It's really shocking to me that you don't have anything better to do on a Tuesday night. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]
No, but seriously, though, it is.
I mean, it's very strange in some sense that there's so many of you here to listen to a sequence of lectures on the psychological significance of the Biblical stories.
It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but it still does surprise me that there's a ready audience for it.
So that's good, so we'll see how it goes.
I'll start with this because this is the right question.
The right question is why bother doing this.
And I don't mean why should I bother doing it.
I have my own reasons for doing it, but you might think, well, why bother with this strange, old book at all?
That's a good question.
It's a contradictory...
document that's been cobbled together over thousands of years.
It's outlasted kingdoms, many, many kingdoms, you know?
It's very interesting, it turns out that a book is more durable than stone.
It's more durable than a castle.
It's more durable than an empire.
And that's really interesting.
That something, in some sense, so evanescent, can be so long living.
So there's that, that's kind of a mystery.
I'm approaching this whole scenario, this Biblical stories as if they're a mystery, fundamentally.
Because they are, there's a lot we don't understand about them.
We don't understand how they came about. We don't really understand how they were put together.
We don't understand why they had such an unbelievable impact on civilization.
We don't understand how people could have believed them.
We don't understand what it means that we don't believe them now, or even what it would mean if we did believe them.
And then, on top of all that, there's the additional problem, which isn't specific to me, but is certainly relevant to me,
that no matter how educated you are, you're not educated enough to discuss the psychological significance of the Biblical stories.
But I'm going to do my best.
Partly because I want to learn more about them, and one of the things I've learned is that the best way to learn about something is to talk about it.
And when I'm lecturing, I'm thinking, you know, I'm not trying to tell you what I know for sure to be the case.
Because there's lots of things I don't know for sure to be the case.
I'm trying to make sense out of this.
And I have been doing this for a long time.
Now, you may know, you may not,
that I'm an admirer of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche was a devastating critic of, I would say, dogmatic Christianity.
Christianity as it was instantiated in institutions.
I suppose... although he's a very paradoxical thinker.
For example, one of the things Nietzsche said was that he didn't believe that the scientific revolution would have ever got off the ground
if it hadn't been for Christianity.
And more specifically, for Catholicism because he believed that over the course of, really, a thousand years,
the European mind, so to speak, had to train itself to interpret everything that was known within a single, coherent framework.
Coherent if you accept the initial axioms.
A single coherent framework.
So Nietzsche believed that that Catholicization of the phenomena of life and of history produced the kind of mind that was then capable of transcending its dogmatic foundations
and then concentrating on something else.
Which, in this particular case, happened to be the natural world.
And so Nietzsche believed that, in some sense, that Christianity died at its own hand that spent a very long period of time trying to attune people to the necessity of the truth.
Absent corruption and all of that, that's always part of any human endeavor.
And then the truth, the spirit of the truth that was developed by Christianity turned on the roots of Christianity.
And everyone woke up and said or thought something like, "Well how is it that we came to believe any of this?"
It's like waking up one day and noting that you really don't know why you put the Christmas tree up.
You'd been doing it for a long time, and that's what people do, you know, and there are reasons that Christmas trees came about.
But the ritual lasts long after the reasons have been forgotten.
So, now Nietzsche, although he was a critic of Christianity, and also a champion of its disciplinary capacity, because you see, the other thing that Nietzsche believed was
it's not possible to be free, in some sense, unless you have been a slave.
By that he meant that you don't go from childhood to full-fledged adult individuality.
You go from childhood to a state of discipline, which you might think is akin to slavery,
to self-imposed slavery, that would be the best scenario, where you have to discipline yourself to become something specific,
before you might be able to re-attain the generality that you had as a child.
And he believed that Christianity had played that role for Western civilization.
But, in the late 1800s, he announced that God was dead.
And you often hear of that as something triumphant.
But for Nietzsche, it wasn't because he was too nuanced a thinker to be that simple-minded.
See, Nietzsche understood that, this is something I'm going to try to make clear, is that
there's a very large amount that we don't know about the structure of experience, that we don't know about reality.
And we have our articulated representations of the world, and then you can think of outside of that: there are things we know absolutely nothing about.
And there's a buffer between them.
And those are things we sort of know something about.
We don't know them in an articulated way, here's an example.
You know sometimes you're arguing with someone close to you and they're in a bad mood, you know?
And they're being touchy and unreasonable and you keep the conversation up.
And maybe all of the sudden they get angry, or maybe they cry.
And then when they cry, they figure out what they're angry about and it has nothing to do with you, even though you might have been what precipitated the argument.
And that's an interesting phenomena as far as I'm concerned, because it means that people can know things at one level without being able to speak what they know at another.
So in some sense, the thoughts rise up from the body, and they do that in moods, and they do that in images, and they do that in actions.
And we have all sorts of ways that we understand before we understand in a fully articulated manner.
So we have this articulated space that we can all discuss and then outside of that we have something that is more akin to a dream that we're embedded in.
It's an emotional dream that we're embedded in.
That's based, at least in part, on our actions, I'll describe that later.
And then outside of that is what we don't know anything about at all.
And in that dream, that's where the mystics live, and that's where the artists live.
And they're the mediators between the absolute unknown and the things we know for sure.
You see, what that means in some sense is what we know is established on a form of knowledge that we don't really understand.
And that if those two things are out of sync, so you might say if our articulated knowledge is out of sync with our dream,
then we become dissociated internally.
We think things we don't act out and we act out things we don't dream.
And that produces a kind of sickness of the spirit.
And that sickness of the spirit, its cure is something like an integrated system of belief and representation.
And then people turn to things like ideologies, which I regard as parasites on an underlying religious substructure
to try to organize their thinking, and then that's a catastrophe.
And that's what Nietzsche foresaw.
You see, he knew that when we knocked the slats out of the base of Western civilization by destroying this representation, this "god ideal," let's say,
that we would destabilize and move back and forth violently between nihilism and the extremes of ideology.
He was particularly concerned about radical left ideology.
He believed and predicted this in the late eighteen hundreds, which is really an absolute intellectual tour-de-force of staggering magnitude.
