Spinoza’s Ethics: Book V – Of Human Freedom

[10,000 words]

IntroductionBook IBook IIBook IIIBook IV


We’ve finally arrived at the climax of the book!

I won’t keep you waiting any longer — let’s get right to it.

Preface

I pass, finally, to the remaining part of the Ethics, which concerns the means, or way, leading to freedom.

Here, then, I shall treat of the power of reason, showing what it can do against the affects, and what freedom of mind, or blessedness, is.

From this we shall see how much more the wise man can do than the ignorant.

But it does not pertain to this investigation to show how the intellect must be perfected, or in what way the body must be cared for, so that it can perform its function properly. The former is the concern of logic, and the latter of medicine.

Here, then, as I have said, I shall treat only of the power of the mind, or of reason, and shall show, above all, how great its dominion over the affects is, and what kind of dominion it has for restraining and moderating them.

V.Preface.

(Then he disses the Stoics and Descartes for a while.)

In other words: this is the final word on practical psychology.

If you want to get your mind in order otherwise, he says to study logic.
But between us: honestly, skip it — or just stick to the extreme basics. Maybe just read one of those books on ‘critical thinking skills’ and be done with it.
Cus logic has moved on a lot in the last 300 years; if you want to seriously get into it, you’ll be leaving your mind wide open for Cthulu.

If you wish to ignore my advice and get stuck in,
at least make sure you have an exorcist on hand.

As for medicine, I’ll sum it up:

  • Eat nutritious food. Don’t eat too much stuff with too much sugar. Also, please don’t regularly undereat, if possible. Also, definitely don’t break into the kitchen of Muslims and orthodox Jews and eat a pig.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • If anything goes wrong, be in a country with universal healthcare and go to a doctor.
    • (If I’m still alive by the time we all become cyborgs, remind me and I’ll update this bit.)

Alright.

Onto the good stuff.

The first part of this chapter will cover the 5 main things your mind can do to overcome negative emotions.

And with that, you’ll know everything you will ever need to know about how to live this present life.

Congratulations, and you’re welcome.

The second half will cover your prospects for after you die.


The Five Remedies for the Affects

And with this, I have covered all the remedies for the affects, or all that the mind, considered only in itself, can do against the affects. From this it is clear that the power of the mind over the affects consists:

1 – In the knowledge itself of the affects;

2 – In the fact that it separates the affects from the thought of an external cause, which we imagine confusedly;

3 – In the time by which the affections related to things we understand surpass those related to things we conceive confusedly, or in a mutilated way;

4 – In the multiplicity of causes by which affections related to common properties or to God are encouraged;

5 – Finally, in the order by which the mind can order its affects and connect them to one another.

V.P20.S.

So now let’s try and explain what those 5 things might involve.

I. Knowledge of the affects itself

The first thing you can do is simply be aware of the emotion in question.

I’m going to break that down into two aspects:

  1. Bringing the emotion into focus; making it, and not the mental images that accompany it, the object of your awareness
  2. Understanding that particular emotion and how it functions

In our default mode of being, we directly engage with what we perceive as ‘the World’, and the emotions are there in the background, kind of amorphously conditioning how we interact with it.

So the first thing is simply stopping and noticing: “Oh. I’m angry. / I’m sad. / I’m jealous.”

This is a major shift in your mind.
You’ve actually changed your relation towards the world when you do this.

It’s as if your emotion were someone standing behind your back, pressing on your shoulders and hips, driving you this way or that… and now you’ve sidestepped it, and it has stumbled in front of you.
It’s still there… but now you’re in a much less vulnerable position.

You actually have agency over it now.

It is through this move that the mind is able to assert its power.
It gives you a ‘range of motion’ towards events.

It is your capacity to do this determines your degree of freedom.

The less you’re able to do this, the more you’re like a log in the ocean.
The more you’re able to do this, the more you’re like a boat.


I’ll describe it in another way.

When you’re locked into an emotion, you’ll experience reality via its narrative.

“This motherflipper never takes me seriously; he always makes me do the work and then puts me down…”
“This is going to be the worst. I have no idea how I’m going to get through this. I really suck at this; this is one of my weakest points. Why couldn’t literally anyone else do this… …ugh, this is really gonna suck so much…”

It may be more or less valid — but in in either case, it’s not to your advantage. You’re being passive — you’re feeling pain — your wellbeing is in the hands of the thing you’re feeling the strong emotion towards.

And so, over time, you start to notice how these narratives work. You start to understand the tropes. And once you notice that, you can reframe it.

So, rather than “this motherflipper never takes me seriously”, you turn it into “I’m feeling anger.”

Rather than “This is going to be the worst”, you switch to “I’m feeling fear.”

This pulls you out of the headspace you were in; it zooms you out of it, at one degree’s remove.

It’s like the emotions are directors making films for you to watch; once you notice the ‘hand’ of the director in the film, and call them out, you lose immersion in the narrative they’re telling.
What’s a major inconvenience when trying to suspend disbelief in a movie theatre becomes a great advantage when trying to untangle yourself from negative headspaces.


But it’s important to bear in mind that this isn’t easy.

The more intense and painful and complex the emotion, the more difficult it is to stop and bring it into focus, and the more easily it will slip back behind you.

But also, doing this consciously is psychologically exhausting.
You don’t want to be forcing your focus around like this all the time.

On both these points — it gets easier with practice.
(Most of mindfulness and meditation is simply taking the time to practice precisely this.)
Over time, one is better able to hold painful emotions in awareness, and the move to notice them becomes smooth and automatic.

And so, this is the first thing the mind is able to do about negative emotions: it is able to shift itself around, and bring the emotion from the background to the foreground.

Sometimes, that is all you have to do.

Simply becoming aware of it melts the emotion away like exposing an icecube to the sun.


The second point is that having developed an understanding of what this emotion actually is makes the ‘melting away in the sun’ more likely to succeed.

For my money, it is his brilliant analysis in Book III of what each emotion essentially consists of which puts Spinoza a cut above the competition (e.g. the Stoics; the Abhidhammic categorizations of the emotions).

