Saturday, October 13, 2007

Moving Between Binary Oppositions

Can you hear that whirring, rattling sound?

That's the gerbils running frantically in their wheels.

We are the giants who've entered the room, they both fear us and want our attention, since we feed them. So they run, as fast as they can, desperate to get our attention, and to get away at the same time. The infernal binary opposition.

Strange animals.

Maybe all they really want is to get out of their cages.

The wheel turns and turns and they run and run, staying in one place -- a dead heat in a ferris wheel.

We don't need them, they need us. We can go our way, pay no heed. The rattling is not so loud as to disrupt.

All they leave us are their droppings in the tray under the cage. That's the genius of the wire boxes, the droppings fall through.

Still, I never liked cleaning up after them. That's why I never wanted one for a pet.

The problem for the spinning gerbil gets to be something like this:

Inside his little six sided binary opposition cage he's spinning that wheel with the circumference of the irrational number pi, and he's running and spinning so much he gets to thinking he's running things.

And then what do you get?

You get an a narcissistic, self absorbed authoritarian gerbil.

And the more you ignore him, the more he runs, thinking all the while he's running things.

Nature is gray scaled, Life can’t be reduced to deterministic numerical pattern and true knowledge is available only at death. Max's search can be seen as the saga of the 20th century that is doomed to fail since it uses the wrong tools. Other tools are available, they mustn’t necessarily be non-scientific, other logic systems, set of axioms and interpretive methods are possible. The story of movie Pi unfolds when we reveal the underlying binary oppositions that are woven through it...

But, aren't binary oppositions just the same as a dialectic?

A dialectic, when I think of it, is more of a spiral, a process. A binary opposition is essentially the two parts that may begin the dialectical process. So a dialectic would be a series of binary oppositions. A series of "thats" and a "not thats" beginning with a single "that." Computers use that simple binary component to compute with as well. It's really the fundamental basis for Western rational thinking. And it goes back at least as far as the Greeks. Understanding it can open many doors, or perhaps open the tops of boxes, the kinds of boxes dogma can create.

In observing how thought occurs in the mind, recognizing a binary opposition may merely be seen as an identification of the first steps in a rational thought process where one can identify, with concepts, a particular rational set: "that, not that."

Mathematically speaking, binary opposition is itself a concept that attempts to describe a raw, cognitive process that precedes culturally loaded values. "Views" are only one of the many possible concepts that can be included in a set of two -- that is, the conceptually recognized "that, not that" separated from a whole field of perceptions and distinguished. Noticing this is noticing our cognitive rational process at work in us.

Another set of concepts that can be used as cognitive tools for observing our inner process has been offered as "subliminal," "liminal," and "supraliminal." These are offered as an attempt to identify levels and types of consciousness. Supraliminal would be associated with processes that have more of an emphasis on abstract, rational thinking. This can be very complicated to describe, and a whole set of rational concepts have been developed to describe it.

What is meant by "liminal" consciousness, and then, "supraliminal" consciousness?

What makes them different? How does that difference effect a consciousness of environment, the moment, and an interactivity amongst humans in their cultural enclaves.

"Liminal state" is a rational effort to describe an awareness that is not "distorted" by the duality that rationality itself presents. With that as an understanding, then, liminality cannot be accessed directly through rational descriptions, only pointed to with it; the rational then is the supraliminal. A split that creates a seperation, a duality. Those who quest a vision are said to be questing to re-enter the liminal state, to be in a sense, non-dual. What that means conceptually is difficult to describe with words, but in essence, one lets go the rational supraliminal translation of perception and "enters" a state of consciousness where perception is "allowed" without judgement of what is, the mind will take care of that, consciousness does not have to be active to allow perceptions to occur. In that sense the assumptions that often precede behavior are not enacted. Let the people who do vision quests try to explain it:

The Western psyche has been split asunder by the dualistic assumptions inherent in our way of seeing the world. Foremost among these assumptions is that humans are separate from and superior to Nature. Many of us suffer from this fundamental distortion of reality. We have been uprooted from our original spiritual 'home' in Mother Earth. As a consequence, our hearts long for something but we're not quite sure what it is.

