The Phenomenon of Love Blog (Jan-Sept 2014)

Table of contents

Date Subject Main Points
10-Jan Terms and Definitions Distinguishing Teilhard’s usage of terms
17-Jan Teilhardian Shift Who was Teilhard? What did He Say? Teilhard’s View of cosmic evolution On The evolution of life Some implications
23-Jan A Brief History of Love History of Human Relationships Evolution of Society The Axial Age Questions addressed by thinkers
30-Jan The Evolution of the Concept of Love Greek Love Courtly Love Romantic Love The Evolution of Love
5-Feb The Evolution of the of Love From the Perspective of Psychiatry and Psychology The evolution of Psychiatry (Freud-Analysis-Therapy-Counselling) Freud Love and Hate Consequences in Society Freud and Altruism Some Final Thoughts on Freud Freud and Teilhard on Love
13-Feb Love From the “Existential” Perspective From Freud to Existentialism The Pioneers of Existentialism Carl Rogers What Rogers sees in his clinical experience The person that emerges from psychotherapy Existentialists and Teilhard
19-Feb Love From the Perspective of Neurology The Human brain The emotional basis for love Limbic vs Neo-cortex (emotion vs intellect) The neurological basis of psychology Summing up
20-Mar The Noosphere and Its Laws The Layers of the Earth Articulating the Noosphere
3-Apr Returning to the Teilhardian Shift Recapping the “Teilhardian Shift” The Thread of Evolution: Increasing Complexity
17-Apr Looking at How Love Works: Excentration-Centration Development of Complexity in the human person Development of Complexity in the Human Person Development of Complexity in Human Relationships Excentration and Centration Human Choice: Neocortex vs Limbic Brain
1-May Excentration-Centration from the Perspective of Psychology Freud Rogers
15-May Recap of Teilhard’s Perspective on Cosmic Evolution Evolution from the big bang Three Teilhard Insights – Living Things Evolve from matter – It’s always entities and energy – Humans emerge from Evolution The resulting new perspective on love as embedded in Cosmic Evolution
29-May The Emerging Person The Ego Ego vs Essence Differentiation in Union
12-Jun The Axis of Cosmic Evolution and Civilization The Person and The State The State and the Axis of Evolution Science,  Religion and the Laws of the Noosphere
26-Jun Love and the Future of Mankind Love as a cornerstone of society Love as the Cornerstone of Society Impediments to Love in society The future of Love
Summary (Unposted) Evolution prior to life Three basic insights But, the Problem is Love without a Partner
10-Jul Love and the Future of Mankind, Part 2 Love and depression Societal depressionLove or Perish
18-Sep Forecast for the Future Three assumptions for future human evolution First Assumption- it just keeps rolling Second Assumption – it stays on course Third Assumption – it renews itself Science and Religion
29-Sep A Last look at Love, This Time At a Personal Level Love and Pain Trust and Decision Trust and Love The critical Nature of Love Last Post and the Next Blog

Jan 10, 2014 – Initial Post

Webster defines “phenomenon” as:

  1. an observable fact or event
  2. a fact, feature, or event of scientific interest
  3. a rare or important fact or event: an exceptional, unusual, or abnormal person or thing

My use here is consistent with the first definition, which is to treat love as an observable fact which, when put in the context of the unfolding of the universe, can be seen as the latest of many forces by which the cosmos becomes itself.

Webster defines “evolution” (in the biological case) as:

  1. a general name for the history of the steps by which any living organism has acquired the morphological and psychological characters which distinguish it
  2. a gradual unfolding of successive phases of growth or development

The reference in this blog to “cosmological evolution” extends the concept of evolution to both the “pre-living” (that which physics treats in the “standard model” and chemistry in the science of molecular interactions) and future aspects of this unfolding of phases, and across the total extent of the universe.  In other words, in Teilhard’s vision, evolution occurs everywhere and at all times, and forms a basis for understanding the birth and growth of the universe (as addressed by Physics) as well as the continuation of development through the appearance of “life”, then “thought” as found in the human person.

Webster defines “love” as:

  1. 1. a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
  2. 2. an attraction that includes sexual desire
  3. 3. the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship
  4.  This context can be developed to enable us to understand love less as “an emotion or sentiment”, but a power in human life, rooted in the unfolding of the cosmos, that will carry us forward to fuller being.
  5. This is the objective of the blog.
  6. The approach of this blog places “love” in the spectrum of a long line of attractive forces (such as the Higgs field, the nuclear strong and weak forces, magnetism and gravity) which effect the union of elements of the cosmos (bosons, quarks, electrons, atoms, molecules, cells, animals and human persons) in such a way that elements of higher complexity appear over time.

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Jan 17, 2014 The Teilhardian Shift

Who was Teilhard?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest whose writings on science and religion in the early 20th century caused significant problems with his religious superiors, resulting in denial of permission for publication.  His two books, the “Phenomenon of Man” and the “Divine Milieu” were published after his death, followed by several publications consisting of collections of his many articles.

Like many other thinkers of the time, Teilhard was stimulated by the new perspectives of time and space that began to surface at the end of the Nineteenth century.  Both cosmologists and biologists had begun to envision the incredible spans of time that must have occurred in order for the universe (and life) to evolve to its current order.  Physicists were beginning to postulate (and develop methods to observe) an ever-smaller series of entities that underpinned the composition of matter, as well as the incredible energies which held them together.  Psychologists were beginning to plumb the unconscious states of the mind.

What did He Say?

As his interest in science and technology grew, Teilhard found himself increasingly distressed over the perceived gap between the cosmic viewpoints of religion and science.  This led him to his point of view that science and religion represented just simply different methods of understanding the nature of the universe, and particularly the nature of the human person.  His writings continuously sought to bring them into some level of cohesion.

He was also distressed that as this new scientific perspective unfolded, it was accompanied by an increasing materialistic aspect on the one hand, and a vigorous attack by religion on the other.  His life’s goal was to show that neither of these extreme positions were valid; rather that the two perspectives could be brought into a harmonious cohesion in which both perspectives would be enhanced and the full potential of human existence could be better understood.

His approach to this goal was to look at cosmic evolution (the unfolding of the universe over time, including biological and human evolution) as a single, ongoing process.  In doing so, he sought to identify the underlying principles at play in the process, and show how these principles appear over and over in the process, and are at work in human evolution today.

This approach, of course, does not find universal acceptance, being too materialistic for the religionists, and too religious for the scientists.  Followed through to its logical conclusions, however, it can be seen to open a new and very positive perspective for both.

Teilhard’s View of the Evolution of the Cosmos

Following the “Standard Model” of physics (http://benbest.com/science/standard.html) the smallest entities in the universe unite with other particles under the influence of certain forces.  The products of this unification are capable of then uniting with other particles of their class, which produce new entities, and so on, and over long periods of time result in the rich material world which we see now.  The reference above overviews the standard model and identifies these particles and forces.

Teilhard, who wrote far in advance of the development of the Standard Model, drew several conclusions from the process as it was then known:

  • Simpler entities correspond to an earlier era of time. The simplest and smallest came first in what came to be called “The Big Bang”.
  • Over time, each new manifestation of matter is more complex than the previous, resulting in an increased capacity for union, and producing an increased complexity in the products of the new unions. This can be observed today in the growth from quarks and leptons to protons and neutrons, then atoms, then molecules over long periods of time.
  • These unions take place under the influence of forces; initially the strong and weak nuclear forces, then as the particles gather mass, the force of gravity.
  • Such steps in evolution aren’t necessarily continuous, but can be distinctively discontinuous. Such is the case of the evolution of simple atoms (helium and hydrogen, in abundant supply in the gaseous clouds which populate the universe) to more complex atoms (oxygen, carbon, as the basis of molecular development in planets). The simpler gasses become stars by being drawn into smaller and smaller volumes by gravity, compressed into nuclear infernos in which electrons are stripped and nuclei enriched, resulting in more complex atoms. When the star explodes, these atoms are strewn into surrounding space, where the force of gravity again pulls them in to form the many molecules (such as air and water) which make up planetary systems.

Hence the history of the universe can be summarized as the increasing complexity of entities under increasingly complex fields of force.

On the Evolution of Life

Science does not have a ready explanation for the appearance of life on Earth.  Some see life as “imported” from elsewhere in the solar system (or perhaps in surrounding space) but this only begs the question of its appearance elsewhere.  Others see life as accidental, occurring accidently under conditions that will never again be replicated.  The advent of living entities seems to represent an absolute and unbridgeable discontinuity between cosmic and biologic entities.

Teilhard takes a different view.

Noting that entity complexity rises with time and the influence of fields of energy, Teilhard expects to find highly complex molecules evolving on Earth.  These molecules would constitute “pre-life”.  He sees mega-molecules, such as viruses, with their simple DNA and millions of atoms as such molecules.  In many ways, viruses, which are non-cellular (hence non-living), exhibit “behavior” similar to cell-based entities, and could be candidates for the last step of “pre-life” prior to the discontinuous step of increased complexity represented by the cell.  In this view, the advent of an entity of higher complexity is to be expected.  Like the advent of the higher complex atoms via the explosion of the star, the discontinuous step change resulting in the cell is not without precedence.

Teilhard sees this increase of complexity passing through the atomic, to the molecular, to the cellular, opening at each stage new potentialities for growth.  A few simple atoms become many complex atoms becoming large numbers of molecules becoming a seemingly limitless number of cells.  And at each step, the resulting entity is more complex, and more capable of complex interactions, than that of the last step.

Of course, this process is neither linear nor continuous.  At the molecular level, there are many branches of pre-living evolution in which increased complexity occurs without the eventual evolution to higher level.  Such a substance can be found in the crystal, which has “found” a way to grow, but is quickly limited by its structure.  At the cellular level, many more branches can be seen; and each branch, when taken, does not fold back into other branches (remaining distinct), leading to the “tree of life” so familiar to us all.

Having identified the main thread of evolution as increased complexity, Teilhard identifies the key branch as eventually leading to the most complex substance known, which is the human brain, located in the entity of (currently) highest complexity, which is the human person.  Not that the process of evolution was destined (or fated, or designed) to result in the human person: at any branch of biological history, different circumstances could have contributed to consciousness occurring in a different species.  For example, the fossil record shows an increase in brain capacity in the dinosaurian branch of the reptiles, which without the great extinction caused by a colossal meteor strike, might have eventually led to the same complexity as the human brain.  Teilhard’s point is that consciousness is the latest manifestation of the phonemenon of complexity.  Put the other way around, the evolution of complexity eventually leads to the appearance of human consciousness.

Some Implications

As Teilhard and several other thinkers of the time understood, this new perspective of evolution occurring over long periods and resulting in the universe that we see as only the latest manifestation of cosmic becoming would stimulate new and modified interpretations of conventional and long-held beliefs, both in the area of science and that of religion.

Science was forced into viewing the cosmos itself as evolving, leading to the concepts such as the big bang, the expansion of the universe, understanding matter as just a manifestation of energy and understanding the human as one of many entities which have evolved from a common ancestor.  In the area of religion, the traditional and conventional similes, metaphors and myths which had developed over many years began to come into question.  The very theory of biological evolution seemed to challenge the common belief that God created man directly, and hence was a vanguard for atheism.

So, the viewpoint which emerges in the Teilhardian Shift offers some fresh perspectives on subjects such as:

  • Science and Religion: separate realities, or two different facets of a single reality?
  • The nature of biological evolution: a secular, Godless process, or somehow consistent with core religious beliefs?
  • The meaning of life: is life without meaning, or is meaning to be found in a clearer understanding of human development?
  • Spirituality: something supernatural and hence beyond the pale of “phenomenon”, or a secular outgrowth of cosmic evolution?
  • The human person: how does the human person fit into the universe and what does it mean to be “fully human”?
  • The issue of God: does God exist and in what way envisioned so as to encompass both scientific understanding and religious belief?

And, as the basic subject of this blog:

  • What is love and how does it fit into the universe? How does the perspective of love as a natural force enable a clearer understanding of how it works?

As will be addressed in this blog, it will be seen that this last subject cannot be completely addressed without addressing the other areas above to some extent.  Examples include: the way human relationships connect human persons, and bring into question their natures; the way in which the activity of love involves the nature of the human spirit; and the way a clearer understanding of human development can address the meaning of human existence.

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Jan 23 A Brief History of Love

History of Human Relationships

Societies in all of recorded history have attempted to articulate what it means to live the “correct life”, to live lives in which the individual and their society coexist in such a way as to benefit both.  All teachings, observations, laws and beliefs have pointed to manifestations of life which are laudable and which should be emulated, such as suppression of the ego, attention to the supernatural, gratification of the gods, and other actions which are encouraged, and in some cases mandated by law.  This raises the question: which of the many and often orthogonal approaches to human behavior are most congruent with the ultimate reality of the human person?  Which practices will help the human person to become more complete?  Looking at human relationships in the context of phenomena permits us to situate humans and relations into the context of evolution, even cosmic evolution, as outlined in “The Teilhardian Shift” (previous post).

Evolution of Society

Emerging civilizations eventually recognized the need to regulate human relationships as a prerequisite for social order.  As human society began to evolve from small nomadic “hunter-gatherer” clans to larger groups settling near centralized crops with the beginnings of ruling hierarchies, the need for “codes” began to take shape to provide rules of coexistence.  The codes or laws were mostly enacted by the recognized ruler.  The earliest such set of laws seems to have emerged in the 24th century BCE, and is known as “The Code of Urukagina”. Urukagina was a Mesopotamian ruler, but knowledge of his laws is second-hand, and is derived from later references to it.  Other rulers of the “fertile crescent” also promulgated their laws, such as The Code of Ur-Nammu (Sumerian- 1900-1700 BCE) and The Code of Hammurabi (Babylonian, Approx 1740 BCE).  By the tenth century BCE, rulers were expected to document the rules of societies through such promulgations, leading to the many examples leading up to the Mosaic Law as addressed in the Old Testament.

The “Law of Moses” in Ancient Israel is distinguished from other legal codes in the ancient Near East by its reference to offense against a deity rather than against society.  This contrasts with the other codes, most of which concern laws dealing with society.  The books of Deuteronomy, Exodus and Kings treat the story of Moses receiving the “laws” (or “commandments” or “words” or “judgments” or “tables of testimony”.  The terms of the different stories differ in the different treatments in Deuteronomy and Exodus) and differ somewhat as to prescriptions for ritual, behavior or worship.

As societies continued to evolve, and distinct classes began to appear, the rules of society evolved with them.  One of the first of this new type of code was The Law of the Twelve Tables (Roman, 450-449 BCE), which was written as a result of the long social struggle between patricians and plebeians.  While the patricians ruled society, they were dependent on the plebeians to run the machines of state, and who were increasingly unhappy with their treatment.  This code became the foundation of Roman law, and was one of the first appearances of a “constitution”.

These codes, however, while addressing the basic human interchanges that underpin society, as juridical in nature, did not address the underlying nature of the human person and the basis of human relationships.

The Axial Age

Karen Armstrong addresses the “Axial Age” (900-200 BCE) in her book, “The Great Transformation”.  During this period she sees the earliest development of the concepts of the human person and the relationships among persons, and the laying of the foundation for today’s thinking.  She sees that “For the first time, human beings were systematically making themselves aware of the deeper layers of human consciousness.  By disciplined introspection, the sages of the Axial Age were awakening to the vast reaches of selfhood that lay beneath the surface of their minds.  They were becoming fully “Self conscious” “.  Further: “…they all concluded that if people made a disciplined effort to reeducate themselves, they would experience an enhancement of their humanity.  In one way or the other, their programs were designed to eradicate the egotism that is largely responsible for our violence, and promoted the empathic spirituality of the Golden Rule.”

