Friday, 22 September 2017

The key to doing primary thinking

I have found Rudolf Steiner's instructions and exercises concerning 'how to do' primary thinking (or, what he terms pure thinking, or his type of meditation) to be misleading and indeed counterproductive; since they concentrate on concentrating - on attaining a thought and holding it, expanding it etc...

In the first place, this method splits the mind into that part which is doing the concentrating, and the results of that concentrating. Secondly it is insufficient - from personal experience, I could concentrate in the prescribed manner (e.g. when I was doing theoretical science) long before I could do primary thinking. Thirdly, and consequently, the results of this concentration style of meditation are misleading (because it is easy by concentration to 'force' thinking towards pre-determined conclusions, and thereby create false content).

Fourthly and most tellingly, it doesn't seem to work. After all, this was not how Steiner himself learned to meditate, so there is little reason to suppose that other people could get to where Steiner was by using a different method. Also, the capacity of his exercises to induce 'clairvoyance' in the many members of the Anthroposophical Society who have followed then, seems (to the observer) to be a near-total failure.

If not, then what?

We need an 'external' technique of holding attention - of stopping it being distracted, or sliding around. For me this can be taking notes, reading short passages, drawing 'doodles' - essentially with a pen in the hand. Others would need to find what worked for them.

What to think about? That depends on your motivation, here-and-now. Motivation is one of the keys: it needs to be some-thing that you really want to know, to think-about.

Steiner, by contrast, prescribes arbitrary subject matter for his thinking exercises (this plant, this stone...). This seems like seriously bad advice: ineffective, because the motivation for arbitrary thinking will surely be feeble; and also (in a sense) arbitrary motivation is immoral, because this is trying to use primary thinking for frivolous or expedient purposes (and primary thinking, being in the realm of reality/ truth/ beauty/ virtue, will not - indeed cannot - be so used).  

Once the attention has being controlled by some such external means, the whole of the mind can fill the activity of thinking from the deep and true self. It wells-up. And leads to further notes/ doodles etc. just as a way of holding the line; while allowing it to develop by internal logic.

The key, though, is metaphysical - it is to acknowledge the validity of thinking; the validity of the process, content, findings... We need to internalise the fact that primary thinking is not constrained by what we term 'evidence'; because primary thinking happens in the domain of universal reality, hence it is necessarily true

(This is a delight to observe - in full consciousness: the emergence of truth, quite naturally, spontaneously, fluently, and without boundaries. This is also why the kind of wound-up state of concentration is hostile to the process.)

The content of primary thinking is intrinsically valid in and of itself - so we want to be attentive but relaxed, as it comes-forth.

Of course, summarising, recording, transmitting this primary truth makes the resulting communications prone to all sorts of possibilities of error, distortion and misunderstanding - if we try to use this knowledge.

But the direct knowledge of primary thinking is itself is pure, real, and true.


August said...

This sounds like an interesting experiment. I am still not sure what, precisely, to think about, but I suppose I could just let things 'well up.'

Bruce Charlton said...

*Just* letting things well up is Original Participation/ atavistic clairvoyance - Primary thinking/ Final Participation is active and conscious as well as spontaneous.

Stephen Macdonald said...

How does this compare with the various Eastern forms of meditative thought?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nova - These may help answer:

Lucinda said...

Lucinda says:

In my experience a fruitful line of thinking is examining basic desires, specifically stripping away social pressures and attending to contradictory/competing desires. This is when I get the most clarity.

Agency involves various factors: the power to choose, differing choices, orderly reality, and knowledge about which choices lead to which outcomes. But the desires, what you really want out of it all, must come from your real self, that part of you that is essential.

It takes time to work through competing desires, discovering fundamental affinity. Lots of trial and rethinking. And it can be intimidating because the more you come to understand, the more you see how far you still have to go.

But still, I have found it very rewarding when considering the progress. Sometimes I find a whole structure in my life must be built up again after some foundations have been discovered to be based on contradictions and social pressure. The new foundation is usually more modest, but firmer and a source of confidence.

As for external technique, I tend to be focused into my own thinking if I'm not imposing some artificial distraction, or surrendering to one imposed by others. Routine activity can help, like cooking or yard work, even singing hymns.

Bruce Charlton said...


Do you remember when you made the transition from basing your Christian life on obedience, to basing it upon personal revelation (or, perhaps, more specifically; testing and validating obedience by seeking confirmation by personal revelation)?

Did that transition go smoothly, or in a zig zag? Clearly that transition is the danger time of growing-up; yet it the only route to a mature faith.

Lucinda said...

Lucinda says:

I was thinking of an example of competing desires, and a real game-changer for me came when I started looking at the difference between the desire to seem good, and the desire to actually be good (my brother's idea, to give due credit). At first consideration, it seemed to me that I needed to want the appearance of being good, and that eventually I could make progress in actually being good. But in practice, I began to see the desire to appear good always led to self-defeating short-cuts, which tripped me up. So I've tried to make a break with my desire to seem good while trying to hold onto my desire to be good. It's been pretty painful, but it has helped me considerably. What is interesting to me is how much more I believe myself about myself, which was strange to me since I thought I was mostly fooling others. I would not have thought I was fooling myself.

