Revisiting “Free Will” by Sam Harris

Sam Harris argues free will, as people commonly perceive it, is an illusion and does not exist because (1) people are not consciously aware of the formation of their ideas and (2) the decisions people make are influenced by environmental and historical factors outside of their control.

Harris’ argument makes sense to a point. If one thinks about it, the origin of thought is a mystery. It is possible that thought is the product of subconscious processes (in which case one might be able to claim credit for them). It is also possible that thought originates from some external source (in which case one would not be able to claim credit). Regardless of their origin, when a thought appears in consciousness, the consciousness feels entitled to take credit for them. Harris, however, argues that because there is no conscious awareness of the creation of thought, and decisions are a type of thought, that free will cannot exist.

At the same time, any decision a person makes is influenced by an uncountable number of factors leading up to the point of making the decision and most of these factors are outside the person’s control. For example, the person’s culture, education, parental influence and many other prior factors all may play a role in the ultimate decision a person makes. There are many current environmental factors as well that are completely out of the control of the person making the decision. As such (argues Harris), how can the person say that he makes a decision of his own free will?

As Harris asserts, free will resides in an area outside of conscious awareness. Moreover, it is encumbered by historical and environmental forces. All true. However, just because the origin of thought takes place outside of conscious awareness and may have been influenced by facts and circumstances outside of the consciousness’ control, does not mean that there is no agency at all. Let us say that 99% of ideas come from an external source and 99% of the remaining ideas self generated are 99% shaped by external facts and circumstances that are outside of the consciousness’ control. Is it not possible that there is still a minuscule particle of free will that can be in the mix somewhere? Well, if that tiny particle of free will exists at all, Harris’ argument that free will is entirely an illusion must be false. Moreover, consider the following situation. Person 1 (P1) holds a gun to the head of Person 2 (P2). P1 tells P2 to pick up a ball or P1 will fire the gun. P2 picks up the ball. In this scenario we would say that P2 has a low level of free will with respect to his decision to pick up the ball. Now consider P2 is alone in a room and decides to pick up the same ball. In that scenario we would say that P2 has a higher degree of free will. Therefore, if free will can exist in degrees then it exists, and again Harris’ argument must be false. Finally, we can make a similar argument in terms of consciousness. P1 knows he can say something to P2 that will make P2 angry. P2, however, recently began psychotherapy and has become more conscious of this dynamic. P1 says the thing to P2 to make him angry. Normally, P2 would be overcome with rage in response, however P2, because he is conscious of this dynamic is able to not become angry in this instance. In this situation, we might say that P2, because he is more conscious, has a greater degree of free will than he would have had prior to psychotherapy. If P2 can have more free will in one situation than another then free will must exist, and once again, Sam Harris’ claim that free will does not exist must be false.

I will concede that Harris is correct in that “free will” as people commonly consider it is untrue. Most people (myself included) are not aware that their ideas mysteriously enter their conscious awareness. Rather, the default assumption is that they somehow created the thought on their own. But I disagree that Harris has closed the case on whether agency is entirely absent.

It seems that Harris arrives at his conclusion based on his materialist, scientific and atheist perspective. That is, he sees consciousness as merely a byproduct (perhaps accidental in nature) of the physical mechanics of the brain. Because there is no “God” or “spirit,” there is nothing beyond the mechanics of the brain to examine as to the source of consciousness. If therefore, consciousness is a byproduct of material and mechanical processes, then it is easy to see how an idea in the form of a decision (which had been shaped by past experience and environment) pops into consciousness, can trick consciousness to believe that consciousness made the decision. After all, consciousness is an accidental byproduct and probably should not have been there in the first place.

However, there is another possibility that makes more sense in my opinion. That is, that consciousness comes first before the material. This is not a new idea. It has its roots in Hinduism and is spoken about to great extent by Alan Watts and Leo Guara (for example). Essentially, the idea is that all anyone knows about the universe is consciousness because consciousness is the means by which everyone experiences the universe. As such, it is entirely possible that there is no universe “out there” or external to consciousness and that it is all contained within consciousness. Therefore, the hardness of a table and the mechanics of the brain are all the dream of consciousness. In this model, consciousness is God and each person is God experiencing consciousness through the eyes and limitations of that person. As such, free will comes from God which is consciousness because all there is, is consciousness and if there is free will to be had then it must come from there.

To those who doubt consciousness can precede the material world, consider a dream experienced during sleep. When dreaming, consciousness perceives the environment to be real. When we wake, however, we realize that the content of the dream was not real. Who is to say that what we consider to be real in waking life is not another level of dreaming?

The world is deceptively material in appearance. This deception is revealed in that there is always a smaller particle for nuclear physicists to discover and the edge of the universe is always a little farther out than astrophysicists can see. In the same respect, I suspect the material origin of consciousness will likewise, never be located with specificity.

The point of all this is (IMHO): Sam Harris has not successfully proven that free will does not exist. Nor has he convincingly shown that consciousness has a material genesis as it relates to free will or anything else.

See the following video for an EMP discussion of this topic:

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EMP Episode 3: The Hero’s Journey

EMP Episode 3 discussed the Hero’s Journey articulated in Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” and in the more accessible “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler. The idea of the “Hero’s Journey” is that all stories from ancient myths to modern sitcoms, in order to resonate with their audience have to contain all or some of the elements of a particular template. In essence, this template requires the main character to face a particular fear in order to move to the next level and by facing this fear and moving to the next level is forever changed. This change, in effect, constitutes a resurrection of sorts whereby the old version of the main character has been annihilated and a new perfected version of the main character has been born.

The cycle of the Hero’s Journey (as articulated by Vogler) typically follows 12 stages. The order of these stages can be altered depending on the story and some stories might skip a stage entirely but in practice most impactful stories contain most or all. To illustrate this point, we looked at 3 movies; The Matrix, Star Wars (or Episode IV), and Rocky.

I. Ordinary World

In the first stage, the Hero finds himself in the Ordinary World. This is often depicted as an unsatisfying situation. The hero wants to move forward but feels stuck. There is also the sense that the Hero has untapped talent that is not recognized by the ordinary world. In the Matrix, we see Neo living alone with the sense that there is something wrong with the world in which he lives. He goes through the motions of paying his rent and going to work but then searches for truth on the internet. In Star Wars, Luke begins as an unsatisfied farm boy on a remote planet, longing to go to the academy and see the galaxy. But he is tied to the farm because of his obligations. In Rocky, the title character is a low level fighter living in a depressing apartment with the sense that life has passed him by.

