Spellbound: Magic Words and Minds Without Self

Introduction

There was a time when physics, still high on the spirit of the Enlightenment, took seriously the idea that its measurements of the fundamental stuff composing the universe could explain just about everything worth knowing about. Granted, it didn’t have all the necessary measurements compiled just yet, but it assured everyone that it was just a matter of how much time it would take to do the necessary calculating and experimenting. Time passed, and just when they thought they were about to figure it all out, Einstein shook the faith by discovering that the physical laws once thought to have absolute frames of reference were actually relative. Not all was lost, but soon after, quantum mechanics laid to rest the notion that there could even be any fundamental “stuff” to begin with. It turned out the universe wasn’t made of anything but measurements [QQ]. As Alan Watts put it, “[The physical universe] was all form and no matter, or all a matter of form” [LHG]. This lead the renowned physicist Sir Author Eddington to remark, “We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature” [QQ 179]. In other words, the “objective observer” was a myth-the method one selects for measuring the world has a direct effect on the way the world then appears.

I tell this story because of the many striking parallels it seems to have with the most recent trends in the cognitive sciences. There was a time when these scientists of the mind, still under the spell of a subtle form of Cartesian dualism, believed representation was the fundamental function of the brain. They labored tirelessly for decades searching for a coherent and naturalizable story of representation, but it was to no avail. There is, of course, much debate about what “representation” actually means and how it should be used in reference to certain types of mental processes. Let us therefore be explicit about the meaning of this word “representation” for the purposes of this essay. Representation shall be used to refer to any description that rests on a Cartesian view of the mind. That is, any theory of the mind which posits a sort of inner “I-ness” that receives and interprets recreations of an outer “otherness,” such that that which is outside the skull must be transformed into some inner, mental language before it could be understood. The problem is that any representational approach to the mind this wrapped up in dualism cannot ever be fully naturalized. Just as physicists once believed there was a meaningful distinction between form and substance, cognitive scientists once believed there was a similar distinction between the mind and the world itself (indeed many still do[1]). As Erwin Schrödinger has said, from this dualistic perspective “we do not belong to the material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies belong to it” [QQ 83]. This essay will combine the approaches of theorists like Andy Clark, Daniel Dennett, John Haugeland and Brian Smith, who all seem to be forcing the field in a new direction, one even they themselves feel uneasy about. Like the quantum physicists who came before them, their data has lead them to a strange place indeed. I will begin this essay by fleshing out the collective conclusions of the above philosophers, using Dennett’s notion of minds as user-less bundles of tools and his affinity for evolutionary explanations to lay out the findings they are all so uncomfortable with. I will then attempt to pick up where they left off, using mythological imagery and Buddhist phenomenology to ground their surprising philosophical findings in our own direct experience.

The User-Illusion

In a discussion on Dennett’s ideas, Smith says, “We have a remarkable amount of agreement, such that in fact we may almost be ready to let go of that R-word, and actually make some progress” [PMR 101]. For Dennett, representation becomes a linguistic skill available only to human beings by virtue of their ability to speak and write in a public language [PMR 91]. It is, therefore, not something animals can use to get around the world. He goes on to suggest that “Our kind of consciousness is not anything we are born with, not part of our innate hardwiring, but in surprisingly large measure, an artifact of our immersion in human culture” [PMR 79]. Dennett’s word choice, referring to consciousness as “an artifact,” strikes me as especially significant. It would seem that Dennett is suggesting that the “user-illusion,” as he calls our type of consciousness, is a by-product of our language, especially when written.

Let’s take a step back.

What is consciousness, for Dennett? The short answer is we really shouldn’t phrase the question in quite that way. To ask what consciousness is immediately turns it into something ontologically separate from the body and the world. This is the pre-emptive registration that Smith wants us to avoid [TMR 225]. Dennett, similarly, is everywhere on the look out for this kind of Cartesian dualism. Consciousness, for him, can only be described behaviorally. Therefore, those organisms that act appropriately within their environment are said to be conscious.

When we ask, “What is consciousness,” we are really asking about the self. We want to view consciousness as a distinct kind of thing because we want to view ourselves as individual, undetermined egos. For, if being conscious means merely to behave in a certain way (as part of a normative community), then my inner sense of “I-ness” is secondary-a kind of epiphenomenon-nothing more than a collection of meaningless private thoughts floating away from the “real” world, the world that you can pound with your fist, or at least shout out loud about without fear of seeming crazy to others. Meaning, so this story goes, comes from the community. What is true is what the community has agreed upon. But there is a further force at work, something unconscious constraining the kinds of agreements the community can reach. It is the evolutionary force, and it doesn’t care much about what we want be true. For the same reason Dennett wants to get rid of the homunculus in the skull, he wants to get rid of the self-directed society, that real sense of a collective “we” that freely decides what ought to be [TMR 289]. Dennett wants to continue using the evolutionary metaphor that works so well in biology to show us that people and societies do what they do because of similar pressures. It is here that he disagrees with Smith and Haugeland, as they want to keep that sense of a “we who decides” over and above the impersonal hand of evolution [TMR 263, 289].

So then, choosing Darwin as our guide, let us try and find the evolutionary purpose of the “user-illusion” in the humanity of present. To do so we must first understand the consciousnesses of our ancestry. Plants seem to take an intentional stance toward the Sun, tracking it across the sky in some cases, but it becomes meaningless to ask if they are actually having thoughts about it. Let’s try animals. Animal consciousness is focused on the direct environment in ways we might call conceptual. They can pay attention to, or have intentional states about, certain “targets” in the environment and the patterns they follow over time, both locally and, to a certain extent, distally.[2] Humans, however, can have intentional states not only about the so-called targets themselves (as presented to any of the five senses), but also about the names of those targets as they exist within a language game. The naming of targets transforms them into objects, and we must be careful not to confuse objects with their primordial cousins. When Dennett is asked if animals can represent objects, he responds that they “can behave vis-à-vis [objects] in all sorts of really adroit ways” [TMR 108]. The point is the world does not appear to them as a collection of objects, but rather as a “direct recipe for action” [WBMWC 10].

The human ability to abstract objects from targets leads to what Dennett refers to as florid representation, and without it he feels we are somehow sub-human. In fact, many people alive today are yet to become florid [TMR 107]. Children provide the most obvious example, being “language virtuosos” [TMR 108], but not yet understanding the full implication of their abilities. The discovery that words are symbols for the real thing, and that they can be skillfully arranged to communicate meta-meanings, still awaits them. It is here, however, that the really interesting discovery is made, that words are not used, but instead compose our very being [78]. Our “selves”-our sense of being a self-supporting, well-behaving, rational actor-rest so heavily on language that it is fair to say we are nobody without it.