He breaks them down extremely simply, in a way which is remarkably internally consistent and readily applicable to our real-life experience, while somehow also not dumbing them down.

So, let’s say someone is getting under your skin.

You stop and notice the feeling.
Sometimes, that’s enough.

If not, you label it.
“This is anger”.
That very act of naming, in a fraction of a second, puts a distance between the emotion and you.
And sometimes that’s enough.

But when it isn’t…

“Hold up.
What’s going on?
There is an image in my mind — a sight, a sound, a smell… a scene.
This image is denying something that my mind is trying to assert.
And so I wish to destroy that image, so that the image or belief I wish to assert can be maintained.
That’s what’s going on.
That’s what anger is.
That’s its essence.”

“Hold up — what’s going on?
Oh… I’m in awe of this person or thing.
Awe is my mind being unable to link this image to any others.
It has picked out X characteristic of this body, and then it cannot find associated images of something displaying that characteristic.
And so it is overwhelmed — it is being very strongly affected by this image.”

Obviously, it wouldn’t be so wordy in real life — but that’s the basic process. You put the emotion itself under the microscope.

“What actually is this?”

By the very fact of engaging in this process, the emotion is transformed.

Think of it this way.
The actual, mineral make-up of a rock is what it is; just by changing our perception of it, we don’t alter the rock.
But the emotion is something in our mind; by thinking of it differently (in particular, by thinking about it clearly)… we actually change the thing itself.
It was an event happening in your brain. By moving the tissue and electrical signals in your brain around, you alter the actual, physical structure of the universe which manifests to you as your emotion.

5 seconds after having paused to reflect on it, you’re literally dealing with a different thing.


So, that’s the first thing you can do about negative emotions.

Become aware of them.

And, if you wish to go further: come to understand what the thing is.
From then on, briefly remind yourself of that understanding when it troubles you again.

II. Separate the affect from the thought of an external cause

OK. Here’s the really big one.

The way Spinoza slices it, all emotions can be broken down to love or hate.

That is, joy or pain… accompanied by the idea of an external cause.

And this is, in large part, what the Ethics has been building up to.

The way you liberate yourself from negative emotions is by cutting that link.


So, in the everyday course of our lives, we go around without making that distinction.

We live with the basic assumption that the thing we’re experiencing — the colours, the shape, the texture, the sound… in other words, the image — is the thing itself.

But according to the Spinozist understanding, this is what’s really happening.

There’s your Mind.

In your mind, there is:

  • an image (the colors, shape, texture, sound…)
  • joy or sadness… pleasure or pain
  • the idea of an external cause… or, the notion that that the thing you’re experiencing is outside you

And the key point is that that third thing isn’t necessary.
Your mind can get rid of it.
And when it does, the second bit (the sadness/pain, or excessive joy) can disappear too, leaving just the first thing (the sense experience, which is now neutral).
And because there’s no longer a strong emotional engagement with it… the first thing can soon disapper, and you can move onto something else.

So, Spinoza is not a solipsist. There really was an external cause. There was a person/thing that made an impression on your sense organs that left you with this image.

BUT THIS IMAGE IS NOT THAT THING.

It is an affection of your body, posing as that thing.

That’s what it means for the image to be “confused”, “mutilated”, or “fragmentary”.
It’s a mental construct, like a reflection in the mirror.
It’s not the actual thing.
It’s never the actual thing.
Anything you ever experience is not the actual thing.
The actual thing, you can only know in the abstract — through reason and intuition — never through imagination.

And when you’re feeling anger, or fear, or any kind of pain, what’s really happening is that you’re denying that part of your body.
Unless you’re actually using that image to figure out where the external body is and fight it… all you’re doing is trying to destroy your own brain cells. Your body is at war with itself.

So, Strategy To Deal with the Affects #2 basically boils down to calling a ceasefire on your own mind.


This will be way easier if I walk you through how it works in practice.

So let’s give it a shot.


Think of someone you dislike.

Honestly — please do it.

Close your eyes, imagine them, and then return to the text.

Alright, now take the thing you’re experiencing, and realize that that’s not actually the person you hate.

That’s an image in your mind.

It’s a network of neurons in your brain, putting on a costume of the person you hate.

Congratulations.

You’ve just done it. You’ve removed the idea of an external cause from your experience.

It’s actually as simple as that.


OK. Let’s give it another go.

Think of someone you have a crush on.
Someone you might fantacize sexually about but can’t actually sleep with, for example.
Or a celebrity you really like and wish you could be friends with.

Alright.

So, notice that that thing you just experienced isn’t actually them.

That’s an image of them, accompanied by a rush.

You’ve never experienced them. You’ve experienced their fragmentary image.

OK. You probably feel more neutral about them than you did before.

So, now that you’ve achieved a bit of distance, you can make a rational decision.

Is my fixation on this person healthy? Are they a nice person, who merits my attention?

If so… cool. In the conclusion of Part IV, we settled on the idea that a wise person makes good use of the things around them, and takes pleasure in pleasant scents, walking in nature, doing sport, going to the theatre… so, by all means continue using that external body to experience joy.

But, if you honestly think that this person is a distraction, and your attention would be better directed elsewhere?
Well, if so, now you know what to do. Whenever their image comes to mind… realize that it’s an image. Realize you’re just enjoying your own brain — you’re giving a bit of your body a certain experience, so that you can enjoy affirming it. Keep doing that, and you can gradually emancipate yourself from these obsessions.


Alright. Last example.

It’s a little intense, though. So, if you want, you don’t have to bother closing your eyes and actually ‘doing it’ — just read it through and get the basic notion.

Think of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Try to wrap your head around the scale of that event.
Think of all the people who have died and suffered because of it.
All the people who lost their jobs; who are experiencing mental health crises while in lockdown.
Think of the plans you made that were dashed; all the moments of anxiety you experienced over the past year.

Alright.

You probably have experienced some distress.

Now — notice that everything you just experienced was not the thing itself.
That was all images in your mind. Those were neurons in your brain, which have arranged themselves in such a way that you can experience your own past and the world around you with the same vividness with which you experience the sensations on your skin.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an actual event, occurring in Extension.

