Learning to Read is Reading Between the Lines

A few weeks shy of 21 and I am beginning to feel as though I actually understand the words that I read. A book for my adolescent self was a mysterious collection of arcane references to cultural antipodes of thought I had not yet run the gauntlet through. When I read a chapter today, I feel reconnected to my world. I feel, with the depth of the author’s metaphors, to the very core of my being. I experience the weather as an exteriorization of my own inner emotional life. I see my brain for what it is: a sensitive ecosystem subject to the implicate laws of chaos and irrationality, but also an ordered and highly stable pattern establishing syntactical machine. A book is a work of art, but only in the act of being read can its beauty take shape. The act of reading is just that, an act. It is the positive contribution of value to the text courtesy of the reader. Without this contribution, the text, any text, will always remain barren and without context. It is the reader’s recognition of value that establishes greatness in a work of literature, never the work itself. I can recall learning in 9th grade about how writers employed the tools of their trade. The metaphor was always of interest to me, though I knew not why at that age. A metaphor was, to my younger self, a fancy and admittedly poetic way to avoid being literal. I assumed, of course, a certain amount of sentimentality was implied in its use. I did so, probably, because that was the mood in which my teacher taught the material, as though it were artistic and possibly beautiful, but nonetheless a glossing over of reality, and therefore ultimately superfluous. To say that the freshly fallen snow upon the white, pristine landscape is the icing on the cake of winter is not to say that the dirt beneath is actually made of filling. We know this because we are told from a very early age to separate the metaphorical from the literal. All metaphors, as far as our conscious cultural grammar is concerned, are actually similes in disguise, mere whim masquerading as meaning. The metaphor of man as fallen, we like to think, has no causal role to play in our free decision and conscious choice. Us modern, liberated people know how to use our language and are no longer used by it. At least, that is the hypothesis. That it is a hypothesis, a theory, was not made evident to me in grade school. This was something I had to find out for myself, something many never do. Luckily, I was unable to escape the creative impulse that was naturally given to me and doubtlessly to every other creature in the world. I was able to use the tools given me by my culture to climb my way right out of it and into the recesses of the collective unconscious. We are first taught language, and it acts upon us like a program. We become its victims and it shapes and molds us to its will, demanding that the structure of our lives mirror the grammar of the sentence. All through grade school, after the basic syntax has taken root in the mind, we are shown exactly what will happen if we try to throw off our chains. Transgression of grammar leads to the expulsion from society and the revoking of your status as human. Best to remain quiet about your art, then, fearful of what might happen to you if it is revealed that behind your sensical mask of certainty and definition lurks a darkness so black that its very presence swallows the light that might reveal it. Until graduation day we are told to be respectful (fearful) of society. We are handed our diplomas in trust that we, indeed, are scholars. We have agreed to dedicate our lives to knowing as opposed to being, to work as opposed to sloth, charity as opposed to greed, thought as opposed to feeling, happiness as opposed to sorrow. That is, we have agreed to do that which is best for society, that which measures highest on its scale of relative worth. And that is of course the kicker. The scale, we soon find out, is relative. We leave the structured hours of the high school bell schedule and enter the world of free market choice. Now the schedule is ours to construct all on our own, within the limits of the marketplace at least. All the sudden we become our own assigners of value. The societal system hopes and expects that the university student has learned the rules of life well in grade school and therefore will value those traditional structures over any novel morality they may construct on their own. The system does not fret over those who may attempt to escape at this point, though, for it remains confident that the marketplace itself has been engineered well enough to maintain a certain meta-value structure that is, at least in appearance, insurmountable. The countercultural hippie is therefore easily assimilated by the marketplace into an even more convincing culturally acceptable value, that being individuality. The Generation of Peace and Love has aged and become the generation of iPods and YouTube. We seem, nowadays, resigned to the universal truth that Peace and Love exist only on the level of the individual and that war and chaos reign over the collective. This is the perfect psychic model for an efficient capitalist economy. It appears that it was never at first engineered, that it rather became this way naturally. But it remains true that, since we have become aware of the mechanism now churning we are equally responsible for stopping them from occurring now as had we started them ourselves from the get go. We are now quartered and drawn, torn between finding ourselves and forgetting ourselves; between being someone special and not being noticed; between being normal while still remaining unique. These are the dilemmas set for us by the marketplace. We are, in fact, raised by a machine that then nurtures and sustains us through our lives, giving us pride and a sense of duty so that we remain dignified amidst what we have been encouraged to belive is a natural world that desires no more than to embarrass and impersonalize us. Fear of this embarrassment is what keeps us from rejecting the somehow stale taste of the stable and accepted rules fed to us by the system.

I am beginning to recognize, more and more each day, that rules are meaningless. They do, it is true, serve a function. But a function is not a meaning; it is a location within a finite number of units. The units combine to form a system, and it is true that each system is self-sustaining. It is sustained, however, because it is incomplete. No system can be meaningful if that system is afforded the completion inherent to a metaphor. A metaphor is an artistic expression, but because of this admission, let us not immediately toss it aside in haste. For the very reason it admits its own artistic nature, it becomes infinite and therefore meaningful. Functions, always meant to exist within a finite and incomplete system, attempt to remain bound to a particular context. A particular context is a contradiction in terms, as you cannot be particular while remaining contextual. To be particular would colloquially mean to be literal. That is, to break something down into its actual component parts and describe it technically. This method, however, has its limits and it is for this reason that it always remains incomplete. A thing is not made up of parts, for the very reason we refer to it as a thing is to imply its wholeness. Trying to understand what a thing is by destroying it is quite foolish, much like chasing a vacation in search of rest. One would not try to catch a river in a bucket unless they were utterly hypnotized by the power of dissection and had completely forgotten that only unity gives rise to meaning. Separation breeds only confusion.