An example of the earliest thinkers to treat this subject was Confucius, who understood the essential connection between our maturation as human persons and our relationships with those around us, as summarized in his statement addressing personal growth as a reciprocal process: “In order to enlarge oneself, one should try to enlarge others”.  Confucius in the fifth century BCE, was one of the first recorded thinkers to understand the basis for interpersonal harmony as altruism, and that the basis of altruism was holiness.  As Karen Armstrong points out, “There were no abstruse metaphysics or complicated liturgical speculations; everything always came back to the importance of treating other people with absolute respect.   His “Way” was nothing but a dedicated ceaseless effort to nourish the holiness of others, who in return would bring out the sanctity in you.”  This of course is basis of the Golden Rule, dating back to approximately 510, and the first record of this fundamental level of human relationships.  As summarized by Confucius: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

By the beginning of the era of Common Events (CE), the great Pharisee theologian, Rabbi Hillel, was able to see the entire Torah as summed up the directive, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary.”  Jesus of course goes one step further when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  This evolution of the shift in understanding from “do not treat” to “love” represents the beginning of a way of seeing things and being human that is the cornerstone of Western ethics as encoded in the “Bill of Rights”.

The subject of love cannot be severed from the subject of the human person.  Along with the evolution of the understanding of how we should treat each other is the understanding of the nature of the human person.  The commandment to “love yourself” suggests an understanding of self that is conducive to being able to love.  A person consumed by self-loathing will find it difficult to love another person.

Questions addressed by thinkers

The Idea of love has evolved in the various approaches taken by the major theological currents of the world.  What is the appropriate conduct of human relationships?  The standards of ethics?  How should rulers treat subjects, how should husbands treat wives, parents-children?  Standards of ethical behavior can be found in the world’s great religions, each with different emphasis on the various aspects of relationships.  This evolution has led to the various political, theological and philosophical practices we see today.  Most distinctly in the West, with the evolution from the statement of the golden rule, from “Do not do to others that which you would not have done to yourself”, to “Do unto others as you would have done to yourselves”, to “Love one another as you love yourself”.  These beliefs have found their way into the standards of ethical behavior which have evolved in the Western legal system.  This understanding of relationship in the West is concomitant with the evolution of the concept of person, leading to the idea that each person is “endowed with inalienable rights”- an understanding of equality. These two related concepts – love and persons- are the latest evolutionary manifestation of matter and energy which can be seen emerging in ever more complex forms at every rung of the evolutionary ladder of the universe.

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Jan 30 The Evolution of the Concept of Love

Irving Singer sees the ongoing development of the concept of love in several stages, as treated in his trilogy on “The Nature of Love”.  He sees the concept of love evolving from primitive naturalism to focus on the transcendent (divine, ultimate good) and then to love as experienced between human persons (on the “natural” plane).

Greek Love:  The idea of love as survives in the writings of the great Greek thinkers was very narrowly specified, as the ideas focused on upper class males representing an autocratic, elitist state in which women were subjugated and which was built on a foundation of slavery.  The approach to love at the lower levels of society is not documented, but daily life was sure to be quite different from the democratic and ethical ideals emerging at the elite levels, and the purpose of love constrained to procreation.

Plato was one of the first Greek thinkers (whose ideas have survived) to systematically address the concepts of love and the human person.  Plato introduced Love as the supreme virtue, as the key to becoming a whole person.  His writings are generally considered as the first extended discussion of love in Western philosophy and constitute the basis of theological development in the Christian world.

In his “Symposium”, Plato sees the value of love in four facets.  Love makes us “whole”: we become complete through our relationships.  Love is stimulated by beauty: expressed in terms of “the good”.   Love unites us by our essential natures: what is most real and valuable in ourselves.  And finally, love brings out the best in us: especially as seen in our virtue and wisdom.

These insights have significantly affected Western thought in general, especially in the point of view which saw humans by their nature as created to love “the good”.  As a result, they were were adopted into early Christian thinking, particularly in the teachings of Augustine.  Aristotle’s perspective, however, put a higher value on person-to-person love, seeing it as a bond between individuals for the sake of their flourishing rather than as Plato’s perspective as a way of looking beyond individuals to a timeless reality of absolute good.  These competing perspectives (love as a duty to God vs love as key to self-creation) can still be found in modern thought.

Singer sees the evolutionary path of Platonic thought as influencing Moorish idealism via Avicenna (Arabic Ibn Sīnā, Persian Islamic philosopher) and Plotinus (Greek neoplatonist); Christian belief via Paul and Augustine; and popular romances via Hellenistic fables (as seen in Ovid).  The path is long and winding, but it clearly begins in ancient Greece.

The concept of “Courtly” love begins to emerge in the middle ages, as an outgrowth of the concept of love, particularly God’s love and our love for God, which emerged from Judaism and Greek thought.  Beginning with the troubadours in southern France, courtly love evolved over a period of five hundred years, from the twelfth to the seventeenth century.  Courtly love follows the spread of Christian thinking across Europe, as it begins to conceive that the human person could relate to another person with the same kind of attachment that the church taught as love of God.

In various ways, courtly love can be seen as the humanization of Christian and Platonic love.  The concept of love as “transcendental” (oriented towards the divine, beyond nature) was evolving into love as experienced on the level of human relationships in nature.  This results in movement toward dignifying human relationships beyond just an institutional device to bring families together, as a basis for salvation in the “next world, for political or financial purposes, or to conform to religion’s sanctified regulation of procreation.  Singer, in his book, “The Philosophy of Love”, says “The idea of humanizing love- the belief that love is something that one can have not only in relation to God, but also and magnificently with another human being, particularly a person of the opposite sex- that belief about what is valuable in life is a development beyond the thinking that preceded it.”

This development of the new perspective on the human person and his relationships was a reflection of what was happening in the history of ideas as seen in the emerging theological and philosophical thinking of the time.  This shift was one of the critical steps that eventually culminated in the idea that anyone could love, and contributed to the emergence of democracy in Western history over several centuries.

“Romantic” love begins to emerge in the eighteenth century with the ongoing evolution of the concepts of freedom and responsibility.  In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the French Revolution (whose ideas of the equality, fraternity and liberty of the human person encouraged people to love whomever they wished without parental or state interference), romanticism came into being.

Romantic love underpins the continuing “democratization” of love as it has continued to develop into modern times, especially in such areas as in opposition to arranged marriages, as supportive of the approval (and in some cases the legality) of homosexual relationships and the ongoing increase in women’s rights.

While Singer identifies and describes these stages, or “phases”, he does not address the corresponding stages of the understanding of the human person that evolves along with them and which is key to understanding the evolution of the nature of human relationships.  For example, in addressing “courtly” love, while he recognizes the influence of the Christian understanding of “the love of God” on the evolving understanding of love between human persons, he doesn’t acknowledge that this same emerging concept of love was also balanced, even underpinned by the emerging awareness of the human person’s uniqueness, which was also embedded in Christian theology.  The same lack occurs in his treatment of “romantic” love, in that the emerging concepts of human equality, fraternity and equality were outcomes of this same basis of understanding of the human person as embedded in Christian teaching.

The Evolution of Love

These stages or phases, while well documented and described by Singer, constitute building blocks.  Taken together over the course of human history, they constitute a rising tide in the human person’s search for understanding of himself and his relationship to other persons.

So, the evolution of the idea of love as the basic relationship between human persons can be seen to evolve over time, especially in Western civilization, concomitant with the evolution of the concept of the human person.

Returning to the “Teilhardian Shift” (post 3, January 17), and recalling that Teilhard saw evolution in the cosmos as consisting of the appearance of ever more complex entities with increasing capacity for union with like entities (entities with compatible capacities for union, such as electrons or cells) which produce entities of even more complexity under the influence of “fields” of energy, the phenomenon of love on our planet can be seen to take shape in the appearance of a more complete concept of the human person in lock step with a more comprehensive understanding of the energies of love which unite them.

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Feb 5 The Evolution of Love From the Perspective of Psychiatry and Psychology

The Evolution of Psychology

The rising tide of the way that human persons begin to experience themselves as seen in the increasing “democratization” of love and the emerging awareness of the uniqueness of the human person (introduced in the previous January 30 post) also precipitates the form that this thinking is taking.  Movement from ascribing events to activities of the divine to attempts to understand them as phenomena in the natural world gives rise to the empirical approaches of science.  Initially constrained to the physical world, this approach eventually begins to manifest itself in study of the human person himself, based on clinical observation instead of spiritual speculation and biblical interpretation.

Freud

Sigmund Freud pioneers this new scientific mode of approach to understanding the human person, applying the new methods of science to making and testing hypotheses of human growth and relationships.  In him, we have the first attempts at articulation of human essence, mapping the human person and his relationships in terms of “ego”, “id”, “libido”, “sublimation” and “psyche”, and rooted in the belief that sexuality is a prime motivation for human action.  As such, Freud deserves praise and gratitude for having been virtually the the first major thinker to have articulated and delineated the implications of a developmental process underlying sexuality (and therefore love) just as there are developmental  processes for locomotion, muscular capacity, capacity of language, etc.

In Irving Singer’s comprehensive analysis of the nature and philosophy of love, he comments, “Like other thinkers of the time, Freud sought to explain the human condition in terms of the rationalistic concepts that science was uncovering.  He proposed a completely new lexicon and analytic approach to understand the nature of “affect”, which includes all of what we normally call feelings, emotions, sensations, “intuitive” and “instinctive” dispositions, erotic attachments, hatred as well as love, and also kinesthetic impressions of any kind.  For that job we require a totally different type of methodology.”   Freud’s work is an effort in this direction: to try to map out the phenomenological blueprint of our emotional being.

Historically, some thinkers, such as Plato, Plotinus and Augustine, generally proposed a positive interpretation of reality, believing that what is ultimate in reality sustains, even conforms to, human ideals; while others, such as Lucretius, and Hobbes came to see the universe as neutral, even hostile, to warrant such optimistic assumptions.  Freud falls into this second, pessimistic, category.

Singer contrasts the two perspectives: “”Philosophers have often tried to reduce the different senses of the word “love” to a single meaning that best suited their doctrinal position.  To the Platonists, “real love”, being a search for absolute beauty or goodness, must be good itself; to the Freudians love is “really” amoral sexuality, though usually sublimated and deflected from its coital aim.  The Platonist argues that even sexuality belongs to a search for the ideal, and otherwise would not be called love in any sense.  The Freudian derives all ideals from attempts to satisfy organic needs, so that whatever Plato recommends must also be reducible to love as sexuality.”

Freud in an oversimplified nutshell

Singer: Few writers, if any, in the history of mankind have studied human passion more exhaustively than Freud, and none with greater insight into the suffering to which it often leads.

Nonetheless, Freud’s thinking provided a monumental, unprecedented and unified approach to understanding the human person and the relationship between persons.  The person himself is understood as an entity possessing a certain “life force” which empowers him to survive and procreate and is at the center of his being.  Freud refers to this force as “libido”, the driving force that underlies our existence as human persons.  Libido underlies the emotional attachments to other persons, is the source of sexual drive, which Freud considered to be the most powerful and important human instinct, is based on chemical determinations and exists in a given “quantum” in each person.  Libido powers us as humans, but can be depleted if inappropriately spent.

Freud used the analogy of the scientific treatment of “hydraulics” to the flow of libido in the human person,  understanding the basis of all love as “sexual love with sexual union as its aim, analogous to the nutritional instinct of hunger”, or to the powers of hydraulics, in which natural flow can be dammed up.  In this metaphor, libido can be “repressed”, prevented from flowing out through its natural opening as designed by the organism’s biological structure; held back like an explosive liquid under pressure and destroying the equilibrium in the organism unless it finds some other release (a metaphor for sublimation), and resulting in an escape by means that are not directly biological or reproductive.  Not allowing the libido to run its natural course prevents our maturation as adult persons.

In Freud’s thinking, the libido therefore is the energy that nourishes the self, and the object of the libido is sexual union.  Relationships that do not lead to sexual union interrupt the flow and replenishment of libido, and lead to impoverishment of the self.  Freud sees the self as initially focused on itself, and this “narcissism” at birth represents a state to which the self always seeks returning.  “Nourishing the libido” is essentially maintaining our narcissism which is essential to our sense of self.

Unfortunately, the object of the libido in the sexual object (the loved one) always requires “idealization”, with the belief that the object contains qualities that if gained, will result in an increase in the person (the lover’s) libido.  This need for idealization effectively means that love requires the lover to “over-” or “mis-“ estimate the qualities of the loved one, resulting in disappointment in the relationship and the subsequent impoverishment of the libido manifested in the loss of self-esteem.  This suggests that Freud believed love to make the person vulnerable: the self he gives to the loved one depletes him, and he is now dependent upon the loved one to get it back, but as the loved one does not have the qualities he idealized in her, the return of libido is impeded.

Thus Freud is very pessimistic about the value of love, seeing it as more of a risk than an asset.  In Singer’s words, “For Freud, love must always be a kind of delusion, since perfection can never be attained (the ideal loved one cannot exist).  Moreover, one person loves another in an effort to recover infantile narcissism, and -given the nature of things- that must always be futile.  If one cannot satisfy the ego ideal in within oneself, Freud seems to say, why think that one could satisfy it in some other person, superior though she may be in some respects but inevitably imperfect like everything else.  In Freud’s view, a lover’s valuation of his beloved must be excessive, for he has chosen her in an irrational attempt to find the solution for an irresolvable problem.”

Put another way, Freud believes that the person must “idealize” others, thus being in love with another person is thus a state of projection; the lover transfers to his beloved an ideal that he has difficulty achieving within himself.  In this way he will have recovered the security of primal narcissism.  In essence, we love that in the other person which we feel will compensate for our inadequacies.  Freud: “Whoever possesses an excellence which the ego lacks for the attainment of its ideal, becomes loved.

Love and Hate

Much as religion provides an independent existence to evil, Freud sees the force of libido as possessing and undercurrent of hate.  Freud sees love as the mixture and dynamic interfusion of eros with “man’s natural aggressive instinct (the death drive)”, which is inseparable from it.  “Eros and destructiveness are intertwined within all erotic relationships”

He adds, “Love is not at the basis of everything unless you add hate to it”.  Negative sentiments such as hate accompany love on virtually all occasions and even function as constituents within it.  “The evidence of psychoanalysis shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time- marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children- leaves a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility which only escapes perception as a result of repression.”

Freud goes further, seeing a primal longing of the organism to revert to its inorganic origin, older and therefore somehow more fundamental than the eventual transformations of eros. This would imply not only that death is the original goal of life, but also that the impulse to return to the inorganic exists at a more profound level of our being than the vital striving away from it.

Thus, possessing such a reservoir of aggression and destructiveness, the individual must vent his hostile emotions either upon others or upon himself.

Consequences in Society

At the economic level, Freud assumes an exchange of benefits in love with others: “I want my people to prefer me, to give me their love, and so I must recognize their right to a comparable love on my part”.  Similarly, he assumes that personal libido is limited in quantity – we each get just so much- as the quantity of love must be limited in accordance with his economic theory.  Whatever goes to the stranger leaves that much less for one’s intimates, since, as love belongs to a closed and finite system, like libido itself, love cannot be distributed to all without being subdivided to a point where it simply runs out.  Freud: “If I am to love him (with this universal love) merely because he, too, is an inhabitant of this earth, like an insect, an earthworm or a grass snake, then I fear that only a small modicum of my love will fall to his share.”

