Perfect Incompleteness: An Abyss of Possibilities

A struggle against time

No matter how much hustle and bustle we may engage in, we are never fully done, never fully satisfied, never fully fulfilled with anything. So much more remains to be done, to be experienced, to be learned. The peculiarity of the matter is that the more we do, the more remains to be done. Inevitably, we cannot help but feel as if nature has shortchanged us on time. Consequently, we strive to overcome this phenomenon, from the mere use of machines to increase the speed at which we do things; productivity it is said, to the unworldly task of seeking immortality, by any means necessary. As if by merely breaking the bounds of time we could for once be able to do all that needed doing.

But could that ever be a possibility were humans to achieve immortality? Can a human be completely fulfilled, happy, done, complete, once and for all, so that there would be nothing left for them to do? And what would one do with time hence? What would a human do today if they were to be relieved from involvement in any activity? I have never met a person who was still, complete and done, how would I have looked him in the face? Humans beings, one may argue, if they were to always enjoy complete happiness, would be without will, desire, or action. A god, it may be had, could be eternally done, happy and complete, with a 6 day work, even though on a closer look, it appears they are eternally busy taking note and orchestrating outcomes.

Todo into infinity

For humans, no end appears unto what needs doing. The experiences that an individual may be interested in are infinite in possibility, each unique, and distinctive that none can ever satisfy one’s quest completely. One cannot listen to a song and have their musical experience satisfied forever. No narrative – song, poem, story – can ever capture the essence of the human experience completely. Not one can even come close. Each, however, is unique, uncomparable to another, a possibility in the innumerous, intriguing, as long as it opens up a new horizon, shows us something new, anew, or leaves one in awe by raising more questions than it answers. Thus, in doing something, we transcend our boundaries of experience, open up new horizons of experience and thus we are left with more things to do.

Self actualization

In that regard, we are in perfect incompleteness. Perfect because were we to completely understand the nature of our being, of our experiences, were we to be in perfect completeness, were everything to be intelligible to us, we would aspire not to do anything. Perfect because this is the manner in which the self grows. Perfect incompleteness is not a phenomenon to be overcome. It is what defines us. Carse suggested that it is “the state of endless change from which nothing and no one [can] ever escape.” [3] There is no waking up on a given day to find that one is completely in the know, or fulfilled or done! One has to learn continuously, where every new lesson reveals more – countless – things to be learned. It is but the signature of being human as Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi indicated in their concepts of Self Actualization and Flow respectively.

Maslow described self actualization as a desire to become more and more of what one is capable of becoming. According to him, a self actualizing individual is in the process of growth; attaining complexity in their dimensions and capacities which in turn leaves them capable of attaining even more complexity, growth. Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi suggested that fundamentally, there is no limit to the growth implied; the attainment of growth simply opens new horizons for growth. The perceived bounds of time, appear as markers of growth and complexity. After all, no growth is timeless. Death could thus be defined as the absolute lack of growth, sickness as a symptom of growth or the process thereof, in one form or another, negatively affected.

Fundamentally, it is this state of perfect incompleteness that leaves us with the desire and motivation to become more and more of what we are capable. Our boundaries of experiences are an abyss of possibilities. Inexhaustible. There is no one human experience in its measure fullest. Everything about the human experience is implicated by perfect incompleteness. Regarding spirituality, Paul wrote that we are to be in a perpetual growth from one degree of glory to another, but never to attain perfect glory. He further suggested a poetic source of this growth and a perfection unto which it aspires: “As all of us reflect the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, we are becoming more like him with ever-increasing glory by the Lord’s Spirit.” (ISV) The unintelligibility of the phenomenon is better expressed thus, since attempts to raise facts of imagination to be facts of knowledge or understanding are abandoned. It is poetry; a discourse that says nothing and is not about anything [2].

