April 2011 Archives

Seven-Eights of Your Life


When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees,
well they'd be singing so
happily, joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be
sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so
dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.

(The Logical Song, Supertramp, 1979)

The grandmaster of a martial arts branch once remarked that the head only takes up one eighth of the entire body proper. Anyone that uses only his head to think with is seven-eights paralyzed.

Yet often I hear atheists cry: "rationality!," "logic!," "reason!", etc. when they argue that religious people are separating themselves from the real world. They cling to the intellectual and the abstract. Apparently their real world is restricted to the upper one-eighth of the body.

The last seven-eights of the body does not think in the intellectual sense of the word. However, the body feels and senses. Dr. Antonio Damasio explains in his book, Descartes' Error, that it is not the human brain that controls a human being's rationality. It is instead the body that creates what Damasio named "somatic markers," or bodily points of reference, that direct the brain. Body and brain join in a reciprocal, closed-loop action where the brain is just one of many organs that together spark reason.

Damasio experimented with patients suffering from a brain damage that prevented them from applying their somatic markers. To his surprise, Damasio discovered that these people were just as intelligent as other people, only were these people controlled exclusively by their intelligence, that is, by their brain's reasoning alone. Yet it was as if their goal had changed. Deprived of the use of their somatic markers the actions of the patients showed that the patients unconsciously—but apparently very deliberately—attempted to create problems for themselves, financially as well as socially. Denying their bodily feelings and relying on their reasoning alone the patients had become self-destructive.

Ayn Rand

We consider logic the foundation of our rationality in our part of the world. However, some people forget that logic is a means, not an ends. And just like tools such as a hammer can strike pointless blows in the air instead of driving nails into wood, logic can be used without applying it to anything tangible, or it can be used outside its proper scope. You may conclude that there is a god or that there is none, both by means of logic. The use of logic can easily lead to surreal conclusions.

Maybe it is because of our ability to consider meaningless issues and draw logical but wrong conclusions that many Western philosophers have become so impressed by their ability to think that they consider it spectacular. These philosophers include Descartes, Berkeley, and, widely used among atheists, Ayn Rand.

Human beings can draw on many more resources than rationality and logic. The figure below illustrates which psychological and physiological functions we have at our disposal. Beyond the familiar intelligence, which leads to reason and rationality, we also have feeling (bodily sensing), emotion, and intuition. Usually a person is only consciously aware of two of the functions, leaving the other two functions in the person's subconsciousness.

In our part of the world, thinking and intellectualism is well-known, because they serve as basis of scientific method. Thoughts order our impressions whether they are caused by intuition or feeling. Feeling is for the most part socially accepted as valid means of perceiving the world. However, emotion and intuition are considered "chaotic," "inferior," or even "demonic" because they do not fit well into a culture where the body is considered inferior and something to be controlled. Hence it is only intellect and feeling that is considered "normal" in our part of the world. Emotion and intuition are confined to a place in the subconsciousness, where they are usually blamed for deviant behavior.

Conscious vs. Unconscious

Atheists may be attracted to rationality and reason, but when they react emotionally to something, often they expose a highly unreasonable identity beneath the surface.

The ability to think clearly, to be rational and logical, can be an incredible strength. But when the ability is out of tune with the other psychological functions, problems arise. To an overly intellectual atheist, rationality becomes a confession of faith where even our very existence is "only an abstraction."

It is quite natural to employ one's dominant functions such as intellectuality and feeling. But as Jung remarked, it is necessary to listen to all of the functions, in particular those functions that are the least developed. It is only then that we realize that there are many situations in life that we cannot effectively appreciate with just the dominant function. One might say that if one faces life with just one function, life is made lesser than life—one kills life.

What we term intelligence today has not always been considered an isolated skill. The term "logic" can be derived from the Greek "logos," which seems to have referred to much more than sheer intellectualism. In some esoteric schools it refers to an inner, divine light that is felt as a warmth rising up through the body, a corporeal feeling that has no direct relation to intelligence. Intelligent logic is often seen as a result of the carnal logic/logos. A person only thinks logically when the logic is shaped by somatic sensation. Logic cannot exist alone, without bodily origin. This is an important point: thoughts will contain no logic unless the logic has first been "felt" by the body; this ancient mysticism is eerily echoed in Damasio's much more recent research.

