Introducing “The Highly Played Game of As If”

photo credit: freesynap

We talk a lot on this blog about the uniqueness of humanity. I believe, as indicated in the introduction to our theory, that we owe this to our “really badass imaginations.” Think about it — how long did it take you to come up with a reason why that guy insisted on tailgating you all the way to work last week?  Were his actions potentially excusable because he was surely going to the hospital to see a loved one, or was he completely out of line and most likely a total asshole?

We love to jump to conclusions, and we can do this because we have a highly evolved ability to conceive orders of scale, which is to say, the human being is alone in the known universe in his ability to hold in his mind’s eye a progression, succession, or graduated series of related steps or degrees, including both steps externally perceived and steps internally imagined or extrapolated.  This skill is at the same time enormously useful and tragically fallible.  It is fallible for one simple reason: we’re limited by what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Beyond that, we have to make something up … or throw our hands in the air and walk away.

This is particularly frustrating when it comes to the big questions — like meaning-of-life questions. How did we get here? Where are we going? What can we do to reach our greatest potential? We at the Creative Evolution Blog have thrown our hands up at these questions more times than we can count. We’ve felt like we were banging our heads against a wall and had to leave with our tails between our legs. Yet we’ve always come back to them, looking for some new vantage point, unable to pass life off as meaningless biological clockwork and at the same time unable to accept theological/doctrinal explanations at face value.

Between these two extremes lies what Joseph Campbell called a “highly played game of ‘as if.'” Campbell borrowed this concept from Immanuel Kant, who said the “proper expression of our fallible mode of conception” is to imagine the world and everything in it as if all of it were “derived from a supreme mind.” This is Campbell’s “highly played game of ‘as if,'” and it begins with the idea that we all have within us some divine seed or common source. It then plays itself out as we endeavor to act, think, and feel in new (unscripted) ways through body, mind, and spirit.

The rules of the game have been delivered to us by the sacred texts of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Think about it — religion and spirituality are all about expressing the common, divine source of humanity. The terminology differs with time and place, but every scripture ultimately seeks to describe the higher, divine purpose or potential of mankind.

We argue that such a highly played game is essential to Creative Evolution because it begins with the admission that the picture of reality delivered to us by our senses cannot be the final word; it cannot take everything into account. Therefore, we must allow ourselves to look beyond our senses — to live outside the terms dictated to us by our biological programming — if we hope to reach our greatest potential.

Don’t mistake our point here: we don’t advocate theological fanaticism either. We contend that this game has very real foundations in science, and that it can be played in a way that is intellectually honest, ruling out any sort of arbitrary fantasizing. Our argument is that every sacred text has essentially one author: the collective unconscious. Carl Jung described the collective unconscious as a “memory deposit, an engram, derived from a condensation of innumerable similar experiences … the psychic expression of an anatomically, physiologically determined natural tendency.” In this sense, it is no different than any other common trait we humans share. We all have a certain felt connection or fascination with the themes that show up over and over again in sacred texts: temptation in life, the supremacy of unconditional love, the inevitability of death, the promise of resurrection and eternal life, etc. This felt connection is part and parcel with the rest of our biological inheritance.

To talk about this in greater detail, we started an audio podcast called “The Highly Played Game of As If,” dedicated to exploring Creative Evolution in the light of sacred texts. It is an honest, ongoing discussion between Matt and me about the deeper psychological meanings and possible commonalities in these texts. It takes place in the space between rational/scientific absolutes and irrational/religious absolutes. We welcome comments and suggestions as we go, so don’t be shy!

Look for Episode 1 in a separate post later today.

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