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Dividing Reality between the Concrete and the Abstract

November 14, 2013

Building upon what I began here: “Concrete vs abstract” has within the type community taken on the meaning of the products of the Sensing vs iNtuition functions, but in the original Jungian conception, they go a little deeper than that, and the functional preferences may simply indicate which kind of data the ego will tend to pay more attention to. But everyone is immersed in, and thus engages both.

Concrete (“grown together”) occurrence can be defined as the sequence of reality all of “awareness” [the “non-dual” concept I explored previously] agrees upon. It is based on the realm of objective vibrating strings which form the laws of nature and matter and energy. Everyone will have to agree that gravity pulls you down.
Everything is what it is; every facet of everything has all grown in together.

Abstract (separated) stories are those sequences not agreed upon by all awareness. They are subjective interpretations of things. Not everyone will agree on what is good or bad, or makes us happy or sad.
We separate out of reality meanings according to organizing principles (as I have heard it described, “abolishing distinctions among concrete things to focus on what they share in common, which can then be treated as an idea”).

While concrete reality will have to be agreed on when observed, not all are aware of all aspects of it, since each person’s portion of awareness is limited by their physical location and experience. Hence, we fill in things with “stories” (patterns carrying meaning) or interpretations, and this is where arguments and disputes arise in life. The tactic in these conflicts will be to try to support one’s ideas and stories with as much concrete “proof” as possible. So every disagreement will end up being this confusing, ambiguous mix of concrete and abstract points. (And “stories” may consist of concrete imagery; concrete also dealing in “specifics” such as a clear description of an object, where abstraction deals in relative things such as size, color, “happiness”, etc. that things can share in common, but have no concrete referent in themselves).

The stories that are matched by concrete occurrences will thus appear to be validated, or made the “OFFICIAL” story. This seems to be what I’ve gotten hung up with, in demanding concrete validation of either God (or experiences I want to have), before I’ll be content.

The “knowledge of good and evil” (the original source of man’s problems) marks the disparity of how concrete reality lines up with the “stories” we believe about ourselves. (i. e. “shame” for falling short of our or others’ standards when we want to believe we’re “good” and “worthy”).

You can flip a coin or roll dice, and while a really keen person (with exceptional precision of movement) might have some control over the outcome, for most of us, it’s purely chance; out of our control. The terms “fortune”, or “luck”; often disputed by religious people who see “God as in control”, I’ve defined as “an unknown principle of a disposition of a situation to a particular outcome especially to benefit or to adversity that is out of control of the person involved”; the emphasis on “unknown” and “out of control of the person”. Even if it is God who directly causes things; no one can deny that much of the circumstances of life fit this description, from our perspective.

So the way the coin or dice falls is simply concrete reality, of how the force exerted favors the number of rotations as it travels the distance to the ground, which is what determines which side will be facing up when it lands. (This shows why the charismatic “healings” argument doesn’t work. It’s the same principle, but most Christians wouldn’t say the outcome of some act of gambling was guided by God like that).
If someone cheated, such as using loaded dice, for instance, this would create an abstract “story”, where blame could be assigned and the loser could make a claim of justice.

We tend to try to push our interpretations of situations toward the latter, and our emotions reflect this. If no foul play occurred, we have no claim, and it’s a sinking feeling of irrestitutable loss. We then internalize it into negative stories about ourselves, and this leads to shame.

So something bad happens to us, “what did I do wrong?” (translation: someone’s wrongly “punishing” me for something, so now I’m owed restitution). If someone does something we don’t like, including in ignorance, we might want to snap: “you think it’s funny” (ill intent). So if someone was just luckier and had the talent or timing to achieve more than we did, we have to prove something was unfair (and they will often credit themselves for simply having more character, like the “delayed gratification” argument used in conservative sociopolitical commentary, but it’s true that they may have used some of their advantage in unfair ways. But not necessarily in the way someone envying them might accuse).

The market and the economy are a great example of these differing interpretations. Concrete reality is that many people do not have the means to keep up with their standard of living, while some at the top continue to have more than anyone could ever need. The stories formed around this are that the system is “unfair”, with the “justice” being demanded usually being that the rich be taxed and regulated more, and the wealth be “redistributed”.
The counter story is that these well-off all “delayed gratification” and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and now “produce value” while the less well off had all taken an “easier path” (if not trying to skate by for free, altogether), and so must suffer now.

So it is a “story” of “give and take” (which creates a double standard when defenders of this reality tell the less fortunate “life is not fair”, but if it’s true that everyone is being justly rewarded for what they’ve done or not done, then it is fair!)

