TRUTH VALUES IN THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Is It Really?
An Essay on Naked Awareness
By Iona Miller, 2006
"The self-emancipation of our time is an emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth. This “historic mission of establishing truth in the world” can be carried out neither by the isolated individual nor by atomized and manipulated masses, but only and always by the class that is able to dissolve all classes by reducing all power to the de-alienating form of realized democracy, to councils in which practical theory verifies itself and surveys its own actions. This is possible only when individuals are “directly linked to universal history” and dialogue arms itself to impose its own conditions." -Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
Is the search for the “holy grail” of Truth the ultimate Quest, a journey rather than a goal, as so many philosophers imply? It has taken humanity through the physical rigors of horizontal exploration, and accompanied us on our trips down the rabbit hole of conceptual and spiritual exploration. But, as we know, there is ‘truth’ and ‘Truth’. It is the same drive that motivates both scientist and spiritual seeker to bite off an experiential piece of the Great Unknown..
Is Truth primary or emergent? What is Truth? We may know nothing about truth but presume it knows everything about us. Our concept of truth is actually pretty flimsy. Metaphysical truth is by definition beyond observation, beyond the physically observable, yet perhaps available by deduction or inference.
The very first and foundational inner experience in Kabbalah (the art of being fully human) is the Vision of the Mechanics of the Universe, in order to foster a critical eye toward Reality and its underlying physical laws. How can you possibly comprehend yourself if you don’t know the fundamental laws of physics and psychobiology? A common existential “mistake” is viewing ourselves primarily as a solid meatbody, rather than as an electromagnetic wavefront in space that science suggests. If you are wrong about the fundamental truth of your own existence, how distorted will your other notions be?
Kabbalah is radically pragmatic, though not objective, empirical, or reductionist in its approach. It invites you to subjectively make the experiment yourself. We should take care that our protocols and resulting theories have a sound rational basis, taking the best from both ancient and modern worlds. The brain can register the same result for a simulated or real event; that is a double-edged sword that leads many to faulty conclusions. Can Truth be extracted from Cosmos; will the Truth ever come out? And if so, where is it hiding? All we know right now about the primary groundstate of human existence is that it is Pure Nothing (vacuum fluctuation; ZPE).
Later, we will explore the physical and metaphysical roots of different kinds of Truth, relative and Absolute. They will include physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions; scientific and metaphysical truth. We will also explore different domains of truth and how they relate to the Big Picture, adaptation and human survival. Even beautiful and convincing explanations can be wrong. Science often doesn’t know if it is ‘true’ and that is why ‘falsifiability’ is a keystone of the scientific process.
We have various forms of truth but they are not reliable for understanding ourselves or Cosmos in the sense of a final and absolute Truth. We try to obtain the most accurate explanation we can at the moment. Still, we cannot say there will never be an absolute Truth. Yet partial truths remain approximations. But this very lack of absoluteness keeps the future open. What most attracts our concern is often at the creative frontier of the mind. Each individual, culture and era reaches backwards in an "archaic revival" to reconnect with the neglected and discadred threads of Truth from the past. Which threads are emphasized depends on what is missing in the present and not yet available from the future.
Our understanding and definitions are refined as data are refined and our perceptions become more enlightened. It doesn’t change what is true, but it doesn’t mean we can never comprehend an Absolute Truth that is currently beyond our ability. We can’t really know. But expansion of our previous understanding doesn’t change the reality or truthfulness of existence. In black and white: what exists and true and what does not is false or a lie. Our perceptions can be wrong and sensible. Reality can be strongly counterintuitive or contain hidden options at the point of observation.
Truth fits happier with philosophy, but should not be confused with probability, as shown in the nature of paradox. Seemingly obvious truths are often not correct at all. We all harbor unwitting biases that distort the signals received by our senses and generated in our own psychophysical systems. Experiments in sensory deprivation have exposed the intense power of inner-generated imagery/feeling states. We can’t remove this distorting prejudice from our viewpoint so Truth remains elusive, if not completely partial and relative.
Defined truths do not help us achieve an absolutely true sense of ourselves or universe. Mathematical and scientific truths come closer in this regard, but even statistical analysis is less than perfect and often not applicable to our unique case, certainly not experientially. Even if we misinterprete it, our experience remains our experience, but we can learn to sniff out our own distortions with critical thinking and reflection. The same is true for the laws of physics which work better for understanding universals than ourselves.