My education lead me to believe it was all about reading the lines. I’ve since come to recognize that what exists between the lines tells you infinitely more than the lines themselves. The figure is but a decoy, as even it knows that the real gem is the ground. Coal becomes diamonds given enough time.

Originally posted Jan. 15th 2007


Between cause and effect there is no difference or separation. This, in short, is the doctrine of karmic retribution. It appears to contradict common sense, and indeed we must admit that it does so. Common sense is the law of the land, but we must here draw a distinction between land and sky, between earth and heaven, between sacred and profane. Common sense is just that, common. As such it is the tool of many, the reliable bedrock upon which modern life has been built. It comes by many names, among them reason, rationality and logic. Each are powerful rhetorical devices, but for our purposes, let us abandon rhetoric in favor of the plain and unadulterated truth. The objection may be raised that many a rhetorician has claimed as much at the outset of their own treatise and it gives no more weight to their arguments as to mine. I must again admit that I have no defense against such claims. Rather, I must define the truth only as that which speaks to you, the reader. If you read a line that strikes a chord in your mind, you will know it then as true. This is the only test for such things as truth, as empiricism no longer holds sway over the intelligently minded soul—too many times it has been shown that belief is prior to and constitutive of experience. Let us then consider the topic at hand. One’s karma is often thought of as being either good or bad, depending on the situation. Good karma is thought to be the result of performing some good deed or another, while bad karma is the result of an unjust act. The goal, from this perspective, is to accumulate as much good and toss aside as much bad as is possible in this life. If one succeeds, their eventual release into Nirvana is assured as the round of birth and death is brought to an end. Karma, it is true, is the fuel of rebirth, but thinking of it in terms of reward and punishment is a bastardization of the original intent of the doctrine. As are all genuine religious doctrines, karmic law is meant to provide the seeker with a vessel within which they may sail through the sea of unknowing to find that island of harmony and peace known as enlightenment or salvation. Once the island has been found, the craft is meant to be tossed aside and forgotten. It is not the destination on its own, but the means of departure. In this sense, the law is not meant to be taken literally. That is not to say, however, that it is not to be taken seriously. I can assure you that it is. The difference is one between the literal and the metaphorical. As in any religious tradition, the metaphorical language spoken is not meant to be read through the lens of the profane and everyday faculties of common sense and rationality. These faculties are to be suspended in favor of a certain reverence for the sacred. This, it must be admitted once again, requires a certain element of faith on the part of the devotee. It is not of the nature of the sacred that it be open to debate or to proofs. The sacred is always self-evident, making itself known only at the edges of the profane world, during crisis or great upheaval and change. Those who would seek to prove or disprove it in fact have never touched it. Karma, then, is a descriptive tool designed to connect person to deity, to help the individual remember their original face, to point the way toward the sacred. The simplest translation of the word would be “doing.” More specifically, your karma is “your doing.” Instead of thinking of karma as either good or bad, we must get rid of such relative judgments and focus on what can actually be known. What the doctrine of karma attempts to show us is that it is our action that traps us, and that all action, whether good or bad, traps us just the same. How can this be? What kind of doctrine is this that rewards good and evil the same? Let us first be reminded that reward and punishment is of no importance to our purposes. Neither, similarly, are good and evil. Instead, let us focus on ignorance and enlightenment. The ignorant would have it that good and evil are clearly distinguished, that the former is just and the latter an abomination. The more enlightened, though, find such opinions carry no weight. The seeker does well so that he might be rewarded, and in so doing he becomes evil and selfish. The greatest men with the grandest visions of peace and unity are notorious for being the most violent and devilish in their pursuit of such goals. The good define themselves thus only in comparison to those they label evil; those same people who are evil in the eyes of the good appear to themselves just as good and mirror the former in their disdain for their opposition. How then, are we to distinguish between the good and the evil? We cannot. All that can be said of such dualisms is that they exist only by virtue of their opposed nature, the one giving meaning to the other by providing its opposite pole. Just as the directions right and left depend on one’s perspective, good and evil depend on which way you are facing. So then, we are left only with the fact of our own action. We, as people, are raised to have desires and to seek after the good. This education is a devastating hindrance to our chances of escaping the cycle of rebirth. We are told from the get go that we have not what we want, and therefore, we ought to seek after it. This sets us up to become so entangled by our wishes and desires that we become trapped and confused by our own mind. The law of cause and effect, as we earlier established, is among the most cherished of profane facts. Every effect has a cause, and every cause an effect. What would be the result of a simple grammatical alteration, changing effect from a noun to a verb? The law now becomes: every cause has an affect. How does this new semantic situation illumine the original law? We see that an effect must itself be a new cause by virtue of the fact that it is a noun. A cause has an effect, and that effect itself becomes a new cause for more effects, which become causes in their turn, and so on. On the other hand, a cause with an affect remains the only cause; it has not given birth to a new center of agency, as an affect is merely a peripheral property of the original cause rather than a new thing in itself that might attain its own causal power. This grammatical game is meant to shed light on the mysterious nature of causes and their affects. It appears that there in fact are no effects at all, only causes and affects. Of course, if we think this