Even though we know the world in terms of mental models, which are composed of representations, symbols, and systems of interpretation, we also experience it directly; however, we are almost never aware of this.
Direct experience is less complex than other forms of experience, but it is not supported by millennia of human social and cultural evolution and most specifically, by the systems of symbolic meaning that humans have built up over time. Even though direct experience is always occurring to us, we are prevented from actually attending to it because of a virtually impenetrable series of filtering mechanisms. These mechanisms are first of all, neurological – they involve the biological bases of our brain/mind. Functioning as filters for experience which is considered to be non-essential to immediate biological survival, our brains focus only on what seems to work, in terms of necessary interactions with our environment and acceptable internal states of sensation/emotion. And as large aspects of our immediate environment are socio-cultural, our brains become entrained by the myriad systems of cultural symbols that exist to bind us to each other in tribal and supra-tribal ways.
This discussion of “direct experience” is based on previous entries here and the sense that astute readers will find a continued interest in such a notion without the burden of a shared definition. That being the case, at least as regards the present reader, the discussion will move next to describing direct experience as a form of aesthetic experience. It is, in fact, the essential aesthetic experience.
As discussed in earlier entries, we are in a position to choose the models by which we comprehend and experience so-called “reality”. And it would seem clear that, in an overarching sense, we choose models which please us in some essential ways. We choose our reality paradigms in the same way we make other choices. That is, it pleases or satisfies us in crucial ways to make them, even when we feel compelled by unknown forces to do so. In other words, these choices may be unconscious or they may be conscious. The present discourse is directed toward promoting the most preferable conscious choices.
Conscious choices involve certain criteria. The very act of choosing implies some sort of ethical system – a system of understanding which choices to make. So far the discussion has moved from direct experience to aesthetic experience and from aesthetic choices to ethics.
Here are some initial criteria. It is best to choose reality paradigms which decrease suffering. And it is best to choose reality paradigms which include significant feelings and expressions of compassion. If you have been following the discussion of direct experience this far, then it is not such a leap to consider these two criteria as self-evident.
For now, let’s take some time to consider the choices we make in terms of those which decrease suffering and those which increase compassion. It is best for us to make as many of these as possible.
Image: “The World is Art” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.