II. Call to Adventure

In this stage the Hero receives his call to adventure or invitation to leave the ordinary world and enter what Vogler refers to as the “special world”. In The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo to go out on the ledge of his office building to escape the Agents who have come to arrest him for seeking a way out of the Ordinary World via his internet searches. In Star Wars, Obi Wan tells Luke to come with him to fight the empire. In Rocky, Mickey offers to train Rocky. In all of these examples we see that the call to adventure creates a dilemma in the Hero’s mind. What he wanted from the beginning has been offered to him but up until this point he has only considered that what he did not want was to remain stuck. Now he must consider the risks inherent in leaving the safety of the Ordinary World.

III. Refusal of the Call

This dilemma typically leads to the Hero initially refusing this invitation. In The Matrix, Neo steps out on the ledge but then gives into his fear of falling to his death and goes back into the office to be arrested by the Agents. In Star Wars, Luke tells Obi Wan that he has responsibilities to his aunt and uncle and their farm. Rocky initially rejects Mickey’s offer to train him because Mickey had previously rejected him. In all of these cases the refusal of the call to adventure puts the Hero back in the Ordinary World but only intensifies its unsatisfying nature, which in turn intensifies the Hero’s desire to leave it.

IV. Meeting the Mentor

Vogler places this stage fourth but we can see that these stages need not strictly follow his ordering. In the Matrix, Neo has already met his Mentor Morpheus. Luke has already met Obi Wan. And Rocky has already met Micky. These specific mentors played a key role in issuing the call to adventure but in other stories the Hero might receive this call through other means.

V. Crossing the First Threshold

Here we see the Hero finally commit to leaving the Ordinary World for the Special World. This initiates the transformation of the Hero such that he can never go back to his former self. This is clearly articulated when Neo takes the Red Pill, which then causes his real self sleeping in a vat of goo to wake up and see the real world for the first time. After Luke sees the charred skeletons of aunt and uncle, he realizes that all his ties with the Ordinary World have been severed and he returns to Obi Wan. The crossing of the threshold is later, symbolically articulated when he enters the Cantina populated by strange and dangerous aliens. After rejecting Micky’s call, Rocky returns to his depressing apartment but then runs back out onto the street and tells Micky that he will commit to the training offered him. His symbolic crossing is depicted when he wakes up early in the morning and drinks a tall glass of raw eggs.

VI. Tests, Allies, Enemies

The Hero’s commitment to leaving the Ordinary World and actual or symbolic crossing of the First Threshold ends the First Act of the story and begins the Second Act. This stage is one where the Hero begins to come into his own. He might learn he has strength or powers that until now have been repressed and he begins to use them Here he faces new tests of his abilities, he meets new allies who help him on his journey as well as enemies who seek to prevent his journey from reaching its fruition. We see Neo meet the crew of the Nebuchanezzar, train with them and battle the agents and the mechanical squids. Luke meets Han Solo and Chewbacca and trains with Obi Wan. Rocky meets Adrian, learns of Pauli’s undermining behavior and begins his training with Micky.

VII. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The Approach to the Inmost Cave marks the beginning of the Third Act. All of these experiences lead the Hero to a supreme challenge that dwells within the Inmost Cave. Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” As such, the approach to the cave entails fear but by this time the Hero has had sufficient training to enter the cave. If he had never crossed the First Threshold he would never have the courage to enter. Often we see the hero arming himself in preparation. Neo asks for “guns… lots of guns” in order to save Morpheous from the Agents. Sometimes the Hero faces the loss of his mentor as happened when Luke sees Obi Wan sacrifice himself to Darth Vader. Or perhaps the Hero has begun his battle as Rocky did in his fight with Apollo Creed and sees that it is possible for him to survive.

VIII. The Ordeal

Within the Inmost Cave the Hero must face his ultimate fear. Neo stops running and fights Agent Smith for the first time. Luke leads the Rebel attack squadron to destroy the Death Star. Rocky, after taking a beating, fights back and sees it is possible not only to survive, but perhaps even to win.

IX. Reward

It is the facing of the fear (not necessarily defeating it) that works to ultimately transform the Hero. Neo now has confidence that it is possible to defeat the Agents. Luke now knows that the Empire is vulnerable. Rocky now knows that it is possible to be a champion.

X. The Road Back

The Hero is then must decide what to do with this knowledge. Often this stage of the story involves a chase scene where the Hero must prevent or escape a tragedy. In The Matrix, Neo races back to the exit after fighting Agent Smith. In Star Wars, Luke is able to fire the shot that destroyed the Death Star but now must get out of the blast range. Rocky, must deliver the final punch using all of his remaining strength.

XI. The Ressurection

Sometimes there is one remaining challenge to overcome. Perhaps it is the final defeat of the Hero’s fear. This is when the last remnants of the old Hero dies and a new one is reborn. We see this quite literally happen when Neo is shot and killed but then comes back to life and destroys Agent Smith. By contrast, there is no actual death and resurrection of Luke, but after playing the pivitol role in destroying the Death Star there is no possibility of his returning to the life of an unsatisfied farm boy. Rocky and Apollo Creed simultaneously knock each other down. This is the symbolic death of Rocky’s old self. He then struggles heroically to stand up and resurrect himself.

XII. Return with the Elixir

Finally, the Hero returns to the Ordinary World a changed person. He is now in the position to play the Mentor role to a new Hero. We see this in the final scene of The Matrix where Neo is talking on the telephone and then flies up into the sky. We do not see this particular scene in Star Wars and Rocky but, as I said, not all of the stages have to be present or in this order. Sometimes the return of the Hero is implied.

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EMP Episode 2: The Star Wars Movies

The primary subject of the second episode of the Epic Meta Podcast (“EMP”) was the nine movies that made up the three Star Wars trilogies. But before we got into that discussion we talked about our second, failed attempt at a podcast.

