Why do New Year Resolutions almost always come to nothing? One reason, rarely acknowledged, is that the ‘I’ that makes a resolution, whenever it makes one, is not the same ‘I’ that defines the scope of the resolution which is not the same ‘I’ that has to set about carrying out the resolution which is not the same ‘I’ that has to make sure everything’s on track and so on. We are not one single unified ‘I’—we consist of millions of ‘I’s all jostling for attention. We are locked in I-systems. The New Year Resolution system goes like this:-
It’s a relay race… But the separate I-contestants have to keep on running in case they’re needed later on.
Another reason why New Year Resolutions almost always come to nothing is that the motivation is never clearcut; we imagine that we are trying, as a result of the past, to achieve something in the future whereas it could be that we are just being driven from behind. There’s nothing in front of us till we define it.
My habitual practice as a chain-reader for many years is that while I’m reading one book I develop an idea about what book I will read next. The current book almost always determines what I read next—it impels me forward. But while I was reading a book [Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth—totally brilliant] over Christmas I was so absorbed that I made no room in the neurons for thinking about the next book. So I reached up to my library shelves and picked one at random—Professor Joad’s Mind and Matter which, since it refers to Bertrand Russell’s The Analysis of Mind—1921—and repeats some of its argument—will have been written around then—there’s no date in my old hardback.
Professor Joad was notorious on the BBC Brains Trust around 1941/48 for starting off any answer he gave to philosophical questions by saying “It all depends what you mean by…”—a very sound approach. In Mind and Matter he says:-
I conceive that the unconscious is that part of ourselves in virtue of which we are directly in touch with the vital [life-]force. It is, as it were, the link which connects the insulated current of life which constitutes an individual with the main stream. The life force communicates to the unconscious a series of thrustings and promptings which seek to impel the organism along the lines on which it is desired that it should proceed. These unconscious thrustings and promptings subsequently appear in the conscious as motives deliberately entertained and desires rationally conceived. Thus the instinctive thrust and urge of life within us is transformed into conscious phenomena, such as beliefs and desires, which we regard as the independent creations of our own personalities, and proceed to carry out in action in the full conviction of the freedom and independence of our will. By this means the life force continually renews the stream of life within us and yet allows us to remain in ignorance of its source. Thus it comes about that, overlooking our true position as mere instruments of life created by life for its own purposes, we regard ourselves as independent personalities possessing freedom of choice, and within limits, freedom of action…
Our Subjection to the Life Force.—I have said that the phenomena of desire and emotion are to be interpreted in terms rather of a push from behind than of a pull from in front. This push is imparted to our unconscious by the life force, and only presents itself in the guise of a rational striving after objects deliberately chosen, owing to the fact that in the passage from the unconscious to the conscious its real character becomes obscured. Such, indeed, I conceive to be the nature of the relationship normally subsisting between the life force and the individual
So there’s something—an energy or force—that impels us. To call it the ‘Unconscious’, as Joad does, is entirely unnecessary. To use his own phrase, it all depends on what he means by ‘Unconscious’… The results of the ‘force’ (which I think we wrongly call the ‘Unconscious’, endowing it with a spurious reality) become ‘conscious’, as Bertrand Russell points out, simply with the addition of words. This in itself renders the concept ‘Unconscious’ a little dubious since words are only what we choose to tack on to events—things that happen. Everything is just a long series of events that we try to arrest the flow of by pinning words or labels on each one as we separate them out for inspection.
The bottom of the Figure of Eight (https://colinblundell.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/the-figure-of-eight/) may be said to be activated by a ‘Life Force’—some human energy that pushes us from behind. As it emerges into ‘consciousness’ in the top of the Figure of Eight it has words attached to it and thereby becomes, as we like to think, rather more manageable. But the question is:- What was this whatever it was before it crossed into the top of the Figure of Eight? Just an urge, an itch, an event?
