Notes on Cognitive Function of Belief

The unconscious was invented to relieve hysteric of the non-congruence between excitability and cognition. By way of this “other scene”, the non-time of the drive is metabolized into representations and primary processes, still outside time, but able to be formulated in temporal conscious representations. This always incomplete translatability invites us to understand Freud’s sentence, “Hysteria is linked to the place, not only on home landscape and setting, but on the maternal place, which is a place of passion.” Now consider how Freud’s sentence resonates with this one by Joyce: “Father times, mother spacies.” Here, the space of passion (of the primary maternal) turns into the memory of the species, ontogenesis into phylogenesis. In short, hysteric temporality encourages us to reformulate the unconscious – beyond the timeless drive and its semiotic and sensorial offshoots – by including the pre-psychical.
Julia Kristeva, “Hatred and Forgiveness”, Columbia Univ. Pr. 2010, p. 150

The content of beliefs can vary from serious and identity- and life-sustaining (like in religious and ideological beliefs), to the trivial, casual ones, collected from everyday currents of impressions, that sometimes can be almost pre-cognitive.

The intellectual function of whole world-including beliefs is to put the world on a solid foundation (god creates the world, but the believer puts it on the whales or elephants of his self-aggrandizing and self-centralizing passions, associations and argumentations), in order to provide an irrefutable explanation of what we observe outside us, and by this create the impression before ourselves that we can rely on the world (of god’s and our design) and on prophets and our leaders, that everything around us and we ourselves will not disappear in non-being in any minute or second. Whole world-including beliefs (WWIBs) make us believe that it is possible to survive and live in this universe under a shell or inside the womb of human life.

WWIBs have exclusively strong consoling function. The paradox is that they console (and transform the believers from confused and feeling abandoned sissy-pessimists into shining and energetic stoic-optimists) even when they are “negative” – when they announce an imminent danger and perceived as a warning. Even then WWIBs are consoling – they stabilize our reactions by creating in us the feeling that we understand what’s coming and will be able if not to avoid the catastrophe, at least to prepare to it the best we can. The most remarkable feature of WWIBs is that contrary to the obvious, it is not by their content we feel consoled – it’s by the very feeling that because of our belief in our WWIBs we really know the “basics” of our world, of human life and what to expect from it. WWIBs’ power to console is equal to the power of mother’s breast for the infant. WWIBs transform worried adults into blissful babies and babies into strong, energetic and multi-masterful adults.

Belief is not only a premature, a hasty knowledge (in its content) but the one which is psychologically perceived as a perfect, ready-made knowledge (magically transferred from god or worshipped leader to the believer on the angel’s wings of belief). This instant knowledge is immediately available by the pre-electronic communication of believer’s intuitive effortlessness (when understanding comes to us directly from the generosity of super-human clairvoyance).

The very ability to believe is one of the most ingenious strategies of creation of human beings by the god of life. In the factual conditions of living, without WWIBs it is almost psychologically impossible to tolerate life. Lucky are the animals who are glued to rituals of survival monotonously, conformingly, boringly, who cannot step aside, away from immediate survival, into a world of imagination, belief, contemplation, speculation, metaphors. The maximum animals can do is crude “technical” tricks to survive better. But we, humans, are blessed with a devastating gift to, at least, sometimes, become not identical with our survival and let ourselves be kidnapped by imagination, beliefs, syllogistic challenges, invention of the future, invention of illusions (in this sense, superstition is rudimentary, but still a work of art, and the same goes for prejudice – they both, for good or bad, are mental artifacts). This “organic” yet artificial intelligence, pre-intelligence, is self-sustaining system – by pacifying our (justified) fears it creates new ones which it is ready again to pacify.

In omnipresent circumstances of the traumatizingly difficult conditions of survival, this pre-intelligence immediately starts to do its work – balance our fears of violent death (including natural but perceived as not different than violent attack by natural forces, predatory animals or other humans) by this magnificent soft ware programming us to be prone to believe in god, in super-human wisdom of our ancestors and leaders, in our picture of the world. The immediate result of WWIBs is effect of consolation and rejuvenation of our desire to live, which itself reduces our panic in front of mysteries of the world and our despair and indiscriminate belligerence.