Freud believed that to coexist peacefully, all people must choose between one or another type of renunciation.  They have to forego important values of civilization (such as propriety, cool rationality and single minded dedication to knowledge) if they want to achieve the greatest sexual happiness and hence completeness of the libido; or else they must give up sexuality, through self-control and even abstention, if they are to satisfy the demands that civilization imposes.  He saw no way that man could ultimately be happy as well as civilized.  It seems clear that Freud assumes that man is not socially oriented by nature, and that his basic narcissism makes him distrustful, even hostile, towards others, since narcissistic love “knows only one barrier- love for others, love for objects”.

Freud and Altruism

Against the idea of altruism as the basis of peaceful relationships, Freud sees selfless love is unnatural, that it runs counter to the dynamics of human instinct.  Like all self-sacrificial love, it reveals how the ego can be subjugated by an object through its own excess of altruism and insufficiency of narcissism (see above).  He did not subscribe to “The Golden Rule”, saying, “Freud: “Why should we do it?  What good will it do us?  How shall we achieve it?  How can it be possible?”  Since from his perspective, love must be seen to serve the ego therefore it must be seen to provide psychological advantages to ourselves.  It involves other persons but only because they further, directly or indirectly, our own narcissistic interests.

Since not all men are worthy of his love, he concludes that it makes more sense to feel hostility and even hatred toward the neighbor or the strange who does not belong to one’s own closed group, leading to permission to return this hostility and even hatred in the same way.  This approaches the “eye for an eye” beliefs of the uncivilized, and is the flip side of the Golden Rule: “Love thy neighbor as he loves me”.  Needless to say, the dictum to “Love thy neighbor”, to Freud, “..seems to me to be even more incomprehensible and arouses still stronger opposition in me.

Addressing Freud’s opinion of Christianity, Singer comments, “Freud argues not only that Judaeo-Christian precepts about universal love of mankind are unreasonable, even irrational, but also that they violate the “original nature of man”.  They cannot be fulfilled and they undermine love that hews more closely to reality, and represent civilization’s attempt to control human aggressiveness by encouraging individuals to be self-sacrificial in their attitude toward others.  He considers the intolerance and even violence that has pervaded Christianity’s treatment of nonbelievers as an “inevitable consequence” of its faith in universal love.  Freud (sardonically): “it is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”

Some Final Thoughts on Freud

With his pessimistic outlook on human relations outside of those “which find their natural end in sexual union”, his forecast for the future of human society, and for the potential of love to power human development seems very dim.  Nonetheless, he does make the case for the ability of the human person, through his intellectual capability, to somehow pull through, though not without a price.  Again, Singer: “While Freud believes that civilization -in its progressive restraint of libidinal energy (instinctual drives)- may enlarge the intellect’s control over the libido, it will occur at the cost of internalization of the individual’s aggressiveness.  This results in drawbacks that Freud laments: Sexual pleasures diminish and even disappear once they are subject to cultural inhibition, and the internalizing of aggression leads to unpleasing sublimation- painful and often damaging guilt feelings.  Eros may bind mankind in ever greater unities, but only reason prevents the death drive from using them for destructive ends.

Freud and Teilhard on Love

So where does this leave the concept of love?  Recall that Teilhard saw evolution in the cosmos as consisting of the appearance of ever more complex entities with increasing capacity for union with like entities (entities with compatible capacities for union, such as electrons or cells) which produce entities of even more complexity under the influence of “fields” of energy.  Seen at the human level. this, results in seeing love as an energy which unites the human entities under the power of the field of love.

While Freud definitely saw love as energy, and one which affects the uniting of human persons, the resulting unifications would seem to be potentially harmful to the person, and in need of painful intellectual resistance to be a positive force for society.  He believed that not only does love not solve human problems, but causes them as well.

Few writers, if any, in the history of mankind have studied human passion more exhaustively than Freud, and none with greater insight into the suffering to which it often leads.  However, his theories do not point to an understanding of human love that would be compatible with Teilhard’s vision of persons and love being the latest appearance of “the stuff of the universe” that has been evolving since the big bang in the form of increasingly complex entities appearing under the influence of fields.

Freud’s approach to psychiatry, like Luther’s approach to Christianity, burst upon emerging Western society and immediately began to ramify into parallel but radically different expressions.  In today’s versions of psychotherapy, American positivism has muted much of the Freud’s pessimism, materialism and misogyny, and many of the newer approaches to psychology focus more on the relation between therapist and patient than upon the therapist’s skill in plumbing the labyrinthine depths of the patient.

In the next post I will outline such a different approach, more compatible with Teilhard’s positivist vision.

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Feb 13 Love from the “Existential” Perspective

From Freud to Existentialism

As we’ve seen in the previous post, Freud was successful in developing an integrated system of thought which addressed the whole of human activity.  He pioneered the understanding of the human in terms of inner energies, motivations, stimuli and even “economies” that determine his development from birth to death, and did this in a way which mirrored the approach of scientific empiricism.  His treatment of human irrationality is unmatched. However, with his underlying materialism, misogyny and overall pessimism he can hardly be seen as positive on the potential of the human person to have satisfying relationships and personal maturity.  His perceived risks in these areas bode ill for the future of human society.

But we can find agreement between Freud and Teilhard on several things, such as the existence of energy underlying human growth and relationships, and seeing love manifested in the reciprocal exchange of this energy between individual persons.  They would sharply disagree on the nature and source of this energy, and the role that this reciprocal exchange could have in positive growth, maturity, and even creation of the persons involved in its exchange.  The difference between these two schools of thought sharpens further in the application of them to human relationships at the social level.  As we’ll see in later posts, Teilhard sees human love as the basis of the ability of humans to build a harmonious society.  Freud, on the other hand, sees human potential, and therefore relationships, damaged by the impositions of civilization, and holds little hope for human happiness as a result.

As psychiatry and psychology continued to develop in Western science, many of the negative aspects of Freud’s thinking began to be reevaluated and modified as the increasing readiness of the Western person to be analyzed created a large body of empirical data which in turn could be analyzed to support or disprove the propositions which originally formed the basis for analysis.  The relation between the analyst and the analyzed evolved as well, with the increasing education level of the middle class, the acceptability of psychology by religion, and the emergence of expectations on the part of those undergoing analysis.

The Pioneers of Existentialism

In the nineteen forties and fifties, several psychologists emerged with a distinctively different and positive understanding of the human person and the dynamics of his growth and relationships with others, generally understood as “existential”.  This general approach became known as counselling, and as adopted by religion, as “pastoral counselling”.

Rollo May understood the basic viewpoint of existential psychotherapy as “that which stands with scientific analysis as expressed in the genius of Freud”.  However, the empirical data that science also brings into the picture unfolds the understanding of man on a deeper and broader level.  This deeper understanding assumes that it is possible to have a science of man which does not “fragmentize” man and destroy his humanity in the process of studying him.  Unlike therapeutic interpretation as practiced in Freudian psychoanalysis (which consists of referring a person’s experience to a pre-established theoretical framework) “existential” interpretation seeks to understand how the person himself subjectively experiences reality, then works with him toward actualizing his potential.

Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Abraham Maslow formulated a more positive account of human behavior which focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential, and how we fulfill that potential.  He believed that each person has a desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency for him to “become actualized in what he is potentially”.

Ashley Mongatu believed that as a consequence of humanity’s unique evolutionary history as a highly cooperative creature, the drives of human persons are oriented in the direction of growth and development in love and cooperation.  He believed that what we are born for isto live as if to life and love were one”.

These pioneers believed that the core of human personality is positive, and not irrational and capable of destruction as Freud thought.  Their clinical experience led them to recognize that the innermost core of man’s nature, the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his “animal nature”, is actually positive, basically socialized, forward-moving, rational and realistic.

In scientific circles this was a difficult concept to accept.  In psychology, Freud and his followers presented convincing arguments that the id, man’s basic and unconscious nature, is primarily made up of instincts which would, if permitted expression, result in incest, murder and other crimes.

In religion as well, especially in the Protestant Christian tradition, our culture has been permeated with the concept that man is basically sinful, and only by something approaching a miracle can his sinful nature be negated.  The whole problem of therapy, as seen by this group, is how to hold these untamed forces in check in a wholesome and constructive manner, rather than in the costly fashion of the neurotic.

In contrast, the existentialists believed that the reason for this negative belief by many psychologists lies in the fact that since therapy uncovers hostile and anti-social feelings, it is easy to assume that this proves the deeper and therefore basic nature of man as unrelentingly negative.  Only slowly has it become evident that these untamed and unsocial feelings are neither the deepest nor the strongest, and that the inner core of a man’s personality is the organism itself, which is, in addition to self-preserving, also social and capable of perfection.

Carl Rogers

Dr. Carl Rogers was one of the psychologists who was key to this evolution of psychology from “objective analysis” to a very personal level of psychotherapy.  Rogers was one of the earliest psychologists to depart from the then-traditional viewpoint that sees the therapist as a clinically objective analyst, sitting above and against the analyzed, translating the patient’s feelings and actions into terms derived from Freud such as libido, ego, superego and so on, uncovering hidden motivations and assuming that the clarity of such insights would motivate clients to change their behavior. Rogers takes a decidedly different approach.  He speaks of his perspective in the introduction to his book, “On Becoming a Person” (Houghton Mifflin, Second Edition, 1961):

“It is about a client in my office who sits there by the corner of the desk, struggling to be himself, yet deathly afraid of being himself- striving to see his experience as it is, wanting to be that experience, and yet deeply fearful of the prospect.  I sit there with that client, facing him, participating in that struggle as deeply and sensitively as I am able.  I try to perceive his experience, and the meaning and the feeling and the taste and the flavor that it has for him.  I bemoan my very human fallibility in understanding that client, and the occasional failures to see life as it appears to him, failures which fall like heavy objects across the intricate, delicate web of growth which is taking place.  I rejoice at the privilege of being a midwife to a new personality- as I stand by with awe at the emergence of a self, a person, as I see a birth process in which I have had an important and facilitating part.”

Obviously this is quite different from the relationship that Freud formulates, as can be summarized by Rogers’ understanding of the role of the therapist: “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” instead of, “How can I treat, or cure, or change this person?”  The goal of each approach is treatment of the individual, but the methods are clearly different, as Rogers believes that, “change appears to come about through experience in a relationship”.   Rogers’ overall hypothesis: “If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur”.  The therapist’s role changes from “analyst” to “facilitator”.

Rogers believes that, “The individual has within himself the capacity and the tendency, latent if not evident, to move forward to maturity.  In a suitable psychological climate this tendency is released, and becomes actual rather than potential.”  He sees this potential as evident in the capacity of the individual to understand those aspects of his life and of himself which are causing him pain and dissatisfaction.  This is an understanding which probes beneath his conscious knowledge of himself into those experiences which he has hidden from himself because of their threatening nature.  As a result, the person who emerges tends to reorganize his personality and his relationship to life in ways which are regarded as more mature.”  Further, “It is my hypothesis that in such a relationship the individual will reorganize himself at both the conscious and deeper levels of his personality in such a manner as to cope with life more constructively, more intelligently, and in a more socialized as well as a more satisfying way”.

What Rogers sees in his Clinical Experience

In Rogers’ clinical experience, he conducted many psychological surveys in which he observed the following changes taking place in his “clients” as they undergo therapy: – The individual becomes more integrated, more effective – Fewer of the characteristics are shown which are usually termed neurotic or psychotic, and more of the healthy, well-functioning person – The perception of himself changes, becoming more realistic in views of self – He becomes more like the person he wishes to be, and values himself more highly – He is more self-confident and self-directing – He has a better understanding of himself, becomes open to his experience, denies or represses less of his experience – He becomes more accepting in his attitudes towards others, seeing others as more similar to himself

He sees the role of the therapist as “facilitating” these changes, fostering them by way of offering the client a relationship in which the client can feel safe enough to discover the value of the person that Kierkegaard believed “to be that self that one truly is”.

Rogers uses results seen in his clinical experience to articulate the steps which the client experiences as he becomes more whole.  Rogers sees the following things happening in such a person:

– Feelings evolve from being remote, un-owned to fearlessly experienced in the immediate present

– Experiences evolve from very remote and meaningless to immediate and an acceptable referent for accurate meaning

– Congruence between experience and awareness becomes more complete as experience becomes safer

– Communication becomes clearer as the internal connection between feelings, experiences and awareness improves

– Problems become recognized, understood and owned

– As experiences are perceived as a trustworthy guide to his behavior in relationships, the danger perceived in relationships is lessened

The Person that Emerges From Psychotherapy

In general, Rogers sees the maturing person as

– Increasingly open to his experience which permits him to become less defensive

– Increasingly “existential”; living more fully in each moment, in touch with experiences and feelings

– Increasingly trusting of his own organism, able to trust those feelings and experiences

– Increasingly able to function more completely

So against the Freudian belief that man is basically irrational, and that his impulses, if not controlled will lead to the destruction of others and self, Rogers sees the human person as capable of becoming freer, less defined by the past and more open to the future as he grows.  Since the basic nature of the human person is constructive and trustworthy, as he matures the person will become more creative and live more constructively.

The relationship that Rogers sees as necessary between the client and his therapist is very like that seen as mature love between human persons.  Rogers comments, “There seems every reason to hypothesize that the therapeutic relationship is only one instance of interpersonal relations, and that the same lawfulness governs all such relationships.”  Every human relationship touches on some aspect of the characteristics that Rogers identifies in the process of “becoming a person”.  In all relationships, from the most intimate to the most fraternal, management and expression of feelings, owning of experience, congruence between experience and awareness, clarity of communication, responsibility for problems and honesty manifest themselves in patience, empathy and tolerance.  In all relationships, when we are welcomed into an accepting environment, we are able to move a little closer to “being that person that we are”, and when we welcome another in the same way, their own “becoming” is invited.

Existentialists and Teilhard

The new perspective pioneered by the existentialists can be seen in the light of the “Teilhardian Shift” (January 17), which itself comes out of the concept of general evolution in the human thinking precipitated by the scientific discoveries of Cosmic “size”, “duration” and “unfolding”.  To begin to understand everything as “in the process of evolution” can be interpreted as seeing everything “in the process of becoming”, since each step in evolution comes from something to something new, and the new something which results is more complex than its precedent.

Since the human person can be seen as simply the latest manifestation of this cosmic process, we can expect the same dynamic to be working in our lives.  Every day offers us the opportunity to grow from someone to someone new.  The new aspects of our person which emerge, if this growth is authentic, consistent and congruent with the forces of the universe, are well articulated by Rogers and consistent with the positive expectations of the existentialists.

We are, of course, getting closer to being able to address the full spectrum of the energy of love, especially as articulated by Teilhard.  Before we take this next step, yet another perspective is valuable to explore.  The next post will address love from the perspective of human neurology.  Is Love a feeling emanating from our subconscious mind, from the labyrinths of our Freudian libido?   Does it rise from our instincts?  Is it an emotional force that overcomes our natural antipathies in order to insure procreation?

