Like any fool, I thought I could know change before change. I thought it could be an intellectual exercise, a well insulated thought experiment – like Einstein sitting cozy on the train. But I was wrong. Continue reading
Freedom, pushed to its purity, becomes the opposite of its definition. I have tested freedom, bravely or foolishly – I’m still not sure. I have followed every low limbic permission to its end expression – and nearly my own. I have walked alone, naked, on the shores of a lost lake deep in the woods of Quebec – without my glasses. And in that freedom, that genetic honesty, I chilled with the recognition of our true vulnerability. Continue reading
What is your time perspective? For some of us, every breath is a lifetime lived in full. After all, at our end, it is the last observable measure of our humanity that cannot be quantized any further. But when every graduation, from micro to macro, is as equal an entirety, how do we balance the poignancy of the present with investment in the future? Continue reading
For those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!
It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.
“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”
My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…
…wait…WAIT! I can’t do this. I can’t write this. There’s too much pressure. How the hell am I supposed to fit years worth of thought experiments into a single blog post? But I can’t weasel out… not when I’ve promised a paradigm shift. You’ll begin to feel it as I’ve felt it… or I’ll fail… epically. No escape. Prefrontal cortex shutting down… everything is panic…torture to think… losing my words… mind paralyzed, body fidgety, sweating, fighting to flee this one awful clawing question of how do I write this when words only tell us what we already know?
An idea. Not new, but seen through a different lens and a different language. I am alone, yet I am everything and everyone. I am the least and the most important expression of our universe. My time is infinite, yet quantized to the space of a single breath. In… Out… Each cycle a life lived in full.
Concept One: Our universe is expressed through time as a system – a set of elements that form a whole – whose boundary can be drawn at any expansion beyond a single point. From micro to macro, our nested human system can be subdivided by our human consciousness from single cell all the way out to the edge of our individual viable worlds. Common patterns, energy transformations, and feedback loops can be observed as consistencies throughout the whole.
Concept Two: Regardless of where our own system boundary is drawn by our consciousness, each enclosed element can be conceptualized as having equal, infinite importance to the definition of the human experience during a single quantization of time. All outside elements become environmental concerns. Since all possible boundary descriptions coexist through time, all system elements within our universe possess, concurrently, both infinite and insignificant value to the human experience.
Concept Three: When this conscious system boundary positioning is exercised to increase its flexibility, the brain (mind/personality) trades in its seat as master to become equal in importance to all other system elements in the human experience. If we value our own unique existence, the conceptual conclusion of this equality is unrelenting compassion for all elements forming the total universal system.
Concept Four: Accepting this equality of value allows an individual human to consciously engage with his/her system elements (including the brain’s concept of self) with unrelenting compassion and the freedom to assign importance/influence, ranging from infinite to insignificant, according to the choice of system boundary position. This concept eliminates the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict between our yearning for universal unity (bliss) and our need to assert our individual importance (ego). What was once a struggle becomes a conscious dance between equally valuable expressions of the human experience.
Concept Five: Pragmatic system state theory is concerned with the development of practical exercises and tools for increasing our system boundary flexibility and negotiating our personal system states – where system state is defined as the communal interactions of a set of equally valued elements within a described boundary during a specific quantization of time.
As with any branch of pragmatism, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Words are just words until they change the way engage with our humanity. A selection of Blank Canvas Living’s upcoming posts will highlight the remarkable therapeutic possibilities of pragmatic system state theory (taking full advantage of current neuroscience and neuroplasticity) in the fields of addiction, mood disorders, relationships, weight loss, productivity… and that’s just the beginning. But for now, perhaps the best argument for this conceptual model is how quickly and efficiently it helped me shift my own system state so I could get my shit together and write this blog post!
“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
What is the true value of any holiday? To strengthen and celebrate social bonds through shared ritual and tradition… D’uh! But wait a sec. What happens when we untether ourselves from our anchoring connections? How can we rank true value in the context of a raw genetic singularity? And if said singularity is coded to produce a system with no patience for pageantry, small talk, or foreplay (just give me a good man with a nice bit of fur), can there be any definitive ‘true hierarchical value’ inherent in the pomp and circumstance of human tradition?