Language: Verbal and Written

The notion that “I” communicate with those who are “other” than me is the crux of the language game, built into its very grammatical structure. But the kind of “other” met while speaking language, engaging in a direct face-to-face conversation, is quite different from the kind met while writing, when the “other” is at a distance and becomes more objectified. When speaking, people (at least when they truly understand each other) are in communion with one another. They exhibit what Martin Buber calls an “Ich-Du,” or “I-You” relationship to one another (more on this in a moment) [IT 73]. If we view this from an evolutionary perspective, a coherent story begins to emerge. All evidence suggests that the first forms of language were vocal. We can then infer that, prior to the invention of written language, human beings had a type of consciousness far different from the one most of us has today. Buber refers to this kind of archaic consciousness as “I-You,” which means that it doesn’t yet consider the “other” as an object that is encountered. Rather, it views the “other” as a part of itself, something to be reconciled and understood in a participatory way. Buber says those with this kind of consciousness “have not yet recognized themselves as an ‘I'” apart from an “other” [IT 73]. This would make sense, as the subject/object ontology inherent to the grammar of written systems was not yet available to the mind.[3] One might object to this characterization on the grounds that the whole story of natural selection requires at least some sense of self-preservation. Why do animals even try to survive unless they have a sense of “I-ness”? Buber explains that in the case of animals, “What wants to propagate itself is not the ‘I’ but the body that does not yet know of any ‘I.'” Bodies are survival machines. They have no inner sense that “wants” to survive; surviving is just what they do. Evolution has a way of recapitulating itself at ever more complex scales. Organisms first appeared as an emergent property of the physical world, living on top of it as though their bodies were an autopoietic, self-transforming software program running on the hardware of the world. When organisms evolved into more complex animals like ourselves, another emergent property sprang forth, that called the “I,” or ego. The ego seems to float atop the biological brain in the same way that the organism floats atop the physical world. The ego’s relationship to the body is made clearer in the following example: “I” feel responsible for styling my hair, but “I” do not feel responsible for growing it.

It was not until the advent of written language that humanity was able to stake its claim so high above the animal kingdom-to say, “I have a body” instead of “I am a body.” The body and the mind were thus torn apart as humanity began to take on a new kind of consciousness, one Buber calls the “Ich-Es,” or “I-It.” “The I that has emerged,” says Buber, “proclaims itself as the carrier of sensations and the environment as their object” [IT 74].

He continues:

Of course, this happens in a “primitive” and not in an “epistemological” manner; yet once the sentence “I see the tree” has been pronounced in such a way that it no longer relates a relation between a human “I” and a tree “You” [as in “I-You” consciousness] but the perception of the tree object [It] by the human consciousness [I], it has erected the crucial barrier between subject and object… [IT 74].

This barrier was “primitive” and not yet “epistemological” because floridity had not yet fully developed. The kinds of philosophical meta-thinking, for example, that lead Descartes to the Cogito took a bit more evolution[4], but its seeds were sown when the first alphabets were systematized.

Forbidden Fruit

As we’ve seen, “Research into the origins of language is really research into the origins of consciousness,” as William Irwin Thompson has said [TFBTL 84]. But how can we to attempt to grasp such origins when it seems that “Man is man through language alone-but in order to invent language he must have been man already” [TFBTL 85]? Might the search for the origins of language bring us to the limits of our knowledge? It seems so, but for Thompson, “That shoreline where the island of knowing meets the unfathomable sea of our own being is the landscape of myth” [TFBTL 87]. Let us then shift our method of investigation from the philosophical to the mythological.

A “myth” is often considered synonymous with a lie, or a fanciful story made up for religious purposes bearing no relation to the actual state of affairs. But let us, for a moment, consider a new use for the myth-let us refer to it as an image or metaphor in terms of which we can attempt to understand our past. This kind of approach may seem a bit too gooey and mystical for modern academic philosophy to take seriously, but in the kind of post-modern philosophical territory that says your job is to figure out what all these scribbles mean using only the same scribbles, you are forced into using tools other than just your rational intellect. “If we try to do without poetry and esoteric mythology to describe precisely and scientifically how language evolved,” says Thompson, “we find that there is no causal explanation” [TFBTL 93]. If we use only our rational intellects-our words-we will never find a purpose or foundation for their use. Trying to do so is a bit like “shining a flashlight in search of darkness” [TFBTL 87].

Let us move on, then, to the question at hand. Where did language (with the rational mind riding on its coat tails) come from? Thompson again: “The scientist looks for a cause inside time; a mystic knows that causality is essentially a process that is outside time-space” [TFBTL 94]. What does it mean for causality to be “outside time-space”? Thompson provides an apt example using the mythical relationship between women and the moon. Numerous studies have shown that women who live in close proximity to one another tend to have menstrual periods at the same time [MSS 171]. Other studies have shown that woman who live near the equator tend to ovulate in synchrony with the full moon [UH 106]. So then, “It is reasonable for us to expect that [prehistoric] women living together in small hunting and gathering bands would all have their menstrual periods at the same time” in synchrony with the moon [TFBTL 96]. The primitive consciousness of early humanity, lacking our more linguistically developed minds, mistook this correlative relationship for a causative one. So, as it were, the moon caused women to menstruate and even to give birth. At this stage in the development of human consciousness, such a belief made very good sense. In fact, we might say it marked the beginning of our understanding of the regularities of nature. It was this kind of understanding, the kind that allowed our ancestors to link the cycles of their bodies to the phases of the moon [TFBTL 97], that, with the help of a more stable form of expression, would mature into our kind of thinking.[5]

That more stable form of expression was written language, born along side the ancient walls built to divide the first human cities from nature. This division of culture from nature occurred in the individual, as well.

Thompson again:

The rise of writing helps to break up the continuum of the sensorium and locates consciousness in the written word. What the written word is to the sensorium, the ego is to the entire consciousness” [TFBTL 196].

We can say then, that the ego gains its strength from words, from the “I.” Using the Biblical myth of the Fall of Man as our metaphor, we can see now that the fruit hanging from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the alphabet. When Adam ate of the fruit offered him by Eve, he gained knowledge of himself. With this knowledge came all the wonderful inventions we now hold in esteem as monuments to our great progress as a species. But this most promising of realizations carried with it a tragic flaw, for even with all the technological power it put in our hands, it left us powerless before the new reality of death. The identification of consciousness with the ego necessitates death, as to be born into this world as an “I” means the eventual death of that “I” is unavoidable.

“Writing, individuation, and civilization are all parts of one larger cultural phenomenology,” says Thompson [TFBTL 196]. And so it was that with the birth of written language[6] came the birth of the ego and the birth of its civilization. But because the ego fears its own death so immensely, it reaps havoc upon all that is other to it in a desperate attempt to make a name for itself that will live forever. We see all around us today the result of this struggle, as the egos of humankind rush toward their own destruction in search of salvation. It is not the brutish and primitive among us that are causing this disaster, but the most advanced, the most civilized, and the most educated. It is the rational ego that wages war, pollutes the environment, and exploits its own kind. The call to transcend this identification with words has become urgent, and Dennett’s philosophical conclusion that the mind is a collection of user-less tools couldn’t have come at a time more desperate for the application of its implications than now.

The Implications of Minds as User-less Tool Kits

Andy Clark, in his essay on Dennett, explains how “language uniquely positions us to create a cascade of new mind-tools that literally transform us into more powerful (but extended) cognitive engines” [TMR 77]. This creates a situation “where you peel away layers of equipment as you would peel away the layers of an onion, ending up with nothing at all in the way of a central core” [TMR 78]. Without a central core, it seems that all notions of personal responsibility become untenable.