The Art of Podcasting Continued

The subject of that failed attempt was an analysis of two time travel related stories. The first being, “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerold and the second, “Predestination,” a movie staring Ethan Hawk. Interestingly, in our first episode we discussed talking about these two time travel stories (as it seems the topic of any future podcast in our series will be based on some piece of a topic discussed in the previous episode) but we had no idea that the plots of both stories shared such striking similarities. Most notably, both stories involved a protagonist who went back in time, interacted with a previous version of himself and in the process became his own father. It is unclear whether both stories individually arrived at this as a natural consequence of taking the time travel phenomenon to its logical conclusion or whether one story was based on the other. Unfortunately, although the conversation was an interesting one, the audio on my end did not record properly and we had to scrap the episode. This disappointment associated with loosing content for technical reasons is an experience I suspect is likely experienced by many pod casters.

There were a few aesthetic problems with this pod cast I noticed when I listened to it. First, I have a few pet phrases and words that I repeat too often including you know, sort of, certainly and um. There were background noises as well including my chair creaking, some kind of crackling sound I will attribute to Thang and a bird chirping. I also noticed at least one time where our dialog repeated itself. This is something I have noticed on other podcasts and think it has to do with corruption during the upload. As for the pet phrases, the only thing I can do is try to be more aware of saying them. The creaking chair can be replaced. A closed window will muffle the sound of any bird. Although, I do not mind the sound of the bird all that much. Everything else is part of Thang’s domain.

Star Wars

The original trilogy of Star Wars movies (Episodes IV, V and VI) were very important to me in my youth. They were important because they seemed to satisfy every desire I had in terms of entertainment. The movies were a cut above other sci-fi as to realism and story telling. Other science fiction movies at the time seemed sterile and fake looking by comparison. The Star Wars universe, however, was “lived in” with dirty, dented ships and hardscrabble moisture farmers. The original trilogy also possessed compelling characters with developmental arcs. After seeing Episode IV, I impatiently awaited the release of V and VI. For the most part I was not disappointed. One might argue that the Ewoks were a poor choice but I did not mind them as much as other people did and on the whole, I found the trilogy immensely satisfying. This satisfaction was evidenced by my vast collection of “action figures” and trading cards which have since vanished over time.

By contrast, the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) seemed to violate many of the qualities that made the original trilogy great. One violation was in the area of dialog. In the original trilogy, the characters (for the most part) spoke in a formal, almost Shakespearean tone. Whereas in the prequels there were many moments when the characters spoke casually in a manner that broke my immersion. Child Anakin saying, “that’s a good trick” and young Boba Fet calling Jengo Fet “Dad” rather than “Father” come to mind. Another violation was the reduction of the force to metachlorines in the blood. This violated the brilliant wedding of science fiction and mysticism of the original trilogy. Jar Jar Binks goes without saying.

From a high perspective, the prequels were ambitious. They set out to describe the fall of the ancient Galactic Republic and Jedi Order, the rise of the Emperor and the Sith, as well as the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. They accomplished this in an extremely flawed manner but they managed to do so in a way that still kept me invested me in the characters (most of them).

By contrast the sequel trilogy (Episodes VII-IX) did not even do that. The hope of Episode VII was to redeem the series after the flawed prequels. Taken on its own Episode VII accomplished this by introducing new characters, bringing back older beloved characters, setting up a framework for a heroic journey and doing so in a manner that did not violate the feel of Star Wars too egregiously. After seeing Episode VII, I questioned the dramatic choice of having a new version of the Empire replace the old, thus undoing all the work of the original trilogy. But at that point I had faith that by the end of the trilogy all would be explained and set right. Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes did not justify this faith. By the end of the trilogy I was no more invested in the new characters than I was prior to Episode VII. This was largely because they remained the same from beginning to end. Nor were any of the dramatic choices brought to a conclusion in a satisfying way.

In short, Star Wars started out as an important, powerful and beautiful creative presence in my life. As it aged, it became tainted and corrupted. A portion of this might be a function of my own age. I was a young child at the time of the original trilogy. Perhaps I was more open to wonder and less critical in terms of details. At the time of the prequel trilogy I was a young man and at the time of the sequel trilogy I was a middle aged man. But I believe the corruption lies not only with my more refined sense of literature and aesthetics. I truly believe that the writing and the ideas in the latter trilogies were of lesser quality. Perhaps all things become corrupted over time. But I do not want to believe that that is necessarily so.

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EMP Episode 1: The Art of Podcasting

I recently recorded a podcast with a friend (Thang is his name) from Toastmasters. The inspiration to record a podcast was partly a curiosity to explore the art form itself (having listened to more than a few over the years). One of the other inspirational parts had to do with previous conversations where Thang observed we went “meta” as he described it. These conversations could be about anything but they typically evolved in a philosophical and comical direction. I enjoy that process.

After months of talking about making a podcast, we recorded our first episode. In it we discussed what the podcast would be about going forward. That topic is yet to be finalized. We also discussed political correctness, science fiction films we have seen and books we have read, freewill, consciousness and the societal effects of COVID-19. Throughout the process, there was the sense that the format and content of the podcast (both this episode and going forward) would reveal itself to us as we engaged in the process. Whether this process would be entertaining to an audience or if there would even be an audience seems to be of secondary importance. However, the possibility of an audience certainly seems to impact the podcast’s evolution.

Podcasting (like most endeavors) is something one learns by doing. I observed during our first episode that when I (and I assume others) engage in a recorded conversation intended for publication the conversation is different than an open ended conversation one would have in their normal course of business. As I mentioned in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, this is true even if the audience is only a possible audience. The conversation is different in that it feels more formal than a private conversation. There is also the sense (however subtle) that the conversation should be entertaining to someone listening to it. interestingly, I also noticed that the conversation lasted for an hour and normally I would not have the patience to talk for an hour with someone else unless the context of the conversation gave permission for that to happen. Perhaps “patience” is the wrong word because that suggests that I am bored with (and therefor above) the interaction. That is sometimes the case, but more often than not when I am conversing with another person I get the sensation that the other person does not want to be talking to me or that I might say something inappropriate. In this situation there is a feeling of agitation that I should exit the conversation before something undesirable occurs. However, within the context of the podcast the conversation had been planned and agreed to beforehand. Moreover, there is an expectation that it will last for an hour. As such, within that context I found myself more free to converse than I otherwise would have been. That is, there is something about the agreed to nature of the podcast format that frees me from feeling like I need to get out of the conversation. I suspect there is more to this point that requires explanation but I will leave it there for now.

