[WilliamJames] Rest of Lectures 6-7

Michael Bishop michaelbish at gmail.com
Tue Mar 11 16:14:14 CDT 2014


I'm in the same boat as Max.


On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 3:22 PM, Max Shron <max at shron.net> wrote:

> I have turned out to not have the time. I selfishly hope conversation
> continues so I can keep watching it happen, but I'm not going to do much in
> the way in contribution.
>
>
> --
> Max Shron | Data Strategy
> www.shron.net
>
>
> On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 2:36 PM, Jesse Raber <jesse.raber at gmail.com>wrote:
>
>> Anyone else? I'm ready to start up with the thinksheets again, but I'd
>> like to confirm that we have a critical mass.
>>
>>
>> On Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 10:08 AM, Mary Haake <maryhaakephd at gmail.com>wrote:
>>
>>> I'm still reading, but not caught up!
>>> Mary Haake
>>>
>>> On Mar 10, 2014, at 11:07 PM, Eric Purdy <epurdy at uchicago.edu> wrote:
>>>
>>> With this, we're caught up! How many people are still reading?
>>>
>>>
>>> To a mind attentive to this state of things and rightly subject to the
>>> joy-destroying chill which such a contemplation engenders, the only relief
>>> that healthy-mindedness can give is by saying: 'Stuff and nonsense, get out
>>> into the open air!' or 'Cheer up, old fellow, you'll be all right
>>> erelong, if you will only drop your morbidness!' But in all seriousness,
>>> can such bald animal talk as that be treated as a rational answer? To
>>> ascribe religious value to mere happy-go-lucky contentment with one's brief
>>> chance at natural good is but the very consecration of forgetfulness and
>>> superficiality. Our troubles lie indeed too deep for *that* cure. The
>>> fact that we *can* die, that we *can* be ill at all, is what perplexes
>>> us; the fact that we now for a moment live and are well is irrelevant to
>>> that perplexity. We need a life not correlated with death, a health not
>>> liable to illness, a kind of good that will not perish, a good in fact that
>>> flies beyond the Goods of nature.
>>>
>>> It all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords. "The
>>> trouble with me is that I believe too much in common happiness and
>>> goodness," said a friend of mine whose consciousness was of this sort, "and
>>> nothing can console me for their transiency. I am appalled and disconcerted
>>> at its being possible." And so with most of us: a little cooling down of
>>> animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a
>>> little irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the
>>> worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and
>>> turn us into melancholy metaphysicians. The pride of life and glory of the
>>> world will shrivel. It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot youth
>>> and hoary eld. Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at
>>> life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.
>>>
>>> This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic,
>>> or naturalistic scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do
>>> its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and
>>> forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of,
>>> and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the
>>> individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact
>>> depends on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands related. Its
>>> significance and framing give it the chief part of its value. Let it be
>>> known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy,
>>> its glow and gilding vanish. The old man, sick with an insidious internal
>>> disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he
>>> knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it; and the knowledge
>>> knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions. They are partners of
>>> death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.
>>>
>>> The lustre of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of
>>> possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an
>>> eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let
>>> Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and
>>> hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in;--and his days pass by with
>>> zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place
>>> around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all
>>> permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular science
>>> evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill
>>> stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.
>>>
>>> For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a
>>> position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake,
>>> surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little
>>> by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the
>>> last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the
>>> human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more
>>> sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more
>>> poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total
>>> situation.
>>>
>>> The early Greeks are continually held up to us in literary works as
>>> models of the healthy-minded joyousness which the religion of nature may
>>> engender. There was indeed much joyousness among the Greeks--Homer's flow of
>>> enthusiasm for most things that the sun shines upon is steady. But even in
>>> Homer the reflective passages are cheerless,[8]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-8>and the moment the Greeks grew systematically pensive and thought of
>>> ultimates, they became unmitigated pessimists.[9]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-9>The jealousy of the gods, the nemesis that follows too much happiness, the
>>> all-encompassing death, fate's dark opacity, the ultimate and
>>> unintelligible cruelty, were the fixed background of their imagination.
>>> The beautiful joyousness of their polytheism is only a poetic modern
>>> fiction. They knew no joys comparable in quality of preciousness to those
>>> which we shall erelong see that Brahmans, Buddhists, Christians,
>>> Mohammedans, twice-born people whose religion is non-naturalistic, get from
>>> their several creeds of mysticism and renunciation.