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Feb 19 Love From the Perspective of Neurology

As we saw in the post of February 5, Freud addressed the phenomena of unintended emotions, thoughts and actions by attributing them to the influence of the “un”- or “sub”-conscious self.  He postulated the ability of the human person to “sublimate” feelings, to “dam them up” and thus prevent their natural expression, resulting in their manifesting themselves in inappropriate and even destructive ways in our lives.  He also attributes many of the psychological forces on the human person emanating from the “life force” contained in the libido, which drives our lives.   While many of the conclusions to which he came may have been questioned as the science of psychology matured over time, his insights into human actions were the first of their kind.

In the previous post, we saw the more contemporary viewpoint of the existentialists, which saw the person-to-person action of psychotherapy as the necessary agent of healing, with the psychotherapist “facilitating” the emerging maturity of the client as he becomes more capable of becoming freer, less defined by the past and more open to the future.

Today’s post approaches the phenomenon of the human person and his relationships from the perspective of neurology.  After all, nothing happens in our lives: no action taken, no thoughts arise, no decisions without a neuron firing somewhere in our brain.  How do we get from this simple, mechanistic event to the full spectrum of life and thought present in every person?

The Human Brain

In the later part of the twentieth century, much became known of the structure and dynamics of the human brain.  In a nutshell, neurology believes that the human brain as we know it today is the result of three distinct and cumulative stages of evolution.

In the 1950’s, science came to see the brain as existing in three layers which evolved sequentially over the course of history. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain)  The book, “A General Theory of Love“, by Thomas Lewis et al, sees the activities of this “triune” brain as the basis of understanding love.  The three layers, or “sub-brains”, are:

The “Reptilian” brain, consisting of the cerebellum and brainstem, is the deepest, oldest and most basic structure of our brain.  It was shaped within the skulls of our reptilian ancestors who ate, survived and reproduced in an era that long preceded the dinosaurs. This layer regulates such involuntary functions as breathing, basic bodily movements and acquired “muscle memory”, and other instinctual drives that are least subject to conscious control.  Included in its purview are safety, sustenance, sex and the “fight or flight” instinct.

The “Limbic” brain is found in no reptiles but all mammals, and serves as the seat of emotions.  It requires periodic entry into the dream state, unlike the reptiles, to insure continued health.   The limbic brain is characterized by the nurturing of offspring (eg production of milk) which requires longer periods of parenting to adulthood.  As Lewis points out, the demarcation between reptiles and mammals is not only in their skin, reproduction and body heating, but in the “organismic orientation toward offspring.  Detachment and disinterest mark the parental attitude of the typical reptile, while mammals can enter into subtle and elaborate interactions with their young”.  This close relationship between parent and offspring is one of the factors that Lewis sees as a key ingredient in relationships.

The limbic brain is the seat of emotion.  As Lewis writes:

“The emotional brain, although inarticulate and unreasoning, can be expressive and intuitive.  The verbal rendition of emotional material thus demands a different transmutation.  And so people must strain to force a strong feeling into the straitjacket of verbal expression.  Poetry, a bridge between the neocortical and limbic brain is simultaneously improbable and powerful.  Frost wrote that a poem ‘begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a love sickness.  It is never a thought to begin with.’”

The “Neocortex” brain is the last, and in humans, the largest of the three sub-brains.  While existing in most mammals to some extent, it is significantly larger in humans.  The unique human capabilities of speaking, writing, planning, abstracting and reasoning all originate in the neocortex.  Most importantly, and most sharply distinguishing the human from other mammals, is the neocortex-based ability of the human for “reflective awareness”, in which the person is aware of his awareness.  As Teilhard puts it, “he knows that he knows”.

As Lewis notes, the three brains not only differ in age, size and in the activities which they govern, they also differ in composition.  For example, the limbic brain consists of cells of simpler, more primitive organization than in their neocortex counterparts.  Differences between the brains are clearly distinct at the molecular level as well.

The Emotional Basis for Love

 Lewis goes on to postulate that the limbic layer of the brain, the seat of emotion, is the locus of what we call “love”, effectively equating love to emotion.  In his words:

“Neither does love begin with a thought.  Anatomical mismatch prevents intellectual talons from grasping love as surely as it foils a person who tries to eat soup with a fork.  To understand love we must start with the feelings.  Science has discovered emotionality’s deeper purpose: the timeworn mechanisms of emotion allow two human beings to receive the contents of each other’s minds.  Emotion is the messenger of love; it is the vehicle that carries every signal from one brimming heart to another.”

He goes further in his theory of how the limbic brain facilitates this “mechanism of emotion”:

“Evolution has given mammals a shimmering conduit, and they use it to tinker with one another’s physiology, to adjust and fortify one another’s fragile neural rhythms in the collaborative dance of love.  We call this mutually synchronizing exchange ‘limbic regulation’.  The human body constantly fine-tunes many thousands of physiologic parameters- heart rate and blood pressure, body temperature, immune function, oxygen saturation, levels of sugars, hormones, salts, ions, metabolites.”

He is effectively postulating the transfer of energy between two persons, through the “doorway of limbic connection”.  Initially this energy is manifest through the baby in the womb, as his own heartbeat synchronizes to that of his mother.  Later, the baby is held by the mother and his limbic system “resonates” with the mother’s.  Lewis postulates that by the mechanism of limbic resonance, “a mammal can detect the internal state of another mammal and adjust its own physiology to match the situation- a change in turn sensed by the other, who likewise adjusts.”  In this recursive exchange, persons become attuned to one another’s evocative signals and alter the structure of one another’s nervous systems.

Limbic connection is effectively emotional communication and enables the energy of love to flow between two persons:

“…each has their own harmonies (at the limbic, or emotional level) and the tendency to draw the other into a compatible key.  And so the dance between the one and the other cannot trace the same path that either expects, because the other moves to an different emotional (or limbic) melody.  In a love relationship, each person is eventually able to move their “attractors” (eg limbic structure) toward more mature modes, and this is echoed in the other.  In this dialogical way, both persons began to reach their potential of being fully human.”

Limbic vs Neocortex (emotion vs intellect)

Note that in the dialogic process of limbic connection as described above the intellect plays little if any part.  It is the limbic brains that are affected, and the key task of “moving their attractors toward more mature modes” is done at the limbic, effectively the unconscious, level.  The neocortex brain does not come into play.

Lewis believes that the intellect plays a limited role in the communication of emotions which he considers as the essence of love:

“Emotional impressions (eg emotional knowledge centered in the limbic brain) shrug off insight (eg intellectual knowledge centered in the neocortex) but yield to a different persuasion: the force of another person’s attractors (eg limbic resonance) reaching through the doorway of limbic connection.”

He goes on to say, “This transmutation (limbic regulation) consists not in elevating reason over passion, or intellect over emotion, but in the evolution of silent, less functional intuitions toward more functional ones.”

The Neurological Basis of Psychology

Lewis sees the essential objective of the therapist as “to positively affect a patient via such behaviors as ‘limbic regulation’, which requires ‘limbic resonance’, which leads to ‘limbic revision’.”   In his interpersonal dynamic, psychotherapy changes people because one mammal can restructure the limbic brain of another.  He sees this aspect of relationship eventually replacing those of the past:

“Our age is ready to retire another host of unwieldy and outmoded contrivances: the models of the emotional mind that predated empiricism.  Science is busy disassembling the brain that engenders intelligence, reason, passion and love – the delicate structure that creates each of our selves, each of our hearts.  The spectral inhabitants that we were taught to expect there- id, ego, Oedipus- are fading like summer starts before the coming dawn.”

“..what defines the psychotherapy that he (the therapist) conducts:  Himself.  The person of the therapist is the converting catalyst, not his order or credo, not his spatial location in the room not his exquisitely chosen words or denominational silences.  So long as the rules of a therapeutic system do not hinder limbic transmission- a critical caveat – they remain inconsequential, neocortical distractions.  The dispensable trappings of dogma may determine what a therapist thinks he is doing, what he talks about when he talks about therapy, but the agent of change is who he is.”

This viewpoint would seem to reinforce Rogers’ thesis in several areas:

  • It is the therapist himself that, through his personal relationship with the client, facilitates health
  • The outcome of successful therapy is a person who is more whole and functional
  • The dense tangle of motives and complex constructs (eg Id, Ego, etc) is not necessary

Put another way (and I think this book agrees) love is needed for personal healing and maturity.

But, against Rogers, Lewis might be seen to agree with Freud when he discounts the client’s intellect in the process of successful therapy.  Rogers sees the enlistment of the client’s intellect in helping him to become aware of his disfunctionality: while the limbic brain might be the locus for feelings, the actions of the neocortex are necessary for understanding, bringing into consciousness and dealing with the thus-far hidden disconnects, fears and poorly-chosen strategisms of the client.

Lewis also, like Freud, understands that the intangible substance of love is best expressed as energy, and that it can be understood as a flowing thing.  His concept of the dialogical nature of “limbic resonance” as “the enabling of the flow of love between two persons” is similar to Freud’s concept of “libidinal energy as the basis of the flow of love”.  As we shall see when we finally take up Teilhard’s ideas of love, the concept of energy and its flow play a very important role indeed.

Summing Up

So, the science of neurology would seem to have articulated the “labyrinth of libido” that Freud postulated.  We can now see the human brain, our seat of awareness, to be composed of three layers, each of which constitutes a source of stimulus to human awareness and action.  At the lowest level, in defense of the organism, the urges to flee or fight give rise to the emotions of fright or anger in the second level.  Our need to continue the species emanating at the lower level gives rise to our feelings of attraction in the second level.  Our attempts at love are both supported by “libidinal attraction” and frustrated by its interruption, but always tangled by our lack of understanding of ourselves and our connection to others.

Like most science-based approaches to love, this book (and Freud as well) identifies the seat of love as emotion.  Love is understood as one of many emotions, along with hate and fear, and the trick is to simply manage it.  The “libidinal resonance” that Lewis posits suggests strategies for management that are well known and prescribed in many Western thought systems.

The one area that Lewis does not address as such is the play of the intellect.  In his opinion, love is effectively an emotion, and as such is instinctual, subliminal and unconscious.  In this regard, he would agree with Freud.  Unlike Freud, he does not seem to regard love as potential harmful, and in need of the intellect to keep it in check.

Are we the slaves of emotions (as Freud and Lewis both suggest), in which conscious attempts to channel or otherwise manage them will result in danger to our organisms?  Are we carried along, willingly or unwillingly by the tides of love, or, when the surges of passion are spent, can we open other channels of union simply by deciding to love?

Is the intellect irrelevant to love, or, with Rogers and Teilhard, is our intellect capable of managing or otherwise reforming our emotions in ways that are in resonance with our human nature and contribute to our health as human persons?  Teilhard might ask, “If love evolves as the energy which unites the recently evolved entities, human persons endowed with reflective intelligence, then why wouldn’t this intelligence play as strong a role as emotion in the maturation of the person?”

As Teilhard puts it, “Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open sea.”

The next post will embark upon an exploration of this voyage.  However, it will not come until the end of March due to other activities planned during that period.

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March 20  The Noosphere and Its Laws

Previously, we’ve attempted to address the various historical approaches to human relationships that have been developed mostly in the west.  All of these perspectives have one thing in common: they seek to identify the way that humans should relate to each other in order to be consistent with the ultimate reality that defines the human person.

The Layers of the Earth

Teilhard refers to this goal as “the articulation of the noosphere”.  To understand this term, it is helpful to see our planet as consisting of many “layers”, in the same was as an onion is layered.

At the center of Earth, we have the “igneo-sphere”, the center of molten matter which manifests itself in thermal activity on the Earth’s surface in the form of volcanic activity.  This first sphere is the remnant of the early Earth when it first formed from the powerful forces of gravity which pulled in the debris surrounding the early Sun during the formation of the Solar system.

The second sphere consists of the rocky plates which float on the Earth’s crust, or the “litho-sphere”.  These plates were formed as the outer edges of the igneosphere began to cool and expand.

The third sphere consists of the “hydro-sphere”, the large amount of water which precipitated from the molecular uniting of hydrogen and oxygen as the earth cooled, and floats upon the crustal plates.

The fourth sphere consists of the “atmo-sphere”, the gasses which form a layer above the first three spheres.

The fifth sphere consists of the “magneto-sphere”, an electro-magnetic field which surrounds the earth.

The sixth layer consists of the layer of life which covers the Earth’s surface, the “bio-sphere”.

Teilhard postulates a seventh layer, deserving of consideration due to the influence of human thought on the planet: the “noos-sphere”, or “sphere of thought”.

Articulating the Noosphere

In very recent years (by cosmic evolution standards) science has studied, measured and analyzed the first five layers, with great success in identifying the structures and processes by which these spheres came to be, and in which their dynamics daily play out beneath our feet and above our heads.  These spheres are well-articulated.

Even more recently, science has addressed the sixth layer, the biosphere, with success in many areas, but with still many areas remaining to be explored.

Applying science to the noosphere has, as we have seen in the previous posts, yielded results that are quite diverse, showing that as evolution has produced entities of higher complexity, attempts to quantify and understand become more difficult.

As human society has developed, the attempt to understand and manage human relationships through philosophies, religions and governmental structures can be understood in terms of evolution, of both the human person and the relationships which connect the person to other persons.  History records the many attempts to compose a society in which the human person can evolve from childhood to adult- hood in a way that benefits both himself and his society.

These attempts are categorized by Teilhard as “articulation of the noosphere”.  Teilhard observes that each step of cosmic evolution has produced entities whose potential for union with other entities is realized by the application of an energy which effects this union.  He sees this same activity unfolding with the two human phenomena: the entity of the person and the energy of love.  Science attempts (with some success) to identify and describe the “laws” of physics and chemistry which “control” the successive emergence of more complex entities.  In the same way, humans, through their religions, philosophies and governmental structures, attempt to identify and control the effective “laws” which implicitly underpin our collective existence on the planet.

As seen from previous posts, there is not a general consensus on the nature or the content of these “laws”.

Understanding of the phenomenon of the human person varies considerably in the many streams of human thought as found in the various philosophies and religions, and only recently addressed by science.  Many schools of thought see the human person as only marginally different from the larger-brained mammals, and many philosophies argue the proper weight of the human person against that of the society of which he is a part.  Still others argue the value of his “psyche”, or “soul” in “this life” against that “in the next life” (not to mention those that discount the existence of the soul or the next life).  Many do not agree that the human person is indeed evolving, either in his nature or in his society.  None seem to have a very good handle on what it means to be a “whole” person: what is the real potential of the human person?  Or, put in evolutionary terms, to what is the human person evolving?

Understanding of the phenomenon of love seems to also evidence this diversity.  As we have seen, many schools of thought see love as just the result of emotions based on instincts, the price we pay for belonging to society, and in some cases as an activity which undermines the serenity to which we were born.

These diverse strains of thought also illustrate the difficulty of dealing with one of these phenomena without an understanding of the other.  The human person cannot be understood without an understanding of his relationships with other humans, just as understanding of the relationship cannot be grasped without a commensurate understanding of the person.  Humans are, consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, caught up in many societal relationships, such as families, friendships, employment, governmental structures; swimming in this complex sea requires a minimal level of expertise if one is to survive, much less thrive.

We are caught in the “hermeneutical paradox”, in which understanding of the whole is limited by lack of understanding of the pieces.  The pieces, however, make no sense without an understanding of the whole.

Teilhard acknowledges the difficulty of sorting through the various and often contradictory streams of thought on “love” and “the person”, and offers a fresh perspective on the subject.  What is love and how does it fit into the universe?  How does the perspective of love as a natural force enable a clearer understanding of how it works?

