Traveling in the Godspace: Meditations on Acts of Creation and Creative Faculties

He of the Mountain, By Erin Sandlin
He of the Mountain, By Erin Sandlin

I talk a great deal about the Floaty-Nowhere Headspace, often without providing much context on what that means.  It’s always “a place I go” or “where the ideas happen.”  This morning, I had a conversation with a friend who lives largely in the literal Universe.  He’s very much about the empirical world–what you can perceive with the human senses; he is genuinely a gifted scientist.  But he shuts himself away from exploring the experiences which must be termed as mystic or spiritual, because he has always stated that he feels there is a lack of evidence for their existence.

I’ve always countered him with the notion that, evidence for their objective existence in space does not prevent individuals from having very real experiences with them.  That there is a quantifiable explanation for them, neural lighting, biochemistry, composite memory recall–that, I will accept.  But how do you track the experience of the numinous in real time?  It’s a debate we often have, and it’s been going on for the seven years I’ve known him.  We don’t really disagree, we just tend to interpret data from different perspectives.  I am just as interested in logging verifiable data that can be exposed to rigorous scrutiny on an independent basis.  Then again, I also accept my forays into the Floaty-Nowhere Headspace as if they were real journeys.  In a sense, they are.

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ~Dr. Carl Sagan

A Natural Function of the Creative Faculty

That faculty is an inherent aspect of human cognition.  My friend is willing to accept this posit on credit in order to provide a framework for our discussion.  Even his idol, the physicist Niels Bohr, made judicious use of this human ability to imagine, to strike out into a realm of unreality.  When he becomes overly literal, I like to remind him of this in a way that might be more appropriately described as poking him with a pointed observation.  I also like to bring Kierkegaard along for the ride, with references to his Leap.

Why am I going into all of this?  Well, you see, Gray insists upon relying solely on the evidence of imperfect human sensory faculties.  When I bring this up, he starts looking uncomfortable, because he knows where I’m going.  He knows imagination is going to be brought up, and my world of make-believe has the effect of making him itch.  I tell him it’s because he knows that intuitive thought–a non-localized thought process that draws upon previous knowledge, memory, and stimuli that may be completely unrelated to each other, have had a major part in the development of many of the most groundbreaking scientific theories.

These are ideas he has chosen to accept as sound, in order to provide a framework for further research, thought, and the testing of hypotheses relevant to his field.  He also doesn’t want to admit that he draws on this creative faculty.  But he doesn’t make as much of a fuss as he used to when I make statements such as:

I think it’s closely tied to human intelligence, language, crafts, arts, the further development of the sciences, and our very sense of traveling through the world.  It is sentience, to create, to generate new and novel objects or products from what is, at its most basic, nothing more than chemically induced electrical impulses within a medium of fat, water, and fibrous material that is fueled by glucose.

When we create, we leave a fingerprint of ourselves–every moment spent as a conscious being is present in each creation, and this is a form of communication, a visible message of our ideas, our time, our spirits.  In this way, everyone we have cherished, hated, fought against or made love to, speaks.  You, dear reader, are hearing the voices of hundreds of people right now–not just those I have encountered, but writers I have loved, musicians long since gone to dust who kindled something beautiful within me with their creations, artists who showed me the meaning of beauty and perception and told me a story without words.

 

The Subtle Universe of the Unmade and the Already Broken

Our dogeared debate occurred this morning because he asked me, after a particularly long silence, where I go when I get that empty look in my eyes.  He said he had the strangest feeling I wasn’t with him at the table when I did that.  I answered that I wasn’t.  I was in my Floaty-Nowhere Headspace.  He looked a bit blank, not because he’s never heard me use the term, but because he has no idea what it means.  He has no referent that will allow him to access its meaning.  I told him it would be difficult for me to describe it to him without sounding like some New Age nutcase–his words, not mine–but he seemed to really want to understand, so what follows is a smoothed out and abridged explanation…

We may assume for this description that my creative space is filled by elements that I have encountered in my experience as a conscious being.  It contains nothing that is truly unknown, there is no revelatory content in that sense.  However, all these things–these bits and pieces of sensory data, concepts, speech elements, music, artistic forms and all the other minutia that make up my time here–exist independently of the framework of logic, temporal sequence, or relational data.  They’re just floating around “in there,” phasing in and out of being, changing form, combining with each other.  This is constantly occurring.

Over the years, I’ve learned to access this state of mind in an intentional way, as if I were going to the pantry for dinner ingredients.  Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m going to prepare for dinner.  At other times, I know exactly what I’m going to fetch.  I have only to access it.  But then there are those times when I trip and fall into it.  It might be akin to sleepwalking in my house and waking up standing in front of the open pantry with a jar of sauce in my hands.  But then, you can also add to that strangeness, that it is a jar of sauce I either do not remember purchasing or actually did not buy.  Still, there it is, in my hand.

