Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The demotivating effect of Residual Unresolved Positivism (RUP) - and the instant cure!

Owen Barfield invented the term Residual Unresolved Positivism (RUP) to refer to a Positivist attitude which persisted unconsciously, unknown, and against the will of the person who held to it.

Positivism is the (usually implicit) belief system that all valid knowledge comes via the senses (and not, for example, from revelation or imagination) - it is sometimes called Scientism, and is the metaphysics which is mainstream in modernity - although usually only articulated by scientists with a bent for philosophy.

RUP can have a life-sapping effect - a demotivating effect - an alienating effect - the effect of draining meaning from life; and I experienced this myself over the past week and a bit during which I have been trying to finish a big theoretical paper on the subject of Group Selection in Biology (from the perspective of Systems Theory) - and when I have experienced a cumulative inner resistance, a dysphoric sense of boredom, futility and angst about the project. Yesterday I got to the point when I was unable and unwilling to proceed, and resolved to abandon the project for a while.

 Today I cracked-open a newly purchased book - History, Guilt and Habit, by Owen Barfield, and read a couple of pages of the chapter on Evolution. Suddenly it became clear that I was suffering from the effects of Residual Unresolved Positivism - and I immediately felt cured: I also felt motivated, enthused and excited.

Until that exact moment, I had been wondering whether I was actually physically ill, with some subclinical infection or autoimmune disease or something - so profound was my demotivation. I felt that I ought to be getting on with the group selection paper, I couldn't; but I couldn't get myself to do anything else, because I felt I ought to be working on the paper...

The problem was quite simple. Because I was writing the paper for a biological audience, I was constrained by staying within the biological paradigm - which lies within positivism, and strictly excludes any religious or even metaphysical material.

(It would, in any case, be utterly self-defeating if it was included - since 99% (approximately!) of biologists are actively atheist, and would instantly write off anything even hinting at Christian assumptions.) 

As always, when I am working on theoretical science, I was intensely absorbed in thinking about group selection, and indeed had been for some weeks. By this I mean devoting a level of sustained and recurrent time and effort to thinking about the problem, to a degree which most people have never done on any subject - because this is what is required for theoretical endeavour.

[For instance, I had been thinking on and off, and hard, about the nature of depression for about fifteen years before I made a breakthrough in 1999. Of course there is reading, observation and conversation (also sometimes experimenting) - as well as thinking. But for genuine theoretical work, the proportion of thinking to empirical input is several-fold in favour of just-thinking. Since thinking (and even reading!) does not count as an academic, scholarly or scientific activity (if an academic was to say they had been 'thinking a lot' recently, they certainly would be regarded as making a feeble excuse for doing nothing at all; this goes some way towards explaining the dire state of modern intellectual discourse.]

However, this focused intensity on Group Selection meant that I was trapping myself - for long intense, recurrent periods - inside the positivistic biological world view.

I was trapping myself therefore inside a world without meaning and purpose  - a dead world without God.

And it was this which was cumulatively demotivating me - because it removed all genuine significance from my task (which by default just became a matter of ego, careerism and the like). 

It just took attention to those few words from Owen Barfield to remind me of what was real and matters... and I was free!


(But modernity is implicitly and pervasively positivist; and most modern people never do acknowledge the falsity of positivism and the metaphysical realities I share with Owen Barfield - so presumably most people remain trapped inside a world of meaninglessness and purposelessness and are motivated only by ego, careerism and short-termist pleasure; without any hope of escape because they do not acknowledge anywhere they could escape-to.)

11 comments:

  1. The mechanistic aspects of reality do exist, but it is important to remember that they are subordinate.

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  2. @Thu - It is important to remember - but that may be difficult when absorbed in a positivistic system. For most people most of the time, the dominant positivistic/ mechanistic thought-world is the linked-bureaucracy (civil administration/ law/ mainstream religions/ education/ health services/ police/ the military etc).

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  3. You need a Monty Python break. A Dead Parrot sketch, and an Election Special followed by The Ministry of Silly Walks should help shake up the mindset. Nothing like it. Then sit-down and write the paper while imagining an audience full of Professor Gumby sorts. If that fails then you are in the most dire straights which requires Arthur against the Black Knight, and the Knights of Ni. see - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIV4KLCmJ98

    Be aware though that so much silliness in one intense session might result in your rapid abandonment of the bureaucratic rituals of writing for academia once and for all. (It is very difficult to take the stale bureaucratic process seriously when it is exactly the sort of thing the Pythons made so much fun of - repeatedly.)

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  4. @Nicholas - No, diversional breaks do not, did not, work *at all*! After all, what better time of year for such things?

