Monday 6 March 2023

From joy, epiphany, peak-experiences and the romantic imagination - to active intuition

Plenty of people, of many types, have the kind of positive, enjoyable - even joyous or blissful - imaginative experiences that get called things like epiphanies or peak-experiences.

These might typically happen in deep conversation with friends, in beautiful places, or in response to literature or music. These could be called "romantic imaginative" experiences. 

I certainly had many such moments as an adolescent and young adult; and I also regarded them as very important in my life; in the sense that I sought and cherished them, and felt that they had significance. 

But this was not enough! - and such moments did not have a sufficiently powerful effect on my life; I did not learn from such experiences, they did not transform my life, they did not give my life personal purpose or meaning. 

I always felt as if on the cusp of a breakthrough that never came - and meanwhile my life was essentially just like everybody else's; and becoming more so with each year. 

But, I did not have any explanation as to why such things were important: what made them important, whether the importance was just for me - or maybe had general significance. 

Much of this was that my basic assumptions about life and the universe denied any overall purpose and meaning for things-in-general - so it was not really possible for my individual life to have these. 

In other words; lacking a metaphysical explanation (in terms of primary assumptions about the nature of reality) that explained the purpose and meaning in Life-in-general; I lacked an explanation for the value of joy/ epiphanies/ peak-experiences. 

But even for those who do have a metaphysical explanation for the value of Life Itself, will not get real value from specific romantic imaginative experiences, unless they have a metaphysical explanation for the value of joy/ epiphanies/ peak-experiences within that general context.

And this is what many/ most Christians lack. Their Christian understanding is such that they cannot explain to themselves what it is that romantic imagination contributes to their own life; and therefore they typically undervalue it - maybe even denying it has any ultimate significance.

It was the nature of Owen Barfield's contribution to the study of romantic imagination that he provided just such an explanation - although he claimed (wrongly) that his explanation was 'epistemological' rather than 'metaphysical'

Barfield explained this in terms that Romantic Imagination was a form of 'knowledge' or knowing. (It is easier, I find, to understand this as know-ing - something dynamic happening here and now; rather than a know-ledge - something statically achieved concerning something fixed and bounded.)

Yet, I think we need to move beyond imagination as the focus, of concern to intuition. Imagination is experienced as coming from outside us, like an inspiration of knowledge; whereas intuition is about what is within us.

While imagination has connotations of passively receiving something from without; intuition recognizes that we do and must actively participate in the creation of knowledge

By this account; the experienced romantic imagination of joy, epiphany, peak-experiences; is a step towards our active investigation of reality by means of intuitive discernment, and the active exploration of our fundamental needs for knowledge, guidance, validation. 

What I mean is that romantic imagination is something that happens-to us, and its value is thus limited; but intuition can be understood as an active engagement with divine creation, something that we decide and will from our-selves. 

Therefore, I think it is more important that we have a metaphysical understanding of intuition; than of imagination - and that is what I have tried to attain by my reflections on primary-thinking, heart-thinking, and direct-knowing

Which is, I believe, the mode by which Barfield's Final Participation may be attained in this mortal life - albeit intermittently and temporarily. 


agraves said...

Most Christians have no basis or metaphysical understanding of their experiences because their "Church" does not encourage it. Imagine trying to discuss with your local priest, pastor, etc. that you have just understood what the purpose of life is. What if it is outside the bible explanation of things? Your description will not find any fertile response from the local pastor. So, I think that a lifetime of intuitive experiences will foster an acceptance that there is a metaphysical basis for life. If you have experiences which are not supported/accepted by your community you will have some trepidation in discussing or even believing what you are experiencing as real. When I ask church goers what the pastor talked about a the last service they reply that they have continually been asked for money for weeks on end. Discussions of metaphysics simply does not compute.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - Yep - we are (most of us) on our own.

Mia said...

Fully agree. At least Catholicism traditionally practiced tells you to contemplate various mysteries, several of which are metaphysical in nature. "Bible teaching" churches are worse than the caricature of Catholicism that they oppose when it comes to practicing philosophy. They are like the schoolgirl who is not that bright and totally uncreative but who makes top marks due to her relentless pursuit of "the answer" that her teacher inevitably hands her during office hours.

Dynamic said...

I think I know exactly what you're talking about. I do remember several times when I was younger, when I saw a particularly inspiring movie ("The Matrix" was one) or listened to a song that put me almost into a trance state, or had a particularly deep conversation with friends. After those experiences, I felt that my eyes were opened, that things had completely changed, that I was now on a higher plane of existence or something of that nature. I would invariably resolve to live in this state from now on and to change my life to align with this new state. And, within a few days at the most, things were back to the way they were before.

Your post has given me insight on these experiences. Although I was a Christian, I don't think I had fully internalized what that means in terms of the meaning of life, and I certainly didn't have any insight into the meaning of peak experiences. I concur with the other commenters' experience; I can't recall any discussions about the meaning of anything ever coming up at church, so I get why I, and most people, might not be able to understand and make use of these experiences.

Thanks for writing about this topic, I appreciate the insight.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dynamic - Yes! That's exactly the kind of experience I was trying to express.