Beyond a Synthesis of Spirituality and Psychotherapy

Lately there has been an increased emphasis on uniting the principles of psychotherapy with various meditation practices, such as those found in Buddhism, in order to promote what some have called the “wellness sector.” Of course, in the past psychotherapy and certain spiritual practice have been seen as existing at opposite ends of the spectrum in people’s search for peace of mind; psychotherapy being largely concerned with helping people face fully the very core of their anxieties by burrowing into them, while spirituality has traditionally been concerned with bypassing one’s unique neuroses in hopes of somehow transcending them.

However, lately those such as psychiatrist and practicing Buddhist Mark Epstein, in his recently released book The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering the Hidden Kindness in Life have sought to somehow synthesize the two philosophies by uncovering the fundamental principles that the two seemingly different approaches share. At one and the same time, emphasizing the uniqueness of our personal selves and life stories, yet likewise giving credence to the supposition of Buddhism that our personal stories are just stories that are in fact part of a larger reality in which they are much less substantial than we would ordinarily assume, Epstein attempts to create a larger, more inclusive approach to what therapy can do for people.

Yet, despite the efforts of Mark Epstein and others to unite psychotherapy and spiritual practices in the quest to improve people’s mental health and well-being, there might seem to be another possibility, one having to do with the potential shortcomings of each of these two endeavors. In fact, it may be possible that both approaches might be subject to making the same mistake from opposite sides of the spectrum. That is, psychotherapy intensely probing one’s emotional states in order to help the person in therapy better understand them, and spiritual practices such as Buddhism viewing certain emotional states as transitory, thus passing them by in order not to be trapped inside them.

In the case of psychotherapeutic practices, by intensely examining one’s emotions and feelings by essentially defining them with one’s thoughts, there is the possibility that by doing so the strength of those emotive states might be diluted because they are being examined at arm’s length, so to speak. In the case of spiritual practices such as Buddhism, by viewing those same feelings and emotions as being transitory, there is the possibility that one will not be able to experience them fully on the way toward a larger consciousness. In both cases, because one’s emotive states are being diluted, there is the distinct possibility that neither approach will lead the person undergoing therapy toward a larger awareness.

Perhaps wellness therapy, if one wants to use that particular term, rather than being seen as the practice of merely helping someone to better adapt to their world, and becoming content in doing so, might be seen as an exploration by therapist and patient alike, if one wants to continue using those terms, working to enlighten each other in the search for a greater awareness which might exist beyond the boundaries of the self. That is, exploring not only where the depth of one’s feelings and emotive states might eventually lead, but likewise examining how one’s thoughts and memories might in fact block such a realization from coming to full fruition.

With our current digital age having such a profound effect on our attention spans, the stream of our thoughts, and our working memories, we may need a new type of intelligence, one born in the depths of our sensorial and emotive lives, in order to more fully investigate not only the world we live in, but likewise what may lay beyond the boundaries of the self. Such an investigation would indeed be a journey worth pursuing in terms of changing the dynamics of the therapist-patient therapeutic model which has existed for so long. Perhaps using the power of direct insight people may be able reach the point where they no longer consistently need the benefits of either psychotherapy or spiritual practices such as Buddhism in order to understand the barriers to a greater awareness which our very own thought processes might be facilitating.

 

Joan Didion’s Heroic Depiction of Nothingness

The great writer and social commentator Joan Didion died last week at age 87 as a result of Parkinson’s disease; and of course much laudatory praise was heaped upon her online, in large part due to her unique indirect style, reminiscent of Ernest Hemmingway and other such writers who employed the same minimalist approach, one in which she was able to see the truth about so many things out of the corner of her eye. And of course, there was mention of the fact that her writing was so important to a generation of would-be writers who were no longer afraid due to her pathfinding efforts to insert their personal life into a piece of objective journalism.

In recent years, Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking received a certain amount of well-deserved praise, a book which concerned the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne while their daughter Quintana was in the hospital with a serious medical condition. Learning to cope with unexpected, extremely difficult events through a form of illusory thinking by which she imagined she could control the outcome of events which had already occurred obviously struck a real nerve with people who are suddenly forced to deal with their own mental health amidst harrowing personal circumstances.

