Author Topic: A Biological Metaphysics? A Rational Mysticism?  (Read 3094 times)

Matt Koeske

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A Biological Metaphysics? A Rational Mysticism?
« on: April 27, 2007, 12:20:11 PM »

Kafiri recently sent me a chapter of an essay ("Back to Beyond: On Cosmology." Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman. Ed. David Ray Griffin. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1989; 213-21 (responses 251-65).) by James Hillman in which Hillman (perhaps a bit too poetically) wonders if he has devalued metaphysics in favor of an excess of imaginalism.  I wasn't entirely sure where he would go with that thought, but I agreed with Kafiri that it was an important idea to investigate.

I have been crafting a kind of essayistic response on this issue, which I am now going to post below.  There's a lot in here . . . and many things that diverge and could be expanded on.  I hope others will be willing to join me in investigating and debating these issues.  Much of this has come from the taking off point of the Wrestling with Giegerich thread . . . so if you have a lot of time to waste, you may want to check that out, too.

Quote from: James Hillman
In my work so far I have shunned metaphysics. I have kept mainly with the critical tradition. The action of psychology I have called "seeing through," "psychologizing." And I have often enough spoken against norms for psychological actions because they become normative and normalizing, against ideals because they become idols to be smashed, against positive goals for psychology and therapy because they become positions and positivisms, against affirmative actions and supportive grounds because they become delusional densities that prevent the primary critical activity of seeing through. I have contended that all prescriptive moves reinforce the heroic ego (the bane of our culture), promulgate guilt, and continue to entrap us in the subjective inspection of the Western Cogito: self-searching, correcting, directing, and thereby, in the concern to get oneself right, losing the faces and voices of others.

If anything, the depth psychology of soul-making as I have been formulating it is a via negative. No ontology. No metaphysics. No cosmology. A knight errant, always off at a tilt, iconoclastic. Archetypal Psychology's main claim to positivity has been its paradoxical insistence on allowing the shadows to be lit by their own light—hence encounters with pathologizing: the underworld, depression, suicide, senex, and the pathologies of the puer.

The insistence has been on the valeof soul-making, staying in the valley of the shadow, turning even at times against the initiator 0f my own tradition, Jung, for his ascensionist prospects, his pronouncements from the mountain tops about the meaning of life, the worldviews, the generalized theories of typology, the Self and mandalas. I have tried to follow Jung the psychologist of the soul but not Jung the metaphysician of the spirit. And, for all it’s puer impetus and anima aroma, my work has been stringently dedicated to lowland tactics, to the discipline of image, of phenomena, of pathologizings, in the mode of critical skepticism.

Something further is needed, and I have known this for some time.

Quote from: James Hillman
. . . it is to [Jung] as a metaphysician that so many turn, and I am indeed a deviant from this main line of interest in Jung because I have been avoiding, even working to annul, his metaphysics so as not to lose his psychology.  But […] I realized that psychologizing was not enough.  The critical tradition of seeing through, of perspectivalism, of metaphorical ambiguity, of relativism and desubstantiation—my via negative in the vale of soul-making—is necessary but not sufficient.  It is sufficient neither internally nor externally.

The internal needs of the soul require that its psychology meet the soul’s concerns about the nature of the cosmos in which it finds itself. […] Soul seeks to understand itself beyond itself; it attempts, in a strangely persistent and universal way, always to fantasy beyond; otherwise, would we have the many sciences and philosophies, the theories of origins and ends? This paranoid restlessness of the soul to be metaphysically satisfied by ultimates of meaning must be acknowledged as one of its internal needs.

Hillman's article trails off (after these passages quoted above) into a heep of abstract poeticisms, which leads me to suspect that he has deceived himself with his own beauteous rhetoric.  As a poet, I understand entirely how easy it is for this to occur while caught up to the bosom of linguistic ecstasy and "the Muse".  But it's bullshit.  This is what a "trained" poet eventually learns (or should learn) to edit out.  These are the "darlings" the poet must kill in order to maintain the potency and sense-making of the poem, in order to differentiate the poetic ego from the the Otherness of the poem.  The masterful poet figures out a way to commune with and communicate that Otherness without eclipsing it or usurping it with egoic doodling.

As skilled and exciting as Hillman is as a "poeticist" of his ideas, I fear he does not hold himself to the kind of aesthetic scrutiny a true poet must.  Poetry gets the better of him, because he has an unconscious, child-like dependency on it.  Poetry for Hillman is a kind of maternal providence that is sucked from but not questioned (this is all part of his signature puer psychology).