>>>
>>> Stoic insensibility and Epicurean resignation were the farthest advance
>>> which the Greek mind made in that direction. The Epicurean said: "Seek not
>>> to be happy, but rather to escape unhappiness; strong happiness is always
>>> linked with pain; therefore hug the safe shore, and do not tempt the deeper
>>> raptures. Avoid disappointment by expecting little, and by aiming low; and
>>> above all do not fret." The Stoic said: "The only genuine good that life
>>> can yield a man is the free possession of his own soul; all other goods are
>>> lies." Each of these philosophies is in its degree a philosophy of despair
>>> in nature's boons. Trustful self-abandonment to the joys that freely offer
>>> has entirely departed from both Epicurean and Stoic; and what each proposes
>>> is a way of rescue from the resultant dust-and-ashes state of mind. The
>>> Epicurean still awaits results from economy of indulgence and damping of
>>> desire. The Stoic hopes for no results, and gives up natural good
>>> altogether. There is dignity in both these forms of resignation. They
>>> represent distinct stages in the sobering process which man's primitive
>>> intoxication with sense-happiness is sure to undergo. In the one the hot
>>> blood has grown cool, in the other it has become quite cold; and although I
>>> have spoken of them in the past tense, as if they were merely historic, yet
>>> Stoicism and Epicureanism will probably be to all time typical attitudes,
>>> marking a certain definite stage accomplished in the evolution of the world-sick
>>> soul.[10]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-10>They mark the conclusion of what we call the once-born period, and
>>> represent the highest flights of what twice-born religion would call the
>>> purely natural man--Epicureanism, which can only by great courtesy be called
>>> a religion, showing his refinement, and Stoicism exhibiting his moral will.
>>> They leave the world in the shape of an unreconciled contradiction, and
>>> seek no higher unity. Compared with the complex ecstasies which the
>>> supernaturally regenerated Christian may enjoy, or the oriental pantheist
>>> indulge in, their receipts for equanimity are expedients which seem almost
>>> crude in their simplicity.
>>>
>>> Please observe, however, that I am not yet pretending finally to *judge*any of these attitudes. I am only describing their variety.
>>>
>>> The securest way to the rapturous sorts of happiness of which the
>>> twice-born make report has as an historic matter of fact been through a
>>> more radical pessimism than anything that we have yet considered. We have
>>> seen how the lustre and enchantment may be rubbed off from the goods of
>>> nature. But there is a pitch of unhappiness so great that the goods of
>>> nature may be entirely forgotten, and all sentiment of their existence
>>> vanish from the mental field. For this extremity of pessimism to be
>>> reached, something more is needed than observation of life and
>>> reflection upon death. The individual must in his own person become the
>>> prey of a pathological melancholy. As the healthy-minded enthusiast
>>> succeeds in ignoring evil's very existence, so the subject of melancholy is
>>> forced in spite of himself to ignore that of all good whatever: for him it
>>> may no longer have the least reality. Such sensitiveness and susceptibility
>>> to mental pain is a rare occurrence where the nervous constitution is
>>> entirely normal; one seldom finds it in a healthy subject even where he is
>>> the victim of the most atrocious cruelties of outward fortune. So we note
>>> here the neurotic constitution, of which I said so much in my first
>>> lecture, making its active entrance on our scene, and destined to play a
>>> part in much that follows. Since these experiences of melancholy are in the
>>> first instance absolutely private and individual, I can now help myself out
>>> with personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and
>>> there is almost an indecency in handling them in public. Yet they lie right
>>> in the middle of our path; and if we are to touch the psychology of
>>> religion at all seriously, we must be willing to forget conventionalities,
>>> and dive below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.
>>>
>>> One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it
>>> is mere passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack
>>> of taste and zest and spring. Professor Ribot has proposed the name
>>> *anhedonia* to designate this condition.
>>>
>>> "The state of *anhedonia*, if I may coin a new word to pair off with
>>> *analgesia*," he writes, "has been very little studied, but it exists.
>>> A young girl was smitten with a liver disease which for some time altered
>>> her constitution. She felt no longer any affection for her father and
>>> mother. She would have played with her doll, but it was impossible to find
>>> the least pleasure in the act. The same things which formerly convulsed
>>> her with laughter entirely failed to interest her now. Esquirol observed
>>> the case of a very intelligent magistrate who was also a prey to hepatic
>>> disease. Every emotion appeared dead within him. He manifested neither
>>> perversion nor violence, but complete absence of emotional reaction. If he
>>> went to the theatre, which he did out of habit, he could find no pleasure
>>> there. The thought of his house, of his home, of his wife, and of his
>>> absent children moved him as little, he said, as a theorem of Euclid."
