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A Reality Reconstruction Project for Man
, June 8, 2006
This paradigm shift in psychological research and thinking (that just happens to update a key element of Freudian psychology) is powerful medicine for both the committed scientist and the layman. It gets five stars each for thoroughness, inventiveness, and the clarity of its exposition.
Building on his equally impressive work in "Wings of Illusion," Schumaker, uses an expanded examination of the process of diassociation, as a way of developing a unified theory of religion, hypnosis and psychopathology. In a research project that can only produce envy in its thoroughness and deft treatment of a very complicated subject, the author has left no stones unturned in bringing his unifying thesis to a resoundingly satisfying and successful climax.
The core thesis of this work is set forth in his "Wings of Illusion" in which the author asserts that as a result of developing greatly amplified intelligence as an evolutionary strategy for dealing with the fear and trauma of often overwhelming disorder and complexity, man began to seek psychological sanctuary in the form of illusion and self-deception.
Following on the heels of Ernest Becker and Otto Rank, Schumaker poses yet again perhaps the most important question for humankind: "On what level of illusion was man meant to live?"
As a way of unraveling this mystery, the author reveals man's primary evolutionary strategy as that of using conscious self-deception to forestall and avoid the unsettling tension-producing aspects of being unable to control and manage disorder.
This purposeful, and strategic use of self-deception - that is, learning to fashion and manage reality to suit our needs (or as the author puts it "this corruption of reality") -- has proven to be a survival enhancing evolutionary move.
The evolutionary process that helped man out of his quandary of being overwhelmed with disorder and complexity came in the form of a capacity for the brain to disassociate itself from itself.
That is to say specifically that the human brain has the capacity to selectively perceive its environment, selectively process information, selectively store memories, selectively disengage from already stored memories, and selectively replace dissociated data with more "user-friendly" data. Put yet another way, the brain can split the mind into distinct but unified submodules.
The primary level of this mind reorganization, for the purpose of reality reconstruction, of course takes place at the level of culture. It is culture that tends to homogenize and normalize people's false conceptions of reality. The reality of the individual is -- to a large extent -- the result of constructions that are fabricated and propagated at the level of culture.
And if culture can be said to be the central bank of this "artificial order creation project," then organized religion is its currency. Only by eliminating competing "real" data from consciousness can the tension between the disorder in reality and the artificial order we create in our heads, be reduced.
Religion, in its attempt to protect us from some of the most perplexing problems of survival -- such as how to deal with unknowns, uncertainty, and most of all death -- does this with a flourish.
Through cultural organization and manipulation, the human brain has evolved in such a way that it is capable of arriving at greater order than it perceives, or that even exists in reality. In distorting reality to create his own artificial order, man lowers dramatically his own criteria and need for accurate reality testing.
In this volume, Schumaker demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that through the mechanism of disassociation, religion and psychopathology are different sides of the same reality re-construction project. Hypnosis, another member of the same family of self-deception is used more or less as the experimental control for testing this thesis.
As religion, hypnosis, and psychopathology are explored, in each other's light, it becomes ever more clear that they are part of a single story, namely, the regulation or corruption of reality.
Schumaker's thesis will be unsettling and disturbing to conventional minds -especially religious ones -- but it is one of few trail-blazing undertakings in psychology that ends in a resounding success. Five stars.