Clark disagrees:

None of this forces us to give up on the morally and socially crucial notion of persons and of thinking agents. One potential reconstruction might begin with the phenomenological facts of first-person experience. A tool/user divide might then be motivated by facts about how things seem to an agent… [TMR 78]

The “phenomenological facts of first-person experience” may not be as easily understood as Clark here assumes. The user-illusion is called an illusion for a reason, and its deceptions are powerful indeed. For Dennett, human culture has created a “kind of cognitive organization-a new ‘virtual machine’-that allows us to weave a kind of ongoing narrative that artificially ‘fixes’ our cognitive contents” [TMR 79]. This fixation is artificial because, “underneath the personal-level narrative stream the more fundamental multiple processing streams” that actually make up our cognitive apparatus and allow it to function in the world have no stable locus of control. It is only our cultural upbringing that inculcates a sense of “I-ness,” and therefore, for Clark, “much of the burden is shifted from the notion of consciousness to the notion of personhood.” In other words, we no longer need to worry about finding the self in the mind because “having a self” really means being a person, and being a person means being part of a normative community. But many problems still remain. If being a person means using all kinds of tools to extend cognition, drawing boundaries around what counts as a person and what counts as a tool becomes tricky, if not impossible. If I miss my girlfriend’s call because my cell phone lost signal, am I then responsible for not answering?

Faced with these kinds of problems, Dennett is lead to conclude, “The notion of a person is a forensic notion… It’s not a metaphysical fact about the nature of persons intrinsically in themselves” [TMR 98].

It would seem, then, that the phenomenological experience of most people is in flat contradiction with the actual state of affairs. Most of us feel as though the stories we tell when asked really do represent a stable ego that is responsible and willful. We feel as though we really are separate from everyone else, even though our whole sense of “I-ness” comes directly from our relationship to the community, from that which is “other” than “I.” As Buber has said, the “I” is nothing without the “It.” Smith came to a similar conclusion, showing that subjects cannot exist without objects [TMR 225].

The call to transform our sense of ourselves seems loud and clear. The ego has been made ripe for this transformation by the stress of modern life. Raised by a society that implores it to do that which will only be acceptable if done voluntarily-to love because it must, share because it must, be responsible because it must-the ego is caught in a catch-22. The only remaining way out is awakening to what Buddhists refer to as one’s inherent Buddha Nature.

Awakening

Dennett’s philosophical conclusion that the human mind is made of nothing but a bundle of user-less tools is compelling enough to demand that its implications be extended to our direct experience of life. How, though, can we make such a convincing aspect of our experience transparent while still retaining a sense of moral responsibility? It is clear that the user-illusion once played a huge role in society, allowing it to hold individuals responsible for their actions. But once the truth of its very namesake has been discovered[7], its power becomes rather unconvincing. This is made evident by the characteristically irresponsible behavior of modern society, especially the youngest generations, who are always ready to blame circumstance for their mistakes without remorse. The authority of the community is no longer persuasive enough to convince the populace that its external rules ought to be obeyed. The sense of responsible agency projected onto the individual from without by the society is no longer acceptable. The only solution to this moral crisis is to turn inward for ethical guidance, leaving aside all forms of socially imposed morality. This may at first seem like support for total anarchy, as, if everyone acted out of their own inner selfishness, society would become more chaotic than it already is. But the whole point of awakening to an inner sense of morality is that the ego is transcended. Therefore, with the ego no longer the reigning identification of consciousness, selfishness disappears and one acts out of total benevolence and compassion for all “others.” Attaining such an awakened state is often easier said than done, of course. The real issue, then, is not merely to convince people that this kind of transformation is necessary. Certainly, everyone would probably agree that it sounds great on paper. The issue is how to actually evoke the transformation.

If the evolutionary story told thus far is accurate, we can assume that, in a sense, the transformation will eventually evoke itself. Consciousness has been transcending itself into ever-higher states since the beginning of time, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t do so again. Even so, this in no way takes responsibility away from the individuals that work to bring such a transformation about. How, though, is it to be done?

Buddhism offers a variety of paths, most of which are centered on a meditative practice. What exactly it means to meditate is a matter of much controversy, even within the Buddhist community. But the basic idea is to develop the habit of paying attention to one’s own mind until the sense of “I-ness” is seen for what it is. With enough practice, the “I” becomes a relative truth, a way of speaking. In other words, for all practical purposes of communication and day-to-day interaction, the mask of personhood does just fine. But to mistake this mask for one’s original face-to take seriously the notion that ‘I” am truly separate-is to live in ignorance of one’s actual nature. The very word, “person,” is derived from the Greek “persona,” which refers to the masks worn by stage actors.[8]

It may be asked, though, if the notion of personhood and Buddhahood do not in actuality conflict, why is the inner transformation necessary at all? The goal of Buddhist practice is not merely the belief in this idea of selflessness; it is the direct experience of it. And this direct experience of the lack of self, something Buddhist’s refer to as satori (roughly translated as “enlightenment”), forever changes one’s interpretation of what it means to wear the mask of personhood. The change settles the inner conflict created by the identification with a personal ego, releasing one from the double-bind inherent to this struggle to be that which it is impossible to be. The person who feels themselves to be a skin-encapsulated ego is in search of a stable “I” that never seems to turn up. This leads to all kinds of internal psychosis and fragmentation. Worse, it leads to the projection of inner fear onto others in the form of hatred and hostility. The realization of one’s true state, that which lacks a self, allows the mask to be worn without conflict, as it no longer represents the do all and end all of one’s existence. Instead, one’s consciousness rests in the eternal “now” moment, free from objectification and arbitrary boundary enforcement. One approaches the world with total acceptance, facing other people not as separate entities or objects to be properly understood and mechanically dealt with, but as living presences one can’t help but be in creative and compassionate communion with. The awakened person, having this sense of their true identity, is far freer and far more capable of being truly responsible than is the naïve, ego-identified person.

Conclusion

There is, as Alan Wallace calls it, a “taboo of subjectivity” in our modern day scientific culture. It is this taboo that makes the quantum physicist so uncomfortable with the notion that the observer, the subject, has a role to play in how the observed, the object, appears. In the same way, the cognitive scientist’s “Cartesian anxiety[9]” keeps him or her from realizing that the mind cannot be said to exist as something separate from the body and the world. Just as the physicist cannot ignore the data leading them to their conclusions about what the physical world is (or isn’t), the cognitive scientist cannot ignore their data about what the mind is (or isn’t). All attempts to build truly intelligent machines using a representational model have failed. Descartes conception of the mind as an internal, otherworldly entity that views the outside only as a representation has similarly failed, having been shown to be too supernatural to be taken seriously. We are thus forced to find a new way to understand how the organic mind works, one that doesn’t assume the ontological constructions of our language are built into the real make-up of the world. As members of a community of language speakers, we are prone to make comments like “I have a body.” But our metaphysical microscopes have shown us that such a statement, while not entirely false, is merely true enough. It is truer to say “I am a body.” Of course, if I am a body then I must be just as responsible for beating my heart and growing my bones as I am for tying my shoelaces and brushing my teeth.[10] Trying to make sense of this kind of situation boils down to where we want to draw the arbitrary boundaries that separate what I do from what is done to me. The whole point of this essay, though, is that this “I” is itself an artificial boundary.