Explanations are always being tested and improved, but can never provide perfect, total descriptions. Likewise for facts, data, and evidence which are partial by nature. There is no completely general notion of truth we can define scientifically. But there might be specific absolute truths. But facts do not mean that all truths are relative.
A statement is true only if it applies to reality. In science, what was once heresy can become established as a new orthodoxy by further experimentation. But if we stop looking for the improbable, beneath our current beliefs, we will stop discovering deeper truths. Our truths are often the most accurate undestandings we have have in existence. Less accurate explanations often often circulate at the same time and are embraced by some. The joke is the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Plato said poetry was nearer to vital truth than history. Myths were the original explanations and they are still with us, albeit in new forms. We still mythologize about our selves and bodies, about the arc of relationship and what is fair and what we think we deserve, we dream and grieve if we lose that dream. We concoct intellectual myths that we embrace passionately perhaps to counterbalance personal emotional disappointments, and a whole supermarket of spiritual beliefs and technologies with various goals and levels of access to deep reality. They also carry less obvious secondary-gains. Modern myths are the strange attractors of our day causing us to “worship” or reify what the culture admires, mostly notably celebrity.
If this essay makes you bristle with objections, realized or unrealized before, and raises only one question that takes you beyond where you presently stand, then my work is done. I only seek to disrupt whatever position you occupy, to perturb, to rototill the fertile soil of your own mind and send you caroming off to your own next real-I-zation. But don’t stop there. I want to plant the seeds of doubt, because therein lies the seed of your future’s fruit, the creativity and individuation that is your unique contribution.
I will ask far more questions than I can answer; perhaps yours will be among them. At least I can say I have recounted mine throughout my life, with or without an audience, in my writing and artwork. How can I be disillusioned? Let me count the ways. With my own body, with my own psychophysical emotions and relationships, with my own cherished concepts, ideas, ideals and spiritual beliefs. May I always welcome and learn from it.
This search is embodied in the practice of critical thinking, but we know from our experience that sometimes we just have to stand in the Mystery. There are limitations to our understanding, though we like to fill in the blanks for security. We think we have chipped away at pre-scientific explanations that filled the lacuna of the Great Unknown in our earlier history. But is our modern discernment any clearer or more functional in terms of human survival technology?
We can’t even accurately remember our own childhoods. Are we not as provincial and superstitious as ever? We bristle at things that go bump in the night. We look expectantly for signs with personal roots and build stories around the meaningful probability shocks of synchronicity, when the environment mirrors our psyches. We rely on astrology more than psychology and anxiously try to divine our futures. How far have we come in 50,000 years?
We are fascinated at the prospect of developing or experiencing our paranormal abilities often when we haven’t even developed our conventional talents or made a firm foundation by healing our early wounds. It might be a compensation for feeling powerless in an overwhelming, rapidly changing technological nightmare. We are numb with futureshock, endlessly learning new protocols in the rapidly changing electronic environment.
We cleave together in self-validating subcultures where we share compatible warm-fuzzy viewpoints. Our view of nature and the environment is still based largely on only one sense, on sight, and our propensity to believe what we see. Hubble has shown us the galactic nursery at the dawn of time.
Mentalists and magicians have exploited this smbiguity between Truth and amazement for centuries to make their illusions convincing. A good contemporary example is Chris Angel, “Mind Phreak”. And yet we “know” that they are tricks, tricks of the sensorium and mind, misdirections which our thinking processes can also play on ourselves.
We are probably our own greatest source of misinformation, as expert testimony in court shows. There is no insight, but rather a hollow echoing of our own misperception. Knowing this does not make us immune to bedazzlement. Does the Abyss not continue to stare wryly back at us, frightening us with the prospect of our own mortality, taunting our faith in nature, God or Goddess, and man?
TRUTH OR DARE
Is there ANY truth in us? Can we honestly believe our own propaganda or defend ourselves with philosophical denial? Can we believe we have “grokked” the situation as good as or better than the great minds that have come before us with an “archaic revival”? Can we stand in this existential “no man’s land” and survive emotionally? Has selective, eclectic borrowing of Taoist, Hindu or Buddhist beliefs of the East or the Red Road of Native Americans resolved the scientific questions of our naked awareness? Clearly not, at this point in time.