Brains driven to philosophical reaching devote energy to the project not because it’s a laugh-a-minute-joy-ride, but because their rasping against reality becomes insistent, incessant, and incapacitating.Yes, ritual sets a shared stage and defines a common language of experience, but when that stage and language feels so incongruent to our individual system truths (or rather ‘working solutions’), do we just suck it up and play along?
None of us can thrive (or even survive!) as systems in isolation. Insanity can be defined as a system no longer compatible with a larger shared model of reality. A fine line in the sand? Maybe, but a very definitive one. So how far can we push into independent explorations of existence before we risk alienating our most precious resource, our extended system, our loves?
Existentialism posits that personal freedom and conscious value assignment are axiomatically human. But take a closer look at the (decidedly male) brains behind the theory. In their time, with their DNA and experience, existentialism was a perfectly Viable World (What is Viable Worlds Theory?). Schopenhauer got off on music. Kierkegaard rejected the woman he loved, while the only woman Nietzsche loved rejected him (so what if she was already taken). And Sartre, don’t even get me started on Sartre! I can just see Simone De Beauvoir rolling her eyes as Sartre tried to brush off another affair as “not ‘meaning’ anything.”
As a woman, hopelessly romantic and impassioned by ideas, yet equally seduced by sensation and terrified of loss, can I risk that same freedom of intellectual ideation to find my own Viable World? Of course! And I did – when I made the unprecedented decision this past year to skip the holidays (and December’s blogging) and dedicate myself, through a concise set of thought experiments, to compatibility testing a long gestating philosophical framework with current neuroscience in a globalized human community. Miracle of miracles!! After ten long years, on December 27th, at 8:20am (while folding laundry – go figure) the rasping finally stopped!
But what about Christmas? I had to have faith that my loves would welcome their prodigal daughter back into the fold come 2014 – and, graciously, they have. But plugging myself back into a broader system is as frightening as it is comforting. What if I’ve pushed my Viable World too far? I was at the hair salon celebrating the start of this new journey (one in which I hope you’ll share!) when I overheard the woman in the chair next to me say, with full genuine emotion, “…and I just loooove Christmas.” I was suddenly, ridiculously jealous that there are people on this earth who can happily snuggle under the warm blanket of symbol and habit, while so many of us are coded to keep asking “why?”
My back went out when I stood up from that hair appointment – a week and a half later and it’s still hurting like a bi-atch. I can’t help wondering whether, on the verge of massive conscious neural rewiring, my brain/body is trying to hold on to its past, and its struggle. It’s such a girl thing, isn’t it, worrying if something new and wonderful is simply too good to be true? F*ck it! I’ve got the balls to find out!
Nietzsche’s assumption of a ‘true hierarchy’ of values is the ultimate in human arrogance. If you find yourself rasping against your own reality this January, risk asking “why?” and dare to engage with your personal system’s intuitive hierarchy without judgement or hubris. Because, it’s only after honest acknowledgment and acceptance that negotiations can begin.
The successful survival of our species has always depended on pattern prediction. We model our brains and our behaviours on the patterns we experience and adopt as truth. We then fit new information into these existing structures that dictate our interpretations and attentions. The following three basic patterns found throughout nature easily illustrate this precept:
1) Sequences – From ’rounding the bases’ while dating to predicting the sequence of seasons/weather for agriculture
2) Branched Hierarchies – From attention priority scales (eg: run from wasp – run screaming from bee) to societal/job roles
3) Networks – From understanding our interaction within ecosystems to Richard Branson’s business success
Countless patterns, many coded within our own bodies, can be translated from micro through to macro: torus energy fields, gravity, the golden mean, crystallography… etc. How many humans have devoted their lives to finding the ‘one governing pattern behind everything’? Although this one-ring-to-rule-them-all search is undoubtedly a noble, and most exquisitely human, cause (and who am I to say it can’t be done!), I propose we lay out on the grass with Socrates and take a bit of a breather.