>>> [11]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-11>
>>>
>>> Prolonged seasickness will in most persons produce a temporary condition
>>> of anhedonia. Every good, terrestial or celestial, is imagined only to be
>>> turned from with disgust. A temporary condition of this sort, connected
>>> with the religious evolution of a singularly lofty character, both
>>> intellectual and moral, is well described by the Catholic philosopher,
>>> Father Gratry, in his autobiographical recollections. In consequence of
>>> mental isolation and excessive study at the Polytechnic school, young
>>> Gratry fell into a state of nervous exhaustion with symptoms which he thus
>>> describes:--
>>>
>>> "I had such a universal terror that I woke at night with a start,
>>> thinking that the Pantheon was tumbling on the Polytechnic school, or that
>>> the school was in flames, or that the Seine was pouring into the Catacombs,
>>> and that Paris was being swallowed up. And when these impressions were
>>> past, all day long without respite I suffered an incurable and intolerable
>>> desolation, verging on despair. I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God,
>>> lost, damned! I felt something like the suffering of hell. Before that I
>>> had never even thought of hell. My mind had never turned in that direction.
>>> Neither discourses nor reflections had impressed me in that way. I took no
>>> account of hell. Now, and all at once, I suffered in a measure what is
>>> suffered there.
>>>
>>> "But what was perhaps still more dreadful is that every idea of heaven
>>> was taken away from me: I could no longer conceive of anything of the
>>> sort. Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. It was like a vacuum; a
>>> mythological elysium, an abode of shadows less real than the earth. I could
>>> conceive no joy, no pleasure in inhabiting it. Happiness, joy, light,
>>> affection, love--all these words were now devoid of sense. Without doubt I
>>> could still have talked of all these things, but I had become incapable of
>>> feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping
>>> anything from them, or of believing them to exist. There was my great and
>>> inconsolable grief! I neither perceived nor conceived any longer the
>>> existence of happiness or perfection. An abstract heaven over a naked rock.
>>> Such was my present abode for eternity."[12]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-12>
>>>
>>> So much for melancholy in the sense of incapacity for joyous feeling. A
>>> much worse form of it is positive and active anguish, a sort of psychical
>>> neuralgia wholly unknown to healthy life. Such anguish may partake of
>>> various characters, having sometimes more the quality of loathing;
>>> sometimes that of irritation and exasperation; or again of self-mistrust
>>> and self-despair; or of suspicion, anxiety, trepidation, fear. The patient
>>> may rebel or submit; may accuse himself, or accuse outside powers; and
>>> he may or he may not be tormented by the theoretical mystery of why he
>>> should so have to suffer. Most cases are mixed cases, and we should not
>>> treat our classifications with too much respect. Moreover, it is only a
>>> relatively small proportion of cases that connect themselves with the
>>> religious sphere of experience at all. Exasperated cases, for instance, as
>>> a rule do not. I quote now literally from the first case of melancholy on
>>> which I lay my hand. It is a letter from a patient in a French asylum.
>>>
>>> "I suffer too much in this hospital, both physically and morally.
>>> Besides the burnings and the sleeplessness (for I no longer sleep since I
>>> am shut up here, and the little rest I get is broken by bad dreams, and I
>>> am waked with a jump by nightmares, dreadful visions, lightning, thunder,
>>> and the rest), fear, atrocious fear, presses me down, holds me without
>>> respite, never lets me go. Where is the justice in it all! What have I done
>>> to deserve this excess of severity? Under what form will this fear crush
>>> me? What would I not owe to any one who would rid me of my life! Eat,
>>> drink, lie awake all night, suffer without interruption--such is the fine
>>> legacy I have received from my mother! What I fail to understand is this
>>> abuse of power. There are limits to everything, there is a middle way. But
>>> God knows neither middle way nor limits. I say God, but why? All I have
>>> known so far has been the devil. After all, I am afraid of God as much as
>>> of the devil, so I drift along, thinking of nothing but suicide, but with
>>> neither courage nor means here to execute the act. As you read this, it
>>> will easily prove to you my insanity. The style and the ideas are
>>> incoherent enough--I can see that myself. But I cannot keep myself from
>>> being either crazy or an idiot; and, as things are, from whom should I ask
>>> pity? I am defenseless against the invisible enemy who is tightening his
>>> coils around me. I should be no better armed against him even if I saw him,
>>> or had seen him. Oh, if he would but kill me, devil take him! Death, death,
>>> once for all! But I stop. I have raved to you long enough. I say raved, for
>>> I can write no otherwise, having neither brain nor thoughts left. O God!