Is nihilistic disbelief a reason to stop searching or the fuel of desire to continue at an ever-deeper level? That would be a self-recursive dead end somewhere in limbo between the Knower and the Known. Can modern man really get by on faith alone, and a promise of “pie in the sky”? I’m certainly not the first to ask from a heartfelt place, nor shall I be the last. I’m not the greatest philosopher and can’t quote them at will, like some grand professor. I’m sure there is much that has been chewed on in that arena that I gnaw again here. But then what seeker doesn’t?
In the X-Files, the most prominent item in Mulder’s office was his poster of a UFO with the inscription “The Truth Is Out There” and the retort, “I Want to Believe”. He sought to chase Truth down from the incongruent bits of so-called evidence and reports that came his way, which became his own experiential database, his personal interactions and memories. But how reliable were those perceptions; isn’t truth related to the ability to trust what we know and what we think we know and how we know it? In THE MATRIX, our misperceptions were more overt. These are the great ontological and epistemological questions of philosophy.
Can the search for Truth in the universe and in ourselves ever bear fruit? I looked for truth in the self-reflective narcissism of youth and drugs, I looked for truth in spirituality; I looked for truth in magick and the ancient Hermetic arts, I looked for truth in depth psychology and cutting-edge science. I looked for it in the hypnotic wisdom of spiritual Masters. I looked for truth in bleeding-edge art and beauty; I inadvertently sought it in the black hole of conspiracy theory culture. I sought it in spiritual, medical, and technological meditation and self-regulation. I sought it in mentoring from some of the world’s greatest minds, in ruthless self-knowledge, and in my compassionate fellow human beings.
I must confess I haven’t found it anywhere, though seeing through to the distortions of each provided the greatest revelations. It may be even more disturbing when mentors suggest you “get it”, even perhaps “better” than they do themselves. Can I badger my own Witness, my own Observer self? The answers I’ve consistently fed myself have often come back up from the extradimensional wormhole of Truth, recycling with each generation of seekers, or in my own as concerns move beyond family and work to the issues of later life.
I have found love and compassion present, but generally with blunt self-serving interest as the bottom line, once the niceties are stripped away. They make us feel better, somehow, but isn’t that just psychochemical manipulation in the end, mental masturbation in the name of good will? The humanities describe our condition without illumination. Yet, can we be fully human without the realization of Truth, even about ourselves? Are we stuck with this as the human condition?
TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE
Truth IS stranger than fiction, as they say. But when I bring it up here I don’t mean what it generally implies that our experience is weirder than anything we can make up, even though it is. I mean that TRUTH, itself, as a concept is perhaps one of the most difficult to define with any degree of satisfaction. In fact, what the pursuit leads to is an infinite continuum of “satisfictions”, reassuring only to those who naively buy into them. The Truth is out there, all right; WAY out there.
In our age we’ve been taught through the process of groupthink, generally known as education and corporate media, to trust the veracity of science and the political insights of our leaders. Despite our best efforts at deciphering ourselves and Nature, truth remains a philosophical problem. Personal and collective truth depends on what groups we identify with, and how large and influential they are.
Are we more than the sum of the parts of nature and nurture, spiritual propaganda, powerful persuasive rhetoric, cultural memes, and trends? How much Truth does it take for us to overturn our own cherished beliefs and desire to fit in? What do conversion experiences say about our ability to make a philosophical 180-degree turn? Can we ever empathically walk a mile in another’s shoes?
The postmodern era reconditioned some of us to “believe” we should reject all metanarrative, and that any existing so-called truths could only be relative; glosses of relative diversities of opinion. Science, looking deeper into the nature of so-called Reality without consensus, has had to relinquish any solid ground for our existence. After about 350 years of the scientific method, it has virtually admitted that it has become a Natural Philosophy once again.
Which truth are we supposed to believe about our fragile existence on our rather delicately poised planet? Religious Truth; cultural truth; political truth; scientific truth; conspiratorial truth? Is spiritual truth any better guide to life than humanistic truth? New Age “magical thinking” alleges we create our own reality by the way we perceive and that we can exert a mysterious agent called “intentionality”. It is not without reason we say that the road to hell is paved with “good intentions”. How can we even presume to know what is good for the collective, even presuming we are one holomovement?
