Enchantment

When young, we were all familiar with the enchanted places of fairy tales. Even as adults, we still hear others alluding to some special places in the world as being somehow 'enchanted', which we take to be some kind of metaphor. But what is enchantment? What do people mean when they say that a place is 'enchanted'? As someone who was indoctrinated into a very rationalistic, analytic, even cynical way of relating to reality, I've only come to develop a sense for enchantment later in life. To me, enchantment means many different, yet related things.

Once, while playing a game of chess with an old, very traditional, wooden chess set, I had the sense that the pieces came alive at some point. It coincided with my intuitively sensing (though not really seeing or calculating) a forced mate combination several moves ahead, which assured me of victory. As I begun to play the moves out on the board, the pieces became a living, breathing army, resolutely marching towards their opponents with a harmony, an iridescence, a purposefulness, and a significance that nearly made them glow. It was a brief, elusive experience, but the token fell: That, my friend, was enchantment.

Earlier this spring, the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter were all very close to one another in the lower Western sky. One night, as I was looking at this cosmic alignment against the faint silhouette of my home, they seemed to come alive. It occurred to me at once that they had been right up there, without fail, throughout my life. It was as if they were 'watching over me' from my earliest childhood up until that very moment in time, through every important moment of my life: My first day at school, my first kiss, graduation, first job, wedding, etc.; a kind of forgotten cosmic family of mine. On that night, the celestial bodies became enchanted.

Yet, enchantment is more than that. It also entails a brief ability to see the world through the eyes of another. When seen through the eyes of an insect, a mere bush becomes enchanted: It transforms itself into a forest of unfathomable mystery and uncanniness.


When seen through the eyes of a rabbit, mere shrubs in a shallow depression take on the glow of a city; something akin to a hobbit Shire in Middle-earth; huts, trees, fields and all. (Can you see the rabbits in the pictures below?)


When one is in a particular, undefinable state of mind  when one has the 'eyes of enchantment,' so to say  passages through trees and bushes become gateways into fairyland; a feeling as elusive and hard to catch at work as it is special.


One may say, rather cynically, that it is all in the eyes of the beholder; that there is no such a thing as enchantment, but only one's own idiosyncratic thoughts and emotions when contemplating objective reality. Such a view is as strictly correct as it is naive and irrelevant. After all, all experiences of reality entail an interplay between subject and object. No object  no reality  is ever experienced in or by itself, but its perception is unavoidably a conflation, an amalgamation of the observer with the observed. It is thus true that enchantment exists only in one's mind, in exactly the same way that it is true that all experienced reality, enchanted or not, exists only in one's mind.

As such, enchantment is as real as any reality experienced. And realities not experienced are oxymora...

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. "Yet, enchantment is more than that. It also entails a brief ability to see the world through the eyes of another."

    In your description, enchantment is perception engulfed by empathy. How utterly lovely.

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  2. I have always felt that I somehow viewed the world in a different way (probably more enchanted) as a child. Sometimes I can resurrect a glimpse of that way of viewing things - but only for a moment.

    I suspect that this is not unrelated to your experience. Unlike most physicalists (I guess), I think that way of viewing the world held insights that we lose as we get older.

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  3. I had moments of intense enchantment as a child, playing in my room. At one point, probably age 4, I remember becoming absorbed in the environment of my bedroom and experienced a sense of magical joyous ecstasy. It lasted only a few seconds and it was very disappointing to me as it faded away. I wondered why it had to fade away.

    I think these moments happen when the survival monitoring in the brain (amygdala?) relaxes. This can be induced of course through intense focus (meditation). The question I have is whether there really is a natural qualitative state of consciousness that exists in that charmed state when survival monitoring is dampened (or eradicated at death), or whether it is merely the product of the brain rewarding us with a good feeling when dampened activity in those emotionally negative circuits in the amygdala result in a neurological declaration that all is well. At death people often say something like, "I was that love". Is it a natural qualitative state of consciousness caused by the reduction of brain interference?' What are the neural correlates of that unconditional love?

    But then, even during the death experience people suffer negativity and fear. There is no complete eradication if physically analogous emotional states or impressions. Why?

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    Replies
    1. Personally, I think all states of consciousness are irreducible, existing in and by themselves as ontological primitives. As such, the brain never creates any state of consciousness, negative or positive, but its mechanisms and physiology just select some, and keep out most. Once the brain is out, like at death, then the question becomes whether there are other non-physical selection mechanisms beyond the brain itself, as in a hierarchy of filtering mechanisms. If there is at least another mechanism that is non-physical, one could still talk of personality and specific (selective) states of mind. If there isn't, then unconstrained, oceanic consciousness should be the implication.

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