A Psychiatrist’s Mishmash Posing As Psychological Insight
The underlying, unexamined premises of Western psychology are contributing to confusion and alienation in postmodern people everywhere. An essay in Psychology Today, entitled “Making Effective Choices in the Timeless Present Moment,” epitomizes the parlous state of the psychological industry.
In that piece, psychiatrist and life coach Grant Hilary Brenner, author of the groundbreaking treatise, “Making Your Crazy Work For You,” combines discoveries from physics, psychological issues and New Age ideas in a hodgepodge of philosophical speculation and ‘mindfulness’ mediocrity.
For example, Brenner asserts: “In physics, entropy is always increasing, on average, although pockets of order grow; ultimately there is a net loss of order.”
There are no “pockets of order” in nature. Brenner is referring to standard definitions of entropy, namely “the degree of disorder or randomness in a system,” and especially, “the gradual decline into disorder.”
Like time, entropy is a human construct. In actuality, cosmic and terrestrial evolution unfolds from simple to complex forms of order. Entropy, as disorder, does not exist. Humans generate disorder; nature doesn’t. For a psychiatrist to project human disorder onto nature is therefore ironic indeed.
Brenner is even more confusing when he opines: “Perhaps change is more elemental than time. Maybe time is an illusion. If linear, narrative time is at least partly a psychosocial convention, a social construction and consensus reality, then there does not have to be a universe that is billions of years old.” Huh?
This is the kind of nonsense that results from conflating scientific insights into space and time with psychological time. Rather than provide insight, it adds to human confusion and alienation.
Einstein’s insight into the relationship between space and time was that they cannot be separated, because spacetime is actually a single curving movement determined by the mass of an object. The greater the mass, the more space bends and time slows, so that beyond the event horizon of a black hole, where mass is so great that not even light can escape, time ceases and space is theoretically compressed into a singularity.
Conventional thinkers attempt to draw an analogy between the mind-boggling reality of spacetime and our psychological experience of time. But since they are completely different and distinct phenomena, the result is greater bewilderment.
So what is psychological time? It is synonymous with the movement of thought, which is based on separation and memory. In short, thought is time, and time is thought. The universe and nature unfold in creative cycles of life and death, not according to “the arrow of time.”
The illusion of psychological time is a byproduct of the human conceptual ability to mark time, invented by our ancient hominin ancestors, who began measuring time by the movement of the sun.
Though there are many different ways of conceiving and measuring time, the universal mistake that we humans make is to carry over the functional ability to mark time into the psychological realm. Time is the continuity of thought, and thought has produced a global crisis of consciousness. Transformation cannot occur as long as we employ time.
Brenner digs the dark hole of thought and time deeper however by declaring, “Metaphorically, as time and space become interchangeable near a black hole’s event horizon, time transforms into a spatial experience in the present moment.”
The metaphor doesn’t apply, and that isn’t what happens during deeper states of awareness. What happens is that in observing the arising of thoughts and emotions in the present without the infinite regress of the separative observer (which inevitably judges and chooses according to its prejudices and conditioning), one sees through the illusion of time. One has a fundamental insight into the fact that time is totally, not partly, a psychosocial convention.
Brenner really misses the mark when he says, “When immersed in the moment, in a flow state, the linear sense of time often seems at a standstill or even stops existing. The moment is ‘timeless’, part static and part ever-changing.”
That sounds reasonable, and is imbued with the ring of authority by his position as a psychiatrist. But by conflating scientific insights into spacetime and the functional construct of time with the illusion of psychological time, and saying that timelessness is the appearance of a standstill, Brenner impedes the ending of psychological time.
“If you can hold the moment as the frame,” Brenner maintains, “then you can move your attention around in the flow of the moment and understand yourself deeply thereby.”
That isn’t the way it works at all. The moment is not a frame; time is the frame, the prison that we live in and resign to as humans.
Freedom is in the ending of time, which comes with the spontaneous cessation of thought in undivided and non-directed attentiveness. After the senses become attuned to your environment in a relatively quiet spot in nature, experiment with meditation by sitting quietly and asking yourself, is the observer operating?
Though there is no correlation, thought and time are as inextricable psychologically, as time and space are physically.
So who or what “moves your attention around in the flow of the moment?” That’s a mistaken question, since it stems from the fundamental psychological error at the root of the human condition (not to mention the unexamined premise of Western psychology).
The illusion of the separate observer gives rise to the illusion of the separate self, and the self in turn gives rise to the ego. Passive watchfulness allows awareness to grow quicker than the infinite regress of psychological separation of the observer. Non-directed attention grows, completely quieting thought and bringing wholeness and expansion to the mind and heart.
Brenner concludes on a false note: “The way we pay attention, what we pay attention to, and how we pay attention, the fleeting ability to make a conscious decision before the moment slips by—that is all the power we ever have.”
That is deeply false. Attention is not directed by the self, but gathered through choiceless awareness. Inclusive, undirected attention doesn’t enhance our “power to make conscious decisions in the fleeting moment;” it frees us from the prison of thought-time. Right action flows from insight and clarity, not from any kind of power and conscious decision.
Freedom lies in leaving the polluted stream of thought-time, even for a short, timeless period. The brain is then bathed in beauty, insight, wholeness and holiness. That is our true birthright as human beings.