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April 3 Returning to the “Teilhardian Shift”

Recapping the “Teilhardian Shift”

So, recapping the “Teilhardian Shift” (From the January 17 post), the cosmos itself is an evolving system, and the steps of evolution can be understood as “entities evolving through union with other entities under the influence of fields of energy into entities of higher complexity”.  Teilhard sees this phenomenon of increasing complexity as the underlying thread of evolution, beginning with the “big bang” and continuing through some thirteen billion years.  And it still continues through the evolution of the human person today.

The Thread of Evolution – Increasing Complexity

When I was very young, I remember being fascinating with the “gunny sack”.  I distinctly recall watching my Dad open them by pulling on the right string, which immediately loosened all the knots, and opening the sack as if by magic.  Try as I might, I could never find the right string to pull on until my Dad would patiently show me.  I can’t open a sack of fertilizer or bird seed today without first fumbling for the string, and then watching with pleasure when finally pulling the right one and the sack opens so miraculously.

To a large extent, this situation is similar to understanding of the human person and his relationships.  As seen in previous posts, there is little consensus among both thinkers of antiquity and current schools of thought on the right way “to be”, and “to be with others”.  Making wrong assumptions about the essence of the human person leads to wrong conclusions on how his relationships should unfold, and wrong assumptions about human relationships lead to wrong conclusions about what he is: the “hermeneutical paradox” (March 20 post) once again.  Examples of this entanglement can be seen with social and governmental experiments in our time, such as Marxism, with clear and negative consequences which are still being dealt with after several generations.  Consider the immense gap in human stature between North and South Korea: North Koreans are seen to be smaller and less robust than South Koreans due to the many years of malnutrition.  If the two countries were reunited it would take many generations before the two peoples were of equal health.

Teilhard sees development of complexity through the tangle of cosmic evolution as the thread which opens a fresh perspective on human evolution.  This new perspective (the “Teilhardian Shift”) makes it possible to view the phenomena of the human person and his relationships in a new and clearer light.  He views evolution as a process in which entities have relationships which lead to the creation of more complex entities from stage to stage, and this process eventually leads to the appearance of entities of persons united by the energies of love.

He observes that evolution speeds up as complexity develops.  Billions of years are spent at the level of gravity, atomic and electronic fields, millions of years at the planetary/biological level, and thousands of years at the level of personal intellectual and social development.

At the human level, evolutionary changes no longer require morphological (ie anatomical and neurological) development to employ more complex relationships.  These relationships develop when:

  • humans begin to understand the potential of human development and play these potentialities out in their relationships
  • this activation of potential in turn spurs the development of the person, increasing his potential for relationship

We do not know what it means to be “fully human”, nor what would be the characteristics of the “perfect relationship”, but in the long history of human development there are many cohesive threads which will be successfully followed to fruition.

There is a tendency to see the process of evolution as coming to a halt in the present day; that we have “arrived”.  The process of evolution seems to have stopped, and it is difficult to see the chance of any substantial change in the future.

It’s much more probable that the process of evolution which got us here isn’t going to stop, but will instead continue.  This shouldn’t be a surprise: if you draw a line between two points, past and present, the slope of the line in the future isn’t going to change beyond the present point unless something seriously changes in the underlying process.  Therefore we can expect the process of evolution to continue through the human person and the energies which unite us.  If we see the evolutionary process of entities and energy leading from more simple things to more complex things, which have more capacity for interconnection, then we can extrapolate this line to ever more complex entities and energies.

Teilhard said, “Those who set their sails to the winds of life will always find themselves borne on a current to the open sea.”

The next post will begin to take a look at what we see when we look at this phenomenon “which unites us in such a way that we become more complex”, what that complexity consists of, and where it is taking us.

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April 17 Looking At How Love Works: Excentration – Centration

As discussed in the previous post, Teilhard views evolution as a process in which entities unite in such a way which leads to the creation of more complex entities from stage to stage, and this process eventually leads to the appearance of entities of persons united by the energies of love.Development of Complexity in the Human PersonIf the thread of cosmic evolution, as he sees it, is increasing complexity over time, then how can this thread be seen as proceeding through the human person?   If human evolution proceeds through increasing complexity of the human person under the influence of the energy of love (as atoms enter into increased complexity as they unite under the influence of atomic fields), how can this complexity be understood and how does it come about?The first step is to understand the human potential for relationships.  Earlier posts have overviewed the slow (by human standards; by cosmic standards incredibly quickly) movement towards our understanding of both the nature of the human person and his capacity for relationships.  Most thinkers have understood both the “social” nature of the human person and the dangers to the person that can come about in social systems (societies, governments).  As Teilhard points out, the “spherical” nature of our planet insures that the compression of human societies will increase as the population expands.  This compression accounts for both the necessity for societal systems and their norms for behavior as well as their dangers.  He asks, “Will our societies exalt or crush us?”It seems obvious that some societies and their belief systems have evolved in favor of the human person, in which there seems to be an acceptable balance between enabling development of the human person and insuring stability of the society.  It also seems obvious that in many societies the potential for personal development is significantly restricted by the governmental and religious institutions and their underlying belief systems.   While no existing system can be seen to be perfect, some seem definitely more supportive of the potential for personal development in concert with stability of the society.

The difference, as observed by Teilhard, lies in the radically different understanding of the human person and his relationships.  Once the human person is understood to be in the process of “becoming”, evolving to a higher level of maturity and capability, the society in which he exists must also value and enhance this same potential.  As the human person evolves, so must his society.

Development of Complexity in Human Relationships

The second step is to understand human unity.  The very basis of this thread of evolution lies in the interaction between human persons.  To the extent that humans can engage in relationships in which their own persons are enriched, and in which this enrichment enhances the relationship, extension of this dynamic on to the society at large is made possible.  The stability of a society rests on the maturity of the persons which make it up.

Nearly all the ancient thinkers recognized a key to human maturity lies in the person’s rise above “egoism” both as a building block for personal growth and as a necessary component of relationship.  The concept of “losing” onself as a step toward spiritual fulfillment is common in many venerable systems of thought.  The actual practice in which these results occur varies significantly among the religions and philosophies in which they are critical, but all the thinkers of the “Axial Age” (900-200 BCE) recognized that you needed other people to elicit your full humanity; self-cultivation was a reciprocal process.  “In order to establish oneself, one should try to establish others.  In order to enlarge oneself, one should try to enlarge others” (Confucious).

Karen Armstrong this perspective as common to the thinkers of the axial age.  “In one way or the other, their programs were designed to eradicate the egotism that is largely responsible for our violence, and promoted the empathic spirituality of the Golden Rule.”  They understood that this reciprocal process required that we treat others as we would be treated.  This requires us to be able to rise above the limitations of our self, to become less focused inward and more open to “the other”: the overcoming of egoism.

Excentration and Centration

 Teilhard articulates this dynamic further, seeing it in the light of cosmic evolution and in its continuation in the human person.  In relationship between persons, Teilhard sees the dialog of love coming about through the dynamic of “excentration” and “centration”.

“Excentration” occurs when we are able to grow beyond our biases, assumptions and thought structures and become aware of different and better concepts of life: the “aha” moment in which we realize this or that presumption which holds us back.  Excentration naturally leads to increased transparency, openness and honesty, which are necessary for a deep relationship.

Engaging in such a deep relationship, or deepening the relationship that already exists, enhances the beloved, and contributes to their own ability to “excentrate”, and thus their increasing maturity and capacity for love.  As their level of person is enhanced and the love returned, this results in an increased level of self-understanding in both persons.

The “excentration” has led to a renewed “centration“.  Both persons become more complete, more “realized of their potentials” than before.  Essentially, in this way we grow through our relationships. This growth permits us to deepen our relationships, which has the potential to further mature us.

Not that these two dynamics are not without cost.  The process of “excentration”, traditionally of “loss of one’s self”, “transcendence of egoism”, or even “dying to self” does not come easy.  As Khalil Gibran says, “The pain that you feel is the breaking of the shell which encloses your understanding”.

Teihard stresses that the self is not lost in this process; it is enhanced.  The true, underlying, core nature of the human person that results from the long rise of consciousness continues to follow the thread of cosmic evolution.  The thread of complexity which manifested itself in the thread which runs through life, awareness and consciousness now continues through the thread of the person.

Human Choice: Neocortex vs Limbic Brain

The big new thing as this thread continues through the human is our ability to choose: to make use of our neocortex brain to cleanse and clarify the activity of our limbic brain to effect an ever-increasing level of personal completeness and maturity.  Our ability to be conscious of our consciousness enables the thread of complexity to be manifested in a new and vibrant manner, but one which is still consistent with the laws of cosmic evolution: a new vector of evolution.

 From Teilhard:“Only love can bring individual beings to their perfect completion, as individuals, by uniting them one with another, because only love takes possession of them and unites them by what lies deepest within them.  For indeed at what moment do lovers come into the most complete possession of themselves if not when they say they are lost in one another.”The next post will explore the dynamics of excentration and centration further, showing how they are imbedded in the existential schools of psychology (as discussed in the February 13 post).———————————————————————————————————May 1  Excentration – Centration From the Perspective of Psychology

Seeing the fundamental dynamic of love in terms of excentration and centration offers yet another perspective on the works of love as seen by science, particularly psychiatry and psychology.  As we have seen, a sharp dichotomy exists between the approach taken by Freud and that of the “existential” school, particularly by Dr. Carl Rogers.

Freud

While Freud does a masterful job of articulating the labyrinth of the libido, his conclusions on the dangers of the dynamics of love to the person certainly do not paint love as something engaged by persons to ensure their growth and maturity.  His idea of the mature human person is more one who survives the dangers of relationship in favor of a strong sense of self.  To some extent, it is centration without excentration: a return to the egoism so strongly rejected by the thinkers of the Axial Age (last post).

Freud also articulates the pain of growth and relationship to a vast extent, but pain in Freud’s view was the necessary result of curtailing the ego due to the necessities of procreation and social harmony.  To mesh with society is painful because of the limitations it imposes.  There’s no “aha” moment when one’s sense of self is expanded, just the ache and pain of carrying the burden of life

As discussed in the February 13 post, the approach taken by the existential psychologists starts with a different assumption about the human person: one in which the person is a growing organism whose potential can be trusted to yield a life of increasing maturity and satisfactory relationships.  Pain is to be experienced, but is more a sign of progress than a burden to be borne.

Rogers

Unlike Freud, Rogers goes to great length to sketch the dimensions of the maturing person.  From the February 13 post, as a person participates in a therapeutic relationship:

– The individual becomes more integrated, more effective – Fewer of the characteristics are shown which are usually termed neurotic or psychotic, and more of the healthy, well-functioning person – The perception of himself changes, becoming more realistic in views of self – He becomes more like the person he wishes to be, and values himself more highly – He is more self-confident and self-directing – He has a better understanding of himself, becomes open to his experience, denies or represses less of his experience – He becomes more accepting in his attitudes towards others, seeing others as more similar to himself

The excentration-centration process is detailed in this description.  The individual becomes more realistic and self-valuing as be finds himself received and valued, able to become more open to himself (excentration) while he becomes more realistic and self valuing (centration).  As Rogers recognizes, this is a spiral process: a little feedback, a little realization, a little pain, a little perspective, a little confidence to take a little more feedback, and so on.

Rogers does not describe the relationship between client and therapist as one of “love”, but as it contains all the elements of centration and excentration, leading to the increasing wholeness and maturity of the individual, it certainly meets the criteria, and illustrates the power and potential of persons participating in the energy of love.

Rogers is effectively describing in technical and structural detail the dynamics of any relationship between human persons.  In all relationships, this dialogue between centration and excentration is at work, although at different levels of intimacy and emotional connection.  In any setting in which human persons are expected to engage to insure an outcome, from intimate, sexual union, through parent-child unions, through work relationships, through the dynamics of research, and ultimately that of society and government, the spiral steps that Rogers outlines come to play to some extent.  In the final analysis, the more maturity that a person brings to the relationship, the more successful the outcome.

Human couples seldom have the training and insight to see the ebb and flow of communication and connection as clearly as a skilled therapist, but those with successful relationships come to realize both the power and efficacy of their relationship in their individual roads to maturity, wholeness and happiness.  The spiral of feedback, realization, pain, perspective and confidence goes on in any successful relationship as human persons cooperate with the uniting energy of love.  As Paul Stookey’s wedding song goes, “Woman gets her life from man and gives it back again”.

We are all individuals, separate and different from all other individuals, complete with our jumble of hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, inadequacies and strengths, freedoms and limitations.   And from this oft-confused tower of individuation, we look out at others and often find bridges hard to recognize.  To realize that the act of building a bridge is part of the act of gaining maturity, of gaining insight and building confidence in our internal jumble, is to begin to trust in the energy of love.

But what of the cases in which individuals find themselves outside of a two person love relationship?  All of us have at one time or another been disappointed in our relationships.  In these cases, does Teilhard believe that the personal evolution towards maturity is interrupted, dooming the individual to personal stagnation?

Keeping with the context of cosmic evolution continuing through the human person, the answer lies in the power of the cosmic energy we call love, and will be addressed in the next post.

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May 15  Recap of Teilhard’s Perspective on Cosmic Evolution

Allow me to recap Teilhard’s perspective on Cosmic Evolution, before addressing how a single human person can mature in the energy that we call love;

Evolution from the Big Bang

Conventional scientific thinking understands evolution as something that happens in living things, starting with the cell and more or less slowly proceeding in the human person through minute changes in our genes.  Thinkers like Teilhard point out that this conventional point of view limits evolution to something that somehow pops up out of nowhere in the most recent three percent of the unfolding of the universe.  What about the fourteen-some billion years prior to the appearance of the cell?

Looking at the cosmos in this way, Teilhard sees this long period prior to the cell, and the kicking off of the era of biology, as a staging period in which the infinitesimal entities addressed by physics (quarks, muons and other strange and otherwise invisible “entities”, called by Teilhard “the stuff of the universe”) merge and grow and “evolve” into ever more complex structures, like electrons, protons and neutrons, which in turn merge and grow and evolve into even more complex structures.  The universe slowly becomes something more than the sum of its parts.

This understanding of the play of the stuff of the universe isn’t theology or philosophy, but the result of science theorizing, testing and analyzing; theories being put forward and tested for over one hundred years, and captured in the general Scientific understanding of the cosmos known as the “Standard Model.

Three Teilhard Insights

What Teilhard brings to the table is three basic but important insights:

Living Things Evolve From Matter: First, biologic evolution proceeds from the birth of living things using the materials perfected by, staged by cosmic evolution for billions of years.  The complex atoms that make up our bodies came from the factories of stars long ago exploded, and grown and cultivated into the very complex molecules of amino acids, enzymes and proteins which continue the march to the cell through uniting into DNA strings.  Evolution therefore begins at the big bang, and manifests itself into ever new and innovative forms as it continues its thread through living things.

There are points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically different capabilities and potentialities.  The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings that follow.  At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be seen in the potential of those which precede it.  Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in us, which will lead to new modes of being not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient myriads of “the stuff of the universe.”  And, of course, we are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them.  One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in understanding ourselves, and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment.  We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them.  To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!

Being of such vastly increased complexity over the pre-cellular molecules (themselves consisting of millions of atoms), cells represent an astounding capacity for unification, complexity and further evolution compared to the molecules.  The rules and laws under which they make their way up the spiral of complexity, and the energies to which they are subject, are entirely new, but connected to the long upwelling of the cosmos through the underlying law of “complexity-consciousness”.