The School of Natural Wonder (SNW) seeks to mend this wound to our psyches by offering experiential, nature-based programs designed to help people connect deeply with the natural world, themselves, each other, and Spirit, however that may be experienced. It is believed that Nature, as the dwelling place of Spirit, is our first and foremost teacher. Because we are not separate from Nature, the rhythms, inhabitants, and relationships of the natural world mirror back to us aspects of our own souls.

Dwelling upon the Earth in a sacred way returns us to our true nature. Buried beneath the masks of civilization lies an indigenous soul within us longing to emerge into the light of the sun, to sing and dance with joy, to reclaim that which is wild, holy, and free within us.

Towards this end, SNW offers a sacred, supportive container in which participants can experience contemplative, participatory, and ceremonial ways of being in Nature. The basic model for all our programs is the Vision Quest, an ancient rite of passage, which we have adapted for modern use drawing on many wisdom traditions. The Vision Quest places participants alone and fasting within the womb of Mother Earth where they can give birth to the truth and beauty of their own souls.

The Vision Quest can serve different intentions. It is a powerful, ceremonial way to mark, honor and celebrate any life change, to discover one's own meanings and purpose, to seek renewal, to heal old wounds, to connect with Spirit. In addition, it is a particularly powerful vehicle for helping young people negotiate the momentous passage from childhood to adulthood.

Ultimately, for us, 'vision' comes in the moment that we are fully present to our inner life and the presence of the 'Other,' whether human, animal, tree, rock, river, wind…. With that vision we are transformed and the world as well.

We invite you to join us on one of our transformational programs, so that you may discover your true nature in the heart of Nature.

"Furthermore, we have not only to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination; we shall find a god; …where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."

-Joseph Campbell

Anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson has made a study of liminal consciousness integral to his life's work. Liminal consciousness may not be easy for us to imagine, since we are enculturated from birth in a supraliminal cognitive environment. Nevertheless, here's one of Sorenson's efforts to describe it:

Liminal Awareness

Most of us know about subliminal awareness—the type of awareness lurking below actual consciousness that powerfully influences behavior. Freud brought it into the mainstream of Western thought through exhaustively detailed revelations of its effects on behavior. But few, including Freud, have spoken of liminal consciousness, which is therefore rarely recognized in modern scholarship as a separate type of awareness. Nonetheless, liminal awareness was the principal focus of mentality in the preconquest cultures contacted, whereas a supraliminal type that focuses logic on symbolic entities is the dominant form in postconquest societies.5

Liminally focused consciousness is very different from the supraliminal type that has almost entirely replaced it. Within the preconquest cultures observed basic sensibilities (such as of identity, number, space, and truth) shape up in unexpected ways. So does human integration. Preconquest groups are simultaneously individualistic and collective—traits immiscible and incompatible in modern thought and languages. This fusion of individuality and solidarity is another of the profound cognitive disparities that separate the preconquest and postconquest eras. It in part explains why even fundamental preconquest cultural traits are sometimes difficult to perceive, much less to appreciate, by postconquest peoples.

From the Latin language underlying our Western heritage we can understand that liminal awareness, by definition, occurs on the threshold of consciousness. This concept, though abstract, provides a useful term. In the real life of these preconquest people, feeling and awareness are focused on at-the-moment, point-blank sensory experience—as if the nub of life lay within that complex flux of collective sentient immediacy. Into that flux individuals thrust their inner thoughts and aspirations for all to see, appreciate, and relate to. This unabashed open honesty is the foundation on
which their highly honed integrative empathy and rapport become possible. When that openness gives way, empathy and rapport shrivel. Where deceit becomes a common practice, they disintegrate.

Where consciousness is focused within a flux of ongoing sentient awareness, experience cannot be clearly subdivided into separable components. With no clear elements to which logic can be applied, experience remains immune to syntax and formal logic within a kaleidoscopic sanctuary of non-discreteness. Nonetheless, preconquest life was reckoned sensibly—though seemingly intuitively.

