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.

What does it mean to be integral?

As of right now, I have no idea what I could end up saying about the essence of integral spirituality. You must of course trust that I have not edited the text and interfered with its temporal flow. I’ll admit I had to stop and reflect to gather my thoughts before I wrote each of the prior sentences. But that is also how we speak– at least how I speak. I’ll come clean now, though… I did have some idea what I wanted to say before I started this blog: I wanted to say that this all has everything to do with intersubjectivity.

The cosmos evolves. That means nothing is separate and everything is connected. No one force, no single holon, can act but in concert with all other holons. Higher holons may have more intentional weight, more creative and expressive capability, but the lower holons still pay the bills. To evolve, then, is to grow more complex and more connected. Life suceeds in this process of self-creation only when the higher complexities don’t become so unhinged that they snap off and send the whole system tumbling back to the bottom rung of the latter. I’m thinking here in terms of the mind, its relationship with the body; and through the body, the world. The mind is straining so hard to see the world that the body itself is dissolving. Might this be the root of our ecological crisis?

To get back to intersubjectivity… This strenuous relationship between the mind (the I) and the world (the It) has had a covert but deeply influential role to play in our understanding of what it means to communicate. If we leave the body behind in an attempt to get a clear and objective view of the world, we find that we can no longer even recognize ourselves. The mind no longer exists so long as I have perfect knowledge of the observable world. Well, it may exist (the scientists have to think their theories into existence, after all)… but it is not significant. Only material symbols are significant. Everything else is a misunderstanding. But if we remain within the body, words become gestures. A disembodied mind’s feelings become hidden because the body is repressed as the mind retreats inward. Communication becomes disinterested and vague. Words seem to have no stable meaning. Gesture, though, is a direct conveyance of emotion… it ejects the hidden inerds of human expression out into the world via an immediate tactile contact with the Other. To intersubject we must first embody. This embodiment then gives us the ability to enact our meanings while conversing with others. This intersubjectivity bridges the gap between the I and It perspectives and gives life its meaning. Logical calculations of an objective world are no longer the core motivation behind every attempt at relationship with the Other. Instead, the simple play of thoughts exchanged between beings becomes an end in itself… and out of this spontaneous interaction arises new higher forms of evolution… more complex and more connected forms.

So we should expect that an integral society would be geographically tribal (more complex), yet consciously planetary (more connected). How can this be pulled off effectively? The internet seems to be playing a HUGE role. Blogs, and I think especially Vlogs, are starting to open up streams of communication that have never been available before. I am currently in the middle of a somewhat intense philosophical discussion on youtube with someone who lives in Australia (I’m in Orlando, Fl). The medium certainly is the message, as Mcluhan said. The internet is a very spiritual format… we are forced to embrace the Other and face up to ourselves with every word we write and speak.

Enlightenment is a group phenomenon. Separately, as individuals, we cannot evolve. The next step requires a more subtle awareness of one another. We need eachother to do this right, otherwise we’re just masturbating and wasting our creative power. The next step in the evolution of consciousness can take place only when we engage one another openly, rationally, and spiritually. We’ve got to communicate, put our heads together, and learn to experience the cosmos integrally.

Am I my Words?