Take breathing, for instance. Now that you have been made aware of your breath, it seems that it is a voluntary process. However, just a moment ago, before I mentioned it, your lungs went about their business without you paying them the slightest bit of attention. Trying to figure out which way it really is, whether you breathe or are breathed, amounts to total nonsense. We simply cannot know because our language has here met its maker.

It is here that Buddhism comes to the rescue. Buddhism doesn’t propose to solve the problem by telling you what is going in these kinds of situations. Instead, it makes an attempt to show you by leading you toward the experience of satori. Satori solves the problem by showing that there never was one to begin with, as your ordinary sense of being an ego wrapped in a bag of skin is seen for what it is-a hallucination created by the language game of your society. Only once this realization has occurred can the socially defined “person” become a truly moral being, as only then can real altruism and compassion come about from within. For the person still chasing after an imaginary ego, morality becomes something external that must be obeyed for fear of punishment. For the awakened person, the world and everyone in it ceases to be “other,” instead becoming the one true self, the upper-case Self. “In the language of the sages, only the Buddha Nature, or Brahman, or Allah, or God, sees or hears or experiences anything at all” [MI 30]. All true morality stems from this understanding.

Works Cited

Boulding, Elise. The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time. Boulder: West View Press. 1976.
Buber, Martin. Translated by William Kaufman. I and Thou. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1970.
Clapin, Hugh. Philosophy of Mental Representation. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 2002.
Clark, Andy. “Where Brain, Body, and World Collide.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 127. 1998.
Engel, Andreas. Debener, Stefan. Kranczioch, Camilia. “Coming to Attention.” Scientific American. July 2006.
Harding, D.E. The Mind’s I. New York: Bantam. 1981.
McClintock, Martha. “Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression.” Nature, Jan. 1971. Volume 229.
Reps, Paul. Senzaki, Nyogen. Zen Flesh Zen Bones. Boston: Tuttle Publishing. 1957.
Thompson, William Irwin. The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. New York: St. Martin Press. 1981.
Varela, Francisco. Thompson, Evan. Rosch, Eleanor. The Embodied Mind. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1991.
Wallace, Alan. The Taboo of Subjectivity. Oxford: University Press. 2000.
Watts, Alan. “Learning the Human Game.” Recorded lecture, 1967.
Wilber, Ken. Quantum Questions. Boston: Shambhala. 2001.

[1] This leads neuroscientists to ask questions like, “What happens in our brains when we deliberately concentrate on something?” The answer given is that a “ballet of neurons” becomes active in the brain when objects are focused on. But this explains nothing. It amounts to saying: “I decide because my brain behaves in a certain way.” The neuroscientist has over-emphasized the figure and completely forgotten the ground. The brain is nothing without the body, and the body is nothing without the world. To say, “I decide what to see,” you must neglect the possibility that the world decides for you [CA].

[2] To track non-effective targets for a substantial period of time, animals would need the mnemonic aid of words. As a language-using human, I can talk/think/write about objects that are not present (i.e., represent them) because I use words to stabilize them [PMR 105].

[3] Why can’t a purely verbal language game have a subject/object ontology? -Because it isn’t stable enough to hold such an abstract ontological structure together. It takes the aid of the written word for consciousness to make such a jump.

[4] Evolution, in this sense, is not evolution driven by natural selection alone. It has access to more tools than that. It is only the “I-It” consciousness that projects the “survival of the fittest” metaphor onto nature, after all. This kind of evolution makes leaps to higher and more organized states all at once, as though it knew where it was going before it got there. The study of emergent behaviors in systems theory here becomes very relevant. This may also be how Good Tricks [PMR 113] come about.

[5] The earliest known forms of “writing” are scratches on bone fragments designed to model the phases of the moon (and the cycle of menstruation) [TFBTL 97].

[6] Alphabets and written languages go hand-in-hand, the purpose of the alphabet being to capture vocal utterances in symbolic jars called letters so they can be recorded and standardized by grammaticians.

[7] It is an illusion, after all.

[8] The modern obsession with movie stars and celebrities is a perfect example of the glorification of the ego. They are worshipped because they represent what is usually considered the pinnacle of egohood: fame and recognition.

[9] “The usual response of the cognitive scientist [because of the Cartesian anxiety] is to ignore the experiential aspect when she does science and ignore the scientific discovery when she leads her life” [TEM 239].

[10] Indeed, if “I am a body” is truer, then “I am the All” is truest. If the body reacts to its environment as though it were a “direct recipe for action,” then the body and the world are coupled. I (not the ego but the deeper Self) become equally as responsible for rising the Sun and blowing the wind as I am for growing my bones and brushing my teeth.

Reality is a Reel

All my life,
I’ve been drawn to the big questions,
But I cannot even begin my story
Without revealing my bias in the first line.
Why “big” questions?
Are the answers especially “full” of goodness?
Does it take a “long” time to find them?
Are there really “more” than one?
Questions and answers…
A captain seeking new lands,
A surgeon seeking new cures,
A hero vying to save the world and wed the princess.
What happens when we receive our answer,
When the quest has been completed,
The journey ended?

Our metaphors change
As our minds transform
To encompass new truths.
The archetypes of time
Are wound up around the Sun,
And as we unwind them
We bind them
To ourselves.

The stars around
Make meaning resound
Within the brains
Of all those on the ground.
They look up
And see the angels dancing,
Shining to light the darkness,
Burning to ignite its gases
that birth the universe’s masses.

Gravity is love.
It pulls us together,
Even when we might
Run from the other
For fear of being one.

You put a gun to my head,
And even as you pull the trigger,
I feel that this
We have already done.
We’ve been here before,
And I have been you,
And you have been me,
And we have been eachother.
You do not kill me,
But when I kill you.
Together we complete
The cycle of
Our time.

We cannot escape
From a cosmos of veils.
Each new solution
Reveals a new delusion.

We’re trapped
By our deepest secret,
By the alleyway of creation,
By the umbilical cord
Still attached
To our soul.

You cannot see it.
It is what sees.
You cannot feel it.
It is what feels.
When you try to know it,
It reveals only your shadow.
A mirror faces a mirror,
Infinity is reflected.

What does it mean,
This infinite embrace?
Are we lost
In a bath of chaos?
Or free amidst
A kingdom of clouds?

Reality is a reel.

The Limits of Language

The Limits of Language

It seems ironic, at least in light of the premise of this paper, that the thoughts of a man such as Socrates could have given birth to the last twenty-four hundred years of Western philosophical discourse. Was it not he who said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”? Was it not also he who wandered the streets of Athens constantly reminding his fellow countrymen that they did not know exactly what they meant by the words they were using? And was it not he who suggested that our merely human means of expression is an insufficient tool for the task we have employed it with, namely the pursuit of Truth? Maybe it isn’t ironic at all, for what else could humanity, after having conquered nature to the extent that leisure time became the norm rather than the exception, busy its rational intelligence with but the insoluble game of philosophy? That philosophy is a game that cannot be won, and that is therefore necessarily unconcerned with Truth, is the central premise of this paper. This premise will be elucidated in a detailed look at the medium of language and the impossibility of its describing the fundamental nature of reality itself.

