Part of the series Perceiving complexity
In the previous article I wrote about some cultural aspects among the populations of Siberian origin and I added that it looks like this awareness of the fluidity of the raw reality beyond the usual scaffolding of the human mental structures has something to do with the Siberian shamanism. The shamanism relies on an immediate psychological experience of the mental structures, unlike the religions the Western society is used to (which are based on the belief in the “reality” of certain mental structure and not much practical awareness of what is beyond it).
The immediate experience and the belief are intertwined in both shamanism and the “typical” religions (“typical” by current Western perceptions), only that the focus is different. The “typical” religions are based on the organization of a cultural system seen as emanating from something transcending, yet reinforcing the human mental structures. The shamanism is based on the expertise of a direct immersing in the raw reality and consequently seeing the human mental structures from the point of view of the raw reality.
The Siberian shamanism seems to be a later development of an initial form of shamanism as attested now among southern populations (Shamanism in Northern and Southern Eurasia, Michael Witzel). The streaks that I presented before are ways to live an organized rational life when you have this increased awareness of the unknown beyond the classical human mental structures. Ebru is closer to the possibilities offered by the Siberian shamanism to actually work with the fluidity of the raw reality, while the suminagashi and the Amerindian streaks are more about organizing a sustainable rational life when you have this awareness. But each of these streaks is interesting and valuable in itself, each of them have their own strong and weak points, it is good to take all of them in consideration to get a deeper understanding of the Siberian mindset.
The perception that made it possible for me to face the fluidity of the raw reality as a rational object of discussion was the moment when I realized in the ebru streak some essential influence from the classical human feminine mindset. That was the moment when I actually noticed the existence of this feminine mindset, unexpectedly distinct from my masculine ways of thinking that I was taking for granted as the default ones until that time. Especially the ebru streak is conducive to this realization, with its possibilities to think rationally in a fluid context.
The classical feminine mindset developed in the long human and prehuman history in a context of a lack of power in taking decisions, of relying on men for orientation in life etc. For example, this song of the Uzbek singer Shahzoda, Ayrilamiz, follows the thoughts of a woman when she is about to leave the apartment for a date. Probably she sensed some uncertainties, however, she feels she is in no position to do something directly about it. Thoughts unfold in her mind about what might happen. First, she sees herself trapped in her nurturing impulses, which may make her lose track of the overall situation and may hurt her badly. She resolves that she will be nurturing, but she will also pay attention to the broad picture of the situation. But then another train of thoughts unfolds. She is afraid that his masculine impulses may take her by surprise, make her lose her composure and then the date would be ruined by the time spent until she is herself again. She resolves that she will pay attention to such impulses in order to catch her unfazed and weather them. Then still another train of thoughts. This time she sees herself arriving at the meeting place, only to see him with another woman. So in the end she decides not to go.
The lyrics are about how the steps she wants to take do not obey her will, how she has to open her eyes and look around as though nothing is visible. The official human mindset is that, if you have a problem, you are going to be proactive and do something about it. Well, historically, this was rather the masculine mindset. There was another point of view going under the radar, in which women did not have the prerogative to act directly and to make decisions. They still had to be proactive if they did not want to end up badly and what they could do was to pay attention to what might happen in contexts where they did not have the power to decide, thus noticing all kind of threads of possible developments of the situation.
The polarization between these two points of view may have had an essential role in the development of the human mental structures. These human mental structures are a world in itself, rather disconnected from the raw reality, with the raw reality seen as an environment destined to be shaped according to them. These structures are very schematic and the unknown left outside of them, in the classical human masculine mindset, is integrated through a fast-track recognition of already existing patterns. The classical feminine mindset had a role in introducing some level of awareness about the unknown left out of the schematic structures.
