The Intellectual Bypass

By Paul Dunion | January 14, 2017

The Intellectual Bypass like all Bypasses is an attempt to find a detour around the necessity of living life on life’s terms and therefore to forgo remaining an apprentice to what it means to live life on life’s terms. This Bypass favors thinking to being. The classic example of a character attached to this Bypass is Hamlet.

His exercise of the Bypass is captured in his famous soliloquy, which begins with “To be or not to be”. It’s been suggested that he is not simply questioning whether to live or die. Rather, he is philosophically questioning the value of existence vs. non-existence. He remains trapped in a web of rumination. He doesn’t like suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and the implied passivity of such a condition.

Hamlet is troubled by the quandary of desiring to avenge is father’s murder while not wanting to act immorally. When he questions suicide as an active way to confront life’s suffering, he is reminded that the after-life remains a significant mystery which may not be more rewarding than life. His ongoing cogitation appears to contribute to his eventual demise, as he duals with Laertes from the motivation that having a readiness to die is all that matters.

The Origin and Construction of the Bypass

There are several elements supporting the origin, construction and perpetuation of this Bypass:

· Discovering that we get hurt because we have bodies. We are all raised in environments that have some level of aggression and hostility in them. Children intuitively learn that they can get hurt because they have bodies. Both physical and emotional pain are bodily experiences. Removing our bodies by spending more time out of the home is one option. The other alternative is to lift our energetic fields out of the body toward the brain where an unlimited amount of cerebral activity can occur.

· At home in the brain. It is easily discovered that one abstract concept can exponentially lead to an unlimited number of ideas.

· Cognitively anesthetized. Ideas don’t feel. Because of the numbing effect of brain life, it is easy to think about important matters rather than be them. Why not think about experiences such as risk, rejection, fear, hurt and failure rather than get involved with the messiness of these bodily experiences?

· The Power of Dissociation. We learn that we actually have the power to translate emotions and internal bodily sensations into thoughts. Being able to indulge in this ability to translate minimizes having to deal with the autonomous nature of emotions which come and go on their own accord. The hope is that dissociation keeps a restriction upon the involuntary nature of an emotional life.

· Can be impressive. The Intellectual Bypass is often experienced as impressive. There is a cultural endorsement of the ability to express multiple abstract concepts. Folks who are also engaged in dissociation will be quite taken with others dissociating. One implication is that people who are dissociating are smart people. It also may be that we relegate the capacity to be emotionally touched and moved to children. Hence, being heavily insulated with sheathe of heavy abstraction may suggest a more evolved expression of adulthood.

Price Paid

As with any Bypass, there are sizable prices to be paid when we decide to replace being with thinking.

· The body is no longer viewed as a valuable conduit of information. If the new neurology is correct, then ignoring data being relayed by the vagal nerve may be a significant loss. We may lose direct communication in regard to instinct, emotion, intuition and imagination.

Recently, I was prepared to write off a strong bodily message. I was watching a film coming to a close, with the character named Jenny isolating in her office after feeling betrayed by the man in her life. Suddenly, the boyfriend and two dozen others arrive, calling her name out, “Hey Jenny, hey Jenny”. I began to gently sob as she turned toward those assembled. She listened to each of them describe how their lives had benefited from some choice she had made.

My first reaction was to ridicule my sloppy emotional reaction to a scene lacking in meaning and depth. I finally paused and asked,” What does this scene call me to?” I let the question sit with me overnight. In the morning, I was flooded with childhood images of my friends standing outside our family home. They would call my name in as singsong fashion, “Hey Paulie, hey Paulie are you coming out?” Each time I heard those melodic voices anticipation and excitement filled my chest. I was being called to some adventure by my team, my gang. I never doubted that some novel expedition into the wood was to take place. Maybe we would discover a new cave or a game, promising some desired victory.

My tears carried the gratitude for those boys and for those adventures. They also held the loss of no longer hearing that call and wondering if I might be able to create it again. I was reminded that my initial criticism of being overly sentimental simply reflected my fear of wandering too far away from my intellect. Yet, it was such wandering that allowed a genuine longing of my soul to surface.

· Must not be touched and moved. Life teaches us by touching and moving our hearts. Smothered in abstraction, our capacity for empathy can suffocate. With an empathic injury it becomes difficult to be touched and moved by another’s experience. Learning from another’s engagement with life can become seriously restricted.

· Vision becomes blurred. It can be very difficult to actually see what is directly near-by. When our focus is the relationship of ideas, we often miss what is right in front of us. Recently, at a dinner party, a woman and myself were in a conversation about the ideas of inclusion, exclusion and marginalization. The conversation became laced with an increasing number of abstract concepts. When the evening was about to close out, I asked a woman sitting near us if she felt at all included in our conversation. She quickly responded,” Not at all!” I shared my regret of getting caught up in thinking that kept me insulated in cerebral activity. It prevented me from seeing what was right in front of me.

· Confusion about what really matters. Ruminating from one concept to another interrupts our ability to be informed about what we love, what we desire and what deserves our devotion and passion. It can become very difficult to identify what risk we are willing to take.

· Impairs our ability to be seen, appreciated and chosen by others. Mired in abstraction, others can’t see where we live. They can’t see our losses, our triumphs, our failures, our heart’s longing and our love. When others can’t see us, they can’t choose us.

It would be absurd to give clear thinking a bad rap. I’m reminded of a quote by Einstein: “I don’t know why I get so many job offers. I’m only curious.” The issue is not to reject our propensity to be curious and be able to initiate and sustain a thorough inquiry. We can begin to wonder about an attachment to the Intellectual Bypass by committing to track a tendency to dissociate. We are likely dissociating, translating emotions and internal bodily sensations into abstract concepts when we speak fast and do not pause. Excessive use of language lifts us out of our bodies and focuses our energy around the face and throat. Also, to be to track whether our focus on one abstract concept leads to another and to another. We can pause and ask: “What does the application of this idea look like?” “Do I have any investment in identifying how my ideas can live?”


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