I wrote this today. I'm posting it here. It's long. I don't expect anyone to read it. But it comforts me to put it somewhere.
Both should be thought of as theories, or as poetry: ideas that articulate one viewpoint as cleanly as possibly, but which recognize the very real possibility that they are incorrect in some article or another. The are written with the aim of negative capability: of persevering in a particular viewpoint while recognizing the possibilities, indeed, likelihood, of others
The subjectivity of the soul (which apprehends nature and is natural) translates itself into a convention of thought, a quasi-lingusitic pattern of motion in the poet’s brain. This then translates itself into a convention of language, commonly known as “poetic style” but encompassing not just how a poet writes but what a poet writes, that is, the words on the page. The convention of language is all the poet can share with the reader. The only direct contact between poet and reader is not direct at all; it occurs through the intermediary of language.
And then, ideally, as the reader unspools the poet’s convention of language, they become infected with the poet’s convention of thought. This has a positive feedback effect (much as the poet’s concretization of his thought in language improves his thought and vice versa), such that the more one thinks like Wordsworth, the more one is able to read and understand Wordsworth, because one is reading in a frame of mind closer and closer to that in which the poem was written. (Obviously this requires a bit of change from poem to poem, as each poem is individual and has different conventions of speech reflecting different conventions of thought. But moving in the right direction is moving in the right direction.)
And, then, one hopes, prays, and falls on the floor to implore God and the muses, it tips. It bounces around in the mind for long enough, gathering speed, that it finally bursts through the boundary separating mind and soul, and suddenly, inconceivably, something of the poet’s soul is in the readers. This is the true aim of poetic composition. All effects and all sublimities are subsidiary to this. The goals is to communicate, from soul to soul through the medium of language.
Much work can be produced from this natural desire, this natural flow of spirit from the poet’s abundance into the reader’s comparative paucity. It is no more than a concentration gradient, the poet’s soul being overcharged with life, life naturally flows from him into others. And as with the concentration gradient of cell respiration, work can be done by siphoning energy off the top. Cell respiration produces ATP. Poetry produces wisdom, clever phrases, new words, expressions that enter the language, impressive rhymes, sublimity, prettiness, etc. But only as a subsidiary of the basic desire to know and be known, without which poetry cannot occur.
Without this desire, without the excess of life in the soul of the poet, there is no purpose in poetry. A poem without longing is like a sterile peacock; no matter how beautiful the tail, the peahen will be no more than a dupe if she mates with sterile cock, for their union produces nothing, and their evolutionary goal is not achieved. Nothing is passed on. Nothing is remembered.
Furthermore, there is a perfect gradient between objective reality and the secret self. Nevertheless, I would like to plant five signposts along the way: the world, the brain, the mind, the soul, and the spirit. I must emphasize, however, that these are but signpoints, like determining that the color red occurs at a certain wavelength of light—the color red occurs at an infinite number of wavelengths, and no one can tell when it begins, and no one can tell when it ends.
First, there is the world. This is totally self-independent. It is objective reality. It is Tintern Abbey in the absence of Wordsworth, as it is at this exact moment in time. The world exists always and only in the present.
When information touches the self, it first goes through the second signpost, the brain. The brain is the gateway between the objective reality and the mind. What can touch the self without going through the brain? Perhaps some spiritual revelations, and yet are not the mind, soul, and spirit prepared for these through the brain as well, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”? The brain processes all sensory input, and makes it available to the mind—information translated from whatever form it occurs in into electrical signals and then finally into the immaterial stuff of thought. The brain can be thought of as the physical record of the interaction between the mind and the objective world; its grooves and folds are shaped by the mind’s conscious decisions (I will remember this; I will repress that) and the input of the world (what one hears, smells, tastes, sees, etc.)
Then, there is the mind, the third signpost I will plant for you. The mind is what we typically think of as “me” although “I” am holistically my body (which exists in objective reality), my brain, my mind, my soul, and my spirit. Nevertheless, the mind is the “thinking thing.” It is my consciousness, what I recognize as me. The mind is what I experience. All change in the body, insofar as it is perceived, is perceived in the mind. All change in the spirit, insofar as it is perceived, is perceived in the mind, and the same for all the other sections, or bands on a spectrum, I delineate. The mind can be affected by changes in the brain, as in consumption of alcohol: a physical change occurs in our brains, which is then manifested in our mental experience. We feel drunk, we experience drunkenness. Emotions as well are experienced in the mind, and reflected in the brain. There is also a positive feedback interaction between the mind and the brain in the case of the emotions, but more about that later.