But the existence of WWIBs cannot guarantee survival of human race, nor even some “chosen” and “superior” nation (because of its “proper” belief in comparison with all the others believing “wrongly”). The universe that is full of violence on all the levels of matter and spirit – cosmic, between gods, between gods and men, between life forms and, finally, between human groups and between individuals, where for galaxies is natural to swallow themselves and one another, for volcanoes to kill life and for life try to save itself by subduing and utilizing/enslaving the volcanoes, where the predatory among the animals are free to klll and eat or for self-entertaining, but preys are entitled to defend themselves and to fall as heroes, and where human warriors are free to murder and to torture one another with pride and glory, such a universe must be really quite an entertaining place for its creators to observe. But beyond the limited human perspective, WWIBs are just experiments on part of the god of creation, just one strategy among others. For galaxies to extinguish themselves or “swallow” one another is just warming up for rebirth and reconstruction. In the universe everything is of equal value – survival, life, death, reproduction and violence. Mortality is identical with survival, death – the other side of life. Libido and destrudo are like different cosmetic creams of life’s make-up. Hunger and fertility are twins, like exuberance and exhaustion. Destruction is suede of leather of prosperity and the other way around. Life is simultaneously a generous gift and the cruel joke of a primordial indifferent robber, and murder and suicide can equally be a salvation.

From this music-hall of hell humankind tried (or thinks it did) to find a way out. WWIBs were its first prophetic vision of self-salvation. But WWIBs bathe in primordial narcissism, they are rooted in our pre-intellectual belief that we are capable immediately, without the experience of educating ourselves in a scientific sense (with uniting facts into chains of probabilities and possibilities, with syllogistic discipline and systemic reasoning) to grasp the world and life. Cognitive narcissism is imagination-oriented. Imaginary constructions mixed with the frustrated desire to survive by any price or die on a heroic note are built into and registered by different WWIBs. Human civilization has survived because endless human civilizations are died. Human species lives on, because it dies again and again. WWIBs are a reflection of the comic balance between meaning and meaninglessness and between the search for meaning and search for the absurd. With WWIBs it’s always fifty-fifty or even tilts towards death (quickly embellished with immortality). With WWIBs we can reliably survive only in the Paradise (if we believe in it).

Humanistic education (a very recent achievement of historical development) is today the only way for us to step away from symbiosis with the demons of WWIBs, the way to move from the fake certainty of belief to a romantic skepticism of scientific approach to the knowledge of human reality. Only humanistic education (based on the mobilization of human holistic – focused on psychological wholeness, intelligence) is capable to tame our narcissism and Ptolemaic self-centeredness. Education based on studying individual and societal life (contrary to technical education) can step by step prepare us to tolerate what is perceived by our narcissism as an insult – that we have to study to understand ourselves and what human life (in its individual, societal and culture-creating aspects) is about, that it’s not enough to be alive and “smart” as we believe we are, to be able to grasp human reality.

The majority of conservatives in all political systems feel/smell how dangerous humanistic education is for the prospect of perpetuation of their rule. That’s why American neocons in 21st century try to destroy humanistic education in US by underfunding it and by putting in its place the “correct” education – religious dogmatism. The point here is not the content of various religious or secular (but religious by psychology), ideologies. The point is that their psychological mechanism is based on a hidden megalomania, on narcissistic beliefs into direct contact with super-human wisdom (into which believers have transformed mysteries of reality), and as a result the intolerance for otherness. Totalitarian systems were always based on beliefs, and for this reason – on propaganda to create and sustain them. Totalitarianisms have always been antipathetic towards humanistic education – towards the real facts of human life and to developing the cognitive ability to handle them through the procedures of scientific thinking. While totalitarian decision-makers were always trying to use technical science for the consolidation of their power, they are afraid of humanistic sciences as a potent school of romantic skepticism towards corporate/governmental propaganda. But formal democracies of today by number of concrete reasons (connected with unprecedented development of mass-culture and repressive de-sublimation), are in a process of regressing to a primordial totalitarian condition of pop-believing that humanistic education is not only an expensive eccentricity, but dangerous for the population’s morals and merits. By this formal democracies are closing the only hope to break a totalitarian semantic gridlock, this eternal return of human history. The regression of civilization to pre-civilized feelings (expressed today in the demand by the conservatives to save money on the sick, elderly, children and poor, in historically unprecedented level of militarization, in parading torture, etc.) is a type of regression that happens in history again and again. It’s very tormenting to think that one such regression is taking place today by the deeds of the present generations. It’s not a matter of being “optimistic” or “pessimistic” but of observing the psychological and intellectual condition of too many young people transforming into louts (with the eyes of lotuses), naive, innocent, murderous and righteous.

How humanistic education was lost as respectable and accessible? Why did democrats allow this to happen? Without humanistically scientific thinking mental and emotional brutalization of the population cannot be avoided. Totalitarian position towards the world is always based on beliefs which for a population addressed by them look and sound good, practical and even idealistic.