As Teilhard sees it, this gathering of complexity as the process of evolution rises through living things, always results in increased awareness, which bursts through simple sensing and response to environment (such as in bacteria and plants), into complex sensing and conscious reaction (as in animals) to the awareness of this consciousness (as in humans).

Not a single step, nor any resulting stage, of this long process from the very simple “stuff of the universe” to the human person is taken except in response to this law of complexity-consciousness.  Complexity is hence the thread by which cosmic evolution can be traced from very simple things to conscious entities over long passage of time.

There are points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically different capabilities and potentialities.  The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings that follow.  At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be seen in the potential of those which precede it.  Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in us, which will lead to new modes of being not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient myriads of “the stuff of the universe.”  And, of course, we are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them.  One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in understanding ourselves, and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment.  We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them.  To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!

It’s Always Entities and Energy: Secondly, in each step of this process, only two major aspects of the universe are active.  At every step, the entity which climbs the latter of complexity (muons into electrons, electrons into atoms, atoms into molecules, molecules into cells, cells into the bewildering cloud of living things, one branch of which is the human person), does so under the influence of some sort of energy: a field which engages the new entity by its new potentials and powers the transition to the new form.  The universe is bathed in these fields (Higgs field, Strong and Weak nuclear forces, the mighty forces of gravity, the laws of cellular activity) which fuel the unification of the “stuff of the universe” into ever more complex and ultimately animated forms.  This astoundingly complex but universal phenomenon is underlaid by a single proposition, the law of complexity-consciousness- by which the universe grows the capacity for understanding itself.

Theilhard capture this law of complexity-consciousness as “Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

Humans Emerge from Evolution:  Thirdly, and this is the central theme of this blog, the human person is the latest manifestation of this cosmic process.  Not only are we “the stuff of the stars” (with the atoms in our body emanating from some nova billions of years ago), but also, and more importantly, we can now be seen as the logical outcome of the process of the evolution of the universe.  The human person is the most recent (and more importantly the most complex, and hence most conscious) appearance of the stuff of the universe, and love is the most complex, and hence the most important influence, on our evolution.

The resulting new perspective on love as embedded in Cosmic Evolution

This provides us with an understanding of love that goes much further than a basis of procreation, a strong emotion.  When we engage in love, we are continuing the long process of complexity and consciousness in our personal growth through our unity with others.  Seen in this light, love is trustworthy, it’s what got us here and what will carry us on.

High minded stuff, indeed.  Looking at the world today, and with even a superficial knowledge of human history, a more realistic response to the muddle of human attempts at relationship might seem to be one of dismay, even disgust.  I’ll address the larger context in a later poxg, but today would like to stay closer to home.

Yes, the ideal of love at the level of two human persons is pretty universal.  Poems, love songs, operas and culture all agree that two persons can, with some level of difficulty, overcome the many barriers to true union and “live happily ever after”.  In the case of a single person, especially one who is alone with the scars of failed relationships, how can this beautiful vision of the person maturing through participation in cosmic energies be realized?  Worse yet, what about those in relationships in which “the other” does not return our love?  Given that each of us have different tolerance for affection, openness and trust, how the energy of love work its magic in us?

In the last post, the creative dynamic of love found in the process of “centration and excentration”, the breathing out of love (as ego is overcome), and the strengthening of the person through the breathing in of love from “the other” as we become more open an accepting of love, was addressed.  We put aside that part of ourselves, that inauthentic part of ourselves that armors us, protects us from disappointment, and impedes our ability to give and receive, in “excentration”.   In this more open state, the returned love from the other can be more purely “inhaled”, which strengthens us and gives us the courage to become more open, more loving and more receptive.

The remarkable insight of Teilhard, understanding that we are entities pulled forward in growth and closer by the gravity of love, enmeshed in the field which pulls us forward and upward as it pulls us closer, also recognizes that to love is to trust in the power of the universe to make us whole.  Loving is the critical action of life, even if there’s not another person on the other side.  Love itself is the key.  Love of life, love of nature, even love of the cosmic upwelling of energy, now understood as passing through ourselves, upwelling to flood the dark places where our fears reside, lighting our nights and warming our cold.  To love is to grow, and to grow is to trust the energies of love rooted in the infinitude of cosmic time.  The very act of personal growth, valued and addressed over the ages by our revered thinkers, is conocommitant with the act of love.  And this act is nothing less than the latest manifestation of the welling up of the cosmic evolutionary forces of growth and union in a nurturing spiral in which we are made whole.

There’s no certainty that offered love will be accepted, or that our love will overcome another’s fear and barriers.  There is considerable certainty in the effect of love on ourselves.  Love is never wasted; engaging in it is never in vain.

So yes: love, with its facets of trust, openness and growth, with its fruits of maturity as identified by thinkers such as Carl Rogers (see post from May 1) can be employed by a single person as he or she begins to understand, as Teilhard puts it:

“I doubt that whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes and realizes that a universal will to live converges and is made human in him.”

We are borne along, raised up, made more whole by the energies of life, which can now be seen more clearly as trustworthy:

“Those who set their sails to the winds of life will always find themselves borne on a current to the open sea.”

In the next post, I’d like to return to addressing the human person as he participates in the energy of love.

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May 29  The Emerging Person

The Teilhard perspective on love and the person, as naturally emerging from cosmic evolution, puts the human person, human relationships, society and civilization in a clearer context.

The Ego

As seen in the thinkers of the Axial Age, there is general agreement that authentic human relations observe the Golden Rule, and that a key aspect of the person necessary for relationship is the absence of ego.  The word, “ego”, however, can have different meanings depending on which of the philosophical systems in which it is used.

As we have seen, Freud recognizes the essence of the person as the “ego”, and therefore understands personal growth as growth of the ego.  In opposition to the Axial Age thinkers, however, he sees this growth not only independent of human relationship, but as something which must actually overcome it.

In terms of the Axial Age thinkers, “egoism” refers to that aspect of the human person which, being focused within, impedes relationship.  These thinkers focus on the “essence” of the person, awakening to the vast reaches of selfhood that lay beneath the surface of their minds.  In doing so, they were becoming fully “self-conscious” ”

In the Indian holy book, the Upanishads (700-600BC), Karen Armstrong sees the insight:

“There is an immortal spark (the “atman”) at the core of the human person, which participated in – was of the same nature as – the immortal brahman that sustained and gave life to the entire cosmos.  This was a discovery of immense importance and it would become a central insight in every major religious tradition.  The ultimate reality was an immanent presence in every single human being.”

The Upanishads is one of the earliest recorded instances of recognition that whatever is going on in the human person is in some way tied into the ultimate nature of the cosmos, a recognition that would be supported and expanded with extensive empirical discoveries thousands of years later.  Teilhard, for example, as we have seen, finds the person and the energy of love as the latest manifestations of cosmic evolution consistent with the unfolding universe as understood in Standard Model of Physics which is based on the many discoveries of the cosmos in the past century.

In the Eastern perspective, however, the dynamics that take place in the process of suppression of ego and development of the person on the way to communication with the “immortal brahman” ultimately consists of the removal of the self and dissolution of the atman into the “cosmic all”.  “Dying to self” is a concept taken literally; it’s not just the inauthentic self that is left behind, it’s the self itself.

Plato saw a different process, in which the natural end of the person’s essence is in merging with the loved one, and eventually unification with “the good”.  The boundary between the two selves is gradually eroded, resulting in less distinction between them.

However, the western thinkers, particularly those in the Judeao-Christian tradition, saw the person as maturing through the process of love towards a union with God in which their essences survive.

Ego vs essence

Teilhard sees positing the essence of the person in egoism (as Freud would argue) as a lack of understanding of the person.

“Egoism, whether personal or racial, is quite rightly excited by the idea of the element ascending through faithfulness to life, to the extremes of the incommunicable and the exclusive that it holds within it.  Its only mistake, but a fatal one, is to confuse individuality with personality.”

In all of these currents of thought, the denial of that part of the human essence which prevents deeper union is critical, but the understanding of the nature of that essence as it evolves varies significantly.

Teilhard clarifies this dichotomy with his observation that “True union differentiates”.

He notes that in the thread of cosmic evolution, the entities which emerge from the previous spiral of union under the influence of fields of energy become more capable of union under the next spiral.  This increase in the potential for union (which he sees as the “axis of evolution”) comes about with increase in complexity, resulting in increasing “distinctness” of the evolved entity.  The entity of the human person which evolves under the influence of the energy of love is therefore increasingly distinct from the entity with which he unites, “because only love takes possession of them and unites them by what lies deepest within them”.  In effect, he is saying that our uniqueness (resulting from our growth) is exactly the aspect of ourselves that permits us to deeply connect.  We are united in love by the essence of ourselves: as we give ourselves in love we grow as persons, and as we grow as persons, our capacity for love increases.

Differentiation in Union

Love, therefore, does not entail a merging of persons; rather it consists of a unification of persons who increase their uniqueness in the act of union.  The dynamic of ‘centration and excentration’ (as discussed in the last post) does not result in persons who become more like each other, but distinct, unique individuals whose uniqueness, and the maturity which it reflects, constitute a richness which is shared to deepen and strengthen the union.

To Teilhard, this is the key to understand the human person and the energies of love which unites him with others.  The very essence of cosmic evolution, as seen in the very earliest manifestations following the “big bang” (and articulated to great detail in the Standard Model of Physics) is that of entities being united by their potential (“what lies deepest in them”) under the influence of energy, manifested in ever more complex fields, (“which take possession of them and unites them”).

Quarks are united by subatomic forces to form atoms, which are united by atomic forces (weak and strong nuclear forces), which are united to form stars (gravity), which grow the simple atoms to heavier manifestations (eg from Hydrogen to Iron), which are ejected into space and under the forces of gravity form molecules, which evolve into cells, and so on to the appearance of the human.  Each step consists of the ‘complexification’ of an entity resulting from the last step, the unification of the new entities with those of similar potential to become entities of higher complexity, more distinct and more capable of unification.

Hence, according to Teilhard, the process of cosmic evolution continues to manifest itself in the human person, with the spiral of complexity and consciousness now occurring in a single entity.  In engaging in the dynamic of excentration and centration, we engage in the evolutive spiral of complexification, union and increase in complexity (hence capable of deeper union) in a single lifetime.  In such a way does Teilhard map the continuation of cosmic evolution through each human life, in which “fuller being always results from closer union”.

Our most intimate relationships are subject to this law, and must evolve along this axis, to become deeper and more satisfying.  The actions of excentration and centration must take place if we are to mature as persons, and in these actions, our relationships are deepened and strengthened.  The entities of the person united under the energies of love are consistent with the evolution of the cosmos from the very beginning.

Unlike the union of entities at lower levels of complexity, union under the energies of love, which raises us to higher levels of completeness, requires our conscious cooperation.  We as entities of evolution must allow the possession of love so that we can be united by that which deepest in us.

In Teilhard’s view, love is a force which bubbles up under the superficial manifestations of physical energy, and become clear only in the human person:

“In its most primitive forms, when life was scarcely individualized, love is hard to distinguish from molecular forces; one might think of it as a matter of chemisms or tactisms.  Then, little by little it becomes distinct, though still confused for a very long time with the simple function of reproduction.  No longer only a unique and periodic attraction for purposes of material fertility; but an unbounded and continuous possibility of contact between minds rather than bodies; the play of countless subtle antennae seeking one another in the light and darkness of the soul; the pull towards mutual sensibility and completion, in which preoccupation with preserving the species gradually dissolves in the greater intoxication of two people creating a world.”

In the next post, we will continue to map this continuation of cosmic evolution into the human phenomena of societies and civilizations.

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June 12 The Axis of Cosmic Evolution and Civilization

This spiral of increasing complexity and consciousness that we’ve been talking about leads to increasing distinctness in the human person.  This in turn is necessary for successful personal union, not only in the intimate personal relationships of couples and families, but in communal relationships, clans, nations and ultimately in the increasingly compressed world of the human race.

The Person and The State

At every stage in the evolution of humanity we are presented with both the opportunity for and risks of union.  How to negotiate the tortuous road of development of self with respect to the demands of the many?  At the same time, how can the demands of the many accommodate the growth of the self?  These questions constitute the bulk of philosophical and religious discourse from the very beginnings of human consciousness.  The many (and often contradictory) answers to these question also constitute the history of societal forms, modes of civilizations and religious myths, beliefs and practices which underpin human history.

Teilhard believes that the confusing and often antithetical modes of societies and religions seen in history and at present in the world today can be understood more clearly by their degree of conformance (or opposition) to the cosmic law of complexity-consciousness.  This law recognizes that there is an axis of evolution, a central path along which the cosmos, in keeping with its basic potential, grows and emerges along a path which ascends through the human in the form of person and love.  It permits us to look at the various (and often antithetical) modes of civilization with some level of consistence and objectivity.

The State and the Axis of Evolution

Seen from this viewpoint, it’s not a question of which society is right and which is wrong, rather an evaluation of which is more consistent with, which conforms more closely, to that axis.  In societies marred by dictatorships, rigidity and extreme dogmatism, such as that of the Nazi state and the various forms of communist government which sprung up in the east, the value of the human person was held inferior to that of the state.  The many forms of denial of basic human rights give strong evidence of the large departure from the “axis of evolution”.

In opposition to these branches of human evolution, many of the societies developing in the west have made human rights fundamental to their legal constitutions, resulting in governments which, while still imperfect, nonetheless foster human growth and healthy relationships.  These can be seen to come much closer to the axis of evolution.

Our most intimate relationships are also subject to this law of complexity-consciousness, and must evolve along this axis of evolution to become deeper and more satisfying.  The actions of excentration and centration must take place if we are to mature as persons, and in these actions our relationships are deepened and strengthened.  We as entities of evolution must trust in the cosmic energy of love, and allow ourselves to be possessed by love so that we can be “united by that which is deepest in us”.

The entities of persons are united under the energies of love, consistent with the evolution of the cosmos from the very beginning.

In the same way, this activation of energy manifests itself at the level of human society.  For human society, the human race, to succeed, it must evolve, and this evolution must follow this same axis.

It seems obvious that the common denominator among the more “successful” societies (those in which personal growth is mostly balanced by a society which values the person and supports relationships) can be found in the valuation of the person and a proper understanding of human relationships.  The evolution of the cornerstone concept of “personal rights”, for example, is captured in the constitutions of many of the Western societies.

Those societies in which the value of the individual person is outweighed by the necessity to conform to the social norms, governmental rules or religious strictures restrict personal freedom.  Such restrictions stifle personal growth, and in turn reduce initiative, creativity, resourcefulness and ultimately the general life blood of the society itself.

The key question is always how to foster the growth and health of the human person while establishing a framework of society and government (laws and norms) in which these persons can work together to form a stable environment.

Teilhard is much more straightforward on the evolution of civilization and the relative success of those societies better aligned with the “axis of evolution”:

“The fact is that during the last six thousand years, in the Mediterranean area, a neohumanity has been germinating and is now at this moment completing its absorption into itself of the remaining vestiges of the neolithic mosaic of ethnic groupings, so as to form a new layer, of greater density than all the others…  And the proof of this is that today, in order to remain human or to become more fully human, all the peoples from end to end of the earth are being inexorably led to formulate the world’s hopes and problems in the very terms devised by the West.”