>>> what a misfortune to be born! Born like a mushroom, doubtless between an
>>> evening and a morning; and how true and right I was when in our
>>> philosophy-year in college I chewed the cud of bitterness with the
>>> pessimists. Yes, indeed, there is more pain in life than gladness--it is one
>>> long agony until the grave. Think how gay it makes me to remember that this
>>> horrible misery of mine, coupled with this unspeakable fear, may last
>>> fifty, one hundred, who knows how many more years!"[13]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-13>
>>>
>>> This letter shows two things. First, you see how the entire
>>> consciousness of the poor man is so choked with the feeling of evil that
>>> the sense of there being any good in the world is lost for him altogether.
>>> His attention excludes it, cannot admit it: the sun has left his heaven.
>>> And secondly you see how the querulous temper of his misery keeps his mind
>>> from taking a religious direction. Querulousness of mind tends in fact
>>> rather towards irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part
>>> whatever in the construction of religious systems.
>>>
>>>
>>> Religious melancholy must be cast in a more melting mood. Tolstoy<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Lev_Nikolayevich_Tolstoy>has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful account of the
>>> attack of melancholy which led him to his own religious conclusions. The
>>> latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents two
>>> characters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First
>>> it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all
>>> life's values; and second, it shows how the altered and estranged aspect
>>> which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's
>>> intellect to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic
>>> relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing so, I
>>> will make a general remark on each of these two points.
>>>
>>> First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.
>>>
>>> It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional
>>> comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in
>>> different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is
>>> no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the
>>> sentiments it may happen to provoke. These have their source in another
>>> sphere of existence altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the
>>> subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all
>>> the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it *as
>>> it exists*, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable,
>>> hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to
>>> realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the
>>> universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole
>>> collection of its things and series of its events would be without
>>> significance, character, expression, or perspective. Whatever of value,
>>> interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thus
>>> pure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most
>>> familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it
>>> does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the
>>> value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc
>>> from a corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world
>>> to a new tune for the lover and gives a new issue to his life. So with
>>> fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there,
>>> life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always
>>> upon non-logical, often on organic conditions. And as the excited
>>> interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world,
>>> just so are the passions themselves *gifts*,--gifts to us, from sources
>>> sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond
>>> our control. How can the moribund old man reason back to himself the
>>> romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old
>>> earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well? Gifts, either
>>> of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and
>>> the world's materials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike,
>>> as the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating colored
>>> lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.
>>>
>>> Meanwhile the practically real world for each one of us, the effective
>>> world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and
>>> emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert
>>> either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call
>>> pathological ensues.
>>>
>>> In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a
>>> time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole
>>> expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion
>>> or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence
>>> of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of
>>> nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In
>>> melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse
>>> direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its
>>> color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it
>>> glares with. "It is as if I lived in another century," says one asylum patient.--"I
>>> see everything through a cloud," says another, "things are not as they
>>> were, and I am changed."--"I see," says a third, "I touch, but the things do
>>> not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of
>>> everything."--"Persons move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a
>>> distant world."--"There is no longer any past for me; people appear so
>>> strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a
>>> theatre; as if people were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no
>>> longer find myself; I walk, but why? Everything floats before my eyes, but
>>> leaves no impression."--"I weep false tears, I have unreal hands: the things
>>> I see are not real things."--Such are expressions that naturally rise to the
>>> lips of melancholy subjects describing their changed state.[14]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-14>
>>>
>>> Now there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to the
>>> profoundest astonishment. The strangeness is wrong. The unreality cannot
>>> be. A mystery is concealed, and a metaphysical solution must exist. If the
>>> natural world is so double-faced and unhomelike, what world, what thing is
>>> real? An urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretic
>>> activity, and in the desperate effort to get into right relations with the
>>> matter, the sufferer is often led to what becomes for him a satisfying
>>> religious solution.
