A dialogue in the Platonic mode sharpened to a fine point by the incisive critique and lacerating wit of an imaginary thirteen-year-old (in italics)
Getting to meaning with why and how
News reporting and analysis has to be about questioning before it’s about answering. Stories worth reading start with six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Answers to the first four questions are descriptive. They tell you what the author observes but don’t help with interpretation. With understanding what it means.
Answers to the last two questions – why and how -- do help. They’re what creative thinking, writing, and analysis are all about. Providing a perspective that helps readers make sense of things. With insights that look beyond appearances for context, understanding, and awareness. Especially self-awareness that we all have trouble with.
You want everyone to think just like you. My sermons are about sharing and experimenting with other perspectives. Not thinking alike. Because this is where learning, growth, and creativity take off: being open to looking at things differently. If the congregation nodding off in the pews all thought like me I would fall asleep.
Socrates made a career out of questioning that brings minds to their full potential. By embracing individuality and originality. By thinking creatively. Forcing his views on others would do just the opposite. That’s not what he wanted and I don’t either. My letters and sermons are only to help with looking at things differently. That’s what the news room of a Los Angeles newspaper taught me. Yes -- that they would hire anyone.
The personality type that avoids meaning
I call today’s sermon “Why Brain Can Never Be Mind’s Friend.” It’s the title of an essay I just posted on my website. Frankenstein fans will be heartbroken. They were hoping the monster would trade its brain for Victor Frankenstein’s mind and become a mind surgeon.
Today’s sermon asks us to think about why some personality types are OK with all six questions and others aren’t. What’s their problem? The why and the how. Some types can’t or won’t open their minds to why and how. They register facts, but without reflection and analysis they can’t interpret meaning. Thinking that bypasses meaning bypasses context and understanding.
Why would they do that? They’re actually opposed to thinking. The “anti-intellectual” considers book-learning, professional growth, and the discipline of conscience, accountability, and self-improvement surrendering to weakness. A mindset comfortable with facts but uncomfortable with the why and how of insight doesn’t will itself to know. It wills itself not to know. Not to express individuality and originality. Not to be creative but to be sociable. To blend in with the group.
And more fundamentally to avoid meaning. Why? Because of the Truth it might reveal about them. A frightening prospect: that they're mistaken. Wrong.
What’s that thing in the jar?
Doesn’t everyone want to be their own person? To be creative? Not this personality type. They think there’s something better, and that’s what my sermon is about. Asking the why and how of this type so you can recognize its traits, see the downside, and avoid it. What if I’m attracted to it? Depending on the circumstances we’re all attracted to it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here with bodies and brains.
But we also have free will, and if you’re aware of the choice between personality types it’s more likely you’ll choose wisely. So that’s why today’s sermon is about brains and formaldehyde? What? I see the jar behind your back and the flask from your laboratory. You’ll never get my brain, Dr. Frankenstein!
The cure for insomnia
If that personality type attracts you it could be harmful in lots of ways. How? Mainly by blocking originality and creativity. By keeping you from using your talent for creative writing. For expressing what makes you unique -- your individuality -- instead of losing your self in the crowd. How awful! Yes. We don’t want that to happen.
Creative talent rewards us with usefulness. With service to community that brings satisfaction and happiness. You’ve got creative talent, so there’s good reason for challenging you to make full use of your mind. To help you develop your talent instead of blocking it. To help you be happy by making yourself useful. Or by putting me into a coma.
Wisdom from Frankenstein’s dog
Mainstream philosophy and theology haven’t figured out the difference between brain and Mind. And science doesn’t want to know. Scientists are only interested in what they can detect with their bodies’ senses so they can experiment with it. Quantities they can measure are all they care about. They can’t do that with Mind. So, not even neuroscientists who study the brain think much about Mind. We’re on our own.
Except that there is a source I read years ago that’s a big help. Dogman! Yes. I read Dogman and now I understand everything. What is this source? A book so dense with wisdom that it can take a long time to read.* We can talk about it another time if you’re interested. I’m already dense, so maybe we can forget it.
Aren’t brain and Mind the same thing? No. They’re exact opposites. In fact brain’s purpose, besides defining “self” as group or tribe, is to replace Mind. What for? Because Mind contradicts brain when it defines “self” as individual. And because of the way that bodies with brains appeared after Mind had already been there. In a dream that a sleeping Mind is dreaming.