‘Unconscious’, ‘subconscious’, ‘consciousness’—just words which have the very unfortunate, totally unnecessary effect of reifying what is just a nebulous something or the other pushing us onward even if it means impelling us into some kind of disaster or big mistake.
We have the words therefore what the words represent must exist. Dodos? Unicorns? God? NO! That’s a medieval mistake.
In the Days Before Christmas
I was reading The Journals of George Sturt who wrote compellingly about rural life in Surrey, a Southern County of England, between 1860 and 1927. Occasional pithy sayings jumped out at me and caused me to make a grab for my notebook. For example:-
Beliefs may fall like autumn leaves but the life they have gathered remains…
I think my beliefs have remained pretty much the same in seventy years. They (or some parts of me) search for corroboration. As I suppose we all do, I look to fortify my beliefs, which may well be different from those you hold—that the Power Possessors ought not to have it all their own way; that ordinary people are brain-washed into a docile compliance with the way things are; that words create a ‘reality’ that may be signifcantly other than what we imagine it to be; that, paradoxically, life is nothing unless one creates patterns (using words, music and paint) out of what it offers; that one should seize the day and hold on to it like mad—till the next day…
We neglect the days as we neglect ourselves and one another. And just as we ruin the days for the advancement of ‘trade’, politics etc so we ruin one another… Let me have my days… George Sturt
‘Culture’ should come from within—should not be something imposed or taught. George Sturt was concerned that culture seemed to be ‘something superimposed on life rather than as it ought to be, a quality brought into being as a natural consequence of human existence fulfilling itself…’
I think that all my beliefs have come from within; any outside thinking that’s scratched a little way into my Being, I have tested on the pulse; I have a thoroughgoing resistance to anything that seems to be ganging up to impose itself on me. I do not want change dictated by Power Possessors or the Greedy Rich out to make a profit from me. Adverts repel me: I give them a funny voice or smear them with conceptual mud, blot out the images. Unless I can find a real use for it, I rise up against every manifestation of the abstraction ‘Progress’.
Youth does not know what it is experiencing in the way of change any more than a fish in water would recognise the gradual pollution of its environment.
For me, NOW is unchanging. Change is done to us—by Power Possessors & advertisers & others who wish us to spend our money on their fripperies. The latest this & that—often some e-miracle that will reduce the brain to inconceivable pulp.
Outward change is mere decoration. Real change is carefully measured from within with an organic relationship to things happening.
I know I have changed in relation to the tool of the computer: is has without doubt rendered my internal system more fluid, more flexible to possibilities in hand-eye-brain feedback nexus, has made me more wholesomely reflective: the music flows in one bit of software, the ideas connect up in another, relationships flourish in yet another. But I believe that none of this would have been possible without having worked without a computer for so long; what I did before the computer set me up for the facility of swift translation of ideas into permanent ordered form. That’s my change. I am it. It is possible to take objective shifts in human invention and make them work for you.
I think life lies very deep and is something different from all its indications... George Sturt
Youth mistakes the appearance of the gadgetry as the real thing; life is way below the indications of the gadgetry where it is in danger of losing itself.
The sky is everywhere and if one can learn to find sufficient joy in the sky what a full draught delight might life be… George Sturt There is no sky in a computer screen; one must look out of the window and upwards so see the sky.
There is no purpose to life; it happens and then we invent purposes which are of great or little value.
Bertrand Russell believed ‘that sensations (including images) supply all the ‘stuff’ of the mind and that everything else can be analysed into groups of sensations related in various ways…’ So sensation (of want, of aim, of desire) leads to purpose, vision, secondary desires, motivations, amiability, sense of direction and so on. All we can be certain of is that we have sensations (of hot & cold, hunger, comfort or discomfort, certainty/uncertainty—but sensations, being somewhat vague, lead us towards what we imagine to be things that are more clearly defined—purpose, vision, secondary desires and so on—and we are tricked into believing that such abstractions have some real existence which they do not. It’s all sensation. Things happen to produce sensations.
We ought to strive to consume just the Food of Pure Impressions, as Gurdjieff suggested—sensations prior to their being sucked into the maw of wording & conceptualisation.