Both views are common, archetypal patterns. There’s usually a bit of truth in both, or at least aspects of the situation the other side doesn’t see, or ignores. (Like the rich CEO might be miserable and feeling enslaved and powerless from being pushed into his position by a demanding father, or the poor or mediocre person may have had mild learning disabilities that were unrecognized. Or, the rich are likely of the temperament that they are in fact gratifying themselves in the process of working their way up. And that it is possible that some poor people are making excuses to not do more for themselves as is possible).

“Poetic justice” is just a scenario where a story can be put together, where one concrete event occurs that appears to compensate for another. Like someone gains something we wanted (and it may or may not be anyone’s fault, but we resent them nevertheless), but then something bad happens to him, and we feel almost glad, out of jealousy, like he’s really being “punished” by “life” for “taking” something from us.

Our whole notion of “perfect” is just an idealized scenario where concrete reality lines up with all of our stories, including the ones that make up our hopes and expectations (said to be the source of all pain when they are not met).
We hope we will grow up and find a decent living, find love, and start a good family; so if any of that goes wrong we become very depressed; and being born with a healthy, whole body, we expect it will always be like that; so major injury is very devastating; we hope our children grow up right, we expect those around us to always be there, we hope we win or make more money, we expect to at least keep the income we have, and the home we have. And so on.

All of these are abstract “stories” that become issues when concrete reality fails to line up with them. The reality that transpires then generates (to us) opposite “stories” that we deem “negative”. Then we say to ourselves, our children, or other disappointed or grieving associates, “well, life isn’t perfect”. Or if we can’t accept that, we’ll hit ourselves over and over with the negative story generated (“I’m no good”; “why is this being done to me”, etc.) and we may despair of life. (So the problem isn’t concrete reality; i. e. the physical world being “corrupt”; it just seems like it as the concrete world is what we look up to to solve our problems).

My father, reacting to a Christian faith I had adopted, which acknowledges life is not perfect, but then blamed it on corruption in physical nature itself and claims everything will be made perfect in another kind of world, used to say “the only perfection is nothing; a total void. The minute you add something to it, it’s no longer perfect”.

It seems there is some truth to this (it was another one of those things I couldn’t really answer). The world as perceived by our consciousness consists of the differentiation of opposite poles, which create lopsidedness as one side is chosen while the other is suppressed. Light over darkness. Matter over antimatter. God or creature. Male or female.
And again, the dichotomy we apparently weren’t equipped to handle but took upon ourselves anyway, totally marring our existence: good and evil. (Which is what became fused to a lot of other dichotomies in life, where concrete reality ends up pointing to these negative stories we assign to them, and things “hurt” worse than they would without the stories.
The Church then mistook the symbolically ‘concrete’ language of “creation groaning” for a literal acknowledgement of physical nature itself being “corrupt”; made “good”, but then “cursed” by God, in anger over Adam’s disobedience, and that’s why there’s pain and sin).

So I can see, asking why God would let the universe be this way, with Him “recompensing” both good and evil, as religion promises (instead of just preventing the evil or difficulty of doing good in the first place, so no compensation would be needed), is basically asking why He split left from right, back from forth, up from down, past from future and inner from outer in our own individual perception. He had to, else there would be nothing.

So, “positive thinking” is just the assigning of a good story to the concrete reality one has assigned a bad story to. “Glass half full” and “glass half empty” are connected to two different stories. One that assumes having nothing is “baseline”, so anything is better than nothing, and heading toward the ideal of “full”, while the other sees full as the baseline, and anything less is deficient, heading toward nothing.
(To me, just changing stories always came off as imagination).

So both Christian teaching and secular self-help alike will generally say what boils down to simply replacing the bad story with a good one, so you can accept and cope with concrete reality as is. This usually takes the form of “count your blessings”; look at all the other good in your life, getting these things doesn’t make anyone “happy”, etc. (In reality, it’s not about “happiness”; it’s about gratification for its own sake. It’s the survival instinct gone overboard, and what they are doing is trying to control this through reason alone. Even I now am realizing reason can’t control everything). Others are “God is doing this for your own good”, “God allows these things because you can grow”, “you’ll get bigger crowns in Heaven for your suffering, and the good works it produces”.