Regrettably, his "poetic condition" diffuses his insight about the limitations of his own imaginalism and psychologization.  By the end of his essay, he has shrugged off the the real Otherness that erupted into him (the kind that says, "Fool, you must change your ways!") and slathered himself in abstract, poetic language to such a degree that he can no longer tell whether he's coming or going.  This is one of the ego's favorite tricks for obscuring Otherness.  The smarter the individual, the better s/he is at this trick of linguistic self-deceit.

So, what I am posting below simply picks up at the midpoint (from the quotes above), right before Hillman drowned in his own poesy and rendered his essay useless, a mere negation or denial of its real core issue.

So . . . The imaginal is not enough, we need metaphysics . . . yes, I see potential in this . . . but then what?  And by "metaphysics", does Hillman mean what most people mean?  Does he define the term in the same way I would?  I agree with Jung's and Hillman's inclination to refrain from metaphysical endeavors (in writing about the psyche from a scientific or even phenomenological perspective).  When we cross over into professing about something that cannot be known, we have mostly ego to give, mostly opinion (which shouldn't be disguised as truth, or even knowledge).  Sticking to a somewhat rationalistic phenomenology can be a good way to keep the ego intrusion in check (so we are addressing an actual phenomenon and not merely telling the reader about ourselves by accident).

So, if by "metaphysics" Hillman means taking the imaginal phenomena and literalizing them, I'm not on board.  I don't think the imaginal should ever be literalized or concretized.  It is a general human prejudice to place more value in things that have material substance than in things that don't.  But in the presence of numinosity and strong emotional, unconscious valuation, we tend to leap to concretization.  If something affects us so profoundly, it must therefore be "real", substantial, material.  It's contra naturum for us to learn how to value without assumed concretization.  It takes concentrated consciousness, a differentiation between the process of valuation and the object valued.

This seems to be what Jung so strongly opposed in most of his writing . . . and also what Hillman (and Giegerich) decided to take even farther in his "de-objectifying" of the psyche.  Psychology as pure imaginalism.

But if we interpret "metaphysics" to mean what it usually means more generally in philosophy, then metaphysics could include some aspects of cognitive studies, studies of perception, the psychology of the ego, and what the ego's perceptions might really say or not say about material reality.  That is, in this situation of Hillman's thinking, metaphysics could imply that a new reconnection may be necessary between the imaginal and the material, between what the ego perceives and what really is perceived.  I agree with Hillman's interest in metaphysics in this sense . . . but I would hesitate to call this interest metaphysical.

To me, the "is-ness" behind ego-perception and phenomena should not be overly mystified, intellectualized, or left entirely in the hands of philosophers to "ideate".  A clearer way to talk about these "metaphysical" connections, I think, would be to simply talk about biology.  I think it is a mistake to look for the the corporeal in the non-corporeal, to start with an imaginal idea and then try to "see through it" to a material reality it seems to conceal.  Doing this would bring up all the problems that Giegerich agonizes over and opposes in the passages I quoted elsewhere on the forum (from The Neurosis of Psychology).

Instead, I think it best to begin with a dual perspective: the psyche as imaginal phenomena on one hand and the psyche as construction of the brain on the other.  Two hands on the piano keyboard.  The goal is to bring the rhythm part and the melody part together into a song, a harmony.  Which means a third perspective is needed, a unifying perspective that acts as the "musician" who interprets and performs the song.  I guess this could be Jung's "transcendent function" . . . although I am stealing this and demythologizing it a bit.

But the idea of this coordinating third perspective would be of an intelligence that can recognize pattern similarities between what the left hand (imaginal phenomenology) and the right hand (scientific materialism) are doing.  What I worry about in Giegerich (and perhaps in Hillman when he's in "high-imaginalist" mode) is that the third, coordinating perspective (which is to me also the "alchemical intelligence") is left to languish in a blind spot the imaginal ideology allows.  As a polarized way of seeing, imaginalism tends to devalue material science and biology.  It looks on the pursuits of this biological materialism as Other, as something that can be only rejected or converted.  Either way, it must be defeated.  Imaginalism doesn't even want to look at the data of this Other.  It must come up with a convoluted theory to reject the temptation to even glance over at this data.  A law, perhaps something like "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

But if we allow ourselves to employ a more "biological metaphysics", we can start taking data from material science.  One of the hugest idiocies of depth psychology (in my opinion) is its almost absolute ignorance of evolution.  Depth psychologists (Jung included) so rarely say, "Well, this phenomenon seems to suggest X, but how can X have evolved as an adaptation, been naturally selected?"  Of course, the evolution of consciousness is still a mystery . . . but it's a mystery that evolutionary psychologists and biologists have been cracking away at, and making progress.  Some things seem pretty certain (especially when our behavior can be shown to resemble Chimpanzee behavior), other things less so (e.g., what was the exact environmental "cause" of human egoism?).