The women were not in a position to shape the raw reality according to these human mental structures, thus they really had to face it. The mental structures are not of much help in such a context, you have to open your eyes and, quoting the verses of the previous musical example, look around as though nothing in visible. What is “visible” for a human is what he can see through the patterns of his mental structures. The lack of power to shape the raw reality according to the mental structures means that everything is chaos around you. Plus that women historically acted as cushions for the limitations the structures from the minds of the men have in the relation with the raw reality, by attenuating their inner fallacies and also by imbuing freshness to improve them.
One of the striking surprises I had when I realized the existence of the classical feminine point of view was the richness of accumulated experience in dealing with the raw reality and in the ways the mental structures relate to it. In the song Habeit Ya Leil of the Lebanese singer Nawal El Zoghbi, you can see how the tables are turned, the woman is comfortable with the plurality of possibilities of the raw reality and acts according to them. This overwhelms the man who only follows the track of thoughts of his mental structures. These structures are supposed to shape and master the raw reality, but they cannot cope with the expressivity of the woman (which makes the man notice all kind of unexpected aspects of the raw reality beyond the spider web of his mental structures). The man is lost, he cannot master that. This training in paying attention to what is unexpected, what is unknown in the raw reality has its advantages.
The video also shows the classical human female condition, the way the singer has a plurality of mental threads of expressivity and the way these threads are watching in cinema seats how they are projected in the world of the mental structures. Their use of the mental structures is not to employ them to directly shape the raw reality, but rather to pay attention to how her images are projected in the world of these structures. The fact that her raw reality threads can watch in a detached manner these projections enable possibilities to work with the mental structures as… mental structures (not mistaking them for being real, as the official human mindset does).
On the other hand, the fact that they only watch shows how his feminine point of view is seen by women themselves as something marginal to the world of human classical mental structures. The women themselves believe in the feeling of synchronic reality created by the mental structures. So, on the one hand, they see them as just mental structures (but this is only a marginal, informal point of view in their mindset), while, on the other hand, they take them seriously, as if these mental structures were real, the women still rely on the meaning created by the mental structures.
The awareness of the unknown outside the human mental structures is the essential part of the historical need for religions (be they raw reality experiences under the umbrella-term of shamanism or more “typical” religions that uphold a certain cultural system of synchronic values), the relation between the structures and the unknown taking many kinds of aspects and nuances. The specific feminine point of view and its experience in relating to the unknown had a varied role in shaping this variety of approaches to the unknown. Its influence is much more obvious in the shamanic type of direct perception of the raw reality.
In this sense, there is a continuum between the ecstatic possession and shamanism. In an ecstatic possession, the conscious side of the person is taken over by deep psychological features acting as distinct personalities. This plurality of personalities looks a lot like the usual feminine mindset of a plurality of threads (like in the previous example of Nawal El Zoghbi), only that in the moment of possession they express themselves directly, they do not watch themselves in cinema seats, they intervene in the human social life and make demands in the way that historically was only the prerogative of the socially powerful individuals. The ecstatic possession was historically a way for powerless people (mostly women and occasionally also men lacking social power) to directly express things that would have been otherwise difficult to say directly in a socially acceptable manner.
The ecstatic techniques grouped under the umbrella term of shamanism take seriously these deep psychological features, they get professional in relating to them. There is awareness that these features exist, it is not only about some occasional moments of ecstatic possession at the edge of what is considered as the normality of the classical human mental structures. There is method in what the practitioners of shamanism are doing (but you may need to pay attention that these methods may not be emanating from the realm of classical human mental structures), they have agency and organization in the relation with the unconscious side of the human psyche.
To what extent did the accumulated richness of the classical feminine point of view contributed to the evolution of shamanism? To have an idea about this I would need to know more about the non-Siberian types of shamanisms there in the world, maybe in the future I will have time to expand my study in this sense. What I notice at this moment is that the Siberian shamanism is strongly influenced by the classical feminine point of view. This type of shamanism has some specific features recognizable among populations of Siberian origin and in the recent modern history these features were largely responsible for the the public image of the notion of “shamanism”. Later it was remarked that other non-Siberian ecstatic religious practices around the world can have different nuances and aspects and it remains to be clarified what their specific characteristics are and what historical connections they have. In this sense, when applied worldwide, the word “shamanism” is rather an umbrella-term.