In any case, it seems there is no one to moderate the concrete world to fit our abstract stories.
Even if God is manipulating events that are painful for us, what the teaching ultimately says is that God is lining it up for a story of His own, and one we are apparently not aware of. And again, if the stories I create internally are invalidated by concrete reality, then it makes it hard to figure how the solution is to go back inwardly for what’s just another abstract story that has not been validated concretely.
What I’m thinking now, the difference may be the ego vs the Self. Both deal in the internal world, but the ego’s own internal fantasies are supposed to make way for the Self. Seems like I’m answering a lot of my own questions as I go along
—————–
So then where then does God actually fit into all this? A theistic view might think His existence would theoretically be concrete (and many forms of religion try to put it forth as such), but to us, it ends up an abstract “story” (about this invisible supernatural being who created everything), since He is not perceivable through the senses. Everyone fills in their experiences and rationale of why He “is” (or on the other side, why He isn’t), and His attributes; including projecting this onto everyone else through such arguments as “conscience” or “general revelation”; the latter appealing directly to the concrete world, but still subject to interpretation, since our actual experience is very limited.

This is where many, especially charismatics, will try to fill in internal “spiritual” experience. But now that’s internal and not apart of the other person’s experience. (The other person is supposed to see their emotional response, hear their testimonies, and witness other claims such as healings, and that is supposed to be the concrete proof. But again, the first two are subjective, and the latter, while external and concrete is often neither here nor there, as it is often based on the unexplained, assumed as supernatural {basically, the “God of the gaps” argument applied to personal experience rather than universal creation}, and can even be falsified, like the person was not really healed, and still died, as I had heard of a few years ago. Let’s not forget the other hoaxes, such as the “crutch-waving” antics of “healing” receivers who weren’t handicapped to begin with, and “prophesying” of people’s problems made possible with ear pieces).

God is portrayed as external, objective and concrete (with many going as far as to criticize the “internal, subjective” focus of some other expressions of faith, such as charismaticism, but even charismaticism sees God as ultimately external and objective as well), but the only “evidence” offered is either an internal, allegedly concrete experience that is unknown to any other person, or an interpretation of external concrete reality.
Both the internal experiences and the external interpretations alike, are then relegated to the domain of “faith”.

{So God is the abstraction of the idea of a “creator” (a title many different entities share in common), generalized to “all things”. The actual concrete entity remains outside of direct experience, hence the need for the internal experience called “faith”}

In looking where God fits in the “concrete/abstract” divide, I just recalled the old “tri-unity” models (as I articulate here: http://www.erictb.info/triune.html), where the physical or tangible is the second part of the matrix; analogous to “the Son”, who was the member of the Godhead who became physical, on earth, to perform the physical work of dying to redeem man. The Spirit was the “experiential” member, who resided in people’s hearts, making them into the one spiritual “Body”. The Father, rather than an equal “first out of three” as the later Church portrayed Him, was the “reference point” of the Godhead itself; whom both the Son and Spirit were manifestations of. This is even evident in the creeds, which maintain the Father is not “begotten” like the Son is, and that the Spirit only “proceeds” forth.
For humans, it’s soul, body and spirit. For science, it’s space, matter and time, and I revise it as chance, space and time (http://www.erictb.info/chance.html), with “space” as the tangible “Son-like” element. Chance is the transcendent “patrix” of all possible states and arrangements of things, and time is the experiential continuum.

So closely related to this, the concrete world would be the tangible “Son-like” realm, the abstract world of “stories”, the “Spirit-like” realm, and a “Transcendent” realm in general, would be the “Father-like” source.
This would be the realm where all the opposites are unified, everything is “neither and both” as Jung put it. (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/jung.html) It itself must be “neither and both” concrete and abstract. Just like the Father [God] could be said to be neither and both the Son and Spirit [He’s “neither” when looking at the “three hypostases”, but “both” when looking at the “one essence” they share in common], and chance is neither and both space and time (or space is neither and both matter and time), and one space dimension is neither and both the other two.

I still don’t know what exactly this is.
It seems it’s easy to confuse the transcendent realm with the abstract one. Both being “invisible”, and like comparing the Father and Spirit (where the Son was easily identifiable on earth).

Like reading the Jungian concepts, a lot of stuff we do are the “acting out” of complexes, thus manifesting something in the concrete world. But are these “stories” being acted out the product of the abstract world, or rather the transcendent itself? I imagine the “higher Self” where all of this comes from is supposed to be apart of the transcendent realm.

Many Christians, in somehow deprecating the concrete, offer the transcendent as the alternative, but then frame it as an abstract “story” that may or may not fit. The classic being “if you’re suffering [concrete], God is really the one doing it for some good [abstract story, with a “happy ending” compensating for an evil plotline]”. Problem is, they often base this on scriptures dealing with other, specific concrete events (early Christians suffering for their faith, and being promised “rewards” for it, and that their persecution proved they were the chosen, rather than the persecutors who claimed to be; hence, they should be “happy” in it. This has nothing to do with most of the mundane difficulties people speak of today).
It’s hard to square away what the true transcendent “source” for things are.