To say that the game of philosophy cannot provide Truth is to say that its mode of operation is incongruent with the apprehension of the ultimate. This is so simply because all philosophy must be done using language, and no thoughts can be written down (or spoken) without unconscious metaphysical assumptions about reality built into them. As one philosopher put it (Alan Watts), “Language based on the sentence composed of subject, verb, and predicate contains the hidden belief system that events are started by nouns—by things.” If we look unassumingly at the natural world, its interconnected nature is hard to miss. Nowhere in nature do we find the separate categories of the sentence; all in nature goes together. Our unconscious assumptions contaminate pure reality, making it impossible for the philosopher to see past the self-invented syntax of his mind. Only poets retain the ability to feel with their language, creating imagery that displays a truth all at once before the mind’s eye. In contrast, for a philosophical treatise to be taken seriously, it must adhere to the strict rules of logic and exhibit a rational structure. Its truths must therefore become linear and flat, losing the extra dimensions present in more musical, directly apprehended presentations. When such treatises concern the nature of reality, and therefore, of Truth, how is it that they deduce that reality itself is rational? On what is such an assertion based? We must save this question for later, saying only that it originates from a misunderstanding of the nature of Truth. For now we will maintain that it is impossible to make such an assertion, as reality itself is neither rational nor irrational, but arational. That is, reality itself is unconcerned with the categories of the human mind, being neither ordered nor chaotic, but both at the same time.

A lot has been asserted thus far, and in order that it is properly understood and defended, we must now begin a bit of unpacking. Examples will be drawn from quantum physics, the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Plato and the Pythagorean school of Ancient Greece, as well as various other insights from mystical traditions and persons.

To begin, we must further define Truth. A range of definitions are possible, but for our purposes, Truth shall be synonymous with reality as it actually is. Reality as it actually is, in this case, means reality before words and concepts break it up into more understandable bits and pieces. Truth then, is not something that can be communicated or described in its entirety in any way. Descriptions that point the way toward Truth may be called knowledge, but ultimately, they are relative. In other words, knowledge is always provisional: its validity is dependent upon certain preconditions remaining constant. Its conditional nature is exemplified by the progress of science, as new paradigms replace the old and our knowledge adapts to fresh observations.

The fresh observations made by physicists in the past century of the smallest bits of matter yet discovered are still struggling to find their proper context in a coherent universal theory of the physical world. In fact, to call the observed phenomena “the smallest bits” of matter may be misleading, as it would be just as correct to refer to them as waves, or patterns of probability spread throughout space and time. But the true physical make-up of the world is not our problem at the moment. Our problem, and the problem of most of the greatest physicists of the past hundred years, concerns the impossibility of ever knowing the true physical make-up of the world. The so-called “physical” nature of the world is not a verifiable aspect of reality. Physicality is merely one of the silently agreed upon assumptions made about the structure of reality that allows us to communicate meaningfully about it. Meaning, in this sense, is nothing more than correspondence. Meaning allows one aspect of the world to correspond to another using various types of representation. Nouns are used to represent especially pronounced or rigid aspects of our environment, while verbs are used to represent the more fluid and rhythmic aspects. But at their constituent level, “All the words or concepts we use to describe ordinary physical objects, such as position, velocity, color, size, and so on, become indefinite and problematic,” as Physicist Werner Heisenberg has said. Heisenberg wasn’t alone in his skepticism of language’s ability to reflect reality, as Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, Sir James Jeans, Max Planck, Wolfgang Pauli, and Sir Arthur Eddington all agreed. They all believed that to think about the question of quantum physics as if it hinged on the indeterminate nature of the “wavicles” that composed the physical world was to misunderstand the situation entirely. The actual problem was that the physical world, with its supposed separate events and individual objects, was nothing more than a way of speaking. Author Eddington put it wonderfully: “We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And Lo! it is our own.” This suggests that human descriptions of the world, down even to the most detailed and abstract of mathematical equations, are not aspects of the world itself, but are superimposed upon it by the linguistically trained mind.

The problem is essentially that all scientific knowledge, having to be syntactically arranged in order to be communicated, necessarily negates the observer. In other words, as Schrödinger explains, “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators.” Our direct experience of the world, however, is a constant reminder that we are not passive observers, but active participants. We are in the world, inseparable from it. In this context, it becomes apparent why a being who lives in (and who, in fact, is) reality, but nonetheless wishes to, at the same time, objectively describe that reality, is in for quite a surprise. Were one to succeed at such a task, they would need to devise means no less astonishing than those required to lift oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.

Our language ignores this issue, though, by imposing an a priori separation between observer and observed, or between subject and object. In other words, language becomes useful only when one agrees to assume that each observer has an independent center of consciousness apart from all others, i.e. an individual mind. But this arbitrary distinction between opposite poles of the same essence may actually create more problems than it seems to solve; namely, the problem of the existence of minds other than my own.
The problem of other minds is such that any proposed solution remains frustratingly unverifiable. Behaviorists claim what you directly observe is all that there is, thereby negating the necessity of paying the mind any attention at all. This seems quite silly, though, as such an assertion seems almost contradictory being that the theory itself requires a mind for its manifestation and subsequent application. To “prove,” though, that other minds exist would require that a solution be spelt out here on the page, that some logically coherent intellectual argument be voiced so that you might read it and somehow understand that it were correct. But in the spirit of Wittgenstein, we could say that such an answer was impossible, as “proving” that other minds exist cannot be accomplished using any conventional linguistic means. Rather, the question itself ought to be unasked before anything might be settled. It may be impossible to know that other minds exist, but surely it is quite possible to feel that they do. As Wittgenstein put it, “[See the] consciousness in another’s face. Look into someone else’s face, and see the consciousness in it, and a particular shade of consciousness. You see on it, in it, joy, indifference, interest, excitement, torpor, and so on. [It’s] the light in other people’s faces.” Intuitively, then, the problem of other minds is no problem at all, but a farce—an unnecessary intellectual abstraction of a reality that is easily grasped by anyone willing to admit that “proof” is the burden of language and not the burden of reality as we experience it. In reality, the proof is in the pudding: taste it and you understand. There is no reason another person ought to have a mind, there is only the perception that they do, a perception arrived at through a direct, unmediated experience of reality.

Now, like Wittgenstein’s ladder, take these words and throw them out. You’ve climbed up and arrived at the experience of the truth that other minds exist by following an injunction rather than by understanding a logical proof. Kick aside the ladder and realize the truth as an experience rather than as a rational argument.

