is of psychical nature cannot entirely correspond with space, nor enter perfectly into the categories of the understanding.

Is my own person, at a given moment, one or manifold? If I declare it one, inner voices arise and protest—those of the sensations, feelings, ideas, among which my individuality is distributed. But, if I make it distinctly manifold, my consciousness rebels quite as strongly; it affirms that my sensations, my feelings, my thoughts are abstractions which I effect on myself, and that each of my states implies all the others. I am then (we must adopt the language of the understanding, since only the understanding has a language) a unity that is multiple and a multiplicity that is one; but unity and multiplicity are only views of my personality taken by an understanding that directs its categories at me; I enter neither into one nor into the other nor into both at once, although both, united, may give a fair imitation of the mutual interpenetration and continuity that I find at the base of my own self. Such is my inner life, and such also is life in general. While, in its contact with matter, life is comparable to an impulsion or an impetus, regarded in itself it is an immensity of potentiality, a mutual encroachment of thousands and thousands of tendencies which nevertheless are “thousands and thousands” only when once regarded as outside of each other, that is, when spatialized. Contact with matter is what determines this dissociation. Matter divides actually what was but potentially manifold; and, in this sense, individuation is in part the work of matter, in part the result of life’s own inclination. Continue reading “BERGSON ON LANGUAGE AND CONSCIOUSNESS IN EVOLUTION”

FUNDAMENTALISM AND COMPLEXITY

Today, a neutered mainstream version of [liberalism] settles for an anodyne ideal of equality, shifting the occupants of our power structures around but leaving the structures themselves intact.  They seem not to realise that these structures necessitate inequality, whether delineated by race, gender , or some other distinction.  An exploitative system requires people to be exploited.  Racial prejudice, male chauvinism, nationalism, etc, enable and justify such a system, but eliminating these forms of bigotry won’t change the underlying dynamics.  Someone else will be exploited instead.

I visit this issue for two reasons.  First, I want to make clear that social justice must be more than the usual grab bag of identity politics issues.  The kind of social healing we need requires the massive overhaul, probably the total reformation, of our systems of medicine, education, birth, death, law, money, and government.  Second, the same pattern of reaching for superficial changes that don’t disturb the underlying system afflicts environmentalism just as much as it does social justice.  So, just as a company can hire black, female, and LGBTQ executives at headquarters to administer a supply chain that exploits dark-skinned people in overseas factories and believe itself to be progressive, so also can it offset its carbon emissions by paying into a reforestation fund, all the while sourcing environmentally toxic products, and still call itself green.

The point is not to condemn the green rationalisations of corporations (or you or me); it is to illuminate the mindset of fundamentalism that enables those rationalisations.  Fundamentalism of all kinds is a disengagement from the complexity of the real world, and I am afraid it is ascendant in many realms, not only religion.  I even see it in various theories of alternative medicine, in the form of the Great Revelation of the One True Cause of all disease.  Fundamentalism offers certainty, a lockdown of thought into a few prescribed pathways.  The rush to The Cause, the retreat to unquestioned axioms taken on faith, does not serve us in a time of the disintegration of so much of what we thought we knew.

The quality of complex systems collides with our culture’s general approach to problem-solving, which is first to identify the cause, the culprit, the germ, the pest, the bad guy, the disease, the wrong idea, or the bad personal quality, and second to dominate, defeat, or destroy that culprit.  Reductionist thinking pervades the entire political spectrum, or certainly mainstream liberalism and conservatism.  When no proximate cause is obvious, we tend to feel uncomfortable, often to the extent of finding some reasonable candidate for “the cause” and going to war against that.

Perhaps what we are facing in the multiple crises converging upon us is a breakdown in our basic problem-solving strategy, which itself rests on the deeper narratives of the Story of Separation.

Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story
https://charleseisenstein.org/books/climate-a-new-story/

KNOWLEDGE & LOVE

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True knowledge is the experiential understanding that there is only ever-present, unlimited Awareness or Knowing. Nothing other than this is ever known even when it seems that a mind, body and world are known. This ever-present, unlimited Awareness, which is simply the intimacy of our own being, is the fundamental nature of the apparently inside self and its corollary, the apparently outside object, other or world.

All religions are founded upon this understanding. In Christianity it is expressed as, “I and my Father are one.” That is, I, Awareness, and the ultimate reality of the universe are one and the same reality. In Buddhism, “Nirvana and Samsara are identical.” That is, the transparent, open, empty light of Awareness which is not made out of any kind of a thing – nothing – is the substance of all appearances – everything. Nothing taking the shape of everything. In Hinduism, “Atman and Param-Atman are one.” That is, the individual self, when divested of superimposed beliefs and feelings of limitation, stands revealed as the true and only self of eternal, infinite Awareness. And in Sufism, “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.” All that is seen is God’s face and it is God that sees it.

All these phrases are conditioned by the culture in which they appeared but they all point towards the same unconditional truth – the reality of all experience.

The realization of this truth dissolves the beliefs in distance, separation and otherness. The common name we give to this absence of distance, separation and otherness is love and beauty. It is that for which everyone longs – not just those of us that are interested in non-duality but all seven billion of us.

In this realization true knowledge and love are revealed to be one and the same – the experiential realization that the true nature of the apparently inside self and the apparently outside world are one single reality made out of the transparent light of Awareness, that is, made out of the intimacy of our own being.

This revelation of understanding and love strikes at the heart of the fundamental presumption upon which our world culture is founded, the presumption of duality – I, the separate inside self, and you or it, the separate outside object, other or world. All conflicts within ourselves and between individuals, communities and nations are based upon this presumption alone and all psychological suffering proceeds from it.

Any approach to these conflicts that does not go to the heart of the matter will postpone but not solve the problem of conflict and suffering. Sooner or later as individuals and as a culture we have to have the courage, the humility, the honesty and the love to face this fact.

The highest purpose of all art, philosophy, religion and science is to reveal this truth in an experiential manner although all these disciplines have temporarily forgotten this in our culture. However, it may not be long. As the painter Paul Cezanne said, “A time is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution”.

This is the only true revolution, the revolution in which our view of reality is turned upside down. Awareness – pure Knowing – is not just the witness of experience. It is its substance, its very nature. Everything changes when we begin to live from this point of view. We realize that what we have always longed for in life was present all along in the depths of our own being. It is always available, never truly veiled. To begin with it is often felt as peace in the background of experience but it cannot be contained and before long it begins to flow out into the world as joy, freedom, love and creativity.

Rupert Spira, The Nature of Experience
https://non-duality.rupertspira.com/about/non-duality