The Mind that’s dreaming is our ancestral Mind, split into two parts. They’re both unconscious and neither is working right. But while body-brains make sure their part is all about bodies the other part is about Mind. Body-brains are attached to their dream world. They’ve even convinced themselves they made it. It’s not to be shared with Mind or anyone else because they own it. It’s their turf. They work hard to make it real. How? By discrediting and silencing the voices of those who might disagree. Who see differently.
Wisdom that isn’t self-centered
The part of the split Mind that’s dominated by body-brains is limited to the one perspective it trusts: the one defined by the body’s five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Being body-centered makes it self-centered. Focused by animal instinct rather than Mind, on winning in competition and survival in combat. It’s not about wisdom.
The other part thinks with Mind that’s also not working right but with a big difference. It’s open to wisdom from other perspectives. Body-brains’ five senses don’t have an exclusive right to tell Mind everything it needs to know. Mind has a sixth sense. Intuition, the source of spontaneous insights and guidance from wisdom that isn’t self-centered. From a broader context that enables understanding and civilization with a purpose. Guided by conscience and loving kindness toward ideals that set us apart from herds of animals. Values from the heart that give meaning to theories, discoveries, technologies, engineering feats, and works of art. All the things that go into human progress.
The “bad thing”
It’s because the wisdom behind spontaneous insights comes from Love as well as Logic. Always together, never separate, as though they were married in Heaven. Which, as a matter of fact, they were. It’s the reason why the part of the split dreaming mind that’s centered on Mind can trust its sixth sense. Can choose to be guided by insights from intuition with a mind open to different perspectives. That’s capable of learning and growing. Because it’s chosen to be guided by the Relationship that accounts for all of Reality and Creation: Logic married to Love.
This matters? Very much. Mind’s loss of self-awareness, long ago, in the state that preceded the state we’re in, brought something into its thinking, feeling, and behavior – into its Psyche -- that didn’t belong there. The same thing that the psychologist Sigmund Freud studied in the human psyche. He called it the “bad thing,” and he devoted his career to understanding and correcting it. It’s the shadow-reflection of Self, a reverse mirror-image that’s its opposite in every way. Mindless and loveless, lifeless and soulless.
The herd inside the human brain
Instead of thinking with Logic and reason the Mind that’s gone over to its reverse-dark side acts by instinct. Instead of being motivated by Love to share its abundance, to value life and Creation with conscience, Innocence, trust, generosity, and gentle loving kindness, it’s driven by fear, hatred, selfishness, distrust, and guilt to claim everything for itself. To be sensitive only to its own needs and feelings and eliminate competition.
The un-self-aware Mind invaded by its shadow-opposite dreamed a world that would bring its reversal of thinking and feeling to “life.” By imagining it in physical form: the substitute for Mind we’re familiar with called “brain” and the part of the brain that imagines us as herds of animals driven by instinct and fear to compete for survival and dominance. It’s called the “amygdala” or “animal brain,” and we all have it.
What is “action”?
When Adam Skywalker was lured away from Obi-Wan’s Jedi training, he was choosing to exchange his loving self for its reverse mirror image. To exchange Mind’s thinking disciplined by Logic, reason, feeling and value for the lure of its opposite: the undisciplined “power” and “freedom” promised by the animal brain for conquering its “enemies.” He was choosing the dark side.
The telltale sign that something’s not right is will that’s detached Logic and Love-feeling from thinking and replaced it with the unthinking, unfeeling instinct of “action.” With the drive of a predatory beast to risk loss in its all-out competition to inflict loss. To “win.” If we sense that we or others, like Adam Skywalker, are motivated by insensitive dominance rather than sensitive Love-feeling, by “winning” or “conquering” instead of sharing, then something is not right.
Yes, it matters
Together, Logic and Love, thinking and feeling, define what we mean by “Mind.” Our reverse mirror-image – our shadow-reflection opposite – is an attempt to separate them. To disable Mind. The result is a Mind split between itself and its opposite, the animal brain. Mind that isn’t thinking, feeling, and behaving right. This is why it matters that Logic and Love are inseparable.
Individual vs. tribe
How do we keep what happened to Adam Skywalker from happening to us? By protecting the integrity of Mind to think and feel with Logic and Love instead of being lured away by their opposites. To use Free Will to make choices and the independent judgment of right thinking to choose wisely. What choices? Between opposing personality types, interpretations of authority, and values.