Erle Montaigue

It is also im­port­ant to realize that the body cannot learn from in­tel­lec­tu­al ex­per­i­ences. The use of pres­sure points in martial arts are a strik­ing example (pun in­ten­ded). Al­though it is reas­on­ably easy to explain where pres­sure points are located by means of di­a­grams and logic as, for example, Erle Mon­tai­gue does it in several of his books, learn­ing to use pres­sure points in combat is a di­f­fer­ent matter al­to­geth­er­. No matter how pre­cisely one men­t­ally me­m­or­izes the loc­a­tion of a par­t­ic­u­lar pres­sure point, this know­ledge will be useless when an op­pon­ent attacks.

However, if you have been shown the loc­a­tion by someone that made you scream from pain, your own knuck­les, elbows, fingers, knees or feet will find it without the help of a th­ink­ing brain. This "body memory" can only learn from bodily ex­per­i­ence.

This kind of learning pervades the esoteric schools, which are sometimes called "oral" schools, because it does not help to read about it. Even if the knowledge was written down, the knowledge would be incomprehensible, because words on paper do not provide carnal experience. One may be able to understand it in an abstract sense, but cannot put it to practical use. Hence, one can write down all of the secrets and pass them on, but in the hands of an uninitiated person the material will be useless. In that sense it is still "secret," because no matter how clearly it is communicated in writing or speech, the "hidden" knowledge is not passed on.

Some things cannot be learned. Either you know them, or you don't. Without having been told, authors such as Tom Kristensen spoke of magic in the shape of a "octopus-like image" in his book, "Havoc," Michael Ende felt the magical influence of people that "distort time" in his book, "Momo," and H. P. Lovecraft used a long array of beings that are well-known in magical visions in other cultures.

Some understanding of the world can only be expressed via the symbolism of intuition, and some understanding requires the empathy of emotion. These "languages" cannot be learned intellectually; if you do not already know on these levels, you will not understand what you are being told. At best you can repeat it to others. In Pythagoras' cult, the mathematikoi were the people that understood his teaching while akousmatikoi referred to those people that would stand on the outside, who could only listen and perhaps repeat what they had heard.

A person that only uses his head and focuses overly on rationality and logic is a partially disabled person. It is a speaking head with no body. It is a person that rejects his body, just as the Christian culture we live in mandates. It is perhaps not surprising that it was Antonio Damasio who in a 1994 essay in Scientific American remarked that perhaps we have culturally "brain damaged" ourselves in much the same sense as had happened to his patients by physical accident or disease.

In the darkest depths of the esoteric schools, you find that if you fight or deny the forces of darkness, they will defend themselves and attack you. In a more practical sense, if you deny your subconsciousness, you will instead become directed by it, usually in a rather unfortunate direction. Perhaps this is what happens to Damasio's patients or our civilization as a whole.

There is much else to life than cold logic. There is an entire world in the subconsciousness the size of the consciously known world. I appreciate this world, which is confined to the darkness of our minds. If one wishes to understand human motivation in a world focused on thinking and sensing, it is in the forbidden realm of emotion and intuition that one must feel at home.


The members of the former rock group Rock­bitch had founded a group that focused strongly on the phys­ic­al aspect of life. However, while Rock­bitch re­p­res­ents feeling and is correct in stating that the left-hand path is largely con­cer­ned with phys­ic­al living, ob­vi­ously it does not imply that other people should live their life as if part of Rock­bitch's stage show (neither do the members of Rock­bitch as far as I know). To people that have another per­cep­tion of eros than a strictly literal in­ter­pret­a­tion, such a life would be an over-focus on sex. And fun­c­tion­ally, if you ex­ag­ger­ate sex, you might as well abstain from it, because both dir­ec­tions are un­bal­anced--they are ab­st­in­ence from en­joy­ing life. Such people would achieve the op­pos­ite of what they wanted.

Sim­il­arly, if you focus too much on ra­tion­al­ity, you let your­self become its pris­on­er­ instead of its user.

