12. The concept of the whole: answering children’s questions about the meaning of life

(We want to reiterate at this point in the Blog what we said at the start of our first Post: that Posts 1-4 of the Blog are essentially theoretical in nature and set the ground for all subsequent posts. They are intended to be read sequentially. Familiarity with them and the page ‘Summary of Hlatky’s view’ will be assumed in Posts thereafter.)

This Post is a sequel to Post 11. It was written by Hlatky in the 1970s, and the greater part of it is translated here for the first time. It was part of a public exhibition consisting of photos and texts intended to illustrate Hlatky’s hypothesis of the original cause and meaning. The exhibition was organised under the auspices of the group Action to Broaden the Dialogue.

Hlatky had a great interest in the subject of children (they receive 150 mentions, for example, in Understanding Reality). Here he argues the relevance of philosophy for their mental health.

This is our elaboration of the first paragraphs of Hlatky’s text:

Hlatky begins his piece by reiterating that, from the point of view of his hypothesis, consciousness is permanent. It doesn’t simply come into existence with the body. We are permanent conscious parts of the permanent conscious whole (God). We connect to a body at some stage during the growth of the foetus, drawn to a life in creation because of the possibility of meeting there our need for relationship – the experience of mutuality – in relation to like parts similarly connected to a body (and, of course, in relation to God, who expresses himself indirectly through his creation). Neither birth, nor even the foetus, is therefore the start of consciousness or of life.

The crucial change that occurs at birth itself is that the baby emerges into a full experience of God’s creation and can thereby start making sense of life, with the ultimate benefit to it of understanding life and thereby meeting its need for love. This ability after birth to orientate to the external environment contrasts with the gestating baby’s experience in the womb, which is limited and has no external referents to help the gestating baby make sense of that experience. So understanding the whole reality is what birth makes possible and is what drives the baby’s and the child’s mental development from the very start.

The crucial element in child-rearing for Hlatky is to maintain the child’s connection to the external reality, which means avoiding overly encouraging non-reality-based thinking in the child through an over-emphasis on its own creativity. Otherwise one is recreating a central element of the experience of the womb (the fact that there are no external referents in the womb for the baby’s experience) which birth has eliminated. This hampers the natural development of the child’s thinking.

What follows now, along with the rest of the piece, is Hlatky in his own words:

We register early on that stories divorced from reality are much easier for a small child to ‘understand’ than accounts based on real situations. We interpret this as a natural interest, and call it ‘imagination’, which we think must be developed. So without the slightest idea of why we are doing it, or its consequences, we start cramming the child’s mind with stories that take its attention away from its connection to the reality that is in front of it. Instead we establish in its newly awoken mind the arbitrarily governed, law-free reality of day-dreaming. This encourages irresponsible playing with the function that thinking has in life.[1]

In doing this we create a habit of thinking that excludes the resistance and lessons that reality offers us. That means we develop conclusions and values that can never entail the feedback that reality offers. These conclusions and values are thus completely meaningless: they are isolated from the environment in the same way that experience of reality is isolated from the environment in the womb, but in an unnatural and therefore disturbing way.

The concept of the whole is the key

Before language comes into the picture as a guiding factor, the child’s judgement is governed solely by its experience of being alive and the wish to understand everything it comes across. Therefore it is self-evident to the child to judge and experience things as living, independently of whether any particular thing moves or not. So we can understand why they love a worn-out rag-doll without any thought that it is not alive. As for ourselves, we never think about the fact that to have an experience of – that is, to be conscious of – a non-living, dead state, is an impossibility. Nor do we ever think about the fact that our judgement, our conclusion that such a state exists – and consequently the way we experience such a state in our minds – is a consequence of absurd thinking in theoretical opposites, an adherence to an irrational idea that, as modern science now shows us[2], also theoretically goes against what we know.

Children’s unequivocal belief in life is not a charming misunderstanding, but a natural need. It is also an absolute condition for the natural functioning of the capacity for understanding. And by that is meant understanding logically, so that thinking doesn’t develop irreconcilable contradictions. Children are born by Nature to acquire a living connection to the living reality, and they want to understand it and love it unreservedly. That is the meaning of life.