I suspect the naysayers in the potential audience (e.g., Admiralbill, Thordaddy, Terry Morris and the other Orthosphere contributors – they are all basically the same voice from my perspective) would react negatively and say that I am not entitled to record and publish a podcast. In a sense they have a point. I am not an authority on the topics we discussed except to the extent I am offering my own opinions. They would say it is an exercise in egotism (of course using their own particular jargon). So why would anyone want to listen to what I have to say? More to the point, why would I expect anyone to listen to what I have to say? But on the other hand, I enjoyed recording the podcast. The fact that an audience is involved is intrinsically associated with the experience. I enjoy being creative and this experience was creative and experimental. All this is really to say that this psychological dynamic certainly transpires in my mind, not so much while recording but before and afterwards. And whether those aforementioned people would actually have those reactions is beside the point. Actually, if they read this paragraph, I suspect they would deny having this reaction and claiming that my actions would never enter their thinking at all or some such. This too is part of the experience.

In summary, I found the experience to be both interesting and rewarding from a creative standpoint. The experience itself is interesting but so is the cascade of psychological affects. All this I found it to be enjoyable which is a form of beauty. And why do anything unless it is good, true or beautiful?

 

 

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The Cycle of Shattered Worlds and Individual Agency

On Easter morning, 2020 amidst the cloistered quarantine of the Corona virus pandemic, I finished reading “The Shattered Worlds of Standish O’Grady” written by my friend Christopher Boettcher. He sent me a copy of this book based on his PhD thesis several months ago and I have been meaning to get to it. But there was some hesitation on my part perhaps because this subject matter is not something I would normally seek out. To wit, Standish O’Grady is an obscure (at least from my frame of reference), turn of the 20th century, Irish author with no presently familiar work of literature. He is, however, thought to have influenced Irish authors who came after him (e.g., W.B. Yeats). But I have no background or interest in Irish literature per se.

No, I started to read this book mostly as an expression of my friendship. But I rediscovered that exposing myself to something I would not normally expose myself to can be an enlightening experience. Unfortunately, this is a world where it is easy to confine myself to an informational comfort zone / echo chamber and that is not where growth happens. And I believe I did grow by reading this book I would not have sought out on my own. I first found it interesting to read what my friend had written and what he thought to be of interest. I then found myself becoming (i.e., growing) interested in this subjectively foreign subject matter.

O’Grady became inspired to write and publish after reading a dusty history of Ireland he found in a private library. Apparently, the Irish history O’Grady knew at that point was English in orientation. Reading this history, inspired him to research and write his own history of Ireland. He later (after a non productive stint as a barrister) took on the management and content creation of a publication called The All-Ireland Review wherein the evolution of his ideas and priorities would be reflected from 1900 to 1907. Boettcher repeatedly emphasizes how O’Grady would edit and rewrite what he had previously written to further refine his evolving point of view. Sometimes this happened because his original content was not well received. Other times his point of view had shifted. This reflected on his part, an attitude of personal fortitude that would not let the opinions of others cause him to hide in shame. This aspect of his personality was one of the details in the book to catch my attention.

However, it took me a while to understand why Standish O’Grady was a person worth reading about as well as his broader significance. On the personal level, Standish O’Grady saw the cracks in his world. He observed how the Irish peasants, illiterate and incapable of paying their rents were caught in a system of debt and dysfunction. O’Grady had ideas about reforming society. He advocated land reform legislation and devised ideas about creating communal estates.  But his enthusiasm to create this change eventually turned to disillusionment as they never really came to pass. Perhaps his trajectory of enthusiasm was a function of his age.

But the idea I had whilst reading was that Standish O’Grady was part of a larger process at work. On a societal or cultural level, he is considered to be a father of the Irish literary revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But he set out to accomplish something quite different. There is the sense that history plays itself out in cycles and each individual despite his illusion of ego and agency ends up being an atom in the cyclical waves. O’Grady’s influence spurred the Irish Literary Revival but he did not intend to affect this course of events. Put another way, his agency did not work to advance his ideas but they did express themselves within a greater pattern.

I picked up this book at the beginning of Lent and finished on Easter Sunday. Easter is about renewal. The liturgical year is a repeated cycle of birth, death and resurrection. This book came into my life not through my own agency. My decision to read it had more to do with friendship than my own desire to learn about its contents. O’Grady had ideas he sought to see manifest in reality, took concrete steps to realize them, but ultimately did not succeed. Rather, his influence spurred or was part of the spurring of a larger literary cycle. Worlds exist and then shatter. But a new world remains after the old one has shattered only to eventually shatter itself. And amidst this cycle, individuals live their lives and pursue their aims but for the most part remain unaware of the larger patterns. This seems to be the case anyway.

The illusion of ego in this sense seems to be an illusion of control. There are forces at work stronger than the individual that sweep us all along. And yet there is a kernel of agency in there, is there not? There is the part of the individual that is dissatisfied with the way things are as Standish O’Grady was with the state of the Irish peasants and as I am with much of the work I find myself doing on a day to day basis. And this part convinces itself that it can change the world. And then this part takes action (or doesn’t). And then this part sees the results of its action or inaction. Whether the results are success, failure or regret for inaction the grander cycle plays itself out and the individual plays his small or large role.

The question, I suppose, is whether the individual’s agency has importance or significance? Certainly, the individual’s agency has significance from the perspective of the individual when he is not awake to or concerned with the larger cycles at play. Or perhaps, human suffering can be attributed to the individual clinging too tightly to the success of his individual agenda not wishing to understand that the larger cycle will always win in the end? Alas, a subject for another day. Thank you for an enjoyable and thought provoking read Betch!

 

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Inquiry Into Consciousness Part IV – God

ARTICULATING THE PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: THE SELF & FREE WILL

I experience my consciousness first hand. Without examination, I feel like I am a self, and should properly take credit for my thoughts and I have free will and am responsible for the decisions I make. Upon closer scrutiny, however, I do not know how my thoughts are created, nor can I predict my next thought. Because my traditional notion of self-hood (i.e., a creator of thoughts who has free will) has a great deal to do with my thoughts and my agency in their creation, I must question this notion of a self that I have heretofore assumed to exist.

If the experience of self is based upon a faulty assumption, what then is the experience of consciousness? Who is it that is experiencing consciousness and believes he has a self? The reality that exists in which a non-self entity can question whether he has a self, itself exists. That is, the process exists (because I experience it firsthand) but it is unclear as to whether there is or whether there necessarily has to be one who experiences the process.