By definition, heaven is a place, or a state, of perfect completeness and happiness. As a state, it is the transcendental phenomenon that Maslow referred to as a peak experience undergone when one attains the growth implied in self actualization. According to him, the experience is characterized by “feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one was before, the feeling of great ecstasy, wonder and awe, the loss of placing time and space […].” Storr in Solitude: a return to the self, wrote that happiness or complete fulfilment, is the transient but transcendental experience undergone when one falls in love, makes a discovery or is surprised by joy; where they feel at once with the universe. Heaven, the state as implied (of complete fulfillment, happiness, great ecstasy, unlimited by time and space and oneness with the universe), is within our reach. Having the state within reach, we need not worry about the place. We can go there every now and then. We need not break the bounds of time or space to experience completeness for we are unbound by them whenever we experience heaven. As unto what we would do in the place, forever unbounded by time and space, we can only wonder. That alone may bring it to us, but only as an experience. Maslow noted the following phenomena – as used in other fields – as being synonymous with the peak experience: the creative experience, the esthetic experience, the lover experience, the insight experience, the orgasmic experience, and the mystic experience.

In another way, growth implies a letting go of whatever does not nurture further growth. It is an inherent process that the human body engages in when it rids itself of old cell in order to keep growing. By learning new habits for doing something better, one abandons old habits and in so doing is poised to further streamline their habits. What of property? Inherently, it takes up our time and space, both mental and physical. Unavoidably then, it exacerbates our feeling of being short of time, leave alone space. We might even stumble upon, if not get lost in, it, on our way to experiencing heaven. And although we may have killed the messenger, we may nonetheless consider the message. The experience of heaven is an inexhaustible wealth, which can neither be stolen nor destroyed by pests (Matthew 6:19-20). In our pursuit for a heavenly experience, it spares us not of extreme makeovers: “If your right eye causes you to stumble [to forfeit growth; happiness], gouge it out and throw it away.” It is better for you to lose one part of your body than to experience hell (Matthew 5: 29-30).  

Human epitome, an abyss

The highest potential attainable by a human is an abyss, unbounded. Achievements made by others in the past, are neither indicators of human epitome, nor can they even be said to be the highest potentials for the respective individuals. How could we know? As if we could breakdown a human into parts intelligible both in composition and capability. It is a  humbling fact that being human is unintelligible [2]. As unto life – what comes into being without a discernible precedence, or comes to an stop without remainder – science, Carse argued, has nothing to say and thus must remain mute! [2]  According to him, even the seemingly simple task of describing a human eludes us; we can neither say what a human is nor define it [2]. As tempting as it may be to consider differences or similarities, comparison at base, he noted, is not identity. In Critique of everyday life (Vol. 2), Lefebvre wrote that pedagogic illusion is twofold: “on the one hand, a fetishism of the partial, and thus of the fragmentary and the specialized, an acceptance of fragmentation and a dismissal of totality; on the other hand, a fetishism of the total, an equalizing of differences, a superficial encyclopedism, and a belief in the complete mastery of pedagogy and human knowledge over ‘human nature’.”

A fundamental principle of observation, and definition implied therein as pointed out by Heisenberg is that it affects the respective phenomenon. An observation not only attempts to stop nature in its tracks but also requires it to respond to how it is being observed. Leave alone the fact that whatever eludes nomenclature appears non-existent; it is neither defined nor measured [3]. What is observed hence is not nature as it is in itself but nature as forced to respond to the manner in which it is observed. A pure, holistic observation cannot be made given that an observation interferes with the observed phenomenon. Moreover, whatever is observed affects and is affected by what is not. A valid and reliable observation of a phenomenon largely mechanical may nonetheless be possible. It is a different story altogether when the phenomenon of interest is everything but mechanical. Given that intelligence is not a thing but a highly abstracted idea, there is no encompassing it in definition, leave alone in measurement. It is no surprise that Postman in Technopoly: surrender of culture to technology concluded that it is impossible to say what intelligence tests measure, how far to compute the measures obtained or what the result signifies about intelligence. The uncharacteristic but sobering implication being that there is a limit to knowing [2].