If Jung was correct in his theory (more ignored by both his proponents and his detractors than any other, I think) that archetypes are instincts, then they must have evolved for logical reasons (i.e., as adaptations to environmental conditions and survival needs).  If we reject that archetypes are instincts (even though archetypal phenomena clearly demonstrate rites of passage more than anything else), then we are in imaginal hell without a life raft.  All we can do with this is make religious (metaphysical) declarations based on what we feel and how we interpret those feelings.  But if we accept that archetypes are (or are founded in) instincts, we have just introduced another massive data set into our investigation.  And this evolutionary data set is very, very rich . . . so rich that many evolutionary psychologists have fallen in love with it and taken it to be The sole data set of value for explaining the human condition.  This is just the flip side of imaginalism and its exclusionist dogma, of course.

In my opinion, it is intellectually negligent to discard either data set (which is what both fields are currently doing, for the most part).

Truly understanding that the archetypes are founded in instincts (i.e., the natural logic of materiality) can radically demystify imaginal psychic phenomena . . . and do so without reducing or devaluing them.  After all, instincts are what we are.  Nothing is more deeply human.  We might have an egoic delusion that we are non-instinctual creatures or that instincts are for "animals" only, but even our everyday imaginalism resounds with instinctual phenomena.  Our art, literature, and movies are all about love, aggression and conflict, survival strategies gone right or wrong, rites of passage (coming of age tales, differentiating ourselves from the collective, dying and death, loss and longing, etc.).  We hardly need to take a step back to see that (at least) 95% of human activity is instinctual and "speciesist".

And we erupt with the numinousness of these collective imaginings.  They make us feel profound and powerful things.  They help us define ourselves, choose our heroes, our enemies, formulate our ideas and passions.  These things are truly divine to us, possessing all the powers of the gods.

I don't think that to say a god is actually an instinct is a reduction.  It is no more a reduction than to say that "Creation" is actually an evolution.  Hold Creation up next to evolution and we see that evolution is infinitely more complex (a complexity that is itself numinous).  It is Creation that is the reduction.  And I believe this holds true for all imaginalism, all egoic fictions and perceptions.  We are so enamored of our marvelous egoism, our "Consciousness", that we don't stop to really think about the fact that what we perceive of the world (and ourselves, too, I would argue) is a severe reduction of the actual object or body of information.  The ego is a sieve, a filter, catching and condensing only small amounts of the information hurtling at it.  And it collates this data based entirely on a scale of familiarity (self-likeness) and strategy (what can this information do for me, for my world view, my social success, my sense of self?).

This consciousness we are so proud of is radically, almost destructively, limiting.  We are just barely holding onto this overwhelmed consciousness.  It is still a meager adaptation that may or may not "take".  It may just as much be our undoing as our transcendence.  The ego feels like a "rough draft".  It isn't an "intelligent design", but "workaround".  The ego is like one of those ridiculous patches that Microsoft issues to try to address some of the problems in its Windows operating systems.  Here we are, the godmen and rulers of this world, and our consciousness is really just a beta version filled with bugs.  In this sense, it is like all early adaptations.

But the ego can't even tell us what is, can't even show us the world.  Its storying of the world is a novel little twist.  It's a fascinating adaptation, but a pretty wacky (or "affectatious") one, as well.  It is always in conflict with the rest of the organism.  Its ability to help the organism survive and prosper is largely a matter of its "storytelling ability" . . . in which not only fictions but even massive delusions must be coordinated to function in an adaptive way.  The value of our self-fictions is not even in its ability to approximate material reality, but in its strategic illusoriness.  That is, we can be totally off our rockers, but if this allows us to find satisfaction and success in our cultural environment, then we are "healthy".  We do not (by any means) live by the "reality principle" alone.  The factuality of our beliefs is valued only to the degree that factualism helps us find equilibrium with our environments (which are largely imaginal or cultural).

And the conflicts between our instinctual (hunter-gatherer, probably) inclinations and our modern cultural obligations are often enormous . . . which is, in itself perhaps the catalyst for therapeutic psychologies.

