Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Purity of Intent

Going down to the core, trying to winnow what is from attribution. Then trying to put it into words.

How artificial, exactly, are social conventions? The monkey dance and all the posturing and ritual of day-to-day interactions between humans seem amazingly contrived, sometimes pointless. Often silly. That doesn't mean they are unnatural.

They feel unnatural to me, but that is because of a baseline established long ago. I know when I feel most me. In a situation that will require extreme physicality and allows no mistakes; where the body and mind have to be simultaneously utterly free and utterly disciplined is the best of me. Those times bring out the best not of who I am but of what I am.

Nowhere in there do I find the faintest echo of social concerns. No angst. No fear of looking silly. “What would so-and-so think of me know?” would be a suicidal distraction and has no place in that mindset.

There are emotions at that level. But they are very few, less nuanced, and they feel more pure than the many, many things our social brains consider emotional.

There is joy: it is a pure, soul-singing state of elation at the beauty of the world, or the connection felt with all things, or the grace of survival. Beyond words. My mother once told me that a religious fanatic is what happens when a person only feels this once.

There is fear: Not “False Evidence Appearing Real” but the supercharged, battery-taste-in-the-mouth animal awareness of impending and inevitable death. Can’t even really write around this without changing it into ‘fear of’ or tacking some philosophy on it. It’s not even fear of death, because death is too abstract a concept for this mind. It is just a feeling, another soul-singing but at a different pitch.

Maybe there is lust. There is a deep level, but since lust centers around another human I don’t think I’ve ever felt it without some social attributions impinging.

That’s all, perhaps. Anger doesn’t make the list. Personalize a fear and decide to do something about it and you have anger, a purely social thing. The simple (in theory) and very effective (in practice) trick of learning “don’t take it personally” wouldn’t work so well if anger was pure.

Not love. When joy is felt it is often misinterpreted as “universal love”… and romantic love is one of the few social emotions that approaches that pleasure and intensity, so the attribution is sort of understandable… but love, whether romantic or social or agape or patriotism are profoundly social and profoundly constructed. The notion of romantic love was invented and even today hasn’t spread to all cultures.

Not anxiety, obviously. Nor despair. Certainly not indignation or jealousy.

Assuming I’ve written this non-word concept well enough to be understood: Are there other pure emotions?


Steve Perry said...

What about grief? Rage?

Fred Ross said...

Huntingness? I coin a word because I have no word for it. Focus and pursuit are quasiemotional. My baseline is somewhat shifted from yours. I know the state you describe from physical violence, but only rarely. There is a state I'm in and out of which is my baseline, which is where I do mathematics. The only way I can describe it is that as I approach it's as though the pitch of the wind in the rigging rises, then I cross a veil, and the whole world inverts and turns crystalline. Useless, yes?

But there is the same limited palette of emotions there. Joy certainly, in exactly the sense you describe it. It's what makes math addictive. Fear, surprisingly, but it's so twisted and bizarre that I shan't even begin to describe the kind of things that cause it. Suffice it to say that I get mathematical nightmares about subtleties I can't explain without symbolic logic. This probably qualifies me as insane.

But there's a quality when you're chasing a mathematical object. The chasing seems like an act of will, of action, but it's not. It feels like an emotion. A sense of having prey before you? It's not joy, it's not lust. I don't typically hunt anyone in a social context, so I have no idea if this has its parallel.

That's completely unclear, but I don't know how to clarify it.

Rory said...

Steve- i've felt a pure grief but it's hard to (this whole subject is hard to put into words) keep up without turning into wallowing- the second you start thinking 'poor me' you've injected ego into the pain. Rage, IME is always triggered by an indignity of not being treated as special, even people who break things for stubbing their own toe..

Fred- Perfect with huntingness and I know exactly what you mean. I've felt it in a lot of contexts, too, not just hunting an animal. Nice

Viro said...

I would include calm. Calm would be your baseline emotion.

Steve Perry said...

I don't think you can separate ego from emotion, if you use the term as the brain that produces and feels it.

We are, most of us, hardwired for the chemicals to flow, and the question of who feels the _________(fill in the blank) emotion has to be part of the definition, doesn't it?

Past that, you start splitting hairs. Joy, rage, grief, lust, whatever, they all are connected to the doer and the deed. Purity and primary are qualifying terms, and it comes down to where you draw the line.

Once you start parsing these, you run into problems. Am I grieving over my dog's passing because the light has gone out of a happy soul, or because I will miss her? Is my rage against the lawn mower that won't start because I'm upset over the way the universe works, or a chemical spasm from frustration? Is what brings you joy the same thing as what brings me joy?

You're right, in that words fall down trying to pin this to the wall.

How can an activity like hunting be considered a primary feeling, when there are so many pieces making it up?

I think you've opened up a can of worms for which just naming them isn't enough to define them ...

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
I think according to Freud (can't find reference though), the only emotions are mad, sad, glad and afraid. Somebody correct me if this is incomplete.

Then people argue how that response gets made and in what order

If you are talking about what situation makes you most alive, that would perhaps be one where your potential for all emotions is most fully exercised. Or maybe "flow"--getting into the zone where all your capacities are exercised.

Heidegger said the moment of being "In-Sein" or "Sein-In" was usually full of anxiety. Most of the time we live in either the future or the past: what we did to earn the promotion, how we are going home at six to grill a steak. But we say these things in present tense, which increases the potential for b.s. "I am your superior/I'm the king of barbecue."

The moment of true "presentness" is rare indeed, and usually feels like crap. Being in the 'now' means you realize you are unprotected, and for a brief moment an individual sees how contingent everything is in life, his life, in himself.

Maybe that's where you're going with this. Trying to get a prolonged clarity of being while having tools against the anxiety (but the acquisition of the tools is the past, and future contains yet another moment you have to be ready). It's way tough to live in the present. According to Heidegger, anyway.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

I guess what I wrote before doesn't talk much about purity of intent.

I know I get close when I am talking to a painting-in-progress and it is telling me what it 'needs' from me next.

I know I am close when I am not struggling for the words my characters want to say, but my fingers instead are typing as fast as they can, trying to keep up with their conversation.

I don't know how emotional this is. Certainly in the examples, I am producing a work of emotion, but the conversations in both cases are thoughts . . . or . . .

I'm in the flow. If people are around, and there is hierarchy, I cannot feel like me without having some ability to order my own day and hopefully a team of some sort.

Would you like fries with that? is completely not me. Of course, that dilemma is not mine alone, but shared by workers across the world.