He predicted that in the twentieth century that hundreds of millions of people would die because of the replacement of these
underlying dreamlike structures with this rational but deeply incorrect representation of the world.
And we've been oscillating back and forth between left and right, in some sense, ever since,
with some good sprinkling of nihilism in there, and despair.
In some sense, that's the situation of the modern Western person and increasingly, of people in general.
You know, I think part of the reason that Islam has its back up, with regards to the West to such a degree, I mean there's many reasons, and not all of them are valid, that's for sure,
but one of the reasons is that they, being still grounded in a dream, let's say, they can see that the rootless questioning mind of the West poses a tremendous danger to the integrity of their culture.
And it does, I mean, Westerners, us, we undermine ourselves all the time with our searching intellect.
And I'm not complaining about that.
There isn't anything easy that can be done about it.
But it's still a sort of fruitful catastrophe.
And it has real effects on people's lives.
It's not some abstract thing.
Lots of times, when I've been treating people with depression, for example, or anxiety, they have existential issues, you know?
It's not just some psychiatric condition.
It's not just that they're tapped off of normal because their brain chemistry is faulty, although sometimes that happens to be the case.
It's that they are overwhelmed by the suffering and complexity of their life and they're not sure why it's reasonable to continue with it.
They can feel the terrible negative meanings of life, but are skeptical beyond belief about any of the positive meanings.
I had one client who's a very brilliant artist and as long as he didn't think he was fine.
Because he'd go and create, and he was really good at being an artist.
He had that personality that was continually creative and quite brilliant, although he was self-denigrating.
But as soon as he started to think about what he was doing, then, it's like a drill or a saw, he'd saw the branch off that he was sitting on.
He'd start to criticize what he was doing, even the utility of it, even though it was sort of self-evidently useful.
And then it would be very, very hard for him to even motivate himself to create.
He alway struck me as a good example of the consequences of having your rational intellect divorced in some way from your being.
Divorced enough that it actually questions the utility of your being.
And it's not a good thing, it's not a good thing.
It's really not a good thing because it manifests itself not only in individual psychopathology, but also in social psychopathology,
and that's this proclivity of people to get tangled up in ideologies, which I really do think of, they're like crippled religions, that's the right way to think about them.
They're like religion that's missing an arm and a leg but can still hobble along.
And it provides a certain amount of security and group identity, but it's warped and twisted and demented and bent.
And it's a parasite on something underlying that's rich and true.
That's how it looks to me, anyways.
So I think it's very important that we sort out this problem.
I think that there isn't anything more important that needs to be done that.
I've thought that for a long, long time.
Probably since the early eighties,
when I started looking at the role that belief systems played in regulating psychological and social health.
You can tell that they do that because of how upset people get if you challenge their belief systems.
It's like, why the hell do they care, exactly?
What difference does it make if all of your ideological axioms are 100% correct?
People get unbelievably upset when you poke them in the axioms, so to speak.
And it is not by any stretch of the imagination obvious why.
But there's some, it's like there's a fundamental truth that they're standing on.
It's like they're on a raft in the middle of the ocean and you're starting to pull out the logs.
They're afraid they're going to fall in and drown.
It's like, drown in what?
What are the logs protecting them from?
Why are they so afraid to move beyond the confines of the ideological system?
These are not obvious things.
So, I've been trying to puzzle that out for a very long time.
I've done some lectures about that are on Youtube; most of you know that.
Some of what I'm going to talk about in this series you'll have heard, if you've listened to the Youtube videos.
You know, I'm trying to hit it from different angles.
So Nietzsche's idea was that human beings were going to have to create their own values, essentially.
Now he understood that we understood that we have bodies and we have motivations and emotions.
Like, he was a romantic thinker, in some sense, but way ahead of his time because he knew that our capacity to think wasn't some free-floating soul but was embedded in our physiology,
constrained by our emotions, shaped by our motivations, shaped by our body.
He understood that.
But he still believed that the only possible way out of the problem would be for human beings themselves to become something akin to God and to create their own values.
And he thought about the person who creates their own values as the over-man or the super-man.
And that was one of the parts of Nietzschian philosophy that the Nazis, I would say, took out of context and used to fuel their superior man ideology.
And we know what happened with that.
That didn't seem to turn out very well, that's for sure.
I also spent a lot of time reading Carl Jung.
It was through Jung and also Jean Piaget, who was a developmental psychologist, that I started to understand that our articulated systems of thought
are embedded in something like a dream and that that dream was informed, in a complex way, by the way we act.
We act out things we don't understand all the time.
If that wasn't the case, then we wouldn't need a psychology or a sociology or an anthropology or any of that
because we would be completely transparent to ourselves.
And we're clearly not.
So, we're much more complicated than we understand, which means that the way that we behave contains way more information than we know.
And part of the dream that surrounds our articulated knowledge is being extracted as a consequence of us watching each other behave
and telling stories about it for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.
Extracting out patterns of behavior that characterize humanity.
And trying to represent them, partly through imitation, but also drama and mythology and literature and art and all of that.
To represent what we're like so we can understand what we're like.
That process of understanding is what I see unfolding, at least in part, in the Biblical stories.
And it's halting and partial and awkward and contradictory and all of that, which is one of the things that makes the book so complex.
But I see in it a struggle of humanity to rise above its animal forebears, say, and to become conscious of what it means to be human.
And that's a very difficult thing because we don't know who we are or what we are or where we came from or any of those things.
The light life is an unbroken chain going back three and a half billion years.
It's an absolutely unbelievable thing.
Every single one of your ancestors reproduced successfully for three and a half billion years.
It's absolutely unbelievable.
We rose out of the dirt and the muck and here we are, conscious, but not knowing.
And we're trying to figure out who we are.
A story, or several stories, that we've been telling for three thousand years seems to me to have something to offer.
And so, when I look at the stories in the Bible, I do it, I would say, in some sense with the beginner's mind.
It's a mystery, this book.
How the hell it was made, why it was made, why we preserved it, how it happened to motivate an entire culture for two thousand years, and to transform the world.