Socrates had the balls to confess his truth, that “all I know is that I know nothing.” In his classical world, full of proportions and ethical theorizing, this was a tantalizingly provocative admission. But in our globalized, overly connected, overly rationalized, universe, we can’t all just wander around in loosely draped robes getting into philosophical debates with handsome younger, and powerful older, men – although I’ve pretty much just described my idea of heaven. We have to be a tad more, dare I say, pragmatic about things. Yes, James and Kierkegaard were on the right track, but I propose we push their philosophies even further…
The Viable Worlds Theory
First of all, we need the scientific method to adapt to the 21st century. It was all fine and good for the Enlightenment, and even for Kant’s obsessive categorizing. But truisms are so, like, pre-Edwardian. Wake up people! Even fashion’s gone individual! We need to drop the attention directing ‘hypothesis’, and demand ‘conclusion statements’ that include multiple interpretations of the data set. Let’s pass our results around to different faculties, post them on social media for public interpretation, and get correlation perspectives from a wide variety of personal paradigms.
But how do we function, let alone thrive, in a world of such unfathomable complexity? How can we have faith in faith when we accept the validity of all? Do we have to put ourselves through the strictest asceticism, like Gautama Buddha and Martin Luther, before we reach enlightenment? Or get all uppity like, and I type this with utmost respect, Muhammad and Confucius? Just relax, I’ve got good news for you. You’re already living in your own viable world.
Whether you define your core as your pineal gland, your sub or straight-up conscious mind, or the surface of your skin, your individual viable world (your personal paradigm) extends outwards through (as many as you believe exist) dimensions from this point all the way to the edge of the universe – wherever you understand that edge to be. This is your reality, and all your patterns, values, and decisions will be guided by this framework. As unromantic as it may sound, every human is essentially living in their own world. I believe we have an intuitive sense of this principle – just look at the language we use: “living in his own little world”, “welcome to my world”, “it was like stepping into another world.” I’m not going to go all Chomsky on you and insist that language is in itself a philosophical proof, but the lingo is undoubtedly interesting.
Just as so many genes in your DNA can be switched on or off, so to can you negotiate with your viable world. The success of any system, from skin cell to Wall Street, is directly proportional to its ability to regenerate, adapt, and accommodate. These three factors are your go-to checklist for evaluating the personalization of your own viable world. Slow healing/regeneration = change your diet. New boss at work = adapt your priority scale. Just married a writer = accommodate or die. Let’s not forget that we are a social and inherently ambitious species. By comparing our world with the worlds (as expressed and experienced) around us, we can alter our own to best serve our purposes and fulfill the full potential of our preciously unique genetic code.
People who are depressed live in a bleak, unforgiving world because their internal landscape has become bleak and unforgiving. People suffering from cleanliness OCD are, quite literally, living in a world with more germs than the rest of us. All the sufferer’s interpretations, actions, and attentions are in response to this paradigm. Psychopaths think we’re weak, inferior, and sacrificial – of course they do! In their world, wouldn’t you?
What about faith? In my world, my faith is the only truth, stretching from my core out to the edges of my universe. Interacting with people in parallel worlds of faith is a spiritual joy. Other faiths? Other worlds. All viable. All valid. I dare you to have the kind of balls that Socrates dared to parade through the streets of Athens. I dare you to really think about what the viable worlds theory could mean for our global economy/society.
Instead of asking yourself, “What kind of person do I want to be.”
Dare to ask, “What kind of world do I want to live in?”
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. But while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.
Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. When not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.
The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). However, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).
Interchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.
“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” –Arthur Schopenhauer
Sharpen blade. Slice pepper straight through. Rip out reproductive organs. Throw away mangled innards – thereby destroying the only chance this sweet, ripe, living system ever had to fulfil its ‘Wille zum Leben’. Another life sacrificed for one glorious, throbbingly vibrant… snack.
