Storming of the Mind: Humility and Creativity

Bob Hunter believed that images like these were "mind bombs," that is, dramatic, camera-ready images of opposition that challenged the status quo, reaching and perhaps changing the public consciousness by visualizing new or alternative ways of thinking/being. Famous "mind bombs" could include Thích Quảng Đức

burning himself to death, as well as images from Greenpeace's first campaigns against whaling - the image of a human putting his or her body between a harpoon and a whale - a larger recognition of the importance of ecological balance.

The title of this post is inspired by a book I highly recommend by Bob Hunter, titled "The Storming of the Mind." Here's Rex Weyler's description:

Hunter's book, The Storming of the Mind (1971, McClelland & Stewart) became a defacto 'manifesto', merging peace, ecology, 'post-industrialism', and media strategy into a vision of cultural transformation. "The critical problems which now threaten our existence can only be understood in terms of gestalts, wholes, flows, or synergistic effects," he wrote. "The new holistic consciousness is basically an ecological consciousness."

And where Hunter's more colorful treatment of what was essentially an ecology of mind might leave some wanting for intellectual rigour (his language and approach where on occasion stereotypically "new agey.") Gregory Bateson with his training in biology, anthropology, linguistics and cybernetics, delivers.

Continuing with my series of posts on Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind," here's a quick redux of the simple and powerful insights found in the essay, "Conscious Purpose versus Nature."

Bateson's thesis is that at any given moment, by biological truth, our consciousness (the thoughts we are aware of) represents just a small fraction of our total mind. Moreover, the content of that limited screen of awareness, more often than not, is determined by purposive thinking (thinking that plans sequentially for attainments e.g. food, sex etc.). The result is that we not only have incredible blind spots in our thinking, but that we also purposively interpret the sensory input we receive. The consequences of this type of thinking are often errors in interpreting cause and effect (we blame ourselves, we blame someone else, but rarely are we wise enough to see the totality of the system at play), affecting everything from the perpetuation of age-old conflicts (e.g. Israel/Palestine) to unsustainable development. When a given environment is viewed purposively, one man's boreal forest becomes another man's overburden (something standing between a gas tank and a massive hydrocarbon deposit).

I have to admit that after reading this essay the prospects of "fixing" some of the dilemmas we find ourselves facing don't look good (Bateson's thesis finally describes a notion I've felt for a while now). That being said, once we're aware of the challenge and our own limitations, there are at least some potential remedies, namely those that "jump" us out of purposive thinking that are worth pursuing (if not just for shits and giggles).

Stressing improvement at the individual level, Bateson names humility as a quality we may have some capacity to bring about in ourselves and to stress or emphasize in others. He (and others like him writing in a similar vein) also identify creative experiences in which our conscious minds play only a small part, including the creativity of art, or the perception of art and poetry, dreams, painting, writing, music, dance etc. He also includes what he calls, "the best of religion," and given his proclivity for using religious analogies, and quotes from various schools of philisophical thought, including Zen, I take that as an endorsement of the more creative and less prescriptive texts within various religious traditions.

Looking at this as an environmental communicator concerned about the ecological crisis, I see (purposively) at least two important avenues for change:

1) As he suggests (and some will find it "New Agey" but that's just a Western purposive backlash) opportunities to think less purposively are important, the ability to not "think," or to at least exercise and become consciously aware of other aspects of our total mind (the parts we don't access much during daily purposive thinking) can only lead to greater insights and wiser actions when we are thinking purposively. Adding humility to that mix will keep us pliable and open to new ideas, interpretations and solutions, while also being more compassionate and empathetic with one another.

Readers will know I recently had a small brush with the creative experience recommended by Bateson when I decided to try my hand at drawing - it really did feel like I was using parts of my brain that hadn't been consciously exercised in a long time, and there was also an element that wasn't purposive, a piece of the exercise that represented a more total account of my mind (or at least other parts of my own accumulated "wisdom" - which isn't much).

2) The continual development and sharing of purposive ideas that fall outside the status quo or that are inspired by those underused parts of our accumulated knowledge (or wisdom). These could include new technologies, new sustainable lifestyle practices, innovations etc. A diversity of ideas available to the purposive thinker will result in a diversity of actions and hopefully more balance in our conscious actions.

Ultimately, the system will balance itself out whether we like it or not, what that looks like from a humanitarian or ecological POV is a different story.

The challenge that excites and inspires me everyday is to live a bit closer to the wisdom that we all share, and which could result in a more sustainable, humane and socially just society.