Saturday 31 October 2015

Hope is located in the Imagination, which is a divine gift, and will guide us to the truth

The difference between pleasure and hope is striking - it is quite usual to experience one without the other.

At the extremes, presumably (to all appearances) a intravenous heroin junkie, or a cocaine crack-head, experiences extreme pleasure - probably more extreme than any natural pleasure. Yet such people seem utterly despairing - that is what appears from their behaviour, or is empathically perceived.

By contrast, someone is extreme pain, and misery of circumstances, or suffering from bereavement; may be extremely hope-full.

As Thoreau memorably phrased it, the mass of men may lead 'lives of quiet desperation' (hope-less-ness) - yet will nonetheless often self-report considerable happiness.


The best psychological conceptualization of pleasure is that it is the brain's representation of a body state - so if the body state is manipulated in certain respects by a drug such as heroin or cocaine, then the brain perceives this as pleasure. So, it is almost a 'mechanical' thing.

The imagination is another kind of thing. It presumably requires a certain physical basis - brain and nerves, for example - but it does not have any specific location, and has a high degree of autonomy; it is not just an average of emotional states or a product of circumstances.

So people in the most physically-favourable of circumstances, in perfect health - including mental health - may feel utterly hopeless, may be in a state of despair. So, what and where is it that hope operates?


Hope or despair seem to be rooted in our basic ideas - what could be termed metaphysical ideas: that is, our assumptions of beliefs regarding the fundamental structure of our lives and the world, and how the two fit together.

That 'place' of hope, or despair, is the imagination - and there is an objectivity of the imagination. I mean, the imagination cannot be fooled, the imagination cannot be hopeful on the basis of simply wanting hope.

If we feel despair because of our fundamental metaphysical assumptions concerning the basic nature of life and reality, then we cannot simply get rid of this despair with hope by arbitrary self-assertion.

Not everything 'works' in generating hope or alleviating despair: only some things are effective.


It is as if hope or despair is the causal end-product or consequence of our imaginative grasp of reality - hope flows from fundamental beliefs and assumptions.

But can these fundamental beliefs or assumptions be changed? Yes, of course: that is the experience of 'conversion'. But what we convert-to is not arbitrary - in a sense we can only convert-to that which gives us hope; and if our metaphysics leads to despair, then it is very difficult to believe it, because the capacity for any kind of belief tends to be eroded by despair.

I tend to the view that we almost-must believe that which gives hope - and probably should-not believe that which leads to despair. At least, the direction which our metaphysics should develop in - because, of course, the same basic metaphysical belief may lead first to hope, and then - with time, experience, new circumstances - this hope turns to despair.


In such a fashion our imagination is an inner guidance system; properly monitored it points us in the direction we 'ought' to go - but this direction may not be (probably will not be) the direction we will continue forever.

What I am, of course, saying - is that the imagination is divine; because if it were not divine it would not have ultimate validity. Imagination is a faculty which is a gift of God.

And there is a tremendous difference between being guided by the imagination - which is being guided by hope-despair (moving towards and believing that which generates hope, away from and avoiding that which leads to despair), and on the other hand being guided by pleasure-pain.


My impression is that apostasy (lapsing from a religion) often comes from being guided by pleasure-pain - so a hope-full religion is abandoned, because abandoning it leads to more pleasure or less suffering (especially more sexual pleasure, or less sexual frustration - in such ways the sexual revolution has been the most destructive wrecking ball of religion over the past century).


But if the religion is itself leading to despair (rather than pain, suffering or misery) then that probably is a very good and valid reason for abandoning it - and seeking some modification of that religion, or some other religion.

And conversely, the spiritual seeker probably ought to be making choices based upon that which leads to hope - and try to avoid being misled by the lures of happiness, pleasure, fun and excitement.

Maybe this sounds to you like relativism? But if the imagination is divine, then what I propose is objectivity: in seeking hope, it will lead us to the truth.

Ideally, and properly, our religion ought to be that which fills us with strong and robust hope, and leads on from hope to more hope. This is a function of the imagination - and one of the most vital reasons Man has been given this faculty.


Anonymous said...

I have a very specific memory of abandoning the religion I was raised with. I had resigned myself to it maybe six months before (I was about 13) and then one sunny Sunday morning I was standing outside, after going to the service with my family and I thought to myself, "No, this is not right. I don't deserve this." And that was it.