You are able to come to an understanding of it, in the abstract, without distress. You are able to look through the numbers calmly, think: “OK… take the sum total of my experience… that’s a ‘person’… everyone I’m reading about is something like that. So them feeling really bad is like me feeling really bad. And there’s X many million of them. Hm.. That’s very bad indeed.”

Your mind is capable of doing that. You just have to make sure that, whenever you start feeling pain when reading the news, you sever the link between the contents of your mind.

So, in sum — all the images related to disasters you’ve read or heard about… none of that actually occurred. We lose sight of this constantly; we aren’t able to tell what has really happened to us, and which of our experiences were actually us imagining something bad to happening to someone else. There’s a lot of trauma there that’s unaddressed; because of the way our mind works, we make ourselves the bearers of other people’s pain.
And sometimes, it might be wise to pause and note that whatever we’re imagining is just our mind’s good-faith attempt to inform us about something; see it as that, keep the crucial information, and try to take out the barbs of pain.


By this point, the notion should be pretty clear.

If you’re ever contemplating something and it’s causing you pain, remind yourself that anything in your mind is really you — make sure what you’re hating isn’t that, but what it’s attempting to represent. It’s actually a useful distinction.

If you’re ever contemplating something and it’s causing you excessive joy — you like it, but you know it’s overall against your interests — remind yourself that the joy is in you, not in the thing.
You can generate that joy with other external objects.
And you can generate that joy with no external objects at all.
But bear in mind that what you have been assuming is really the external object — the shiny, nice-smelling thing — is not actually the external object. You have been attracted to its image — to your experience of it — to the way your body is affected by it.


Hopefully the point is clear by now.

The one thing I’ll add is that, ideally, after having disconnected the image from the thought of an external cause, your attitute towards it (even if it had been something painful, or if the sudden switch to “it’s in your head” is embarrassing) should be positive.

To contemplate the image in this way is to know it as a power of your body.

It is capable of generating this rich and fascinating inner world.
When we put a bit of cognitive distance between ourselves and its contents, this should hopefully occasion more admiration than alientation.

So you should by all means rejoice in that capacity, as far as you can.

III – Cultivating understanding

OK. So, the third power of the mind with regards to the emotions consists:

in the time by which the affections related to things we understand surpass those related to things we conceive confusedly, or in a mutilated way.

OK.

So.

Here’s the basic gist.

The objects of our imagination only affect us while we regard them to be present.

If we stop experiencing them, they stop affecting us emotionally.

However, things that we understand rationally, in the abstract, we always regard as present.

And thus, over time, they will win out. So long as we diligently pursue the two previous strategies, more and more of our mind will be taken up with rational understanding, which will affect you with constant intellectual pleasure.

And so, in practice… you set out to improve your understanding.

Not really so you can do anything with that understanding — but because that’s a desire you can sate without ever running out of resources or growing tired of it… and because these things will build up and be there for you always, while your sense impressions come and go.


So, for example.

Think of what happens with doctors and nurses (if they don’t burn out).
Seeing someone die would be extremely traumatic for us. Because we have a view of the world mostly drawn from the things we see — and we don’t usually see people around us turning strange colours and bloating and going rigid.
But doctors and nurses have spent a lot of time studying anatomy and biology and stuff. So once they get used to dealing with the images of people dying… what’s left is: “Oh, Patient 3 died? Let me see the read-out. Well, of course they died; their liver was mush.”

See — over time, their immediate reactions to particular things fade away, but their rational understanding of the world is constantly confirmed and maintained and built on. So, over time, their emotions align with their rational worldview.

Or, to take what is perhaps a more concrete example: the first few times you try to correct someone at work, they react really badly, and argue with you strongly, and you get sucked in, and end up upset for some time.

But, over time, as you experience this more, and see it happen to other people… you understand that people are worried about getting fired or demoted or just losing face with the people around them, and thus will react defensively.

Over time, if you pursue the strategies outlined in Points 1, 2, and 5, the negative associations of particular arguments will fade, while your understanding of psychology and workplace politics will become entrenched.

And thus, future workplace altercations will be filtered through a mind more stable in its worldview, and less immediately swayed by the particular challenges of the present moment.


This point isn’t something you really do actively; it’s more a general observation of the trend of the rational life.

But if you want to help it along… as you go through your life, just keep an eye open, and try to ask yourself what the underlying dynamics of the things you experience are. Over time, that means you’ll be less emotionally reactive when unpleasant things happen that align with that dynamic, which you were now led to expect.

IV — Relating and connecting images of things to common properties / God

OK!

There are two flavours to this point. One more naturalist-deterministic, the other more mystical.


So, way back in Part 2, I mentioned that we are more emotionally affected by something we imagine to be free.

i.e. we hate a person for hitting us more than we hate a pinecone for falling on us.

To imagine something to be free is to imagine it without bringing to mind its causes.

So!

To diminish the discomfort we feel when something happens… we relate it to common properties. That is to say, we think of it in terms we know to be true in general of things of its kind. That is to say… we bring to mind its causes. If we know the specifics, then great. But if we don’t… it doesn’t really matter. We know that, in common with all other natural events, it must have its reasons for happening.

So the way that would look like is:

“This thing I dislike is a part of Nature, and like everything else in Nature, operates according to its laws.
It is the result of an endless chain of past causes.
It could not have been different.
For it to have been different, you would have to change the entirety of the history of the universe.”

Everything and anything is like that pinecone. There is no point getting angry at any of it.

Before it falls, we might be one of the causes that conditions it to go this way or that. After it falls… we know we can’t. We know that, once something has happened, we who have observed it are a body in Extension which is taking place after that event — we know that one of the causes that make up what we are is that thing having happened. It is now part of our make-up. We can’t extract it from ourselves.

I could go on, but you surely must have gotten the gist by now.

Your power as a mind lies in your ability to interpret events which lie beyond your ability to avert as inevitable, and thereby cease struggling to deny their reality, causing yourself pain in the process.

Because your body is a bounded being in unbounded Being, most events will be beyond your power to influence. And so, your primary avenue for exerting power is in not letting them affect you — that is, to not let them cause you to diminish, as a conscious mind, through the flinching-back and clamming-up that is sadness.