It’s one of the raw immutable truths of our existence: something has to die for us to live. While Schopenhauer should be applauded for trying to make this transition as humane as possible, his philosophical drift into humanism is a bastardization of his adopted Hindu principle of ‘universal compassion’. “Hindus believe that consciousness is present in all life forms, even fish and plants. However, though the soul is present in all species, its potential is exhibited to different degrees.” For him to exclude from moral embrace all life that does not share our five, exquisitely limited, senses, is only an extension of the hypocrisy against which he rages.
If morality, evolutionarily and sociologically speaking, is concerned with the preservation of life and reduction of suffering, ‘universal compassion’ necessitates extending our morality beyond the selfishness of its inherently humanist coding. Babies call forth our ultimate moral care, but yet are stationary expressions of life that reach out for the warmth of a mother’s arms the same way young green shoots stretch out searching for the sun. A baby’s face and irresistible scent elicit an advantageous response from its environment the same way the rosy pink and perfume of petals help ensure the world comes in close to help it achieve its goals. Empirically speaking, a baby can easily be found to have far more in common with a plant than an enemy soldier has observable differences from his mortal moral foe. Who are we to disrespect all life that uses means outside our five senses to calibrate its reality, when our own perception is so often metered by other less measurable, yet equally informative forces?
History has proven that morality is an extension of ourselves at one moment, in one life. Schopenhauer demands that morality be rooted in ‘universal compassion’, then uses an essentially Western, humanist definition of ‘universal’ that contradicts his Hindu sources. His moment, his morality. Our own moment in time culturally frees us to extend our personal moralities beyond our five senses, and out into an ever expanding world of complexities.
The moral of this story? Next time you eat a salad… show those veggies some f-ing respect!
Robin Gibb, 1/3 of the legendary Bee Gees, cheated on his first wife with (by his estimation) over 100 women. They divorced and he spent two years in bed with a bottle, so depressed he feared he was going mad. This is the same man who so recently fought with everything he had to stay alive for just one more day. What had changed?
We all live in different worlds. One person’s reality may look, taste, and smell quite similar to another’s, but our brains wire meaning and importance with incredible variation. Where/when our realities overlap, we feel safe, accepted, secure. Surrounded by like-minded brains, the world makes sense – cause and effect, social etiquette, cultural norms. But there is only one place where we meet, all of us, on the same plane… emotion.
The artists we remember have the ability, through their work, to draw us into an emotion and keep us there until we feel it is our own. Emotion and intellect is a back and forth evolution of consciousness. Art, whether through colour, words, or music, allows us to engage in this evolution outside of ourselves, protecting our delicate identities and egos. An emotional reaction triggers an opening in our thinking. Suddenly, we have internal permission to change our perceptions of reality, bringing them either more in line with the artist’s vision, or reinforcing an opposing viewpoint.
But what about the artist?
“The real world was just too real – and we didn’t want to be part of normal life. We wanted to create a magical world for the three of us, and the only way we could do that was to lock ourselves away and be creative.” – Robin Gibb
We must not underestimate the emotional intensity and sensitivity needed to create an outside expression of a universal emotional reality. Among those few born with this gift (some might say curse), along with the talents to communicate it, there are fewer still who can touch us independent of their time. We call them ‘the greats’ – our ‘geniuses’.
But when a mind can only justify itself by creating its own external reflection, participation in a communal, comfortable reality is an impossibility. To add to the artist’s burden, the energy costs of this constant self-reflection make peace of mind an active, rather than a passive, state of being. The artist requires a certain level of selfishness to preserve these energies and not get sucked into the bottomless emotional demands of a world, which to them, is forever on fire. Those who deny this in-born protection, and claim an artificial selflessness, risk their minds following ‘the rules’, if not their very lives.
Robin Gibb got out of bed and began living more honestly. When an artist accepts himself/herself as an artist and begins to live authentically in their ‘village role’, they are able to surround themselves with people who will support (if not necessarily share) their unique vision of reality. Under these circumstances, the artist can finally give back more than he/she takes. Robin Gibb found Dwina, a liberal-minded woman who gave him the space and freedom to live in a way that fueled his creativity instead of draining it. Even so, Gibb pushed his luck by fathering a child with their maid. Because after all, artist or not, guess we’re all stuck being human.