But in any case, I can see [as with, and apart of asking why life is allowed to be split into pairs we consider good and evil] asking what the purpose of this concrete world is would then be questioning the triune nature of reality patterned after the Godhead. (Psalm 19:1)

Jungian writer Robert Johnson and others seem to point out letting go of duality (which would include between the concrete and abstract, and of course, the original “knowledge of good and evil”) is what would show us the true “transcendent”.
Non-dualism teaches that the problem in our most emotion-laden strife is choosing one side of a duality. The other side then falls into the “Shadow”, as we have to focus (investing all our energy) on all the evidence for the side we choose and against the other side, and yet ignore all the evidence for the other side and against what we choose.

Making it worse, is that much opinion; religion in particular, is set against a non-dual position. “Sitting on the fence”, it is decried as. Being “wishy-washy” or even “cowardly”, some will even say! “Failure to choose is itself a choice”, meaning a “choice” against “the truth”, and thus siding just as much with “error” and thus the path to Hell as the opposite choice, we are pressured. “Our consciences know the truth, but our hearts deceive us so we can ‘hold on to our sin’” we are further manipulated.
This argument cleverly appeals to the Shadow (even if the preacher repudiates Jung and the rest of psychology), but what it fails to consider is that whatever truth we are not conscious of does not necessarily prove the position they are imposing on us. They often claim “the truth” by a “default” tactic, when flaws in the opposing side are pointed out. But this often misses other data, which they are overlooking in assuming their view wins by default.

For one thing, scriptures they use are reflecting a period of time when they were under the Law, or an overlap between Law and Grace. It is Law that is purely dualistic, speaking of “black and white”, “wrong and right”, “life and death”, “sin and righteousness” and ultimately, “us, versus them” [i.e. fellow believers “with us”, and infidels who may often be “against us”]. Knowledge of good and evil is the duality that caused “sin” and necessitated the Law in the first place.

But religious leaders, while claiming to accept the “Grace” of the New Covenant, also held onto Law, only changing some of the practices from what they associated with “The Old Testament”. (They then condemn groups holding onto those older practices as “adding works to grace”). But it was still strictly a system of Law and works, thought to be “necessary” to maintain order in society and one’s personal and spiritual life.
But all this did is create the same shadowy pretense that marked the nation that rejected Christ and demanded Him crucified. You have to put on a show to “prove yourself elect”, but meanwhile, a lot of sin is simply being repressed (pushed back) or suppressed (pushed down), yet will still often erupt at some point. Hence, sex scandals in the Church.

This is what Jungians mean by “the Shadow”, as much as many preachers, (including some of the ones who eventually “fell”!) may lambaste both Jung and perhaps all psychology, which they call “secular humanism”.
Romans 1:18-21 is a clear scriptural example of shadow suppression (some translations even use the word “suppress”), and while this verse is often used to prove why grace must be conditional (i.e. why people should still “go to Hell” if they don’t “repent” of “suppressing the truth, so they can feel good in their sin”), it ignores the context of who is being referred to as being judged in that instance, and still does not take into consideration that Grace is God not counting this sin against mankind (2 Cor.5:19). Again, Paul is referring to people under the Law, with its black and white system of judgment.

So to such religious views “knowledge of good and evil” actually sounds good (though they would avoid such wording of it, from its association with the account of the Fall in Genesis). One almost (to me) iconic polemical statement on the world is “The false teaching of doing away with the LAW of God, and the GOVERNMENT of God, and endorsing the ways of men, led inevitably to WARS, which have grown progressively more frightening and colossal in scale, until it is now questionable whether the world can survive another war, unless God Almighty steps in supernaturally to intervene!”

Now this was Herbert Armstrong (The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last!), who is considered heterodox, as for one thing, he (as one of those alluded to above) is condemning “historical Christianity” along with the rest of the world, for among other things, teaching that the Sabbath command is no longer in effect. “Orthodox Christianity” then claims “we are not under the Law” (which is what Armstrong is playing upon, lumping them in with the nonreligious world which of course denies any “law” of God).
However, they do teach the other nine commandments, basically (or even all ten with the sabbath replaced by Sunday), and many will make nearly identical statements on how “doing away with God’s laws of good and evil is what’s led to all the sin in the world today”, including increasing war.