Here’s how Spinoza puts it.

The more this knowledge that things are necessary is concerned with singular things, which we imagine more distinctly and vividly, the greater is this power of the mind over the affects, as experience itself also testifies. For we see that sadness over some good which has perished is lessened as soon as the man who has lost it realizes that this good could not, in any way, have been kept. Similarly, we see that no one pities infants because of their inability to speak, to walk, or to reason, or because they live so many years, as it were, unconscious of themselves. But if most people were born grown up, and only one or two were born infants, then everyone would pity the infants, because they would regard infancy itself, not as a natural and necessary thing, but as a vice of nature, or a sin. We could point out many other things along this line.

V.P6.S.

What a funny example to choose.

Spinoza was a weird guy, man.

Obviously no one pities infants. Who the heck would think of pitying infants? Surely the normal thing is to envy infants? They live like Eastern despots out of an orientalist fable! They have no respoinsibillity except sucking and shitting! They’ve got it easy!

So, that’s the first part. We accept what we cannot change, and thereby diminish sadness… and perhaps, at a stretch, feel some intellectual pleasure at understanding it.

The next point, however, goes a step further — into how we can feel good about unpleasant events.


The second part hangs on the following properties of God and the mind.

But before I go into them, let me sum up the basic picture with the following example.

You’re wiping up a puddle of vomit from your living room floor.
You don’t like vomit. So this is unpleseant.
Now, let’s branch out the scenario into two.
In the first case, that puddle of vomit has been left by a drunkard who broke into your house overnight, left you this chunky calling card, and escaped through the chimney.
In the second, it has been left by your adorable little 7-year-old child.

OK.
Let’s say that the vomit is just as stinky in either case.
Nevertheless… it should be pretty clear that you would feel more revulsion in the first scenario than in the second.
The vomit being the same, you find it more unpleasant if it came from a strange stranger than if it came from your own beloved child.

Why?

The image — the conscious experience — is the same.
But, in the first case, it’s attached to the idea of a cause you hate, and in the second, it’s attached to the idea of a cause you love.

…alright.

Here we go.

Book V, Proposition 18: No one can hate God.

Corollary: Love toward God cannot be turned into hate.

And.

Proposition 15: He who understands himself and his affects clearly and distinctly loves God, and does so the mroe, the more he understands himself and his affects.

Proposition 16: This love toward God must engage the mind most.

And, crucially:

Proposition 14: The mind can bring it about that all the body’s affections, or images of things, are related to the idea of God.

…OK!

So, you necessarily love God.
And the more you unmuddle yourself and think clearly the more you love God.
And this love of God is very powerful, and difficult to shake and distract yourself from. (The same way that falling in love with a romantic partner makes it very difficult to think of anything else.)
And your mind is capable of linking every event you experience to God.

(I could go into this arguments as to why… but, forget it. It really neatly follows from his premises… but then you’d just say ‘his premises are bonkers’. So let’s cut to the chase and just settle on ‘mystics love God’. And if you tried to argue with them, you’d sound like a dad telling their kids the music they listen to is so loud and chaotic and aren’t the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac so much better — they’d roll their eyes and say ‘you don’t get it’.
So, just put it this way. If you ‘get’ the God thing, you love It. Necessarily. If you don’t love It, you don’t get it. And that’s fine. You don’t go to hell or anything; you just don’t get the full benefit of this self-help strategy.)

So that’s his second point.

You wipe up your beloved child’s vomit with less agitation than some intruder’s.
The vomit is unpleasant, but insofar as it’s the vomit of someone you love, you don’t mind it as much.

Your beloved child is not the cause of every unpleasantness. Your child did not cause the mutation of Covid-19.

But God is, indeed, causally involved in absolutely everything.

There is no such thing as a “final cause”, or telos — nothing occurs for any goal, or end, except in our imagination. So, God can’t be involved in things that way.
But God is the material cause of everything — everything is made up of God.
And, ultimately, God is the efficient cause of Everything. In that it generated the world of time and space, and the very chain of causality itrself, according to Its internal (and eternal) logic.
And God is the formal cause of everything — it is the essence of God that determined what the essence of every individual thing is.

And so, you can tie it in to any event whatsoever.


So basically, underlying everything, there’s there’s this infinite and constant “WWOOOOOAAAAAAHHH”. And your mind can access that through any given thing, depending on how powerful it is, and how much it can resist the pull of negative emotions.

And for your mind to contemplate that is necessarily pure joy.

To feel joy is to be, like, “yessss!”

The way it usually works, you want something, and so you try to go and do it, and when it happens, and your mind witnesses it, it says “Yes! I did it!”

That’s joy.

So, you watch the football World Cup, and you’re very excited, and you imagine (experience, in your mind) a bunch of people being very excited, so you’re way more excited, so you want everyone to be excited about you, so your mind can assert the existence of your body very well, so you train for a bunch of years and play games and go the World Cup final and score the winning goal….. and you’re like “YEEEEESSSSS!”
Big joy.

Or, you’re really, really attracted to someone, and you imagine yourself being with them, and them being affected with joy with the idea of you as a cause (because of this feedback loop of you asserting them in your mind asserting you), and so you get with them and you’re having sex and they’re very excited and you’re very excited and you both orgasm…. and you’re like “YEEEESSSSS!”
Big joy.

And you want to feel like that all the time. But a few hours pass, and your mind is trying to imagine that scenario again, but those images keep getting denied because your retina and nerve endings are your hands keep telling you you’re actually in the kitchen washing the dishes.

OK.

So the reason those things are pleasurable is because your mind is able to successfully assert something it is currently contemplating.
It is able to be aware of something, and consider it successful.

And the thought of God is the mind’s notion of absolute success. Not relative to any particular situation, which could have a fail-state. It is not about anything in particular. To think “God” is simply the mind saying Yes in general — independent of time, space, and situation.

And if you understand yourself really well, you know that, wherever you are, whatever’s happening in your current sense impressions, you’re aware that, fundamentally, behind and beneath all that… God is happening.