 

Accessing Altered States Without Chemicals

It’s commonly known that many cultures have structured a spiritual lexicon around experiences of altered states of consciousness.  These are often achieved via substances with various properties, which are attributed with sacred significance.  The use of and reflexive development of ritual and deeper meaning of these altered states is a cornerstone of sacred practice in many places, at many times.  What is important to recognize is that, in many cases, the use of substances is not mutually bound to the experience of such states.  They are, at the very least, short cuts, access tunnels to the place I spoke of above.

There are a number of disciplines that incorporate meditation and mindfulness as their chief methods for accessing these other places within the mind.  What I spoke of to my friend could be likened to deep meditation, a practice that actually requires intense discipline and a great deal of practice because it allows an individual to influence physical processes such as heart rate, pain response, and metabolism as well as accessing the altered state of consciousness.  For these individuals, this is often a tool of understanding, a place in which solutions to issues present themselves, or peace is reached free of the fetters of the outside world.

 

Limbic Rhythms and Wordless Weather

While I accept that I can seem quite odd to most people, especially if they catch me before I’ve replaced my “filter.”  I have a tendency to ask unsettling questions or say strange things that don’t seem to belong here and now.  The very good reason for this is that they don’t.  They often have more to do with things that I have gathered from that other space–understandings, sensations, creations–which need to be translated first.  I say “translated” because experience in the Floaty-Nowhere place relies on a set of perceptual senses that don’t always match the ones we use in our everyday life.

Now, what on earth could that mean?  Well, human beings are animals, whether we want to admit it or not.  And while our physical senses are imperfect, they are also always gathering data.  If you can find the way that works best for you, you can keep your brain from tossing out the bulk of these as irrelevant bits–and they often include non-verbal signals, biochemical data, and the novel conclusions that happen below the level of what we might call our Conscious Self–they happen in our brain’s sub-basements, in places that are older than language or big frontal lobes.

I track the limbic tides of this pre-verbal sea, and then go see what goes on in the tide pools left behind.  Conscious thought is a celestial thing–sometimes directly reflected in those waters.  Sometimes, it’s far more subtle, and you have to measure the height of a storm surge, look to patterns of distant emotional weather.  Sometimes, even I am at a loss for words and I have to ruminate on what I have gathered until the right ones find me.

 

 

 

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Traveling in the Godspace: Meditations on Acts of Creation and Creative Faculties

  1. You’ve described the worlds of experience and creativity so well here. It was interesting that you used your friend’s empirical mindset as a counterpoint, as a jumping off point to explore the vast, other side of life. It reminded me of a book I read a few years ago by Huston Smith, “Why Religions Matter,” in which he does something similar, only in the context of religion and the spiritual Life v. Science ( http://www.amazon.com/Why-Religion-Matters-Spirit-Disbelief/dp/0060671025) I don’t know if he’s still alive, but he was a professor of religion at MIT when he wrote this, and was quite prominent, and didn’t shy away from engaging with his colleagues on the faculty who were in the same world as your friend. This was when the debates were particularly intense between people by Richard Dawkins and fundamentalists and creationists about the relative superiority of religious belief over science as the way to order and live one’s life. (That’s somewhat simplified, but gets at the nub of the fight, I think.)

    Smith argued that this was a ridiculous, parochial argument to have. His view is that the empirical and the spiritual (which is where I would place the creative “Floaty-Nowhere” space, too; feel free to set me straight if I’ve put words in your mouth) shouldn’t be in opposition to each other. Each is a valid way to see the world and ourselves, and have two totally different areas of competence. The empirical, contained and surrounded by the scientific method, is the best way we’ve yet found to examine, quantify, predict and understand the things that can be touched with our senses and the technological tools we’ve devised to extend the reach of those senses. In the area of the physical world — where our understanding and cleverness has now reached the ends of the known universe, has helped medicine conquer ancient enemies and has spawned all sorts of technological creativity– is unmatched in *knowing* what’s real, what’s replicable, what’s measurable and what’s reliable.

    But the realm of the spiritual, the creative and the numinous is equally valid, and science has no business or competence to delve into anything that can’t be measured. As you point out, there are some experiences and the mysterious nature of creativity and the apprehension of something beyond the physical world that we need and must treasure, too.

    That’s where I think provocateurs like Dawkins go off the deep end. They seem to think that empiricism and rationality should be, and are, the only things that matter. I think that’s wrong, and he’s made a fundamental error of logic.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this. It got me thinking, as you usually do. The two realms are not in competition, IMHO, and we need both.

    1. I had written a lengthy reply to this, but for whatever reason, it didn’t post. Perhaps I won’t touch on every aspect of your comment, and I’m in a different mood today than when I originally replied, but here goes…

      I have the deepest respect for scientists of Dawkins stripe, but what I find he rails at is not spirituality, but religion and dogma. I can identify with this. There is no evidence to suggest a creator being or that our consciousness survives beyond death. At the same time, I find that even he makes ready use of what I’ve termed the “Godspace.” His spiritual access key is science–as contradictory as that may sound. It grants him passage into a place of infinite wonder and creative potential, into that infinity that is encapsulated within the finite boundaries of the human brain.

