Saturday 22 December 2018

Fantasy and Reality

On more than one occasion in my life I have been informed that because of my spiritual interests I live in a fantasy world. Even well-meaning people have told me that I should forget all that sort of thing and restrict my concerns to everyday reality. My response (internal usually, but not always) has been that it is they who live in a fantasy world. By rejecting the spiritual what you are doing is rejecting the real because the spiritual is the real, and it is the material without the spiritual that is the actual world of fantasy.

Naturally this attitude does not entail turning your back on the material in favour of the spiritual alone or, more accurately in most cases, the imagined spiritual. Reality is made up of the material and the spiritual, and each should be given its due. Moreover, we live in the material world at the moment and that must receive our attention. Here is where we are born and here is where we are meant to be. We should not try to escape from it. But nor should we take it on its own terms, and we have to see which comes first in the order of reality.

Fantasy has to do with replacing the real by the unreal. At least, it means that when the word is used in a derogatory way. It implies that the person to whom the word is directed is unable to come to grips with reality and so seeks to retreat to a land of make-believe where all is safe and secure. A place where his weaknesses and inadequacies can be ignored or even turned into strengths. But when this word is used to describe the attitude of people who take the fact of the spiritual seriously to the extent that they make it the defining principle of their lives, the user is making a rather big assumption. He is assuming the truth of materialism. He is taking for granted that what you see is what you get and there is nothing more. This might be all well and good if there were any rational reason for assuming it to be the case but there just isn't. Not a real one. Because, for all our advances in the scientific understanding of the world, we have not come any closer to knowing what life is or how it arises or explaining anything about consciousness, love, beauty or any of the other qualitative facts of our existence. Materialism only makes sense to someone who wants to believe it and who therefore blithely ignores everything that it cannot explain either by refusing to acknowledge it or else by trying to reduce it to a mere by-product of material processes. It is an example of what Coleridge called the "despotism of the eye", which phrase he used to describe those who deny any reality that cannot be empirically perceived or represented by a concrete mental image.

Fantasy is connected to imagination. Now, there certainly are false fantasies but these are the creation of human imagining as opposed to imagination, the difference being that the former is just the everyday mind concocting things out of its storehouse of memories and experiences while the latter is the mind opening up to what is beyond itself. When the mind starts to do this, its connection to inner truths is substantially increased and this is a mode of the intuition which is the faculty beyond intellect, considered as reason, and which is as far beyond intellect as that is beyond instinct.

Nonetheless it must be admitted that contemporary human understanding of the spiritual world, even where that understanding exists, is in a fairly rudimentary state. Consequently, there will be many people who mix in bits of human imagining, or fantasy in the derogatory sense, with their spiritual sensibility, and this inevitably and justifiably encourages those who dismiss the whole of spirituality as fantasy. But an imperfect grasp of something doesn't make the thing in itself wrong. It's like a poorly tuned radio which receives interference from other sources as well as static. The poor tuning of the instrument does not negate the reality of the transmitted broadcast.

This blog is built on fantasy. It is also built on reality. Indeed, it seeks to demonstrate that fantasy (so-called) is reality while reality (so-called) is fantasy. Awakening could be defined as coming to that realisation.


Adil said...

We have to deal with the dual problem of both modernistic believers and atheists being wrong, in so far as they base their convictions on rationalism. I think materialism is reaching its natural end point, beause of its inbuilt contradiction of reducing consciousness to matter through conscious qualitative abstraction itself. Materialism is fantasy precisely because we know nothing but consciousness, of which matter is a property. Numerous cases show that brain impairment or reduction of brain activity (such as when taking psychedelics) enhances rather than blocks the scope of conscious experience, which seems to indicate that universal self opens up in proportion to our dissassociative individual selves dissolving. So the spiritual should rather be taken for granted. But the vast bulk of people, whether christian or not, are still caught up in the inertia of scientific thinking. Christianity takes the heaviest blow because literalism flattens out the mythological pre-cognitive depth of religion to superstition - which are then ridiculed by atheists who dismiss believers of superimposing irrational beliefs on a rational physical world, when religious myth is actually dealing with the inner non-physical and very much sub-rational planes, from which creation emerges.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - "Materialism is fantasy precisely because we know nothing but consciousness, of which matter is a property. " That puts things very neatly in a single sentence!

William Wildblood said...

Echoing Bruce's comment, "the spiritual should rather be taken for granted" also puts things very neatly!

edwin faust said...