And the better you know yourself — the more conscious you are of what you want and why you want it — the less often you’ll find yourself inexplicably and intractably unhappy and fixated on things. You’ll see through the story your mind is trying to tell you about why this thing is super valuable and amazing; you’ll know that it’s just your desire that’s making it seem that way, and dragging you towards it. And your very awareness of that is what will, over time, make you able to stop.

And so you’ll just be able to regard whatever’s happening as… whatever’s currently happening.

And from that position… you will be able to relate whatever’s currently happening to God.

“Oh, look. It’s a chair. An expression of the infinite and eternal divinity.”
“Oh dear! That cyclist has fallen over. I feel uncomfortable, due to the imitation of the affects. But wait… oh yeah. God generated being, and then generated space and time, and folded itself in such a way that this thing happened, which impinges upon my sense organs to create this scene whereby a ‘cyclist falls over’. ….woah, dude.”

And so, to the extent that you’re able to do this, you will be able to be happy — to exist stably, as a conscious entity — across a wider range of outcomes.

From what I can gather from the Spinozist framework, you should in theory — with practice at this method — be able to feel pretty happy about most any situation except your body being significantly damaged. That’s your body actually being destroyed; your mind will necessarily feel pain.
And, in practice, this probably extends to someone you really, really identify with having their body significantly damaged. Grief seems pretty tricky to get around.

Everything else – possessions, and eventually, reputation — you should be able to reframe as external to you, observe dispassionately, and then link to God.


…quick side note on the love of God…

V.P17God is without passions, and is not affected with any affect of joy or sadness.

Dem: (…) God can pass neither to a greater nor a lesser perfection (by IP20C2); hence (by Defs. Aff. II, II), he is not affected with any affect of joy or sadness.

Cor: Strictly speaking, God loves no one, and hates no one. For God (by P17) is not affected with any affect of joy or sadness. Consequently (by Defs. Aff. VI, VII), he also loves no one and hates no one.

And thus:

V.P19He who loves God cannot strive that God should love him in return.

Dem: If a man were to strive for this, he would desire (by P17C) that God, whom he loves, not be God. Consequently (by IIIP19), he would desire to be saddened, which is absurd. Therefore, he who loves God, and so on, q.e.d.

^__^

Alright — onto the fifth thing you can do about negative emotions.

V – The order by which the mind can order its affects and connect them to one another

To be honest, we’ve already seen this in action in the previous point.

The previous point, however, was strictly general. You redirect your mind from rumination on a particular topic to the inevitability of the processes of Nature, and the omnipresence of the awe-inspiring conditions of Being, which the mind can enjoy representing to itself with the same ecstasy, or more, as any particular arrangement of It.

This section, by contrast, is about reframing your thoughts in more particular ways.

So, here’s the background we’ve established through the first four sections:

  • There is nothing virtuous about feeling bad.
  • The “feeling-bad” is not an inherent part of the event — it is something occurring in your mind, which is in your power to change.
  • The connections and associations we naturally form about things are not “in the world” — they’re in our brain. Thus, they are changeable, and you have no real reason to stick with them if they’re causing you pain.
  • We can actually notice patterns in the world, and derive common notions from them.
    With effort and skill, we can actually make sense of the world, and reflect it accurately.

OK.

So. On this basis, what can we do?

You leave a part of each day free, where you don’t act in the world or take in any information. Just have a cup of tea. Sit in the garden. What have you. Quiet time, basically.

And then you allow anything that’s bothering you to bubble up.
Your past experiences will have left you with a certain collection of images, accompanied by emotional reactions.
Left alone, these will colour your view of the world, and condition your reactions.

So you let them come to your awareness.
You take the images — memories and fantasies — and you calm the negative emotions which accompany them.
And then you re-narrativize them.

Anything you see in your head that isn’t currently happening is an imprint which has been left in your brain.
You can, if you are able to muster the mental resources — rewrite it.
And, having rewritten it into a new narrative, when similar things happen in the future, you’ll be more likely to interpret them and in this vein when they’re happening — and thus feel less pain, and act better.


But here’s the thing.

Doing this afresh with every negative thought you have is inefficient.
And here’s where Spinoza again shows his highly practical side. Reason allows us to understand how the imagination works, and discern our own interests… combined, this means that we can twist it to our advantage.

So.

You successfully talk yourself out of a few headspaces.
Then, you notice the basic logic you employed.
And then, you distil that into a phrase or visual image. A maxim — or mantra, if you will.

In other words — you hijack the power of associations.

From that point on — just like pomum will bring to mind an apple — that phrase will serve to recalibrate you when you encounter a similar situation.

So, for example.
Let’s say you have snide co-workers. You come back home, sit for your cup of tea… and your mind keeps getting drawn back to them. You find yourself arguing with them in your head.
OK. So, you find a way out of that. Let’s say there’s a good quote from Yoda or Uncle Iroh or something, in which they tell Luke or Aang to be above it. Maybe you like the New Testament, and you picture Jesus telling you to turn the other cheek.
And thinking of that makes you feel better.

So, you establish that phrase or image as a mantra.
From now on, every time you think of people being snide to you, you bring it to mind.


There are a thousand variations on this basic principle.

For now, I’ll just share one that my mother mentioned recently, and I’ve been having some success with:

Someone you have unpleasant associations with comes into your mind.
When you have a calm, clear moment — you take this person’s image, and you place them in the center of a flower.
And then you have the flower fold back in on itself, and sink back into the ground.
From then on, there’s a new assocaiton established. Whenever you think of the person, you’ll be less likely to ruminate — you’ll think of a flower instead, see the little flower-folding animation, and be able to move on.

This is just one example, but the principle is clear; you can feel free to adapt it to whatever works for you.


See — what you’ve done there is re-order the images in your mind.
Rather than employ reason each time, you employ it once — to figure out how you’d want to act — then you encode it in a picture or phrase… and you join that picture or phrase to the situation.

Having made that connection, instead of going:

  • present moment –> negative headspace X –> negative headspace Y, Z, $, ^, &… –> exhaustion –> …present moment

your mind will now go:

  • present moment –> negative headspace X –> mantra –> present moment

Neat!