      As an anthropologist, I tend to give equal respect to a number of belief systems. I see their social and personal value, but I don’t necessarily ascribe to any of them, including the more popular monotheistic models. For me, that doesn’t necessarily devalue them as tools for more deeply exploring the nature of human experience.

      I think Carl Sagan, no less an atheist than Dawkins, understood this quite well. He allowed that there was a place for imagination and spirituality that was both in keeping with the tenets of science and which passed beyond them, coped with different aspects of the human experience. That’s why he’s a Main Squeeze in my Secret Boyfriends Club. His intellectual wonder overbrimmed the cup of science and touched on systems of spirituality, mysteries of the human brain, the potential of our species not solely as creatures of the physical realm but the spiritual as well. Yes, Cosmos was a part of my childhood–Apple Pie, Pythagoras, and the logical underpinnings of the concept of the number One.

      Systems of Knowing–such a tenuous thing, that. Even such a simple exercise as showing three people the same sequence of events and asking them to describe what they witnessed will point up flaws in the ironclad impressions of empiricism. Because our neural net is shaped by our experiences, what we “see” is literally a product of what we already believe. Our visual cortex selectively retains a fraction of a percent of the data our eyes send to it. This fraction is then analyzed and altered by the rest of our neural net. Show us something that has never been seen before–and I do mean never–and you’ve got the problem that the brain will cast it out or alter it to fit what is known, in order to avoid madness.

      The point of all of that rambling is that, when debating with rigorous scientific minds who reject spirituality as a component of religion, I like to use their own vocabulary. It helps me to frame instances of spirituality that they can accept as logical, such as the importance of daydreaming and other fantasy play to the development of the intellect in children. Daydreaming happens in the creative space, and allows us to combine novel elements and create fantastical alternate ways of being that would not hold up in the “real” world. It also leads to adult scientists who develop things like the Theory of Relativity.

      Enough! Such a ramble. If you wish to continue this, you know how. :). Thanks for your comments and the compliment.

      1. No real quibbles from me. I was captivated by Sagan and “Cosmos”, too. He may have been an atheist, but conveyed such a sense of wonder at the unknown, but knowable, and the joy he felt at discovery and pushing the boundaries of knowledge out to the edges of the known universe was tremendously important to me.

        He was the kind of scientist that Smith would have loved, I think. Smith had enormous respect for science and the “method”, gave it complete respect and appreciation for how that invention of the mind dragged us out of our superstitions and ignorance, and for establishing for the first time a way to actually understand the way things work in the physical world. No more ‘humours of the blood’ or leeches or thinking disease came from sin instead of microbes.

        The only cranky thing I’ll say is that Dawkins strikes me as a brilliant man, but one who’s guilty of the same dogmatism and arrogance as he criticizes in fundamentalist religious types. I have an easier time understanding his brand of atheism as merely another fundamentalist religious dogma, than persuading me that he’s got much of a point. And my reaction is Pfffffffft. “Go away, Richard.” The rest of what he says is colored in my mind by suspicion of his judgement and intellectual honesty.

        I was sitting around with some friends one time, drinking some wine, and we were all a little buzzed. He’s a math professor and she’s an editor for Scientific American and an opera singer. (Not bragging, just thought the context was appropriate.)

        We were talking about the book “Five Billion Years of Solitude” I’d just picked up, and turns out Lee Billings is a friend of Karen’s and she’d proofed some early galleys of the book. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/books/review/five-billion-years-of-solitude-by-lee-billings.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )

        I didn’t know that, but she and I got into the same sort of conversation you and i are having, and Eric, the rational math guy, was having trouble with the metaphysical aspects. (He’s actually not all that dogmatic, and is widely read in philosophy and poetry and the arts.) But… Just to mess with him, but also because an idea hit my wine washed brain and it sounded reasonable to me, that I blurted it out. Karen got it right a way and laughed. Eric looked pained.

        “What if,” I said, pouring another glass, “sometime in the foreseeable future, the discoveries that seem to be accelerating in astrophysics and genetics and a dozen other fields would become this giant circle of human understanding that started to converge in metaphysics. What if–” Eric glared at me — “after a thousand years of battles between science and the Church, the scientific method actually proved to a reasonable certainty that there is a God?”

        Eric exploded, threw his hands up then laughed and started pacing, as he will do, looking for a rebuttal. Karen cracked up. I was real pleased with myself. But you know, I wasn’t entirely trying to wind him up. Who knows where all this will lead? The irony that my little cabernet fantasy might come true would be rich, indeed. What if everyone’s right, but for all the wrong reasons? I love that kind of unintended consequence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s