I notice that the populations of Siberian origin tend to have a decisive awareness of the unknown outside of the spider web of the human mental structures. This awareness is “decisive” in the sense that the people are decisively conditioned by the existence of this unknown. In the classical human mindset, the people rely on the belief in the web of mental structures, they tend to be clueless about whatever is beyond it, like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The thing in that allegory is that Plato was either clueless about or reluctant to venture into the real potential of the unknown outside the cave. If he had some awareness about that real potential, maybe he registered it as unworthy of attention, as it lacks any rational coherence in the manner of the classical human mental structures.
In this sense, he was not really out of the cave of the classical mental structures to actually venture in the world outside. If you are really out of the cave, it is a very steep learning curve and, especially if you are a man (or a woman too involved in the classical masculine way of thinking), the first reaction is to be mentally paralyzed like the man in the previously mentioned song of Nawal El Zoghbi. Rather than the Sun awaiting you outside to illuminate your mind, it would be necessary some other symbol for the paralyzing raw reality. If you face the real unknown and the endless possibilities of unfoldment of the contexts in time, you cannot make much philosophy in the classical human manner.
The base of the mental consciousness of the Siberian people is rather liquid, it takes in consideration the unknown from a specific Siberian angle (in the absence of a good overall paradigm, I notice in the world a variety of manners to take in consideration the unknown, as there are other cultural angles in the world besides the Siberian one). An angle wide enough to preclude any coherent enlightenment from the perspective of the human classical mental structures (I am rushing to mention this in order to meet the contemporary expectations that such an awareness supposes an magnificent enlightenment).
In fact, historically, this awareness was rather a burden, a weakness for the populations of Siberian origin when relating to the people who are still believing in the “reality” of the classical mental structures. It is something enlightening (kind of… too enlightening) and a step forward that makes a huge qualitative difference, only that it lacks a plateau of a feeling of being coherently in control of the situation, able to serve you as a powerful orientation in the human social life. It is a brave angle, full of valuable long-term consequences, only that it takes a steep learning curve to use this awareness for orientation in social life, it is something that can become magnificently good on a long term.
This Siberian angle of awareness of the unknown makes obvious many fallacies of the spider webs of the classical human mindset, without providing obvious alternative mental tools for orientation. These mental tools simply do not exist at this moment in the psychological repertoire of the humanity. In general, the Siberian cultures stick with the classical human mindset for organizing a social life and they try to make it be in tune with the awareness of the unknown. In this sense, there is a marked preoccupation for the validity of the linguistic expression, for the extent such conveyances of information are really valid from the broader perspective of the raw reality beyond the classical mental structures.
I notice that the languages of the populations of Siberian origin have an increased use of evidentiality embedded in grammar (in linguistics, evidentiality is the indication of the nature of evidence for a statement). An extensive use of grammatical elements that indicate what kind of evidence exists for the respective statement, whether the information has a direct or an indirect source, whether the speaker was a witness or not, whether they perceived the information visually or through other sense, whether the information is a hearsay, a quotation, an inference, or it is assumed as such and so on. There are non-Siberian languages with some level of evidentiality embedded in language, but the Siberian ones appear to have a markedly increased use of this feature. If you study about evidentiality, most of the examples you find tend to be from the languages of Siberian origin, due to their sheer richness in ways to indicate what kind of evidence the statements rely on.
Not only evidentiality, as there is also a variety of other strategies to stay relevant from the point of view of the raw reality. For example, the Japanese language has some usage of evidential features, but most of the energy spent in staying relevant tends to be focused into shaping the discourse in a manner that is not conducive to mire the perception in mental structures disconnected from the liquid perception of the raw reality. It is said that Japanese is an ambiguous language, but probably a better description would be that it just tries not to draw hastily conclusions when there are no structural patterns available to put in words some non-superficial aspects and nuances.