What's going on? How did that happen?
It's by no means obvious, and one of the things that bothers me about casual critics of religion is that they don't take the phenomena seriously.
And it's a serious phenomena.
Not least because people have the capacity for religious experience, and no one know why that is.
I mean, you can induce it reliably, in all sorts of different ways.
You can do it with brain stimulation.
You can certainly do it with drugs.
There's, especially the psychedelic variety, they produce intimations of the divine extraordinarily regularly.
People have been using drugs like that for God only knows how long, fifty thousand years, maybe more than that,
to produce some sort of intimate union with the divine.
We don't understand any of that when we discovered the psychedelics in the late sixties.
It shocked everybody so badly that they were instantly made illegal and abandoned, in terms of research, for like fifty years.
And it's no wonder, because who the hell expected that?
now Jung was a student of Nietzsche's, you see, and he was also, I would say, a very astute critic of Nietzsche.
He was educated by Freud, and Freud
Freud, I suppose, in some sense, started to collate the information that we had pertaining to the notion that people lived inside a dream.
You know, it was Freud who really popularized the idea of the unconscious mind.
We take this for granted to such a degree today that we don't understand how revolutionary the idea was.
But what's happened with Freud is that we've taken all the marrow out of his bones, so to speak, and left the husk behind.
And now when we think about Freud, we just think about the husk because that's everything that's been discarded.
But so much of what he discovered is part of our popular conception now, including the idea that your perceptions and your actions and your thoughts are all, what would you say,
informed and shaped by unconscious motivations that are not part of your voluntary control.
And that's a very, very strange thing.
It's one of the most unsettling things about the psychoanalytic theories
is the psychoanalytic theories are something like, you're a loose collection of living sub-personalities, each with its own set of motivations and perceptions
and emotions and rationales, all of that.
And you have limited control over that, so you're like a plurality of internal personalities that's loosely linked into a unity.
And you know that because you can't control yourself very well, which is one of Jung's objections to Nietzsche's idea that we can create our own values is that
is that Jung didn't believe that, especially not after interacting with Freud.
Because he saw that human beings were affected by things that were- deeply, deeply affected by things that were beyond their conscious control.
An no one really knows how to conceptualize those things.
The cognitive psychologists think about them in some sense as computational machines.
The ancient people, I think, thought of them as gods, although it's more complex than that.
Like rage would be a god. Mars, the god of rage, that's the thing that possesses you when you're angry.
It has a viewpoint, it says what it wants to say.
And that might have very little to do with what you want to say when you're being sensible.
And it doesn't just inhabit you, it inhabits everyone.
And it lives forever, and it even inhabits animals.
So it's this transcendent psychological entity that inhabits the body politic, like a thought inhabits the brain.
That's one way of thinking about it.
A very strange way of thinking, but it certainly has its merits.
And so in some sense, those are deities, although it's not that simple.
And so Jung got very interested in dreams and started to understand the relationship between dreams and myths.
Because he would see in his clients' dreams echoes of stories that he knew because he was deeply read in mythology.
And then he started to believe that the dream was the birthplace of the myth and that there was a continual interaction between the two processes, the dream and the story, and storytelling.
Well, you know, you tend to tell your dreams as stories when you remember them.
Some people remember dreams all the time, like two or three a night.
I've had clients like that.
They often have archetypal dreams that have very clear mythological structures.
I think that's more the case with people who are creative, by the way, especially if they're a bit unstable, at the time.
Because the dream tends to occupy the space of uncertainty and to concentrate on fleshing out the unknown reality before you get a real grip on it.
So it's like the dream is the birthplace of thinking, that's a good way of thinking about it.
So because it's the birthplace of thinking, it's not that clear.
It's doing its best to formulate something. That was Jung's notion,
as opposed to Freud, who believed that there were sensors, internal sensors that were hiding the dream's true message.
That's not what Jung believed, he believed the dream was doing its best to express a reality that was still outside of fully articulated conscious comprehension.
Because you think, look, a thought appears in your head, right? That's obvious. Bang, it's nothing you ever ask about.
But what the hell does that mean?
A thought appears in your head.
What kind of ridiculous explanation is that?
It just doesn't help with anything.
Where does it come from?
Well, nowhere. It just appears in my head.
Okay, well, that's not a very sophisticated explanation, as it turns out.
So you might think that those thoughts that you think, well, where do they come from?
Well, they're often someone else's thoughts, right?
Someone long dead, that might be part of it, just like the words you use to think are utterances of people who've been long dead.
And so you're informed by the spirit of your ancestors, that's one way of looking at it.
And your motivations speak to you, your emotions speak to you, your body speaks to you.
And it does all that, at least in part, through the dream.
And the dream is the birthplace of the fully articulated idea.
They don't just come from nowhere fully fledged, right?
They have a developmental origin, and God only knows how lengthy that origin is, even to say something like, "I am conscious."
Chimpanzees don't say that.
It's been seven million years since we broke from chimpanzees, something like that, from the common ancestor.
They have no articulated knowledge at all and very little self-representation in some sense, and very little self-consciousness.
And that's not the case with us at all.
We had to painstakingly figure all of this out during that, you know, seven million year voyage.
And I think some of that's represented and captured, in some sense, in these ancient stories.
Which I believe were part of, especially the oldest stories, in Genesis, which are the stories we're going to start with, they were... that...
some of the archaic nature of the human being is encapsulated in those stories, and it's very, very instructive as far as I can tell.
I'll give you just a quick example.
You know there's an idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament.
And it's pretty barbaric, you know, I mean the story of Abraham and Isaac, there's a good example of that because Abraham is called on to actually sacrifice his own son,
which doesn't really seem like something that a reasonable God would ask you to do, right?
God in the Old Testament is frequently cruel and arbitrary and demanding and paradoxical,
which is one of the things that really gives the book life because it wasn't edited by a committee, you know, a committee that was concerned with not offending anyone, that's for sure.
So Jung believed that the dream was the birthplace of thought and I've been extending that idea because one of the things I wondered about deeply was,
you know, you have a dream and then someone interprets it.