A dream like the American

Perfect incompleteness however, appears not to be a phenomenon we are prepared for. Contemporary thought has it that we can be complete and live happily ever after, were we to achieve a given set of things, a status or play a certain role. As if the epitome of human growth and completeness were for once intelligible to some institution or technical apparatus which had hence derived a formula through which that epitome could be universally achieved. It is error on our part not to recognize the fact of imagination taken as a fact of understanding, when we establish our lives along such figments. Our knowing takes the appearance of complete ignorance: we assume we know everything, rather than of learned ignorance: we know what we know but do not know what we do not know [2].

The fulfillment implied in self actualization suggests a growth in human dimensions and capacities, not an accumulation of various possessions or the attainment of a given status or role as dreams would have us believe. The conundrum is summed proper in question: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Evidently, the acquisition or the mere possession of some object is not equatable to self actualization. The object is neither a compensation for the growth foregone whilst engaged in its acquisition, nor can it even be considered a consolation. The two are incompatible. The growth and the preparation thereof, are not only unintelligible, but also of a nature indifferent, irreducible and irreplaceable with material objects. It takes a dream for one to equate the two and no institution lulls us proper to that dream better than advertising.

According to Carse, our struggle in life is inherently a struggle against our nature of being perfectly incomplete [3]. It is a phenomenon well embodied in various societal practices including schooling where for instance, after the attainment of some certification, an intellectual completeness is largely assumed. Pecuniary culture reinforces the idea that completeness is attainable either in the acquisition, or else, in the expenditure of money. The possession of money is more often than not mistakenly equated to completeness. In fact, popular belief has it that one can attain completeness by having in one’s possession money or property, so that one no longer has to work, as it were. To be engaged in work, or to lack money or property, are thus largely assumed to be indicators of incompleteness in oneself. To appear, but not to be, complete thus, one is obliged to possess and to consume as Veblen went at lengths to suggest in The theory of the leisure class. As it may be had, our diligence will fall short to that of animals. A camel, it is written, will achieve the inconceivable task of going through the eye of a needle, with ease too, than a propertied individual will experience heaven. Apparently, property is a drag to experiencing heaven: happiness and complete fulfillment, unbound by time and space and as one with the universe.

Eden, the alleged curse

It may be had that we have been put here to work, in, and take care of, a garden. And work, it is supplied, we must, for only by the sweat of our brow may we eat. It may further be had that we come short of understanding the implied duty, for various reasons including that we barely have access to a garden, and for once, can eat by the toil of machines. If we were to think of the planet as the garden, then our tilling has been an abomination and inimical to natural spontaneity and growth. If there is a curse anywhere, that might be it.

According to Carse, garden is a place where growth happens, a place of infinite possibilities, a place of maximum spontaneity [4]. It is not a bounded plot that one lives beside, but a garden that one lives within. To be human, is to be a garden. For Carse, to garden is not to engage in a hobby or an amusement but to prepare oneself for the highest potential range of growth. The human purpose, as it were, is to prepare oneself for, and to, attain the highest possible range of growth.

As unto the form and magnitude of gardening we may need to do, we may take note of what in Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, Csikszentmihalyi wrote regarding happiness. “Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command […] Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person […] It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness.” The indifference of happiness, to the material world is clearly implied. It cannot even be bought or stored for a rainy day. If a desert is a garden in which no growth takes place, then in forfeiting growth and the pursuit for happiness as implied, one’s garden becomes void of growth. To borrow from an unlikely source, if one loses the habit of exertion at tilling their garden, they are at potential of becoming as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become (Adam Smith). In such cases, one need not worry about experiencing hell. If they are not there, they are on their way proper.

 

Notes:

  1. Ngua, k. (2017). The human purpose: design for optimal engagement
  2. The god particle: in human and machine
  3. Carse, J. P. (1994). Breakfast at the victory: The mysticism of ordinary experience. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.
  4. Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and infinite games.

 

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