An intention is the same as a goal; intentionality is goal-directed behavior, a conscious choice of the ego. “Intentionality” is a mystification of the word into a nonlocal holistic goal, a waveform analog of point-directed volition to improve our collective reality, but in many ways is indistinguishable from wishful thinking.
Intentionality still implies changing the script in an ordered direction. It may or may not include invoking some forms of divine intervention. But isn’t that arguably another belief with a few missing links in a chain that is called nonlinear to skirt the conundrum? Who among us can distinguish what ‘choices’ are unconscious, preprogrammed or intentional volition. We can blame a seeming match of volition and result with a nonobservable “resonance” or “entrainment”, which may or may not exist. When the environment mirrors our desires, it often doesn’t mean we did it, and to declare it so is often considered a sign of mental illness as in schizophrenic magical thinking.
We intuitively have two contradictory gut feelings: we are convinced that we can mentally deliberate to make actual what now only exists in potency as one of many futures and choose the one that really will make a difference in our future lives. But we also know that ultimately, it was based on how comfortable we felt with the choice, an affective consideration hopefully reflecting the truth value of our decision.
Even if I form an active intentionality to affect your or my own health at some quantum level and have engaged in intentional development of my extended sensory system, and/or notice certain synchronistic, placebo, or other changes in my own or another’s subsequent state it doesn’t mean I did it, or my intentionality led to healing.
It may just be a control-fantasy, a people-helping fantasy, a fantasy of self-declared healing “mastership”, though there are demonstrable psychosocial shamanic effects. Conscious self-care is another matter altogether because self-regulation is definitely possible and stress and immune function can be modulated with diet and lifestyle.
Narrative glosses are no reliable sign of an agent’s active control over an event. In fact, it is just as plausible that the belief is an indication of a trance-like mindset or self-induced mind control, motivated by a variety of circumstances, secondary gains, and unconscious dynamics. Internal misinterpretation of self, others and world is a potent for of disinformation, which can be nevertheless validated by cultural viewpoints. Yet, who among us today believes a fakir can defy the laws of gravity climbing up an unsupported rope. You might say “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it”. In science, it is called observer bias.
Any ability to augment or “broadcast intention” could have many more plausible psychosocial mechanisms than mind-over-matter nonlocal perturbation. It isn’t entirely ruled out but is certainly difficult to separate in a non-controlled setting. But what kind of control does the agent have over guidance and and regulatory aspects? When are we able to chose or not between alternate scenarios? Can they be modified in the execution phase? Do results stand up to scrutiny? How can they be distinguished from self-renewal?
If we want to believe we will. We will say things like, “What about people who are healed who don’t know they were worked on?” I say this fully aware that experiments by credible M.D.s have been done showing the power of prayer over bacteria, for example. I still don’t feel that those results generalize universally, though some of the results suggest remarkable things.
I’m not trying to disabuse you of your belief, but challenge your intellect not to accept “intentionality” as little more than a popular buzzword. As a word it doesn’t explain anything; it has become a knee-jerk response. Maybe “expert” focused human intention has the possibility of creating robust effects on physical reality, and maybe not. It is definitely a popular notion right now with roots in shamanic phenomena and what Jung called it the mana personality. Even the possibility of seeing the Doctor can spike blood pressure in a phenomenon known as “white coat syndrome”.
Declaring oneself a “healer” is a way of acquiring personal power and cashing in socially and financially, even in an unconscious well-meaning way on the gullibility of others. It might even short-circuit someone seeking more conventional treatment. But few people other than debunking skeptics are willing to say the emperor has no clothes, though plenty of pseudo-scientific rhetoric has been brought to bear on the subject. Certainly, no one will assert that all “healers” are created equal.
The same may hold true for the popular notion of “healing the planet”, which from outside the New Age mindset looks more like a compensatory wishful thinking to counteract the degradation of the environment. Wouldn’t it be potentially more effective to take collective active political and social action instead of driving around in your gas-guzzling SUV dreaming of a better world for your soccer-playing kids?
To me it seems like a “confusion of the planes”, like invoking the undines to save a drowning child instead of jumping in for the rescue. Whether it is human impact or due to natural cycles, the temperature keeps warming, the ice is melting, the ocean pump is breaking down, natural and forced extinctions are accelerating, and wishing it away isn’t likely to do anything constructive.
