I'm going to elaborate on this, but I am still going off the top of my head (with the help of some copy/paste). It's going to be a bit long, so settle in with a cup of coffee. But I will even tie it into the smallness of mind theme that started this thread. Sense of Life
Part of the entire problem with sense of life is how to change it. I just reread all the entries on sense of life you posted from Ayn Rand. There is nowhere in them a method for changing, only judging. She claims that sense of life comes from subconscious emotional integration (which I believe might be part of it, but certainly not the whole reason a person is, for example, mostly pessimistic or optimistic).
But can you do anything to change it? Or are you condemned to being a metaphysical loser if you have a bad sense of life?
Here are Rand's own words from your post 74
A sense of life is not a substitute for explicit knowledge. Values which one cannot identify, but merely senses implicitly, are not in one’s control. One cannot tell what they depend on or require, what course of action is needed to gain and/or keep them. One can lose or betray them without knowing it.
So it looks like, to her, you are basically stuck with what you've got, unless you make some kind of heroic effort that not everyone is equipped to do--and I only say that to give Rand the benefit of the doubt.
She did dabble in trying to change some people. She mentioned in her essay "Art and Moral Treason" in The Romantic Manifesto
a Mr. X, whom she helped:
When I saw Mr. X for the first time, I thought that he had the most tragic face I had ever seen: it was not the mark left by some specific tragedy, not the look of a great sorrow, but a look of desolate hopelessness, weariness and resignation that seemed left by the chronic pain of many lifetimes. He was twenty-six years old.
He had a brilliant mind, an outstanding scholastic record in the field of engineering, a promising start in his career—and no energy to move farther. He was paralyzed by so extreme a state of indecision that any sort of choice filled him with anxiety—even the question of moving out of an inconvenient apartment. He was stagnating in a job which he had outgrown and which had become a dull, uninspiring routine. He was so lonely that he had lost the capacity to know it, he had no concept of friendship, and his few attempts at a romantic relationship had ended disastrously—he could not tell why.
At the time I met him, he was undergoing psychotherapy, struggling desperately to discover the causes of his state. There seemed to be no existential cause for it. His childhood had not been happy, but no worse and, in some respects, better than the average childhood. There were no traumatic events in his past, no major shocks, disappointments or frustrations. Yet his frozen impersonality suggested a man who neither felt nor wanted anything any longer. He was like a gray spread of ashes that had never been on fire.
Basically, she showed him, through art, that he had a different sense of life than the one logically implied by the philosophy he had accepted. So the conflict shut him down inside and caused him guilt. Once he became aware of this, he changed his philosophical principles, fixed it, stopped feeling guilty and lived happily ever after. I'm not kidding about the way she presented this, too. Here are her own words about the outcome:
(Ultimately, what saved Mr. X was his commitment to reason; he held reason as an absolute, even if he did not know its full meaning and application; an absolute that survived through the hardest periods he had to endure in his struggle to regain his psychological health—to remark and release the soul he had spent his life negating. Due to his determined perseverance, he won his battle. Today—after quitting his job and taking many calculated risks he is a brilliant success, in a career he loves, and on his way up to an ever-increasing range of achievement. He is still struggling with some remnants of his past errors. But, as a measure of his recovery and of the distance he has traveled, I would suggest that you re-read my opening paragraph before I tell you that I saw a recent snapshot of him which caught him smiling, and of all the characters in Atlas Shrugged the one whom the quality of that smile would suit best is Francisco d'Anconia.)
There are countless cases similar to this...
In other words, he already had a great sense of life. He was already among the superior ones. He merely did not know it and was holding himself back through the wrong philosophy.
There was another "Mr." that Rand helped in the original essay in The Objectivist Newsletter
, but it got cut from the book version.
I shudder to think of the "countless cases similar to this" (her words, not mine). Not the ones Rand helped, but the ones where I believe she essentially condemned the people to having a "death premise" in their sense of life--a flaw they gained by philosophically betraying their minds when they were too young to make any kind of informed choice--and shuffled them off to Branden's psychotherapy as the only chance to fix their broken selves.