Society defines us by our group-tribal markers – age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, professions, ideologies, and so forth. But before then we’re something more fundamental. We’re individual persons. Defined by the qualities that give strength to character. By markers that define the individual selves we choose to be and the causes we choose to serve.
The values that build character
Our choices between different personality types, interpretations of authority, and values determine what we do as well as who we are. The character we present to one another in relationships. Whether it’s character that identifies itself as a sovereign individual, before it lets society lump it into groups, or as a group. As a tribe that answers to values opposite to the values that guide the individual.
Whether we take responsibility for freely choosing the qualities that define our character as individuals, or hand responsibility over to groups to shape us to suit themselves, may be the most important choice we can make. Because the circumstances that split Mind into two incompatible parts also split us into incompatible sets of values. One that values character, the other that doesn’t. A split that means we won’t enjoy peace until we learn the difference and make the right choice: the values that build character.
What is the difference? One set of values respects our fundamental identity as persons, the other doesn’t. Mind’s mistake that let the “bad thing” in let disrespect in. Nothing turns incompatibility into hatred and violence more readily than disrespect.
How will we know to choose wisely?
- By choosing a personality type that respects, uses, and shares the faculties of Mind we were given. That doesn’t take direction exclusively from the body’s five senses and the external-physical environment around it. Our bodies’ capabilities, appetites, and vulnerabilities can’t be allowed to set our priorities by replacing Mind with animal instinct. With “action”. And by letting possession and games among groups distract us with pleasures and entertainments rather than enriching our lives with sharing, cooperation, trust, and closeness among individuals.
- By understanding that strength doesn’t come from ruling by fear from the top down but by serving with Love and Logic from the bottom up. If we value Force – the power of strength – we won’t be misled by the weakness of authority that has to seize it rather than earn it. That must crush individuality with intimidation and violence to preserve itself. That must prove its legitimacy by turning every space into a field of combat. Into turf where it must always be the bull that owns, possesses, and controls it. Where it must always emerge triumphant – the “winner.”
None of this is strength. It’s weakness so vulnerable, so insecure, that it will go to any lengths to appear to be strong. Authority that supports and serves individuality and creativity from the bottom up is secure in the strength of Logic and Love. It has no need of appearances. Of shows of brutality in combat to impress its enemies.
The difference between the two is the difference between the personality type that respects Mind and the type that doesn’t. The type that imagines that anything that can’t be detected by bodies’ five senses, especially Mind, is inferiority that deserves contempt.
The choosing and earning of Worth
What do you get when you smoosh all of our values together? A big mess. You get “Worth,” the idea that sums up everything that Reality-Creation is about. Energy directed by self-aware Mind that empowers causes with effects, thoughts with consequences, relationships with reciprocity, definitions and laws with Necessity, and creativity with Creations. Energy, the light that came on with Self-Awareness and powered its expansion. From the question of Possibility to the abundance and diversity of Life that is the answer. The values of Logic and Love shared with Freedom that express and affirm the Worth of Life.
Values are the raw material of Creation. Gifts from its source, Self-Awareness, to the Child of Logic-Love entrusted with Free Choice, to make of Creation an act of Free Will. An act that could not create without it, for what is true of Worth is that it must be chosen and it must be earned. And what is true of Free Choice – the Child of its Parents, Logic-Love – is that it does the choosing and the earning. Earning by sharing its gifts and by reciprocating and affirming the Worth of the giver with the compositions of Free Choice. And earning by risking Self-Awareness when choice that is truly free, guided by its own judgment, chooses wrongly.
The limits of definition
How can that happen? By lacking an awareness of certain attributes of values that can only come with experience. The attribute that values come with: the definitions given them by the giver, Logic-Love. And if the use that’s chosen strays outside the limits of their definitions it will be a mistake. It may risk the loss of Self-Awareness. For example, just as Logic and Love are inseparable Freedom and Order are inseparable. Yet many of us yearn for a world of disorder where we can have Freedom without limits. An impossibility.
The gift of values that are the raw material for Creation is to be used for its intended purpose: to express the Beauty, Worth, and Reality of Mind and its thought: the idea of Life. Of all of Creation. If Child Free Choice uses its gift to express and affirm a value’s reverse side – its opposite – it would be trying to affirm an impossibility: the reality of what is necessarily unreal. It would be violating Logic-Love and contradicting the value’s intended purpose.
