Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 4: The Way to Realise Our Potential (3).

Huxley says that we should find new ways to stretch the kind psychophysical skills which, for example, we might use once we have learned to drive a car instinctually. Mechanisation has meant less opportunities for us to develop our capacities in this area, and to compensate for that society must begin educating ‘…on the non-verbal level of first-order psychophysical experience’: 'What is needed, if more of the potentialities of more people are to be actualized, is a training on the non-verbal levels of our whole being as systematic as the training now given to children and adults on the verbal level.'

When he wrote, in 1961, Huxley thought that studying from sciences to humanities was confined to the symbol-using mind, and we cannot say much has changed since then. Huxley would still say today that we need to awaken of purer forms of non-verbal experience and perception, ‘…with the fewest possible notional preconceptions’. After all, we cannot fulfil our potential for thinking and feeling, or for willing and acting, without our first perceiving accurately and discriminately.

Huxley even suggests that enhanced non-verbal perceptions might allow us exercise our potential for ‘higher insights’. Ancient tantric “philosopher-psychologists” of India, who believed that efforts to achieve perception ‘beyond names and descriptions’ was a preparation for living life fully, or for enlightenment. Yet Huxley is aware that modern times we tend be less concerned with enlightenment than with maintaining, or restoring mental health. He cites psychologists and psychotherapists – ‘Gestalt’ practitioners, for example – who at the start of the 1960s were finding that they could liberate patients by helping attend to their present, ‘here-and-now’ experiences. Some abandoned the Freudian focus on past trauma and the unconscious. Instead, mental health – of a sort that supports the realisation of potential – could be characterised by the breaking out of a ‘…prison of symbols and memories … by becoming aware, in a state of pure receptivity…’.

Further, Huxley suggests that higher levels of enjoyment follow from accurate perceptions; from perceptions less limited the “symbolic grime” of language – that is, a residue of notions about what things “really” or ”merely” are: '…when we understand that words stand only for the similarities between first-order experience, each one of which is unique, when we learn to pass at will from the stale ‘oldness of the letter’ (the world of symbols) to the fresh ‘newness of the spirit’ (the world of first-order experiences), then and only then will our potentialities for enjoyment be actualised.'

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