However, she described something that is quite true. This is from your quote once again (from "Philosophy And Sense Of Life" in The Romantic Manifesto
A given person’s sense of life is hard to identify conceptually, because it is hard to isolate: it is involved in everything about that person, in his every thought, emotion, action, in his every response, in his every choice and value, in his every spontaneous gesture, in his manner of moving, talking, smiling, in the total of his personality. It is that which makes him a “personality.”
Introspectively, one’s own sense of life is experienced as an absolute and an irreducible primary—as that which one never questions, because the thought of questioning it never arises. Extrospectively, the sense of life of another person strikes one as an immediate, yet undefinable, impression—on very short acquaintance—an impression which often feels like certainty, yet is exasperatingly elusive, if one attempts to verify it.
That part rings true.
But can you change it?
I have looked at this question from so many angles over the years, it's not funny. My intention was not psychology per se
. I wasn't interested in changing people. I was interested in writing fiction. I wanted to know how a person changes from one emotion to another on a small level, and how a big change occurs throughout the book.
I was aware that Rand's characters never change their sense of life. Rand deserves a lot of credit for creating them and keeping the suspense going without such an obstacle to overcome. But having lived through addiction, I knew it was possible to change something fundamental in ones life and I wanted to portray this.
I believe Rand's insistence on and portrayal of a static sense of life is one of the main reasons writers of Objectivist-leaning fiction after her do so poorly. You can easily get away with a total hero or total villain in action stories, but it is much, much harder in philosophy, where the starting point is practically "know thyself" and opening ones mind to inquiry. Sense of Identity
I came up with the sense of identity concept in an essay I wrote, Understanding Addiction
, in 2005. Here are some highlights:
There is one major part of the subconscious that is affected by addiction. It is almost a sense of life issue, but runs parallel to it -- a merging of the addictive substance with the person’s sense of identity. According to Rand (“Philosophy and a Sense of Life,” in The Romantic Manifesto), a sense of life is “a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and existence.” A sense of identity is similar, but it is a pre-conceptual equivalent of the axiom of identity at the personal level, an emotional subconsciously integrated appraisal of who and what a person is in relation to life and existence. I know I just coined this term, but the basic conceptual idea is Ayn Rand’s. These levels are about the deepest ones where a mental event can be perceived.
To illustrate, let us go back to what addiction feels like, the thirst experiment. Thirst is much more than an emotion; it is a basic survival drive. When a living organism needs liquid, thirst arises and lets the mind know about it so that water will be sought. It sets an immediate survival goal. That is how this drive generates an emotion at a very basic level for all conscious beings. For humans, regardless of what a person is doing, regardless of how high-level the conceptual activity is, the “I’m uncomfortable -- must seek water” emotion butts in.
When a person reflects on his nature in terms of sense of identity, he finds it inconceivable to live a lifetime without consuming liquids. Drinking liquids is an essential part of who he is.
. . .
An addict cannot conceive of a future without that addictive substance being a part of his life. The thought of eliminating the substance gives him a panic on a fundamental level that few other values are able to do. The automatic, non-chosen, part of the sense of identity exists to prompt the organism’s survival and general health actions. Any nonessential drive lodged there is an “abnormal condition” and interferes with other organic drives. Not one addictive substance is essential to survival or health, so a need for it has no business being down there.
The subconscious literally gets sick -- the automatic premise/emotion part of sense of identity gets contaminated -- and it needs to be cured.
. . .
The hardest part of curing a sense of identity is that mere good thinking doesn’t change it. A sense of identity premise/emotion requires a great deal of time and specifically directed effort to be excised. Simply realizing and saying that it needs to change is not enough. It constantly returns and pops up in the most varied mental places, causing the most varied rationalizations (after all, it is a premise).
. . .
The fact that a sense of identity premise can be chosen also means that a bad one can be removed by choice and effort.
I remember when I first came aware of this. I was at a doctor's office and he prescribed antibiotics. He then told me I could not drink alcohol during the treatment and I literally had no idea of how to do it. That was simply not who I was. It was like telling me to flap my arms and fly.
I intend to refine my sense of identity concept later in a book where I will delve into human nature, but notice that there is more than a focus difference between what I came up with and what Rand did. I make a point of saying you can change it. The Overton Window
I am beholden to Glenn Beck for bringing this idea into my life. This is basically a method for making incremental change on a fundamental level. You will see the importance of this idea later in this post.