However, although her entire career was full of challenging novels and essays which served to define the parameters of our culture for us, written in her incredible minimalist style, what I remember best about Joan Didion are three seminal works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first of these, the title essay from her 1968 book of essays Slouching Toward Bethlehem, involved her razor sharp, brutal look at the downfall of Hippie society in San Francisco in the late 1960s when the entire culture of America was beginning to fray and, as Didion put it, the center was not holding. From accounts of young people who can’t envision a future for themselves from one day to another to her iconic account of encountering a five-year-old who, with the full consent of her parents, is taking one of many LSD trips; the starkness of her reporting exists in what she doesn’t say – the vacuous existence that Didion lays so carefully between the lines.

Then there is her novel from 1970, Play It as It Lays, a frightening personal account of a Hollywood wife who has reached the point where, as she puts it, nothing applies; that in which nothing, rather than being a state of empty existence devoid of anything else, is instead its own terrifying reality. Traversing a world in which all the players, including married couples, perpetually and cruelly use each other for their own amusement, the novel ends with the Hollywood wife, Maria Wyeth, laying on a bed next to a close friend while she watches him swallow a number of Seconal pills, in doing so taking his life, because he too has reached the point where he knows what nothing means and no longer wants to play the game, so to speak.

There is also the 1971 movie The Panic in Needle Park, for which Didion and her husband wrote the screenplay; the film that was Al Pacino’s first role in which he plays Bobby, a heroin addict who initiates a romantic relationship with a young woman named Helen, played by Kitty Winn, who has recently had an abortion, and so is obviously looking for someone to whom she can cling. Eventually, she starts shooting heroin herself simply because she wants to become part of Bobby’s world, even as dark as it can be at times. Then, after she is arrested for selling pills a doctor has given her to some kids in order to feed her heroin addiction, she gives Bobby up to the police in order to save herself from going to jail; the brilliance of the movie existing in both its stark tone (no melodramatic background music or fancy cuts between scenes) and likewise as a heart-wrenching story of how desperation can so often lead inevitably toward betrayal.

Although of course these three works are, as much as anything, dramatic cautionary tales, at the same time it takes genuine courage to explore the worlds they represent with an eye that is forever unflinching, as Joan Didion did so brilliantly. Looking at the perpetual state of nothingness in which all of the characters (real or imagined) live without sanitizing or moralizing their situations in any way by simply describing them in a manner that gets to their very essence is something that not many writers have the stomach for. Particularly in our current age in which events reported on cable television become inevitably sanitized or rationalized in order to project a certain perspective, we are in desperate need of truth tellers like Joan Didion, who never looked away from the subjects about which she was writing, although at the same time allowing us to see them clearly, if we dared to look, out of the corner of our eye. Her loss is an incredible one.

Lyn Lesch’s latest book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier was published recently by Rowman & Littlefield.

DNA

One Possible Difficulty with Genetic Editing

Years ago, the writer Nigel Dennis, an author, critic, and playwright from the late nineteenth early twentieth century wrote a book entitled Nadia: A Case of Extraordinary Drawing Ability in an Autistic Child. The book concerned a young child who had an extraordinary ability to draw, nearly matching many great artists of her time. However, she was also autistic, and so in Dennis’s book it was revealed how her doctors discussed what they should do with her. That is, they realized that if they cured her, they would probably wreck her incredible gift for drawing. In the end, however, they did cure her, and consequently her ability to draw likewise disappeared.

This past year, Walter Isaacson, the great biographer and historian, released his book The Code Breaker, having to do with the work in which geneticist Jennifer Doudna and others have been involved where by using a certain protein they are able to insert a piece of the molecule RNA into someone’s DNA, thus allowing them to splice open a certain section of their DNA prior to inserting a preferred section that will then make them healthier in some way. To date, this gene editing has seemingly led to such developments as the healing of sickle cell anemia in those who possess the disease, as well as producing a potential end to Huntington’s disease, which can eventually lead toward the death of brain cells.

