Meaning in Absurdity/span>
The Calls of the Absurd
The Elusiveness of the Absurd
- In Jung’s book on flying saucers, he elaborates extensively on the idea that ‘lights in the sky’ are a projection of an unconscious desire for wholeness; a desire that entails becoming aware of aspects of ourselves that we reject and, therefore, can only express by projecting this desire outside of ourselves. Jung, however, does not deny the physical evidence of some ‘flying saucer’ observations (for instance, radar echoes), offering two conceptual frameworks to account for it:
- a physical, external event may trigger a projection by the unconscious mind of the observer. The witness ‘dresses’ a real object in the sky with the symbolic fantasy of the unconscious.
- Synchronicity: an unconscious psychic impulse may occur together with a physical, real event consistent with the psychic impulse, even though there is no causal relationship between the two. In other words, synchronistic events are the results of a kind of acausal ‘orderedness’ in nature.
- When the symbolic, metaphorical, often absurd contents of the unconscious parts of the psyche emerge into consciousness, they feel at least as real as the physical world around us.
- Dr. Mack speculated about a realm of reality that could violate the strict separation between the subjective, psychological world inside our mind, and the objective, physical world ‘out there.’22 This would be the only way he could explain how patients who displayed no mental pathology and no signs of deception could swear by absurd, illogical stories loaded with undeniable psychological symbolism.
- Jung realized there is such a thing as psychic objectivity, or ‘the reality of the psyche.’ There were parts of the mind that had an autonomous existence and were not under his ego’s control; parts that coalesced into a kind of internal reality, a populated universe that did not obey the laws of physics or logic to which the external world seems forever subject.
- Calls of the absurd – even when objective – have a puzzling tendency to induce introspection and trigger intuitive insights. Sometimes this introspective nature is evident in the symbolism of a dream. Surprisingly, these very symbolisms seem to sometimes ‘spill out’ into the objective world. Even seemingly autonomous entities can be part of these absurd scenarios, whether they are unambiguously mental manifestations or are perceived as part of physical reality.
- Jung’s own expeditions into the unconscious revealed to him the animated, autonomous nature of the depths of the human psyche, which can assume the form of absurd entities, paradoxical scenarios and storylines to convey a symbolic, poignant experience beyond logical apprehension.
The Demise of Realism
- It was not until the 1970s that Jacques Vallée realized that it was precisely the elusiveness of certain pieces of evidence and the absurdity of certain reports – the violation of physics and common sense they implied – that rendered them most interesting for study. Many UFO observations entailed a kind of ‘recursive unsolvability:’ the phenomenon negated and contradicted itself. Even the physical evidence left behind was ambiguous and elusive. The reality of the phenomenon appeared to be both physical and psychic at the same time.
- Perhaps the most controversial of Vallée’s conclusions is that there is a purpose behind the occurrence of these strange phenomena. The right question to ask was not where the UFOs came from, but what effect they were causing.
- Dr. John Mack (psychiatrist) talks of the concurrently psychic and objective nature of the phenomenon, as well as of its elusiveness. He even suggests that the phenomenon is ‘designed’ – not necessarily in a teleological sense, but rather in a compensatory and spontaneous manner – to break down this separation between subjective and objective worlds and to force the experiencers to confront the inadequacy of the worldviews they have hitherto held. He speaks of ontological shock as the mechanism by which the phenomenon forces an expansion of people’s conception of reality towards a worldview where notions previously held to be absurd become intelligible.
- In interviews with shamans Dr. Mack asked whether the alien- or fairy-like entities they claimed to have dealings with were supposed to be literal creatures or simply metaphors. According to the worldviews of these pre-literary cultures, there was no difference between the two;
- Patrick Harpur believes such characteristics to be natural – in fact, the most innate – attributes of these phenomena, not devices of premeditated Machiavellian deception. Harpur discerns an ‘intent’ behind the calls of the absurd: he believes they are a spontaneous compensatory reaction to the very rationalist, materialist view of reality that discredits them to begin with. To Harpur, the calls of the absurd are protrusions into our consensus world of phenomena anchored in the daimonic realm: a realm that is both material and immaterial; both fact and fiction.
- The Daimonic Reality is a kind of intermediate realm between the physical and the spiritual, between the world and the imagination, embodying characteristics of both. This is what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious.’ Harpur – more explicitly than Jung – does not restrict the daimonic to the inside of our heads alone.
- Jung has suggested that parables and similes are an older, more archaic mode of thought than linear logic and rationality.