through to its conclusion, we arrive at the undeniable fact that there can only be one cause, a First Cause, whose subsequent affects are the manifest world we see in action all about us. Much like the previous debate about the definitions of good and evil, we run into similar trouble trying to distinguish an effect from an affect. The distinction is really one between nouns and verbs, between what counts as a thing and what as an event. Rather than try to solve this issue here, we will leave it open and merely suggest that any answer to it would be one of opinion rather than necessity. The point of all this talk of causes, effects, and affects is to reveal to the seeker their own unconscious. Raised to seek after what we do not have, we assume that our sense of agency is causal. In other words, because we can affect the world, because the effects of our action are real, we believe our goal is attainable. “I can get what I want because I am a cause and what I want is an effect of that cause.” Such simple logic can hardly be argued with. It must be pointed out, however, that, as we typically define a cause (as a thing that has an effect), there can only be one true cause, or at least one Great Cause which holds power over all lesser causes. This is so because, as we have said already, all causes are logically indistinguishable from their effects. Only a First Cause is truly causal, as any lesser cause would be too tainted by the myriad of other causes and their effects on it to have a purpose or design free of interference. What does this mean for the seeker who assumes he is his own cause? Quite bluntly, it means he is under an illusion as to his own causal efficacy. This illusion creates karma, as we have already said “your karma” amounts to the same thing as “your doing.” It follows then, that any act of the will is an act that creates karma. Karma, in this sense, is not inherently good or bad; it is merely the name for the process by which all distinction and separation is sustained. It performs this task of division and frustration for exactly the same reason that enlightenment performs the task of unification… because without samsara there is no nirvana, without suffering there is no bliss. It remains true, however, that for those still on the path toward nirvana, an end to samsara is desperately sought. How, then, is one to keep from creating karma? If karma arises from assuming that we are ourselves causal agents, it becomes impossible for us to then act in such a way as to prevent it. The act itself creates more karma, pushing the goal of a karmicly free life further away the harder it tries to achieve it. It becomes clear that this is a problem with no straightforward solution. Many times, in this case, it is necessary to rephrase the original question, or possibly to do away with it all together before the issue can be made clear. We must recall what was said earlier, that karma is created by assuming a false sense of agency—in short, the desire for free will is the reason karma arises. The result, strangely enough, is total determinism, as our karma becomes our destiny. The mechanism by which this works involves a subtle dance between the conscious and the unconscious. The biggest limit to knowledge is not the height it can reach, as the history of philosophical inquiry has shown us that any number of all encompassing intellectual structures is plausible. The real limit to what can be known is the ground we select when building its foundation. A truly free being would not be concerned with asserting its will, as against what background of determined influence must such freedom be won? We must come to recognize that the whole debate between free will and determinism is a distraction from the heart of the issue. In truth, the agent we assume might “choose,” or cause our action, is an abstraction without substantial existence. In truth, we are but the affects of an unmanifest original cause outside time and space. We are more like arbitrarily named events, singled out because of some defining characteristic or another from the grand scheme of the entire process of the universe for practicality’s sake. We are a whirlpool amidst the river of reality. This sense of ourselves as more fluid and connected, rather than self-contained and autonomous, allows us the opportunity of simply coming to terms with the actual state of our experience. We are creatures born from we know not where into a universe of both love and hate. We live a short time and then pass away to we know not where. Such a mysterious existence does not afford us the better vantage point required of objective truth. We are left only with metaphor. We should therefore avoid all attachments to literal truth, as no such thing can be said to exist. To find the real meaning of life we must abandon the possibility of being literal and accept our proper place as metaphorical beings. Reality, as it appears to us, is our own creation. Reality as such is uncreated. It does not exist because existence implies experience of existence. Shining the light on the ego that feels trapped exposes its seams. Spiritual exercise begins to unzip them. When the seal is broken and its contents pour out, one becomes released from bondage and unites with the infinite consciousness of nirvana. Soon after, the initial bliss wears off and consciousness of the ego role begins to return. The once released ego consciousness, though, has been forever altered. It retains faith in the unknown identity that it became conscious of during past moments of grace. It similarly knows it owes its own limited existence to the infinite. It gives thanks for its finiteness, because it knows that without it there would be no play. Without large curtains one cannot hide what goes on backstage and the whole show becomes pointless. Karma, then, is no problem at all. Karma is necessary, as necessary as trishna. Trishna is our natural inclination to become separate. But this natural inclination is our very thirst for life! Without it we would be mere inert particles. Instead we are wavicles that can’t help but diversify and organize themselves into all the intricate and beautiful patterns we find all about us. The karmic baggage we carry with us from our past incarnations is not a burden. It is our life spring! Without it we have no foundation, and therefore no opportunity for definition. We need a limit to our freedom in order for chaos to become ordered. Without a past we can have no present (and certainly no future). Samsara and nirvana are one because karma cannot be gotten rid of, it can only be accepted. In acceptance, one finds peace. It is not a peace without trial, and one should not expect literal perfection from enlightened life. Instead, expect only to feel quite at home amidst all of it.

