Existential awareness — that mundane experience we all take for granted — had dramatic historical effects. Morris Berman explores some of these effects in his book Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality.
Who are nomads? What is their spirituality and consciousness like? How does it differ from more sedentary cultures? What role did it play (and what role might it continue to play) in the evolution of human consciousness?
Berman hints at an answer for the role of nomadic spirituality when he writes of his personal motivations:
“Years of body work and meditation led me to believe that paradigm zeal is rooted in a denial of our somatic experience. Emotions, often painful, live in the body; paradigm-shift addiction (like substance addiction) enables us to escape these emotions and live in our heads. Carl Jung and the transpersonalist’s (…) call for a renewed spirituality only went so far, in my view; clearly, we needed a renewed corporeality if we were not going to repress the body and fall into the trap of a new mythology, make a fetish out of our supposedly new spirituality.”
A lot of painful emotions that live in our body can be traced back to the dawn of existential awareness. It’s here that we’ll start off.
David Hume thought a lot about how thoughts are made and mixed. His thoughts concerning such inquiries was summed up in the 1748 classic “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.”
As far as titles go (refer to the title), it’s entitled to a bit of praise for it so accurately describes what follows. The “what” that follows is the subject of Human Understanding.
What is “understanding”? How do humans understand? Continue reading
Why do we build things?
For much of human history we didn’t. Maybe we didn’t have the capacity; maybe we didn’t see the need. Somewhere along the way – most likely a few thousand years after the Agricultural Revolution with the rise of Civilization –people started to surround themselves with architecture.
Archaeologists and historians can get an idea of what the interior life of those who lived long ago might have been based upon the buildings left behind. Nowadays most people around the globe are surrounded by architecture and, likewise, these surroundings can tell us a lot about ourselves.
Alain de Botton expands upon this in his book The Architecture of Happiness. It centers around an insight and an implication:
- Insight: Buildings are psychological molds.
- Implication: We can mold ourselves into better humans through architecture.
In Medieval Europe the social world reflected the natural world in a grand yet rigid hierarchy. The psychological benefit of this was a deep sense of security and belonging. One had a fixed place inside a closed world, a world with closure where freedom as we know it didn’t really exist.
Neither did anxiety. Or at least it was kept to a minimum because, as Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
This was starting to change in Europe by the 14th century as the old-guard structure started to break up and the Commercial Revolution started to, well, start. This provides the economic groundwork for the emergence of Capitalism and a whole new psychological atmosphere.
The sense-of-closure that knit together the Medieval world unravels and all the loose strands swarm around the mind-of-the-land and the land-of-the-mind. “Freeeeeeedom…” reigns and it feels kind of constricting.