- Daimonic phenomena can have very physical effects, suggesting that the manifestation of these effects may be linked to what Jung called ‘synchronistic events,’ If we do not voluntarily open the door to the daimons, Harpur suggests that the daimons then force themselves into our world through the calls of the absurd. The daimons strive constantly to escape their exile in the unconscious, continuously challenging the literalism of our worldview.
The Desacralization of Logic
- Weak-Objectivity: Something is weakly-objective when it can be consistently observed by multiple individuals and when it cannot be independently altered by an individual act of cognition.
- Strongly-objective: Something is strongly-objective when its existence or occurrence is fundamentally independent of conscious observation.
- We have defined weak-objectivity in such a way that observation is always part of the equation. We can now say with certainty that weak-objectivity is a potential quality of calls of the absurd, even though we cannot deduce strong-objectivity from it. Any discussion about the strong-objectivity of calls of the absurd is secondary in view of a much broader question: Is strong-objectivity a property that can be confidently attributed to any aspect of nature at all?
- The notion of strong-objectivity corresponds to what is known in the philosophy of science as ‘realism.’ Realism is a philosophy holding that nature is independent of cognition. The facts of nature are all already ‘out there’ from the beginning.
- Realism has been contrasted with the philosophy of Idealism which holds that the world is a construct of mind.
- We have no direct access to a supposedly external world and no way to prove its existence, for we are forever locked in the subjective space of our consciousness. Therefore, a mind-independent world remains an assumption, tempting as it may be. There is no direct empirical way to prove idealism wrong or realism right. This renders the metaphysical debate around the clash ‘realism versus idealism’ uninteresting, despite the tremendous importance it clearly carries in shaping our view of reality.
- Anti-Realism makes no metaphysical assertions about the nature of reality. It seeks to restrict the scope of the conclusions that can be extracted from the practical, empirical success of science.
- Idealism has never been defeated as the basis for a viable worldview. In fact, idealism is a much more parsimonious alternative, for it makes no assumptions beyond acknowledging the existence of experience, the one undeniable truth about reality.
- The Hidden Variables theories of quantum entanglement: the entangled photons do not influence one another at a distance, but simply share a hidden property from the beginning.
- Local Realism requires a hidden variables theory of quantum entanglement to hold true. If not, local realism is fallacious. No local hidden variables theory could match quantum mechanical predictions for all situations.
- Non-local Hidden Variables theories part with the idea that the hypothetical hidden properties reside exclusively in the particles themselves. They postulate, instead, that the hidden properties are ‘smeared out’ in space-time in a non-local manner. The results of the 2007 analysis and experiments make the standard intuitions behind the notion of realism untenable.
- The Global Consciousness Project (GCP) has shown significant correlation between human mental activity associated with global events and the outputs of random number generators.
- There is no concerted effort in society today to try and articulate the remarkable implications of the defeat of the present, culturally sanctioned worldview.
- The world is a shared ‘dream.’ In it, as in a regular dream, the dreamer is himself the subject and the object; the observer and the observed.
- Scientific evidence indicates that the world is fundamentally inseparable from our subjective mental picture of it. The brain is the image of a space-time localization of mind; a kind of anchor that allows a ‘dreamer’ to take a specific vantage point within the ‘dream’ and act as a character within it. This locality anchor may work like a filter of perception.
- The skeptic Greek philosopher Agrippa argued centuries ago in his famous ‘Trilemma,’ we cannot use logic to justify the validity of logic itself. A conclusion of the argument is that logic is itself grounded in illogical foundations and that we, strictly speaking, cannot rule out the possibility that existence is governed by absurdity.
- We have a powerful, innate intuition that logic is self-evident and does not require justification. The consistency between logic and empirical observation is too overwhelming for us to abandon logic based purely on a skeptical argument.
- The Correspondence Theory of Truth: according to realism, every question of the form ‘Is it true that ...?’ must have a definite and unambiguous answer anchored in the facts of the physical world ‘out there;’ such facts being independent of our cognition. To the realist, whether we know the correct answer or not changes nothing about the fact that one, and only one, of the two possibilities (true or false) is the correct one, for the answer is always anchored in neutral facts outside mentation.
- The Principle of Bivalence: by linking the condition of truth of a proposition to a corresponding object – the fact – we are naturally led to Bivalence – either the proposition is true (for there is a fact corresponding to it) or it is false (for there is no such object). The principle of bivalence is at the core of logic. It is this principle that motivates a definite, clear-cut worldview wherein ambiguity is not allowed.
- The simplest and clearest of semantic paradoxes is the so-called Liar Paradox: "This statement is not true."
- Semantic Paradoxes are slippery: however you try to interpret them, they show you that the opposite interpretation must hold; whenever you try to pin their meaning down, its opposite springs forth.