The Meaning of Meaning

Those with distaste for metaphysics need not read past this period. If you’re still reading, I’ll take it that you, like me, have a sense for the mysterious weirdness of existence. All in all, the concept of existence seems to me to be at least improbable, and, at most, a never-ending free-fall of Being toward the impossible, non-being. It never quite arrives there, but it nonetheless seems eternally drawn toward it. The human obsession with death here becomes a bit clearer. Fear of the unknown becomes narcotic; rather than running away from its influences, we run straight into them. The unconscious is always doubly as powerful as the conscious. This is because consciousness must always remain clear, linear and rational, while the unconscious is free to be ambiguous, dynamic and non-rational. What are the actual effects of this obsession with death on historical humankind? Most generally, the effects are civilization and society. The former provides us with a weapon against the enemy of death; the latter establishes in us a sense of finite meaning, of facts.

As to exactly how the fear of death/mystery/non-being lead human beings to develop beyond hunting and gathering (the strategies of all other earthlings) and into farming and factories (today combined as factory farming) is not entirely clear. What is clear is that it has done so. We know that it has done so because the superficial societal values we hold at this very moment are merely the conscious, rational manifestations (i.e., the rationalizations) of unconscious and emotionally charged roots, roots currently wrapping themselves ever tighter around the neck of Mother Nature in all Her modes. For instance, cleanliness is of course a hallmark of civilization, one it takes great pride in pretending to uphold. It pretends because, while it may consciously agree that cleaner is better, unconsciously it pours increasing amounts of toxins into all its air, water, and soil. A few upscale neighborhoods represent the conscious tip of the civilized self, while underneath the manicured lawns of suburbia there exists a ghetto population of minorities who live in poverty in run down cities with a life expectancy half that of their luckier brethren. So what then is the sword that civilization waves before chaos? Quite simply, it is order. We wield the sword of order so that chaos remains at bay, afraid of the sense that might be made out of it were it to be successfully dismembered. But of course, we have not vanquished chaos from existence, but merely chased it away into the unknown and unconscious. The sword is not meant to stab and defeat chaos; that is impossible. Its real use is in defining chaos; that is, in creating a pattern out of which reasonable laws can be derived. These reasonable laws then serve as the conscious rules of life; they form what we might call the social contract.

What does this social contract provide? And in providing such, what does it then become vulnerable to? The contract provides a stable way of interpreting chaos, which for the average person amounts to hiding monsters behind facts. The downside, of course, is that the facts remain monsters for the unconscious, and monsters are scary. Scarier, even, then the original chaos is on its own, as before the sword of reason is raised to fight, no enemy exists with which to battle. The sword carves from chaos its own enemy the moment it is drawn. The sharper the sword, the more vicious the monster. In a similar way, it seems that the surer a person is of their opinions (the more conscious), the more frightened they are of being wrong (the more unconscious). For consciousness, the stable interpretation of chaos provided by being a speaker of a language within a normative community is made stable by virtue of being meaningless. This seems impossible, but we must consider what it is we actually mean by meaning before we can claim that any of these words posses it.

First we must come to see that one cannot describe anything literally, as opposed to metaphorically. All description is metaphorical. Even the word itself “literalâ€Â is derived from the Latin “littera,” which means letters. So to say something literally merely means to use letters to describe it. This is, of course, what is done when we use metaphor as well.

If we suggest that the universe is a hierarchy of increasing value, that an un-manifest, unknowable Spirit is at the top, that this Spirit is both transcendent, nested at the top of the cosmic tree, and immanent, making up the very substance of the tree itself, that, as It is viewed from within time, It appears to separate (to move from transcendent oneness to immanent multiplicity, from remembrance to dismemberance, from ascendance to descendance, from wholeness to division) by feeding into the souls of each and every individual being, and through proxy the objects that those beings subjectify, that the soul then incarnates into a body, thereby giving rise to a mind bounded by the corporeal interference of the material body and therefore fallible and finite even while it remains original, always connected to and representative of its origin: the transcendent and infinite Spirit, are we suggesting that this breakdown is the literal and final Truth of all Existence?


Always, whether we speak/think out of practicality or profundity, we speak/think in metaphor. As such, we speak/think merely to convey meaning. The very word, “meta-phor” becomes, in the original Greek, “meta-pherein,” meaning to move beyond, to carry through from one place to another. We see then that all metaphors are merely tools designed to deliver meaning to the recipient. What, then, is meaning? Meaning is described experience. A good metaphor conveys meaning because it is both a description and a direct pointing at that which is already known. So it matters not, finally, whether the soul and the body combine to give rise to an illusory mind, or whether the mind and the soul are identical, or whether the body is soulless and merely reacts to its environment as in an undifferentiated state of dependency. All are true because all have meaning. That is, all relate to our direct experience and attempt to describe it. Meaning is not finite; it cannot be. Meaning is context bound and therefore infinite. Certainly, context can be narrowed to some specific realm, but in this case we are dealing with facts and no longer with meaning. Facts are statements of truth dependent on a collection of oftentimes unconscious assumptions or parameters. You can define whatever you’d like as a fact, so long as it is prefaced by certain finite rules that such facts must obey. Facts, though, have no meaning because they are finite. Whenever we know what a thing means, we know more than we know. That is, we are aware of more than just the conscious knowledge of knowing what a thing is like; we also have access, unconscious or otherwise, to the context of that which we are aware. We see and acknowledge the shiny figure, while the dull background is unseen but most assuredly still present, as it provides the invisible sea that surrounds the visible point of attention.

Having thus established that just about every truth worth believing is paradoxical; that in fact Truth itself is Paradox, we can draw an end to this treatise by concluding that we have said exactly what we have not. Let us lay down our (s)words and learn instead to fly atop our dragons, accepting them as friends. Then we will wake up from the nightmare of history and civilization will be set free. To continue to argue over specifics is to ignore the fact that all knowledge is metaphorical. It follows, then, that one ought not speak to be correct, or even attempt to. One ought to throw out this assumption that the opposite of Truth is falsity. In reality, the opposite of one truth is another truth, and together they make Truth. All thoughts, all speech, therefore ought have as their aim the expression of Truth, rather than the literal fact of It. Truth is not concerned with facts or knowledge; Truth is found only in experience and experience is always true.

