Friday 23 September 2022

Spiritual versus Physical thinking - Understanding Primary Thinking by Primary Thinking

I have been writing about Primary Thinking for several years, as the mode of Final Participation. But, via an episode of Primary Thinking, some things became clear to me yesterday. 

Hardly anybody is interested by these metaphysical posts; so for those who are I will give it more or less straight: as it came to me: 

This mortal and material world is a closed system, dominated by entropy; it is an energy-consuming world where the tendency is towards destruction, decay and death. 

By contrast the spiritual world is the opposite, being eternal and immaterial. It is the world of divine creation, where 'energy' is renewed. Creation adds; and is 'negentropic' - entropy-reducing. 

Where there is creation, there is an open system; overall increasing in value.  

Thinking can be entropic, or else creative. These are qualitatively different. 

Mundane, everyday thinking is brain-based, therefore entropic; uses energy (including electricity), is causally-determined (each step caused by a preceding step) - and therefore mundane thinking tends towards degeneration and collapse.

But Primary Thinking is immaterial, spiritual; does not depend on the physical nervous system. It is generative (not caused by preceding factors, not a consequence of what went before); contributing something extra (something for nothing!) to created-reality.

We could picture spiritual thinking breaking-in upon physical thinking, transforming it, inserting-into it; because the material is a sub-set of the spiritual (the spiritual is the whole; the physical merely part of that whole). 

Primary Thinking is a divine attribute, the divine form of creation. We can do it only because we are children of God, and share in God's divinity. 

And we can only do it somewhat, sometimes - because we dwell in mortal bodies in this material, entropic world.  

Thus, Primary Thinking changes created-reality; changes the world! - and for the better: changes it permanently, eternally. 

Primary Thinking is always a positive good and "for the better", because Primary Thinking only happens when we our-selves are in harmony with, pursuing the same creative goals as, God. 

Primary Thinking is always 'about' something, always goal-directed: it is purposive thinking, and the purposes are in-line with divine creation. 

There is no formula for 'doing' Primary Thinking; except that we need to acknowledge its importance and be aware when it happens. The occurrence is a by-product of serious and sincere effort to understand, to know; in context of love of God and chosen-affiliation to the creative work of God. 

When all such factors are lined-up; we will (temporarily) be able to overcome the entropic nature of this mortal life; take-up our divine heritage as children of God, partake of the divine way of thinking, and participate in on-going creation. 

And if we do so, we can be (and will be) confident that - by our thinking, directly and eternally - we shall have changed the world for the better.   

Note: The above insight was - somehow - triggered by listening to a November 15th 1917 lecture by Rudolf Steiner in an audio version read by Dale Brunsvold. A text version is at 


Francis Berger said...

I have benefited immensely from your metaphysical posts. Granted, they often take some time to digest (mostly because I am not that well-versed in Barfield, Steiner, etc., which means I usually have to think my way through the definitions you use), but I wouldn't bother digesting them if I did not consider them to be interesting and valid.

For me, what you have outlined in this post shines new light on what it means to overcome the world.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - Well, I'm pleased at least one person finds these metaphysical pieces of some use! For me, they cover the most important thing I am 'working on' in my life.

David Earle said...

I second Francis' sentiments. Your metaphysical posts have been the most helpful to me in reframing and realigning my thinking over the years, which have had immense net positive results in all sorts of ways. I wouldnt be where I am now without it. In hindsight, the majority of my notes revolve around the subject of metaphysics and it seems to be what I was naturally inclined towards at first, what I most needed.

Jacob Gittes said...

Dr. Charlton:
I value your metaphysical posts immensely, even when I don't understand them. And you've made it abundantly clear when I've commented in a way that leads you to believe that I didn't understand. It was a bit painful, but I appreciated the input, and even got a real paper book by Owen Barfield, which I look forward to reading (just arrived).

Brian said...

