Re: virus: levels only two

Fri, 09 Apr 1999 15:15:09 -0700

Interesting, but I'm not sure what you're implying, Professor. Do you think that more than one in a million seven-year-olds have a Life Purpose in the sense that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and, by extension, Richard Brodie) means when he talks of the focus and clarity that come from having a purpose? Before you answer that, read this fairly short excerpt from "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to get a better idea of the strength of the claim you seem to be making:

In the lives of many people it is possible to find a unifying purpose that justifies the things they do day in, day out--a goal that like a magnetic field attracts their psychic energy, a goal upon which all lesser goals depend. This goal will define the challenges that a person needs to face in order to transform his or her life into a flow activity. Without such a purpose, even the best-ordered consciousness lacks meaning.

Throughout human history innumerable attempts have been made to discover ultimate goals that would give meaning to experience. These attempts have often been very different from one another. For instance, in the ancient Greek civilization, according to the social philosopher Hannah Arendt, men sought to achieve immortality through heroic deeds, whereas in the Christian world men and women hoped to reach eternal life through saintly deeds. Ultimate goals, in Arendt's opinion, must accommodate the issue of mortality: they must give men and women a purpose that extends beyond the grave. Both immortality and eternity accomplish this, but in very different ways. The Greek heroes performed noble deeds so as to attract the admiration of their peers, expecting that their highly personal acts of bravery would be passed on in songs and stories from generation to generation. Their identity, therefore, would continue to exist in the memory of their descendants. Saints, on the contrary, surrendered individuality so as to merge their thoughts and actions with the will of God, expecting to live forever after in union with Him. the hero and saint, to the extent that they dedicated the totality of their psychic energy to an all-encompassing goal that prescribed a coherent pattern of behavior to follow until death, turned their lives into unified flow experiences. Other members of society ordered their own less exalted actions on these outstanding models, providing a less clear, but more or less adequate, meaning to their own lives.

My question Jim and Professor Tim re-phrased:

Do you think that more than one in a million seven-year-olds have a Life's Purpose as described in the above excerpt.

(Anyone who would present a challenge to the working assumption that Richard Brodie's definition of purpose matches that of Mihalyi Csikszentmihanlyi in his book "Flow" would do well to scrutinize the index of their copy of "Virus of the Mind.")

Here's my impression of the debate so far:

Jim: Many seven-year-olds employ a style of thinking that is indistinguishable from what Richard describes as L3 thinking.

Richard: Central to L3 thinking is having a Life's Purpose.

Jim: A kid who still believes in Santa Claus after his friends have relinquished that belief meets the Brodie definition of L3.

KMO: No s/he doesn't. The relevant definition of Life's Purpose is something far more sophisticated than most young children can sustain.

Prof. Tim: "And it seems an equally big stretch to hold that the "life's purpose" of a seven year-old is anything less than completely transparent," which I find a bit cryptic but take to mean that we old folks just don't know what we're talking about when we expound on the psychology of children because when we "remember" our childhoods we tend to project our adult psychologies back into our childhood bodies, and that a seven-year-old's belief in the existence of Santa Claus DOES constitute a Life's Purpose in the L3-relevant sense.

(That last clause is implicit only in as much as the Prof.'s rejoinder constitutes an objection to my claim that the typical seven-year-old is not sufficiently experienced or psychologically sophisticated enough to have a Life's Purpose in the relevant sense. I could well imagine that the Prof. didn't intend to champion so strong a claim. {Remember, a "strong" claim is one that requires more support than a "weak" one. A "weak" claim in this sense is a conservative one.})

KMO: You're right about not having access to our childhood psychologies, but a child's belief in Santa Claus does is not equivalent to an "all-encompassing goal that prescribed a coherent pattern of behavior to follow until death," which is what Life's Purpose means in the context of this discussion.

I honestly don't have much memory of being 7 years old, but I've got a pretty good memory of being 17 years old despite liberal doses of memory-cleansing alcohol, and I'm pretty sure that I didn't have much in the way of a Life's Purpose at that time. The end of high school was still over a year away, and in those days, a year was still a virtual eternity. I had ambition as a teenager, but I was 25 when I first started thinking about what I wanted to make of my LIFE.

I can certainly wrap my mind around the idea that, by age 7, most people have not received a clear enough picture of the conceptual model to which they will eventually commit their belief (and to the articulators of which they will hand control of significant portions of their resources and autonomy) to appear even nominally consistent in their thinking. Before the model that will later form their level 2 truths is fully installed, kids may well mix styles of thinking that their L2 parents would abhor for their seeming contradictions.

It does not follow that an adult who recognizes when automatic adherence to a conceptual framework robs her of her autonomy and makes her subservient to and dependent upon forces she neither loves nor respects has reverted to the style of thinking she employed as a seven-year-old.



Following the passage from Flow that I quoted, Dr. C reports on the three levels of human culture as articulated by Pitrim Sorokin. They are sensate, ideational and idealistic.

"Sensate cultures are integrated around views of reality designed to satisfy the senses. (...) They tend to identify the good with what feels good and mistrust idealized values.

"Ideational cultures... look down on the tangible and strive for nonmaterial, supernatural ends. They emphasize abstract principles, asceticism, and transcendence of material concerns. Art, religion, philosophy, and the justification of everyday behavior tend to be subordinated to the realization of this spiritual order. [Big Snip]"

"Occasionally a culture succeeds in integrating these two dialectically opposed principles into a convincing whole that preserves the advantages of both, while neutralizing the disadvantages of each. Sorokin calls these cultures "idealistic." They combine an acceptance of concrete sensory experience with a reverence for spiritual ends. (...) Needless to say, the idealistic solution seems to be the preferable one, as it avoids the listlessness that is often the keynote of purely materialistic worldviews and the fanatical asceticism that bedevils many ideational systems."

(KMO would direct the reader's attention to the next sentence as being of KEY IMPORTANCE to this whole ridiculous "Brodie-Level 3" conflict) "Sorokin's simple trichotomy is a debatable method of categorizing cultures, but it is useful in illustrating some of the principles by which men and women end up ordering their ultimate goals."

Tim Rhodes wrote:

> KMO wrote:
> >It seems a pretty big stretch to fit the skin of belief in Santa Claus
> >around the skeleton of Life's Purpose.
> And it seems an equally big strech to hold that the "life's purpose" of a
> seven year-old is anything less than completely transparent.
> "The old men, who can see childhood only through their aged eyes, so seldom
> see it at all."
> -Prof. Tim