You can argue about whether or not an interpretation is valid, just like you can argue about whether your interpretation of a novel or movie is valid, right?
It's a very difficult thing to determine with any degree of accuracy,
which accounts in part for the post-modern critique.
But my observations being that people will present a dream and sometimes we can extract out real useful information from it that the person didn't appear.
And they get a flash of insight.
To me that's a marker that we've stumbled on something that unites part of that person that wasn't united before.
It pulls things together, which is often what a good story will do, whereas sometimes a good theory, you know if things snap together for you, there's a little light goes on,
and that's one of the markers that I've used for accuracy in dreams.
In my own family, when I was first married, you know, I'd have fights with my wife, arguments about this and that.
I'm fairly hot-headed and so I'd get all puffed up and agitated about whatever we were arguing about, and she'd go to sleep, which was really annoying, it is so annoying!
Because I couldn't sleep, right? I was like, chewing off my fingernails, and she'd, like, sleeping peacefully beside me and it's so maddening.
But often she'd have a dream, you know, and then the next morning, she'd discuss it with me, and then we could unravel what was at the bottom of our argument.
That was unbelievably useful, even though it was extraordinarily aggravating.
So you know, I was convinced by Jung.
It looked to me like his ideas about the relationship between dreams and mythology and drama and literature made sense to me and the relationship between that and art.
I know this native carver, he's a Kwakwaka'wakw guy.
He's carved a bunch of wooden sculptures, totem poles and masks that I have at my house.
He's a very interesting person.
Not literate, not particularly literate, and really still steeped in this ancient, 13,000 year old tradition.
He's an original language speaker and the fact that he isn't literate has sort of left him with the mind of someone who's pre-literate.
Pre-literate people aren't stupid, they're just not literate, so their brains are organized differently in many ways.
And I've asked him about his intuition for his carvings, and he's told me that he dreams, like, you've seen the Haida masks, you know what they look like,
well, his people are mostly related to the Haida, so it's the same kind of style.
And he said he dreams in those kind of animals, and can remember his dreams.
And he also talks to his grandparents, who taught him how to carve, in his dreams quite often. If he runs into a problem with carving, his grandparents will come and he'll talk to them.
But he sees the creatures that he's going to carve living, in an animated sense, in his imagination.
I mean, it's not difficult. First of all, I have no reason to disbelieve him. He's a very, very straightforward person.
And he doesn't the motivation or the guile, I would say, in some sense, to invent a story like that.
There's just no reason he would possibly do it.
I don't think he's told that many people about it. He thinks it's kind of crazy, you know?
He said when he was a kid, he thought he was insane because he'd have those dreams all the time.
About these creatures and so forth.
And so it wasn't something he was trumpeting.
But I found it fascinating because I can see in him part of the manifestation of this unbroken tradition.
We have no idea how traditions like that are really passed along for thousands and thousands of years, right?
Part of it's oral and memory, part of it's acted out and dramatized and then part of it's going to be imaginative.
And people who aren't literate, they store information quite differently than we do.
We don't remember anything. It's all written down in books, right?
But if you're from an oral culture, especially if you're trained in that way, you have all of that information at hand.
So you can speak and you can tell the stories, and you really know them.
You know, modern people don't really know what that's like any more.
I doubt if there's maybe more than two of you in the audience that could spout from memory, like, a thirty line poem.
You know, and poetry was written so that people could do that.
That's why we have that form, is so that people could remember it and have it with them.
But we don't do any of that any more.
Anyways, back to Jung.
Jung was a great believer in the dream, and I know that dreams will tell you things that you don't know.
And then I thought, well how the hell can that be? How in the world can something you think up tell you something you don't know?
How does that make any sense?
First of all, why don't you understand it? Why does it have to come forth in the form of the dream?
It's like you're not- there's something going on inside you that you don't control, right?
The dream happens to you just like life happens to you.
I mean there is the odd lucid dreamer who can, you know, apply a certain amount of conscious control, but most of the time it's
you're laying there asleep and this crazy, complicated world manifests itself inside you.
And you don't know how. You can't do it when you're awake.
And you don't know what it means! It's like what the hell's going on?
And that's one of the things that's so damn frightening about the psychoanalysts, because
you get this with Freud and Jung, you really start to understand that there are things inside you that are happening that control you instead of the other way around.
You, you know, use a bit of reciprocal control, but there's manifestations of spirits, so to speak, inside you that determine the manner in which you walk through life.
And you don't control it. And what does?
Is it random? You know, there are people who have claimed that dreams are merely the consequence of random neuronal firing, which is a theory I think is absolutely absurd.
Because there's nothing random about dreams.
They're very, very structured and very, very complex.
And not like snow on a television screen or static on the radio. Like, those things are complicated.
And also, I've seen so often that people have very coherent dreams that have a perfect narrative structure.
You know, they're fully developed, in some sense. And so that theory just doesn't go anywhere with me. I just can't see that as useful at all.
So I'm more likely to take the phenomena seriously and say there's something to dreams.
Well, you dream of the future and then you try to make it into a reality. That seems to be an important thing.
Or maybe you dream up a nightmare and try to make that into a reality because people do that too, if they're hellbent on revenge, for example, full of hatred and resentment.
And that manifests itself in terrible fantasies, you know, those are dreams, and then people go act them out.
These things are powerful, you know, and nations can get caught up in collective dreams. That's what happened to the Nazis.
That's what happened to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
It was absolutely remarkable, amazing, horrific destructive spectacle.
And the same thing happened in the Soviet Union, the same thing happened in China, it's like, we have to take these things seriously, you know?
Try to understand what's going on.
So Jung believed that the dream could contain more information than was yet articulated.
Artists do the same thing, you know.
People go to museums and they look at paintings, Renaissance paintings, or modern paintings.
And they don't exactly know why they're there.
I was in this room in New York, I don't remember which museum, but it was a room full of Renaissance art.
Great painters, the greatest painters and I thought maybe that room was worth a billion dollars, or something outrageous, because there was like twenty paintings in there, you know?
And the first thing is, well why are those paintings worth so much, and why is there a museum in the biggest city in the world devoted to them,
and why do people come from all over the world and look at them? What the hell are those people doing?