Of course, the idea that all sorts of maladies and illnesses, inherited and otherwise, might be potentially cured by this process of gene editing is an exciting development in the worlds of biology and medical science, as well as providing potential hope for all those who may be suffering from certain inherited maladies, such as heart disease, deafness, blindness or the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which plagued the late, great physicist Stephen Hawking for much of his life.

However, as in the case of the autistic girl with an incredible ability to draw, one has to ask the question: If potentially curing someone of a certain illness by altering their genetic code, or eliminating some inherited condition by which they are suffering is going to inevitably affect certain personal qualities or talents which are directly related to that by which they are afflicted, is it worth it? For instance, if Beethoven hadn’t passed through the dark night of the soul he experienced when he realized he was losing his hearing, would he have been able to produce the revolutionary optimism and defiance which are part of his iconic, otherworldly Fifth Symphony?

Similarly, would Stevie Wonder have been able to produce the incredible inner-directed music which he launched into the world in the mid-1970s with Innervisions or Fullfillingness’ First Finale if he hadn’t lost his sight? Or would Virginia Woolf have been able to produce the incredible stream of consciousness writing which she produced, such as her iconic novel Mrs. Dalloway, if she hadn’t been able to probe the boundaries of her own mind during one of her frequent states of depression? Correspondingly, if Stephen Hawking had had a full, active life, not confined to his wheelchair, would he have developed the obsessive will to probe the secrets of the universe?

These are obviously the same questions which the doctors treating the autistic young girl with her incredible ability to draw considered in treating her. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, what takes precedence, physical health or incredible, visionary talent? In addition, there would appear to be another question which might be considered here. That is, the significance of the human challenge against adversity, as well as the will to achieve not only against all obstacles, but also in fact even because of them?

The obvious answer might appear to be that if modern medicine can restore someone’s health and alleviate their suffering, shouldn’t that take precedence over everything else? Yet if one probes the question more thoroughly, considering all the relevant dynamics which are present, the answer might then not appear to be so easy to discern. For instance, in the case of someone who might be suffering from a certain illness or condition, but likewise possesses both a certain unique talent and an incredible amount of will to bring that talent to fruition, even against all odds, which is more important: Curing their illness or leaving both their talent and their will to create fully intact? Difficult questions which it would seem need to be ultimately addressed in this new age of genetic code breaking which has suddenly come to call.

Lyn Lesch’s recent book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier was recently published by Rowman & Littlefield.

A Different Type of Intelligence

These past few weeks, Susan Orlean, author of the immensely popular book The Orchid Thief, has written and published a collection of essays and stories concerning how we humans interact with the animals with whom we share planet earth. In On Animals, Orlean considers a large range of creatures, from the chickens which she keeps in her back yard to the twenty-three pet tigers which one woman in New Jersey kept, and which none of her neighbors knew about until one of them escaped, to a famous whale in Iceland who actually resists human efforts to set him free. In turns both enchanting and thoughtful, the essays celebrate the meaningful connections which we have with our animal friends.

Of course, many people, when they think of Orlean remember both the book The Orchid Thief and the movie version of it, adaptation. Some may even remember one incredibly prescient scene from the film in which orchid expert John Larouche, played by Chris Cooper, explains to Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, the relationship between an insect pollinating a particular flower and large metaphysical concerns; such as because when the insect does exactly what it is drawn to doing, that is finds its soul mate flower which it pollinates, the whole world comes alive because of this sort of direct desire, and that once anyone of us finds our flower, so to speak, we can’t let anything get in our way.

This type of selective attention, often centered primarily in the sensory and emotive worlds, might on occasion move us within ourselves toward a larger intelligence which isn’t necessarily apprehended through words and thoughts, but one through which we might perceive our world more deeply and fully through the process of direct insight. Given that the Internet and our obsessive use of digital devices might be now impeding the stream of our thoughts as we habitually jump from one site in the virtual world to another; dulling our memories as we use large search engines as our brain’s external hard drive, rather than employing our own neuronal networks to look for information; and negatively affecting our attention spans as both our short and long-term memories become flooded with more information than they can effectively handle, indeed we may need to facilitate a whole new approach to what intelligence means.