The teaching that the state of death is the alternative to the state of life, and the notion that reality is essentially a dead object unworthy of love, and at best something of interest or an amusing plaything, is a terrible shock for the child, because these ideas are irreconcilable with the child’s original natural consciousness. This shock can be softened, but never cancelled out, either by play (even if in practice play can be ‘great fun’) or by the great excitement experienced in being the best in every possible kind of contest, through outplaying or eliminating others – instead of loving one another.

Without a concept of the living whole, children can never learn to think in an unequivocal, unified way about reality – the truth – or acquire any experience of what an unequivocal love of reality – the truth – is. The original, natural will to understand becomes stalled and suppressed by misleading language before it has got going. And if children develop their judgement about reality on the basis of the idea of the alternative to life, they can never then find a satisfactory answer to life’s original meaning.

The concept of God

All other species have some form of communication by sound, but their ‘language’ is limited to, and governed by, their existential needs. Only humans can think about and talk about the whole reality. So human language has a special purpose (see Post 10). And it can be used for good or bad. In practice this means that language determines whether people’s connection to reality remains healthy or, in an endless number of different ways, becomes unhealthy.

In order to ensure that children’s innate natural wish to understand themselves as being in a living relationship with the living reality does not become disorientated from the outset, and become split in two directions (living/dead), we must introduce the reality-based concept of God into every child’s thinking at the earliest possible stage.

In order for this concept to become, and remain, reality-based, the concept must never become associated with fairy-tales; we should only talk about God’s existence in connection with the two characteristics that every child can understand: cause and love. We should speak of God as the cause of everything that exists when it comes to the mental understanding of what is happening in reality. And we should speak of God’s love when it comes to the emotional understanding of the intent, the meaning of what is happening. And we should refer to the fact that God must unconditionally love, in the same way, everything that exists, because everything belongs to God’s existence.

On the basis of this information each child can then reflect and ask further questions. We should then wait for the child’s questions, merely taking care not to introduce into its thinking any idea that any person has a special position in relation to God’s love, because any such idea can only create confusion based on the inferiority or superiority we experience when we compare ourselves with others.

At what point we should introduce the concept of God can never be a problem, because it cannot happen too soon. The earlier the child can begin to link the information it has to a clear conception of belonging, cause and love, the better.

Love of God’s existence

Apart from having to be connected to reality ourselves when we teach children language, we must keep constant track of what questions they have managed to form a clear conception of, and what concepts are still absent for them or unclear to them. Communication breaks down when we either underestimate or overestimate children’s ability to understand us.

Viewing it like this, we should really not hold to any predefined schemas, but be completely open and sensitive to the child’s questions, bearing constantly in mind that the child has to reconcile and link every new bit of information with previous information, and that this process is disturbed by both too much information and too little. If we are conscious in this way of how the child’s judgement develops, then we should always give a clear answer solely to what the child wants to find out, no more and no less, with the insight in mind that language communication and, with it, understanding one another – mental clarity – is absolutely dependent on the meaning of every concept being completely clear.

This clarity is what gives language communication its health. By contrast, unclear, vague statements are a sign of inadequate, unhealthy communication. The essential thing for preserving mental clarity, however, is the realisation that learning is not an end in itself: it is not a question of a quantity of knowledge that is supposed to find its way into the child’s head. It is Nature’s intention that the brain is only the tool for the heart.

If we are to restore and preserve emotional contact with our children and with one another, what is required of us is that we realise that the biological meaning of thinking and understanding – that is, its natural, original meaning – is to maintain the integrity of this emotional contact, which is an expression of the health of human consciousness. Thinking is only the means; it is not an end in itself. The goal and the value of thinking is emotional health. And this emotional health depends on our deriving a permanent benefit from the full value of life in the form of an undisturbed experience of love: love of our life, love of everything.