Basically, the meaning of meaning is unknowable; that is its meaning. Because we cannot know the meaning of meaning, because we know we can’t know, because knowing such a thing would imply that we ourselves do not already know, we then must indeed know what the meaning of meaning is. Don’t let all these words confuse you. If you are trying to make some kind of knowledge out of what I’m getting at, it won’t work. It can only work if you let it be nowledge. Don’t try to form some concept of what is being described, don’t try to remember it so you can carry it with you for future reference. Just experience it right here and now as you read it. It can only be True in this sense. Meaning itself can only be known in this sense.

Open Letter to Richard Dawkins

I have not read Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, but I’m sure I agree with just about all of what he argued for in it. The idea that a personal God is responsible for the creation and maintenance of this universe, that He answers prayers and passes judgment upon the deeds of men, is childish indeed, a leftover of pre-modern humanity’s lack of intellectual freedom and, hence, its dependence on the dubious and dogmatic claims of a learned ecclesiastical authority to quell fear of the unknown (much like a mother may lie to her child to keep it from worrying about what it cannot yet understand). Such beliefs have contributed to some of the greatest human tragedies in all of history and in fact continue to do so up until this very moment. Our world is in dire need of the rationality Dawkins employs in his deconstruction of its outdated religions, and indeed we have reached a point in time when the widespread availability and connectivity of information has given nearly every person on Earth the ability (and therefore the moral responsibility) to become more fully aware, both of the world around them, and to a lesser extent, to the world within them (1).

I do, however, have a few qualms with Dawkins’ credo, among which his insistence on referring to himself as an impassioned atheist. It makes him sound as though he has a deep-seated emotional bias against anything overtly spiritual. I suppose someone needs to do what Dawkins is doing, playing the kryptonite to orthodox religion’s Superman; but atheism is no more than a reaction to theism. Going out of his way to assert disbelief in God, usually condescendingly, Dawkins seems to reveal and underlying obsession with the supernatural that is just as fervent as the worship of those he rants against. All psychological analysis aside, though, my only real reservation about Dawkins crusade to rid the world of the silly literalisms of outdated religion is that he seems to offer little to replace them. That they need replacing is obvious, but that “science” alone might be able to fill the gap, as Dawkins suggests, seems a bit like suggesting that menus could replace meals. Obviously they cannot, or we would all soon starve.

The human being is and always has been both animal and angel, both worldly and spiritual. We are drawn to both the immanent and the transcendent, sometimes parading around like gods, other times moping guiltily for our sins. It seems, then, that throwing out our mystical side in favor of our rational will leave us with nothing but descriptions of the world unaccompanied by their experiential correlates. There is a certain inner sense of the genuinely spiritual hiding beneath the drab and pockmarked shell of religion. Now that it has come time for us to crack this shell, we ought to be careful not to toss the life of the yolk away with it. I fear that an overly literal interpretation of the merits of science could turn out to be just as destructive as the literal religion that preceded it.

I quote Dawkins at length from the opening to a recent documentary entitled The Big Questions:

The human race is one of the wonders of the universe, and of all our remarkable properties, one stands out. It is that we are restlessly drawn to ask questions like ‘why are we here,’ and ‘what is the purpose of life?’

So far, I have no problems. He goes on:

The great civilizations and cultures of the past came up with various answers, all unsatisfying because they were made up, rather than being properly investigated. Can science come up with something better? I think so.

I sense that Dawkins is here overstepping his bounds as a scientist. The most sacred of scientific creeds has it that one ought not apply the tools of the trade to areas where they do not apply, such as the spheres of value and meaning. Despite Dawkins protest that civilizations and cultures past were somehow mistaken in their “made up” beliefs about the purpose of life, science can in no way escape a similar type of subjective construction when it attempts to build its own models of the world. He goes on to say,

For most of the 500,000 years of human existence, we have been unable to answer the question of why we are here. It was only 150 years ago that science first tried to find an answer.

For Dawkins, that answer was Darwin’s theory of evolution. I would like to suggest, though, that Darwin’s theory is just one, albeit the most recent and admittedly the most empirically verifiable (2), in a long line of cultural mythopoeia. Every age has its own conception of the ultimate. For the people of Classical Greece, the gods of Homer’s epics were just as real as the particles and energies of the modern scientist. Neither Grecian nor scientist has ever actually seen either, but both will undoubtedly testify to having a direct conceptual experience of each.

As Voltaire once put it, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” Human beings are inexplicably drawn to asking big questions. It seems, though, that this drive is overshadowed by our even greater desire to provide big answers, often times without merit.

The Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, painted some 500 years ago by Michelangelo, reveals the prevailing mythos of the late medieval period of human history. At the center of the immense fresco is the famous image of The Creation of Adam, God reaching down to Man to bestow upon him the gift of knowledge. Such supernatural explanations for the complexity of the human mind are unacceptable by the more critical, scientific standards of today. We demand to know how God bestowed this gift, not just the obvious fact that he did. Hidden in this same image, though, is evidence that Michelangelo’s understanding of the mythological construction of belief was ahead of his time. An entourage of angels accompanies God, draping him in the unmistakable outline of humanity’s most powerful asset: its brain.

The artist is here illustrating both God’s creation of Man, and Man’s creation of God. In its literalist forms, Christianity asserts a God who exists high above His created masterpiece, divinely designing it from without, turning dust (matter) into intelligence (form). In a similar way, the scientist uses the technological skill offered by the brain to construct meaning from the ambiguities of the manifest world, thereby dragging God down from heaven, chopping Him into individual parts, and renaming each as the ego. Every individual thus becomes the designer of his or her own world. In this sense, “God” refers only to that which provides the necessary ground of being upon which any explanatory edifice must build its foundation. For the pre-modern Christian, this ground was the Biblical God the Father, the Holiest of Holies. For the modern scientist, the ground becomes the rational mind, the ego: God shrunken and internalized. God becomes, for the scientist, the only thing Descartes could not doubt. His famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” provided modern science with its own creation myth.