One of them was of the Assumption of Mary, beautifully painted, absolutely glowing work of art, and just, like, twenty people standing in front of it, looking at it.
You think, what are those people up to?
They don't know, why did they make a pilgrimage to New York to come and look at that painting?
It's not like they know! Why is it worth so much?
I know there's a status element to it, too, but that begs the question: Why did those items become such high status items?
What is it about them that's so absolutely remarkable?
Well, we're strange creatures.
So I was trying to figure out in part, well where did the information that's in the dream come from?
Because it has to come from somewhere, and you can think about it as a revelation.
Because it's like it springs out of the void, it's new knowledge, it's a revelation.
You didn't produce it, it just appears.
See, one of the things that I want to do with this series is, like, I'm scientifically-minded, and I'm quite a rational person.
And I like to have an explanation for things that's rational and empirical before I look for any other kind of explanation.
And I don't want to say that everything that's associated with Divinity can be reduced in some manner to biology or to an evolutionary history, or anything like that.
But insofar as it's possible to do that reduction, I'm going to do that.
And I'm going to leave the other phenomena floating in the air because they can't be pinned down and in that category of mystical and religious experience, which we don't understand at all.
So artists observe one another.
They observe people and they represent what they see.
And they transmit the message of what they see to us and they teach us to see it.
We don't necessarily know what it is that we're learning from them.
But we're learning something, or at least we're acting like we're learning something.
We go to movies, we watch stories, we immerse ourselves in fiction constantly. That's an artistic production.
And for many people, the world of the arts is a living world, and that's particularly true if you're a creative person.
It's the creative, artistic people that do move the knowledge of humanity forward.
And they do that with their artistic productions first. They're on the edge.
The dancers do that, and the poets do that, and the visual artists do that, the musicians do that, and we're not sure what they're doing.
We're not sure what musicians are doing. What the hell are they doing? Why do you like music?
It gives you a deep intimation of the significance of things.
And no one questions it. You go to a concert and you're thrilled, it's a quasi-religious experience,
particularly if people really get themselves together and get the crowd moving, you know?
There's something incredibly intense about it. It makes no sense whatsoever.
It's not an easy thing to understand.
Music is deeply patterned, patterned in layers, and I think that has something to do with it because reality is deeply patterned in layers.
And so I think music is representing reality in some fundamental way and that we get into the sway of that and sort of participate in being.
And that's part of what makes it such an uplifting experience.
But we don't really know that's what we're doing, we just go do it.
And it's nourishing for people, right?
Young people in particular, lots of them live for music, it's where they derive all their meaning, their cultural identity.
Everything that's nourishing comes from their affiliation with their music.
It's part of their cultural identity. So that's an amazing thing.
The question still remains: Where does the information in dreams come from?
I think where it comes from is that we watch the patterns that everyone acts out.
We've watched that forever and we've got some representations of those patterns.
That's part of our cultural history, that's what's embedded in stories, in fictional accounts, of the story between good and evil.
The bad guy and the good guy.
And the romance, you know? These are canonical patterns of being for people.
And they deeply affect us because they represent what it is that we will act out in the world.
And then we flesh that out with the individual information we have about ourselves and other people.
And so it's like there's waves of behavioral patterns that manifest themselves in the crowd across time.
The great dramas are played on the crowd across time.
And the artists watch that and they get intimations of what that is and they write it down and they tell us, and then we're a little clearer about what we're up to.
A great dramatist like Shakespeare, let's say, we know that what he wrote is fiction. And then we say, well, fiction isn't true.
But then you think, well, wait a minute. Maybe it's true like numbers are true.
You know? Numbers are an abstraction from the underlying reality but no one in their right mind would really think numbers aren't true.
You can even make a case that the numbers are more real than the things that they represent, right?
Because the abstraction is so insanely powerful.
Once you have mathematics, you're just deadly.
You can move the world with mathematics.
It's not obvious that the abstraction is less real than the more concrete reality.
I mean, take a work of fiction, like Hamlet, and think it's not true because it's fiction.
But then you think wait a minute, what kind of explanation is that?
Maybe it's more true than nonfiction.
Because it takes the story that needs to be told about you and the story that needs to be told about you and you and you and you
and abstracts that out and says look, here's something that's a key part of the human experience, as such.
Right? So it's an abstraction from this underlying, noisy substrate.
And people are affected by it because they see that the thing that's represented is part of the pattern of their being.
That's the right way to think about it.
And then with these old stories, with these ancient stories, it seems to me like that process has been occurring for thousands of years.
It's like we we watched ourselves and we extracted out some stories.
We imitated each other and we represented that in drama, and then we distilled the drama and we got a representation of the distillation.
And then we did it again and at the end of that process that took God only knows how long- I think some of these stories...
They've traced fairy tales back ten thousand years, some fairy tales, in relatively unchanged form.
And certainly seems to me that the archaeological evidence, for example,
suggests that the really old stories that the Bible begins with are at least that old and likely embedded in a pre-history that's far older than that.
And you might think, well, how can you be so sure?
And the answer to that in part is that cultures that don't change, like the ancient cultures, like they didn't change as fast as...
They stayed the same! That's the answer.
So they keep their information moving generation to generation, that's how they stay the same.
And so we know, again in the archaeological record, there are records of rituals that have remained relatively unbroken through up to twenty thousand years,
was discovered in caves in Japan that were set up for a particular kind of bear worship that was also characteristic of Western Europe.
So these things can last for very long periods of time.
We're watching each other act in the world.
And then the question is well how long have we been watching each other?
And the answer to that in some sense is, well, as long as there's been creatures with nervous systems.
That's a long time, you know? That's some hundreds of millions of years, perhaps longer than that.
We've been watching each other trying to figure out what we're up to
across that entire span of time, some of that knowledge is built right into our bodies.
Which is why we can dance with each other for example, right?
Because understanding isn't just something
that you have as an abstraction , it's something that you act out, you know?
That's what children are doing when they learning to rough-and-tumble play.