Consciousness entails the awareness of this dynamic (and much else) but a definition of consciousness in its totality is elusive. Yet, we all seem to know instinctively what the word consciousness means. It is as if at its very nature consciousness avoids scrutiny. Questioning the notion of self illustrates this problem of consciousness.

MODELS OF THE UNIVERSE

This problem of consciousness seemingly exists within a universe (i.e., a physical realm). This universe consists of physical space in which to operate and physical objects within this space (including the body). This universe and all the stimuli within it can be interpreted in different ways. Each interpretation carries with it different implications as to the nature of the self and free will. Let us consider Monotheism, Non Duality and Atheism as examples.

Monotheism

Monotheism, including Christianity (of the non mystical variety) as well as Judaism and Islam (to the extent I understand them, not being of either tradition) espouse the belief in the self and a separate personal God who is also a self. This of course is a low level interpretation of the mind of God. Certainly Catholic theologians would speculate that the Godhead is so much more than what I would normally conceive of being a self. But essentially what I mean when I say that the Christian God is a separate self is that under this framework, God’s mind is not my mind and therefore God is a separate self. In the monotheistic universe, the universe itself is made of material stuff and is separate from the self. The self within this universe has free will subject to limitations. The self is also capable of creating thoughts and therefore morally responsible for those thoughts and any actions taken in response to thoughts.

Non Duality

By contrast, my understanding of the non dualistic spirituality described by Hinduism, Buddhism, Alan Watts and others espouses the belief that there is just one process going on. This process is God. My feeling of a separate universe, and a self within that universe is an illusion or a misunderstanding of the situation. This entire process is really God experiencing Himself in a limited manner through my eyes. The other people I interact with are also God experiencing Himself through their eyes. In this sense, the thoughts and free will I experience are essentially God’s thoughts and free will.

Presumably, God is experiencing Himself in these limited versions for a reason. Watts speculates that the only thing an infinite, omnipotent being would lack is limitation. Going through this process is the means for Him to experience this one thing He lacks. Put another way, God experiences the drama of existence through limitation. This conception of God feels unsettling and lonely to me, I suspect because that would mean that the only thing that exists is God. As such, God is all alone with Himself. There is something comforting about the idea that there are other selves other than my self. But perhaps this is only because I am not used to the non dual conception of God.

To a certain extent, non duality releases the self from responsibility. If the self is ultimately an illusion then there are no ultimate consequences for thoughts or actions. Of course, within the illusion there are consequences which may be unpleasant to experience in the moment. But this unpleasantness does not have the permanence it would have under the monotheistic system.

Atheism

Atheism is another option. A rejection of God seems to be an embracing of the physical universe as the ultimate reality. Under this model, the physical forces that created the universe and brought man into being are unconcerned with man’s consciousness. The phenomenon of consciousness would be a byproduct of the physical world perhaps an adaptation employed for survival.

Many scientists including Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking gravitate to the view that the universe can (and does) exist without God. One argument typically made by atheists is that if the universe requires a creator then so would the creator. As such, at some point there has to be a non created, existing thing. As such, the universe itself could be that non created, existing thing.

Under this model, the problem of consciousness is simply one problem among others to be solved. We, as humans may or may not possess the ability or potential to solve the problem.

Not being a scientist myself, I would think that being trained to only make conclusions based on verifiable data naturally orients the mind towards atheism. Or perhaps if one’s mind is naturally oriented to think in this way one would be more inclined to be a scientist. For the purpose of this inquiry I should consider atheism as a possibility, but if I am being honest it just doesn’t feel true to me. Although, it also feels true that I have a self, think my own thoughts and have free will. So if I question one, I should question the other. In any respect, from an evidentiary standpoint, God’s existence remains an open question (although my heart rests with God you might say.)

GOD

In many respects my approach to God was shaped by the milieu in which I was raised (e.g., the Roman Catholic church as experienced in a suburban, New England parish in 1970’s and 80’s America. This was not the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism my parents grew up in which always seemed to be more serious, spiritually rich and on the whole more interesting to me. In a sense I felt gypped growing up in this version of the church.

My experience of Catholicism was somewhat disappointing. Those in charge of my experience never seemed to want to address what I found interesting about God. What they gave me seemed to be a watered down version of spirituality that seemed so sanitized it pushed me away. I longed for a more spiritual and transcendental experience of God.

I say all this only to provide the context in which I approach God. That is, I approach God from my own spiritual history. I have taken in Roman Catholic church history, iconography, music, literature and ritual for much of my life. In recent years I have explored alternative routes to God but I cannot deny the impact of my prior experience and my current thinking is that it would probably be better to use it rather than to fight it.

To me, God is the underlying force of consciousness. I cannot point to consciousness and say, “there is God” but I can feel God within consciousness. Some times this is more apparent than others. Ultimately, I do not know whether I create my own thoughts and therefore have free will. I do not know whether the monotheistic, non dual or atheistic model holds true. (I have my suspicious of course). Nor do I know if my notion of God is purely based upon my religious background. But I do know what feels right and harmonious. It seems that following this feeling is the proper future course of this inquiry.

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Inquiry into Consciousness Part III – The Self

There is the experience of consciousness. On the surface, it carries with it the assumption of individual agency. This assumption assumes that there is a self which experiences consciousness and that this self has some degree of agency or free-will.

In my last post I examined the “internal” experience of consciousness which consists of various kinds of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. This examination revealed to me that although the assumptions of self and agency seem obvious they tend to break down under scrutiny.

Say I have a creative idea and act on it (e.g., I write a novel, song or paint a picture). I implicitly want to take credit for this idea even though I do not know the process by which that idea came into being. Nor do I know that I am responsible for this process even on a subconscious level. The implicitness of this desire to take credit stems from the fact that the idea seemed to originate inside my head. My head is a part of my body and seemingly encasing the physical space where consciousness exists (i.e., behind the eyes and between the ears). Concurrent with this assumption of credit is the assumption that there is a “me” who is capable of taking credit. The implicitness of this assumption seems to primarily stem from the fact that I have a body which occupies physical space and that I have memories which form a continuous timeline of my experience. So there is a conflict that exists between my inability to control my internal experience and the assumption that I should nevertheless take credit for it.

