I’ve been working on a theory lately. It’s rough, but try to follow.
Philosophers since Kant (1724-1804) have argued that the world we see is influenced by concepts. This means roughly that my world and the world of the Inuit are probably radically different. The world of Homeric poetry with its epic figures, active gods, and bizarre creatures is certainly different from our modern technologized, bureaucratic, media-driven society. The stories you are told as a child, the people you know, the education you receive all provide those concepts that determine how we see the world.
Through these concepts we create a world-view: a story we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world. The world-view is a story of association; and through it we associate events in our lives with elements of the story. A simple world-view might be one of good-gods and bad-gods: when the rains come in spring it makes sense to us because in our story that is what the good-gods do for us. When the locusts come in August, however, we are devastated. But we invent bad-gods to explain it and then we are ok with it, the anxiety subsides because we now understand the event.
But our world-view breaks down: we do the rituals, we make our sacrifices, but the good-gods don’t appear. Associations (ritual –> prosperity) we have created fail. Thus far I have nothing new – this seems to be the story of Western religion, from the Greeks to the Jews to the Christians, who have ingeniously put many of their associations into the afterlife, securing them from any kind of breakdown (ritual –> prosperity, [maybe not in this life though...]).
Of course, putting off expectations until the afterlife is common amongst religions, and can come at a price; ritual takes time, time that I could spend doing other things. Ritual also may be perverted: drink the cool-aid, burn the infidels, etc. But such perversion can generally only be recognized from outside the ritual participants, outside the community of thought which generated them. This is true not only of perverted religious expression, but secular as well: totalitarian marxism and (some might say equally totalitarian) consumerism each can take people down the roads of their own demise.
(enough with the build-up)
The meat of my theory is as follows: concepts are words or images in our minds, and each is necessarily linked to others (this is the meaning of association). For example: Hitler -> Nazi – WWII -> Holocaust -> etc. But there is no necessary flow, it is not a chain, but a web or net, with each word forming a nexus of connections with further concepts.
This is still fairly basic theory (we’ve maybe moved forward to Freud). The advance I would like to make, which ties in with the last post and the next is that we can actively manipulate the associations we make. Freud was a determinist, as was Marx; I am not. Anxiety, or world-weariness, is a result of bad connections in our conceptual nexus. Overcoming this is not merely a matter of working with the connections and concept that we have, but of realizing that the world and ourselves are nothing but these connections. It takes realizing that what we take as reality is just our concepts.
This unlocks potential for growth, flexibility, and change directed from understanding. The obstacle is grasping to concepts and their associations as fixed, TRUE, and unchanging. But no, our concepts are contingent upon history, society, childhood stories, and all the rest. We have to understand the source of our world-view to understand our power over it.
I don’t want to go any further with this now, except to reiterate that it ties in with the other two posts in this series. Anxiety teaches us that our associations are mistaken (too often we repress this, strengthening the bad connections), taking a break removes us from the immediacy of those concepts (loosening our grasping), and actively working out our thoughts brings them before us and within our rational control.