Of course, it may be important to define what is meant by “mind” in the first place. Here is John Locke’s view concerning the nature of the self, or mind: “[It is] impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive.” Locke’s statement almost perfectly exemplifies the fundamentally contradictory nature of all forms of dualistic knowledge. It is indeed impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive, but notice the necessity of the premise “for any one.” This one is the “mind,” the “I,” the individual person, the illusory place holder given to each human entity by the grammatical structure inherent to his way of describing reality. So it is true then, at least “true enough” in Wittgenstein’s words, that one cannot perceive without knowing he perceives, as it is said “I perceive” such that the perceiving is performed by me and therefore separate from me. But am “I” a real entity, a real thinking substance, or merely a product of the purely functional conventions of language (i.e. Wittgenstein’s suggestion that the meaning of a word is derived from its use)? As Huang Po, a Zen Buddhist monk, once said, “Let me remind you, the perceived cannot perceive.” If “I” am aware of my own perception of myself, which is the real me: my perception or my perception of my perception, or my perception of my perception of my perception, and so on? This indeterminacy appears to be unavoidable, however it arises only because of the dualistic nature of language, because an “I” must “have” perceptions instead of there just being perception alone.

This “perception alone” is the only real quality that can be assigned to reality, although it hardly suggests any specific qualities at all. We all intuitively feel this perception at the deepest level of our experience all the time. It reveals what there is. It is our current experience, our body’s total sensory awareness of our environment as it exists in its entirety before the names and descriptions we then unknowingly superimpose upon it become our only way of thinking about it to describe it to others.

Of course, alphabetized language is only one of the scientific community’s tools of discovery. The other is mathematics, and there is little doubt among scientists that its descriptions of the processes of nature are far more accurate than what words can provide. As physicist Sir James Jeans has said, “The essential fact is simply that all the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures.” The usefulness of mathematics—its ability to match with astonishing precision the naturally occurring patterns found in the external world—has been known by humans for thousands of years, dating back to the earliest schools of Greek Philosophy. One such school, the Pythagoreans, saw in mathematics a more perfect reality than that which we perceive through our flawed senses. The founder of the school, Pythagoras, carefully studied the sounds made by his lyre, noting that a string could be made to vibrate at different harmonic frequencies. A string half the length would vibrate at twice the frequency. This simple ratio is an example of the early connections found between the pure abstraction of mathematics and the real phenomenal world. But the school had its critics, namely Aristotle, who said of the Pythagoreans that they “did not seek for explanations and theories to suit the facts, but distorted the facts to fit certain theories and favored opinions, and set themselves up, one might say, as co-arrangers of the universe” (Jeans paraphrasing Aristotle). This criticism comes from one of the world’s first great empiricists, and it has been echoed by many since. Most scientists today agree that a certain combination of applied mathematics and empirical investigation is an acceptable means of deriving knowledge from the natural world. Unfortunately, as practical as such a compromise may seem, a growing number of scientists, like the physicists mentioned in this paper, have come to realize the inherent shortcomings of such an approach. The observation of the strange world of quantum particles has forever altered the way science views the world, as the search for the fundamental substance of matter has been shown not only to be difficult, but infeasible. The empiricists can no longer assert a priori that his observations are of an actual, physically subsisting world. In other words, physical science has reached the boundaries of its field of inquiry, not because it has reached the Truth or ultimate ground of being (or because it has come to the conclusion that no such Truth can be said to exist), but because when it tried to do so, it found in nature nothing but its own reflection. If, as Locke said centuries before subsequent empirical observation could prove him correct, that “the real essence of substances” is unknowable, then, to use Jeans words, “We can only progress by discussing the laws which govern the changes of substances, and so produce the phenomena of the external world.” For science to remain viable, it must realize and accept it limits, focusing on bringing hidden patterns (or “laws”) to the surface, rather than on finding the one and only Truth. Mathematics, then, can return to the forefront as the best known map of the phenomenal world. Of all the man-made conceptual molds thus far laid atop nature, mathematics, because of its unique correspondence to the world, remains the one that has allowed us the deepest understanding.

Plato, a Pythagorean, based his theory of Ideas on the supposed perfection of a mathematically-arranged cosmos. His well-known allegory of the cave provides the perfect metaphor of his picture of the universe, in that the world presented as it is to our senses is merely a shadow version of the more ideal world from which it arose. This ideal world, says Plato, is mathematically perfect.

As perfect as this ideal world may be, and as neatly as the mathematician’s calculations may appear to mirror it, there remains an issue of contention. It is as if someone had cast a line into a pond in hopes of catching a fish, had caught a rather large one, and had then proceeded to brag of his accomplishment to another. This other then remarked to the first that he had earlier seen him stock the pond with the fish himself. As Jeans relates, “It would prove nothing if nature had merely been found to act in accordance with the concepts of applied mathematics; these concepts were specially and deliberately designed by man to fit the workings of nature.” Jeans goes on to say that, even if mathematics was not “deliberately designed,” but instead unconsciously remembered from the depths of our mind as a means of translation between it and the world, it remains true that no knowledge is actually gained of the outside world other than that which has been put into it by the mind itself.

So then, we’ve arrived back again at where we started: stumped by the intriguing relationship between mind and matter, thought and substance, ideal and actual. Truth, it would seem, is not some dogmatic claim awaiting human discovery; it is not a secret code etched into nature that might be found and spoken, written, or mathematically formulated and thereafter known for all time. Instead, Truth is that which motivates the formulating. Truth is both that which animates the world and that which makes up its total being. Truth, then, might be said to include but transcend the lesser, knowledge-based notions of true and false that dominate human thought. In this sense, Truth is always one step ahead of our apprehension, consistently outpacing us in our race toward ultimate understanding.

Might it not be said, though, that on account of our current formulating—through the act of our present participation in the cosmic game of pattern formation—we already “know” the Truth? If, as it appears obvious at least to this observer, that the universe, in both its internal/mental and external/material senses, is essentially a continuously forming pattern, then isn’t it more useful to think of Truth as the continuous evolution of the universe as a whole? In this sense, Truth may be closer to a verb than a noun. For the sake of argument, suppose we were to come across some notion of absolute and final Truth about the world we inhabit; would it not become obsolete in the very next moment, as the universe continued to evolve into new forms with altogether different Truths? This is, in effect, another way of saying that, while the mind’s static concepts may not always fit the ever evolving cosmos, the ever evolving cosmos nonetheless always fits the mind, because the cosmos includes and transcends the mind. The cosmos, in other words, includes all time and space in which the mind can theorize. It is then unavoidable that the mind should be enveloped by the Truth always, regardless of how frustrated it may become in its fatuous pursuit of something more. This pursuit, as was said earlier, arises due to a misunderstanding of the nature of Truth. The Truth, by the sheer fact of its namesake, must be directly apprehendable at all times. It is by virtue of this obviousness that the Truth be missed, as we are like fish that swim in the ocean but haven’t yet noticed the water.

Socrates, even though he was doubtless a great philosopher, never wrote a thing. He believed the written word was left too vulnerable to misinterpretation, because the one who reads may pull from the same words something entirely different than what the author himself intended. He also felt that writing made the mind lazy, in that it took over what was formally an internal act of memorization. Knowledge written upon a page no longer needs to be remembered by an individual, and as a result the individual comes to understand less of what he thinks he knows, becoming more focused on the collection and recording of information for its own sake than on the practical application of it in the present moment. Instead of writing, Socrates preferred face-to-face dialogue, as it forced immediate justification of each person’s statements. Truth, for Socrates, was far closer to this kind of immediate, personal discourse than to the abstract realms described by words on a page. Unfortunately, the medium of the page is the one upon which the current set of ideas must be drafted, and as such, the writer can claim only that which the reader has understood. For, as Socrates is still so quick to remind us, we may not have any way of knowing exactly what we mean by the words we use. To conclude a paper on such terms doesn’t leave the claims made in a very convincing light. However, being that the work itself was concerned with exactly this problem, it can only be suggested that the reader take these words, not for what they are, but for what they mean.