At some point I told myself I would read the Bible and see if it said what the priests, but especially my parents, and especially my mother, said it said. I was in a bookstore and saw a translation of the NT by Richmond Lattimore, and figured as a Greek scholar and not a cleric he would have a neutral view of it.

He put the Gospel of Mark first, unlike any other translation I know of, which put Matthew first. Had he put Matthew first, I probably would have chucked it, because if contains most of the progressive "clobber" verses, as they call them, that progressive clerics use to comfort death row murderers and demoralize the victims' families. But Mark is much different, and it stuck with me.

Ben Pratt said...

I see this pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance behavior in place of hope-seeking and despair-avoidance behavior over and over with apostate friends. I just learned of another one this week, and while checking off #1, 2, and 5 on Stephen Smoot's dead-on How to Be a Successful Millennial Ex-Mormon checklist in her correspondence, she made it clear that pleasure was more important than hope to her and her husband.

In light of both your post and Stephen's, perhaps a lack of imagination is part of the problem.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

My religion caused neither pain nor despair; leaving caused both (and with little compensating pleasure, since I never signed on with the sexual revolution). I left because many of its key teachings just didn't seem to be true. I think some people really do leave for cognitive reasons.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Let your naked hunger be your guide. Let your compassion - rooted - be.

There is no perfection but the longing we experience nakedly. No covering is there between lover and beloved in the quite and perfect gaze that stretches between the poles of eternal and temporal. We are an instrument which sings a phrase of a complex and wondrous fugue. We feel the fullness of absence which is in our faithful experience of longing births universes. That is the calling of a lover, to behold his beloved without any veils. There is fullness across the full symphony of life in all registers of suffering and joy. It is that which I find so deeply resonant in this ...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nicholas - strangely, Mahler 10 produces exactly the opposite effect on me: near total despair.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't doubt the truth of what you say.

On the other hand, it seems to have been very difficult and a prolonged business for you to get back to being religious at all, more difficult than it would have been if it had *only* been a matter of the balance of probabilities shifting.

My interpretation is that you stopped being religious due to what might be termed 'empirical' doubts, but that this set into motion a sequence of further changes which made it very difficult for you to reverse the decision later; in light of further 'evidence' (mainly of a metaphysical philosophical kind).

In other words, what started out as cognitive reasons *became* emotional reasons.

I also suspect that you experienced a kind of cognitive dissonance between atheism and imagination - that atheism cumulatively subverts the significance of imagination; and over time renders it less and less effectual.

I suspect that strongly imaginative people who profess atheism are in fact being dishonest - they are secret theists (I certainly was); too embarrassed to admit the fact, and to deal with the 'told you so' and backlash consequences contradicting their past pronouncements.

(As well as my former self, author Terry Pratchett would be an example.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - But, the point of this post is that if leaving your religion caused lasting despair, then this was evidence that the decision was also untrue, false. Becuase I am saying that at a metaphysical level despair is evidence of falsehood; and hope is evidence of truth.

So, if the religion did not seem to be true, cognitively; but leaving it led to despair (I mean lastingly, not an an acute reaction) - then the proper inference is that you have made an error in concluding it was untrue; and you would need to go back and re-examine the original decision on that assumption.

Of course, everything is partly untrue, due to the constraints of the human mind, time, lack of knowledge etc. I am talking about 'overall true' versus 'overall not true'.

And I recognize (and live by) that believing some religion is overall true is a different concluson from the implication of joining (or rejoining) a specific church or denomination; becuase most churches (worth joining) require more of their adherents than an acknowledgement that they are 'overall true' - and this is a reason why I cannot imagine a situation in which everybody was a member of a church or some church - except where membership is (either explicilty or in practice) allowed on the basis of a fairly broad brush assent.

This particularly applies in a secular society where most people start out NOT being in any churhc, and therefore need to join as converts - for some good reasons and some bad ones, most churches allow a great deal more leeway to cradle members than to new converts (or indeed to those who have left and want to rejoin).

(The fact that conservative evangleicals do Not have this attitude - but make joining/ rejoining the church simple and instant (much as described in Acts of the Apostles) - is one of their great strengths, and reasons for their success in recent and secualr decades - although this success phase now seems to be ending rather swiftly as secular Leftism has found and exploited their weaknesses in relation to ordination/ pastorate of women and the sexual revolution of individual gratification.)

George said...

Would this conclusion be approachable from the idea of sin/virtue?

We know despair as a sin, and hope as a necessary virtue. One can't force oneself to have hope/not have despair, so to pursue those objectives your suggestion would be necessary.