Bruce, I have not commented on this blog before. I have only started reading every post in the past month. You write great content. I want to go back in your archives to read more of the metaphysical posts.
I too echo the sentiments of Francis. My mind was drawn immediately to the future bodily resurrection of all. NT Wright describes it, quite beautifully I believe, the difference between corruptible physicality, on the one hand, and incorruptible physicality, on the other.
Below I quote NT Wright from his book Surprised by Hope (I don’t know if this is plagiarism, but this is really good).
The hope of resurrection underlies the whole of 1 Corinthians, not just chapter 15. But here Paul addresses it head-on as of central importance. Some in Corinth are denying the future resurrection, almost certainly on the normal pagan grounds that everyone knows dead people don’t rise again. In reply, Paul speaks, as we saw in the previous chapter, of Jesus as the firstfruits and of the great harvest still to come when all Jesus’s people are raised as he has been.
The whole chapter echoes and alludes to Genesis 1–3. It is a theology of new creation, not of the abandonment of creation. The heart of the chapter is an exposition of the two different types of bodies, the present one and the future one. This is where all sorts of problems have arisen.
Several popular translations, notably the Revised Standard Version and its offshoots, translate Paul’s key phrases as “a physical body” and “a spiritual body.” Simply in terms of the Greek words Paul uses, this cannot be correct. The technical arguments are overwhelming and conclusive. The contrast is between the present body, corruptible, decaying, and doomed to die, and the future body, incorruptible, undecaying, never to die again. The key adjectives, which are quoted endlessly in discussions of this topic, do not refer to a physical body and a nonphysical one, which is how people in our culture are bound to hear the words physical and spiritual.
The first word, psychikos, does not in any case mean anything like “physical” in our sense. For Greek speakers of Paul’s day, the psychÄ“, from which the word derives, means the soul, not the body.
But the deeper, underlying point is that adjectives of this type, Greek adjectives ending in-ikos, describe not the material out of which things are made but the power or energy that animates them. It is the difference between asking, on the one hand, “Is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?” (the material from which it is made) and asking, on the other, “Is this a steamship or a sailing ship?” (the energy that powers it). Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psychÄ“ (the life force we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay, and death), and the future body, which is animated by God’s pneuma, God’s breath of new life, the energizing power of God’s new creation.
This is why, in a further phrase that became controversial as early as the mid-second century, Paul declares that “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” He doesn’t mean that physicality will be abolished. “Flesh and blood” is a technical term for that which is corruptible, transient, heading for death. The contrast, again, is not between what we call physical and what we call nonphysical but between corruptible physicality, on the one hand, and incorruptible physicality, on the other.

Stephen Macdonald said...

Hardly anybody is interested by these metaphysical posts

I for one am very interested in these posts. There is literally nowhere else one can turn for this particular form of original thought.

Please continue, Dr. Charlton!

Stephen Macdonald said...

Further to my previous comment, I have found that essays such as those found here have a "ripple effect" in the culture far beyond the seemingly small audience directly engaged with the blog. While my own influence is very modest, several others here have a fairly broad reach comparable to Dr. Charlton himself. People influenced by say, Francis Berger, go on to influence others, and ideas thereby radiates out into the culture. From time to time I've detected the "fingerprint" of ideas that are advanced here (such as Primary Thinking) in discussions seemingly remote from this blog.

To paraphrase the popular movie character: Truth finds a way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SM - "I have found that essays such as those found here have a "ripple effect" in the culture far beyond the seemingly small audience directly engaged with the blog"

Maybe, maybe not; but if these ideas are correct, then the culturally visible consequences are almost irrelevant. Insofar as anybody is able to 'do' Primary Thinking, then this will be added-to, and positively affect, divine creation.

Perhaps this could be known after resurrection; but probably then we would have lost the vanity which makes us hope for acknowledged personal influence.

Creative activity is, after all, its own reward - something which is also true of love; for the reason that they are both aspects of the same ultimate Good.

William Wildblood said...

Even if no one is interested, Bruce (though they clearly are), you are doing God's work by anchoring these thoughts in physical reality where they and that which they influence can be picked up by many people either directly or indirectly. Funnily enough, I began writing a post on that very subject this morning though had to put it on hold because of earthly duties!

Lucinda said...

"the spiritual is the whole; the physical merely part of that whole" this is my belief too.

This way of bringing out the idea of eternity being negentropic makes me think of how someone who believes they cannot choose what they believe feels validated by the entropic workings of this life. And it really strikes me what a perfect arrangement this is for real freedom to be attained, final participation as you say. A person must enter there by choosing to believe without shared evidence. Those who will only trust in shared evidence are trapping themselves in an entropic reality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - Your concept of 'shared evidence' is a useful one!