Integral Spirituality

“When we ponder on [realization], we begin to perceive how feeble in their self-assertive violence and how confusing in their misleading distinctness are the words that we use. We begin also to perceive that the limitations we impose on the Brahman arise from a narrowness of experience in the individual mind that concentrates itself on one aspect of the Unknowable and proceeds forthwith to deny or disparage all the rest. We tend always to translate too rigidly what we can conceive or know of the Absolute into the terms of our own particular relativity. We affirm the One and Identical by passionately discriminating and asserting the egoism of our own opinions and partial experiences against the opinions and partial experiences of others. It is wiser to wait, to learn, to grow, and, since we are obliged for the sake of our self-perfection to speak of these things which no human speech can express, to search for the widest, the most flexible, the most catholic affirmation possible and found on it the largest and most comprehensive harmony” (p. 29, The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo).

This, I think, is exactly what an integral spirituality should embody. Integralism has nothing to do with correctly formulating the logical or linguistic consequences of its application to philosophy and science, though such endeavors may indeed be fruitful. Integral spirituality has a tremendous variety of applications, and I don’t mean to negate the deep thinkers who attempt to translate their experiential realizations into textual argument. This kind of work can lead to tremendous advances in our understanding of thought and discourse. However, it seems to me that it all too often ends in pointless bickering over the most accurate definition of some term or series of terms. This is a shame. It is said of the Buddha that he had no fixed doctrines to teach, no one method of bringing awakening about in his students. Instead, he allowed his teaching to transform itself before each audience. Employing such skillful means in his conveyance of the Dharma allowed the Buddha to avoid mere philosophical or theological debates with his students. Instead, he tried only to bring them to an awareness of their own direct experience. He was not trying to popularize one doctrine above another, nor was he attempting to provide an answer to any formal question or inquiry. His only goal was to pass his realization on to others—others, which for the Buddha had become only reflections of himself—but from whose perspective the Buddha (and his realization) still appeared separate. So in the end, then, it matters not “what” we say, but “how” we say it. If a sentient being has had their buddhahood irrevocably unveiled and revealed to consciousness, they no longer feel obliged to correct the grammar of other beings. Rather, they attempt only to skillfully lead others to their own realization through whatever means necessary. The realization is, of course, one that occurs on the level of experience and most assuredly not on the level of rational argumentation. A bodhisattva, therefore, does not approach others with any sense of intellectual superiority, even when that may indeed be the case. Instead, they confront the other with endless compassion—so endless, in fact, that the other ceases to be other and becomes only a mirror of the self. The bodhisattva, so illumined, proceeds to use upaya to remind the “other” of the game they have been playing with themselves. This attempt to awaken another being has a very specific motivation behind it… We might even say that this “why” is what, in the end, REALLY matters. The motivation comes not from any sense of outward duty, nor from any inward desire. Rather, the bodhisattva returns from Nirvana to enlighten others precisely because that is all a realized being can do. If we fall into the trap of assuming this enlightened action is the result of some cosmic duty, we begin to approach others as though they really needed to awaken. It is as if we forgot that they were not already so! The task of the bodhisattva is merely to serve as a reminder, as a mirror upon which others see themselves reflected so clearly that they, too, are irrevocably shaken from their slumber. Similarly, if we become trapped by the idea that such teaching is the result of an inward desire, we forget that it is of the nature of buddhahood to have dispensed with desire. One who desires to, as it were, change others inevitably fails; there simply is no way to affect such a change because of the reflective nature of our interactions with others. Any attempt to alter another that stems from such desire is immediately recognized by the other as an ingenuous and egoic attempt to fulfill some selfish pleasure within ourselves. An integral spirituality, then, is precisely the realization of buddhahood. Being integral is not an easy task. We must become bodhisattvas whether we like it or not. It is our spiritual responsibility to do so, as it is only through us that spirit can perform its evolutionary magic.

Subtle Energy and Machines

I wonder if electronic devices are a form of “captured” subtle energy…. Machines are not alive, but what does it mean to be alive? Life grows itself. Machines must be built by an outside agency. Because life grows itself, it is always following some hidden inner law or creative principle. Henri Bergson called this the elan vital, but we don’t need to try to revitalize vitalism to legitimize subtle energy. Vitalism and reductionism, while on the surface appearing to be exact opposites, are actually mirror images of one another. They are both the product of a dualism between spirit and matter. Biologist, Ernst Mayr: “It would be ahistorical to ridicule vitalists. When one reads the writings of one of the leading vitalists like Driesch one is forced to agree with him that many of the basic problems of biology simply cannot be solved by a philosophy as that of Descartes, in which the organism is simply considered a machine…..The logic of the critique of the vitalists was impeccable. But all their efforts to find a scientific answer to all the so-called vitalistic phenomena were failures…. rejecting the philosophy of reductionism is not an attack on analysis. No complex system can be understood except through careful analysis. However the interactions of the components must be considered as much as the properties of the isolated components.” Mayr is here suggesting a new approach to the scientific method. Traditionally, the biological sciences have been thoroughly Cartesian. The observing scientist studies organic life as though he/she were in the privileged position of having a mind and intelligence, while the organism itself is reduced to nothing but the mechanistic playing out of causal events based on elementary chemistry and physics. The dualism here should be obvious. For according to the scientist’s own method, he/she has no basis to objectively determine the meaning of the structure of an organism because he/she, too, is nothing but an organism. As such, his/her brain is just like the “machines” being studied. How can one purely material process come to know and understand another purely material process? This being understood, we should not reject dualism completely. It has been a useful method for a science not yet conscious enough of itself to realize the deception inherent to such a scheme. But as the evolution of consciousness has unfolded, the distinction between mind and body has grown increasingly unstable. Such a situation calls for a new formulation of the scientific perspective. Science can no longer look at organisms as though they were machines. To do so is to reify an event into a noun. Life, and indeed it seems all of manifest reality, is in a perpetual state of becoming. When traditional mechanistic science tries to understand life, it inevitably conceptualizes (i.e., makes separate, cuts off, dissects) a model with little direct relation to the perpetual growth and change of the organism as it exists holistically. In other words, it turns a process into an idea, or becomingness into being. An analogy may be of help here: when a mechanic deals with a car engine, he/she can remove parts indefinitely without fear that the car itself will fail to work once the necessary components are reinstalled. A surgeon, in contrast, must make haste to repair damaged organs and cannot work with the body as though its parts were responsible for separate tasks. Every organ in the body functions together on one task: preserving life. Removing the stomach from the body would surely result in immediate death; in the case of a car, however, removing the gas tank may prevent the car from starting… but reinstall it and the car will run as good as new. So while it may be true that a running car and a living organism contain distinguishable components, that neither will function without each of these components in proper working order, there remains a crucial difference between the two. An organism has an ongoing “life force” (subtle energy?) that sustains its process of growth and maintenance. If this autopoeisis, or loop of self-creation, is broken, the organism will die. A car has no loop, and so it can be taken apart and rebuilt an infinite number of times. It is not as tied to the ongoing passage of time as an organism. We may find a more appropriate framework for studying such a reality of becomingness in the work of A.N. Whitehead. His process philosophy says that reality is composed of “occasions of experience.” It follows from this that everything that exists is in a perpetual state of change and that cause and effect have only relative explanatory power. Nothing causes anything else to happen, strictly speaking, because everything is connected. Each occasion of experience influences every other, past, present, and future. This certainly opens many doors toward a better understanding of synchronicity. My original question asked whether machines were somehow cages that humans have built to trap subtle energy. I suggest this because it seems that organic life contains subtle energies naturally, and that these energies are the guiding principles of growth, intelligence, consciousness, empathy, etc. The body is a gift of Spirit… might machines be humanity’s stolen goods?