Learning to speak is learning to act. Verbal communication is reading the lines and putting them into character. That is, taking a text and giving it context: putting it with something else, making a connection (to something others will understand). The face, the gestures of the body: these are the instruments of meaning. It is the body that conveys our metaphors. Writing is a silent art. I type and these letters appear before me. Are they my letters, or are they God’s letters? What’s the difference? My letters are my ego’s letters; the story I tell to identify myself (both to others and to my own self-consciousness). I own them, I create them, and I speak them freely. God’s letters are the voice of a prophet. They are the words written for all time, the eternal scripts, the sacred scrolls. They are the foundational texts supporting our understanding of the value we attribute to life. They move us not because they describe a reality, but because they create a possibility. They manifest the impossible in our lives, keeping it alive even amidst the powerful surge of secularism. After nature was exposed to rational investigation, disenchanted by inductive reasoning, and sickened with industrial revolution, human beings began to demand their rights. Their rights included life, liberty, and happiness. They also included freedom of speech and property. “I am the blacksmith who bends these lines into shape and sends them to battle in the field. I own what I say!” But does this imply that one is what one says? Am I, at my very roots, nothing but a complex assortment of words? It cannot be so. Words are the world. I am the reader of the words… the liver in the world… the my in mystery. I cannot say what I am because I am a who. Who am I? I cannot say. I can only be who I am. I cannot say… I cannot become who I am. Who I become is not me. Who I am is me—who I am eternally. The who is what we see. The what is what we say. The how is what we draw. The where is where we are. The when is when we are. The why is that we are.