And yet, despite these physical changes, there is a part of us that does not change. This is the soul. The soul can most easily be defined as that which is not affected by the brain. The mind of a person with cognitive impairment as a result of physical deformity or injury to the brain is not the same as the mind of a person without cognitive impairment. But the soul is the same. The soul is unchanged by physical accident: drugs, proteins, alcohol, DNA, psychiatric treatment. The soul can only be affected by the mind—that is, as a result of mental impairment, the soul may fail to develop, but not directly due to the damage of the brain; rather, it is because the soul has not received certain things from the mind—and yet here nevertheless, we may hold out a prayerful hope for a touch that transcends physicality, a hearing heard in the soul or in the spirit, something that bypasses the injured brain and mind and speaks directly to the innermost man. The soul is the seat of personality and of art. The soul is who we are. It is the seat of our capabilities and potentials and nature, not as they are in a given moment, but as they are for all time, as long as we live. The soul may change, but only through extraordinary life experience and extraordinary experience of art or religion. The soul is not immovable, but it is not the mind, which changes every second, and must respond to the diverse inputs of the brain. The soul is what is stable in the self, the continuity underlying constant change. As the mind changes---from happy to sad, from one opinion to another, from hating a person to loving that person---the soul stays constant. It is the soul that makes us a happy person, an opinionated person, a loving person---qualities that are difficult to change, and only change over time.
Last is the spirit. If the soul is who we are, the spirit is how much we are. How good we are, the extent to which we exist (remembering that being is goodness), and the extent to which we are connected to life, or to death. The spirit is the seat of character, of the ethical self. It is the spirit which religion is to act upon, through the body, through the brain, through the mind, through the soul—it is all to reach the spirit. To connect the spirit, the innermost self to life. To fill the person with life from the inside out. The spirit alone can connect to God, though the soul may be affected, and in a limited way the mind can perceive the movement of God in and relative to the spirit. The spirit is our essence, not of personality, wherein we are diverse, but of character, wherein we all differ only in degree and not in kind. It is the centermost part of us. It is the spirit which hears the “small, still voice” of God, and translates it through the kindness of the Holy Spirit, into the language of the mind. It is the spirit which is brought life by good actions and death by bad ones. It is the spirit which is inspired by love and deadened by hate. It is the spirit which is the ultimate purpose of man, for ultimately the body, the brain, the mind, and the soul are of no use if the spirit is corrupted and empty. The great Shakespearian villains are those men and women overflowing with an abundance of soul and mind, but utterly lacking in spirit. In particular, Iago has killed his spirit, while leaving his soul intact and exploding with fervor—but to no end.
So, these are five points on the gradient between the subject and the object. Farthest from the object is the inscrutable spirit, of which the Word says, “The heart of man is desperately wicked” but also that which is first a “new creation,” that which is “in Christ” though the body is in the world, and which gradually makes its presence known, through a change in the soul, the mind, the brain, and the body. Farthest from the subject is the outside world, clear and knowable, physical, various, and multiform.
I will touch briefly on the positive feedback response between any two segments that are next to one another. When the mind responds to an input received from the brain with sadness, chemicals are produced in the brain to express sadness. These chemicals then reinforce the feeling of sadness in the mind, which causes the brain to produce more chemical, and so on. The two touch one another. Similarly, a change in the spirit can cause a change in the soul, which reinforces the change in the spirit: the spirit may become more, more good, more life, more being, whatever. The soul experiences this in a variety of forms. These forms are known as virtues. One soul, perhaps experiences more life as wisdom. And then this wisdom in the soul produces more life and goodness in the spirit. And so on and so forth. But if the soul becomes selfish or self-absorbed, then life will be leeched out of the spirit, and this bad spirit will infect the soul, making it still more selfish, still more indifferent to others. In this way, one part of the gradient may metaphorically effect one another, although it is not one part affecting another, but a gradient of change, sweeping organically through the spectrum of the self.