Epic of Gilgamesh and Apocalypse

Go, set off to Uruk, tell Gilgamesh of this Man of Might (Enkidu). He will give you the harlot Shamhat, take her with you. The woman will overcome the fellow as if she were strong. When the animals are drinking at the watering place have her take off her robe and expose her sex. When he sees her, he will draw near to her, and his animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will be alien to him…She went and disrobed in front of Enkidu and performed the primitive task of womanhood…When Enkidu finished with her, he turned his attention to his animals. The gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off, the wild animals distanced themselves from his body… Now becoming aware of himself, he became lonely and sought a friend in the city. -Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 1

In order to get some understanding of our current situation as a species, we must look to the past for context and reference. Ancient Sumer was not the first or only city to materialize during the earliest stages of the Neolithic revolution. They were, however, the first to record their thoughts on clay tablets that have survived time to be found and deciphered by contemporary eyes. Their thoughts took the form of a story, as most early writings not for legalistic or economic purposes tended to be expressed as narrative. The story, with its easy to understand plots and characters, was the most efficient medium for conveying cultural information for early Neolithic humans. It turned the indecipherable chaos of natural reality into a manageable series of events and decisions, into the ordered categories of cultural reality. So what does the Epic of Gilgamesh reveal about humanity’s transition from pre-civilized hunting/gathering tribes into city dwelling farmers/traders/artisans/etc.? For one thing, we see that it was not a particularly easy or unambiguously welcome change. Enkidu is no doubt devastated that his former animal friends no long want anything to do with him. He no doubt embraces woman, lusting after her beauty, but in so doing becomes all the more aware of his own ugliness. He longs for union with nature again, for return to the forest, but his new self-consciousness frightens both the animals and himself. The darkness of the forest is no longer a welcoming, motherly womb, but a dark and threatening abyss made more ominous by its contrast with the bright, walled-in city. The fact that woman seemingly caused man’s fall from nature is no surprise, though we must be cautious not to take the exoteric meaning of the story too seriously. It was most likely written by men, and therefore we should not be surprised that they would lay the blame upon woman. If we pierce the surface of the narrative, though, and see its esoteric meaning, we begin to recognize that man made woman his surrogate mother, replacing nature with its human/cultural recapitulation. Man could not survive totally removed and alienated from the natural world. He still required the nourishment and care provided by women, and indeed it is woman who is responsible for most of the development of “his” culture. Before the Neolithic revolution, in the Pleistocene, man busied himself with hunting while woman stayed home to gather food and raise the children. While her gathering made up about 90% of the tribes food supply, her even greater contribution was the babbling games she played with the babies. These games gave rise to our language, which allowed more complex cultural development and gave the human species the boost it needed to eventually organize into great settlements. Woman, therefore, is the bedrock upon which all man’s achievements are built. Being that the birth of civilization was so painful for humanity, might we assume that its death will be the same? It is possible, however we must distinguish between animal-man becoming cultured-man in the beginning, and cultured-man becoming… what? after the ending. Man has long ago lost his innocence, so he cannot simply return to nature as before. Post-civilized man is something new, but rather than ask what shape he may take, we must look at ourselves and ask what shape he has already taken. The ending of civilization is already upon us and probably has been so since the world wars of the 20th century made the failure of civilized life known once and for all. If they weren’t enough to prove this, the environmental peril and increasing decadence of the so-called “civilized people” now living in the developed world should be. The apocalyptic archetype has infected society as a whole, but the most sensitive among us experience a disproportional dose of its powers. What then, are we to make of ourselves? Who are we? Who am I? Such questions have no easy answers, and it is quite possible that they have no answers at all. It may be that they are posited in such a way that answering them conclusively is impossible. This kind of ambiguity seems to be a common theme for post-civilized humanity. We know not where we stand, nor even what it is that stands somewhere unknown. As Sir Arthur Eddington once remarked, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. That is the extent of our knowledge.” How then, are we to transition into a new age without knowing what form we must take? It is clear that animal-man similarly had no foreknowledge of what the transition to cultured-man held for him. It was, as it were, a blind leap of faith, though it was taken in near unconsciousness, man only realizing what he had done after the fact. For us, however, with our self-consciousness having increased to such a degree that we can barely move without second guessing ourselves, such a leap must be taken in full understanding of its possible consequences and implications. For cultured-man to become spiritual-man, he must leave the assurance and protection of city life behind and leap, not back into the depths of the forest, but into the furthest reaches of inner (or possibly outer, or possibly both) space. It will not be an easy transition, and no doubt we will experience birth pains. But nothing truly new can come about without the total destruction of the old. Apocalypse brings with it such destruction, but great opportunity follows in its wake.

Is the Internet integral?

Is all this blogging and vlogging, all this artificial symbol exchanging, really changing the world? I think the answer to that question depends on us. This whole activity itself (trying to save the world by networking) is the evolutionary zenith of the human conscience. It is our most self-consciously social undertaking in history. We are “self-consciously social,” which means we are so aware of our own alienation that we direct all our attention to the other in a desperate attempt to save ourselves. Is it working? Again, I think it depends on you and me. It depends why we share ourselves with the global mind… with eachother. Why do we pour so much time into this… are we just lonely? Are we naive idealists who think mere words and videos can change the world? I think we are lonely, and I also think we are idealistic… but that doesn’t mean the world isn’t already changing because of this. I think words and videos change minds. And minds change the world. We are the ones who read/write the blogs and watch/record the videos. We are the ones who are trying to create, and who I think have largely suceeded in creating, the first genuinely global human community in history. The sucess isn’t complete, obviously. But it’s growing every day. People are in-touch with people again… We are beginning to understand eachother… We are narrowing the gap between public and private life, becoming planetary citizens who realize the full potential (and responsibility) of the human being. The most important thing, the thing I keep trying to remind myself of, is that the movement is nothing unless I am honest with myself. No one else is going to make this work… no ONE. We’ve all got to commit to living for eachother… only then can we save ourselves. Only then will these words and movies make minds change the world.