That is, if we as human beings can effectively learn how to increasingly access an immediate perception born of direct insight to better comprehend our world and ourselves as the Internet and our use of digital technologies continue to adversely affect our cognitive capacities, then we might potentially be able to continue acting intelligently regardless of the effects brought about by our current digital age.

Direct insight, quite simply, is the capacity to immediately see the essence of a situation, person, idea, etc. by inhabiting a space beyond thought and memory. Some psychologists have referred to such a state as being in the zone. Others, such as noted Hungarian psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have referred to such a place of immediate comprehension as a flow state; a place where the mind is able to make consistent connections between different areas of information and knowledge without any sort of interruptions or distractions preventing those connections from taking place.

Therefore, if one believes that the power of direct insight has a significant role to play in allowing a person to clearly apprehend their world at a place beyond the activities of thought and memory, the question would then appear to be one of how to actually facilitate such a state of mind. Consequently, certain questions related to one’s capacity for this type of insight come rapidly to the fore.

How might our emotive and sensorial lives, in lieu of our cognitive life, become focal points for this new type of intelligence? How might our thoughts impede our emotive and sensorial reactions to our immediate environment? What is the relationship between the stream of our thoughts and an intelligent apprehension of our world? How might moments of direct insight evolve from absorbing emotive or sensorial experience? And how do all these questions pertaining to an intelligence born of direct insight relate to one another?

Answers to these questions might involve emboldening both our emotive and sensorial lives in lieu of a predominately cognitive life, which means looking at the above questions and potential answers within a much larger context; at a place where the word intelligence might take on a much different meaning than that which has been formerly attributed to it.

Might it be that emotions and sensorial reactions are part of a larger intelligence which exists at a deeper level than what most neuroscientists, psychologists, learning theorists, and others had previously imagined, one which exists beyond the bounds of thought and memory? And if so, might this larger intelligence become increasingly necessary due to the effects of our current digital age on our thoughts and memories?

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.

The Complex Dynamics of School Shootings

As most everyone knows by now, there was another school shooting this past week when in suburban Detroit a fifteen year-old troubled young man brought a gun to school and killed four of his classmates. And has so often occurred in the past, people in the media are wringing their hands about this troubling dynamic continuing to re-occur, particularly in terms of the incessant debate which seems to go on over what is most significant as far as impeding such events – stricter gun control laws or greater adherence to mental health concerns which schools might address in terms of troubled teenagers who turn suddenly violent.

However, given the extremely fluid nature of the social dynamics which have come to call in our society recently, this choice between gun control and mental health of young people, particularly in terms of the increased responsibilities which contemporary schools might now have for young people who are in their care, may not be so binary as it might at first scene. There may in fact be a number of other dynamics which either directly or indirectly contribute to the endless wave of school shootings which have now come to call. In point of fact, some of them might be the following:

Modern television sets are now awash with all manner of reality TV programs which engender bullying or other angry behaviors among the participants; programs which many people tune in to watch in order to derive some sort of vicarious pleasure from such confrontations. Television networks who carry such programs will say that there are in fact other reasons why people watch, such as the wealthy lifestyles that are on display, but the truth is that in lieu of how angry confrontations between various participants are so often hyped in order to promote these shows, it seems rather obvious what one of the primary reasons is why people tune in to watch them – to experience the bullying behaviors of others.

As a result, because actual confrontational, bullying behavior is regularly encouraged by these shows, and given how readily available they have become to young people in their formative years, even if the shows are often only in the background of their lives as parents, friends, and others watch them for vicarious reasons, angry, bullying behaviors are becoming increasingly normalized in our society. As a result, due to the fact that school shootings are often done by some young person who has been bullied by his peers, there may well be an indirect link between reality TV shows which encourage bullying and school shootings themselves.

Furthermore, as more and more young people are inhabiting alternative, virtual realities on the Internet, particularly in terms of the vast number of digital games that are now available to young people, the inner lives of any number of them may well be desensitized simply because virtual images on a plastic screen will almost never affect one emotively or sensorially to the same extent that real world experiences do. Consequently, as young people’s emotive lives are in danger of growing shallower due to this trend, the line between how strongly they might experience real world behaviors can likewise grow shallower. As a result of this, the awful experience of imagining actually shooting someone might begin to dissipate in the mind of a troubled teen.