Marvin Minsky’s Emotion Machine and My Own Consciousness

Is higher immediacy not unlike satori? That is, to really get at the nature of the human being, to really “understand” what it means to be human, is it not required that the human that wishes to “understand” change the way they are in the world, that they somehow re-interpret the meaning of their experience? This change in the way they are in the world is unlike a merely new way of intellectually formulizing existence. It is not a new vocabulary one adapts that clears up why everything is the way it is. On the contrary, it is a new way of being related to language and to existence, not merely a new use of language or a new definition of existence. … Lower immediacy is nature in all its non-human manifestations. Humans developed the seeming ability to delay this immediacy. It becomes mediation, which is verbalization. At its lowest, this verbalization is idle chatter (folk psychology); at its highest, it is philosophy. The former is an immediate-mediacy, while the latter is a mediate-mediacy. We might here substitute Freud’s words: Id, Ego, and Super-ego in place of lower immediacy, immediate-mediacy, and mediate-mediacy (in that order). This seems to be the hermeneutical lens through which Minsky wants to understand the human condition. It suits him as a computer scientist attempting to build an “emotion machine” because it is supposed to explain how “higher order” thought processes like “value” and “meaning” and “ethics” can arise out of a totally naturalistic system. Naturalism demands that all of nature be explainable, if not right now then at least soon enough. Freud’s understanding of the mind was an early attempt at naturalization that failed only (I think Minsky would say) because he lacked the proper theoretical understanding of the brain, or he lacked the abstract ability to break down a complicated process such as the mind into its simpler components. Minsky seems to think computers might allow us succeed with Freud’s theory by picking up where he left off and deciphering the necessary complexities. It seems that he wants to turn emotions into another way of thinking because wants to show how they are just one more tool the brain uses to accomplish its tasks. Distinguishing between emotions and thoughts no longer becomes useful for Minsky’s project because he must explain emotions (i.e. he must verbalize them, make them understandable, objectify them) in order to build a machine that employs them. So our “folk” understanding might lead us to believe that emotions are “internal” and subjective processes that cannot be understood, that they are incommensurable with “external” thoughts, or justifications that can be spoken and articulated intelligibly. Minsky has to do away with this distinction or no “emotion machine” could be built. He must reduce the internal state to the external state because only the external state can be explained and then built. … Immediate-mediacy is unaware of its mediation; it has taken on its culture so unabashedly that it is transformed into nature. This is why the ego can communicate so directly with its peers; it exists in the culture immediately without a view from the outside. Intersubjectivity is all the ego amounts to and so it cannot remain an ego if it becomes florid. Mediate-mediacy is, at least to a point, aware of its own mediacy; it doubts more often than immediacy, reflecting on what is heard before coming to any conclusions (unless it is skeptical, in which case a conclusion not to conclude has been made). For those in mediate-mediacy, nothing is irrational, everything can be explained (at least in theory). Anything that has not yet been understood objectively is approached with the assumption that it is hiding something. An investigation is required in order to discover the misunderstanding. Mediate-mediacy is the super-ego, always doubting, always feeling guilty for what it has done as an ego. This notion of our highest faculty or level of thinking being the one that reminds us of our “sin,” so to speak, is no doubt drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In pointing this out, I do not mean to reduce Freud’s formulization to “nothing more” than a mythological ploy. I’d rather like to say that such mythological ways of thinking are hardly “nothing but”; rather, I think the important issue is for scientists like Minsky to acknowledge their cultural context and their need to use mythologically-founded metaphors to describe their theories to anyone in their community. Such theories are always approximations; yet many scientists often act as though theirs is the be all and end all, while clearly every theory, to even be understood by anyone else but its formulator, must be expressed in a common mythopoeic and traditional sort of way. … For those in immediate-mediacy, a cloud is just a cloud. For mediate-mediacy, a cloud is precisely not a cloud; it is a collection of water droplets frozen at high altitude by low temperatures and held together by upper atmospheric pressure gradients. Even when a cloud is reduced (and thereby revealed) in this way, mediate-mediacy shows its continuously inconvincible doubt by further questioning the definition. How, it asks, can we be sure that a cloud is really a collection of frozen water droplets and not actually a collection of hydrogen and oxygen atoms? And how can we be sure that those atoms are really discrete particles of matter and not simply “clouds” of possibility? It seems that mediateness brings us full circle, right back into the supposedly concealed expression of nature we find in immediacy. This explains the structure of scientific revolutions: one mediated explanation is pushed to its extreme until the entire paradigm collapses upon itself and, for a brief moment, mediacy becomes immediate. This re-union with nature is brief, though; new churches are soon built to conquer her meaning and reveal her secrets one again. Mediateness cannot forget its doubt, even after glimpses of immediacy. The glimpses are fleeting, it says; they are gone before they can even be understood (in words). I specify about the verbal nature of mediate understanding because there is also another kind of understanding, one that is not mediate. But to call it then immediate is misleading, for it is unlike the lower immediacy of immediate-mediacy. It is a kind of understanding which, quite mysteriously, contradicts mediate-mediacy and yet out paces it to the truth. For mediate-mediacy, the truth is always held at a distance; to bring it any closer would be to forgo one’s duty to remain doubtful. It can therefore never arrive in the truth, it must always postpone it. Only a higher immediacy can carry one into truth, though again it is a truth that is mediately incomprehensible. The immediate truth is the presence of truth, and so it cancels doubt, and therefore mediacy. Mediacy is only sustained by doubt, by the absence of truth. In mediacy, truth is conceived of as dualistic; its opposite is falsehood. A fact is either true of false, right or wrong, correct or incorrect. For higher immediacy, truth has no opposite because existence is self-evidently true. For mediacy, concealment always remains, but in the leap to higher immediacy the loop of the mediate quest for revelation is subsumed and immediacy becomes true even while remaining mysterious. … Higher immediacy sees nature as though it were a lotus. At the surface and from afar, it appears to float freely with glowing white radiance as a heavenly jewel amidst the earthly pond. Upon closer inspection, a root is discovered leading down to the murky depths that birthed it, and its radiance fades into a never-ending inward cascade of pedals that disappear into obscurity, like the sun burns itself up from inside out. Veils behind veils behind veils behind veils whose only “center” is the matrix of creation and destruction, the release and entrapment of light into matter, the source of noumenal insight reflecting phenomenal glow. To exist is to be pulled by both body and soul. E=MC2 means that energy (light) is equal to (but somehow distinguishable from) matter accelerated to lightspeed2. Matter at this “speed” is no longer traveling through spacetime at all, but becomes eternal. The bomb explodes because matter is brought to its limit and converted into light. Light is like the soul, existing throughout all