Retraining Our Sensibilities

2021 has been a quite disastrous and traumatic year for many, hasn’t it? If the events of 2021 haveb’t yet taught us that we need to retrain our sensibilities, I don’t know what will — perhaps not even Jean Gebser’s “global catastrophe”.

I was reflecting on this after listening to Iain McGilchrist read from the Introduction to his new book (in two volumes) entitled The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. There are two parts to the reading, both well worth the listening.

McGilchrist is certainly one who is attempting to retrain our sensibilities, even if only as a matter of survival. If you have read Jean Gebser’s great book The Ever-Present Origin with the appropriate degree of attention, you probably realised that Gebser, too, has attempted in his writings to retrain our sensibilities, or reconsidering what usually passes by the phrase “common sense”.

Learning, in other words. But I like to use the phrase “retraining our sensibilities” — the need to let go of old sensibilities (sometimes called “belief systems”) that not only no longer produce favourable results, but begin to appear like a mass psychosis — the problem of “21st Century Schizoid Man” who no longer functions effectively in social or physical reality. McGilchrist also addresses that problem in some of his talks.

Retraining the sensibilities is a bit like losing your mind (or your “identity”) in a good way — by dropping formulaic and cliched ways of seeing and hearing things (called our “expectations”) and simply paying attention. This is sometimes called “Silent Mind” or just “mindfulness”. It’s just a matter of attention.

(For those unfamiliar with Jean Gebser, the introductory chapter to The Ever-Present Origin entitled “Fundamental Considerations” is available online at http://www.jean-gebser-gesellschaft.ch/Dokumente/Considerations.pdf . There is also his final statement on The Integral Consciousness (1973) that I have reproduced earlier in The Chrysalis).

So I hope you find something useful in McGilchrist’s reading (and various talks) that will also help you retrain your sensibilities.

3 responses to “Retraining Our Sensibilities”

  1. Kim Willis says :

    Hi Scott, by strange coincidence I listened to Iain’s two part reading of the introduction of his new book yesterday too (and then subsequently listened to him to talk to one of his mentors about schizophrenia in another video. Iain spoke at the Pari Center on Saturday. It was a really great talk. A few notes from that talk:

    “Goethe said, “Reality calls forth in us the faculties appropriate to appreciating it.” And if you’re taught to disattend to things long enough you will no longer — the faculty for perceiving them will no longer be there. ***And so, you will find that reality conforms to what it was you have been taught to leave. In that way, it is simply a self confirming process.”

    “William Blake, “Every bird that cuts the area away is an element and swirl of delight, enclosed in the five senses.” It’s often being read without noticing the word enclosed. After all the senses are surely the portal, whereby we take in that immense world, denied. But I think what he’s suggesting is that by the very fact of filtering they create the experiences of the world that we have, so they’re not illusions, they are imaginative responses to the world that allows certain aspects of it to be present to us.”

    “Henry Bergson — very very underrated important philosopher, no philosopher, I know that really has written extensively about memory, and consciousness so intelligently, but he saw the point of memory is not to transmit, but to mask aspects of the past for efficacy.”

    “So it is interesting isn’t it the brain becomes more powerful by shedding neurons and pruning the connections of those neurons that a primary function of the corpus callosum as I’ve argued at length is in fact to inhibit, it’s probably the single most important function of the frontal lobes — to inhibit, and that the human brain has proportionately more inhibitory neurons than any primate, and the primates have many more inhibitory neurons than any other animals. And it’s this that enables them to see things to understand things that perhaps other animals can’t. Which is not to say that other animals cannot understand and see things that we can period. They can hear frequencies of sound that we can’t. So this idea of resistance as creative is very important.”

    Out on a walk with al this had me wondering about what’s here that I can’t see bc of the way I’ve trained my eye.

    Also, Cynthia Bourgeault did an incredible series on Gebser’s book. Here was the last in the series “Enstasy” and the links to the other 13 blog posts are at the bottom of the page. https://cynthiabourgeault.org/2021/05/23/enstasy/

    It was really fantastic.

    I really appreciate your blog a lot too. I only discovered it a few months ago and often get lost here for an hour at a time. I appreciate how you explore your view of the world.

    Kim

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the interesting comment. I actually had a ticket for the Pari talk, and then missed it. I’m sure the ticket remains valid for the recording of the talk, so I’ll have to find that and give it a listen. I’ve read Bourgeault’s series on Gebser. It’s quite good, and quite insightful into the meaning of Gebser.

  2. steve says :

    A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.—Journal, 16 November 1850

    Thoreau

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