So if you find yourself in a position where you argue or even just speculate whether there might be some gods or metaphysical beings, whether a mental image makes sense, whether reality really exists, or if you consider atheism an "attitude towards life," then they are all signs that seven-eights of your life is ignored: there is still an entire body to use and an entire world to play in.

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a
radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.

(The Logical Song, Supertramp, 1979)

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On the Author's Mind

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As a strict atheist, I prefer non-mystical explanations, yet for creativity I have no choice but to apply mystical words such as "soul" or "spirit" and similar symbology because inspiration, creativity, emotion, and feeling cannot be described by Aristotelian logic. I could perhaps refer to Antonio Damasio's somatic marker model, but since this model is also ontologically incomplete (as Damasio himself recognizes), this detour would eventually be wasted effort. So please bear with me on the mystical language, and try not to imagine metaphysical entities as I use mystical expressions.

Pile of Books

Anyone is an author these days; write an in­co­her­ent article that in­cludes a few of your darling phrases and you're an author. Change a few fonts to the worse in a pre­man­u­fac­tured tem­plate and you're a web de­sign­er­. Submit some video footage of your­self to YouTube and you're an actor and a pro­du­cer­. There are plenty of options for you to earn your 15 bytes of fame.

Aim higher, and you may become one of those authors that have learned the han­di­craft of writing, ap­ply­ing strong lan­guage skills, mas­ter­ing com­pos­i­tion and power­ful state­ments, who can state some pro­fun­dit­ies and maybe even have stories to tell, yet somehow leave the reader with a feeling that he or she has just read a user's manual.

Al­ter­n­at­ively, become a no-style writer whose spe­ci­alty is sim­pli­city in every sense of the word: no one can dis­t­in­guish the authors from another; sus­pen­se is all, and words and phrases are de­lib­er­ately without char­ac­ter­ to enable the pages to be turned faster. It prob­ably helps if you're a re­li­gious person or a con­ser­vat­ive, because their views in­var­i­ably tend toward the sim­pli­city of bi­fur­c­a­tions.

But some authors charm their readers. Their readers have experienced the captivating feeling that made it impossible to put the book aside. As a reader, you did not merely read the book. You reacted spontaneously to the story as it entered your heart. You let yourself drift in the story with no safety jacket and found yourself sometimes carried gently along and at other times rushing in a deadly torrent. It felt natural and meaningful, but barring bland explanations about a stimulated imagination or entertainment, you could not explain where the meaning was found.

If you have never known this feeling, don't bother reading on, as it will make no sense to you.

The author feels a "higher sensation" within him, call it spirit or muse, which inspires him to ideas that give structure to his composition. The author feels part of a flow, or feels an insight experience, or a love experience; it may feel as a "mystic" experience where a larger whole is perceived. It is as if separates within the author unify and opposites resolve. Anxiety, inhibition, and restraint are lost, and intellectual self-criticism, fear, and doubts about himself are left behind.

Being more himself, the author is more spontaneous and expressive, and everything is done with greater ease. Although authors excel in verbalization, they live far more in the real world than in the verbalized world of abstractions, beliefs, and concepts. They see the raw, the fresh, and the existing in addition to the abstract, the categorized, and the generic. They combine a childish ability to perceive and express with a sophisticated mind. They sense in themselves both a strong ego versus ego-less behavior, their head versus their heart, self-love versus altruism, selfishness versus unselfishness, concreteness versus abstraction, any many other apparent contradictions and polarities that others would see as dichotomies or mutually exclusive; but these people are natural integrators that synthesize separates and opposites into a larger whole. As within themselves, so without themselves, they put together forms that fight each others and combine dissonances into unity: their works of art.

It is in this experience that the art is born in a slow but intense flash of inspiration, but it also requires hard work and training. The spontaneous leads to the planned, the Dionysian to the Apollonian, the feminine to the masculine, yin to yang, or being to becoming, by any expression. We yield to the darkness of our souls for inspiration, and only then turn it to form by control, criticism, judgment, and hard work. The experience of inspiration or heightened being happens to the person, who in turn creates the art. The latter can be learned, but is heartless. The former is innate, but is headless.