Science’s big answers, then, are no more final than any of humanity’s previous answers. Throughout our history, the elite classes of the time have always championed their own versions of how things came to be the way they are. Usually, these explanations come subliminally packaged as to promote and maintain the current social order. Church officials once claimed to offer the only route to heaven, and an intellectually and economically meager populace was forced to obey their every command. Scripture was written only in Latin, making it impossible for the uneducated masses to interpret their tradition for themselves. Most find themselves in a similar situation today, as scientists rule over the collective psyche of society from behind their university desks and obscure scientific journals, claiming to have answered the big questions with theories like evolution by natural selection. Most normal people, not having the scientific background to fully comprehend such ideas, are forced either to take the side of academic authority, thereby accepting the over-simplified, pop-science sound bites they hear used in the media, or to reject science in favor of some prior mythological authority, such as the Bible or their local church pastor. This creates a situation where the average person assumes they must pick one or the other: science or God, evolution or creationism, reason or faith.

In reality, such dichotomies exist only in the minds of the fundamentalist. When one has understood the intricacies of the scientific worldview, it becomes clear that science neither proves nor disproves the spiritual. While it may have much to say against literal belief in the miracles of the Bible, it has little to say about ultimate matters in general. It is almost universally true, though, that the scientific heroes of our past, while usually rejecting notions of a personal God, nonetheless found through their investigations into the natural world a numinousity so profound that it may as well be called spiritual. This was true for Newton, for Einstein, for Eddington… the list goes on.

Scientific theories do indeed go a long way toward explaining the how of the universe. What they fail miserably at is explaining the why. This is precisely the reason that so many scientific geniuses end up believing in some sense of the mystical. Their penetrating investigations reveal to them a reality so far beyond mere descriptions that the pure experience of its mystery becomes a form of worship.

We see, then, that the hows of science cannot replace the whys of spirituality. Dawkins’ suggestion that we reinterpret ourselves in light of natural selection as nothing more than “survival machines” simply will not do. The human psyche is so structured that it cannot function without equal doses of both knowledge and purpose. To be fair, Dawkins suggests that our ability to think and speak has given us what he believes amounts to “purpose.” The fact that our brains developed enough to allow us to create our own goals is what separates us from the blind forces of evolution. Unlike animals, we humans can decide for ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. Dawkins cites our mastery of technology as a prime example of this skill, as we can now “alleviate hunger with new strains of crops, predict the weather with high speed computers, and cure diseases with pharmaceuticals.”

While these innovations are doubtlessly great achievements, I must point out that around a billion people remain starving, hurricanes and tornados still kill thousands every year, and pharmaceutical companies participate in one of the most profitable and corrupt businesses in economic history, researching not cures, but treatments, as the former simply wouldn’t make shareholders rich enough to keep the racket going. We can see, then, that science can certainly provide the means, but when it comes to the motivations, it is silenced. Human values and meaning, therefore, must come through some other means, means I’m prepared to call spiritual. By spiritual, I do not mean we ought to revert to superstitious belief in a vengeful God who will smite those who disobey. Rather, I refer to the individually mediated experience of that which transcends the everyday categories of the mind, that which cannot be explained but most assuredly can be experienced. Such experiences universally produce feelings of compassion and connection to nature and to one’s fellow man. Only with such an internal understanding of one’s place in the world can the powerful external tools of science be used for good.

Science and religion must be integrated. Asserting the practical truths of science above and beyond the transcendent truths of spirituality leaves one in a valueless world where, indeed, only the fittest will survive. If we wish to fully embrace our dual human countenance, being as we are both animal and angel, we must respect the worth of each sphere, combining the best of both to create a new and more integral human future.

(1)- There seems to be an excess of credible information about the exterior world available to human beings alive in our age. I’d refer to this as knowledge, the practical know-how that allows one to get things done in the world. However, when it comes to what I’d call interior spiritual wisdom, credible information seems less widely available, or at least much less sought after because of the Western world’s overtly extroverted worldview. Knowledge, again, provides us with the how. Spiritual wisdom provides us with the why.

(2)- Modern day science has reduced the meaning of empiricism to what can be experienced through the five senses, thereby negating even the possibility that one might objectively investigate matters of the mind and spirit through various types of intersubjective study. The reason Darwin’s theory is the most empirically justified is because no special injunction is required for one to see with their eyes that humans bare a striking resemblance to primates, or that during the early weeks of pregnancy, the fetuses of many animals appear almost identical. Even the layman can see such things. However, for one to see, for example, the empirically verified spiritual truth that all supposedly self-existing entities gain their apparent separateness only through their contextual relationship to all other entities (dependent origination) and that they therefore exist primordially as Sunyata, or emptiness, they would need to follow the carefully prescribed methods of the masters of their preferred tradition.

What is the ego?