They're learning to integrate their body with the body of someone else in a harmonious way and
learning to cooperate and compete and that's all instantiated right into their body.
It's not abstract knowledge, they don't know that they doing that.
They're just doing it.
And so we can even use our body as a representational platform.
So we've been studying each other for a long time,
abstracting out what is it that we're up to, and that's...
What is it we're up to, what should we be up to? That's even a more fundamental question.
If you're going to live in the world and you're going to do it properly,
what does properly mean and how is it that you might go about that?
Well, it's the right question, right? It's what everyone wants to know.
How do you live in the world?
Not what is the world made of. It's not the same question.
How do you live in the world?
It's the eternal question of human beings.
And I guess we're the only species that has ever really asked that question
because all the other animals, they just go and do whatever they do.
It's a question for us.
We have to become aware of it, we have to be able to speak it.
God only knows why
but thats seems to be the situation.
We act, that acting is shaped by the world, that acting is shaped by society
into something that we don't understand, but that we can model.
That we can model. We model it our stories, we model it with our bodies.
And that's where the dream gets its information.
The dream is part of the process that's watching everything
and then trying to formulate it
and trying to say, well, trying to get the signal out from the noise and to portray in dramatic form.
Because a dream is a little drama.
And then you get the chance to talk about what that dream is.
And then you have it...
you have something like articulated knowledge at that point.
And so the Bible I would say is...
It's sort of...it exists in that space that's half into the dream and half into articulated knowledge.
It's something like that.
Going into it to find out what the stories are about,
We can aid our self-understanding.
The other issue is that
if Nietzsche was correct, and if Dostoevsky, or Jung was correct
and Dostoevsky as well,
without the cornerstone that that understanding provides, we're lost!
And that's not good, because then we're susceptible
to psychic pathology. That's psychological pathology.
You know, people who are adamant anti religious thinkers
seem to believe that if we abandoned our immersement in the underlying dream,
that we'd all instantly become rationalists like Descartes or Bacon, you know?
Intelligent, clear thinking rational, scientific people and I don't believe that for a moment,
because I don't think there is any evidence for it.
I think we would become so irrational so rapidly that the weirdest mysteries of Catholicism would seem positively
rational by contrast and I think that's already happening.
So, this is the idea essentially, you know, that
you have the unknown world. That's just what you don't know at all.
That's the outside, that's the ocean that surrounds the island that you inhabit.
Something like that, it's chaos itself.
You act in that world and you act in ways you don't understand.
There's more to your actions then you can understand.
One of the things Jung said, I loved this, when I first understood it,
He said "Everybody acts out a myth, but very few people know what their myth is."
And you should know what your myth is because it might be a tragedy.
And maybe you don't want it to be.
And that's really worth thinking because
thinking about because your...
You have a pattern of behaviour that characterises you, you know?
And God only knows where you got it.
Partly it's biological, partly it's from your parents.
It's your unconscious assumptions.
It's the way the philosophy of your society shaped you.
And is, it's aimed, it's aiming you somewhere.
Well, is it aiming you somewhere you want to go?
That's a good question, that's part of self-realization, you know?
We know we don't understand our actions.
That's almost every argument you have with someone is about that.
It's like "Why did you do that?"
And you come up with some half baked reasons why you did it.
You're flailing around in the darkness, you know?
You try to give an account for yourself, but you can only do it partially. It's very, very difficult because
you're a complicated animal with the beginnings of an articulated mind, something like that.
And you're just way more than you can handle.
All right, so you act things out, right?
You act things out.
And that's a kind of competence.
And then you imagine what you act out.
And you imagine what everyone else acts out, and so
there's a tremendous amount of information in your action.
And then, that information is translated up into the dream
and into art and to mythology and literature.
And there's a tremendous amount of information in that.
And then some of that is translated into articulated thought.
And I'll give you a quick example of something like that.
I think this is partly what happens in Exodus, when Moses comes up with the law.
You know, he's wandering around with the Israelites forever in the desert.
They're going left and going right and worshiping idols and having a hell of a time.
You know, getting rebellious.
And Moses goes up on the mountain and he has this tremendous revelation
sort of, in the sight of God
and it illuminates him and he comes down with the law.
You think, well,
Moses acted as a judge, I know this is a mythological story.
Moses acted as a judge in the desert.
He was continually mediating between people who are having problems.
Constantly trying to keep peace.
And so what are you doing when you're trying to keep peace?
You're trying to understand what peace is.
Right? You have to apply the principles.
Well what are the principles? Well you don't know.
The principles are whatever satisfies people enough to make peace.
And maybe you do that ten thousand times and then
you get some sense of "Oh! Here's the principles that bring peace."
And then one day it blasts into your consciousness like a revelation.
Here's the rules that we're already acting out.
That's the Ten Commandments. They're there to begin with.
And Moses comes forward and says "Look, this is already basically what we're doing but now it's codified, right?"
That's all a historical process that's condensed into
a single story but, obviously, that happened
Because we have written law!
Right? And that emerged, in good legal systems,
that emerges from the bottom up.
English Common Law is exactly like that.
It's single decisions that are predicated on principles,
that are then articulated and made into the body of law.
The body of law is something you act out.
That's why it's a body of law.
if you're good citizen you act out the body of law.
And the body of law has principles.
Okay, so the question is, there's principles that guide our behavior.
What are those principles?
Well I think if you want the initial answer of what the archaic Israelites meant by God,
that's something like what they meant.
Now it's not a good enough explanation.
But imagine if you're a chimpanzee and you have a powerful,
dominant figure at the pinnacle of your society.
That represents power, more than that.
Because it's not sheer physical prowess that keeps a chimp at the top of the hierarchy.
It's much more complicated than that.
And you can say, well there's a principle that the dominant person manifests.
And then you might say, well, that principle shines forth even more brightly if you know ten people who are dominant.
And you can extract out what dominance means from that.
You can extract out what power means from that.
And then you can divorce the concept from the people.
And we had to do that at some point because we can say power, in a human context, and we can imagine what that means.
But it's divorced from any specific manifestation of power.
Well how the hell did we do that?
That's so complicated!