time and space. Matter is like the body, existing in a specific time and place. Together they become life, though it seems that only the human being has the gift that tells them so. … Lower immediacy (Id, nature) Immediate-mediacy (Ego, culture) Mediate-mediacy (Super-ego, philosophy) Higher immediacy (faith, trust in the unknown, embrace of mystery) … This latter category (higher immediacy) is not on Freud’s list, of course. Freud’s project, like Minsky’s, is first to subsume the higher immediacy into the lower, and then to reduce both of them to some intelligible pattern or process. This is the project of naturalism. … If one wishes to take the theoretical position that the human being is no more than an intricate and complex machine, then I must, as an Individual, reply that there is a ghost in the machine. There is no other way for me to authentically describe my own existence. The mechanist responds that my position is incomprehensible and therefore absurd. I can only reply by reminding the mechanist that it was his initial thesis that caused my antithesis to become warranted—and that my actual position on the matter requires synthesis. However, the synthesis required is “silent.” It cannot be communicated because it cannot be predicated. It cannot be predicated because it cannot be objectified. The synthesis requires a leap beyond mediation into higher immediacy. Mediation is a contradiction. Its resolution comes only through synthesis; but again, synthesis is an experiential truth that concerns existence and that therefore cannot be spoken intelligibly because it defies objectification by way of mediation into the universal. All intelligible speech is understandable precisely because it is abstract enough to make sense to everyone. The synthesis of essence and existence, or mind and matter, or soul and body can only be lived; it cannot be thought. What can be thought is the universal, the abstract approximations of common sense rationality, the general truths that apply to all people in all situations—in short, to everyone and no one. Higher immediacy cannot be understood; it has crawled out of the primordial soup of undifferentiated lower immediacy and climbed up the impressive knowledge structures of mediacy. Upon reaching the peak, it realized the only thing left to do was jump, and so it leapt into the unknown immediacy of existence as a synthesis between body and soul. To say that synthesis unites body and soul is not exactly correct. The paradox is that, as a body, each finite individuality gets a full connection to the infinite soul; but as a soul, the infinite gets incarnated into a very particular body and appears to become finite. It is neither way alone, nor is it both, nor neither altogether. The synthesis cannot be understood; it can only be experienced concretely, first-hand. … What does it mean to experience it first-hand, and further, how is one to arrive at such an experience? The latter question appears more foundational epistemologically, so let us start there. One arrives at the experience by becoming a question to themselves. No one else can ask the question for them; others can only point at it, or suggest it. Others can attempt as carefully as they can to articulate the unmanifest, to explain the circular, to describe the featureless, to unveil the transparent, etc.; but they can never handover the experience itself. The experience itself is a personal movement, an entirely interior process of self-reckoning that can only be coaxed by exterior influences, never directly touched, never forced. So the “how” is to ask the question “who am I?” Now, what would this experience mean? What does it point to, what does it lead to, what is its significance? The higher immediacy, like the lower, has the peculiar characteristic of standing for itself. It needs no description. It cannot be expressed because it is itself expression; it expresses of itself. Nature is a glorious celebration of beauty and creation, yet it has absolutely no purpose for itself. It exists, seemingly, because it likes to exist—even in spite of all its struggles. The zebra exists despite the fact that the alligator may eat it. The human being in immediate-mediacy lives on despite the fact that his/her intellect deciphers no such thing as existence, and he/she looks forward to tomorrow despite the fact he/she will die. Unlike lower immediacy, the higher is aware of its lack of final and unambiguous definition. The higher realizes and accepts the relative importance of the mediate, in so far as the mediate correctly remedies the blindness of the lower immediacy. However, the higher immediacy goes one step further, over the edge of the intelligible and into the unknowable abyss of existence, the formlessness of the Goddess, the Tao. The higher immediacy does what can never be proven or rationally justified; it makes its movement precisely because it knows it cannot know. This is the paradox of faith. This is the synthesis, the non-dual, ultimate, absolute reality that can only be lived—never can it be described. Again: the “how” is that we must question ourselves and the “why” dissolves into the unqualified presence of the truth made self-evident by experience of higher immediacy. But how are we to ask who we are? If I were to provide you with a method, you would mistake the method for the answer to the question (you’d mistake the how for the what). I instead remind you that the question is your question, your koan, and I cannot provide you with a method because a method would appear indistinguishable from an answer to the question. If I were to tell you to meditate on emptiness, you would conceptualize emptiness as the answer to the question and thereby ignore the question entirely. Emptiness is a word; its significance is realized only in experience. I can only give you the word, never the experience. This again requires that we revisit the why: What does this question mean? What is the significance of the fact that you have no idea how to answer the seemingly simple question of who you are? This dialectic between the how and the why forces us to confront a contradiction; it forces the experience of a paradox upon us. We can only respond in one of two ways: Either we reject the situation (by turning away from the question) and devolve into insanity (fragmentation, nihilism, schizophrenia, etc.), or we accept it and leap into mystery. If we reject it in the way the mechanist rejects it, our insanity may be indefinitely delayed so long as we remain hopeful that, at least eventually, the how (the what) will explain away the why (the who). In other words, the mechanist delays insanity by attaching him/herself to the validity of a general how (a general what) and ignoring the vital necessity of a why (a specific who). The question of how, for the mechanist, is always: how does “it” work (or what is “it”)? Once the “it” has been mapped and all the interactions of its surfaces have been accounted for, the why becomes superfluous. The mechanist does not find the concrete question “Who am I?” of any substantial use because for him/her the essence of the substantial is an abstraction; it applies everywhere and to everyone. The who (the why) dissolves into the necessity of the universal (the how and the what). The spiritualist disagrees, because for him/her the essence of the substantial is existence itself (the what implies the who as its basis); the corporeal reality of flesh and bone human life comes before the abstract mediacy of disembodied theory. This life is most important, more important than the dead abstractions of the mechanist’s how and what. The spiritualist is compelled to question their identity and their inability to come to a final conclusion makes the how and the what superfluous, as he/she recognizes that they will both remain forever uncertain. Certainty is available only to the spiritualist because his/her certainty is the faith required to enter higher immediacy where nothing need be spoken because everything speaks for itself. It nonetheless will always remain foolish regression into childish passion from the mechanist’s point of view, as for them one must always be held accountable and be able to provide rational and understandable justifications for their beliefs. The silence of faith is to the mechanist complete and utter foolishness. Indeed, it may even be considered morally reprehensible.