I have been exposed to the idea of “no self” for some time but I cannot say that I totally understand it or feel it. The fact that thoughts occur and I want to take credit for them without understanding the process of their creation begins to shed light on this illusive concept. Not only do I not understand the process of thought creation but I cannot predict or control my thought creation. If I don’t understand the process by which something is created, nor can I predict or control that thing, can I really take credit for it? The self is intimately connected to my thoughts and internal experience, none of which I control. As such, can I really claim there is a self?

But still, the feeling of a self seems very strong and real most of the time especially when I do not directly place my attention on it. Perhaps I could say that there is a self but that this self does not control it’s thoughts and internal experience. In this respect, the self is more of a vessel for this experience. But the self I feel myself to be is not the vessel it is the internal experience. And much like my internal experience, I don’t control most of the functions of my body. I can control my breathing to an extent, but I don’t consciously control my pancreas (for example). If there is a self, I cannot define it as that which I control. It is really what I experience. But saying my self is my experience is different than thinking of my self as an autonomous, sovereign being.

Alan Watts talks about the self being an illusion and that there are only experiences without the need for a self to be the the one who experiences the experiences. This is a difficult idea to understand because as I said it feels like I exist and act autonomously. I have memories that connect my experiences into a life. I have a body etc. etc. I guess the best I can do is say that my self is my experience. This includes both internal and external experience (i.e., the world). Alan Watts says as much. If I am my heart beating then I am also the sun shining.

I recently listened to the audio book version of “Free Will” by Sam Harris. His basic premise is that human beings generally exist with the assumption that they have free will. That is, they believe they are to some degree consciously choosing the actions they take in life. Harris argues this assumption is incoherent in that thoughts appear in the human conscience out of nowhere and therefore the humans experiencing these thoughts cannot take credit for them. Moreover, human experience is shaped by external forces that are out of one’s control. For example, humans have no control over the family, social class and geographic location they are born into. To a large degree, the events in life are also out of one’s control and all of these external forces shape the decisions we make as humans. Curiously, Harris is a staunch atheist. But the idea of no self and no free will tends to tilt me more in the theist camp. After all, something is going on. The experience exists even though my self does not. Something has to be the beneficiary of this experience of consciousness.

The idea of no self can be disappointing because it goes against the implicit assumptions regarding the experience of consciousness. But if there is no me, then who is getting disappointed by the fact that there is no me? This is indeed difficult to wrap one’s head around. Perhaps the idea of the self is the wrong way to go about it. I do not claim to know the right way to go about it. Let us say for now, (1) there is consciousness, both internal and external, (2) there is experience of consciousness and (3) there is existence. Perhaps this is the implication of the statement “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). There is simply pure “am-ness” and maybe it is only God that has a self and can create thought. I will explore this in the next blog post.

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Inquiry Into Consciousness Part II – The Internal Experience of Thoughts

In the previous post, I began my self-inquiry into consciousness wherein I made the following conclusions about consciousness that I believe to be true:

  1. The experience of my individual consciousness (both internal and external) is transpiring at this moment. That is, I know it to exist because I have a first hand experience of it.
  2. On the surface, it appears that there is an external world inhabited by myself and other people who appear to have the experience of individual consciousness.
  3. I do not know with authority how the experience of my individual consciousness came into being or to what extent it is separate from the external things it experiences. That is, I do not know with certainty that the things I perceive to be external things have an existence independent of my consciousness.

In this blog post I want to explore with greater specificity those things I perceive to be an internal experience. The “internal” experience appears to be populated by thoughts (in the forms of language, images, intent and desire and urges), emotions, bodily sensations and attention. I will now discuss each in detail.

Thoughts in General

Thoughts carry with them the illusion of agency but with examination are revealed to be largely (if not entirely) outside of conscious control.

Thoughts in the Form of Language

Thoughts in the form of language are experienced (i.e., not heard) as a disembodied voice. This voice can give expression to general information, creative ideas, advice, commands, criticism and all the forms of verbal communication that I could experience from another person.

I can say with authority that thoughts in the form of language exist because I experience them first hand. It is unclear based on the experience just how these thoughts are generated. There seems to be an implicit assumption that “I” am responsible for my own thoughts but the fact that I cannot control or predict them consciously seems to undermine this assumption. If I pay attention to my thoughts (e.g, through meditation) I can directly observe my inability to control them. On the other hand it may be that I control or create my thoughts on a subconscious level. Or perhaps these thoughts are generated by some external source.

Thoughts in the form of Images

Thoughts in the form of images are similar to thoughts in the form of language in that they appear to be outside of my control or prediction. Images can be still like photographs or dynamic like movies. Often they are memories of events I previously experienced that seem to be triggered by present events that are connected in some way, or by suggestions from external sources (e.g., a person tells me to think of an elephant and I picture it in my mind). Other times they can appear without a readily identifiable trigger. It seems reasonable to assume that there is some reason or triggering event for their existence that transpires on a subconscious level. Curiously, these thoughts seem to be more easily attributable to external causes than are thoughts in the form of language.

Thoughts in the Form of Intent

These thoughts are decisions made in order to accomplish a task or achieve a result. There seems to be some agency involved with decision making. However, as Alan Watts pointed out:

We feel that our actions are voluntary when they follow a decision and involuntary when they happen without decision. But if a decision itself were voluntary every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide. An infinite regression which fortunately does not occur… – The Way of Zen

The fact that I do not experience a decision to decide (in any obvious or conscious sense) also undermines the notion of agency with respect to decisions.

Thoughts in the Form of Desire and Urges

Thoughts in the form of desire or urges can manifest themselves in language such as “I want this or that” or can be simply a non verbal impulse to engage in some behavior or a longing for something that I do not have immediate access to.

At its most basic level, I desire to survive, to not suffer, to experience good things, and my existence to have meaning. These desires seem to be prioritized in that order. That is, I seem to be able to be interested in satisfying a desire only if the preceding desire has been satisfied. There might be some wiggle room there but I think that is essentially correct.

Incidentally, as I write this I am conscious of a desire to have this blog post read by other people. I desire these people to “like” it and to comment on it (so please do if you have made it this far). I suspect this desire is connected to the desire to experience pleasure (as I receive a dopamine hit when this happens). It may also be connect to the desire for my existence to have meaning. That is, if I create through writing and that writing has an impact on other people then it suggests that my existence is meaningful in an objective sense.

Desires seem to precede and perhaps inform any agency that I might have. That is, my actions seem to be designed to satisfy my desires.