For an outsider who believes in the “reality” of the mental structures (and is oblivious of the nuances perceived through the point of view of the raw reality), when he is spending time among Japanese people, it can be baffling and frustrating to not get a clear idea or a clear answer to what is happening and to keep living with uncertainty right to the very end. See this video of a long-term Australian resident in Japan, Japan. Maybe… I Don’t Really Know (as the prevailing mindset in the world now is Western and in this prevailing framework I am writing this series of articles, maybe this experience of a long-term Western resident can make some mental passage for the general public to what is going on there).
The Japanese tend also to avoid acting as intermediaries in conveying messages from one person to another, as they may not be confident that they get the raw reality level of nuances of the respective message. They prefer to limit themselves to statements like “the person X has something to tell you, you should contact them”. This does not mean that they don’t like to gossip about others, in fact they do it on an industrial scale as some sort of public duty to patrol the health of the social life and in this context they can be very superficial and hasty in drawing conclusions about others. This is an example of the conundrum opened by the awareness of the raw reality beyond the spider web of the classical human mental structures. There is this awareness, but there are not yet mental tools to put in words all the richness beyond the spider webs of concepts in the people’s minds. The people with this awareness just have to continue to make do with what mental tools they have available.
Each culture of Siberian origin has some sort of a modus vivendi with this conundrum. I wrote previously a bit about some streaks I noticed among these populations. Things got even more complicated when some populations began to develop more advanced cultures. In the Americas, before the European conquest, at the advanced Mezoamerican and Andean civilizations it appeared the concept of the succeeding epochs, as a result of periodical breakdowns in the social structure. In general human history, each complex culture with some level of urbanization reached a time when the premises of its social structure that were put to use for some time proved to go in a bad direction or were simply increasingly decrepit.
They crumbled, only to give way after a while to the emergence of new social structures, in some aspects continuing the old ones, but with fresh perspectives and adjustments. At the Amerindian civilizations, such moments when the overall meaning in social life was crumbling revealed too much the earthshaking reality that these human mental structures are… just in the minds of the people, they are not the reality they pretend to be. The fragile modus vivendi between the awareness of the raw reality and the belief in the substance of the mental structures was in shambles. If you don’t have something to rely on mentally, such moments can be very disturbing and frightening. As a result of circumstances that I will detail further on, in the Andean civilization such moments were surpassed smoother, while in the Mezoamerican civilization they were perceived more painfully and abysmally.
The concept of epochs appear in other cultures too, but it can have other nuances. For example, the Indo-European cultures developed the concept of epochs that succeed one after another with an increasingly decrepit social environment (where are the snows of yesteryear?), each new epoch more and more dull and insipid. According to this mindset, the good times of glory and freshness of the mind were in the past, the known history just keeps slouching inertially without much happiness, with the people waiting for a major overhaul to revive the good times of the past golden age.
The mindset of the Amerindian epochs is one of painful improvements and after each crumbling of the meaning in the social structure they recognized subsequently that there were some serious structural glitches in the epochs that fell apart in the past (so it is not at all about past golden ages when everything was so crisp and vivacious). And they were not interested in getting rid of some dullness in their current epoch, on the contrary, they became obsessed with not letting disintegrate the belief that the current social structure is meaningful.
The contact with the Europeans translated into a generalized breakdown of meaning in social life for all Amerindian societies. The role of the diseases and of the technological disparity is emphasized as decisive in facilitating the ridiculously unbalanced feats of those times, with bands of just a few hundred Spaniard adventurers conquering complex political structures comprising millions of people and huge armies. These two factors had indeed a big role in such unexpected successes, but I should also draw attention to the psychological disparity between the Europeans and Amerindians, with crippling effects for the latter.
Time and again, the Amerindians appeared too credulous, naive, lacking basic smartness by European standards, not being able to sense basic deceptiveness, not even occurring in their minds that other people might not play by the official rules of the human mental structures. And then how easily their social structures crumbled when they were affected by the European unprincipial use of human mental tools, how fragile their societies proved to be.