    Christmas was a delight and full of joys and recreations - but when the malaise is metaphysical, so must be the cure!

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  5. Was your breakthrough on depression that it's often an inflammatory condition?

    What would be your main recommendation for treating depression?

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  6. @Wondering - My breakthrough on depression was this

    http://hedweb.com/bgcharlton/depression.html

    It was combining the known information that many people with ebdogenous depression had inflammatory problems, the sickness behaviour insights of Hart being similar to the vital symptoms of depression, and that many true antidepressants (ie effective against endogenous depression) are painkillers.

    These are my suggestion for treating the various subtypes of moderate depression

    http://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/subtypes-depression.pdf

    But for severe depression, especially with psychotic features - and where suicide or dehydration/ starvation is a risk - then ECT/ Electroshock is by far the most effective and fastest treatment (although some studies suggest that ketamine may be an alternative for non-psychotic depression, and maybe even faster than ECT)

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  7. I'm reading Steiner's "Christianity as Mystical Fact" and Tolstoy's "War and Peace" alternately, and finding they are resonating with each other. The temporal, transient, as opposed to the eternal and spiritual in War and Peace contrast in a stark way more than they would if I were not reading Steiner at the same time.


    “Heraclitus speaks vehemently against Homer and Hesiod, and the learned men of his day. He wished to show up their way of thinking, which remains bound to the transitory only. He did not want gods endowed with qualities taken from a perishable world, and he could not regard as the highest form of science one that investigates the becoming and passing away of things. For him the eternal speaks out of the perishable ….”.

    Rudolf Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact


    You said, "I have been trying to finish a big theoretical paper on the subject of Group Selection in Biology (from the perspective of Systems Theory)".

    You are writing the paper firmly within the biological paradigm for an audience of atheists, but you could write a higher version written within the paradigm of the spirit for a different audience.

    The biologists would scoff, but others wouldn’t.


    The above quote from Steiner’s book might as well say Bruce Charlton instead of Heraclitus. It would be just as true.

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  8. I'm reading Steiner's "Christianity as Mystical Fact" and Tolstoy's "War and Peace" alternately, and finding they are resonating with each other. The temporal, transient, as opposed to the eternal and spiritual in War and Peace contrast in a stark way more than they would if I were not reading Steiner at the same time.


    “Heraclitus speaks vehemently against Homer and Hesiod, and the learned men of his day. He wished to show up their way of thinking, which remains bound to the transitory only. He did not want gods endowed with qualities taken from a perishable world, and he could not regard as the highest form of science one that investigates the becoming and passing away of things. For him the eternal speaks out of the perishable ….”.

    Rudolf Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact


    You said, "I have been trying to finish a big theoretical paper on the subject of Group Selection in Biology (from the perspective of Systems Theory)".

    You are writing the paper firmly within the biological paradigm for an audience of atheists, but you could write a higher version written within the paradigm of the spirit for a different audience.

    The biologists would scoff, but others wouldn’t.


    The above quote from Steiner’s book might as well say Bruce Charlton instead of Heraclitus. It would be just as true.

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  9. Interesting and insightful post. It resonates with me as the reason I was dissatisfied with much of academic philosophy.

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  10. @ajb - Ah! - the pleasure of satisfying a discerning critic!

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  11. Bruce - I'm fantasising here, but if I was an 18 year old, I'd sign up like a shot!

    With your background, skills and academic position, you seem to me to be well placed to create (or at least propose) a new and exciting degree combining theology, literature, psychology, philosophy and evolutionary theory. A degree that would encompass body, mind and spirit. Like many undergraduate degrees it could start in the first year with compulsory modules in all five main subjects. The second year's modules would be combinations of two or more main subject areas. The third year would be fewer modules plus a dissertation combining at least three of the subject areas.

    I think you could rely on the students to come up with fascinating dissertation titles after such an education.

    An optional year between the second and third year at Heythrop College studying pure Divinity would gain the student a Masters.

    There's a thirst out there for a metaphysical pathway to explain everything. Souls are parched in a desert of endless consumption, greed, and "the pursuit of happiness".

    For the compulsory book list:

    Rudolf Steiner - Christianity as Mystical Fact
    Robert Graves - The White Goddess
    Robert Graves - King Jesus
    S.T. Coleridge - Collected Works
    Bible
    Tolkien - All
    CS Lewis - Screwtape Letters

    Just thoughts.

    The pharisaic biologists and their arid paradigm need challenging. The best way must surely be to take their subject and make it a part of something bigger and grander, full of imagination, wonder and the spirit. Its got to be done by somebody to help stimulate a great Christian revival.

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