Why do we believe that there is any other purpose than the one we invent for ourselves? Why should there be a System to the universe?
George Sturt wonders whether works of fiction in books, plays & essays give us the idea of purpose, shape & order. He’s probably right. Without the opportunity to observe somebody else’s idea of purpose we would never have developed one for ourselves.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, purposes obstruct development. We can’t get going till we realise that we are amiable nothings going absolutely nowhere. All the blueprints and programs of our First Education have to be thrown out of the window before we can make a new start.
A New Start
And so I made a New Year Resolution to cast myself adrift from the horror of Facebook, the e-Babel which simply confirms the way people don’t really communicate but simply self-advertise; they don’t try to find out what others mean but rush in to say what they think.
I have returned to reading & writing in the hours before sunrise just as it used to be in the Good Old Days.
What does that mean—’the Good Old Days’? A time of innocence perhaps; a time before all the e-babble invaded my being.
So many things define the Good Old Days for me: reading on a Summer Lawn; pausing on footpaths to look at insects and unidentified flowers; coming to the top of a long hill on a bicycle in anticipation of the long drop to come; coming to a strange billet at the end of a day’s exertion; a log-fire; bonfires that last for ten days with careful stoking; writing with a fountain pen in a smooth-paged hardback exercise book; drawing & painting & making music.
And on the other hand there’s everything that is defined as Progress.
In a Railway Compartment
I write with a fountain pen in my Ryman’s 9″x7″ hardback exercise book. Across the way a woman tap-taps on her laptop. I’ll stick with the Good Old Way as I have done for the last forty years of hardback exercise books—a couple of yards of them up there on the study shelf.
Does it matter? The difference between the way that posh-looking executive is working and how I operate? How is tap-tapping on a keyboard different from pen & ink tracing its way across a smooth page? Could it be that it’s a matter of contact with things as they really are?
George Sturt: ‘I write in order to diminish the distance between my mind and my pen…’—a direct relationship between the one and the other; Eliot’s ‘struggle’ with words is literally carried out on the page, complete with crossings-out, arrows to here & there—I have even been known to make holes through the pages from one point of another.
Working at laptop or computer is a hygienic process; thoughts converted into electronics presenting the appearance of order; ideas ironed out—all the creases eliminated—concepts folded into design & precision. When the stuff comes out of a pen-nib it literally flows; there’s perhaps a more direct relationship between the scruffiness of hand-writing and the normal chaos of thinking. Speak for yourself, you may say…
Does the immediacy of printed neat & tidy output give the impression of what to me is an unnaturally ordered sequence of thoughts—thinking arriving in sentences instead of being all over the place? Does this lead to a different set of assumptions about the way words & ideas work and therefore to a different kind of mental structure—maybe ultimately a different kind of brain?
Would it matter if the human brain was undergoing change by interacting with e-gismos?
People who Jab at Kindles
For years I’ve underlined what I take to be important things in books or I’ve made marginal comments & marks. People who jab at the dead screen in the little leather pouch can’t do that.
They are also deprived of the smell of proper books.
‘Lignin’, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years it breaks down and smells good. Which is how Divine Providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us… (source unknown…)
4 thoughts on “Now the New Year’s a Couple of Weeks Old… (R10)”
You are a natural born Zen monk, Colin
Thanks Will! That’s OK by me…
Have a great New Year!
I’m in full agreement with you on the virtues of printed books vis-a-vis the vices of kindles and other tablet readers, Colin – but I fear I can’t follow your lead as to writing by fountain pen. I am the slowest of essayists because I edit every sentence at least five times before I move on to the next. I wouldn’t have enough ink in my pen – or enough pages in my notebook – to complete a single blog post draft! I am completely and hopelessly dependent upon the online luxury of unlimited deleting and re-writing.
As always, so much to savor in your latest post. And I’m especially pleased to see that we share yet another interest – Ian McEwan’s magnificent novels. Take good care …..