What is the ego? The Buddhist wants to say the ego is a fiction, as this seems to be the only way to avoid the reductio ad absurdum inherent to mind/body dualism. If the ego is real, it must exist in a self-contained dimension not subject to the laws of time and space. It must be the cause of the physical effects observed in the brain and body, itself remaining untainted by the carnality of the meat within the skin. It is absent from the bridge of the ship it is supposed to be captaining. How can this be? It must be because we as the describer of the mind are under the false assumption that “I think, therefore I am.” Supposing the cognitive scientist were somehow able to accurately map the mental processes of the mind by putting thought into code, he would still assume a priori that these codes were used by an ego. Why else suppose the function of the mind was representational if not to bridge this assumed gap between physical and mental? Why do we jump so quickly to divide the mental from the physical? Is it because we want to carve out a slice from the loaf of the world and call it “mine,” a tiny vestige of free will surrounded on all sides by an unbearably determined universe? Time bakes the world; it is the oven or matrix surrounding the loaf, like the space surrounding Earth. Creative energy is released from within this spatiotemporal matrix as heat and gravity, inspiring the raw dough to take form. The yeast in the dough enacts its chemical destiny, much like the DNA of an organism expresses its phenotype, as the result of an interaction between internal potentiality and external necessity. The oven informs the dough. But it is not that the organism alone grows or that the environment alone nurtures. It is that the organism-environment field together cooperates in the enactment of a body-world in space and time. Taken separately, the world and the mind can only have a second-hand relationship with one another. Mind must view the world through a lens, and the lens can never be clear enough to see the world itself. Why do we add this extra dimension of complication to reality? Did we really find it in the world itself? The answer must be no, because as we’ve already said, separating the mind from world leaves the observer with nothing but a represented version of that world. If the mental is separate from the physical, the physical must be translated into the mental before it could be witnessed by the ego. But the requirement of translation pulls the rug from beneath any epistemology that sets out to know the world objectively. All knowledge becomes interpretation, as the only source of information we have about the world has been tainted by the mind way before we even become conscious of it. All one can ever know, from behind the lens of the mind, is the mind itself.

Let us return to the original question. What is the ego? The ego is the sense of tension struggling to be hewn from the symbiotic dance between the conscious and the unconscious. It is the mind within the body within the world [fig. Yang]. The body-world, in the case of this masculine conception of the ego, represents that which is unconscious, the dark and mysterious feminine principal. This is the archetypal relationship between man and nature. It is what leads the engineer to spend billions to design, build, and launch huge rocket ships that take astronauts to the moon. If the mind is an anomaly lost amid a cosmic sea of empty chaos, loneliness becomes the dominant emotional temper of a humanity whose sole preoccupation is the endless expansion of knowledge and accumulation of wealth. The goal is to expand the known, increase the size of the world, encroach on as much of the empty unknowns of space as possible. It is the spirit born during the Enlightenment continued right up until today. We are the conquers of the New World. We blast off into space at tremendous expense, burning millions of gallons of fuel in a way far too inefficient for nature herself to ever have devised, in search of more resources to exploit and more knowledge to fill in the gaps between the pages of our Encyclopedia Galactica. NASA is coming to realize, though, that the biggest issue facing interplanetary space travel is not how to protect the astronauts from the vacuum of space during their long, alienating trips between orbits, but how to protect them from their own psyches. Space becomes the overwhelming depth of mystery; the dark and unknowable belly of the beast, and man becomes the knight in shining armor nobly going where no man has gone before to slay and defeat his own shadow. As the astronauts among us continue rocketing off into space, they will continue to face the profoundly centering experience of seeing the Earth, the whole world, from the outside. Being so far away from home that the horizon becomes circular alters one’s perspective of what it means to be back home again, apparently walking upside down on a ball of air, water, and rock hurling through an empty void. As the mind travels further out into empty world-space, it begins to expand to fill in for the lack of matter. When you’re so far out that the Sun becomes just another star, it looks as though the world is all in your mind [fig. Yin]. The mind transforms into the higher ground of being and the world becomes but a lower expression of it. This reverses the prior situation where the mind was a periphery extension of the more primary world. The infinite extension of space overwhelms the world with relativity, as it becomes clear that matter is not the most common feature of reality. The matrix of space is primary. There are many worlds, but only one space. The world as the fundamental ground becomes but a distant childhood memory. And what lay outside, above, and beyond the mind? Like space encompasses the world, spirit encompasses the mind. This view of the ego is feminine, turning the mind into the matrix embracing the world—not confronting it but creatively participating in the creation of it. The mind, in turn, is embraced by the cosmic compassion of spirit. From this eternal origin called spirit, all of creation, from civilization itself down to the last grain of sand on an uninhabited beach, becomes a divine manifestation made real again in each moment. We must come to see that each of these figures is equally true, two sides of the same non-dual reality. Fig. 1 is the reality of Yin. The divine moment of genesis occuring continuously through each moment, as though a bolt of lighting shooting down from the vast potentiality of spirit, into the creative intricacies of mind, through the organic metabolisms of body, finally arriving as the seeming stuff of the world, the matter, the ground, the surface. All of it is lila, the divine play of the cosmos, created right then, in the eternal now moment. Fig. 2 is the reality of Yang. The creation moment was long ago, but after billions of years of evolution from matter, to body, to mind, mankind was born to claim it all for himself. Yin is the ever-present origin; spirit as the ground of being. Yang is the once-present origin, slowing evolving back to union; spirit as the goal of being. We can separate these two parallel processes into the two personalities they seem to promote. Fig. 1 is the viewpoint of the mystic. Fig. 2, the view of the engineer. We can see, though, that, when driven to extremes, the two arrive on each other’s doorsteps. The engineer has a mystical experience far out in space watching the earthrise above the lunar horizon; the mystic, far below on the surface of the Earth, experiences the infinite spilling a bucket of water that had been reflecting the moon. “In this way and that I tried to keep the pail together. I hoped the weak bamboo would never break. Then suddenly the bottom fell out. No more water; no more moon in the water. Emptiness in my hand.”