Finally, many school curricula and environments in our society, particularly those in the public schools who are dependent on state and federal monies to continue operating, are now growing increasingly narrowed and constricted due to rigid testing programs upon which both student learning and teacher performance are evaluated. Consequently, due to the sort of high-stakes testing which has become increasingly predominate in student lives, and the consequent need to narrow learning environments so that certain scores might be attained, there is often less time to deal with certain personal issue which troubled students might manifest.

Almost certainly, in order to deal with the plague of school shootings which has beset our society, we need to enact stricter gun control laws, as well as being sure to provide schools with the funds to implement certain mental health programs for students who might be troubled. Quite obviously those would appear to be the two most significant issues in potentially preventing more tragedies such as the one that occurred in suburban Detroit this past week. Yet, at the same time, they might not be the only two dynamics which may be leading toward school shootings. And due to a culture which now seems to be in an increasing state of flux, there may be other issues, albeit indirect ones, that are leading toward the recent tragedies we’ve seen occurring in our schools.

Lyn Lesch’s recent book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier, published by Rowman & Littlefield, is now available.

Virtual Reality

The Potential Dangers of the Metaverse

Facebook appears to be now on the verge of launching its new platform, the metaverse, which many experts are already identifying as the next major computing platform; the idea being that it would function as a type of extended reality which includes a combination of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Put succinctly, the idea is that virtual, 3D environments will become accessible and interactive in real time, in effect becoming transformative mediums for social and business relationships.

Similar to the way that video games now operate, the metaverse, according to experts, will allow users, rather than to just download information on the Web or to visit various apps, to actually enter virtual worlds that can be applied to real world contexts. And even though the possibility of actually entering virtual worlds on the Web may in fact be exciting to many, this new platform, as new technologies often do, may present some unforeseen difficulties; some of these being:

Instead of just potentially connecting with information that is false, there is the danger that people will actually begin to live inside different false realities which others have created for them. Therefore, the critical distance which one needs to determine the veracity of certain facts and information might begin to disappear.

People’s emotive and sensorial lives may be inevitably dulled simply because personal connections to the details of one’s world or to other people are never as strong in the virtual world as they are in the real world, particularly as people begin to mistake virtual reality for reality itself.

As people begin to live more and more inside some type of virtual or enhanced reality, there will be an even greater danger than there is today, because they are actually inside some alternative or augmented reality, that they can be manipulated into believing falsehoods simply because they won’t have the same critical distance to information that they now have when they simply download information on their computer screen.

There is increasing evidence that the Internet and the tools of our present digital age are creating dangerous forms of psychological, even potentially physical addiction which are affecting our attention spans, the stream of our thoughts and our working memories. With the new, exciting enticements of the Metaverse, those forms of addiction are almost certain to grow exponentially.

When people become more passive in receiving information as they begin to increasingly actually live inside the virtual world, rather than simply download information on their PC or phone while remaining the sort of active participants that they now are as they search the Web, the sort of active participation necessary for meaningful connection with information and knowledge might begin to significantly disappear. In particular, this might have negative implications for schoolchildren in their formative years who are using the Metaverse as part of their curriculums.

As the virtual and real worlds are increasingly fused in the forms of virtual reality, extended reality, or even an alternative reality where the real and virtual worlds are combined, it will become increasingly easier to confuse virtual reality with reality itself. This could potentially have enormous implications for people’s sense of self, the possibility of authentic relations with others, or even their grip on reality.

As the late Neil Postman – media critic, communications theorist, and long-time professor at New York University, said many times: Whenever any new technology comes into the world there are two important questions that need to be asked. What present problems does the new technology solve? And what new problems does it create? In this new age that seems to now be teetering on the brink of becoming fascinated with the new virtual realities which have come to call, we might be wise to consider Neil Postman’s prescient admonition.

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.