Wikipedia does a pretty good job of explaining it: Overton Window
The Overton window, in political theory, describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on a particular issue. It is named after its originator, Joseph P. Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
. . .
When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable. The degrees of acceptance of public ideas can be described roughly as:
Wikipedia did not do such a good job on explaining how it works. You can get a much better idea of how to use it here: A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window
. Here is an example of the degrees using Overton's original freedom as a standard.
Least government intervention
No government schools
Parents pay for the education they choose
Private and home schools monitored, not regulated
Tuition tax credits
Private and home schooling moderately regulated
Private and home schooling highly regulated: parents pay twice
Home schooling illegal
Private schools illegal
Compulsory indoctrination in government schools
Most government intervention
Basically, the window includes any four of these ideas, but keeps them in order. At the site, there is a cool gadget you can move to highlight the four ideas.
And here is how it works. If, for instance, a person is convinced that home schooling should be illegal, the closest you will be able to discuss something with him and still connect will be to talk about people being able to choose their public schools. That is within the window. If you up up further and talk about things like tuition vouchers, you will not connect with that person and, if you insist, the discussion will eventually become a yelling match or worse.
We see this behavior all the time in discussing philosophy online.
The big takeaway here is that if you get the person focused on choosing public schools as priority instead of making home schooling illegal, you shift the window. Now you can include a discussion of tuition vouchers and he will take you seriously as you move more in the direction of freedom. (The opposite is true, too.)
This approach also works well on the level of personal outlook on life. Reaching by Ten Percent
As you know, I have been studying Internet marketing. This led me to go through a lot of motivation stuff.
One of the most useful concepts I have come across is the ten-percent rule. If you have a skill or positive outlook, you try to improve your efforts by just 10% each day. You try to do just a little bit better, not a whole lot. Adapting the Overton Window as a method, a whole lot better falls outside your window of what is thinkable short-term for your life, but just a little bit better moves you up the scale.
This also works in the opposite direction. which is why motivational people tell you to be careful about who you hang around. If you are really positive and come across a total pessimist, you will not take him seriously and try to get away from him. But if you find a person who goes in the pessimist direction and can communicate with you on your ten-percent level going down--or within your window of what is thinkable--he will suck the spiritual energy right out of you.
As an aside, you don't make fundamental changes to your long-term vision with this method. You merely move toward it or away from it. Vision is another area and I will write about that at another time.
Notice that this is the same method you use for learning a skill. For instance, I became a top-notch trombone player and worked in that field for a few decades. I did not improve from one day to the next. I had to practice each day with the intent of getting just a little bit better. As time went on, I was able to raise my bar of what was thinkable for me to play. As a beginner, I knew I had no chance of playing the trombone solo in Bolero
by Ravel, but later in life, I did that professionally many times.
In tying skill and happiness together, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
came up with the concept of the flow state.
I don't have a quote for what I am about to say off the top of my head since I only heard the following in a lecture, but here goes my summary. (And if I get it wrong, that's on me, but I think I'm right.)
Csíkszentmihályi noticed that people get into the flow state when they get intensely focused on what they are doing. In general, when they have mastered a difficult skill and perform it with a high degree of focus and willingness, this ultimately triggers the state of flow and provides a deep level of medium-to-long-term enjoyment. But one essential component of getting into the groove is the commitment to do the best one can, epitomized by trying to do ones limit and just a little bit better. Not a lot better than ones capacity. Just a little bit.
This is the window idea. The Tone Scale
I have already dealt with this above, but here is how I have seen some people implement it for persuading others. They basically wed the Overton Window concept to it.
Here is a list, but I copied the categories from the Wikipedia article, Tone Scale
, so it is not exactly as I have seen it used. But it's close enough. Note that I have removed the silly point scale Hubbard attributed to it (to make it look "scientific") and I cut off the end points since these generally deal with the afterlife.
I put a line in the middle, This is the crossover point from where a person goes from negative to positive. Or goes from a bad sense of life to a good one.
By applying the window concept, you first determine where a person is at in a general sense. Since these are merely words for states and not descriptions of how the world looks from that angle, you can get a better overview from the work by Ruth Minshull I mentioned earlier. (Here is a PDF version: How to Choose Your People
. You can right click on it and save it to your hard disk.)
The way you use this is to apply the window idea. Woodsmall suggested using three (two up or two down) as the window instead of four.