>>>
>>> At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments
>>> of perplexity, of what he calls arrest, as if he knew not 'how to live,' or
>>> what to do. It is obvious that these were moments in which the excitement
>>> and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased. Life had been
>>> enchanting, it was now flat sober, more than sober, dead. Things were
>>> meaningless whose meaning had always been self-evident. The questions
>>> 'Why?' and 'What next?' began to beset him more and more frequently. At
>>> first it seemed as if such questions must be answerable, and as if he could
>>> easily find the answers if he would take the time; but as they ever became
>>> more urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts of a
>>> sick man, to which he pays but little attention till they run into one
>>> continuous suffering, and then he realizes that what he took for a passing
>>> disorder means the most momentous thing in the world for him, means his
>>> death.
>>>
>>> These questions 'Why?' 'Wherefore?' 'What for?' found no response.
>>>
>>> "I felt," says Tolstoy, "that something had broken within me on which my
>>> life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that
>>> morally my life had stopped. An invincible force impelled me to get rid of
>>> my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that I
>>> wished to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was
>>> fuller, more powerful, more general than any mere desire. It was a force
>>> like my old aspiration to live, only it impelled me in the opposite
>>> direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.
>>>
>>> "Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in
>>> order not to hang myself to the rafters of the room where every night I
>>> went to sleep alone; behold me no longer going shooting, lest I should
>>> yield to the too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.
>>>
>>> "I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to
>>> leave it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.
>>>
>>> "All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances
>>> went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me
>>> and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing
>>> with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance
>>> than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without
>>> exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither
>>> insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength
>>> which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the
>>> peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel
>>> no bad effects.
>>>
>>> "And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life.
>>> And I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning.
>>> My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played
>>> upon me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk
>>> with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a
>>> stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny
>>> or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.
>>>
>>> "The oriental fable of the traveler surprised in the desert by a wild
>>> beast is very old.
>>>
>>> "Seeking to save himself from the fierce animal, the traveler jumps into
>>> a well with no water in it; but at the bottom of this well he sees a dragon
>>> waiting with open mouth to devour him. And the unhappy man, not daring to
>>> go out lest he should be the prey of the beast, not daring to jump to the
>>> bottom lest he should be devoured by the dragon, clings to the branches of
>>> a wild bush which grows out of one of the cracks of the well. His hands
>>> weaken, and he feels that he must soon give way to certain fate; but still
>>> he clings, and sees two mice, one white, the other black, evenly moving
>>> round the bush to which he hangs, and gnawing off its roots.
>>>
>>> "The traveler sees this and knows that he must inevitably perish; but
>>> while thus hanging he looks about him and finds on the leaves of the bush
>>> some drops of honey. These he reaches with his tongue and licks them off
>>> with rapture.
>>>
>>> "Thus I hang upon the boughs of life, knowing that the inevitable dragon
>>> of death is waiting ready to tear me, and I cannot comprehend why I am thus
>>> made a martyr. I try to suck the honey which formerly consoled me; but the
>>> honey pleases me no longer, and day and night the white mouse and the
>>> black mouse gnaw the branch to which I cling. I can see but one thing: the
>>> inevitable dragon and the mice--I cannot turn my gaze away from them.
>>>
>>> "This is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which every one
>>> may understand. What will be the outcome of what I do to-day? Of what I
>>> shall do to-morrow? What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I
>>> live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the
>>> inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?
>>>
>>> "These questions are the simplest in the world. From the stupid child to
>>> the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an
>>> answer to them, it is impossible, as I experienced, for life to go on.
>>>
>>> "'But perhaps,' I often said to myself, 'there may be something I have
>>> failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition
>>> of despair should be natural to mankind.' And I sought for an explanation
>>> in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully
>>> and protractedly and with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with indolence,
>>> but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together. I sought like
>>> a man who is lost and seeks to save himself,--and I found nothing. I became
>>> convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer
>>> in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they
>>> have recognized that the very thing which was leading me to despair--the
>>> meaningless absurdity of life--is the only incontestable knowledge
>>> accessible to man."
>>>
>>> To prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon, and
>>> Schopenhauer. And he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and
>>> society are accustomed to meet the situation. Either mere animal blindness,
>>> sucking the honey without seeing the dragon or the mice,--"and from such
>>> away," he says, "I can learn nothing, after what I now know;" or reflective
>>> epicureanism, snatching what it can while the day lasts,--which is only a
>>> more deliberate sort of stupefaction like the first; or manly suicide;
>>> or seeing the mice and dragon and yet weakly and plaintively clinging to
>>> the bush of life.
>>>
>>> Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated by the logical
>>> intellect.