The Dangers of White Guilt

Guilt and its origins, in fact its very nature, can be incredibly hard to define. Is it healthy to feel bad about what you or someone else you’re aware of has done? Does it help you to more clearly perceive your own acts or the acts of others and how you might change them? Where does guilt come from and where does it eventually lead? These are just some of the questions which tend to shadow this most illusive, some would even say non-productive of our emotions. And when you throw guilt, be it conscious or unconscious, into the mix of nuanced dynamics regarding race in our society, things can easily become extraordinary difficult.

Of course there is white guilt, one of the most maddening feelings related to race with which most white people must come to grips. Unconscious bias is more easy to comprehend because it can be easily defined even if it is often invisible. Institutional racism is all around us. If one happens to live in the city of Chicago, all one has to do is take a drive through the city, starting at the Gold Coast or Lincoln Park on the north side of town and then move half an hour later into the neighborhood of West Englewood on the south side in order to view the actual parameters of institutional racism. And of course overt racism is obvious and apparent to anyone who cares to really look.

But white guilt is different, perhaps because it both accuses and justifies at one and the same time. It becomes obviously self-accusatory when as a white person in American society, one looks at the obvious advantages one has had in life and then juxtaposes them against the disadvantages many people of color must endure while making their way through the same world; and if one is honest with oneself, one is able to feel the striking unfairness of it. At the same time, white guilt can legitimately lead toward people being involved in certain actions which they might take, such as the recent marches and demonstrations in which many young white people participated this past summer in support of Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd.

However, the question that these two distinct consequences of white guilt might provoke is simply one of asking what their actual relationship is to one another. To put a finer point on the question, does the self-accusatory nature inherent in white guilt lead only toward intelligent reactions to it by white people, or is there some deeper, more implicit reality to be considered here? That is, in acting solely out of their guilt concerning racial matters, are a number of white people recognizing only their own whiteness in relation to Blacks in a manner similar to the white people with whom the great twentieth century African-American writer Ralph Ellison dealt in his iconic novel Invisible Man?

Of course, the larger question which all of this begs is simply what is a healthy, true reality of encounter between Whites and Blacks in our society, one that is shorn of any neurotic thought and behavior that might be the product of white guilt? Recently, some black leaders have taken opposition to the idea that our country might one day become a colorblind society, fearful that Blacks may lose a measure of their racial identity in the process. So given this fear, how might self-aware whites meet these same black leaders halfway in putting forth the idea that colorblind doesn’t necessarily mean not acknowledging racial differences. Rather, it means seeing the other person as a true equal.

With this in mind, one has to wonder if white guilt and the actions which result from it aren’t at times counterproductive relative to healthy relations between Blacks and Whites in our society. For in some measure feeling guilty for what has happened to someone else often has the taint of superiority attached to it, one in which the sympathy which one feels for other people who have been treated unfairly often comes from a position of advantage in relation to them. Yet as one begins to shed those guilty feelings, then it seems possible to view that other person not as a victim, but simply as an equal inhabiting a different world; albeit at times a more difficult one.

Lyn Lesch’s latest book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published this December by Rowman & Littlefield.

The Difference Between Thought and Intelligence

There is a revealing scene in Jane Campion’s mesmerizing movie Bright Star, which concerns the evolution of the intense love affair between the poet John Keats and his next-door neighbor the seamstress Fannie Brawne in early 19th century England. During one of their lessons together in which Keats is teaching Brawne about the essence of poetry, he tells her that a poem needs to be understood through the senses. Using the example of someone diving into a lake, he reminds her that the point of diving into the lake is to be in the lake; to luxuriate in the sensation of water, not to work the lake out with one’s thoughts.

David Bohm, the renowned twentieth century physicist who contributed greatly to our understanding of quantum theory, particularly how subatomic particles existing at a distance from each other may be entangled, and who was also a close associate of Albert Einstein, wrote in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order of how our experience of the world can become fragmented and unreal when it is based on our mistaking the content of our thoughts for our experience of the world as it is.

One of the things which Bohm was addressing was how words and thoughts by themselves can prevent us from perceiving our world more clearly because the word is never the thing itself, and because our system of thought and language has inherent limitations which can prevent us from not only discovering what is real, but likewise from perceiving the details and dynamics of our world within a more expansive context.