- Paradoxes are only whole when incorporating opposites as integral parts of the ‘strange loop’ they form. Paradoxes arise from self-reference. It is by referring to themselves that paradoxical statements close the ‘strange loop.’
- Our worldviews may contain semantic paradoxes inherited from the way we articulate our views and beliefs to ourselves, using language structures.
- If realism is false, nature is fundamentally self-referential in the sense that subject and object are not distinct.
- Semantic paradoxes may be built into the very fabric of the world, but the self-reference of this process may be so deeply buried in layer upon layer of indirection that we almost never become cognizant of it in our daily lives. These considerations provide reason to take seriously the possibility that the world is inherently vulnerable to paradox and contradiction, just like the semantics of language.
- Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems: showed that self-reference is integral to number theory. We can never know the whole truth about numbers while keeping absurdity at bay. The highly abstract world of mathematics – not only physical reality – seems also to resist conformance to any literal and complete characterization.
The Reality Within
- Intuitionism: a logic where the principle of bivalence is abandoned. It is not enough to show that something cannot be false in order to claim that it must be true. The intuitionist must separately demonstrate the truth of any statement by showing how it is that it is true. They must develop an intuition about why it is true. Mathematical objects are meaningful only insofar as they can be mentally constructed.
- Intuitionism entails a constructivist worldview in mathematics: a view according to which the truth, meaning, and very existence of a mathematical object hold only insofar as the object can be constructed in mind by the operation of some coherent cognitive procedure. Refutation of falsity does not imply truth. Bivalence does not hold.
- If we extrapolate intuitionism towards the world at large, we may say that abandoning realism in general implies a worldview according to which objects exist only insofar as they are constructed through the operation of a cognitive procedure.
- An idealist world is a world of potential paradox and contradiction; a world amenable to the absurd.
- The behavior of ant colonies: a seemingly integrated and autonomous global behavior emerges out of the interactions between individual ants, like a kind of virtual ‘ant overmind.’ These complex behaviors emerge from the collective behavior of very unsophisticated individuals. Each ant is largely powerless to change the momentum of the collective behavior. The global behavior of ant colonies is an example of what, in science and philosophy, is called Emergence.
- Our consensus world-instantiation is, in part, an emergent idealist phenomenon.
- Despite entropy, nature exhibits remarkably coherent patterns, so the cognitive procedure that constructs our consensus world-instantiation must indeed operate coherently and self-consistently.
- The Coherentist View of Truth: the validity of a statement depends solely on whether it coheres within a context, not on strongly-objective facts lying somewhere ‘out there.’
- An idealist world is one where construction is an ongoing process driven by cognitive story-telling or myth-making. If we begin to change the stories we tell ourselves, the consensus will eventually shift and we will inevitably be confronted with a changing world-instantiation.
- Thomas Kuhn developed the notion of a paradigm: a set of basic assumptions, values, and beliefs held by scientists about how the world is put together.
- Objective data cannot be gathered and interpreted outside the context of a paradigm: the data are not neutral. The body of beliefs embedded in the paradigm is already implicit in the collection and interpretation of the ‘mere facts.’16 Finally, it is also the paradigm that determines which explanations for the observed ‘facts’ are acceptable or to be preferred.
- Kuhn showed that science evolves according to two recurring and intercalated phases, which he termed ‘normal science’ and ‘scientific revolutions.’ In normal science, scientific development proceeds by refinement of the reigning paradigm. No attempt is made to test or challenge it, but every attempt is made to reinforce its foundations. It is only when enough anomalies – which, I might add, show up when scientists begin to look at those holes in the fabric of the consensus world-instantiation wherein not enough momentum has yet gathered – accumulate over time that scientists are forced to begin rethinking the paradigm.
- Science does not progress through a steady refinement of a worldview, but by throwing out worldviews in favor of new, previously unthinkable ones.
A Cosmology Beyond Absurdity
- Depth Psychology: the unconscious aspects of our personalities manifest themselves indirectly, through influencing our conscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Jung drafted a kind of map of the human mind which divides the psyche into three main segments:
- The first corresponds to our regular awareness: the feelings, thoughts, perceptions, etc. that we can access through introspection; ‘ego-consciousness.’
- The second, deeper segment of the psyche is what Jung called the ‘personal unconscious.’ There lie aspects of our personalities – memories, thoughts, feelings, emotions, drives, etc. – which were once in ego-consciousness, but have since been forgotten, rejected, or repressed. Unconscious mental processes continue to operate and evolve in the personal unconscious, living a rich parallel life that we ordinarily cannot access through introspection.
- The third segment of the psyche is the collective unconscious, an area of mental activity shared by all humanity. It is partly an ‘archive’ of transpersonal experiences. But it is also creative and dynamic, embodying structured potentials for experience organized according to what Jung called ‘archetypes’: primordial templates of mental activity.