Every human life, from morning until night, is inescapably a constant striving for this benefit – the undisturbed experience of love – because that is the meaning of life. But if we are not conscious that we are part of an unbreakable biological togetherness that arises from Nature and exists within the frame of a single existence (God), this striving remains unconscious and therefore disorientated and confused; that is to say, it becomes more and more unhealthy. This mental ill-health is the only way that Nature can create for us ever new feedback material, reminders that prod us towards the insight that it cannot be the meaning of our lives that we should live without consciousness of the meaning of life. […]

Initially, children ask their questions on the basis of their pure human reason, which has not yet been disturbed and which has, corresponding to it, a crystal-clear logic. We spontaneously love this basic attitude in children: it fills us with warmth and feels freeing, beautiful, loveable. We call this attitude children’s innocence, and we envy them their uncomplicated state of simplicity. From the perspective of our own complicated emotional lives, torn apart by thousands of contradictory values, we interpret their ‘innocence’ as ignorance and a lack of experience of life. In fact, this simplicity has nothing to do with any lack. Rather it is an expression of the natural uniform wish to understand, in an undivided love of reality, everything just as it is in reality. […]

It is easy to explain to children that reality is a unity, because all our experiences point us unequivocally towards that assumption. Then every child can quite easily understand that if reality exists as a single cohering unity, it must be invisible to us. This is self-evidently the case with the whole. But it is also self-evidently the case with the parts: we can remind them, for example, that we can never see or get hold of the consciousness of another person; that the only way to come into contact with other people is via what their bodies express and then above all via the capacity for speech, that is, by talking with and understanding one another. If children are given this reminder, they automatically become grounded in their experience of their consciousness as their abstract existence, as their real identity.

The perspective of thinking

It is self-evident to every child at the outset that it is by Nature that people are connected to reality; that it is Nature that sees to it, in a meaningful way, that people are sitting on the Earth, that they are surrounded by other people, animals, plants and stars, that they have ears to hear with, eyes to see with and so on – in other words, that it is because of Nature – life – that everything is as it is. That Mummy and Daddy have a role to play in the situation in which the child finds itself is as self-evident to the child as all other roles are. The question cannot arise for the child as to what would constitute playing a bigger role or a smaller role or no role at all.

This experiencing of their situation without making comparisons is the hallmark of the natural state of human consciousness. It is the basis for the lack of ambiguity in children: their undivided interest in everything, and an unprejudiced wish to understand the whole reality as it is by Nature. It is only when children learn language, and start taking part in people’s explanations and interpretations of reality, that this original, self-evident basic insight of theirs can become distorted. That is because all they generally encounter is a process which they find completely incomprehensible and shocking: that of people constantly setting values on the different roles through making comparisons between them.

They notice that no one is willing to stick up for a discussion based on consciousness of the whole situation of life and of Nature’s role behind these relative roles. But what they cannot yet grasp is that when the wish to understand is based on this comparing of roles, it automatically excludes consciousness of the whole and the wish to think about and understand Nature’s role. That is why the only way they can oppose the generally accepted way of thinking is emotionally. Mentally they are defenceless; they are not adequately equipped to withstand the constant impact on them of language communication. And, without noticing it, they become increasingly drawn into the generally accepted way of thinking, until in the end they are completely absorbed into it. In the meantime they also become completely identified with the general wish to understand via comparing and valuing everything in various ways.

Footnotes:

1. Since Hlatky wrote this, the situation has been made much worse, of course, by first the proliferation of TV channels and then the development of computers and the Internet, so that many children now spend several hours a day in so-called ‘virtual realities’.
2. There is only the study of light in physics, not darkness.

11. The need of children

This Post, by Åse Skeppholm and Philip Booth, the authors of this blog, is intended as an introduction to Post 12, a piece written by Stefan Hlatky and published at the same time. We intend to follow up Post 12 with two or three further Posts, by ourselves, on the subject of children.

  1. Hlatky’s view is that the need of children – and that means of every human being – is to understand the whole reality, because only in that way can they understand themselves and the meaning of their life.
  2. In order to achieve this understanding, a certain kind of thinking is required of us, as discussed in the Introduction to Understanding Reality:

“The reflection that is required of us […] is different from the complicated, intellectual thinking that is promoted by our educational system and that we are so used to today. We need to return to the kind of reflection on our immediate experience that we had as children. It is part of Hlatky’s thesis that children ask all the right questions to arrive at a logical understanding of the original cause of the world around us, but that they generally give up their quest at a certain point because the grown-ups are confused and cannot answer the children’s questions satisfactorily.”