All of this, in my opinion, screams to us that we should pay attention to biology . . . and therefore need a "realty function upgrade" in order to understand consciousness.  We need to develop a rationalistic materialism that connects us to the world, to biology, to instinct . . . and that we can study and develop "non-egoically".  But we also need to learn how to rely on this material science to establish meaningfulness.  It should be an aid, not a reductionism.  We are in a position in which the Rational can be for us a new mysticism.  I don't mean the rational in the sense of the "school of rationalism" or "logical positivism", these ideologies that are egoic deifications of a rationalistic instinct (at the expense of other instincts).  Rationalism shouldn't mean throwing anything out.  It should just mean a perspective on our own egoism that recognizes its perceptions in the context of a margin of error.  Rationalism is not meant to destroy, devalue, or demean the ego, but to keep it from self-deification.  Egoic self-deification is not only pathological and therefore "non-adaptive", but its philosophy is becoming increasingly dangerous to the world, to nature, to the survival of our species.  The ego's sense of self-entitlement (coupled with its signature blindness and short-term approach to life) is a threat to many species and to the planet itself.

And religion (at least in the monotheistic West) hasn't helped here.  Our monotheisms tends to bolster the abstract, imaginal, egoism that leads to the feeling of entitlement and supremacy.  The world is a feast just for us, etc.  It has been rationalism's ability to help us see what things-in-themselves are more clearly that has introduced us to our own environment-destroying manias.  One might have a meditative vision, an intuition that everything is connected, everything is One.  But scientific rationalism has helped show us that this is materially true as well as intuitively true.  Inter-species and environmental dependence are being recognized as increasingly important.  If we are going to survive and keep the planet livable for its inhabitants, we will have to start thinking in terms of ecosystems and interdependence.  Even inanimate material (bodies of water, landscapes, glaciers, weather, etc.) is essentially a "living" part of living ecosystems.

If for nothing more noble than plain self-preservation, these things will have to be increasingly valued.  And this, I believe, is a part of the mystical impulse.  Enlightenment humanism (with its equal valuation of all people) is an expression of the ethics of mysticism (recognition and valuation of the Other).  I simply feel the psychic, intuitive, imaginal disposition of many spiritual and mystical people is short-sited and at times even prejudicial.  Yes, there is a kind of "bad" rationalism, an ideological, reductive, exclusive rationalism that is just one of our many formulations of "bad thinking" and excessive egoism.  But it is no more or less dangerous than any other fundamentalism (religious fundamentalisms for instance).  I think it is blind egoism in general that is a danger to humanity, not only certain blind egoisms.

That's why I see a need to "rein it in" . . . this egoism.  The reining in of the ego (which rationalism since at least Darwin, and perhaps the Enlightenment, has striven to do) is what mysticism is all about: a coordination of the ego with the will of the Self.  This is what I'm on about when I write about "rational mysticism" and the religion-science coniunctio.

Spiritual types (like we Jungians are inclined to be), need to be able to make a differentiation between constructive, progressive thinking and delusional, destructive thinking.  The Jungian mindset has too long been a one trick pony.  It mystifies feeling and ignores sensation altogether.  And it's as proud as Lucifer about doing this . . . as if it were some kind of magical accomplishment and not an abject failure to think in a whole and balanced manner.  Too many Jungians are caught up in that favorite human pastime of blaming and denying the Other.  The favorite whipping boy has become science and rationalism, because the intellectual climate of Jungianism has become increasingly spiritualistic, New Agey, ego-oriented (i.e., self-seeking, not Self-seeking), and narrow-minded.  It glorifies its intuitive, ideational, imaginalism dogmatically as a way of ignoring the reality function, sensation, rationality, practicality, praxis.

Jung embarked on a union of opposites between the spiritual and the biological.  He made more progress in this coniunctio than anyone I've encountered.  When I look at Jung's accomplishments, this is what stands out most to me: his alchemical, unifying intelligence, his ability to be a "transcendent" thinker who saw the parallels between two very disparate things.  But Jungianism after Jung has discarded the Work of Jungian thinking, its particular magnum opus.  Instead, it has deified its own ignorance and rejection of Opposites.  In giving up on the Work inherent in Jung's project, Jungians have made Jungian thinking an egoic pursuit of self-involvement and narcissism.  This made the sale to New Agism (which is a capitalist market more so than an ideology) a "no-brainer" (in more ways than one).

My personal drive is for bringing the Work back to Jungian thinking . . . at least for my own relationship to it (I can't expect anyone else to care or see value in this).  The value of Jung's ideas are not (to me) in their body of knowledge or their dogmatic appeal, but in their process.  Jung's ideas make for excellent excavating tools.  They evoke a task to be done and a site on which to investigate . . . suggestions about where to dig.

But Jungians have treated this site like a museum, cordoned it off, exhibited it, charging a fee for admission.  They lost the golden ball (to call on Iron John's symbolism) . . . and now there is nothing left but to devise a way to negotiate with the dangerous, hairy prisoner (the Jungian shadow), throw away the happy princedom, and follow the freed shadow into the woods for an initiation/re-valuation only it can provide.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2007, 03:31:21 PM by Matt Koeske »
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