- Archetypes are ineffable: they are beyond the reach of logical, rational articulation.
- Anything that transcends logic will appear illogical and absurd, like a prank or a pun, from the point of view of logic.
- The Trickster has a fundamental role to play in the expansion of our understanding of nature. Its exile in the deepest reaches of the unconscious is unfortunate.
- Myth is the natural, primordial language of the mental processes unfolding in the collective unconscious.
- The collective unconscious is as conducive to chaos and absurdity as it is to order and rationality.
- It is the ego that orders and organizes the chaotic substrate of nature according to its own rules and categories.
- From the perspective of the unconscious, the rational ego may thus be felt as an impediment, a barrier to be overcome.
- An important archetype is the Self, defined as the totality of the psyche – both conscious and unconscious segments – as well as its center. The Self is a union of opposites par excellence. As such, it transcends bivalence and literalism.
- According to Jung, everything that lives strives for wholeness. Individuation is the natural process by means of which the different conscious and unconscious segments of the psyche are integrated and brought under the light of metacognitive awareness, so as to achieve wholeness.
- A fully individuated person would be aware of, and identify with, the true complete Self, thereby transcending the logical, bivalent, and rational proclivities of the ego.
- The different characters in a fairy tale often represent different (archetypal) aspects of our mind – different segments of the Self – in the struggle for individuation. The creation and telling of fairy tales brings one into greater harmony with the unconscious,
- If our rationality and scientism deny these forces room to play out in our ego-consciousness, they may, as Jung suggested, force themselves in through synchronistic projections onto external objects and events.
The Formless Speaks
- If, as depth psychology has discovered, the psyche is layered in ‘realms’ ranging from ego-consciousness to the collective unconscious, then so is the world. There are unconscious world-instantiations we partake of – with different degrees of awareness – concurrently and at all times.
- The logical world of ego-consciousness is a consensus creation: logic is a coherence-enforcing, tacitly agreed set of constraints, driven by our innate need to find closure. We build a world where the story is linear, self-consistent, continuous, and where truth is seemingly literal.
- Absurd world-instantiations emerge, where continuity is neglected and meaning is eminently symbolic.
- The calls of the absurd indicate that these reveries are not only real but may, under certain circumstances, jut into our consensus world-instantiation.
- The Formless: that which differentiates itself into the ineffable stories of the deepest unconscious realms, the primordial mental ‘substance’ of reality. The Formless entails templates for self-differentiation into stories. The aspiration for Self-understanding and closure intrinsic to the Formless is the most fundamental instinct of nature and the driving force of the entire process of differentiation.
- The key issue is thus not what we can or cannot do, but who or what we think we are. Before we can say, in full and honest agreement with our deepest intuitions, that we can change the world, we must first find our true Self through individuation.
The Shape of Things to Come
- We are incessantly, relentlessly, tirelessly telling ourselves stories; constantly attempting to categorize and match everything we experience against some (coherent) storyline playing out in our mind. This is why certain forms of meditation prove so challenging: there, the idea is to stop the story-telling.
What to Make of it All?
- Jung observed that all that resides in the unconscious levels of the psyche seeks its way to the surface: to become known in metacognitive awareness. This process is central to psychic health: only through the harmonious integration of unconscious contents into the light of awareness can one achieve individuation and become a complete personality.
- The universe itself must undergo a kind of ‘cosmological individuation’ by means of which unconscious world-instantiations progressively emerge into metacognitive awareness, thereby getting absorbed or folded into our consensus world-instantiation.
- Different realms of nature may begin to touch and interpenetrate each other with increasing intensity. Absurdity and ambiguity may increasingly become part of our ordinary waking life.
- Logic is itself a construct of mind, not a strongly-objective truth lying in a platonic realm. Rationality is a thin, limited crust around an unfathomable core of the unformed; the meaningful irrational; the realm of the imagination.
- The word ‘irrational’ does not denote the lazy neglect of logic – but the very transcendence of the limits of logic.
- Plato identified truth with beauty. If the desacralization of logic pulls the rug of truth-as-we-have-known-it from under our feet, we still have beauty to guide our way. Aesthetics transcends logic.
- The foundations of our future may be aesthetical: that which inspires and feeds the soul. Deep inside, we all have an innate, intuitive notion of what is harmonious, beautiful, and fulfilling.
- Puns defy bivalence and literal interpretations, this being the very reason why they are funny. They show beyond doubt that ambiguity is inherently fun, light-hearted, and pleasing.
These notes were taken from Bernardo's book.
See his website at www.bernardokastrup.com