How Experience Works

Imagine that you are having an experience, for instance, the reading of these words. It is not possible to separate how you have the experience from the experience itself, because "experience" denotes, at least, what happened plus the way that it happened, as you remember it. It is not only possible but compelling, however, to imagine the elements of an experience as though they were separate, especially since they are variable. If you read this sitting down, for instance, it will always have been read seated, but you can imagine different ways of reading it, for instance, while standing.

If you imagine, in addition to reading while standing, that you are on an urban light rail car with a bunch of people around you, jostled by the car's movement, occasionally looking out the window, thinking alternatingly about what has just happened and what might happen next, you can see the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the myriad variables that are packed into "experience". All factors have an impact on the other variables, a few of which are recorded by your memory, which is far from comprehensive or exact. You will only ever be able to recall a few of the factors that you noticed and embodied as experience.

You are imagining every time you encounter anything, creating a fiction of inseparable thought, feeling, sense that becomes part of your "soma"--the biological and intangible complex that is You, and which cannot be recalled in a way that is identical with what happened, despite having been profoundly shaped by it. Precise representation is not possible, at least because comprehensive re-presentation of all relevant factors is not possible in a system as complex and dynamic as experience. Memory is notoriously unreliable and creatively dynamic, and assertions are always experimental proposals, no matter the authoritative terms in which they are couched. Just being conscious of something guarantees a selective frame through which experience will be filtered, in which meaning will be assigned and beliefs created, and on which behavior will then be based. Consciousness itself then, at least fundamentally, is a process of fictionalizing and embodying reality. Overlapping sub-categories of fictional consciousness emerge somatically, psychologically: fantasy, reasoning, narrative, and other ways of ordering experience becoming styles of selective imagining, meaning-making, and behavior.

Since experience becomes understood in particular styles, it may be difficult to parse when considered by being filtered through an unsympathetic narrative. It may cause confusion and dismay, for instance, when a group of people share an understanding that is very different from one's own, based on their imagination of shared narratives, and then believe what they imagine, perhaps even literally, and then behave and create a particular culture which presupposes that their narratives are authoritative. This dynamic is not only problematic in the religious and political realms. It colors all interactions shared by all participants in any system, because individuals are by definition both similar to and different from each other, and must make choices to navigate the pulls and pushes of resonance and dissonance. 

The Scientific Method, for instance, emerges from a rational narrative in which theories (informed guesses) about reality are reduced by experimental elimination until only facts remain in the form of processes that others can verify. But no way of configuring experience can escape the system in which it operates and by which it is delimited. No matter how exhaustive, even the entire, tremendously powerful catalogue of facts derived and categorized by rational thought cannot approach the scope that consciousness as a whole encompasses: imagination turning experience into meaning by working through fictions to discern and creatively apply what is literally and metaphorically true to life.

It is helpful to think of the process of consciousness outlined above in terms of "mythology", and of "myth" as a narrative which configures consciousness as though a particular way of thinking were operational in the world to which the mythology applies. One of the essential benefits of mythological study is that it both questions and supports belief by explicitly promoting consciousness of fundamental fictionality, or mythicity. In this context, the phrase "The Myth Of Science", for instance, does not suggest that science is false, which is demonstrably not the case, but suggests that Science operates within fictions, an example of which might be the idea of its own supremacy in defining Truth. Working with Science mythically allows consciousness of a fundamental ambivalence in knowing anything, an epistemological humility which then makes the true mission of research, for instance, more likely to succeed. If one is aware just how powerfully framing a process as scientific makes all outcomes sound authoritative, then it becomes more straightforward to avoid plunging into the mire of scientism and thereby conduct scientific work authentically, dividing experience into helpful but non-ultimate categories, such as placing in opposition the reproducibly factual and the unreproducible and falsifiable, minimizing the chance of making what is unproven sound like fact.

When I began by suggesting that you imagine having an experience, I merely proposed that you become conscious of the way that you have always experienced everything. I make the proposal because the process has proved helpful to me, at least when I have been willing and able to uncover my beliefs and the ways in which they are extruded as behavior as I co-create the world of my daily life. Sometimes the narrative-belief-behavior vector is easy to uncover and influence. Most often some part of the process is more deeply complex than I can fully imagine, and requiring a more extensive frame, in this case the use of the idea "soul" or "psyche" on which "psychology" is based. Psyche-logic implies that making meaning of complexes requires the acknowledgment that "deepest" imagining is unconscious--cannot be uncovered, operates with autonomy--is a "realm" governed by its own powers, and exerts highly variable but universally extensive influence throughout humanity. This reasoning, and the behavior of writing and publishing it, reflects my belief in the mythology of depth psychology.    


Content and design copyright Brandon WilliamsCraig ~ Wheeled by Wagn v. 1.18.1