With preconquest consciousness largely unencumbered by abstract concepts, it remained unconstrained by formal categories of value and cognition (i.e., rules and stable cognitive entities). Only when awareness shifted from liminal to supraliminal did the notion of 'correctness' become a matter of concern—e.g., behaving `properly,' having `right' answers, wearing `appropriate' clothes, etc. `Improper' aspirations, inclinations, and desires were then masked as people tried to measure up to the `proper' rule and standard. They used rhetoric and logic argumentatively with reference to norms, precedents, and agreements to gain and maintain dignity, status, and position. It was an altogether different world from that of the preconquest era where people freely spread their interests, feelings, and delights out for all to see and grasp as they lurched toward whatever delightful patterns of response they found attractive.

Sorenson also attempts to give a contrasting view of how a Westernized supraliminal consiousness transforms from a liminal consciousness, which is one way of saying what it is to be supraliminal:

The outstanding economic condition is absence of private property, which allows constant cooperative usage of the implements and materials of life for collective benefit. The human ecology engendered by the interaction of these outstanding conditions makes the forcing of others (including children) to one's will a disruptive and unwholesome practice. It was not seen.

Any form of subjugation, even those barriers to freedom imposed by private property, are the kiss of death to this type of life. Though durable and self-repairing in isolation, the unconditional open trust this way of life requires shrivels with alarming speed when faced with harsh emotions or coercion. Deceit, hostility, and selfishness when only episodic temporarily benumb intuitive rapport. When such conditions come to stay and no escape is possible, intuitive rapport disintegrates within a brutally disorienting period of existential trauma and anomie. With no other models about except those of conquerors, a `savage-savage' emerges from the wreckage of a once 'noble-savage'. These more brutal beings adjust to the postconquest milieu by adopting formal group identities. First they internalize various abstract ideas of space, boundary and kinship introduced by their conquerors. They then use them to anchor claims of their own to turf. They devise rules and customs that clearly identify them as a distinct people with formal rights. From this process different kinds of cultural elaboration emerge in separated regions—until a harsher level of conquest presses their uniqueness to extinction. Sorenson - Preconquest Consciousness

Imagine you have been walking and you come to an ocean for the first time. You are standing at the edge of the water, watching the waves roll in. You see and feel the water, it looks like a blue plain stretching off forever to the horizon, but you cannot walk on it. You have the beginnings of a perceptual "that, not that" right there.

That process can happen with no necessary hierarchical value, that is, no "one is better than the other" value; that value would come with another operation of thought in the cognitive phase once the "that, not that" has been conceptualized and separated out (or perhaps better put, as focused upon) from the whole of perceptual awareness.

Try another angle on this: Imagine that you live next to the ocean in a village and you have canoes and you fish, your village has names for all these things you live with every day, then one day you see something far out to sea, gradually, as it comes closer, it becomes clearer, but it resembles nothing familiar to you. You have no "idea" what it is, you just see a new form (some folks have even asked if the first natives to see a ship even "saw" anything at all), but you have no actual correlative words for the forms you see, because nothing in your environment has those characteristics.

After awhile this curious object that has your attention is near enough that you can see humans moving around, and something drops from the bow with a big splash with something attached that you recognize, a line (because you do make rope-like things to do all sorts of things to make your life possible, so you understand that concept), and then the as yet unidentified, unnamed thing stops moving. Perhaps it is changing shape and poles and sticks are being revealed as the large, whitish floppy things are shrunk up to the cross poles at the tops of the vertical poles. How would you make sense of that with your language and experience? Rationally, the process is identified, at least in Western Cultures, as a process of "that, not thats" working together.

Humans are born into a world with a language that already has much historical residue of meanings in place, where conceptual identifications of "that, not thats" are are shared in the organic process of environmental perceptual recognition and language development from birth, and I would correlate that with your notion of "ethnic programming."

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