Emotions

Emotions or feelings seem to operate independent of my will. Often they are a reaction to a person or situation I encounter in the external world. They can also be triggered by memories or subconscious processes. Like desires and urges, emotions also seem to precede and inform agency.

Bodily Sensations

Bodily sensations are the physical feelings I have in my body (e.g., heat, cold, pain, pleasure, pressure, etc.). Like emotions, bodily sensations also operate independently of my will. This makes sense in that bodily sensations are caused by external and internal physical causes.

Attention

Attention seems to be the one internal process that seems to be most likely under my control. I can choose (although I don’t know how I do this) to focus my attention on various things within both the internal and external experience. However, the fact that I do not know how I choose to focus my attention (deciding to decide) also undermines the notion that I have any agency in this process.

In summary, the internal experience of my consciousness carries with it an assumption of agency, however, the more my internal experience is examined the more the assumption of agency becomes undermined. It seems possible that there is no agency at all. Or perhaps thinking of this in terms of agency is the wrong way to go about it because it fundamentally misunderstands the dynamic in some way. As such, I believe the logical next area of inquiry should be the idea of agency as it relates to the self.

 

 

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Inquiry into Consciousness

Leo Gura of Actualized.org recently dropped a podcast entitled “How to Discover What’s True” wherein he suggests that the Truth of existence can be discovered by thinking and asking questions about existence methodically. He asserts it is possible to arrive at Truth in this way and that he has done this himself. It seems logical to first question the veracity of this assertion. I don’t know that it is true that I can discover Truth simply by thinking and asking about it. So then, the next step would be to test the assertion in some way. The most obvious method to me of testing his assertion is to assume it is true and then to follow it where it takes me. This is the inquiry.

Truth is a rather broad concept. As such, it would be helpful to break it down into more specific areas of inquiry. The truth of consciousness seems like a good starting point. After all, I have direct access to consciousness that I am experiencing it right now. I have been experiencing consciousness as far back as I can remember. But what is consciousness?

According to wikipedia, “Consciousness at its simplest refers to … awareness of internal or external existence”. I can say it is true that I am aware of internal and external experience because I am directly experiencing my internal and external experience. I don’t think I have to question whether I am actually experiencing these experiences because if I can’t trust that I am actually experiencing my experience then I cannot trust this inquiry in the first place. And really, what would it mean to say that I am not really experiencing my experiences? Even if they are hallucinations, I am still (on some level) experiencing the hallucinations. Certainly, my interpretations of these experiences could be untrue but the experience is still there as far as I can tell.

The definition of consciousness refers to two types of awareness: (1) internal existence and (2) external existence. On its face, my experience seems to accord with this bifurcation. But I have listened to enough Alan Watts lectures to question the veracity of this bifurcation. I can conceive of a reality where what I perceive to be external experience to be an extension of my internal experience. This is not solipsism per say. In the Watts explained conception of reality (which corresponds to Hindu and Buddhist thought as far as I know) there is a omnipotent and omnipresent deity that has decided to experience limitation (the one thing it lacks). It did this because it is impossible to have an adventure if one is omnipotent and omnipresent. Nothing could surprise such a being. Nor could it learn and grow from experience. And so it experiences this limitation by experiencing our lives individually. As such, my consciousness is really God pretending to be me. Likewise the experience of other people are God pretending to be them. It’s a big, elaborate hallucination that only God Himself could pull off because He is omnipotent and omnipresent.

Of course, this conception of consciousness is inconsistent with the Christian tradition (specifically Roman Catholic) which is the tradition in which I grew up and with which I am the most familiar. In this tradition there are individual consciousnesses which were brought into being by God and are therefore separate and distinct from God. There is also a real external reality in which these consciousnesses exist and interact.

If I am being honest, I cannot say (at this point in the inquiry) with authority that I know which model is true. It is interesting that Christianity requires belief in its model for salvation. I have explored this odd requirement in a previous blog post. A belief is something a person holds to be true. But how can a person believe something that he does not know with authority to be true? He could pretend to believe it but the belief system seems to require actual belief. And why would God require this belief from a person who is not in a position to know its veracity with authority? Two ideas come to mind to address this question. The first is the concept of faith which is a trusting attitude in the teachings of a higher authority. The second is that belief is akin to the placebo effect. That is, belief in a particular idea, in some real sense creates the reality of that idea. We see this most clearly when a placebo actually heals a person who believes it to work. But belief from a position of faith and as a placebo are not in the spirit of this inquiry which is to see if Truth can be discovered wholly through self-inquiry. I cannot speak for other Christian traditions, but Roman Catholicism is not wholly against the concept of self-inquiry or self-reflection. In fact it encourages it to an extent. But there is definitely a sense within Roman Catholicism that self-inquiry cannot take one all the way across the finish line. Anyway, the point here is that for the purpose of this inquiry, I will need to suspend any Christian requirement of belief. If it ultimately turns out that belief or faith is required then I would like to think that I would arrive at that point on my own through this process of inquiry.

At this point, I can say a few things with authority based upon this inquiry. (1) The experience of my individual consciousness (both internal and external) is transpiring at this moment. (2) On the surface, it appears that there is an external world inhabited by myself and other people who appear to have the experience of individual consciousness. (3) I do not know with authority how the experience of my individual consciousness came into being or to what extent it is separate from the external things it experiences. As I am approaching 1,000 words I will leave it at that for now.

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Managing Fear Induced by the Threshold Guardians of Public Speaking

Christopher Vogler wrote a wonderful book entitled “The Writer’s Journey” in which he explains the practical application of Joseph Campbell’s analysis of the Hero’s Journey (explored in his work “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”) on story writing. Essentially, the Hero’s Journey is an archetype for all stories. The hero (protagonist) leaves his familiar environment, confronts challenges and then returns as a stronger and more integrated person. This theme seems to undergird all stories that resonate with people. There are many parts to the Hero’s Journey including various plot points and archetypical characters. The one archetypical character that I would like to explore here is the “Threshold Guardian.”

The Threshold Guardian is important because it is emblematic of a force in life that we encounter all the time. Vogler states:

At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering. They present a menacing face to the hero, but if properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed, or even turned into allies. (1)

It seems often the case that these Threshold Guardians manifest themselves in life as fears. Or perhaps it would be better to say they manifest themselves as forces which give rise to fear. Because fear is a highly subjective experience, every person will experience Threshold Guardians unique to them.