Or, let’s say you procrastinate a lot.

Well, take an evening out and think of your ffavourite example of someone confronting their fears and blasting through the boundaries and

And then, tomorrow, when you get down to doing the thing you gotta do… bring that to mind… and then do it.

Set up rituals.
Post your post–it notes.
Bla bla bla.
You know the drill.

This advice has filtered down through the years.

The point here is, though… actually do it.

The other people you heard this from were lame.
Spinoza, on the other hand, has taken the trouble to explain the whole nature of reality for you, just so he could build up to this point. Which is (a) absolutely ridiculous, and (b) super cool.

So go ahead and programme yourself already.

Brainwash yourself.

So long as you’re doing it consciously, on the basis of a clear understanding of your interests… then… given the nature of Nature… given the nature of the mind… given the nature of the affects… given our bondage to the affects… you should hopefully be convinced that sadness is not good… and if you have the energy and clarity… you should do anything within your power to avert it.

So lose the scruples, for once and for all, and just manipulate yourself already.


Here’s how Spinoza puts it himself:

By this power of rightly ordering and connecting the affections of the Body, we can bring it about that we are not easily affected with evil affects. For (by P7) a greater force is required for restraining Affects ordered and connected according to the order of the intellect than for restraining those which are uncertain and random.

The best thing, then, that we can do, so long as we do not have perfect knowledge of our affects, is to conceive a correct principle of living, or sure maxims of life, to commit them to memory, and to apply them constantly to the particular cases frequently encountered in life. In this way our imagination will be extensively affected by them, and we shall always have them ready.

For example, we have laid it down as a maxim of life [vitae dogmata] (see IVP46 and P46S) that Hate is to be conquered by Love, or Nobility, not by repaying it with Hate in return. But in order that we may always have this rule of reason ready when it is needed, we ought to think about and meditate frequently on the common wrongs of men, and how they may be warded off best by Nobility.

For if we join the image of a wrong to the imagination of this maxim, it will always be ready for us (by IIP18) when a wrong is done to us. If we have ready also the principle of our own true advantage, and also of the good which follows from mutual friendship and common society, and keep in mind, moreover, that the highest satisfaction of mind stems from the right principle of living (by IVP52), and that men, like other things, act from the necessity of nature, then the wrong, or the Hate usually arising from it, will occupy a very small part of the imagination, and will easily be overcome. Or if the Anger which usually arises from the greatest wrongs is not so easily overcome, it will still be overcome, though not without some vacillation. And it will be overcome in far less time than if we had not considered these things beforehand in this way (as is evident from P6, P7, and P8).

To put aside Fear, we must think in the same way of Tenacity: i.e., we must recount and frequently imagine the common dangers of life, and how they can be best avoided and overcome by presence of mind and strength of character.

But it should be noted that in ordering our thoughts and images, we must always (by IVP63C and IIIP59) attend to those things which are good in each thing so that in this way we are always determined to acting from an affect of Joy.

For example, if someone sees that he pursues esteem too much, he should think of its correct use, the end for which it ought be pursued, and the means by which it can be acquired, not of its misuse and emptiness, and men’s inconstancy, or other things of this kind, which only someone sick of mind thinks of. For those who are most ambitious are most upset by such thoughts when they despair of attaining the honor they strive for; while they spew forth their Anger, they wish to seem wise. So it is certain that they most desire esteem who cry out most against its misuse, and the emptiness of the world.

Nor is this peculiar to the ambitious–it is common to everyone whose luck is bad and whose mind is weak. For the poor man, when he is also greedy, will not stop talking about the misuse of money and the vices of the rich. In doing this he only distresses himself, and shows others that he cannot bear calmly either his own poverty, or the wealth of others.

So also, one who has been badly received by a lover thinks of nothing but the inconstancy and deceptiveness of women, and their other, often sung vices. All of these he immediately forgets as soon as his lover receives him again.

One, therefore, who is anxious to moderate his affects and appetites from the love of freedom alone will strive, as far as he can, to come to know the virtues and their causes, and to fill his mind with the gladness which arises from the true knowledge of them, but not at all to consider men’s vices, or to disparage men, or to enjoy a false appearance of freedom. And he who will observe these rules carefully–for they are not difficult–and practice them, will soon be able to direct most of his actions according to the command of reason.

V.P10.S.

Alright!

Those are the five things you can do about negative emotions, relying purely on the power of your mind.

  • Awareness and knowledge of the emotions itself
  • Remind yourself that the image in your mind which you’re hating is not actually the external thing it’s representing
  • Build a rational worldview which is not radically shaken by individual occurrences which contradict what you know to be general truths
  • Remind yourself of the inevitability and necessity of the natural laws which led to an unpleasant event
    Remind yourself of the infinitely-effulgent divinity whose omnipresence means it can be related to every possible event
  • Re-order the images in your mind, bringing unpleasant scenes in your head to a peaceful or joyful place, and creating mantras which facilitate the key ways in which you do that

All of these take some work… but given time and glucose, it can work.

Alternatively, you can rely on external objects. You can go for a walk and look at some trees, or do some exercise or something. Or… you know. …drugs, I guess.

Or, even better… rely on a friend. That’s an external body which can reliably help you with negative affects.


…Alright!

With this, I have completed everything which concerns this present life.

(…)

So it is time now to pass to those things which pertain to the mind’s duration without relation to the body.

V.P20.S.

To the afterlife, ladies and gents!


On the eternity of the mind

First things first: this is where a lot of people get off-board the Ethics train. Some of the commentators seem to have treated this section with a mixture of confusion and contempt.

Jonathan Bennett called it:

an unmitigated and seemingly unmotivated disaster… rubbish that causes others to write rubbish.

I don’t think that the final three doctrines [of Part Five] can be rescued. The only attempts at complete salvage that I have encountered have been unintelligible to me and poorly related to what Spinoza actually wrote. (…)

After three centuries of failure to profit from it, the time has come to admit that this part of Ethics has nothing to teach us and is pretty certainly worthless.