And thus the spirit works through the author to manifest itself as letters on paper. Many an author can testify to feeling as if being the tool of a higher purpose.

Now the process is reversed. The letters on the paper are perceived by the reader's body, which senses the contrasts and forms and combine them to words, then sentences and continuity in the brain. The perception of the text invokes feelings and wakes emotions in the reader which collectively create a gestalt, a feeling that is more than the sum total of the individual words. This higher sensation is the story that is told, and is exactly the higher sensation that the author felt as spirit; it is a sensation that, although manifest in words, cannot be expressed in words.

You are the story while the story unfolds, and you sense the spirit that originally inspired the author. It is mind that contacts mind; it is the spirit that speaks through the author's soul to the reader's soul. You may like what you experience through the author, or you may not, and the author's soul may contain both beauty and horror.

But like rays from the sun will cause only growable things to grow, the creativity emitted from the author will be lost on rocks and other dead material. The reader without a soul will never sense the spirit.

Beyond Atheism

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I know that I can't prove a negative, and atheists in general feel caught by a "democratic" need to acknowledge that since you can't fully disprove the chance, however small, that there might be some god somewhere, you must acknowledge that the delusional claims about such entities may at least in principle have some merit.

I do not acknowledge that merit, except as a mental exercise that one can do for fun if one feels so inclined, however, because in spite of my disbelief in metaphysical beings, I'm not an atheist.

The non-belief of atheism is easy, and you can get a long way with that. I know that all things in this vast universe are ultimately connected, but as little as I consider how it affects the red spot on Jupiter that I mow my lawn, consistently with the aforementioned atheists I don't consider the remote chance of something even less observable influencing my thoughts either.

It is easy to not believe, yet atheists seem stuck at searching for the turning point, where God has diminished enough in life's equation, to feel comfortable stating why they move on without him. I have never had anything to discuss with superstitious people, and have never wanted to debate with them.

I am beyond that point. I am beyond atheism: not only do I not believe there is a God, I believe there is no God.

Taking this step beyond atheism has important ramifications. Believing there is no Heaven or Hell, I have no doubt, not even at the level of academic agnosticism, that I cannot be forgiven or damned. This belief requires me to be thoughtful of my actions instead. It requires me to understand that how I treat people will reflect back on me within this lifetime. Believing there is no God means believing there is no supernatural purpose of my life, and that this is the only life I have; it is up to me to make the most of it, and now is the only chance I have.

Believing that there is no God means that I cannot assume that others will view the world the way I do. I have no god to instruct me how reality is, and I must reach a consensus with human beings instead. I must learn, and I must teach.

I believe that no suffering or joy is caused by an omnipresent force that bothers to test or help me. It is caused by chance and our own actions, and the belief implies that misfortune is something that I and my fellow specimens must deal with on our own rather than relying on that force to correct. We are responsible for our own actions; no God will reward us, and no Devil will punish us. We cannot expect God to fix our mistakes, and we cannot blame the Devil for them, believing that the former will forgive us for doing it, and that the latter made us do it.

Believing there's no god places a huge set of demands on me that a mere atheist wouldn't consider. Atheists act as if they still believe in that God, stuck with the same morals and ethics, believing in the same values, acting according to the same rules as those they think they've disaffiliated themselves from, and following the same religiously motivated traditions, ceremonies, and rituals as most other Christians.

I believe that we are not creatures bound by fate or supernatural decision, but I also believe that we do not roam free. I believe there is a trinity (if one dares to use such a term) of diamond hard necessity, fleeting hazard or chance, and freedom, and each individual's life is a trajectory throughout existence bouncing off these opposing and yet balancing elements of this trinity on every move.

Diamond necessity are the unescapable laws of nature and environment that limit our movement; death is an ultimate limit, but the less obvious limits imposed upon us by our biology and psychology are also only too real to us. It is within this imprisonment of being that we may wish to become distinguishable, which is a way to seem to avoid hard necessity.

