It’s relatively early in the quest, and already I find myself overwhelmed by certain concepts, ideas, truths, points that are forcing this “instinctive” compass off north, into uncharted places where compasses do no good. I had every intention of approaching this logically, laying a foundation upon which I could ease my way into complex ideas. But I am faced with this concept that is giving me a headache and my sense of direction and focus is dwindling. I often tell my students not to use a word to define itself, and I recognize the value in this concept. It forces them to use words they know to explain the word in question, which is appropriate and acceptable when dealing with synonyms or even connotative definitions.
But it doesn’t work here.
This concept of virtus dormitiva forced me to think about things that I literally want to shut my eyes to and hope one day it makes some kind of sense. Why do we feel the need to be spiritual? Why am I doing this? Why is something funny? “Because we do/because I am/because it is” are not good enough answers. You cannot define a concept with itself. Dennett uses humor as the most basic example to drive this concept home. Think about why you find something funny. Don’t explain what about it makes it funny. Or do. He made a silly face. But… why is that funny? Because it made me laugh. But why? What in your brain/mind/self/soul (where does it come from?!) told you it was “funny”? And why isn’t everyone’s “funny” the same? Hurts, right?
What’s even more perplexing is that, if you take funny’s sort-of opposite—pain—it can be measured. The pain response is directly related to the stimulus causing the pain, and you can explain its impact on the nerves and so on. Can’t do it with funny. So here’s where I’ve landed. Why do I want to do this? I was comfortable with the idea of this intrinsic drive to explore these ideas. But if I’m exploring consciousness, then I need to be aware of what in me creates this drive. What turns on the spiritual? Can’t be the same for everyone, or we’d all belong to the same belief system. What it is made of? I can’t be spiritual just because I am. Perhaps this is why science and religion never really get along. And if they do somehow exist is some ubiquitous Venn diagram, wouldn’t the answer to this overlap somewhere? It isn’t futile. It can’t be. We have the power to ask the question. There must be an answer.
*An explanation that offers no explanation or clarity. Adopted from Moliere’s La Malade Imaginaire in which a character explains that opium makes people sleepy because of its virtus dormitiva—sleep-producing properties.