Recently I realized a huge step had been made in aligning my beliefs and my desires. There was an annoying part of reality that I had come to accept grudgingly. I felt pretty concerned about it because every time I considered this particular belief, it hurt my feelings, deeply. But in my most recent confrontation with this reality, I was happy, and excited about it, even startlingly impatient for more experience with it. This stark change of heart is still very new, but I hope it sticks.

@ Bruce
There have been a lot of zig zags, but I would have to place a big marker at my marriage (which was also the time I went through the LDS temple for the first time). Before I was married, I went through some seriously nihilistic despair, which continued for a while afterward, but with less grip. Having and taking care of children has been a big part of that, but I also think that emotional security in my marriage has allowed me more freedom to resist more and more of my overly-social impulses (which was where my main motivation toward obedience was, sadly).

Another big marker came when I realized after my 4th child was born that I was being called to have more children. I knew it was right that I should, but I didn't want the negative social consequences. I wanted some kind of guarantee that it would be "worth it." The answer I got was no, not in the way I wanted, that it would be hard, and the only for-sure reward would be my love for them, which might be painfully, maybe even finally, rejected by them later on. This information came over the course of about 4 years (and 3 babies), during which time I was often complaining to God that He wasn't requiring the same thing of other women in my social group. But I can say at this point, that particular cycle of spiritual zigs and zags is behind me, which is a great relief.

I mean, in the main it is behind me. With the birth of my most recent child, for almost a week, I plunged into a frightening despair that was unprecedented and unrelenting, but when it let up, it was totally gone.

The thing is, I can see more than ever how far I am from being what God would have me be. The real hope for me has been learning how to live with the fact that I am, and maybe always will be, unfit for the fullest reward, but Christ helps me keep trying anyway. Each iteration of testing and trial comes with it's own particular dangers, but after enough experience, I'm beginning to know that the question "Why?" WILL be satisfyingly answered.

So I guess the answer to the question about transition is that I wouldn't call it going "smoothly", but that I always had sufficient, and often only just sufficient, understanding and desire to keep going. And it's still going.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - Thank you - I found that very valuable.

Lucinda said...

Lucinda says:

I had written a piece called Paradoxical Patriarchy at the end of 2014 ( I hadn't realized it except for now in retrospect that the writing of that essay helped finish the particular zigzagging over those 4 years when I found having children to be so difficult. It served to cement some of my understanding about purpose in life (though when I first began the writing process, I just wanted to irritate feminists by arguing in favor of 'evil' patriarchy).

Lucinda said...

Lucinda says:

I hope it's okay to add one more comment to this post. (It's long but represents the further thinking I've been doing.)

Another helpful delineation in untangling motivations/desires is: to godly love, to be godly loved, to avoid being hated, to hate. I enjoyed identifying individual people with whom I have direct experience who are in the first two categories (though the list was unrighteously short.)

Honesty is essential to the untangling. I might like to believe that I godly love a person at the time of thinking, but in the privacy of my mind I know that most of my feeling is actually a desire to be godly loved (cared for without deserving it), or even a desire to avoid being hated. It usually doesn't get worse than that, thankfully, since the process of deliberate, honest thinking chases away hate/darkness/chaos.

Another perspective of the four basic motivations/desires: to create truth/beauty/virtue, to passively enjoy truth/beauty/virtue, to avoid destruction (merely existing), to destroy truth/beauty/virtue.

I believe these four categories line up with post-mortal places where we express such desires for eternity.

On the point of chaos, whether it is evil (from a previous "Notions" post): from inside chaos, there is no meaning, so no evil. But from inside order, those who 'create' chaos do it by means of hate/destruction of order, which is evil. It hurts God's feelings a lot, but eventually they will be given what they want, chaos, but they will lose any power of action or even feeling, so no ability to destroy/hate and be evil. Satan has apparently not received this final judgment, which is why he still has the ability to be evil?

A spatial interpretation:

One-dimensional opposing forces: Heaven and Hell, axis Truth/beauty/virtue vs. not truth/beauty/virtue.

Two-dimensional oppositions resulting in the 4 possibilities discussed above, new axis is agency (as in being agent) vs. non-agency, or subject vs. object.

Three-dimensional conceptualization of opposed, non-overlapping might add a masculine vs. feminine axis?

Just as the quadrant in 2-D of not truth/beauty/virtue AND agency goes to chaos/meaninglessness, in 3-D masculine vs. feminine has no meaning when there is no agency. In other words, male and female only make sense in a place where agency creates truth/beauty/virtue. Non-agents will no longer enjoy meaningful maleness or femaleness (but they don't want to anyway. It makes God sad, but they choose to reject agent power, and the purpose of male-female meaningfulness requires agent power).

There is more. There are axes that make no sense to the feminine. (I don't know if there are axes that make no sense to the masculine, the only evidence I have is that there are things that the feminine is inconsequentially interested in that the masculine is not interested in.) I believe further axes would have to do with creating order out of chaos, dealing with external threats, expanding territory, dealing in origins. The feminine realm does have reflections of these elements, but never completely original, outside established bounds, etc. The feminine heals, nurtures, conserves, stores, organizes, reminds. Always having to do with restoration rather than original genesis.