  1. For Hlatky understanding the whole reality means understanding its original cause. This is the original problem of philosophy. The commonly accepted view is that this problem is not solvable or only worth saying something about if you are an expert, be it scientific or religious. And yet children invariably show an interest in the subject, once they have worked their way through more everyday and local examples of cause and effect. In doing this – asking their questions, which, to adults, seem interminable – they represent the hope for the future philosophically, and prevent complete suppression of the subject by the adults.
  2. And yet children’s enquiries about the big questions of life – life’s origin and meaning – often make their parents uneasy. The parents can feel that their answers are inadequate. Or they can feel embarrassed that there is something they don’t understand and can’t explain to their children. Or they can want to pass on answering the questions to others, knowing that the child is likely to regard it as odd that the parents are not clear on the subject. Or the parents may not wish to sound dogmatic by saying anything too definite, particularly about God, feeling uneasy about the basis on which they might state any such belief. Or they may fear being stumped by the child’s fearsome logic.
  3. Or if, by contrast, the parents confidently state an atheistic view, they cannot avoid having to deal with the consequences of that view in the child’s attitude to life – fear of death being the most obvious.
  4. Children set out on their task of understanding reality from the very start of their lives. They do it non-verbally to begin with, but are guided by an unconsciously held view that life is meaningful, and of a piece, and that it is good. This is reinforced by their experience that everything they need is provided for: in terms of their bodily needs, essentially by their parents; and in terms of their principal need – the need for relationship, companionship, love – by the very existence of other people.[1]
  5. Child-rearing, on this view, then becomes a question of keeping this view (which is initially held unconsciously and non-verbally) alive in the child when that view has the chance to become conscious – as it ought to become – through the acquisition of language. (And this is where our last Post, about the function of language, comes in.) It is at this point, obviously, that things can go astray if illogical answers are given to the child’s questions. Hlatky describes this process in Post 12 accompanying this Post.
  6. Child-rearing has come to be seen nowadays as the task of developing each child’s ‘full potential’ while avoiding passing on any psychological ‘hang-ups’ the parents may have. This is based on the view that human beings are basically developable (rather than that we remain basically the same throughout our lives). This view of child-rearing is in stark contrast to Hlatky’s view that the task of the parents – indeed of society as a whole – is to keep alive in the child this felt sense of a meaningful connection to a meaningful, purposeful reality.
  7. The child’s persistent ‘why?’ – implying that everything has an understandable purpose – should give the parents the clue to this orientation in the child. ‘How?’ – the primary question in an atheistic view – is secondary to ‘why?’ for the child. And yet the child is often encouraged towards regarding ‘how?’ as the primary question by parents who feel more comfortable answering ‘how?’ than ‘why?’ So, for example, in answer to the question ‘Why does it snow?’, the technical answer about air temperature and water droplets generally comes more readily to mind – and is actually an answer to the question ‘how?’ – than the answer that it snows when it gets cold in order to provide a covering for the plants to keep them warm. That is an answer that relates to the ‘why?’, the purpose.
  8. But if the parents stick with the why and the child’s search to understand the original cause and meaning, it only remains for them to introduce the word ‘God’, representing the creator of everything – the original cause – in the way that Hlatky suggests in his piece. The idea of a conscious original cause will readily fit the child’s sense that the whole reality is purposeful: that reality must have a conscious being behind it.
  9. The importance of the parents’ – and society’s – task is stated by Hlatky no more strongly than in his article, written in 1976, The Organic View of Unity (Chapter 3 of Understanding Reality) [UR pp.166-7]:

“The belief in life, the belief in the living unity, and the religious thinking linked with that belief, are part of the innate human characteristic that distinguishes us from animals. If human language – the tool that religion uses to answer children’s questions about the meaning of life – is impoverished by having its role restricted to that of making only mechanical descriptions and connections, this will still not get rid of this characteristic. We must realise that the greatest conceivable offence against children is to prevent them from developing their innate feeling for the living unity of existence.

[…] With all their natural questions about life and reality, children constantly try to put a living image together. But the attempt is futile so long as it is the generally accepted practice in upbringing and education to gloss over their questions with a vague reference to the progress of technology. Technology offers only the mass production of data and ‘truths’ that relate to a dead, mechanical view of life. Given such ‘progress’, mental health can only deteriorate with each generation.”

Footnote:

1. Hlatky interprets the infant’s first smile as reflecting its realisation that it has this company that it needs (see also Post 4).