"Materialism is fantasy precisely because we know nothing but consciousness, of which matter is a property. " -If we know nothing but consciousness, there can be no properties. Matter itself is but a name and, as the Chandogya Upanishad states, all changes in consciousness are but names without substance, i.e. ultimately illusory. If matter can be reduce to consciousness, everything can be similarly reduced, and reduction itself is not even rule, but a mental process that also appears to rise and fall in the changeless medium. This is the essence of Vedanta, or non-duality. I was once an enthusiast for it. It is very neat and seemingly logical, but, as William has argued convincingly, it is that of which we are conscious, the very differences of name and form, the matter which is said to be a property of consciousness, that is the point of creation and where its meaning must be sought. Perhaps I misunderstand Eric and the endorsement both Bruce and William appear to give his assessment, but it roused in me all the arguments against nonduality and the dissolution of all differences into consciousness that it espouses as the resolution of the difficulties of life. God, too, can be said to be a property of consciousness, along with all of the creation. Where does that leave us? There is no us. We, too, dissolve as individuals. We must be careful not to combat the reductionism of materialism with the reuductionism of spiritualism or nonduality or something else that erases the complexities of life in the search for a neat idea.

William Wildblood said...

I see what you mean, edwin. I took that remark of Eric's to be an argument against materialism and showing its illogicality but I agree that reducing everything to pure consciousness is the equal but opposite error from which we are saved by seeing God as transcendent even to consciousness. He is the source of all, expressing himself in love through his creation which has full reality because he has given it that, most of all of course human beings.

Bruce Charlton said...

Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom

Clarifies this matter. Conscious is necessary - everything we know has been thought - but not sufficient. It isn't a matter of 'nothing but' consciousness, nonetheless there always is consciousness. In other words - we don't create reality by thinking, but our thinking participates in the creation of reality.

(This assumes that we are talking about the thinking of our real, essential, self - not just automatic or inculcated, superficial 'information processing' done by one or other of our 'personalities'.)

faustgang said...

I have read Philosophy of Freedom several times and each time, when I think I have grasped it, the understanding, if such it were, soon slips away. This may simply mean I am not clever enough to follow Steiner, but I may give it another go. As for the distinction between the thinking of the essential self as opposed to the "personalities" - this touches the heart of my deepest perplexity and appears to be what Vedanta tries to address, coming down on consciousness as the essential self. What might be an example of thinking with the essential self? What content of consciousness can be distinguished from our personalities? Tjhe strength of Vedanta is its analysis of the five sheaths and subsequent demonstration that none of them can be the essential self. But it leaves us with the concept of consciousness without content, which is a vaporous notion that fails to satisfy. Thanks for bearing with me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Edwin - It took me a good couple of years and several attempts before I 'got' PoF! - and it seemed to need three things:

1. Regarding the book as metaphysics rather than (as it describes itself) epistemology. In other words, I needed to to regard Steiner's 'scheme' as a set of possible primary *assumptions* about ultimate reality - which he is offering to us for reflection. Rather than looking at his book as a set of arguments or proofs or some kind of evidence; I instead 'entertained' the idea that they were true, and experienced how this worked-out; and found this validated by my intuition.

2. Reading the preceding book (essentially Steiner's PhD thesis) Truth and Knowledge.

3. Reading a book called Rudolf Steiner on His Book "The Philosophy of Freedom" by Otto Palmer - this collects and comments on Steiner's many statements and explanations - through his life- about the PoF.

edwin faust said...

Thank you, Bruce. I have ordered Palmer's book and trying to absorb the content of Truth and Knowledge as I approach PoF again. Steiner is worth taking seriously, it seems, but his output is so various and his present-day disciples, at least in the USA, tend to be Leftwing ideologues or back-to-nature types who haven't the vaguest knowledge of his philosophical work and think he was all about some kind of mystical farming. The question of our essential identity, however, is the alpha and omega of all our searching.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Edwin - Another tip - you probably already know - is to listen on Rudolf Steiner Audio. e.g. I found Truth and Knowledge easier to take in by ear than on the page.

Adil said...


All I'm saying is matter is not outside and fundamentally independent of consciousness. I believe experience is all there is, and there is no abstract material world outside of experience. The appearance of matter is a mode of experience in consciousness associated with perception. What we experience on this screen of perception is the extrinsic appearance of the thought that underlie nature at large (which is real in so far as we experience it). The materialist also grants that there is a world outside our personal mind, but that this world is not mental it's pure abstraction. It's as highly a metaphysical claim as any, and a bad fantasy to the public mind.

If materialism is true all the qualities are generated inside our head, but the world out there has no life or color, meoldy, flavor, or nothing (from this derives the leftist assumption of seeing the world as bad and humans as good). This supposes our entire life plays out in our heads as opposed to our heads being in the world, meaning it's a complete inversion.

The eventual quibbles between Christianity/non-dualism is a luxury problem compared to that. But I share your concerns, and I definitely think the western concept of the individual rooted in God is the proper metaphysical model.