>>> "Yet," says Tolstoy, "whilst my intellect was working, something else in
>>> me was working too, and kept me from the deed--a consciousness of life, as I
>>> may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in
>>> another direction and draw me out of my situation of despair. ... During the
>>> whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how
>>> to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that
>>> time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my
>>> heart kept languishing with another pining emotion. I can call this by no
>>> other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God had nothing
>>> to do with the movement of my ideas,--in fact, it was the direct contrary of
>>> that movement,--but it came from my heart. It was like a feeling of dread
>>> that made me seem like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these
>>> things that were so foreign. And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the
>>> hope of finding the assistance of some one."[15]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-15>
>>>
>>> Of the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which, starting from
>>> this idea of God, led to Tolstoy's recovery, I will say nothing in this
>>> lecture, reserving it for a later hour. The only thing that need interest
>>> us now is the phenomenon of his absolute disenchantment with ordinary life,
>>> and the fact that the whole range of habitual values may, to a man as
>>> powerful and full of faculty as he was, come to appear so ghastly a mockery.
>>>
>>> When disillusionment has gone as far as this, there is seldom a *restitutio
>>> ad integrum*. One has tasted of the fruit of the tree, and the
>>> happiness of Eden never comes again. The happiness that comes, when any
>>> does come,--and often enough it fails to return in an acute form, though
>>> its form is sometimes very acute,--is not the simple ignorance of ill, but
>>> something vastly more complex, including natural evil as one of its
>>> elements, but finding natural evil no such stumbling-block and terror
>>> because it now sees it swallowed up in supernatural good. The process is
>>> one of redemption, not of mere reversion to natural health, and the
>>> sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him a second birth, a
>>> deeper kind of conscious being than he could enjoy before.
>>>
>>>
>>> We find a somewhat different type of religious melancholy enshrined in
>>> literature in John Bunyan<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:John_Bunyan>'s
>>> autobiography. Tolstoy's preoccupations were largely objective, for the
>>> purpose and meaning of life in general was what so troubled him; but poor
>>> Bunyan's troubles were over the condition of his own personal self. He was
>>> a typical case of the psychopathic temperament, sensitive of conscience to
>>> a diseased degree, beset by doubts, fears, and insistent ideas, and a
>>> victim of verbal automatisms, both motor and sensory. These were usually
>>> texts of Scripture which, sometimes damnatory and sometimes favorable,
>>> would come in a half-hallucinatory form as if they were voices, and fasten
>>> on his mind and buffet it between them like a shuttlecock. Added to this
>>> were a fearful melancholy self-contempt and despair.
>>>
>>> "Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse; now I am farther from
>>> conversion than ever I was before. If now I should have burned at the
>>> stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could
>>> neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor any of his things.
>>> Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people of God, which, when they
>>> heard, they would pity me, and would tell of the Promises. But they had as
>>> good have told me that I must reach the Sun with my finger as have bidden
>>> me receive or rely upon the Promise. [Yet] all this while as to the act
>>> of sinning, I never was more tender than now; I durst not take a pin or
>>> stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and
>>> would smart at every touch; I could not tell how to speak my words, for
>>> fear I should misplace them. Oh, how gingerly did I then go, in all I did
>>> or said! I found myself as on a miry bog that shook if I did but stir; and
>>> was as there left both by God and Christ, and the spirit, and all good
>>> things.
>>>
>>> "But my original and inward pollution, that was my plague and my
>>> affliction. By reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was
>>> a toad; and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I
>>> said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out
>>> of a fountain. I could have changed heart with anybody. I thought none but
>>> the Devil himself could equal me for inward wickedness and pollution of
>>> mind. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; and thus I continued a long
>>> while, even for some years together.
>>>
>>> "And now I was sorry that God had made me a man. The beasts, birds,
>>> fishes, etc., I blessed their condition, for they had not a sinful nature;
>>> they were not obnoxious to the wrath of God; they were not to go to
>>> hell-fire after death. I could therefore have rejoiced, had my condition
>>> been as any of theirs. Now I blessed the condition of the dog and toad,
>>> yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of the dog or horse, for I
>>> knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of Hell or
>>> Sin, as mine was like to do. Nay, and though I saw this, felt this, and was
>>> broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I
>>> could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance. My heart was
>>> at times exceedingly hard. If I would have given a thousand pounds for a
>>> tear, I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one.
