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Individuals vs Dividuals
The Psyches of the Meta-Crisis
As an inveterate ambivalent prevaricator (integrative thinker?) I always try to take both sides of any issue — including the decision about whether we are essentially unified “individuals” or pluralistic and circumstantial “dividuals”. There is no guarantee that I am correct but I will herein layout the plan of a general truce between these concepts in my philosophy…
THE TIME BETWEEN SELVES
Who will face the Meta-crisis?
Decisions about the nature of human identity may end up playing a significant role in this emerging historical moment. Today we stand between the great successes & failures of modern thinking, on the one hand, and a great many uncanny new changes to our technological, ecological, cultural, biological, religious and mathematical reality.
Modern solutions are quite impressive but nonetheless they express a set of underlying metaphysical assumptions that become highly problematic when they applicability is pushed too far. There are many accumulating, surprising, subtle & systemic crises which are not being handled safely by the drifting liberal institutions that have been set up over the past few centuries. This results in an over-determined convergence of multiple unstable externalities that are bedeviling our society from all directions. It is highly implausible that the underlying ontological assumptions of modernity can effectively grapple with the nonlinear, immersive, pluralistic complexity of the “metacrisis”.
And that also includes the modern metaphysical notion of the “free, self-interested, self-reflective, rational individual”. This is the person who is imagined to participate in capitalistic markets, to receive marketing messages, witness their own emotional reactions, vote responsibly in representational elections, calculate personal advantage offered by the adoption of the social contract, voluntarily obey the efficient spirit of the bureaucratic procedures, optimize playing the game of society, decide on desired futures and work reasonably toward progress in that direction, etc.
The modern person.
Today, this much-critiqued notion of the “I” or “ego” often appears to be a secular derivation from the earlier classical assertion of an immortal soul placed into each of us by the Divine Creator-King. However if the unified individual psyche is indeed a superstitious relic that keeps us bound to the metaphysical machinery that has cultivated the metacrisis — then what are we supposed to do? What are the alternative ideas about the nature of the psyche?
It seems to be the case that if the psyche is not singular then it must be plural. Perhaps we are an internal society of cooperative and/or competitive modules of psychology? Neuroscience certainly favors this view which corresponds to the well-studied partitions of the human nervous system — right/left brain, new/old, conscious/unconscious, head/gut, etc. We know from much research over the past half century that our sense of being a rational conscious individual “controller” is largely a rationalized self-deception. Our agency is in many ways just a story that is papered thinly over a mental machinery that is much faster, more irrational & more multifarious than our vanity permits us to admit.
Yet we would not want to embrace existential plurality too hastily. There are decent arguments that our individuality, whether superficial or not, is an important evolutionary success story. Julian Jaynes has speculated that even our recent ancestors did not experience their minds as unified but, instead, as a kind of motivational battleground between mythological forces and virtual personae deployed by our split brains. This picture of human life is indeed what appears to be recorded in our oldest human texts.
Such notions are complemented by recurrent pattern of mythological history in which anthropological heroes courageously and cunningly overcome the multifarious natural chaos to produce a more stable, workable and meaningfully unified world.
In Sumerian tales, the skillful Marduk slays the oceanic monster-mother Tiamat and fashions our universe of intelligible things & ideas. This is can be read as a legitimate triumph. Even if it is only a temporary and shallow condition, it may be the case that our self-image as individuals is a pragmatic key to operating ourselves (and our societies of selves) in a more pleasurable, creative and effective manner.
Should we discard individuality merely because it is a supervenient illusion hovering like an emergent phantom atop the quarrelsome community of the psyche? Shall we despair of self-effort and slide back into that primordial black muck of inchoate multiplicity?
Surely neo-savagery is not the solution to the metacrisis?
One simple response to this conundrum is to simply stipulate that unity is the productive result of activity. Rather than in-dividuality being “given” to us completely and perfectly, by Nature or God, our inner unity is the creative outcome of certain efforts performed consciously or unconsciously with help from our circumstances and privileges.
In this scenario, we are a community of psychological modules or networks, sub-personalities, that could be integrated into (something analogous to) an individuality IF we successfully work at this, directly or indirectly, as our life-task.
This makes the existential or spiritual duty of each organism to become themselves — produce a self. Such a Nietzschean phrasing is oddly similar to the esoteric teachings of the Armenian mystic Gurdjieff who asserted that humans are simply biological machines… unless they undertake the “being-work” to grow a soul.
It initially seems that this dynamic hybridization of dividuality & indivuduality is quite tidy. And perhaps it is even a very appropriate way to define the psyches of the people who must face the metacrisis.
We accept ourselves as neurologically plural, simultaneously conscious & unconscious creatures, possessed of varying developments along “multiple intelligences” and various “traits”. Such acceptance (accompanied by the moral willingness to face the uncomfortable feelings of cognitive dissonance that occur between our often occluded contradictory sub-selves) is the first step toward creating an intra-psychic selfhood that could begin to approximate an individuality.
