Talking to Myself, Letting You Listen: Dense

Many of the things we usually consider and treat reflexively as real and concrete, are, in fact, abstract fictions. Things like god, corporations, money, nations, human rights, and justice have no existence outside of human imagination. That we build institutions and infrastructure, churches and prisons, roads and walls, weapon systems and sports stadiums to express collective fictions that exist by mutual agreement does not make our abstractions real. Micheangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel does not make the abstraction of Catholic eschatology real, either.

As I’ve suggested before, the Neanderthals may have died out and Homo sapiens lived on as a species because the Neanderthals were realists and Homo sapiens–humans–were and are superior fabulists. Sapien language allowed our ancestors to create a fictive environment which affected increasingly massive changes in the real physical environment. But human imagination trumps the real only to a certain extent, because it is a subset, an epiphenomenon of the real, ding an sich.

Language, sapien language, is a tool like any other animal language; the fictive capacity of sapien language may have been a tool of war, a weapon, that enabled human groups to commit not only organized murder but genocide against other human species. Human myths, collective fictions, have a strong tendency to, or perhaps inevitably, become weaponized.

Human fiction is vital to large scale externalizations of real costs in the biosphere (such as pumping wastes and poisons into the atmosphere and oceans).

Human reason is specialized form of story-telling, and thus suspect, like all human fiction. Telling stories is easy, the natural form of information processing and storage in human language. Making a story an effective myth that people believe, or believe in believing as compulsory fiction, is an extended elaboration of story across many memories in many retellings.

Dense imagery, intense cascades of imagery, sometimes expressed in art and poetry, is a corrective, an antidote, to the dominance of narrative, the inherent flaws of narrative thinking. Perhaps this is what Werner Herzog is getting at when he bemoans the lack, and the danger of the lack, of “adequate imagery.”

We tend to be unaware–blind–to our cognitive limits; human culture, though capable of rapid change not directly tied to biological limits and not behaving in accord with biological limits–in effect blind to those limits–is nevertheless bounded in form and action in the sorts of recurrent changes dictated by biological and physical limits. The arc of the amoral universe is long, but it bends toward entropy.

When we become “masters of creation” we become the destroyers, not of creation, but of infrastructures of narrative in which we believe we thrive and count on to survive.


5 responses to “Talking to Myself, Letting You Listen: Dense

  1. Thank you Dr. Omed. As an old surgeon once said to me about my clinical essays, “Oh, we all had those thoughts, Nathan. You just wrote them down.” Yes,we each have thoughts, and when we are calm our thoughts are clear, but trying to convert them to language is difficult and we fail to do it well or we pervert the clear image into a bludgeon (as you have said), will I, nil I (willy-nilly, whether I want to or not). If I don’t deform and mis-aim my own language or imagery you will likely do it for me. We all see it (the un-Christian behaviors Jesus cries to see in those who say they follow him), and those of us who make images or language cringe to watch others read the opposites into them, or (the same) ignore them if what we show or say does not promote their self-serving interests. It seems no one is neutral or honest (what we tend to call “objective”). Every image or word we see or hear is biased and intensified; those that have a middle value we might share are ignored, disappear. Please, Dr. Omed, do not disappear. We need to see you, we need to hear you.

    Be well.

    Doctor Nathan

  2. Excellent, good Dr. Will send it hither and yon.
    And now is left but the task of assimilating the
    irredenta of our immutual fictions ??

  3. Legal Fiction
    Law makes long spokes of the short stakes of men.
    Your well fenced out real estate of mind
    No high flat of the nomad citizen
    Looks over, or train leaves behind.
    Your rights extend under and above your claim
    Without bound; you own land in Heaven and Hell;
    Your part of earth’s surface and mass the same,
    Of all cosmos’ volume, and all stars as well.
    Your rights reach down where all owners meet, in Hell’s
    Pointed exclusive conclave, at earth’s centre
    (Your spun farm’s root still on that axis dwells);
    And up, through galaxies, a growing sector.
    You are nomad yet; the lighthouse beam you own
    Earth’s axis varies; your dark central cone
    Flashes, like Lucifer, through the firmament.
    Wavers, a candle’s shadow, at the end.

    -William Empson

  4. And then there is the subset of the Good Doctor’s arraignment:
    the not-insignificant paradox that those narratives claimed from the get go to be no more than egregious fiction become these days, in short order,
    dangerous realities, thank you hubristic physics:

  5. “Things like god, corporations, money, nations, human rights, and justice have no existence outside of human imagination.”

    Flip side of the “what ever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve” non-sense of Napolian Hill’s run away best seller from 1934 to today Think and Grow Rich.

    Hill claims the mind dreams things up and wa-la and shazam, they materialize.

    You claim that things just as real as a steel bridge are just dreams.

    It may be the two of you are the source of black holes. :-)

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