Thursday, March 6, 2014

Journal of a Soul 46

The Validity of our Experience 1

John Keats by William Hilton
In my last post I mentioned that I have always been captivated by John Keats's remark that "axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses."   This was essentially the philosophy of the Romantic Movement in English literature, a philosophy espoused by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and, of course, John Keats.  It was simply no good thinking something, they argued, one had to feel it as well.  Of course, the Romantic Movement was very much a reaction to the extreme rationalism spawned by the Enlightenment. 

Thoughts are just that, thoughts, while human experience is something more.  Here we come to the "something more" that we humans experience ourselves as being.  What that "more" might be is the subject of much debate, both oral and written.  I have already mentioned that there are those who subscribe to the thesis that we humans are somewhat "less." That "less" is more easily defined as it sets limits to human possibility in a way - what I am referring to here is the whole thrust to the delimiting of humanity by reducing the human phenomenon to mere rationality, or even to matter (materialism) in some extreme cases.

We are a thinking, feeling, intuiting, believing and behaving unity.  To reduce that dynamic unity that we are to any one of its constituent parts is to do gross injustice to the mystery of the complexity of the human entity.  Over the years one understanding of the human brain, from which the human mind springs, is the three-layered model, or what scholars call the Triune Brain. * In the most fundamental of terms, and I realize that I am running the risk of over-simplifying things here, the first first layer of brain to emerge developmentally over millions of years of evolution was that of the reptile brain from which all our basic instincts and drives spring, that section of the brain that would parallel or correspond to the id of Freud's structural model of the psyche.  Next to emerge in that history of evolution was the central layer or mammalian brain where all our emotions and feelings live.  Then, over the millions of years of further evolution the cortical brain emerged literally to cap the entire brain with its fissures and folds that increase its surface area - the central processor of our thoughts as it were - so that it can be contained within the cranium, the bone helmet that protects the whole organ.

The More rather than the Less
A recent wintery skyline over Howth, County Dublin

It is the more rather than the less that we humans essentially are that fascinates this writer, and whether we can explain and explicate its (that is, the more) workings as I have attempted above is really irrelevant in a sense.  Why? Well, every human being is an expert insofar as he or she has their own personal experiences that are really rich.  Such experiences when shared within the community of all human experiences are thereby validated or even invalidated,  It is in this sharing that reality as we know and understand it emerges as something co-validated by all humans. This is important because in this way all abnormalities are consigned to the periphery.

The Turn to Experience in Psychotherapy 

These days we are inundated with the plethora of therapies that are available to modern well-off human beings to help them in their self-development.  In these therapies their experiences are validated, listened to and affirmed.  Prior to the development of such therapies various cultures with their specific traditions offered religions, rites of passage, stories, music, dance, drama and so on as vehicles of such healing. 

In all of the panorama of human existence since its emergence, it is surely the validation of human experience - in its extraordinary highs and in its dreadful lows - that is the most important aspect of any culture worth its salt.

Let me finish with the following short quotation from  Plotinus (205 - 270 A.D.): "The Human race is poised midway between the Gods and the Beasts."

Somehow, for me, this quotation captures the struggle in humankind to be  more rather than less.

* This theory or model of the evolution of the human brain was proposed was the American physician and neuroscientist,  Paul D. McClean. (See Here and Here )  This model of the evolution of the brain is very useful in psychiatry and psychothery as it lends itself well to a holistic philosophical psychology of the mind or to a humane theory of the mind.


  1. The Hopi and other Native American tribes believe that we have been living as animals; and they prophesy that we will soon know what it is to be human.

    "Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light."


    1. Many thanks for this comment Billy Joe. I have always been greatly impressed by the religious/spiritual sensibilities of the Native American Indians. I have done some little - too little indeed - reading in their beliefs, but greatly appreciate their love of nature, their ecological sensitivity and their respect for all living beings. I do intend to deal more thoroughly with religious experience as a deepening of human experience later in these posts! My regards, thanks, respect for your loyalty to reading these posts. That's humbling for me. May all the great spirits of your forefathers be praised.

      Tim Quinlan.

  2. I enjoy reading your blog. Your writing has clarity and wisdom. You should put some of these together in a book. You're an excellent writer.