Arguably, neither neurology nor consciousness studies has found any indication of so-called “free will”. Positing an extradimensionality just mystifies the whole process again without saying anything definitive. Quantum theory is often cited as the bridge, but this is a functional theory, not a description of ultimate reality. It is just our best current concept that allows us to make predictions and do work.
Shouldn’t we really be digging below the onion layer of our own human belief systems to determine why we believe and act from what we believe? We build our identifications, self-image and style around them; what we accept and violently reject.
Global wars in the name of religion, with their roots in the Middle Ages and before, bring our beliefs about ourselves and our fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth into question more than ever in that magically eternal moment we call Now. We could dismiss this puerile question of truth as one to mull over in college if it weren’t desolating our planet. We have separated the academic question from everyday life to our degradation.
Heavens forbid we should ever learn “the truth”, even about ourselves. We staunchly defend our own self-images in a denial that would make the biggest addictions seem tame. You cannot make a more severe attack on a person than one against the self-image, which will be defended absolutely. Even our best friends have to agree to disagree, to remain silent in their personal dissenting observations.
Yet psychology and consciousness studies have failed to turn up this elusive integrated “self” that we defend to the death in some cases. We can display consistent character and self-imposed limitations, but we can also be wildly inconsistent, even in non-adaptive, self-defeating ways. Are we each a house of cards based on no more than a collection of randomly adopted whims and chaotic accidents of upbringing and genetics?
In hypnotherapy, we have the concept of subpersonalities, inner figures (inner Judge, Rebel, Child, etc.) with competing agendas that can hijack out lives for their own goals. Likewise, Jungian archetypes, transpersonal dynamics represented in ancient times as gods and goddesses can also effect our notions of Truth. Each form has a different truth, acting like a lens for the mind focusing it on certain thing over others. They influence our “self talk”, persuade you toward ‘their’ view of reality.
The basis of the human psyche seems to be a collective of selves--a multimind in a multiverse. Independent and autonomous, they relate with one another mostly unknown to the outer awareness. The extreme form of splintering seen in Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) simply reflects an extreme form of multiplicity with conflicting perspectives. The "multistate paradigm" of human nature extends toward a psychology and spirituality that is polytheistic, even pantheistic.
"We conceptualize self in terms of dynamic multiplicity of relatively autonomous I positions in an imaginal landscape. The I has the possibility to move, as in a space, from one position to another in accordance with changes in situation and time. The I fluctuates among different and even opposed positions. The I has the capacity to imaginatively endow each position with a voice so that dialogical relations between positions can be established. The voices function like interacting characters in a story." (Hermans, Kempen & van Loon, "The Dialogical Self")
Fictional virtual realities are constructed by aspects of the self as imaginal conversations. Imaginal dialogues play a central role in our daily lives, existing alongside actual dialogues and interactions. The dialogical self can be seen as a multiplicity of I positions or possible selves, with a decentralized, polyphonic character. This view dissolves the sharp "self-not self" boundary. Attractors work at the edge of chaos to form our existential hologram.
Ecological fundamentalism has sought absolute truth in nature, but nature rejects this naivete. The notion of "relativity" implies that there is no absolute truth, therefore, no absolute self. Thus arises the notion of "radical pluralism", which is reflected in our chaotic modern society as exposure to virtually every religious belief, every political view, and a myriad of social values. There is no central belief system in a pluralistic society.
The social construction of reality is up for grabs. The whole concept of reality has been called into question by a variety of ideologies and lifestyles. There are widening splits within traditional belief systems. There is transition in human cultural evolution, with the new paradigm in dialogue with the old, seeking a new synthesis. The move is toward a substitution of "story" for Truth, reflecting that sense of movement, change, flow.
Perhaps the hallmark of Post-Modern philosophy has been disbelief or skepticism of all "metanarratives." The breakdowns of the story lines of religions, ideologies, even science has led to chaotic social change. We are beginning to realize, individually and as a world-wide culture that "realities" are all human constructions. The task becomes one of "catching ourselves in the act" of creating our own "reality" from the flow of events.
Human truth is always an engagement of mind with experience. The sociological message of Chaos Theory is that we don't have to fear the collapse of what we think we are. We don't need to fear the collapse of our personalistic belief system, nor our belief in absolute truth.