But within these limitations set in stone, fleeting hazard occurs, much like a lottery or a fatal car crash coming out of nowhere. We may hope for or dread the results, but we can never plan or prevent them, and where diamond necessity destroys all hope of change, fleeting hazard is the chaos in the ordered necessity, the nonsense in the sense, that no-one would wish to be without.

And finally, there is freedom: as lightnings of hazard tear through the shadows of solid necessity, we observe that we are not automatons of an imagined fate. We revolt against diamond necessity wishing to control the chaotic chance, wondering if we are challenging the impossible. We instinctively wish to break free from stasis, to progress, and the more content one is with stasis, the more one is inclined to view this rebellion as evil. Yet while freedom is felt instantly, the freedom that bends diamond necessity takes an eternity to unfold compared with the lifespan of a single human being.

I turn the theist safety around. Much better than thinking it safest to believe in God "just in case," I find it safer to believe there is no God. There is so much self-denial, so much atonement, so much guilt, and so much rejection of life's joys at risk that the slim chance of avoiding the right Hell among so many variants cannot possibly warrant the effort. But I also prefer the safety of treating people according to my needs, to gain for my purposes, to trust skilled authorities, to get sound advice, and I wish to live in a society where my personal safety is based on responsibilities laid in the hands of the responsible.

It is not enough to renounce the gods, the heavens, and the hells. You must face the consequences: if there are no heavens, gods, hells, and devils, what have you? It is easy to sell your soul to the Devil, because souls are cheap. There's a much higher price to pay than your soul: it is that you recognize your own values, and that there's only here and now. Take this step if you claim to be an atheist, or you might as well pay homage to the God in which you claim disbelief.

A Tribute to the Devil

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Science has a reasonable understanding of matter and how the strong, the weak, and the electromagnetic forces and (at least for practical purposes) gravity affect it. We also have a firm grasp on an large array of other natural laws and principles.

But none of the forces or laws indicate that, from a human point of view, there is a constant evolution and change in our universe. They only describe change within so limited scopes that one cannot express connections between cause on the microscopic level and effect on the macroscopic level, or vice versa.

The laws of nature do not state anything about the development of life; although we do understand how DNA replicates, how organisms reproduce and mutate, how organisms adapt and survive according to changing environments, and how they in turn change their environments, we cannot explain which direction life will take. Neither do the laws of nature explain our emotions or reactions in spite of a good understanding of biochemistry, some neurological insight, etc.

Eliphas Levi's Goat of MendesPerhaps if in theory one could take a sn­ap­shot of the current state of my body and all things in its en­vir­on­ment that have a non-neg­li­gible effect and, this sn­ap­shot now frozen in time and space, de­scribe me as a defined system using math­em­at­ic­al equa­tions and models of chem­is­try and physics. If our world could be modeled this way, and no random effects can occur, perhaps one could predict the dir­ec­tion of life.

But no man can handle this re­duc­tion­ist view, and must instead resort to mys­t­ic­al sym­bol­ism both to un­der­stand and to com­mu­n­ic­ate any state of ex­ist­ence.

We possess an immense un­der­stand­ing of the world around and within us, yet our sense of de­vel­op­ment and life—our desire to act and live, to be and to become—is not covered by this un­der­stand­ing. We can still de­scribe such feel­ings only in sym­bol­ic terms.

Natural forces and laws com­bined have an immense effect that seems much larger than their sum total, and there is no well-de­scribed natural law that can express this com­bined effect. We can only state that the natural laws explain that things happen, and how phys­ic­al and chem­ic­al pro­cesses are fol­lowed, but they cannot de­scribe how life or our per­cep­tion of life unfolds. It is this "su­per­set of natural laws" that has no sci­en­ti­f­ic law or de­scrip­tion.

In principle, I could do with the above explanation, but few people can relate well enough to the knowledge that science has gathered today to understand the combined force of the laws of the universe. A symbol is required instead that effectively communicates this greater whole, enabling people to intuitively grasp the immensity and general mechanisms.

I prefer to use Satan as this symbol. It describes change with no guidance, a perpetual motivation that follows its own, inner dark light. It communicates both unordered dissolution and solidification into a balance that is found as chaos and order throughout Nature. It communicates a power of divine nature, but unlike that attributed to the usual gods it is a power that requires "evil" and destruction, and a power that is unconcerned with the well-being or the state of Cosmos.