Originally posted April 2007

That you are what you are.

Some have suggested that the human being can (and therefore ought to) live without God. I reject this claim. I propose that the human being is the spiritual animal, the organism that knows that it is. God is the “thatness” of existence, that transcendent quality of all that is but whose name cannot be spoken. This “knowing that it is” should be sharply distinguished from a “knowing what it is,” which is an entirely different proposition. Certain rationalists have suggested that the human being can know what it is, and that this knowledge makes religion obsolete. But the rationalist has wrongly identified the meaning of spirituality by rationalizing its role in human life. Spirituality does not direct humanity’s attention to “what” existence is, but rather to the fact “that” it is. Rationality can offer no explanation for the “thatness” of existence. Instead, it directs the human being’s attention to the names it has devised for the processes it has identified in the world of sensory experience. Rationality provides the human with an array of “whats,” of descriptions and conceptualizations of an empirically evident nature. But the human being is not content with linguistic stand-ins, with whatness. The human being demands to know why, to understand the very fact of existence itself: “that” which cannot be named but only presupposed, directly experienced before words or thoughts occur. The rationalist may labor for centuries, but no answer to the fact of existence can be given (because existence asks no question!). Existence is self-evident, which is why it is completely impossible to “believe” in God. If you need to believe in God, you have forgotten the very basis of your experience in the world. You have neglected the “thatness” of reality, the unfathomable here and nowness of your existence that surely requires no belief at all. God is not a “what,” God simply is. God is being. Spirituality concerns a human being’s awareness of being, of existence itself. Not of “what” it is, but “that” it is.