Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let not your consciousness control you (over its capacity)

One of the surest ways to make people dislike or disrespect you, at least among an intellectual circle, is to say that you believe in God. Yet, the dialectic between theism and atheism happens to be one of my great interests.

I became a Christian several years ago in the middle of my post-divorce mental depression. Without any depression now, I still keep going to church. I love the community and friends there, but thinking about God and meditate every week is a very interesting intellectual challenge in the age when atheism has become the orthodoxy. I'm liberal enough to accept the progress of science, but I'm a conservative liberal, in the sense F.A. Hayek was, to respect the traditional wisdom that cannot be easily rendered into scientific terms. The faith in God is one of such traditional items.

Today, in our international group meeting in my church, we read Chapter 1 of God's Power to Change Your Life. If you're not yet repelled by the sound of the title, please read the following quotation:

When the Holy Spirit controls your life, he will produce in you nine positive characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (p. 21: emphasis added by me)

Before I'm accused of being too indecent to use such a word like the "Holy Spirit", let me give you my modern translation of the quotation.

Let your unconscious/non-conscious mind control you. Let not your consciousness control you over its capacity. Then you'll gain love, joy, ... and self-control.

Recent progress of neuroscience is in line with what Julian Jaynes said in 1976 about the limited capacity of consciousness. (Please see my old article on Julian Jayes if you're interested.). Quite recently, the Atlantic carried an essay "The Brain on Trial" by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. It contained a series of reasonable questions concerning the notion of free will and our legal system based upon it.

In a nutshell, our consciousness is not the master of our thoughts and behaviors. Consciousness is not us, or rather we're not consciousness alone, as Descartes led us to believe, or as Freud surprised the modern Europeans. Yet, since Descartes, our consciousness has become the basis of our existence, the foundation of science, the only arena where our rationality is allowed to work.

However, you only have to remind yourself of your ordinary episodes: when you come up with a solution to a difficult problem of science, business or whatever, it usually comes from somewhere beyond your consciousness. When you act perfectly well in a sport or a martial art, you often realize what you've done after you did it; you haven't planned or thought about your action before. Or simply, you can't.

Our consciousness has only a limited capacity. Even when you extend its capacity by the use of computer or other devices, the body (YOU)-in-the-World is too complex to be controlled by your (extended) consciousness.

Let the Self control you. The Self, which contains your consciousness, but is much larger and deeper than that, according to Jung, should be the center of you, not the superficial, limited, biased and yet explicit consciousness.

The modern notion of "self-control" is a control of your life by your conscious thoughts and plans. However, the traditional and religious notion (revived by Jung as a modern psychiatric one) of "self-control" is a control of your life by your unconscious/non-conscious mind, or if you dare, by the Holy Spirit.

Of course, our contemporary life is much more complicated than the life in the pre-conscious era as Jaynes surmised, or the spiritual life as Jung focused on. Our life is now messed by the miscellaneous bits and pieces and we need occasional help from our consciousness to let our unconscious/non-conscious mind adapt to this contemporary hustle and bustle.

But let not your consciousness override your true mind (that is unconscious and non-conscious). Let your Self be the master of you. And if you dare again, let the Holy Spirit be the master of you. Let your conscious mind be a humble servant of the Master.

This is not an awakening philosophy. As I said, you only have to remind yourself of your life (i.e. do philosophy as Wittgenstein defined it.) Or you may want to practice Budo, the Japanese martial arts, and learn from the traditional words of wisdom which try to explain the conflict between your conscious thoughts and your unconscious/non-conscious movements.

Yes, I admit I've mixed up different ideas and thoughts: Christianity, Julian Janes, F.A. Hayek, neuroscience, C.G. Jung, Budo, all in the same bag. You may dislike or disrespect me for this apparent lack of rigor, but this is what I expected from the first sentence of this essay.

Thank you for reading so far (if you ever did). It was at least a nice way of spending a Sunday afternoon, something I wanted to do despite the advice from my consciousness to do the business work that is overdue. I just tried to let my Self control my life. If I cannot do this on weekdays, I should be allowed to do this on weekends.

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