The Corrective Nature of

It was noted above that consciousness is necessarily selective and partial, i.e., that the content of consciousness is, at best, a small part of truth about the self. But if this part be selected in any systematic manner, it is certain that the partial truths of consciousness will be, in aggregate, a distortion of the truth of some larger whole.

In the case of an iceberg, we may guess, from what is above surface, what sort of stuff is below; but we cannot make the same sort of extrapolation from the content of consciousness. It is not merely the selectivity of preference, whereby the skeletons accumulate in the Freudian unconscious, that makes such extrapolation unsound. Such a selection by preference would only promote optimism.

What is serious is the crosscutting of the circuitry of the mind. If, as we must believe, the total mind is an integrated network (of propositions, images, processes, neural pathology, or what have you—according to what scientific language you prefer to use), and if the content of consciousness is only a sampling of different parts and localities in this net-work; then, inevitably, the conscious view of the network as a whole is a monstrous denial of the integration of that whole. From the cutting of consciousness, what appears above the surface is arcs of circuits instead of either the complete circuits or the larger complete circuits of circuits.

What the unaided consciousness (unaided by art, dreams, and the like) can never appreciate is the systemic nature of mind.

This notion can conveniently be illustrated by an analogy: the living human body is a complex, cybernetically integrated system. This system has been studied by scientists—mostly medical men—for many years. What they now know about the body may aptly be compared with what the unaided consciousness knows about the mind. Being doctors, they had purposes: to cure this and that. Their research efforts were therefore focused (as attention focuses the consciousness) upon those short trains of causality which they could manipulate, by means of drugs or other intervention, to correct more or less specific and identifiable states or symptoms. Whenever they discovered an effective "cure" for something, research in that area ceased and attention was directed elsewhere. We can now prevent polio, but nobody knows much more about the systemic aspects of that fascinating disease. Research on it has ceased or is, at best, confined to improving the vaccines.

But a bag of tricks for curing or preventing a list of specified diseases provides no overall wisdom. The ecology and population dynamics of the species has been disrupted; parasites have been made immune to antibiotics; the relationship between mother and neonate has been almost destroyed; and so on.

Characteristically, errors occur wherever the altered causal chain is part of some large or small circuit structure of system. And the remainder of our technology (of which medical science is only a part) bids fair to disrupt the rest of our ecology.

The point, however, which I am trying to make in this paper is not an attack on medical science but a demonstration of an inevitable fact: that mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; and that its virulence springs specifically from the circumstance that life depends upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness can see only such short arcs of such circuits as human purpose may direct.

In a word, the unaided consciousness must always involve man in the sort of stupidity of which evolution was guilty when she urged upon the dinosaurs the common-sense values of an armaments race. She inevitably realized her mistake a million years later and wiped them out.

Unaided consciousness must always tend toward hate; not only because it is good common sense to exterminate the other fellow, but for the more profound reason that, seeing only arcs of circuits, the individual is continually surprised and necessarily angered when his hardheaded policies re-turn to plague the inventor.

If you use DDT to kill insects, you may succeed in reducing the insect population so far that the insectivores will starve. You will then have to use more DDT than before to kill the insects which the birds no longer eat. More probably, you will kill off the birds in the first round when they eat the poisoned insects. If the DDT kills off the dogs, you will have to have more police to keep down the burglars. The burglars will become better armed and more cunning... and so on.

That is the sort of world we live in—a world of circuit structures—and love can survive only if wisdom (i.e., a sense or recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice.

What has been said so far proposes questions about any particular work of art somewhat different from those which have been conventionally asked by anthropologists. The "culture and personality school," for example, has traditionally used pieces of art or ritual as samples or probes to reveal particular psychological themes or states.

The question has been: Does the art tell us about what sort of person made it? But if art, as suggested above, has a positive function in maintaining what I called "wisdom," i.e., in correcting a too purposive view of life and making the view more systemic, then the question to be asked of the given work of art becomes: What sorts of correction in the direction of wisdom would be achieved by creating or viewing this work of art?

The question becomes dynamic rather than static.

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