Here’s an arguably heady (but hopefully useful) piece on what I call Skinthink (from “History of the Next Big Bang;” it’s a psychoanalytic socio-cosmology in the tradition of Russian Cosmism and Vedic Cosmology).
Mind is Skin
Made of skin, mind thinks like skin. It is a fact of human embryonic development that CNS [Central Nervous System], the seat of human intelligence, begins as nothing more than involution (envagination) of ectoderm. The ectoderm enfolds onto itself (through a process called neural tubing) and becomes centralized, externally, as a brain, and, internally, as a mind.
The first and foremost job of any skin is to separate the inner from the outer, the self from the other. The skin divides and so do we. Made of skin, we mind dualistically and dichotomously. Each mind, like a pair of scissors, divides the Oneness of the Universe in half (initially into “self’ and “other”) and then in half again and again and again. This Skinthink is inevitable.
The Original Duality
There are all kinds of dualities. We can divide the world into “this” or “that,” “life” or “death,” “good” or “bad,” “black” or “white,” “Republicans” and “Democrats,” “Ego” and “Eco.” You name it! But the Original Duality – the original crack in the monolith of Oneness – is the Duality of Self and Other, that of Subject and Object. There is no shedding of this Skinthink.
Duality is Subjectivity, Subjectivity is Duality
Objectively, all – inseparably – is one and one – inseparably – is all. Subjectively, however, we experience the world not as oneness but as a pluraility of stand-alone forms, as a multitude of separated selves. Subjectivity is fundamentally dualistic as it presupposes a point-of-view, i.e. a perceiving self, and an “object” – out there – to perceive.
All Awareness is Dualistic
Awareness is directional: to be aware, one must be aware of something other than one’s self. Awareness is necessarily a Subject-Object duality: to be aware of something the Subject must be first aware of one’s self as being separate from one’s Object of awareness. While this separation of all that is into Subject-Self and the Other-Objects is, of course, objectively Maya (illusion in Sanskrit), subjectively this separation is real. Self-awareness is other-awareness. Without this illusory duality of Self and Other, there can be no sense of self. Thus, Skinthink is existentially inevitable.
Skinthink is the Mechanism of Differentiation
The Universe is alive but confused: it dreams the nightmare of separateness. Each life-form – to be its own self – dreams its own dream of separateness. This Skinthink is both the cause and the consequence of continuous differentiation of One into Many.
Skinthink is Samsara
Skinthink, the Self-Other Duality, is what drives the metamorphosis of the Universe. The Universe dreams itself into endless zero-sum scenario. This is the Samsara (“wheel of suffering”) of our divided existence. Divided by our subjectivity, we compete against our own – shared – interest. This happens at every level of existence – from the Brownian motion of molecules – to the fields of political football – to ethnic cleansing and international warfare.
Two Vectors of Skinthink
Subject-Object/Self-Other Skinthink is ego-building. It is centripetally myopic and inevitably self-serving. There are – as I see it – two ways for ego to grow: sociopathically or narcissistically. Sociopathic growth is blatant conquest, ethically unrestrained zero-sum conduct, pure jungle. Narcissistic growth is the expansion of the radius of identification. Whereas a sociopathic ego simply takes what it needs or wants, a narcissistic ego recruits the resources with varying degree of developmental sophistication. Narcissism ranges from primitive (individualistic, relational) to political (ethnic, cultural, social) to sublimated (Bodhisattva). A bacterium that engulfs another bacterium acts sociopathically. A bacterium that forms a symbiosis with another bacterium is sublimating its self-serving into organism-building. But whether we take the sociopathic short-cut or the so-called “high road” of cooperation, there is no way around the fundamental Skinthink of our motives. As long as there is a self, the self is self-serving. This is neither good, nor bad. It just is.
Culture is Skinthink
Continued differentiation and acquisition of power lead to the establishment of rules of engagement and arms of enforcement. Clothing (our second skin) leads to housing (third skin) which in its turn leads to emergence of nuclear families (fourth skin) which leads to social identification and culture-formation (fifth skin) which is further codified into intra-cultural rules of conduct and morality. Cultures – dreamed by minds that are made of skin – are divisive and, thus, combative. As the size of the evolutionary opponents grows, so does the size and magnitude of their armamentarium. Whereas two nuclear families can carry out a centuries-old vendetta with nothing but kitchen knives, any two (or more) geopolitical powers need nuclear arms. In sum, inter-personal, let alone, inter-national frictions come at progressively greater costs.
Skinthink is expensive.
Strike that: skinthink is unaffordable. And yet it is inevitable.
That’s the paradox of our existence.
Woman’s torso photo available from Shutterstock.