Teilhard invents a new term to identify the sphere of action of the human person.  Just as science considers the many of the layers of the Earth as “spheres”, Teilhard identifies the latest sphere to emerge as the “sphere of thought”.  Science recognizes the “igneosphere” as the fiery core, the “lithosphere” as the surrounding sphere of rock, the “hydrosphere” as the sphere of water and the “atmosphere” as that of the air.  There is even a “magnetosphere”, which is the sphere of charged particles which surrounds the planet and protects the planet from cosmic radiation.

Teilhard labels the “sphere of thought” as the “noosphere”.  Accordingly, just as science has discovered and continues development of understanding the many laws under which the conventional spheres of the Earth operate, Teilhard sees a set of laws which govern the continuing development of the human and his society, aligned along the “axis of evolution”.

Science, Religion and the Laws of the Noosphere

In the earliest days of human development, humans have sought to understand the forces by which life proceeds.  Many of the beliefs originating in religions have made their way into social norms, which in turn have become the basis for laws of the land.  The earliest set of published laws, one of which is “The Code of Hammurabi” (1770 BC) was heavily influenced by the followers of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon.

Science has tried to emerge several times from the religiously-influenced societies of antiquity, such as the ancient Chinese and more recent Muslim societies.  It wasn’t until the rise of the West that science began to manifest itself with success.  Science emerged in the West as a new basis for understanding development of the human and his society.  Not surprisingly, this resulted in many of the intuitive understandings of reality found in religion being questioned in the light of empirical data, resulting in the tension seen today between science and religion.

Regardless of the quantum of truth and falsity on both sides of the conflict there still exists only a single reality, a single universe, a single Earth and a single human species.  In the light of the unity of all things, and the single “axis of evolution”, the conflict between science and religion can now be seen for what it is: the beginnings of a dialog which will eventually produce a truth faithful to both the intuitions of religion and the empirical discoveries of science.  The fact that science as we know it today has emerged from Western society (which Teilhard sees as a result of valuing the person and properly understanding human relationships) is a strong indication of the potential for this dialog.

Teilhard, as usual, is concise on this point:

“And, conventional and impermanent as they may seem on the surface, what are the intricacies of our social forms, if not an effort to isolate little by little what are one day to become the structural laws of the noosphere.”

The next post will continue to address understanding this idea of love as a “phenomenon” which fosters the continuing evolution of the human person in concert with that of society.

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June 26  Love and the Future of Mankind

Teilhard offers a wonderfully positive picture of cosmic evolution as it emerges into the sphere of consciousness.  In his view, the Cosmos can now be seen as created to be an ideal environment for an ever-increasing complexity which emerges in the manifestation of increasingly conscious entities.  Love in his view is the essential characteristic of human relationships in which both the human person and those that are loved by him grow and mature through the energies of love, “united by what lies deepest in them”.

Love as a cornerstone of society

As this view is expanded to the whole of the human race, the human characteristic most vital to the success of human societies and governments can now be seen as that of love.  He sees the proof of this in a comparison between Western societies, in which the person and his relationships are valued and fostered by society norms and laws, and societies in which the human person is less valued in favor of increased societal rigidity.   He notes in support of this view:

“And the proof of this is that today, in order to remain human or to become more fully human, all the peoples from end to end of the earth are being inexorably led to formulate the world’s hopes and problems in the very terms devised by the West.”

Impediments to Love in Society

All positive, all optimistic.  Yet, each of us can look into ourselves to attest to the initial reaction that is very common to our first contact with someone unknown to us.  It is not typical for human persons to instantly connect to a person the first time we meet them.  In fact, some skepticism, perhaps antipathy, might be the more common internal, emotional response.  Only after some time is spent in their company, will it be possible to consider increasing our openness, our readiness for relationship.  Consciously or unconsciously, some decision on our part to become open to the other is necessary before a relationship can begin to foster.  For this to happen, we must make the decision to overcome this initial, primal antipathy.

This basic, primal antipathy is one of the many observations made by Freud, and contributes strongly to his skepticism of human relationships.  As Singer relates:

“Freud assumes that man is not socially oriented by nature, and that his basic narcissism makes him distrustful, even hostile, towards others.”

The neurologists might explain the source of this initial repulsion as the emotions arising from the limbic brain, a reaction resulting from instincts honed in the pre-human animal world, such as fight or flight.  As discussed in earlier posts, the ongoing struggle of humans in their relationships can be understood as the difficulty of using the neo-cortex brain to overcome initial emotional reactions rising from the limbic brain.  While the phenomenon of love may be rooted in the world of emotion, it is honed and matured by human decision.  Love is ultimately understood as “decision”.

Taken at the universal level, between countries, for example, this tendency of repulsion as a response to collision with “the other” can be even stronger.  Conflict between persons in any society is common; between countries even more so.  Between religions, almost certainly.

The fact that the earth is spherical makes the potential for conflict even stronger.  As societies increase in population, this increase will always result in an even stronger push against other societies.  Slowing the growth rate may delay the effect, but the underlying antipathies between societies will remain.

On the surface, this would seem to offer a point of view completely opposite to that of Teilhard.  Evolution may have got us here, but regardless of improvements in individual human maturity, we are still caught in the trap of ever-increasing conflicts between societies.  Humans may indeed continue their individual growth, but the human race, due to its basic antipathy and the spherical shape of the Earth, still holds the potential for self-destruction.  This potential can be readily seen in the most casual read of the daily international news.

The Future of Love

So, what’s to be done?  Is the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution destined to end with the implosion of the highest level of complexity and consciousness attained?  One does not have to look far in the annals of human publication to see that such a forecast is quite common; many people believe in the ultimate failure of the evolutionary process due to the phenomenon of human antipathy.

Teilhard does not make light of this danger, recognizing both the impulse and the capability of human self-destruction.  Counter to these two possibilities of human future, however, are his beliefs in the power of love.  He sees most Western civilizations as posited on the twin beliefs of human freedom and relationships, open to the future in accordance with the tenets of love and the person as outlined in this post.  While it may require little effort to point out the many aspects of Western society which do not measure up to the full potential of love, he firmly believes in the capability of the human person to recognize and follow the “axis of evolution”.  Human persons and their societies are in a state of continual becoming, and as this process takes us forward and upward, our collective ability to understand the power (and necessity) of love will increase.

The future of the human race therefore ultimately boils down to the choice: love or perish.

Just as our intimate human relationships grow and mature, continually opening us to the future and to our true potential, so does Teilhard believe that it is possible for our societies to grow and mature.  He believes that we are on the threshold of this breakthrough in understanding, and sees a future for the human race in which this maturation will continue to unfold.

Teilhard sees our traditional grasp of the phenomena of love as being rooted in the biological realm of procreation and in the empirical realm of religion.  He sees the understanding of love as a basic, essential aspect of human evolution rising slowly in Western thought and legal systems, as the realization slowly emerges that the future of the human race is dependent upon the correct understanding of the structures of human relationship.  As man learns the true value of love as the energy of unity and the key to human evolution, the future of human potential will be more completely understood and the way forward more made clear.  As he puts it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

In the next post, I will try to summarize the thoughts that I’ve put in this series.  __________________________________________________________________________

Summary

Evolution prior to life

Conventional scientific thinking understands evolution as something that happens in living things, starting with the cell and more or less slowly proceeding to the human person through minute changes in our genes.  Thinkers like Teilhard point out that this conventional point of view limits evolution to something that somehow pops up out of nowhere in the most recent three percent of the unfolding of the universe.  What about the fourteen-some billion years prior to the appearance of the cell?

Looking at the cosmos in this way, Teilhard sees this long period prior to the cell, and the kicking off of the era of biology, as a staging period in which the infinitesimal entities addressed by physics (quarks, muons and other strange and otherwise invisible “entities”, called by Teilhard “the stuff of the universe”) merge and grow and “evolve” into ever more complex structures, like electrons, protons and neutrons, which in turn merge and grow and evolve into even more complex structures.  The universe slowly becomes something more than the sum of its parts.

This understanding of the play of the stuff of the universe isn’t theology or philosophy, but the result of science theorizing, testing and analyzing; theories being put forward and tested for over one hundred years, and captured in the general Scientific understanding of the cosmos known as the “Standard Model”.   We use this knowledge to make cell phones and spam our internets.

Three Basic Insights

What Teilhard brings to the table is three basic but important insights:

First, biologic evolution proceeds from the birth of living things using the materials perfected by, staged by cosmic evolution for billions of years.  The complex atoms that make up our bodies came from the factories of stars long ago exploded, and grown and cultivated into the very complex molecules of amino acids, enzymes and proteins which continue the march to the cell through uniting into DNA strings.  Evolution therefore begins at the big bang, and manifests itself into ever new and innovative forms as it continues its thread through living things.

Being of such vastly increased complexity over the pre-cellular molecules (themselves consisting of millions of atoms), cells represent an astounding capacity for unification, complexity and further evolution compared to the molecules.  The rules and laws under which they make their way up the spiral of complexity, and the energies to which they are subject, are entirely new, but connected to the long upwelling of the cosmos through the underlying law of “complexity-consciousness”.

As Teilhard sees it, this gathering of complexity as the process of evolution rises through living things, always results in increased awareness, which bursts through simple sensing and response to environment (such as in bacteria and plants), into complex sensing and conscious reaction (as in animals) to the awareness of this consciousness (as in humans).

Not a single step, nor any resulting stage, of this long process from the very simple “stuff of the universe” to the human person is taken except in response to this law of complexity-consciousness.  Complexity is hence the thread by which cosmic evolution can be traced from very simple things to conscious entities over long passage of time.

There are points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically different capabilities and potentialities.  The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings that follow.  At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be seen in the potential of those which precede it.

Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in us, which will lead to new modes of being not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient myriads of “the stuff of the universe.”  And, of course, we are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them.  One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in understanding ourselves, and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment.  We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them.  To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!

Secondly, in each step of this process, only two major dynamics of the universe are active.  At every step, the entity which climbs the ladder of complexity (muons into electrons, electrons into atoms, atoms into molecules, molecules into cells, cells into the bewildering cloud of living things, one branch of which is the human person), does so under the influence of some sort of energy: a field which engages the new entity by its new potentials and powers the transition to the new form.  The universe is bathed in these fields (Higgs field, Strong and Weak nuclear forces, the mighty forces of gravity, the laws of molecular unification, cellular activity) which fuel the unification of the “stuff of the universe” into ever more complex and ultimately animated forms.  This astoundingly complex but universal phenomenon is underlaid by a single proposition, the law of complexity-consciousness- by which the universe grows the capacity for understanding itself.

Teilhard captures this law of complexity-consciousness as “Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

Thirdly, and this is the central theme of this blog, the human person is the latest manifestation of this cosmic process.  Not only are we “the stuff of the stars” (with the atoms in our body emanating from some nova billions of years ago), but also, and more importantly, we can now be seen as the logical outcome of the process of the evolution of the universe.  The human person is the most recent (and more importantly the most complex, and hence most conscious) appearance of the stuff of the universe, and love is the most complex, and hence the most important influence, on our evolution.

This provides us with an understanding of love that goes much further than a basis of procreation or a strong emotion.  When we engage in love, we are continuing the long process of complexity and consciousness in our personal growth through our unity with others.  Seen in this light, love is trustworthy, it’s what got us here and what will carry us on.

But, the problem is…

High minded stuff, indeed.  Looking at the world today, and with even a superficial knowledge of human history, a more realistic response to the muddle of human attempts at relationship might seem to be one of dismay, even disgust.  I’ll address the larger context in a later blog, but today would like to stay closer to home.

Yes, the ideal of love at the level of two human persons is pretty universal.  Poems, love songs, operas and culture all agree that two persons can, with some level of difficulty, overcome the many barriers to true union and “live happily ever after”.  There’s also a pretty general agreement that once love gets through the stages of high hormonal activity and the rush of new love morphs into the realization that each of us is indeed separate in ways that are only just beginning to be understood, the real work begins, but that mature persons can build mature relationships.

Love without a partner

In the case of a single person, especially one who is alone with the scars of failed relationships, how can Teilhard’s beautiful vision of the person maturing through participation in cosmic energies be realized?  Worse yet, what about those in relationships in which “the other” does not return our love?  Given that each of us have different tolerance for affection, openness and trust, how the energy of love work its magic in us?

In the last post, the creative dynamic of love found in the process of “centration and excentration”, the breathing out of love (as ego is overcome), and the strengthening of the person through the breathing in of love from “the other” as we become more open and accepting of love, was addressed.  We put aside that part of ourselves, that inauthentic part of ourselves that armors us, protects us from disappointment, and impedes our ability to give and receive, in “excentration”.   In this more open state, the returned love from the other can be more purely “inhaled”, which strengthens and ”centrates” us, and gives us the courage to become more open, more loving and more receptive.

The remarkable insight of Teilhard, understanding that we are entities pulled forward in growth and closer by the gravity of love, enmeshed in the field which pulls us forward and upward as it pulls us closer, also recognizes that to love is to trust in the power of the universe to make us whole.  Loving is the critical action of life, even if there’s not another person on the other side.  Love itself is the key.  Love of life, love of nature, even love of the cosmic upwelling of energy, now understood as passing through ourselves, upwelling to flood the dark places where our fears reside, lighting our nights and warming our cold.  To love is to grow, and to grow is to trust the energies of love rooted in the infinitude of cosmic time.  The very act of personal growth, valued and addressed over the ages by our revered thinkers, is conocommitant with the act of love.  And this act is nothing less than the latest manifestation of the welling up of the cosmic evolutionary forces of growth and union in a nurturing spiral in which we are made whole.

There’s no certainty that offered love will be accepted, nor that our love will overcome another’s fear and barriers.  There is considerable certainty in the effect of love on ourselves.  Love is never wasted; engaging in it is never in vain.

So yes: love, with its facets of trust, openness and growth, with its fruits of maturity as identified by thinkers such as Carl Rogers (see post from May 1) can be employed by a single person as he or she begins to understand, as Teilhard puts it:

“I doubt that whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes and realizes that a universal will to live converges and is made human in him.”

We are borne along, raised up, made more whole by the energies of life, which can now be seen more clearly as trustworthy:

“Those who set their sails to the winds of life will always find themselves borne on a current to the open sea.”

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July 10  Love and the Future of Mankind, Part 2

In the last post, the subject of the potential of mankind to self-destruct rather than continue, by mastering the energies of love, to continue the long march of cosmic evolution toward some future state of maturity.  This post addresses yet another threat.

Love and Depression

The pain and suffering of those who fall into the state of depression is well-known, documented and studied throughout history.  The causes of depression, even after decades of study, are still unknown to a large degree.  Is depression the result of a chemical balance which can be treated through medication, or is more a psychological illness, best treated by therapy?

In any case, depression can be accurately described as a “loss of personal energy”, which further involves a loss of personal faith.  Faith in this context is less an “adherence to dogma” (as the theologians would categorize it) than an inability to find one’s footing in the complex game of life; a feeling of inadequacy in the day to day struggle to exist.  Whether this inability is a cause or effect of the depression is still under contention, but for anyone who has ever been depressed, or cared for a depressed person, this loss of faith is painfully felt.  The future is a frightening and unsafe place, compared to the past.  The energy necessary for small things often limitless.

Depression is also often accompanied by anger; indeed it has often been described as “anger turned inward”.

Relationships fall into this category, resulting in feelings of isolation and the inability to bridge the chasms of disconnection with loved ones.  The energies of love, and of personal capacity, seem depleted.  The wonderful dynamic of love is stymied, leaving the depressed person feeling stagnant and trapped, cut off from the cycle of centration and excentration that powers human growth and relationships.