Bohm likewise addresses in his book the essential difference between intelligence and thought; referring to thought as a product of all of our conditioned responses of memory, while intelligence is an act of perception, rather than a process of thought, in which in a flash of understanding somebody is able to immediately perceive the actual irrelevance of their whole way of thinking about a certain problem, and instead apprehend it directly through a fundamentally different approach in which all of the different elements of the problem fit into a new order and a new structure.

If one is in fact in agreement with Bohm on this issue, then a logical first step in integrating emotion and sensorial reactions into a larger intelligence, one born of direct insight and creative absorption, would be to explore the limitations of thought. Otherwise, it would seem, the thinking mind might continue to be a barrier necessarily controlling and eventually limiting the sort of immediate perception of our world to which Bohm refers.

In likewise addressing the dynamic of immediate perception, one born of direct insight, the famous twentieth century philosopher and thinker J. Krishnamurti contrasted knowledge with intelligence; the former being something that is generated only through the assimilation of facts and information, while the latter is a process in which one is capable of seeing the essence of something in a flash exactly because they are free from the energy draining activities of thought.

Yet how could we possibly perceive and then understand the limitations of our thinking mind if our actual stream of thought is being continually fragmented and interrupted by the essential nature of the Internet, one which as we jump around on it from one site to another, is increasingly making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to follow our thoughts to a point of completion?

My latest book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published in December, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.

 

The Death of Irony in the Digital Age

It was in 1964 that Susan Sontag wrote her notorious essay Notes on Camp, something which along with her provocative piece Against Interpretation rocketed her into the center of American culture in a manner which effectively fused the worlds of high-brow literary culture with the sparks of streetwise ethos which at the time had begun to smolder in Andy Warhol’s legendary Silver Factory.

The description of camp provided by Sontag in Notes on Camp was essentially a list of the elements of a culture in reaction to typical bourgeois society, something to which Sontag herself was in rebellion at the time. Only the descriptions provided were deeply ironical in the sense that they were to be taken as satirical representations of various elements of American society rather than as things in and of themselves.

Camp was a means of embracing certain things while at the same time keeping a comfortably ironic distance from them. For instance, so-called bad movies, such as Schoedsack’s King Kong, which the world of high culture viewed as being insignificant due to their lack of serious qualities, could now be seen not only as being enjoyable, but also having merit precisely because they were seen by most practitioners of high culture as being bad. In other words, what mattered was the irony of looking at something not only in terms of how good or how important it was, but in juxtaposition to a world that practitioners of camp sensibility saw as being overly serious.

Because there were unseen quotation marks around most aspects of camp culture, those which took the place of more serious literal discussions, camp irony soon became a powerful new form of intelligent communication among its practitioners. And because that type of intelligent humor is always an inside joke, understood only by those who get it, it soon came to exemplify for those who were in on the joke a higher form of intelligence.

Of course, this is also very much the function of irony in terms of intelligent communication with others; that the joke alluded to is always an inside one. That is, it is a means of putting others on who aren’t in on it. In so doing, pointing out how one’s position on certain ideas or issues is inherently understood by those who are in on the joke as being superior to other positions.

It is likewise a form of intelligence that is communicated primarily verbally through inflections in one’s voice, speech patterns that are tongue in cheek, or through such dynamics as the twinkle in one’s eye; which means that irony is never a means of communication that can be understood literally. Rather, like camp, it needs to be experienced in a manner that is both offhanded and offbeat; an indirect form of communication in which the way in which the message is delivered becomes just as important as the message itself; meant only for those who are aware enough to understand it.

When the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who has had both his arms sliced off announces that “It’s only a flesh wound,” the aware viewer immediately understands that what he is doing is casting an ironical eye toward all those battle or crime movies where the violence is both very real and very literal. That is, the filmmaker is putting on all those who favor violent movies with an indirect comment about them without ever alluding to them directly.