If you're a chimp,
the power is in another chimp, it's not some damn abstraction.
So the question is, think about it, we're in these hierarchies, many of them, across centuries.
We're trying to figure what the guiding principle is.
Trying to extract out the core of the guiding principle
And we turn that into a representation of a pattern of being.
Well it's something like that that's God.
It's an abstracted ideal.
And it's put in personified form, manifests itself in personified form, but that's okay because what we're trying to get at is the
in some sense, the essence of what it means to be a properly functioning, properly social,
and properly competent individual.
We're trying to figure out what that means.
You need an embodiment. You need an ideal that's abstracted that you could act out
that would enable you to understand what that means.
And that's what we've been driving at.
So that's the first hypothesis, in some sense.
I'm going to go over some of the attributes of this abstracted ideal that we formalized as God, but that's the first sort of hypothesis, is that
a philosophical or moral ideal manifests itself first as a concrete pattern of behavior that's characteristic of a single individual.
And then it's a set of individuals.
And then it's an abstraction from that set.
And then you have the abstraction. It's so important.
So here's a political implication, for example.
One of the debates, we might say, between Early Christianity and the Late Roman Empire
was whether or not an Emperor could be God, literally, right?
To be deified to put in a temple.
And you can see why that might happen because that's someone at the pinnacle of a very steep hierarchy who has a tremendous amount of power and influence.
But the Christian response to that was,
never confuse the specific sovereign with the principle of sovereignty itself.
You see how difficult it is to come up with an idea like that so that even the person who has the power is actually subordinate to something else.
Subordinate to, let's call it a divine principle, for lack of a better word.
So that even the king himself is subordinate to the principle.
And we still believe that, because we believe that our President, or our Prime Minister, is subordinate to the damn law.
Whatever, the body of law, right? There's a principle inside that that even the leader is subordinate to.
Without that, you could argue you can't even have a civilized society because your leader immediately turns into something that's transcendent and all powerful.
That's certainly what happened in the Soviet Union, and what happened in Maoist China, and what happened in Nazi Germany.
Because there was nothing for the powerful to subordinate themselves to.
You're supposed to be subordinate to God.
So what does that mean?
Well, we're gonna tear that idea apart, but partly what it means is that you're subordinate, even if you're sovereign, to the principle of sovereignty itself.
And then the question is, what the hell is the principle of sovereignty?
And I could say, we have been working that out for a very long period of time.
And so that's one of the things that we'll talk about.
Because the ancient Mesopotamians and the ancient Egyptians had some very interesting dramatic ideas about that.
Just for example, very briefly, there was a deity known as Marduk.
And Marduk, he was a Mesopotamian deity, and imagine this is sort of what happened is that as an empire grew
out the post-Ice Age age, say fifteen thousand years ago, ten thousand years ago,
all these tribes came together.
And these tribes each had their own deity, their own image of the ideal.
But then they started to occupy the same territory, right?
And so then one tribe had god A and one tribe had god B and one could wipe the other one out.
And then it would just be god A who wins.
But that's not so good because, well, maybe you want to trade with those people, or maybe you don't want to lose half your population in a war,
something like that.
So then you have to have an argument about whose god is going to take priority.
Which ideal is going to take priority?
What seems to happen is that's represented in mythology as a battle of the gods in sort of celestial space.
But from a practical perspective, it's more like an ongoing dialog.
You believe this, I believe this.
You believe that, I believe this.
How are we going to meld that together?
So you take god A and you take god B, and maybe what you do is extract god C from them.
And you say, well, god C now has the attributes of A and B.
And then some other tribes come in.
And then C takes them over too.
Like with Marduk, for example, he has a multitude of names.
Fifty different names. Well, those are names, at least in part, of the subordinate gods that represented the tribes that came together to make the civilization.
That's part of the process by which that abstracted ideal is abstracted.
You think this is important, and it works because you're tribe's alive.
And you think this is important, and it works, because your tribe's alive.
And so we'll take the best of both if we can manage it,
and extract out something that's even more abstract that covers both of us if we can do it.
One of the things that's really interesting about Marduk, I'll just give you a couple of his features.
He has eyes all the way around his head.
He's elected by all the other gods to be king god, so that's the first thing, that's quite cool.
And they elect him because they're facing a terrible threat.
Sort of like a flood and a monster combined, something like that.
And Marduk basically says that if they elect him top god, then he'll go out and stop the flood monster.
And they won't all get wiped out. It's a serious threat, it's chaos itself, making its comeback.
And so all the gods agree and Marduk has a new manifestation. He's got eyes all the way around his head.
And he speaks magic words.
And then he also goes out and when he fights, he fights this deity called Tiamat.
And we need to know that because the word "Tiamat" is associated with the word "Tehom," T, E, H, O, M.
And Tehom is the chaos that God makes order out of at the beginning of time in Genesis.
So it's linked very tightly to this story.
And Marduk with his eyes and his capacity to speak magic words goes out to confront Tiamat, who's like a watery sea dragon.
Something like that.
It's a classic St. George story, go out and wreak havoc on the dragon.
And he cuts her into pieces.
And he makes the world out of her pieces, and that's the world that human beings live in.
And the Mesopotamian emperor acted out Marduk.
He was allowed to be emperor insofar as he was a good Marduk.
And so that meant that he had eyes all the way around his head, and he could speak magic.
He could speak properly.
And so we're starting to understand there at that point the essence of leadership, right?
Because what's leadership?
It's the capacity to see what the hell's in front of your face and maybe in every direction.
And then the capacity to use your language properly, in a transformative manner, and to transform chaos into order.
And god only knows how long it took the Mesopotamians to figure that out.
The best they could do is dramatize it.
But it's staggeringly brilliant.
You know? It's by no means obvious. And this chaos, this chaos is a very strange thing.
This is the chaos that God wrestled with at the beginning of time.
Chaos is what- it's half psychological and half real.
There's no other way to really describe it.
The chaos is what you encounter when you're thrown into deep confusion.
When your world falls apart.
When you encounter something that blows you into pieces, when your dreams die, when you're betrayed.
It's the chaos that emerges.
