Wednesday 9 May 2018

Childhood beliefs and wishes

The idea that we already (in childhood, spontaneously) know everything truly-knowable, but are unconscious of the fact - and that learning is a kind of remembering and making-explicit and understanding....

That idea has a complementary aspect, which is that our spontaneous childhood beliefs and wishes have a validity, even and especially when these Bs &Ws have no correspondence with earthly reality, experience or apparent possibility.

An example is flying. I have clear memories of not just yearning to be able to fly (fly by 'levitation', without wings or propulsion - just moving through the air), of knowing what it would be like to fly, and the conviction that it was possible for me to fly... if only I could discover the 'knack'.

More profoundly, I - like most people - was apparently born into this world with the belief that it ought to be a paradise; and that any departure from paradisal conditions was a kind of violation: unjust, against the order of things.

Now, obviously there is no biological basis for human flying, nor any social basis for life as paradise; and therefore such in-built hopes and beliefs are either extraordinary yet common delusions or reality-distortions; or else they relate to a reality that is different from our own, but of which we have memory.

My assumption is that this reality is of pre-mortal spirit life - when we could indeed fly, and life was indeed paradisal. And at an unconscious, implicit, but effective level - we remember this...

We could also, as spirits, do many other things that I believed (against the evidence) was possible; such as read minds, communicate telepathically, change the world by thinking a thing, have my thoughts compelled, move things by a kind of telekinesis, and 'talk' with animals and befriend them.

(Interestingly, such beliefs also re-emerge in people with psychosis and altered states of consciousness.)

In sum, I think that we could reflect more on these childhood, and - in our culture - child-ish, counter-evidential beliefs and desires. And could regard them as destined paths to truth - things we need to become aware of, and to understand.

Note: The above is a version of the 'argument from desire' which was used often by CS Lewis, and also by JRR Tolkien - and which I personally find compelling. I refer to it and provide references in this essay.


William Wildblood said...

I used to be able to fly in dreams but never very well. I was propelled by thought but there was always some resisting force which eventually brought me down. I think you're right that this is a memory of pre-incarnationary existence, a very garbled memory in my dreaming case.

When I was a child I would have visions of what seemed to me to be a very early state of the Earth which I would see from a great height as though soaring above. There really is so much waiting for us when we've done our tour of duty here.

Dexter said...

As a child I often had very vivid (even lucid) dreams of flying. If I ran down a hill fast enough I could leap into the air and fly...

As an adult I often had vivid dreams of being in a plane crash, which is a very different thing.

Michael Egan said...

My dreams of flying have almost always been in an uncontrolled state. I raise from the ground without any sort of choice and just float away uncontrollably.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Nigel Worthington said...

I have memories of when I was a very small child (maybe 3-4) of effortlessly lifting my fathers barbell, thinking it was trivial to lift and hoist around. A few years later (6-8 maybe) I remember one day deciding to lift the barbell again, expecting it again to be trivial. The peculiar thing is I remember being shocked that I could no longer budge the weight, it being for adults. I would think about this incident occasionally in future years and explain it to myself that I also vaguely remember my father making play barbells out of wood and perhaps that is what I remember lifting, but I always doubted that explanation.

I remember having several such strange experiences and beliefs when I was a child. Fascinating topic.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thaks for a great set of comments!

As I wrote this, I felt as if I was rather 'sticking my neck out' and it is gratifying to get so much confirmation that my own experience was not unique!

Chiu ChunLing said...

It may be that everyone we meet in our dreams is in reality another dreamer rather than merely a facet of our own imagination.

But it is highly improbable that we recognize them for who they are in reality. I tend to unconsciously assume that a high proportion of the people I meet in dreams are those known to me in waking life, but on regaining consciousness and careful reflection this almost always turns out to be highly implausible.

Should this, can this, affect how we approach the act of dreaming, or of recalling dreams?

I hardly know.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I think that, usually, dreams are experiences from which we learn unconsciously - and are designed as such.

But, presumably, as someone becomes more divine (theosis), they would begin to become more conscious of what happened in dreams, and understand explicitly what they had learned or needed to learn from them.

Fred G. said...

This is reminiscent of ideas from Wordsworth's poem Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Fred - Indeed, I am talking about the same thing as Wordsworth reported.