Philosophy: (2 of 3) anxiety and association

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.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14471473507969364223 alwaysdare

    “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.”From What I can understand of this, it sounds a lot like the basis for NLP and neuro associative conditioning.We all have these neuro associations (links) to things and thoughts that get triggered by various events. We can change/break our patterns by changing what we associate and how we associate different things with them.e.g. If we really hated to read books, we know that there is a bad association (link) between ‘reading books’ and our thougt about reading books.So we need to change the associated link. If we get ourselves into a really good state by thinking of something we like, and then change our focus to ‘reading books’, then gradually we start to change our feelings toward reading books.It’s an interesting post you made and I only browsed it very quickly so I may not have the full understanding of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14246929532585980356 Buddhist_philosopher

    Thanks for the comments. Yea, I know there are some similar theories out there. But I haven’t heard of Neuro-Linguistic Programming before. It looks interesting, and I, given some time in the next couple weeks, will explore it a bit. I’m a bit apprehensive to get into too much psychological theorizing (which I take this to be) because I think that more often than not they are grabbing some of the leading-edge theorizing in philosophy and applying it, which may or may not have positive long-term effects. My ‘angle’ is (I think more modest and thorough) to cull from philosophy language and structure which is or can be supported by rigorous examination through a Buddhist lens. So, for instance, I would be interested in people taking NLP and questioning how it meshes with a Buddhist world-view. It sounds to me that you did understand my post – and I hope to hear from you again.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14471473507969364223 alwaysdare

    There are a lot of books and websites on NLP and it is a concept that has been around since the early 70′s. I recommend that you check out some books by the inventors of NLP (Richard Bandler and John Grinder) first as there is a lot of junk things (on NLP) out there too.The Neuro Associative Conditioning (NAC) that I described is something that Anthony Robbins came up with which has its roots in NLP. If you check out the book called ‘Awaken the Giant Within’, you’ll find an entire chapter exclusively on NAC (which is what I think seems similar to some of the core ideas in your post).I think NLP can definitely be used as a compliment to Buddhism, but really it’s most useful for changing behaviours and breaking patterns. It won’t magically make a person more holy or enlightened. Combining Buddhism and NLP is not really a new idea (although I doubt many people have actually combined the two in their practice) and you can find some public discussion on it here:http://groups.google.com.au/group/alt.psychology.nlp/browse_thread/thread/694fd38f740049b0/87f6f2418be1fabb?lnk=st&q;=nlp+buddhism&rnum;=1&hl;=en#87f6f2418be1fabbI found your blog about a week ago and found it interesting, so I’ll be around :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03589152119660685335 Nacho

    Justin, thanks again. One way to step briefly (and not completely) aside from perhaps the psychology angle is to make these — questions of ethics. That does give us another danger of philosophizing too much… but we can be careful here. I buy the argument very well. It dovetails with my own assumptions about such things. Do you theorize about nodal points in associations? Or strategies for reconfiguring the grounding of particular associational linkages? The way I come to this stuff is mostly through an interesting melange of conceptual metaphor, articulation theory, and rhetorical theory, but it works, even if, as always, contingently and merely as place to rest for a bit. : )

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14246929532585980356 Buddhist_philosopher

    Nacho – Thanks for the comments. Into ethics was where I was planning on going with my next post on Karma (which was never written, maybe soon). I take karma to denote the relationship between our actions and our perceptions of the world.”Do you theorize about nodal points in associations? Or strategies for reconfiguring the grounding of particular associational linkages? The way I come to this stuff is mostly through an interesting melange of conceptual metaphor, articulation theory, and rhetorical theory, but it works, even if, as always, contingently and merely as place to rest for a bit. : )”No – I know nothing of any of that! :) Maybe a bit of rhetorical theory, but the rest is Greek to me. If you have done any work, send me a link and I’ll have a look. alwaysdare – I haven’t looked into NLP/NAC much, busy busy busy – but will keep an eye out. Depending on where my studies take me I might come back to you for ideas about where to find good books. Thanks again.


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