And the chaos is everything at once, and it's too much for you.
And that's for sure, and it pulls you down into the underworld and all,
that's where the dragons are, and all you've got at that point is your capacity to bloody well keep your eyes open,
and to speak as carefully and clearly as you can.
And maybe if you're lucky, you'll get through it that way and come out the other side.
And it's taken people a very long time to figure that out.
And it looks to me like the idea is
erected on the platform of our ancient ancestors, maybe tens of millions of years ago.
Because we seem to represent that which disturbs us deeply using the same system that we use to represent serpentile or other carnviorous predators.
You know, we're biological creatures, right?
When we've formulated our capacity to abstract, our strange capacity to abstract and use language,
we still have all those underlying systems that were there when we were only animals.
And we have to use those systems, they're part of the emotional and motivational architecture of our thinking.
Part of the reason we can demonize our enemies who upset our axioms is because we perceive them as if they're carnivorous predators.
We do it with the same system.
And that's chaos itself, the thing that always threatens us, right?
The snakes that hang through the trees when we lived in them like sixty million years ago.
It's the same damn systems.
the Marduk story is partly the story of using attention and language to confront those things that most threaten us.
And some of those things are real-world threats.
But some of them are psychological threats, which are just as profound but far more abstract.
But we use the same systems to represent them.
It's why you freeze if you're frightened.
Right? You're a prey animal. You're like a rabbit.
You've seen a something that's going to eat you, you freeze.
And that way you're paralyzed, you're turned to stone, which is what you do when you see a medusa with a head full of snakes, right?
You're turned to stone, you're paralyzed.
And the reason you do that is because you're using the predator detection system to protect yourself. Your heart rate goes way up,
and you get ready to move.
Things that upset us lie on that system.
And then the story, the Marduk story, for example
is the idea that if there are things that upset you, chaotic, terrible, serpentine monstrous underworld things that threaten you,
the best thing thing to do is to open your eyes, get your speech organized, and go out and confront the thing, and make the world out of it.
And it's staggering when I read that story and started to understand it, it just blew me away.
That it's such a profound idea, and we know it's true too because we know in psychotherapy, for example, that you're much better off to confront your fears head on
than you are to wait and let them find you.
And so partly, what you do, if you're a psychotherapist, is you help people break their fears into little pieces, the things that upset them,
and then to encounter them one by one and master them.
And so you're teaching this process of eternal mastery over the strange and chaotic world.
And all of that makes up some of the background for, we haven't even gotten to the first sentence of the Biblical stories yet.
But all of that makes up the background.
So you have to think that we've extracted this story, this strange collection of stories, with all its errors and its repetitions,
and its peculiarities, out of the entire history that we've been able to collect ideas.
And it's the best we've been able to do.
I know there are other religious traditions, but I'm not concerned about that at the moment because we can use this as an example.
But it's the best we've been able to do, and what I'm hoping is that we can return to the stories in some sense with an open mind and see if there's something there that we actually need.
And I hope that that will be the case.
As I said, I'll approach them as rationally as I possibly can.
So this is the idea to begin with.
We have the unknown as such, and then we act in it, like animals act.
They act first. They don't think, they don't imagine, they act.
That's where we started, we started by acting.
And then we started to be able to represent how we acted.
And then we started to talk about how we represented how we acted.
And that enabled us to tell stories because that is what a story is, it's to tell about how you represent how you act.
And so you know that because if you read a book, what happens?
You read the book and images come to mind of the people in the book behaving, right?
It's one step from acting it out.
You don't act it out because you can abstract and represent action without having to act it out.
It's an amazing thing, and that's part of the development of the prefrontal cortex.
It's part of the capacity for human abstract thought is that you can pull the behavior, the representation of the behavior, away from the behavior and manipulate the representation before you enact it.
That's why you think, so that you can generate a pattern of action and test it out in a fictional world before you embody it and die because you're foolish.
Right? You let the representation die, not you.
And that's why you think.
And so that's partly what we're trying to do with these stories.
What do I hope to accomplish?
I hope to end this twelve-lecture series knowing more than I did when I started.
That's my goal.
Because I said I'm not telling you what I know, I'm trying to figure things out.
This is part of the process by which I'm doing that.
And so I'm doing my best to think on my feet, you know?
I've come prepared, but I'm trying to stay on the edge of my capacity to generate knowledge and to make this continually clearer
and to get to the bottom of things.
I'm hoping that that's what I'm going to accomplish.
It seems like people are interested in that, so then we're going to try to accomplish that together.
And so that's the plan.
And the idea is to see if there's something at the bottom of this amazing civilization that we've managed to construct.
That I think is in peril for a variety of reasons.
And maybe if we understand it a little bit better we won't be so prone just to throw the damn thing away.
Which I think would be a big mistake.
And to throw it away because of resentment and hatred and bitterness and historical ignorance and jealously and desire for destruction, and all of that.
It's like, I don't want to go there.
It's a bad idea to go there.
We need to be grounded better.
Hopefully, well, we'll see how this works.
All right, so how do I approach this?
Well, first of all, I think in evolutionary terms, you know?
As far as I'm concerned the cosmos is fifteen billion years old and the world is four and a half billion years old.
And there's been life for three and a half billion years and there were creatures that had pretty developed nervous systems three hundred to six hundred million years ago.
And we were living in trees as small mammals sixty million years ago.
We were down on the plains between sixty million and seven million years ago and that's about when we split from chimpanzees.
And modern human beings seem to emerge about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago
And civilization pretty much after the last Ice Age, something after fifteen thousand years ago.
Not very long ago at all, you know?
And that's the span across which I want to understand.
That's the span across which I want to understand.
I want to understand why we are the way we are, looking at life in its continual complexity right from the beginning of life itself.
There's some real utility in that because we share attributes with other animals, even animals as simple as crustaceans, for example,
have nervous system properties that are very much like ours, and it's very much worth knowing that.
And so I think in an evolutionary way.
I think it's a grand and remarkable way to think because it has this incredible timespan.
It's amazing that people at the end of the nineteenth century, middle of the nineteenth century, say,