By providing the context in which different divided & embedded proto-selves can negotiate, struggle or cooperate together, we start to move our dividuality toward an individuality that emerges from, or as, a well-functioning inner team. Cognitive dissonance, treated intelligently, may start to shift into a cognitive resonance that can weave many systems into a characteristic individual (really a coherent “meta-dividual”).
This image — that of a struggling with a trans-conscious plurality of self — directly mirrors the external struggle to make new adaptive order from out of the complex algorithms, quantum multiplicity, worlds in collision, culture wars, sprawling networks and non-linear statistics that are now needed to describe the world of the metacrisis beyond the conceptual machinery of modernist metaphysics.
We may need to accept ourselves, then, as half-lurking & many-tentacled beings if we are to substantially grapple with the arising of Lovecraft’s lurking, half-hidden & many-tentacled Cthulhu rising from under the depths of a decaying world.
We must have many heads ourselves if we are fight the Hydra.
Yet this “battle” is to produce meaning, coherence, harmony — unity-like effects. This kind of constructive convergence between dividual & individual might be able garner wide support while also presenting the kind of complexity in our definition of selves that is needed to face the complexity of the current world-situation.
THE SYNTACTICAL SEED OF SELF
Here’s where it gets even weirder.
The only thing that seems to be missing from this account is the “seed” from which a soul is grown. Where did we get that context that allows us to occupy the intrapsychic space? What minimal pre-existing selfhood might be presupposed by our attempt to integrate our conflicting neuropsychological selves? Isn’t there some basic self-reference function, not necessarily absolute, perhaps vanishingly abstract, infinitesimal but operational, that provides the nexus for this possible creative integration?
Fans of logical theology — from Leibniz to Christopher Langan — have postulated that the story of God “giving us each a soul” is a poetic description of a syntactical necessity. They argue, like Descartes, that the mere fact that anything is intelligible or perceptible means that I am already operating as if there was a confirmation of my existence in a world.
Cogito ergo sum. Any process analogous to cognition requires a maximal existential validation feeding back upon itself at an n-dimensional processing node. Cough, cough. To ascribe or encounter “isness” of any kind means that there is (a) the self-authenticating tautological beingness of being and (b) a site-like phenomenon at which this validation occurs. I AM THAT I AM & “I” am. God & the Self.
Otherwise, they argue, we cannot even make the preliminary gesture of knowing-or-not-knowing. A gesture that is required even if we doubt all reality and denounce all knowingness. This argument essentially says that God (not mythic) and Individuality (pre-evolutionary), in a minimal syntactical sense, are logical prerequisites for experience.
If we think “bottom-up” then we might assume that human personhood is an evolutionary and contingent phenomenon that supervenes upon simpler systems (and which we anthropomorphically project upon “God”). Yet we have no good reason to assume this is absolute. Our deeper appreciation of bottom-up dynamics does not preclude certain very basic top-down elements. Some versions of evolutionary models can certainly accommodate the additional idea that a tautological pre-existing God holographically distributes “his” attribute (an organizational nexus of potential personhood and convergent meaningfulness) to certain network sites associated particularly with sapient organisms. The individuality of God, they are saying, sustains my primitive existential individuality regardless of how well unified my psychology might be.
That’s a big argument. It could be unpacked or challenged for millennia.
The upside of accepting it is that we can say that there is an infinitesimal pre-existing site of the self-authenticating individuality which permits us to perform the creative activity of integrating disparate psychological functions into a selfhood. This completely abstract self is like the invisible string upon which we hang the dividual beads of potential individuality.
Basically this describes a version of creative mutuality between dividuality & individuality in a way that enfolds productive evolutionary processes and a minimal degree of involutionary metaphysical (syntactical) confidence in the “god-given reliability of the individual soul”.
None must escape.
You could, of course, easily accept the notion of an embedded, pluralistic and permeably sub-dividable dividual (which nonetheless exhibits the possibility of developmental growth toward individuality) without also accepting this arcane bit of syntactical theology. The reason to combine them is mostly pragmatic. It is primarily to exercise power over ourselves by binding all our internal perspectival options into a more integrated subjective operating platform and secondarily to open up change pathways in the external and social world by stipulating that no major philosophical position falls outside of our declaration. Every major position is within our armada. We have room for the divdiuals-becoming-individual and also for the dividuals-becoming-individual-while-presupposing-fundamental-individuality.
Dividualists & individualists of world unite! You have nothing to lose but the Metacrisis…
To face up to the current and emerging realities and problems of our epoch we may have great need of both sides of this problem and therefore also of different ways of making sense of their potential collaboration or reciprocal mutuality.
We require (a) the practicality of those who understand that interactive multiplicity haunt every space previously assigned to singularity but we also need (b) the sense of clarity and empowerment that accompanies the existential gamble on our potential convergent wholeness is phenomenologically guaranteed with the apparent force of self-proving necessity.
Just as modern institutions maintain power through the interplay of left and right so too might metamodernity become meta-stable by building oppositions into its dynamic structure.