October 19, 2002

1. The Power of Thought

A Phlit subscriber in India, Amrit Hallan, noticed a similarity between Proust’s experience, as described in the last issue of Phlit, and his own experience. In the last issue of Phlit, I wrote as follows:

In Proust’s novel, Albert Agostinelli is metamorphosed into Albertine, who flees from the Narrator’s possessive love, and meets untimely death. The novel was written before Agostinelli’s airplane accident; the accident existed in Proust’s mind before it existed in the external world. As the alchemists would say, the mind can accomplish many things by imagining them. Proust felt that he had brought about Agostinelli’s death, Proust felt that he was guilty of murder.

Amrit wrote to me as follows:

When my pet, Suzy died, for a week prior to that, I’d been thinking how easy life would be if she were not there. Although I loved her a lot, because of her, I could not do many things. She fell sick, and me and sister took her to the veterinary hospital. I was scared for her. I would have done anything for her at that time. After the IV and a few injections when we were buying fish soup for her, I looked at her lying on the back seat of the car and immediately knew she was not going to survive. So many times she had fallen sick, I had never had such a sinking feeling for her. There and then I imagined how we’d have to call up everyone and give the bad news, how we’ll be arranging for a proper funeral, etc.

At night when I was having my dinner, I couldn’t eat a bite. I just wanted to sit with her. Although the doctor had said she’d be fine, I told my sister and my mom that she was not going to survive the night. Whenever Suzy had fallen sick, I had spent my nights with her, tending to her, comforting her, but that day, I went to bed because I wanted to avoid that “moment”. At 4:30 am my sister woke me up and told me Suzy had died.

I still believe she died because she had discerned my feelings for her. The thought haunted me for months and many times I cried too. I’m still horrified when I begin to have some bad thoughts for people I know. I immediately divert my thoughts to something else.

Amrit has started his own e-newsletter. You can subscribe, and view back issues, by visiting www.amrithallan.com.

2. Hiking Philosophers

If Descartes hiked to the top of a mountain in Africa, and sat down on a rock, and looked at the animals in the valley below, and at the vegetation all around him, he might say, “I alone, in this vast scene of teeming life, have a soul.” And if Kant hiked to the top of the same mountain, he might say, “I alone am an end in myself.” But if Freud hiked to the top of that mountain, he might say, “all these animals and plants have the same basic drives that I have, they all have life- and death-instincts — just like me. Animals and plants are my kin. Man is derived from animals, and animals are derived from plants — we’re all branches of the same family tree, we’re all relatives. Man isn’t fundamentally different from animals and plants — as Western thinkers once supposed.”

And if Jung hiked to the top of that mountain, he might say, “all those animals have the same Energy, the same Essence, the same Spirit, the same Tao, that is in me. And all these plants have that same Energy, too. And this rock that I’m sitting on, this mountain, this earth — all these have that same Energy, too. I’m akin to the animals, the plants, the rocks — I’m akin to everything in the universe. Man is derived from animals, and animals are derived from plants, and plants are derived from inorganic matter. We’re all related! The same universe that produced the rock I’m sitting on also produced Hamlet. Man isn’t fundamentally different from other forms of life, as Descartes and Kant thought, nor is organic life fundamentally different from inorganic matter, as Freud thought. The same Energy/Essence/Spirit/Tao suffuses everything, produces everything.”

Jung’s view is similar to that of Eastern philosophers. This view helps to explain why Eastern painters depicted landscapes long before Western painters did. Western painters like Michelangelo were preoccupied with man, perhaps because the West saw man as distinct from the rest of the universe. The East saw the same Tao in everything. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “when you are looking... at a Japanese painting of a crane, that is not simply what you or I might perceive as a crane, but the universe... the one Buddha-consciousness of all things.”1

It has been said that the clearest distinction in nature is the distinction between the organic and the inorganic. This distinction is clearer (so the argument goes) than the distinction between one species and another, and clearer than the distinction between plants and animals. But is it really as clear as it appears to be? Isn’t it conceivable that some enterprising young scientist will someday connect the organic to the inorganic — just as Darwin connected man to animals? Isn’t it conceivable that we’ll someday discover intermediate forms — forms that lie between the organic and the inorganic? After all, isn’t organic life descended from the inorganic? Darwin speculated on how organic life might have originated:

“If (and O, what an if!) we could picture some hot little pool in which all manner of ammoniacal and phosphorous salts, light, heat, electricity and so forth were present, and that a protein compound were to be chemically formed in it, ready to undergo even more complicated changes...”2

“Scientists of today think the first primitive form of life arose in precisely the kind of ‘hot little pool’ that Darwin pictured.”3

So the next time you sit on a rock, remember that it’s your brother, it has the same essence that you have. Remember that you came from the inorganic, and to the inorganic you shall return. If we blur the distinction between the organic and the inorganic, then we also blur the distinction between life and death. Death becomes merely a change of form.

3. Life- and Death-Instincts

If we adopt the view that we’ve ascribed to Jung and Eastern philosophers, if we adopt the view that the entire universe is suffused with a kind of Spirit or Energy, what happens to Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts? And what happens to my theory of history, which is based on the theory of life- and death-instincts? Must we abandon Freud’s theory, and with it, my theory of history?

I don’t see any contradiction between the Eastern view and Freud’s view. Both views can be true: everything can be suffused with Spirit/Energy, and all organic life can have life- and death-instincts (in addition to Spirit/Energy). We not only can retain both these ideas, we must retain them both if our observations lead us to both of them. Perhaps there are numerous instincts, or patterns of behavior, that we haven’t discussed yet, such as that which makes a spider spin its web. We’re surrounded by mysteries.

4. Cancer

It is gradually becoming an accepted fact in the U.S. that the incidence of cancer, especially brain tumors, among children is increasing. My own observation suggests that these tumors are more common among boys than girls, but I haven’t confirmed this. The most careful studies have failed (as far as I know) to discover a cause. Is it something we’re eating? Something we’re breathing? No one seems to know. [Update December, 2010: a carcinogen called hexavalent chromium has been found in the drinking water of most U.S. cities.]

5. The Leadership Disease

In recent months, there has been a wave of corporate scandals in the U.S. — first Enron, then WorldCom, Tyco, and many more. In company after company, executives are distorting earnings, misusing company funds, etc. Even the revered Jack Welch of GE was found to be living high at company expense.

There is a cult of leadership in American business. Numerous books have been published about the art of leadership — Robert E. Lee on Leadership, etc., etc. As a recent New York Times article put it, “The ‘romance of leadership’ that is common in the business world tends to put top executives on a pedestal.”4 Some observers argue that executives often fall victim to the psychological disorder known as narcissism, “a destructive pattern of thought and behavior whose traits include an unrealistic sense of one’s importance and power, an excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy for the feelings or needs of others.... Narcissism is an occupational hazard of the corporate world.... ‘it’s fairly prevalent in organizations’.”5

As the Good Book says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

© L. James Hammond 2002
visit Phlit home page
make a donation via PayPal

1. Myths To Live By, “Zen”, p. 144 back
2. Sophie’s World, “Darwin”, p. 423 back
3. ibid back
4. New York Times, July 29, 2002 back
5. ibid back