Nicholas Fulford said...

Ok, I will be the stick in the mud about Primary Thinking and approach it from a physical frame.

When thinking occurs it happens within the physical substrate - the brain. If the brain is dead, no thinking is occurring as is evidenced by a lack of measurable activity, other than decomposition. That said: Many things outside the brain effect it and this in turn effects the state of the mind. (Nothing occurs in isolation within the boundaries of time cones. If something happens it will be having an effect. Think of it like dropping objects into a pond with waves propagating and interacting. Any particular wave will eventually be broken up through all of the interactions, but the event(s) that resulted in the wave appearing still happened and the affects and effects are part and parcel of what unfolds going forward. They cannot be erased from the history that leads to the current state. Quantum events add complexity and uncertainty, but do not erase the effects of preceding events. Hence, clockwork determinism does not apply.)

If Primary Thinking occurs then it should leave artefacts and statistically it should be possible to parse it out of the mix. If it is negentropic then we should see that additional ordering property in a way that is not accountable through the creation of local negentropy as universal entropy increases. (For example, an internal combustion engine can be used to increase local order even as the burning of fuel increases overall entropy.)

Now I do get that there are complex and opaque relationships at work between the brain and our subjective states. (This rapidly gets way above my pay grade, but it doesn't stop it from being incredibly fascinating.) Is there something about particular types of stimulation that elicit similarity of type responses whether via a psychedelic, meditation, dance, music, nutritional deficiency, worship, et cetera? Yes, and at this point I think all we have is presentation and correlation, and we may not get a clear path to causality, though I can pretty much guarantee you that administering 250 micrograms of LSD is going to show how a minuscule amount of a chemical has tremendous effect upon the subjective state of the subject even though we have no clear understanding of the mechanism of action other than what serotonin sites the molecule binds to.

While I won't right off the idea of Primary Thinking, I am inclined to remain agnostic about it unless and until there is something convincing to show that it is happening.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - It's all irrelevant to metaphysics. Its analogous to brandishing a 12inch ruler and claiming you cannot measure, or find any evidence of, any beauty in Mozart's music.

The question must be addressed at the level of assumptions - because the assumptions are what create and sustain 'evidence'.

the outrigger said...

I never understand what you are doing - never get what you mean by primary thinking - yet appreciate the tussle that ends up on the page. The first pass tenor to your writing is the attraction…. In this instance, while I recall your previous recourse to open and closed system analogies, it is still too tightly packed for me to comprehend. Fair enough, you said you were going to go splat.

Slightly OT: My understanding of what you mean by evolution of consciousness is that it is closer to changes in what a man can be ‘conscious of’ rather than phase shifts in consciousness, i.e., not akin to the transition from sleeping to waking. Yet this ‘episode’ of primary thinking has elements of a phase shift of finite duration that was part involuntary (the trigger, and possibly the ‘break in’ quality), part voluntary endurance (not passive reception but a doing, taking mental action) that ended somehow or other. I don’t recall you ever articulate how primary thinking ends…. How much of primary thinking could be described in behaviourist terms… a la correlating genius with reaction times? Everything but the content.

Bruce Charlton said...

to - I don't blame you for not understanding - What I am saying is a 'paradigm shift' in metaphysics. Indeed, so long as you know that you do not understand, you probably will - sooner or later (if you want to!) - although you may then choose to reject.

Actually, Primary Thinking is more like the transition from sleep to waking; except that is is consciously and freely chosen.

But then again PT is qualitatively different from either sleeping or waking, because PT does not derive from nerve activity - hence it cannot be detected behaviorally.

PT is an active and personal engagement with the reality of creation, and creation is spiritual (the material being a small subset of the spiritual).

PT ends because God has made us and this mortal life so that it is a time of learning, not a time to achieve full divinity (except for the unique case of Jesus Christ - who was fully aligned with the divine will and whose role was to enable resurrection).

Also because nothing lasts in this (entropic) mortal life - all is temporary; I think because resurrection can only be attained via death, and the intermediate stage of having mortal bodies.

A resurrected body depends on a prior mortal body - and cannot (from the nature of things) be attained directly from the immaterial spiritual state of being - or else that is what would happen.