>>>
>>> "I was both a burthen and a terror to myself; nor did I ever so know, as
>>> now, what it was to be weary of my life, and yet afraid to die. How gladly
>>> would I have been anything but myself! Anything but a man! and in any
>>> condition but my own."[16]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-16>
>>>
>>> Poor patient Bunyan, like Tolstoy, saw the light again, but we must also
>>> postpone that part of his story to another hour. In a later lecture I will
>>> also give the end of the experience of Henry Alline, a devoted evangelist
>>> who worked in Nova Scotia a hundred years ago, and who thus vividly
>>> describes the high-water mark of the religious melancholy which formed its
>>> beginning. The type was not unlike Bunyan's.
>>> "Everything I saw seemed to be a burden to me; the earth seemed accursed
>>> for my sake: all trees, plants, rocks, hills, and vales seemed to be
>>> dressed in mourning and groaning, under the weight of the curse, and
>>> everything around me seemed to be conspiring my ruin. My sins seemed to be
>>> laid open; so that I thought that every one I saw knew them, and sometimes
>>> I was almost ready to acknowledge many things, which I thought they knew:
>>> yea sometimes it seemed to me as if every one was pointing me out as the
>>> most guilty wretch upon earth. I had now so great a sense of the vanity and
>>> emptiness of all things here below, that I knew the whole world could not
>>> possibly make me happy, no, nor the whole system of creation. When I waked
>>> in the morning, the first thought would be, Oh, my wretched soul, what
>>> shall I do, where shall I go? And when I laid down, would say, I shall be
>>> perhaps in hell before morning. I would many times look on the beasts with
>>> envy, wishing with all my heart I was in their place, that I might have no
>>> soul to lose; and when I have seen birds flying over my head, have often
>>> thought within myself, Oh, that I could fly away from my danger and
>>> distress! Oh, how happy should I be, if I were in their place!"[17]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-17>
>>>
>>> Envy of the placid beasts seems to be a very widespread affection in
>>> this type of sadness.
>>>
>>>
>>> The worst kind of melancholy is that which takes the form of panic
>>> fear. Here is an excellent example, for permission to print which I have to
>>> thank the sufferer. The original is in French, and though the subject was
>>> evidently in a bad nervous condition at the time of which he writes, his
>>> case has otherwise the merit of extreme simplicity. I translate freely.
>>>
>>> "Whilst in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression of
>>> spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into a dressing-room in the
>>> twilight to procure some article that was there; when suddenly there fell
>>> upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a
>>> horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind
>>> the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a
>>> black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit
>>> all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves against the wall, with his
>>> knees drawn up against his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was
>>> his only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there
>>> like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing
>>> but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear
>>> entered into a species of combination with each other. *That shape am I*,
>>> I felt, potentially. Nothing that I possess can defend me against that
>>> fate, if the hour for it should strike for me as it struck for him. There
>>> was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my own merely momentary
>>> discrepancy from him, that it was as if something hitherto solid within my
>>> breast gave way entirely, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this
>>> the universe was changed for me altogether. I awoke morning after morning
>>> with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the
>>> insecurity of life that I never knew before, and that I have never felt
>>> since.[18]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-p160-18>It was like a revelation; and although the immediate
>>> feelings passed away, the experience has made me sympathetic with the
>>> morbid feelings of others ever since. It gradually faded, but for months I
>>> was unable to go out into the dark alone.
>>>
>>> "In general I dreaded to be left alone. I remember wondering how other
>>> people could live, how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit
>>> of insecurity beneath the surface of life. My mother in particular, a very
>>> cheerful person, seemed to me a perfect paradox in her unconsciousness of
>>> danger, which you may well believe I was very careful not to disturb by
>>> revelations of my own state of mind. I have always thought that this
>>> experience of melancholia of mine had a religious bearing."
>>>
>>> On asking this correspondent to explain more fully what he meant by
>>> these last words, the answer he wrote was this:--
>>> "I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not
>>> clung to scripture-texts like 'The eternal God is my refuge,' etc., 'Come
>>> unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,' etc., 'I am the
>>> resurrection and the life,' etc., I think I should have grown really
>>> insane."[19]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-19>
>>>
>>> There is no need of more examples. The cases we have looked at are
>>> enough. One of them gives us the vanity of mortal things; another the sense
>>> of sin; and the remaining one describes the fear of the universe;--and in
>>> one or other of these three ways it always is that man's original optimism
>>> and self-satisfaction get leveled with the dust.