I have been thinking about this subject as it relates to public speaking. There are three basic steps to public speaking as I see it. First, the speaker must research and write a speech on a particular topic. Second, the speaker must practice the performance of the speech and perfect it as much as possible. Third, the speaker must actually perform the speech in front of other people. Public speaking is a unique process because it requires the public speaker to confront his own fears on many levels. In my experience, there are Threshold Guardians exploiting these fears and guarding entry for each step in this process.

Threshold Guardians seem to manifest themselves in four basic forms. Many times, they are a combination of two or more of these manifestations. They are:

  • The Mocking Threshold Guardian will appear as a critical or shame inducing interior voice. This entity may tell the speaker that he is unworthy or not smart enough to do what he is attempting to do. It may convince him that what he is trying to do is a mistake or wrong or will result in embarrassment or the disapproval of others. It is important to note that this entity is very risk averse and will try to prevent the speaker from taking a risk. Often it is focused on the near term. Following the advice of a Mocking Threshold Guardian is usually a bad choice because people learn by making mistakes and if a speaker is too cautious and too risk averse then he never makes mistakes and thus never has the opportunity to learn from them. However, this entity is also tricky in that it may cloak its “advice” as well meaning or protective. The challenge for any public speaker when confronted with this entity is to determine what is actually good advice and what is merely an attempt to derail progress.
  • The Vicious Threshold Guardian will appear as an obsessive, self-destructive or addictive tendency. I often experience this entity when I sit down to work and then am overcome by the desire to think about something unrelated to my work that depresses me or makes me anxious (e.g., finances, other people who annoy me or otherwise occupy my attention). This entity can also manifest itself as a compulsion to engage in an activity that is addictive in nature. When a person gives into this entity and engages in the behavior suggested by it, it is often an attempt to escape or push away a fear. Following the instructions of this entity will often result in a feeling of shame or disgust and it is never successful in eliminating the fear. Often it has the opposite effect in the long term. For the way to eliminate a fear is to confront it willingly. The goal of this Threshold Guardian is to distract the public speaker from the task at hand.
  • The Sabotaging Threshold Guardian typically appears as something that goes wrong in the external world which then leads a person to become angry and fixated on that problem. In the world of public speaking this can often be a PowerPoint presentation not working or the room is too hot inducing sweaty palms etc. It is anything that is out of the speaker’s control that goes wrong and then creates a negative mood (anger, hopelessness, annoyance) that dominates the speaker’s reality to the exclusion of the task that he or she is trying to accomplish.
  • The Hungry Ghost Threshold Guardian will typically appear as another person who depletes the speaker of his or her energy. This entity comes off as overly needy or a victim requiring your attention or sympathy. Often, they will make a person feel as if he or she has been caught doing something they should not be doing. Hungry Ghosts may also make a person feel selfish or ashamed because they are not focusing their attention on them or giving them the approval they wish to receive. One telltale sign of a Hungry Ghost is that they are never satisfied. They may present themselves as needing one particular thing, but usually when they have that need “satisfied” there is another need that follows. Sometimes, the Hungry Ghost will possess you and making you act as a Hungry Ghost to other people.

If one wishes to master these Threshold Guardians, it is first important to become aware of them and recognize them when they appear. To this point, one characteristic common to all the Threshold Guardians is that they make a person feel worse about themselves when they let the Threshold Guardian control their reality. When you notice this happening (especially when you are trying to accomplish a task) you can assume that you have encountered a Threshold Guardian that must then be contended with. Vogler describes it thusly:

[Y]ou have probably encountered resistance when you try to make a positive change in your life. People around you, even those who love you, are often reluctant to see you change. They are used to your neuroses and have found ways to benefit from them. The idea of your changing may threaten them. If they resist you, it’s important to realize they are simply functioning as Threshold Guardians, testing you to see if you are really resolved to change. (2)

In the beginning, it will be sufficient to simply recognize the Threshold Guardians when they appear and then form the intention to not let them control your reality. You may even want to preemptively formulate the intention to not allow them into your reality by saying out loud or in your thoughts “I do not allow these Threshold Guardians to enter my reality.” But once you attune your awareness to their existence and gain some distance from them, the next step is to learn from them.

As stated earlier, every Threshold Guardian is unique to the speaker (or hero) experiencing it. This means when a Threshold Guardian mocks you, it is mocking you with language designed to have an impact upon you. When it introduces obsessive, self-destructive or addictive ideas into your mind, these are ideas that will be attractive to you based upon your own psychology and history. When it sabotages you, it will do so in a way that will trigger you uniquely. When Hungry Ghosts try to steal your energy, they will be people in your reality. When you act as an agent of a Hungry Ghost, you will do so to the people in your reality. For this reason, these entities have something to teach you about yourself. They would not be in your reality if they did not have some special connection with you and a unique lesson to teach you.

When you feel you have reached the stage where you separate yourself from these Threshold Guardians you can then begin to work with them. Tell them you are a sovereign being and do not allow them to control your reality. Tell yourself, that you are open to learn from them, discover their origin, why they exist and what you need to do in order to master them. When you dismiss them from your reality you may also want to compassionately wish them free from suffering. Because any malevolent force practices its malevolence because it is suffering and unaware on some level.

With practice you will find that you have gained distance from these Threshold Guardians. In a sense you will have transformed them from a foe into an ally and they will no longer block your path forward as they once did. As a public speaker, you will not allow their mocking to make you feel unworthy to speak before an audience. You will not be as susceptible to obsessive distractions when you are working on your speech. When problems arise in the execution of your speech, you will be more resilient and able to think on the fly in order to create a workaround. When Hungry Ghosts vie for your attention and make you feel guilty for not giving it to them you can begin to have compassion for their suffering and not take it personally.

Obviously, these Threshold Guardians present themselves in contexts outside of public speaking. And I have found these techniques to be effective in managing them throughout my daily life. Managing Threshold Guardians, in a very real sense, constitutes our own hero’s journey which when successfully navigated will allow you to return from your adventure to your familiar environment a stronger and more integrated version of yourself.

_________________________________________

Notes:

(1) Vogler Christopher, The Writer’s Journey, Studio City, CA, Michael Wiese Productions, 2007, pg. 49.

(2) Vogler, pg. 51.

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