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Representation – A subtle power for good or ill

Radar is a unique type of representation that helps in war and peace

Radar is a unique type of representation used in war and peace

In the literary and artistic sense, representation refers to depicting a psychological, social, natural, political or spiritual idea or condition through language, music, visual art, multimedia, CGI or dance.

In the sciences, abstract ideas like numbers and their interrelationships are represented through numerals and other symbols.¹

In psychology, Carl Jung argues that representation is essential to the healthy growth of the psyche. For him, the conscious ego is like a control center that, through representation, must express and manage the formidable powers of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung believes it is potentially dangerous to not express unconscious attitudes, tendencies and desires in some socially acceptable way.

One of the classic examples of this danger in today’s news would be pedophile priests. These are mostly gay men, not too spiritually aware nor advanced, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They’ve also pledged themselves to God in an organization that says homosexuality is disordered. For Jung, this would be double trouble, involving

  • the harsh repression of physiological impulses for sex
  • a strange, twisted hypocrisy concerning one’s sexual orientation²

No wonder the US Church, alone, has paid out several billions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits to victims over the past 65 years.

Postmodern thinkers question to what degree representation actually represents and to what degree it creates or colors something. For them, social power comes into play in describing and defining. Representation does not only denote something. It also connotes meanings. Compare the following two sentences:

He had a distinguished career with an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford.

He read and wrote a lot of stuff that people at a British school for continued learning liked, so they added more letters to his name.

These may denote the same thing but they connote very different meanings. Thus we see the power of representation.

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

Sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu say that elites use certain terms, ways of speaking and manners to separate themselves from others, and to remind the “lower classes” of their apparent vulgarity and powerlessness. Choice of clothing has the same effect. And funnily enough, the lower classics often buy cheaper, less fine versions of that expensive “look” in a failed attempt to measure up to their apparently elite superiors. Bourdieu calls these non-economic assets that elites possess cultural capital. From head to toe, inside and out, elites have a lot while the lower classes have far less.³

In anthropology, philosophy and theology, the idea of representation has been broken down into

  • first-order sense data, where human beings create an internal representation of something seemingly “out there”4
  • second-order conceptualizations and images

Within Platonic philosophy and the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, different questions are raised about the possibility of eternal, unchanging essences or ideas that are imperfectly represented in our everyday, impermanent world of change and decay.

With abstract art, some argue that the personality and personal message of the artist may be entirely absent in the representational message of an artwork. Others say this is impossible—that is, the artist, artwork and viewer always exist in some kind of relationship.

To sum, representation is a fascinating phenomenon. In junior high school I once wrote a paper differentiating mankind from animals on the basis of our ability to make tools. But when I hit university I was introduced to the power of language, symbols and signs. And many argue that this representational aspect of mankind is what makes us truly human. For better or for worse, we live in a largely symbolic universe with diverse meanings.5

¹ Most of us don’t think about it too much. But the concept of number as a discrete, definite unit is not as simple as it might seem. See https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/what-are-numbers and https://welovephilosophy.com/2012/12/17/do-numbers-exist/

² I have no idea about the causes of hetero- and homosexuality. I am just reporting Jung’s view. Non-abusive instances of gay religious may involve a bewildering confusion or secret dual life concerning one’s sexual orientation. Concerning the first bulleted item, some Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit gives brothers, nuns and priests a supernatural gift of celibacy, lifting them to a higher level of operation and giving them power over their natural desires. In reality, though, I don’t think it’s always that clear cut.

³ This is not to say that the economically poor cannot be highly intelligent nor spiritually rich. But I think some religious people create a stereotype about this based on Luke 6:20. Just because someone is poor does not, imo, mean they always have a rich inner life and good ethics. And by the same token, just because someone is rich does not mean they are always cruel, superficial snobs. This is a silly, superficial view in itself, I think based on a particular interpretation of the New Testament.

I say seemingly “out there” because solipsism suggests we cannot prove the reality of anything beyond our own internal experience. I don’t agree with taking this view but thought I should mention it.

5 I say largely symbolic because some sociologists fall short by saying that we live in a mere symbolic universe. I’m not convinced that religious experience, before the interpretive stage, is symbolic. I believe the Holy Spirit can touch us directly. So part of our experience, provided we’re open to religious experience, can be direct and non-representational.

Related » Active Imagination, Archetypal Image, Roland Barthes, Rudolf Bultmann, Bruce Cockburn, Emile Durkheim, Emic-Etic, Icon, Object, Participation Mystique, Surrealism, Wittgenstein, Yoni


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Reductio ad absurdum – An old school way of saying “take the flipside” or “take it to the limit”

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Reductio ad absurdum [Latin: “reduce to the absurd”] is a method of argumentation said to

  • prove a statement to be true by demonstrating the contradiction, absurdity and therefore impossibility that would result if it were untrue

or

  • prove a statement to be false by taking its assertions and implications to their logical endpoint

Example for the first type of reductio ad absurdum

English: Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and ...

Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and René Descartes (right). Detail from René Descartes i samtal med Sveriges drottning, Kristina. Pierre Louis Dumesnil. Museo nacional de Versailles. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Consider the French philosopher René Descartes famous line, I think, therefore I am.

And its falsification: I think, therefore I am not.

Here one can ask: If a person thinks that she or he does not exist, who is doing the thinking?

By falsifying the original statement, the ensuing absurdity apparently proves the original statement to be true.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung uses a form of reductio ad absurdum to try to refute the Buddhist notion of no-self; that is, the Buddhist idea that individuality is an illusion. Jung asks: Who experiences the bliss of Nirvana if no self is present to experience it?

This might seem clever and amusing but Buddhists could reply that the center of consciousness merely shifts from illusory individualism to actual totality.¹

Example for the second type of reductio ad absurdum

Crime Time

Crime Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider the argument, sometimes heard today, that it’s okay to do crime because everyone is a sinner and the whole world is corrupt.

If one takes that to its logical conclusion we get:

It’s not okay to do crime because if the whole world didn’t resist sin, corruption and crime we’d have violent, lawless chaos.

¹ This stance is not accepted by those who believe that individual souls have a relationship with the godhead.

Related » Anatman, Theism


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Reason, Revelation, Inspiration and Illumination – A Matter of Character or Degree?

In both philosophy and theology a distinction is often made between

  • knowledge obtained through reason

and

  • knowledge obtained through revelation

Many learned and pious discussions follow from this way of looking at things. But I believe the distinction, itself, should be examined. It is conceivable that ideas and their arrangement in a coherent argument could be revealed or, at least, partially revealed to a person from God.

Traditional Catholic theologians usually call this inspiration as a result of illumination, suggesting that the process somehow differs from receiving divine revelations.

But where do we draw the line?

In dream psychology, Carl Jung talks about big dreams and little dreams. Big dreams, according to Jung’s theory, involve the collective unconscious. Little dreams involve the personal unconscious. But the scope of dreams rarely, if ever, involve just me or everyone.

Dreams usually involve some mixture of the personal and the collective unconscious. So the dream type rests upon a continuum. Some dreams do seem bigger than others. But it’s still you dreaming them. Likewise, some dreams seem more personal than others. But they’re still coming from a mysterious source.

Could we not make a similar case with the distinction between revelation vs. inspiration and illumination? Instead of this or that, it seems more prudent to speak of a continuum.¹


¹ One of the great weakness of some aspects of Catholic theology, as I see it, is that its truth claims must fit – or appear to fit – with everything that came before. This makes some aspects of Catholic teaching a bit too close to politics and power, which is probably one of the main reasons why the Church is desparate for new priests and also, turning away many good, conscientious lay persons.

Related » St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Revealed Knowledge


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Erich Fromm and the “Mass Man”

Gedenktafel für Erich Fromm aus der Reihe Mit ...

Plaque for Erich Fromm from the series with Freud in Berlin. Bayerischer Platz 1, Berlin-Schöneberg. Enthüllt am 1. Juli 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) was a German-born American psychologist and social thinker who is often linked to the Frankfurt school of critical theory.

Fromm’s work combined different ideas from the works of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and J.-P. Sartre.

Like Carl Jung, he was acutely aware of the danger of bureaucracies controlled by the wrong people. He leveled a critique against the so-called mass man who, like a robot, compliantly follows orders to maintain financial security at the expense of human decency.

For Fromm, individuals “escape from freedom” through at least three often related routes:

  • Authoritarianism – losing the self by over-identifying with a powerful leader
  • Automaton Conformity – blindly following the will of a powerful leader
  • Destructiveness –  hurting self or others in an attempt to blot out a painful reality

In “The Sane Society” (1955), Fromm says modern individuals are alienated from their authentic self by seeking ephemeral thrills through mass culture and consumerism. According to Fromm, what makes us truly human is our ability to love. If we sacrifice this to the gods of commerce or political ambition, we’ve sacrificed our greatest gift of all.

Fromm’s works include The Fear of Freedom (1941), The Art of Loving (1956) and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973).

Related » HAL 9000, Borg, Projection


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Functionalism – Are we simply what we do?

In art and architecture functionalism refers to combining aesthetics and efficiency. With intellectual roots in the 18th and 19th centuries, in the 1920s and 30s the Bauhaus movement designed furniture for utility.

In architecture, the idea that function should determine form was exemplified by Le Corbusier’s definition of a house as “a machine for living in.”

Portret van Talcott Parsons (1902-1979)

Portret van Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In social anthropology and sociology, functionalism (and structural functionalism) envisions society as a self-regulating organism. Social institutions, customs, beliefs and even social deviance all contribute to societal functioning. This approach was especially prominent in the sociological work of Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons.

In the Philosophy of Mind functionalism presents a challenge to behaviorism. While strict behaviorism explains the mind by observing external causes and effects, functionalism tries to account for consciousness in terms of all inner and outer causes and effects. Philosophical functionalism considers the possibility, overlooked by behaviorism, of a multiplicity of inner causes and effects existing within the mind. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy simplifies it thus:

Functionalism is a theory about the nature of mental states. According to functionalism, mental states are identified by what they do rather than by what they are made of.¹

¹ http://www.iep.utm.edu/functism/

Related » William James


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Charles Hartshorne – Does God Grow With Experience?

Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) – Image via Wikipedia

Charles Hartshorne  (1897-2000) was an American theologian who developed Alfred North Whitehead‘s idea of an organic, interactive process into a version of Process Theology.

Wikipedia traces his views to the ancient Greek Heraclitus, who emphasized change with his famous line, “you cannot step into the same river twice.” Heraclitus also believed that religious signs could be received through the oracle at Delphi. But Hartshorne’s theological system arguably adds a bit more to the picture than mere change and signs (we don’t know what Heraclitus fully believed in because only fragments of his work survive).

Hartshorne upholds the idea that God has a separate existence but is also present in the world. To me this is explained by the already existing ideas of transcendence and immanence (not imminence). Wikipedia explains Hartshorne’s view:

One of the technical terms Hartshorne used is pan-en-theism, originally coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1828. Panentheism (all is in God) must be differentiated from Classical pantheism (all is God). In Hartshorne’s theology God is not identical with the world, but God is also not completely independent from the world. God has his self-identity that transcends the earth, but the world is also contained within God. A rough analogy is the relationship between a mother and a fetus. The mother has her own identity and is different from the unborn, yet is intimately connected to the unborn. The unborn is within the womb and attached to the mother via the umbilical cord.¹

However, Hartshorne took on classical theologians by taking a more Jungian approach to God. For both Jung and Hartshorne, God is not omniscient but learns as s/he goes along. Unlike classical definitions of God’s perfection, Hartshorne believes that being perfect does not entail knowing everything. Rather, it means knowing and feeling more through experience.

God is capable of surpassing himself by growing and changing in his knowledge and feeling for the world.²

Myself, I think this is a flawed view, one born of a lack of intellectual humility. It’s fine to try to understand God and the workings of God. But whenever a human being makes some kind of definitive statement about knowing God, that’s where I draw the line.

However, if someone says they believe that God has certain qualities and behaves in such a way, I can take them far more seriously. In my view, everything comes down to belief in one way or another. But not everyone appreciates this idea. The human mind is easily hoodwinked into confusing belief with knowledge.

The statue of Plato in front of the Academy of Athens

The distinction between belief and knowledge goes back to another ancient Greek, Plato. Plato, however, held a different view than mine. He believed that knowledge (as justified true belief – episteme)³ was superior to:

  • an opinion that seems to be or may be true but is accepted on the basis of a weak argument (dogma)
  • popular belief (doxa)

By way of contrast, I maintain that for a rational, reflective mind, everything comes down to belief—true, false or partly true belief. We may say we have reason to believe but, as human beings, we can never really know. We have to believe.4

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hartshorne

² Ibid.

³ This type of knowledge is differentiated from knowledge of a craft (techne). And some scholars rightly ask, what does full “justification” for episteme require? See a good discussion here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

4 To defend this view I’d probably have to go into a lengthy philosophical argument, and this entry is not the place for that. However, if anyone wishes to further discuss in the comments area, I will try to outline my position (providing I felt that the discussion was positive enough to justify the time and energy spent on it). I say this because I tried to explain my position once at the David Bowie site with a bookish “intellectual” hooked on a particular philosopher and found that I was just wasting my time and energy. As with most unproductive internet debates, we don’t always carefully read or reply to things we don’t understand, perhaps cannot understand, or consciously or subconsciously do not wish or believe it necessary to understand. And some apparently just want to win an argument rather than learn and grow from it. I’m not saying I’m immune to this pretty common situation. But I don’t waste time and energy if I see myself falling into it.


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Psychoid – Not another Norman Bates movie!

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The word psychoid sounds a bit like a sequel to the famous Norman Bates film, or maybe another video game about killing for points. But it’s neither of those things.

According to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, the psychoid  is the transcendental aspect of an archetype. In contrast to the archetypal images, which we can perceive and talk about, the psychoid can never reach consciousness. We can, however, form a concept about it, as Jung did.

Jung introduced the idea of the psychoid to try to account for the duality of matter and energyHe also wanted to distinguish between the symbol and the true essence of the thing symbolized.

This kind of thinking is nothing new. For centuries philosophers and theologians have differentiated between God, the unknowable, and God with perceptible qualities. Like Jung, some philosophers and theologians say we can never fully know the absolute; however, most would agree that we can discuss it using abstract concepts.

Other thinkers tend to link experience with ultimate reality, perhaps overlooking the idea of psychological and cultural filters that might color our perception of the apparently absolute.¹

Jung, himself, had studied Kant who also makes a distinction between that which is unknowable via the senses (noumenon) and that which can be apprehended through the senses (phenomenon).

¹ A detailed yet accessible discussion of the personal in relation to the absolute can be found in John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, 2nd ed. 1966, pp. 48-94. To say that different thinkers make this distinction in no way implies that all of their distinctions are identical. Usually we find subtle or obvious differences, which some New Age and pop psychology pundits tend to overlook.

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