A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1984), page 357

Even Edwin Curley, the translator we’ve been relying on so far, says:

in spite of many years of study, I still do not feel that I understand this part of Ethics at all. (…) I feel the freedom to confess that, of course, because I also believe that no one else understands it adequately either.

Behind the Geometrical Method, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), page 84.

…but let’s go ahead and give it a go anyway.


……….alright.

This may be a little convoluted, but it’s the quickest way I can think to get there.

I’m first going to introduce a sort of… vanilla version of eternity… so that I can gesture at Spinoza’s conception of eternity by contrast.

Here’s what we get with Plato.

Wherefore [God] resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity, and this image we call time.

Timaeus, 37c-38a

OK, so imagine that the world is a motion picture theatre. There’s a light at the back, and a roll of film, and a projection on the wall up front.

You see — the projection on the wall is dynamic, in motion. But the light at the back is motionless.
That’s the relation eternity has to time.

We experience the world in motion, like the projection.
But, through abstract reason, we are able to infer the unmoving point of eternity which projects all this outwards.

See, the roll of film is unchanging.
Let’s just take Star Wars as the example here.
The movie projected on the wall goes through one thing and then another. Luke finds the droids at the beginning… and destroys the Death Star at the end.
But on the reel of film… it’s all there at once. The frames with the destruction of the Death Star, are already there, when Luke finds the droids. And, when the projection on the wall is showing the great round space station blowing up, the frames showing Luke finding the droids are still there… in eternity.

OK?

Time and eternity are two sides of the same coin: the static and the moving.

According to this picture, your life is suspended, exactly as-is, outside of time. So while every moment of it is impermanent to your consciousness in time, as a whole, it’s permanent from the viewpoint of eternity.

And so, in that sense… congratulations, you’re immortal.

Yeah, you’ll experience death… but that’s just from the perspective of time. From the perspective of eternity, the film-reel of your life will exist forever.


……….so… this isn’t how Spinoza seems to have thought about it.

For him, eternity has nothing to do with time.

Eternity is an even more abstract concept.

It’s like…. your life is a series of numbers. [0 ; 1 ; 4 ; 9 ; 16…]
And your essence is the function which generates it. [f(x) = x^2]

See — the function has no specified end-point. It’ll keep trying to generate you until some other function says it can’t.
So, if you die as a baby or as a crone, your essence would be the same. (…I think.)

And that essence is eternal.

It lives in the same place as 1+1=2, and never really gets translated into time at all.

So, no matter what happens to you from here on out, that essence is safe. For what it’s worth.


…OK. Stick with me here.

So far, you would be as eternal as anything else.

But, in the second half of Part V, Spinoza argues that, depending on what you do with your mind, you can make more of it eternal, so that more of it survives your body’s death.

But before we go any further, let’s be very clear to point out what defintely doesn’t make it.

Book V, Proposition 21

The mind can neither imagine anything, nor recollect past things, except while the body endures.

So… there will be no images… no sounds…. no physical sensations… and no memories (because memories are physical traces in the body, which is now gone).

Your mind needs your body is order to generate those.

Sooooo… pretty much anything you’d normally identify with yourself dies when your body dies.

But there’s something that survives.

So here’s the trick.

The more of your mind you dedicate to the latter… the more of your mind survives the death of the body!


The philosopher — dare I say, the sage — is aware of three things.
God.
Themselves.
And the true nature of things.

And that’s the bit of your mind that survives.


So, you’re aware of God.
You are aware that something exists.
And, by dint of that, you know that there must be something which is infinitely powerful, which is capable of generating existence at all.
That awareness constitutes the essence of the mind.
And that’s eternal.
You need the body to become aware of particular things and events… but this basic sense of “…ah…” is there forever, and always will be.
(We’ll come back to God in a minute.)


Secondly, you’re aware of yourself. Well, if you weren’t before reading these blog posts, you are now.
You know that your consciousness is the cosmic mind — the Attribute of Thought itself — which is watching your body, as it maintains its proportion of motion to rest through space and time.
So, that knowledge is eternal. And it’s something that, as far as we are aware, only humans are capable of experiencing — and, even then, only philosophers.
Animals, and normal people, if they don’t actively interrogate the nature of their consciousness, will not get that “I am God” realization.
Once you have had that… your life will continue on as normal… you’ll experience various things… but once all those experiences are over, and your body gives up the ghost… that realization will remain.


Thirdly, you’re aware of the true nature of things.
So, let’s say you go for a walk, and you see a tree.
Most people will mistake their image of the tree for the tree itself… and thus, when they die, every trace of that experience will be lost. Cus they were only aware of the affection of their body, and once the affections of the body disappear… if all that the mind was composed of was awareneess of that… then the mind disappears too.

However, you know that all the images you experience are representations of these actually-existing bodies.
Thus, the idea of the thing itself exists in you.
Unlike people who take their sense data for the world, you are able to make the distinction, opening up a new concept in your mind.

And you are able to fill that idea in — it’s not some infinitely mysterious noumenon or anything.
If you learn a bit about biology and form an understanding of how trees work… one glimpse at the tree and you know that it’s an actual thing, which exists in Extension, and has done for a certain number of years, and that it came from the seed of a previous tree and that in a certain number of years it will fall and decompose, or get cut down… and that it, like you, has an essence which Natura naturans determines and then generates out into the universe. You don’t even have to bother to think that ‘out loud’, as it were.
Just seeing the tree, you know that’s what it is. Whereas someone else will see that tree, and their mind will be limited to “that brown and green thing” — which is not, in fact, the tree.

So.
Knowing the tree as you do… you know it the way God does. You have an adequate idea of it — partial, but nevertheless, true.

And that idea will survive your body’s death.

Because that idea is an intrinstic part of the physical existence of the tree… and you’re participating in that.

For everything that exists in Extension, there exists a corresponding idea in Thought.
And your mind has just touched on that idea.
The physical existence of the tree involves an idea… and your mind involves that idea. Part of your mind is that idea.
So, as long as the tree physically exists… that part of your mind that knows the tree physically exists will exist.
Even if your body has disintegrated.

Now… … …remember the fact you know physics.
You have the idea in your head “the observable universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago and expanded out from an infinitesmally small point…”
So long as that thing exists…. the part of your mind that is aware of that thing will remain.