Societial Depression

In the last post, I discussed how the dynamic of love and maturation is echoed at the level of governments and societies.  Successful societies tap into the energies of love to become successful.  As they become more attune to the “axis of evolution”, they develop new paradigms for human growth and relationships as their understanding of the balance between “the one” and “the many” slowly matures.  The evolution of “the law” is an excellent example of this maturation.  As can be seen from even the most shallow read of history, early civilizations were marred by savagery and corruption, but at same time, saw an increase in the objectivity of the laws of successive civilizations.

The other side of this coin, however, is the “decline” in these same civilizations.  In these cases, the civilization becomes more focused inward, with a greater emphasis on supporting the structure of the civilization than growing outwardly.  The energies of early robust growth are replaced by attempts at maintenance, and the civilization begins to sag.  The glories of the safe past are touted, the possibilities of the future are treated as threats.  The tone of the society becomes “depressed”.

Fortunately, as we have seen, many societies are replaced by ones marked by youthful energy accompanied by superior powers of warfare.  These successive waves can be historically traced, especially in the West.  No matter what fate awaited the civilization, the next wave could be expected to approach a little closer to “the axis of evolution” in a continuing evolutive “spiral”.

In other parts of the world, however, such a rise is more difficult to trace as the “round and round” cycles of civilization are not accompanied by a rise in “psychic temperature”.  Today’s newspapers recount almost daily the warring factions in the Middle East which are possessed of prodigious amounts of energy, but the source of which is not love.  These factions seem motivated by ancient hatreds, and the desire to return to some ideal state of government in which the law is not based on the Western concept of the Golden Rule, but on religious interpretations of holy texts which are wholly antithetical to the “axis of evolution”.   The past is to be revered and the future fraught with danger which must be overcome through strict adherence to dogma.  The human person and his relationships are not “trustworthy”, but must be carefully (and often brutally) controlled.  (Echoes of some of these characteristics can be seen the thoughts of some extreme Western groups proposing looking to the past of solutions.)

Effectively, this constitutes a “loss of faith”, replacing openness to the future with fixation on the past; replacing the value of human freedom and independence with fear of not only “the other”, but of the natural human tendencies and capabilities of growth and maturity; replacing human equality by religiously predetermined roles and classes based on gender, race and birth.

In effect, the natural process of love (in which the neo-cortex brain moderates the antipathy stimulated by responses of the limbic brain) is stymied.  Injury must be revenged, and never forgiven even over hundreds of generations.  As the growth of the person is impeded, the society stagnates.  The energies of hatred, while very powerful, eventually deplete the process of growth, and bring human evolution to a halt.

Love or Perish

From the last post, Teilhard sees our traditional grasp of the phenomena of love as being rooted in the biological realm of procreation and in the empirical realm of religion.  He offers a new understanding of love as a basic, essential aspect of human evolution rising slowly in Western thought and legal systems, as the realization slowly emerges that the future of the human race is dependent upon the correct understanding of the structures of human relationship.  As man learns the true value of love as the energy of unity and the key to human evolution, the future of human potential will be more completely understood and the way forward made more clear.  As he puts it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

But just as man has the capacity for self-destruction, so can he lose faith in his own evolution.  He has the potential to die by the “fire” of self-destruction or the “ice” of loss of faith.  Either way, the choice remains “to love or perish”.

The next post will offer a cursory forecast of “what if”.  What if humanity, increasingly raising its “psychic temperature”, actually begins to understand the cosmic power of love, and begins to consciously harness its prodigious energies?  What would humanity look like?

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September 18  Forecast for the Future

Thanks to Tony Saladino, esteemed and erudite friend, out-of-the-box thinker and great renderer of art, for posing the question: “what does the future hold if love succeeds as the paramount human energy?”

Considering the risks I’ve previously outlined, the odds against the survival of humanity, much less against a positive outcome, might seem steep, but a few simple principles would seem to be warranted in making a forecast.  Following these principles, we might be able to see further ahead into the future of mankind and sketch a forecast.

Three Assumptions for Future Human Evolution

The first principle or assumption: The process of evolution as traced over the fourteen-some billion years of the universe will continue for the foreseeable future.  It seems logical that whatever is going on in the unfolding of the universe is active today, and will continue to be active in the future.

Secondly: This continuation of evolution will continue along the same axis of increasing complexity and rising consciousness as envisioned by Teilhard.

Thirdly: Complexity and consciousness will continue to manifest themselves in new ways as new potentials for unity and connectedness emerge from each new rung of evolution, in the same way that nuclear forces and the structures which resulted at the subatomic level evolved into forces and entities at the atomic level, then at the molecular level, then at the cellular level and continuing on to the human level.

Expanding the Assumptions

First Assumption – It just keeps rolling

It seems logical to assume that after some fourteen billion years the universe will continue to evolve, and this continuation will continue through the human person.  If anything seems obvious in our collective study of the history of the universe, it is that the universe is not static.  We can see evidence of this all around us, and in the details of our own lives.

Science overturned the conventional understanding of the universe as static and showed it not only to be dynamic, but evolving as well.  Teilhard in turn identified a direction for this evolution, with his concept of the universe evolving along the axis of complexity and consciousness.

Teilhard also offered another perspective on the evolution of the universe.  He saw the mechanism of evolution itself evolving, working differently to produce entities of greater complexity at each “rung” of evolution:

  • The unification of subatomic entities under the influence of microcosmic forces
  • The forging of atoms under the energy of gravity
  • The unification of complex atoms under the influence of chemical actions to form molecules
  • The unification of molecules under the influence of biological actions to form cells

–          The “complexification” of cells under the control of DNA molecules to form more complex forms of life

Each spiral of evolution not only invents new entities, but draws in new processes and energies to do so.

And this progression continues to the current “high tide” of evolution: the unification of humans under the influence of the energies of love.

In each step forward, entities of greater affinity for each other are unified via forces and influences which are different from those at lower levels of complexity.  The forces of evolution themselves evolve as the entities produced become more complex, and hence more conscious.

The elemental driver of evolution in living things is, of course the highly complex molecule, DNA.  Changes in DNA over time result in changes to living entities.  While there is no reason to see such changes coming to a halt in the human entity, such changes will continue to take place.  The influences of small DNA changes over lengthy periods of time will be significantly outweighed by those of society and the new emerging modes of evolution as described below.

Second Assumption – It stays on course

A second mileu of evolution is much more important to humans: evolution through maturation of society.  As has been discussed in previous posts, the development of society over generations of humans constitutes an evolution in itself.  Further, as discussed earlier, those societies that have approximately aligned themselves with the “axis of evolution” have been most successful.

Some examples of such continuing evolution in society can be seen today.  At long last, and only in the last century have attempts been made to manage human affairs at a global level through formation of the United Nations.  It is certainly obvious that these embryonic attempts have not brought global peace and prosperity, but considering the countless ages of human antipathy which preceded its formation, and the increasing tensions resulting from expanding populations, the very fact that it exists is a significant accomplishment.  Other examples can be seen in such areas as the increased cooperation between western and emerging nations on such things as dealing with sexual terrorism in warfare, as reported in the July 19, 2014 edition of the Economist; the abundance of human aid programs; and emphasis on diplomacy vs conflict to resolve problems.  All of these trends are well aligned with Teilhard’s axis of evolution, valuing increases in individual freedom over increasing restrictions imposed by the state.

Third Assumption – It renews itself

A third mechanism of evolution occurs at a more subtle level, between the macro level of society and the micro level of DNA. At this level, the mechanism of evolution itself seems to be changing.  Another Economist article (August 2, 2014) cites a study of increases in the cognitive abilities of a large group of men and women conducted in Europe in 2006-2007 and reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  This study finds that “the cognitive performance of women – much more so than men- benefits from factors such as greater employment opportunities, increased economic prosperity and better health”.  The study concludes that living standards and access to education probably bear more responsibility for increased cognitive ability than genes or parental influence: society itself affects the way individuals understand and process their environment.  As the Economist summarizes, “To a degree hereto unacknowledged (cognitive abilities) are not solely inherited, they are learned from the roles that society expects them to perform, and that these abilities can change as society changes”.

At first glance this might not seem unexpected.  After all, wouldn’t better education and economic prosperity, as found in Western society, foster increased maturity in the persons which make up the society, and wouldn’t this increased maturity in turn be expected to add to the maturity of the society?

The key to understanding the significance of this third mechanism lies in understanding of the human capacity for “cognition”.  While personal maturity consists of much more than the three areas of cognitive performance which were tested, cognition is still critical to personal maturity since it underpins the person’s ability to understand his environment and base his reaction to it on reason and not emotion or instinct.  Cognition is not a facet of is what is being understood (such as the result of a learning process), but more representative of the act of understanding itself.

Furthermore, the three cognitive skills (episodic memory, category fluency and numeracy) are defined with sufficiently objective characteristics to permit them to be tested and studied objectively.  This permitted the analysts at the Informational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna to test the subjects (over thirty thousand), collect the data and perform the analysis.  While human maturity as such does not admit to a black and white definition, such personal skills as cognition certainly will, thus yielding a partial but essential picture.

As discussed above (February 19, Love From the Perspective of Neurology), a critical activity which enables love to flourish is the human person’s ability to over-ride instinctual impulses from the limbic brain with a reasoned response from the neo-cortex brain.  As cognition is critical to reasoned response, it is also critical to cooperating with the energies of love.

In effect, the increase of cognitive skill that was uncovered by this study is evidence of the increased velocity of evolution in the human person.  The very capacity of the person to understand is increasing faster than any biological function resulting from genetic evolution.  It is also a recursive activity: as the person becomes more adept at understanding and reasoning, his contribution to society is more efficacious, and society in turn improves as its human components mature.  It is also an example of the many ways in which evolution continues to proceed through the human and indicative of the potential for increased human potential.

Science and Religion

Another thing that can be logically expected is a decrease in the tension between science and religion.  As I will pursue in my next blog, “The Secular Side of God”, it seems obvious that there is only one “reality”.  The universe is a single thing; huge and complex but unified via laws, components and energies.  Both science and religion deal with reality, therefore it should be possible to rethink the metaphors of religion on the one hand while respecting the need for meaning on the other.  Teilhard uses the metaphor of the sphere, in which the meridians approach each other as they draw closer to the poles.

The primacy of love as the necessary energy for unifying humankind can be thought of as simple primacy of the neo-cortex brain over the limbic brain, or in simpler terms, the primacy of love over hate, of reasoned reaction over the natural, instinctive, inherited and immature tendency for initial enmity.  As human persons mature (see the example of increasing personal cognitive ability above as an example), their ability to understand and direct their energy towards positive relations will increase, and, as Teilhard put it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

In the next post, I’d like to take one more look at this idea of love at the personal level.  This will be the last posting in this series, after which I will go on to address the secular side of God.

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September 29   A Last Look at Love, This Time at the Personal Level

This blog has addressed love as a phenomenon, something with a history which can be objectively addressed, empirically as opposed to intuitively.  However, most of us live our lives on an intuitive, emotional level and experience this aspect of love more often than the other.  This, of course, is part of the magic, the exquisite pleasure of a deep relationship with another human being which significantly contributes to our satisfaction with life and the experience of richness which ensues.

Love and Pain

Most of us who have been in significant relationships for any length of time, however, also become aware of the pain that can often accompany close personal relationships.  In Teilhard’s terminology, the process of “excentration” and “centration” is not easily managed, considering the work that is necessary to set aside those aspects of ourselves which impede love (the excentration) in order to be able to open ourselves to the other and to the energies of love.  Armor has to be shed in order to receive love, but sometimes what is received instead is a new source of pain.

Freud sees this pain as a natural consequence of love in which the ego is diminished and must be avoided.  Many others see pain as a barrier to be surmounted on the long, arduous road to fulfillment.  Khalil Gibran summarized this dynamic masterfully: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding”.   Teilhard sees this pain as a sign of “work in progress”.  Churchill advises, “When you are marching through Hell, keep marching”.  The only way through the forest of life is to decide to move forward, and it is this process of deciding that is ultimately more important to the enterprise of love than the experience of feeling.

Ask any couple who has been together for many years about “feeling in love”, experiencing the emotions of closeness and connectedness, and they will tell you that they don’t always feel in love.  There are times when feelings are more along the lines of disconnectedness, even alienation, anger and resentment.  What keeps these couples together is the decision to love even when the feeling isn’t present.

Trust and Decision

The key action in making such decisions is trust.  Trust in the other person is important, as is trust in one’s self.  More important yet, and an axiom of this blog, is the trust in the energy of love itself.

In the post from February 19, (Love From the Perspective of Neurology), the necessity for the neo-cortex brain to step in to interrupt instinctual responses from the limbic brain was addressed and identified as the key to forming a rational response to threatening, alarming or anger-stimulating situations.  When we are called on to decide to love, this action of the neo-cortex brain is exactly what is called for.  It can be very tempting to give in to the release of anger in such situations, even emotionally satisfying to experience the endorphins released by a good round of indignation or righteous anger, and very difficult to step back and assume some level of rationality or objectivity.

Trust and Love

To trust in the energy of love as a creative force in our lives, to trust that the act of loving evolves us and moves us toward some level of completeness, is to leverage this trust in managing our relationships with others.  It is nothing less than to cooperate with the power of the universe to make us whole.  Once we begin to understand that becoming open to the energies of love is a cornerstone to becoming more complete, more whole, we become more able to participate fully in the bounty of life.   The decision to love, even when the emotion of love seems beyond our reach, is therefore effectively a decision to grow.  It is a decision made at the most genuine level of personal existence.  It replaces the response to love as participating in a pleasant emotion with deciding to love as an act of personal growth: less growing because we are loved and more loving because of the desire to grow.

What a remarkable insight Teilhard had: to understand that we are entities pulled forward in growth and closer together by the force of love, enmeshed in the field which pulls us forward and upward as it pulls us closer, and to recognize that to love is to trust in the power of the universe to make us whole.

The Critical Nature of Love

Loving is the critical action of life, even if there’s not another person on the other side.  Love itself is the key.  Love of life, love of nature, even love of the cosmic upwelling of energy, now understood as passing through ourselves, flooding the dark places where our fears reside, lighting our nights and warming our cold.  To love is to grow, and to grow is to trust the energies of love rooted in the infinitude of cosmic time.  The very act of personal growth, valued and addressed over the ages by our revered thinkers, is one and the same with the act of love.  And this act is nothing less than the latest manifestation of the welling up of the cosmic evolutionary forces of growth and union in a nurturing spiral in which we are made whole.

I’d like to close with a quote from Teilhard:

“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfil them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.  At what moment do lovers come into the most complete possession of themselves if not when they say they are lost in each other?”

And another:

“Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

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The Last Post and the Next Blog

This post is the last in the series, “The Phenomenon of Love”.  Several (ok, both of them) readers have commented on the fact that I have not addressed God per se in this blog.  I wanted to keep this blog on the level of “phenomenon”, which becomes difficult when theology comes into play.

In a few weeks, however, I plan to start a new blog, entitled, “The Secular Side of God”, in which I make the assumption that all reality is united: there’s not one reality for science and one for religion, and that what we know from the findings of science can be used to gain insights into the existence of God without too much compromise on either side.  Please join me if for no other reason than to see how deep I can get mired in this tar-baby.

I’ll start these new posts by the end of October, and they will be posted on my new website, “Science, Religion and Reality” , located at http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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