Call for Abstracts for an edited collection of original and innovative essays. Mind Over Matter: Philosophical Essays on Self-Confidence and the Spiritual Dimension of Achievement
Edited by Roderick Nicholls and Heather Salazar
Mind Over Matter aims to present an innovative, interdisciplinary, and rigorous philosophical analysis of the value of the self-confidence and the spiritual dimension of human achievement. Creative, scientific, artistic, intellectual and athletic achievements provide some of the diverse disciplines of achievement analyzed. The editors seek original philosophical contributions that challenge assumptions that productivity is wholly explicable through physical traits and the assertion of effort and instead show how faith, self-confidence and achievement can be ameliorated through mental and spiritual devotion or practice. Submit a 750 word abstract and brief CV to Rod Nicholls, editor of Philosophy & Religion, Brill/Rodopi Value Inquiry Book Series at Rod_Nicholls@cbu.ca by January 15, 2020. Final papers should be 7,000 to 10,000 words in length and are due September 1, 2020.
Editors are particularly interested in chapters on:
Scientific advancement, the context of invention, and paradigm shifts
Kant and the influence of spirituality on his thought
Empiricism and non-foundational epistemology
Mythology and narrative
Carl Jung's use of soul in psychological growth
Native American spirituality
African American spirituality in the face of discrimination
Countless scientists, artists, intellectuals, religious or political leaders, and athletes have defied seemingly unsurpassable limits of human achievement. To overcome the various obstacles defining those limits, they must embody a tremendous confluence of powers that have been cultivated through arduous preparation and training. Accompanying the prolonged moments of achievement, however, is an equally tremendous consciousness of peace – a feeling of ease and complete effortlessness. In break-through accomplishments within a range of human activities, that is, human beings exemplify a striking and somewhat paradoxical state of being in which exhilaration and peace co-exist. This phenomenon deserves the careful attention of contemporary philosophers.
First-hand, participant accounts still tend to be articulated in quite traditional deist, pantheistic, or other religious vocabulary, precisely because those perspectives are designed to accommodate extraordinary experiences. Olympian Ryan Hall, for example, the first US runner to break the one-hour record in a half-marathon, stated that when participating in the activity he had trained for, he felt “easy” and “peaceful” because “God [was] running with me.” In a different context, Plato argued that great aesthetic achievements could not be explained simply by talent and skills (technê) but rather they were the result of divine Eros taking possession of human beings and using them as a means of expression. Einstein claimed that his scientific inventiveness was inspired by, and dependent upon his wonder at the universe conceived in the fashion of Spinoza’s God. In some Indian philosophy, to give one more example, reaching the final stage of enlightenment is often interpreted as a gift from God, a blessing that is impossible to achieve simply through effort.
Yet the central phenomenon is not necessarily religious in nature. At the turn of the 19th century, for instance, Romanticism adapted traditional vocabulary to changing cultural circumstances. This movement valorized the individuality of the literary, visual, or performance artist, for example, because of the unique powers they manifested. On the other hand, iconic figures such as Hölderlin or Blake or Nietzsche (in certain moments) emphasized that certain people were an incarnation of impersonal forces and hence they became a medium of some inspiring source which acted through them involuntarily. Hence they continued to highlight the culminating sense of being involved in the world while at the same time detached from it. This is the state which so intrigued Stanley Cavell when Thoreau claimed that through a conscious effort one may eventually have the experience of “being beside oneself in a sane sense” – an ecstatic experience of being a totally immersed actor and completely impartial spectator. In European Romanticism or American Transcendentalism, therefore, the process was a decidedly creative one, but it culminated in a revelation of what is “real’ or what is the case, simpliciter.
Regardless of whether the vocabulary is religious or non-religious, however, opening these kind of discussions are likely theoretical conversation stoppers for many philosophers (especially in the analytic tradition) who will see frustratingly imprecise explanations which presuppose the existence of an ultimately mysterious Reality. But rather than dismiss the core insight regarding the relevant phenomenon out of hand, it would be more productive to refocus and explore different ways of articulating it. Consider, for instance that post-Kantian philosophy (in both the analytic and continental traditions) has pursued the diverse ways in which human beings, in some very real sense, contribute to and shape the world we inhabit. Wilfred Sellars, to give just one example, argued that even color and shape of objects were influenced systematically not just by psycho-physiological contributions of the subject but by their beliefs and expectations. A straw coming up from a clear glass of water, for instance, would be experienced by most people as straight even though it should surely be perceived as bent by any objective representation. While that might be a relatively trivial example, it does not just suggest the extent to which an expansive web of beliefs, ideas and mental habits shape our cognitive and emotional lives. It also opens the door to examining how our lives can be profoundly reshaped by adjusting existing practices or adopting new ones.
For example, various instruments of faith (including meditation, prayer, visualization, and even some personal mantras and affirmations) just like recommendations of sports psychologists acted upon by elite athletes are known to be efficacious. They demonstrate the plausibility of the assumption that perceived limits of ordinary human capacities can be transcended by concerted effort and focused belief. Though the achievements of some people do appear to rely on the agent’s perception of God’s will or some other metaphysically contested reality, it is reasonable to suggest that breakthrough accomplishments depend on a deep inner confidence or a sustained sense of knowing that existing limits can be transcended. In a sense that must be systematically clarified, this can tentatively be called faith in a non-religious sense. And more generally, the commonly used phrase, “mind over matter” is a helpful ordinary language way to start accounting for situations in which formidable physical limitations are, often unexpectedly, overcome by the exercise of previously unknown mental powers, untapped will-power, or other forms of faith-based power.
The latter terms are philosophically loaded, indeed. Yet using them does not necessarily imply a commitment to some specific theoretical construal, anymore than the phrase “mind over matter” depends on a certain position in the philosophy of mind (dualism, idealism, etc.) Throughout his career, for example, pragmatist philosopher and psychologist William James used similar vocabulary to explore the idea that the lives of ordinary people were diminished not just by material need but by deeply entrenched perceptions that spiritually limited them. Drawing on traditional practices (of Indian Yogis and Christians like Loyola, for instance) and contemporary scientific work (into hypnotism and automatism, for instance) he argued that reservoirs of energy that habitually are not tapped largely because habitually people lack the practical knowledge to push through initial obstructions. Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankel, helped many people deal creatively with suffering – from the horrific to the numbingly mundane – in order to cultivate a sense of meaning and spiritual purpose without recourse to God. Multiple incarnations of Dalai Lamas mediated through oppression and helped millions to heal themselves and their relations through presence and compassion.
This collection aims to provide philosophical analyses of what can be achieved through faith, confidence, and human will in a broadly spiritual sense that does not rely on specific (or, in fact, any) religious doctrines or views. Whether theistic, non-theistic, or atheistic, however, each chapter will focus on a phenomenon which cannot be reduced to the physical or psychological, the aesthetic or scientific, or to any binary opposition.