And then, of course… you know the mathematical concept a circle.
Your knowing a circle… is the circle.

You see:

  • a circle
  • my idea of a circle
  • and your idea of a circle

are all the exact same thing.

They are literally the exact same thing. It is a single idea, in the mind of God, which our mind has managed to access and link itself to — and, in linking itself to it, has rendered that part of itself as immortal as the object of its .

So, whenever God thinks “circle”, it simultaneously thinks me thinking circle. Eternally. Irrespective of time.

That’s why Spinoza distingiushes some objects as “more or less excellent”, more or less worthy of our attention.
If we spend all our time contemplating objects which are mortal, then most of us will be gone when they are gone.
But if we spend most of our time on eternal things… then most of our mind will be eternal.
And that’s why the most excellent thing for the mind is to know God.

Every fiber of your consciousness that is related to God will always exist, exactly like that.


…OK.

Analogy time!

Think of Extension like… a Lite Brite.

That’s a children’s toy I used to play with.

That is to say: picture a board of lights, stretching out infinitely in every direction.

OK.

When something exists, it lights up. When it ceases existing, it turns off.

OK.

Whenever your body exists, your mind lights up.

Alright. Now. If your mind has an adequate idea of something else… then the same effect applies.

Every time God wants to assert the existence of a body, the idea of it lights up.

So, if you are somehow able to hotwire the idea of you with the idea of the essence of that external body… then bazinga! The part of you that’s aware of that body will light up every time God wants to manifest the essence of that thing.
A thing’s essence isn’t what happens to it in time — so you don’t have to know everything that happens to it. You just have to know that, by virtue of its manifestation at this point in space and time, its essence must be held eternally in God. Your knowledge of the essence of the thing is the same as the essence of the thing — the same way as your idea of a circle is the circle.
So by walking around and interpreting your experience in this way, you’re tapping into, and thus writing yourself into, the source code of the universe.

And so that, basically, is “the game” of existence.

Insofar as you’re playing the existence game… you’re going to try to be existing.
The first part of that is survival, which we discussed in Part IV: eat food and make friends.
But the second part of that is growing into a body that is capable of many things; that is capable of interacting with the universe in many ways, and in so doing, becoming aware of more and more of the universe.

And the more of the universe you write into yourself… the more you write yourself into the universe.


Alright.

Now back to God.

Book V, Propositon 35:

God loves himself with an infinite intellectual love.

OK?

That’s what existence is.

It’s love.

Love of what?

Of itself.

For something to actually exist is for existence to affirm itself. Not just entertain the notion, but entertain the notion and be like: Yes! Let’s do this!

So every particular thing that exists in Natura naturata is like that.
“Idea of a thing… essence of a thing… YES! I love it! Let it be so!”

Alright.

God itself — the absolute essence and totality of everything — is an infinite loop of that.

It’s like:

  • I AM!
    • That’s great! I can get behind that! That has my vote! I approve of Myself existing!
      • That’s great! I approve of this!
        • That’s great! I approve of that!
          • etc. etc., ad infinitum

For something to exist is for God to assert it.
And God always exists. It’s eternal.
And God is infinite. So there’s an unending amount of it to assert itself.

That’s the ultimate truth about reality.

OK.

So, when you are in ecstatic mystical rapture… that’s you participating in God’s infinite and eternal self-love.

That’s your mind accessing the absolute essence of all things.
You’ve tunneled all the way down to the core.
You’ve tapped into the Source.
You’re actually experiencing the timeless act of creation.
You’re witnessing the omni-dimensional Big Bang.
You’re being the omni-dimensional Big Bang.

And that will go on forever. Your mind does not need your body to do that. That act of omni-creation is constant, outside of time. Once you have accessed that… that part of your mind indestructible, and you know it to be indestructible.

When you do that in this life, you’re basically accessing the core of the mind which is doing that constantly, independent of space and time.

And the more of your mind is that is occupied in doing that…
…the more you love God…
…the more of you will survive death.


^__^


So… um… I don’t mean to be glib…. but I reckon the second part of Book V is actually really straightforward…..

…but anyway…

You really, really don’t have to buy a single bit of that to make his system work.

The first twenty propositions of Book V were about dealing with the negative affects.
The next twenty were about the eternity of the mind.

And once all that was said and done — this is how he finishes the book.

Book V, Proposition 41:

Even if we did not know that our mind is eternal, we would still regard as of the first importance morality, religion, and absolutely all the things we have shown (in Part IV) to be related to tenacity and nobility.

Book V, Proposition 42:

Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself; nor do we enjoy it because we restrain our lusts; on the contrary, because we enjoy it, we are able to restrain them.

This is his last, crucial point. Like so many things he said, I have found this tallies with my experience.

It’s not by forcing oneself to stop being a dick that one gets that holy buzz. It’s by experiencing the holy high and the warmth and comfort of mental purity that we’re turned away from being a dick. Being in touch with your own emotions and making ourslef sensiive to the world in this way makes the experience of hurting other people utterly traumatizing. And chasing the usual status markers just seems like way too much work…

Alright.

Sign us off, Benny!

With this I have finished all the things I wished to show concerning the mind’s power over the affects and its freedom.

From what has been shown, it is clear how much the wise man is capable of, and how much more powerful he is than one who is ignorant and is driven only by lust.

For not only is the ignorant man troubled in many ways by external causes, and unable to ever possess true peace of mind, but he also lives as if he knew neither himself, nor God, nor things; and as soon as he ceases to be acted on, he ceases to be.

On the other hand, the wise man, insofar as he is considered as such, is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possesses true peace of mind.

If the way I have shown to lead to these things now seems very hard, still, it can be found. And of course, what is found so rarely must be hard. For if salvation were at hand, and could be found without great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it?

But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.

Proposition 42, Scholium

Thanks so much for following me through all that.

I love you.

I truly do.

May God bless you with joy… to all eternity. ^__^

Stay tuned for a “cheat sheet, boiled down version of everything we’ve just covered” epilogue, as well as a “…now that that’s over, what should I do with my life” post!

Yours,
DL



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