The Gospel’s answer is that love is to motivate us to good, rather than the fear of the Law. Many of these “law”-preachers are acting from their own shadow of lawlessness (and think that repressing it has made it go completely away; that God “took” it, though they always stress “effort” on the part of “the will”), so don’t believe that there could possibly be any morality without fear based on the Law. It’s like the only reason to do good is to avoid judgment, which is the shadow revealed, as such people will always end up finding loopholes. Hence, an atmosphere of repressed sin that suddenly surfaces in a way visible to all.
The fruit of knowledge of good and evil proves itself lethal again and again!

So when an agnostic teen, I got so upset about fundamentalism and political preaching, and wanted the other views to be put forth more strongly. But then, when I became a Christian, all the lack of solid evidence then had to be suppressed. And “sitting on the fence” was again no good (even my father, who was the agnostic, said “decide already!” as I struggled back and forth).
So either side could take my reactions as proof that their side is the suppressed “truth”, but I’ve been on both sides and had the same reactions.

In choosing a [tentative, at least] eschatology, Pantelism (as the most likely understanding of scripture, that), while taking all the legal dualities off the table, as far as life/death, heaven/hell, etc. replaces them with another one; the fundamental duality of Law vs Grace (where mainstream Christianity essentially “holds these in tension”; i.e “paradox”, which they run to as the solution to a lot of things they pitch as “absolute truth” yet I feel don’t examine further for better answers, including doctrines such as the Trinity and Calvinist arguments).

This produces emotional reactions in defending it, especially with “suppose the evangelicals manage to be right with the ‘Law and Grace maintained in tension’ after all” on the table. Again, since there’s no absolute, concrete validation of any of the views, and they are all subject to skewing of the data we do have, there can never be any absence of shadow in choosing any one side.

In politics, it’s clear that all sides are doing the same things back and forth, so that no one really has any lockdown on “truth”. However, being on the “black” side, by birth, and culturally as well (and by extension, economically), so this is what has pushed me to one side in that area (and is one of my major sore spots, from the money problems, and then seeing the powerful justified and attention focused on the race as causing all its own problems).

So where I used to look completely down on formalistic or expressive religion, I have seen that we have a deep seated need for our inner faith to be made concrete somehow. So for the Catholics, it will be statues, belief that the Communion is actually the “flesh” of Christ, that the water of baptism saves, and even the architecture of the cathedral itself. For charismatics, it’s tongues, healings, and the emotions of worship. For fundamentalists (While criticizing heavily these other approaches), it’s a focus on the written word and doctrine, the authority of church leadership and the “landmarks” set by predecessors.

Still, all of this has to be read into scriptures that each other group will interpret differently. This makes it look to me like all of those approaches are manmade, and so I struggle with finding a concrete validation for faith.

What all of those groups agree on are prayer and devotions, as our “relationship” with God. So this supposedly makes concrete a person’s “faith”. I have seen some place great emphasis on this, to the effect that if we’re not doing it, we have “no relationship” with God, are being “malnourished” spiritually (they actually treat it like it were literal “food”), and perhaps may even lose salvation, if we ever had it to begin with (depending on the soteriology of the group).
But even Jungian psychology has something corresponding to that, called “active imagination”, where we actually talk to our inner complexes. Johnson also mentions “rituals”, which are symbolic acts, to try to live out our “unlived life” that is inaccessible due to circumstances and/or time.

Still, it all makes it clear that I’m for some reason very fixated upon the concrete, for validation. Most likely, the Asperger’s. Perhaps the shadowy internal nature of the transcendent, where nothing is really absolute or fixed (like with the “either/or” poles of regular life) falls into the “information overload” that we run from. (i.e. “opens you to information well outside the expectations you’ve relied on”, as someone put it to me. This would include expectations of it turning out to be real, and me not being a fool for believing in it).

So that’s just an added part of the difficulty of dividing reality between the visible and invisible.

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2 Comments
  1. This basically divides the “concrete” world into “work” and “play”, in covering the main aims of life to be survival and reproduction:

    “work” “play” “immaterial”
    Sustenance Survival recreation respect
    Legacy children sexual pleasure fame

    Another thought, regarding why we want some form of significance:

    From our egos’ fear of extinction. We must maintain our differentiated existence in the physical world now. But we know we will still die physically, so the best we can do is carry on our existence through the knowledge of others after us. Even though we won’t be around to enjoy this it will still be a mark we leave maintaining differentiation as a separate entity. Otherwise, we fear it would be as if we never existed.

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