God is evolving through man. Once the irritable Yahweh of the Old Testament, next transformed into the compassionate Christ of the New, finally reborn as the individual story of each ego, now elevated to the heights of the soul, God in ego-drag. Each step brings God deeper into the game of evolution. A more complete surrender leads to a more awakened consciousness. Spirit pours Itself out into Matter in an act of forgetting and gives birth to Body, Mind, and Soul, which eventually return to their source in Spirit when they have finished running their course through time. They remember Spirit, bringing the many back into the One in which they originated. God cannot help but forget Itself; Once It has, It then cannot help but remember.

The ego that does the remembering, that is the representing, runs its simulations in the prefrontal cortex. It gets its visual aspect by projecting onto the same areas of the visual cortex that receive input from the retina about the light from the outside world. With eyes open, the outside world is stabilized by the visual cortex and observed by the ego (presentation). With eyes closed, the outside world is un-coupled and experience becomes the invention of the ego (representation). The ego and the prefrontal cortex are principally involved in memory. They remember, they inform, they give meaning to the raw sensory data from the outside world by putting it into context. They hold in their dynamic connections to one another the matrix of thought itself; each individual brain, though, is also part of a larger matrix of cultural meaning. We are raised to have the egos that we do. This upbringing depends on certain cultural memes, memes that are passed on not because of biological natural selection, but because of some higher, more value-laden dimension of reality. Memes decide for themselves what the future is going to be, they don’t have to wait to react to nature’s changes retroactively. Memes are genes with minds of their own. It seems that the ego itself is a meme. In fact, it seems to be THE meme. The ego is the mind that has control of a body and therefore of its action in the world. It is the meme that gave birth to human history, its culture and writing and technology.

Alien Civilization

Why do we insist on measuring alien technology in terms of time? We say, “It is likely that advanced forms of alien life are thousands, if not millions of years ahead of us technologically.” First off, what is it we typically mean when we refer to “technology”? Do we mean something material and mechanical? Something designed and built by man out of matter in order to accomplish a specific goal? Something to harness natural power, to control and manipulate it? Or would we also say that non-material devices like language were technological? If we are to include language in our survey, does it remain by definition within the category of our other machines, which we have said are built to control and shape the world to our will? That is, does language, even though it is immaterial, still have a causal relationship with the physical world? This is not to say that just because I may think, “The couch over there will now float off the ground and hover across the room,” that it will actually do so. The causal connection between words and worlds could be far subtler than the conscious telekinetic manipulation of objects at a distance. The effect of our culturally conditioned use of language on the world occurs on a metaphysical level, carving up nature way before our conscious, socially sculpted, willful egos get a hold of it. The world as presented to our egos is characterized as “real,” “physical,” and “objective.” The ego, though, is a linguistic construction. It is an assigned role unconsciously programmed into the developing child’s mind by a boundary enforcing, competition oriented, and creativity squelching educational model. Thus programmed, we objectify the world by packaging it into categories of mind, which of course in our interconnected, electronically mediated social commons are designed and sold to the ego by a few corporatized media outlets run by a global elite. The individual psyche is skillfully manipulated into believing that owning prefabricated homes in suburban mazes and driving around in mass-produced, over-sized, over-powered vehicles on clogged roadways to shop in strip malls filled with shoddy, brand name products is actually desirable, or at least worth the 40 hours plus overtime a week put in at the office. Motivated only by money, the ego seems forever indebted to the future. What then, is the reason for the ego’s obsession with time? Always, it seems, the ego looks to the future for what it does not have now. It projects this same time-bound consciousness into the minds of hypothetical aliens. They to, the ego assumes, would be obsessed with developing ever-increasing technological skill. They, like us, would have an almost psychotic desire to control the natural world, to mold, shape, and explore the great cosmic womb that birthed them. Might they be so “advanced,” though, that the mechanistic outlook itself was improved upon? Or, is it possible that such a worldview was never even developed at all? If we look at the development of our own species, the dominator model of the world as a machine that merely needs to be mapped in order to be controlled was a recent adaptation, one now proving to be detrimental to our continued survival. If an alien species had developed a relationship to nature similar to ours, it surely would have gone extinct long ago, the victim of ecological collapse or planetary war. Contrary to our assumptions, it is far more likely that alien beings live in such a way that powerful technology is unnecessary. Unlike our drive to control and wield power over the world, aliens may be motivated by celebration and communion, organizing their societies in cooperative ways so that partnership, rather than competition, was the status quo. Instead of raising their kids to accept the “harsh realities of life,” resigning them to the obligatory duties of civilization as though they were assigned by God and simply must be obeyed without fail, such alien cultures would raise children who need not feel guilty for thinking otherwise and who were encouraged to create new game rules and more efficient ways of having fun. Even with our current technological skill, we have the ability to live virtually work-free lives with all of our basic needs provided for. We choose, though, to work and to live in societies so divided by class that the wealthiest 225 people are worth more than the poorest 2.5 billion people earn annually combined (the UN calculates that an annual 4 percent levy on the world’s 225 most well-to-do would suffice to provide the following essentials for all those in developing countries: adequate food, safe water and sanitation, basic education, basic health care and reproductive health care). If that’s isn’t bad enough, 20% of the Earth’s population consumes 90% of its resources. At this rate, the Earth will be totally eaten up and destroyed before the majority of its human inhabitants even get a taste of what civilization is supposed to be. It is no wonder that under such conditions, we spend billions annually to develop the means to explore and colonize space in search of a new home. For the utopian alien civilization, though, there may be little reason to travel into outer space at all, as they could get all the joy they could dream of out of the same planet they grew out of.