(Inspired by questions posed by Catastrophe Jones in her LiveJournal, and adapted from my subsequent comments.)
We live in a world very much a victim of its own societal norms, often ostracizing or punishing those who deviate from the same. And yet, we understand so little about the brain hardware and psyche software that surely any attempts to assert exactly what goes on in there must be taken with a giant salt lick.
What IS sanity, really?
Given that the very definition of ‘sanity’ must be a state within an arbitrary level of deviation from an arbitrary norm, it stands to reason that the people with the most ‘middling’ psychological state will also be those who most strongly conform to the societal standards – as such, the people most likely to opt for mainstream art, music and fashion, since they are precisely the people to whom it is marketed. They are the ones most likely to enjoy reality television, most likely to hold moderate opinions in matters of politics and religion.
Of course, sanity is hardly a line on a chart, nor even a region of a scatter plot. Different forms of deviation from the arbitrary norm are invariably going to manifest in one of three forms – a concordant form, in which the esthetic and lifestyle choices follow the pattern of supposed “deviation” (hence the more radical movements which dot our history); a discordant form, in which it fights against the “deviation” (as evidenced by the pathological need for conformity displayed by some individuals); and an anarchic form, in which it bears no relation to the “deviation”.
The polarization of psychological ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ is inherently destructive, both for those who try to push against their ‘weird’ element and be normal or indeed those who revel in nonconformity and thus try to accentuate that ‘weird’ element at the expense of normal. That second example is the reason we see the subculture and counterculture groups we do, and also the reason for the ironic fact that within any given subculture or counterculture there is just as much conformity as outside it. If you don’t believe me, hang out at Hot Topic for an hour or so. Ultimately, the only way to break free of either trap is to be oneself, and not give a flying fuck about where you fall on any arbitrary spectrum.
Breaking out of this societally imposed reality tunnel also sheds some light on discussion of both religion and magic; I believe that there has long been a mindset whereby people lump together everything they don’t understand and call it magic, as though having a label for it somehow makes it fit more easily into their limited worldview. Other people, for perhaps an even longer time, have been doing the same thing but instead labeling it ‘God’. Some have had the lamentable notion of putting the things they like under one label and the things they don’t under the other, leading to a plethora of tragedies throughout history.
I feel this view is generally decreasing – science, though in some ways still in its infancy compared to magic/religion, has shown that many phenomena do in fact have a rational explanation, hitherto undiscovered. There may indeed be a supreme entity, or at least higher entities, behind some of the weirder shit that goes on – goodness knows evolutionary theory tends to start gibbering when faced with the platypus – but we are more aware than we once were of the “magic” of magnetic fields and nitrogen cycles and dielectric gaps and the other scientific things which make the world as awesome as it is.
In practice, though, every answer brings with it at least two further questions – often “why” and “how”. Modern magic is more about making the “why” be your own will and the “how” be your knowledge. As such, just as you suggest, the wonder is lost. Here’s the thing, though – when you as a magician are becoming the how and why of any given phenomenon, you aren’t using the phenomenon so much as supplanting it. Perhaps when you take yourself back out of the equation, you do so with a better understanding of what kind of forces are conspiring to cause the phenomenon when you’re not there. This is science, magic, religion, all rolled into one tasty meta-burrito.
Now, part of the reason magic rushes in where science fears to tread is that magic will not restrict itself to the phenomena which make sense – magic can work against the logical thread of physics just as well as it can work with it, or in its own way (concordant, discordant, anarchic – notice a theme?). However, working with the forces supplied by Nature is inevitably easier than working against them, and requires a greater exercise of will. It also requires sufficient cognitive flexibility as to be able to sustain belief in the desired outcome rather than in the assertions of science. This cognitive flexibility is, of course, antithetical to standard definitions of ‘sanity’.
I have proposed a number of times, and continue to suggest, that all entities capable of cognition are indeed part of a greater whole, wherein each of these individual instances of psyche is a vector in a massive reality matrix. The sum total of said matrix is the observable reality of which we all speak, and in which we all interact. Because we retain our individual mental set, we are able to disagree on many matters, especially when it comes to such complex vectors as morality, but we are nonetheless joined by this matrix. Magic – and indeed miracle, for the religious – is what occurs when one such psyche is endowed with sufficient will as to allow its vector to exert greater influence on the mathematical whole of the reality matrix. This influence leads to an observable phenomenon which, once observed, is then believed by others, and therefore leads to a paradigm shift in observable reality as more and more individual psyches also incorporate it into their own mental sets.
(It should be noted that this approach calls for some sort of baseline; an n-dimensional reality matrix does not hop into being all on its own. There may be a small but fundamental set of “core” laws of physics which underlie all of this. It may be the will of God, or of the planet itself, or of another still-unknown agency.)
This form of influence by will has become more difficult to bring forth in the modern era precisely because we are all so interconnected in other ways. A magician in the 1500s only had to exert sufficient will to overcome the mental sets of those nearby in order to accomplish many of his or her works, whereas a 21st century magician must be able to exert so much will into the matrix as to be able to overcome a great many more mental sets.
This is also true of our emotional states and desires – more than simply the interaction of id and superego, we have each other’s mental sets to contend with, and that causes struggle as we seek a way to match our individual state to that of another person without disturbing the surrounding whole enough that anything becomes unbalanced. The Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is therefore perhaps better expressed as “you get out of the reality matrix what you put into the reality matrix” – if your movements within it are helpful to another, then they will generally be more inclined to return the favor. If you are instead obstructive to another, there will likely be strife in both directions. Ergo, it is logical to make your contribution as positive as can be, or at least not harmful (concordant or anarchic rather than discordant).
It also seems to me that the summed vectors of individual psyches can have profound effects. If you and I both find that the sum of our contributions is positive (not numerically but in terms of appeal), this is then a scientific basis for friendship, or even love. If we find the sum negative, we will be predisposed to mutual antipathy. And if one of us finds it positive and the other not, therein lies the potential for frustration and heartbreak such as that of unrequited love. But enough of sadness.
I would love to hear feedback on this, as the notion of the reality matrix has been kicking around in my head for a few years now.