If irony is something that needs to be experienced primarily physically through voice inflections or facial mannerisms, the question then becomes one of asking what effect our current digital age, where people are communicating with each other primarily by typing words out of necessity into a keyboard or keypad, has had on ironical expression. Obviously, when communication is that which removes physical expression from the equation, it becomes much more difficult to express oneself ironically.

One prime example of how entirely literal expression has out of necessity replaced ironical humor and intelligence is the current Internet acronym LOL, which as everyone knows stands for laughing out loud; an abbreviated reference which makes it veritably impossible to wink indirectly and ironically at one thing while actually referring to another simply because it is out of necessity so inherently literal.

Of course, the next obvious question to be considered, it would seem, is that of asking what effect this incapacity to express oneself ironically when confined to the parameters of a keyboard has had on our social and personal communication with each other? And furthermore, is irony itself a necessary ingredient for intelligent conversation within wider societal parameters? That is, what might be missing when we are deprived of it in significant ways?

Naturally, the iPhone, personal computer, and the Internet are here to stay as our primary means of communicating with one another. Yet perhaps, just as the world of camp humor played an important part in the evolution of an underground culture that significantly threatened overly serious, high-brow culture in 1960s America, something similar might be made to occur in our current digital age which often seems to be devoid of the beauty and meaning of ironical humor and intelligence.

 

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in December, 2021.

 

One Possible Unimagined Genesis of Coronavirus

James Baldwin wrote in his brilliant long essay concerning racial disharmony in America The Fire Next Time of how if relatively conscious whites and relatively conscious blacks insist on creating the right sort in consciousness of others, and do not falter in their duty, the racial nightmare in our country might be abated. In other words, if people of both races would attempt to meet each other halfway in understanding the personal dynamics and history which has led to so much hatred and animosity, things might be genuinely changed. If not, as he put it in reference to a certain prophecy in the Bible which was sung by a slave, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

It seems now possible that we may be somehow dealing with “the coronavirus next time,” not as merely a result of racial disharmony, but in terms of something even much bigger. That is, the endless conflict, fragmentation, division, and recrimination which has been part of the social/political discourse both in our own country and also around the world for some time now. For it seems entirely possible that the close-minded, exclusionary hatred that has been part of so many people’s psyches may have somehow led to this worldwide plague that we are now all enduring; particularly if one believes that the inner state of one’s being can easily affect his/her physical health.

When I was twenty-nine years old, I was stricken with what amounted to a case of rheumatic fever, and I was of course very sick. I can remember that as I lay there moaning and groaning, I was also reading the poignant bestseller I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, written by Joanne Greenberg, about Deborah, a sixteen year old girl suffering from schizophrenia who was being treated by a caring, thoughtful therapist. In one short section of the book Deborah experiences a vision in which she is able to see a lump of coal being squeezed into a diamond, with an otherworldly voice telling her, “Deborah, this will be you.”

After going through the sort of difficult years in my twenties that a lot of people go through, I was able to identify with this sentiment; imagining my difficulties would result in me becoming a clearer, sharper person. Only there was a certain fallacy in my logic, which was believing that my difficulties were not of my own making, and were happening to me in part as a result of the actions of others. Of course the simple truth was that all of these difficulties, as the difficulties of all our lives are, were entirely the result of my own actions, and there was nobody else to blame for them except me.

And such is true of all of us, especially in terms of this particular moment in time, when it is easy to believe that the coronavirus is a plague that has beset us from some external source, rather than as something that might in fact be the result of our own making. Anybody who is familiar with either metaphysical speculation or physical heath related to the mind/body/spirit connection knows how closely connected that inner state of one’s being is to their physical health. And so it almost certainly is with the relationship between social thought and action on a mass scale and the physical well-being of peoples or countries at large. A crippled inner being often leads inevitably to certain physical maladies.

One thing the coronavirus has done is to help a number of us realize just how closely connected we all are. So even as the virus ends, perhaps that same sentiment can be carried over by many of us, and also by a media in this country who is often responsible for the conflict, division, and recrimination that now goes on all around us, to the point where people actually begin to listen to each other regardless of preconceived ideologies and beliefs. James Baldwin was right. If we all don’t start making more of an effort to get along with each other, it will almost certainly be another version of the fire next time.