So, for example, if a person sees the world from the emotional angle of feeling undeserving, you can connect with him and help raise him up if you talk about making amends or dealing with grief. But if you try to talk about profound resentment or maintaining a strong interest in something, you will lose him, unless he temporarily gets into a higher mood.
One of the flexible aspects of this scale is that, although it depicts a "sense of life" level. we all experience mood swings throughout the day, so we can jump up or down quite a ways on the scale for short amounts of time. After that, though, we tend to settle back to the default "tone."
As I mentioned before, I don't think human nature is accurately reflected in this scale, but I do see it strongly in the ball park. From my experience and observation, there is enough that is correct here to be extremely useful in dealing with people.
As a fiction writer, this is a great rule-of-thumb guide on how to have characters interact.
And, if you are into self-improvement, you can set up a program for yourself of trying to move up the scale, adapting it as you see fit. Changing for Good
There is an excellent book called Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward
by James O. Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente. (You can get a PDF overview here: Changing for Good
. Once again, you can right-click the link and save it to your computer.)
Basically, the authors noticed that there are five stages--or five windows (see where I am going with this?)--in the behavior and concerns of people who make long-lasting changes in their lives:
You don't jump over any stage. You have to go through them all for a change to stick.
This is a fascinating and highly effective approach to changing yourself. There are a lot of details, but I won't go deeply into them right now. Leave it to say that this method has been adopted by many, many institutions and people devoted to change, from addiction to politics.
But I am interested here in applying the incremental window idea to this outline.
The easiest way to understand what I am talking about is to look at communication. You can only be in the next highest (or lowest) stage if you want to connect with a person on a deep level.
So, for example, people who are not aware that they have a problem will be able to connect with those who are contemplating it, but will certainly not connect with a person who is doing something about it. If you alter your way of speaking to a person to reflect this, you have a far greater chance of convincing him than you do otherwise.
In talking philosophy, imagine what the implications of this are. If you want to convince, say, a Muslim that suicide bombing or killing those who leave Islam is evil, you first have to figure out if you are talking to a person who is aware that he has a problem. To many of that culture, these things are simply a matter of taking what they have learned on faith. You will not get to him by telling him to do something about it and showing what you do. You must entice him into contemplating first. The best way to do that is to be in the contemplating frame when you talk to him.
I could go on, but I think I have already pointed to a vast horizon well-worth using as a North Star to guide a long journey. Smallness of Mind
Believe it or not, I have only scratched the surface of what I have been looking into, but hopefully you will see what I am driving at.
Briefly stated, I hold that you have to correctly identify something before you can evaluate it rationally. Thus, it is essential to check your sense of identify before even worrying about a sense of life since you can identify what is innate and what has been put there (by yourself or by others).
Next, you have to come up with a method of incremental change if you want to do something about your state--or the state of others. I believe the Overton Window approach is the most useful I have come across, especially if you apply different visions to it depending on what you want to change. You can use it to reach for that extra ten-percent you need to improve and be sure you are going in the right direction.
Now let's look at the smallness of mind Phil complained about.
Doesn't it now seem like this is a problem we can do something about?
Or do we just throw up our hands, presume that people either get it or don't, presume that people have a sense of life they cannot change (or can only change with superhuman effort), and point to the bad guys as some kind of metaphysically given?
Or do we try to do something about it (other than killing bad guys)?
I remember a time when I was in the gutter in São Paulo, doped out of my mind and really, really bitter about the world. One day I looked at myself objectively. I saw that I was not in a very good state--especially not for the task of changing the world. So if I wanted to change the world, I had to start by changing myself.
And that is where I started my climb out of the gutter.
Since then, I found that the great world changers have done precisely that. They started by changing themselves, then they changed the world.
The way to get from being small-minded to "large-minded" is to accept that you need to change. And on this point, I agree--in broad terms--with Rand's sense of life idea. If you learn how to take stock of your soul (sorry, you have to figure out how to do that on your own since Rand doesn't tell you), a sense of life is a good indicator of where you are at spiritually and whether you will be small-minded about certain issues.
But if you want to change (and become "large-minded"), you have to find a method for doing it--a method that works.
On that score, I've just raised some really good ideas to think about.
So congratulations to me. I rock.
(I guess some things never change.