Perhaps there might be a better word, but I cannot think of one that adequately communicates the gestalt of all natural laws acting simultaneously—the only way they can function—powerfully enough to do it justice. We owe it to life to use the most powerful and inclusive expression we can find.

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Less Is More, More or Less

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Less is more; slower is faster; simpler is better: we've all heard that before. But like so many pleasently-sounding pseudophilosophical phrases waiting to become the title of a self-help book for a stressful job, there's more to it than meets the eye.

One day a martial artist with a black belt in karate showed up at our dojo to train with us. We practice full contact in our dojo, and it took a little while for me to convince him that he should really hit me with full speed and full force. Karate black-belt practitioners can hit both very fast and very hard, and our guest was no exception. I'm sure I may not even have lived to regret it if he had managed to hit me, but I moved out of the way to avoid getting hit. He on the other hand was astonished by my speed: considering the speed of his blow, how could I move out of harm's way that fast? He tried again, hitting faster and harder than ever, and again found me standing behind him outside of his reach.

Bujinkan Black Belt

The answer was simple, of course: I didn't move fast at all. He was some­what skep­t­ic­al about that, so I told him to repeat the ex­er­cise while watch­ing my feet. True enough, high speed wasn't re­quired: he was strik­ing from a dis­tance of about three feet, and I had to move only a few inches before we'd meet half-way, him in front of me, giving the im­pres­sion that I had moved behind him. In ad­di­tion, I didn't move only while he moved. The very second I sensed his pre­par­ing the strike, I began to shift my weight, in­vis­ible to him. In his blind angle, I could prepare a step forward while he was gath­er­ing strength for the strike. When he even­tu­ally hit, I had already had plenty of time to start several di­f­fer­ent moves at the same time. Each move was almost non­chal­antly slow, but their com­bined move­ment yielded a very fast escape from his punch.

If I had attempted to move away with a single, fast movement, I probably wouldn't have had the time. And even if I were fast, a skilled martial artist will recognize a sudden jerk and compensate; this particular black-belt karate expert would probably have changed his direction without even noticing it and I'd have woken up on the emergency ward with a broken jaw. In his fast attack, my slow movements tricked his brain into thinking I wasn't moving at all, however.

This example illustrates how small, slow movements in practice become fast and comparatively large movements. Less (movement) really becomes more, and slower really becomes faster (than him).

But the Devil lurks in the details. The movements may be small, but there are many of them, and coordinating them all for a proper angle at the right time is no smaller amount of work than a single, powerful move. There is no less than more, only different moves and distributed timing. "Less" must flow, and "slow" must be fluent, or the result will be less and slow, too. It can take years of practice to learn how to do more by doing less and to move fast by moving slowly. (As it turns out, "less" and "slow" take a smaller toll on the body, making them vital for an old martial artist whose body has become fragile. But that is another story.)

Painting by Ernst TranekjærAnd so "less" is no less.

If one in­ter­prets "less is more" as sanc­tioned laz­i­ness, one will only ac­com­pl­ish less. That is, if a person be­lieves he is an artist because he draws child-like sketches when in fact that is all he can draw, then he's doing little, not less. An artist that grew up in my child­hood village spent years as an ap­pren­t­ice of Emil Nolde and another several decades copying Nolde's style until he finally found his own style and gained re­co­g­n­i­tion shortly before the end of his career. It took him a li­fe­time; don't expect to become a famous artist for doing any less than Ernst Tranekjær, Nolde's ap­pren­t­ice. The Ja­pan­ese term "shuhari" com­mu­n­ic­ates this tedious train­ing. That's why people spend years at un­i­ver­s­it­ies and even then may never reach the last of the shuhari stages of learn­ing.

You won't get thanked if you solve a task by doing only simple work, by doing less than re­ques­ted, or by doing it slowly, ex­pect­ing that this will create a perfect result. It takes great skill to make that simple which is com­plic­ated and to solve an ex­ten­s­ive task by doing only the least re­quired.

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