Quite recently, I came out with an interesting insight after reading some information about Freudian concepts of eros and thanatos, the drive of life and drive towards death. In a broader sense of these two terms, one can consider eros not just as the drive coming from the pleasure or bliss from the flow of extatic sexual energy or life force, but rather as eros-qua-mode-of-perception. Perceiving life or spirit, it means people (or animals, plants, natural cycles), not artificial cultural things (edifices, shops, signs, ads and other distractions of human civilization). More specifically, it means, when walking on the busy street of modern city, one doesn’t see the street as being filled with some moving objects called „people“ that just create obstacles to getting myself quickly from place A to place B, but rather, one sees it as the sphere of several individual human subjects with their own lifeworld, feelings, needs, bodies, etc., co-existing in a common environment called „city“ or here more specifically, the street. The latter mode of perceiving the environment is subject-oriented, which I call eros-qua-mode-of-perception, and such perception favors life (figure) and sidelines the environment (ground), whereas the former is object-oriented, which I call thanatos-qua-mode-of-perception. Such perception mode favors the opposite (material environment as figure) and sets all the people and life as mere noise in the background, usually disturbing the order of the „perfect“, predictable and linearly learnable rules of such mechanistic „machine“ with the „imperfect“ fuzziness of emotions, desires and „irrational“ decisions (of people), or the aperatic (boundless) savagery of the rest of the living nature.
Although Eros and Thanatos considered as these two modes of perception seem opposite, I believe it is possible to perceive the reality in both modes simultaneously, or maybe in such fast attention shifting, that is can be considered as simultaneous anyway. For optimal coping with the reality of life in modern society, it is necessary to do so. For some people, this integration of The living and The non-living to one can occur naturally, for most, good parents and teachers may be indispensable, and for some, such as people with various personality disorders, neither can help to make this integration, which in turn leads to continuing inability to cope healthily with life-as-it-is.
There is a great exercise that can help experience what I mean by these two distinct modes of perception and how deeply such a shift in perception influences the feelings and even behavior from some particular situations. The exercise, best trained at busy street in a city, consists of repetitive conscious shifing of attention from (a) mental aim what-to-do, offers in shops, street sign contents (while perceiving the people just as objects), to (b) focusing on the people around, their faces, appearance, feelings, emotions, interests, needs etc. (while perceiving the street, the city, the signs, ads etc. just as a wallpaper, the set pieces of incidental value compared to the ultimate value of the living subjects themselves). My experience is that the subject-centered (erotic) orientation is the natural source of compassion, while the object-centered (thanatic) orientation is the source of selfishness, intolerance and greed (but also to exact rational, „scientific“ thinking and other great things).
There are some people having extreme difficulty tuning to the subject-oriented perception. In psychological terms, these people can be labeled in various ways:
- having insecure attachment
- having some personality disorder (schizoid, rigid etc.)
- being „introverts“
- being autistic or with Asperger syndrome
While „introvert“ can be considered a neutral term, the rest of the terms are clearly linked to some kind of a pathology, meaning implicitly or explicitly, that there is the comparation to some different state of things, considered as sane, healthy, or just „normal“. However, for various reasons, mainly because things like insecure attachment to the mother from the early childhood, personality structure or autistic disorder are not „repairable“, it is better, as Temple Grandin, a famous autistic scientist points out especially in the biographical film about her life, to accept the view: „We are different, not less“. This is about the acceptation of some difference to the rest of population, and based on this understanding, adapting to this situation of non-uniformity of perception among people.
The key to life is in the balance of these principles.