>>>
>>> In none of these cases was there any intellectual insanity or delusion
>>> about matters of fact; but were we disposed to open the chapter of really
>>> insane melancholia, with its hallucinations and delusions, it would be a
>>> worse story still--desperation absolute and complete, the whole universe
>>> coagulating about the sufferer into a material of overwhelming horror,
>>> surrounding him without opening or end. Not the conception or intellectual
>>> perception of evil, but the grisly blood-freezing heart-palsying sensation
>>> of it close upon one, and no other conception or sensation able to live for
>>> a moment in its presence. How irrelevantly remote seem all our usual
>>> refined optimisms and intellectual and moral consolations in presence of a
>>> need of help like this! Here is the real core of the religious problem:
>>> Help! help! No prophet can claim to bring a final message unless he says
>>> things that will have a sound of reality in the ears of victims such as
>>> these. But the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint,
>>> if it is to take effect; and that seems a reason why the coarser religions,
>>> revivalistic, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural
>>> operations, may possibly never be displaced. Some constitutions need them
>>> too much.
>>>
>>>
>>> Arrived at this point, we can see how great an antagonism may naturally
>>> arise between the healthy-minded way of viewing life and the way that takes
>>> all this experience of evil as something essential. To this latter way, the
>>> morbid-minded way, as we might call it, healthy-mindedness pure and simple
>>> seems unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded way, on the
>>> other hand, the way of the sick soul seems unmanly and diseased. With their
>>> grubbing in rat-holes instead of living in the light; with their
>>> manufacture of fears, and preoccupation with every unwholesome kind of
>>> misery, there is something almost obscene about these children of wrath
>>> and cravers of a second birth. If religious intolerance and hanging and
>>> burning could again become the order of the day, there is little doubt
>>> that, however it may have been in the past, the healthy-minded would at
>>> present show themselves the less indulgent party of the two.
>>>
>>> In our own attitude, not yet abandoned, of impartial onlookers, what are
>>> we to say of this quarrel? It seems to me that we are bound to say that
>>> morbid-mindedness ranges over the wider scale of experience, and that its
>>> survey is the one that overlaps. The method of averting one's attention
>>> from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it
>>> will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally
>>> than most of us are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its
>>> successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious
>>> solution. But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and
>>> even though one be quite free from melancholy one's self, there is no doubt
>>> that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because
>>> the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine
>>> portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's
>>> significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest
>>> levels of truth.
>>>
>>> The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which
>>> insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its
>>> innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic's visions of horror are all
>>> drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the
>>> shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of
>>> helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there
>>> yourself! To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic times is
>>> hard for our imagination--they seem too much like mere museum specimens. Yet
>>> there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls that did not daily
>>> through long years of the foretime hold fast to the body struggling in
>>> despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to
>>> their victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us
>>> to-day. Here on our very hearths and in our gardens the infernal cat plays
>>> with the panting mouse, or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws.
>>> Crocodiles and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels of life
>>> as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills every minute of every
>>> day that drags its length along; and whenever they or other wild beasts
>>> clutch their living prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac
>>> feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.[20]<http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience/Lectures_VI_%26_VII#cite_note-20>
>>>
>>> It may indeed be that no religious reconciliation with the absolute
>>> totality of things is possible. Some evils, indeed, are ministerial to
>>> higher forms of good; but it may be that there are forms of evil so
>>> extreme as to enter into no good system whatsoever, and that, in respect of
>>> such evil, dumb submission or neglect to notice is the only practical
>>> resource. This question must confront us on a later day. But provisionally,
>>> and as a mere matter of program and method, since the evil facts are as
>>> genuine parts of nature as the good ones, the philosophic presumption
>>> should be that they have some rational significance, and that systematic
>>> healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death
>>> any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than
>>> systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.
>>>
>>> The completest religions would therefore seem to be those in which the
>>> pessimistic elements are best developed. Buddhism, of course, and
>>> Christianity are the best known to us of these. They are essentially
>>> religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can
>>> be born into the real life. In my next lecture, I will try to discuss some
>>> of the psychological conditions of this second birth. Fortunately from now
>>> onward we shall have to deal with more cheerful subjects than those which
>>> we have recently been dwelling on.
>>>
>>>
>>> --
>>> -Eric
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> WilliamJames mailing list
>>> WilliamJames at moomers.org
>>> http://mailman.moomers.org/mailman/listinfo/williamjames
>>>
>>>
>>>  Mary Haake, Ph.D.
>>> 17 Glen Eden Avenue, #7
>>> Oakland, CA  94611
>>>
>>> Phone: 510-528-9543
>>> email: maryhaakephd at gmail.com
>>> website: maryhaakephd.com
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