The nature and purpose of values
A mistake that’s familiar to us because we all make it. Trapping ourselves inside a dream with the authoritarian mindset that relies on the body’s five senses to make it real. By blocking awareness of the Truth that can only come from Mind. When Mind puts its faith in something that can’t be real or true, it’s choosing to be un-self-aware. The state of Mind that humanity is in because so many of us put our faith in what our bodies – matter -- tell us instead of listening to the voice of Logic-Love that reaches us through our Mind.
Authoritarian “realists” are re-enacting and perpetuating Child Free Choice’s mistake and the result is a persistent, harmful lack of Self-Awareness. Mistaken identity that is the cause and effect of mistaking the nature and purpose of values. The cause and effect of their misuse which accounts for all that is not beautiful about our dream-world. Our imaginary “paradise”.
Values have opposites
Authority, like Freedom and everything else, is subject to the laws that define Order. The laws of cause and effect that reflect the values of Logic-Love. Necessity that ensures that Creation is free and authority is benevolent. Yet many of us crave absolutes that aren’t limited by laws except arbitrary laws of our own making. Like absolute Freedom and absolute Power, they’re impossibilities that enable malevolent rule to ignore Necessity and take away Freedom.
Values in the Mind of their giver that is Logic-Love have no shadow-opposites. But in the Mind of Free Choice, their Child, shadow-opposites – the “dark side” – must be a choice even if mistaken or choice would not be free. The same awareness of choices within and among values that disciplines Free Choice in Creation must also discipline ours.
Awareness of what? Awareness that values have opposites. That values convert into ideals and passions that drive behavior, and some of these are good and some are bad. Some are light and others are dark. Some constructive, others destructive. Which version of Freedom and Power do we value? The version with Order or the one without?
The values that fit
How can we be aware of the difference? By being aware of the choice between opposite personality types and opposite interpretations of authority. Because they imply opposite values. There is not one value structure, one standard of acceptable or functional behavior, but two.
- One for the Mind-centered individual personality type drawn to Logic-Love that supports individuality and creativity, with governance from the bottom up, under the law, that’s rational, benevolent, sensitive, and kind.
- The other for the body-centered tribal personality type drawn to action-dominance that demands conformity, with authoritarian rule from the top down, above the law, that’s self-centered, self-serving, insensitive, and cruel.
If we are aware of the difference:
- Values that will best fit the Mind-centered individual type will include sharing-generosity, family-community sensitivity, responsibility-accountability, friendship-intimacy, Free Choice, cooperation, conscience, individuality-originality, and creativity..
- Those that will best fit the body-centered tribal type are self-sensitivity, sociability-camaraderie, authority-rule, dominance-supremacy, moral expedience, obedience-loyalty, conformity-uniformity, taking-monopolizing, competition-winning, and avoidance of responsibility-accountability, unpleasantness-difficulty, work-difficulty, and uncontrolled-unpredictable change.
The emperor’s horse
A comprehensive list of value-opposites would fill a book, but here are some:
- Individual Creation vs. group tribal conformity
- The inner peace-harmony of Logic-Love and Free Choice (idealists) vs. external peace-harmony / appearances enforced by tribal dominance (realists)
- Serving-supporting vs. possessing-controlling
- Honesty-Truth (depth and substance) vs. appearances-dishonesty (superficiality-shallowness)
- Considerate-respectful vs. inconsiderate-disrespectful. . . .
Granddad, I think the horse is dead. You get the point? Yes. These two value systems aren’t alike at all. One is fragrant, the other stinks. Well put!
Amen to the benediction!
And you have some idea now how to distinguish between them and how to avoid making the wrong choice? Yes. I will choose wisely because I’ve grown a beard. I’ve dressed myself in a robe and sandals and I have a lantern so it looks like I’m searching for wisdom. It's true. Success here definitely depends on appearances. On perceptions whether right or wrong, and “clothes make the man.” I’m not a man. And besides, emperors don’t wear clothes.
I now decree that this sermon is over. Time for the benediction when every 13-year-old can be truly thankful. To you, Plato, and Socrates, I bid a fond farewell.
*A Course in Miracles (Foundation for Inner Peace 1976)