The Spiritual Animal

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.

The Zeitgeist

The zeitgeist gives our individual lives their substance. Without this cultural matrix to create and sustain our sense of ourselves as subjects; as persons with responsibilities; as bodies with a rational will required by outer law to be in control (but by inner law to be spontaneous), we would be free to release our experience from our past and our present, free to push our perception out from the womb of culture and into the future. But what is the future? What is seen beyond past and present? Pure form. Eternal light. A single point containing all of space and time in potential, but also in actuality. The absolute future is our own death, the travel down the tunnel of light back to the source. This process of dying, of coming to see the light, is what we commonly call life. This is the paradox of our experience: we are an eternal being becoming itself, a daemon (demon-angel) trapped between darkness and light, or so it seems as a result of our paradox. To even talk about a zeitgeist, we must be able to take the perspective of eternity. This is possible only because eternity is our essence; it is the source of the mind in time that manifests our existence. But we experience both at once as the poles of the paradox we call human consciousness. Here we are in a particular historical context thinking about the meaning of historical context. How can we even begin to do that without intimations of something beyond time? Eternity is our essence. The zeitgeist is our existence. Or we might say Spirit is our essence, and time (or our mind/psyche/soul), Spirit’s created world, is our existence. And what are we to make of the zeitgeist? What are we to do about the world that we live in, about the circle of ignorance that drives us all to war and consumption, about the paradoxical gap we’ve hewn between life and death? Isn’t it the same question: how are we to create the future? How are we to be born from the womb of culture, of our historical situation, of our bias, and into eternity, the pure form of the source of creation itself? But then maybe it is not a “how?” question at all. Maybe it is a “why?”. Or maybe it is only a “when?”. Ah, but in the end it can only be a “who?”. Who is it that has time as its experience? Who is alive in this world? Who perceives, who thinks, who am I? Does the answer beam us into heaven, or does it release us to transform the world we live in now, to stop consuming and waging war to obtain the means of production, so we can start creating a sustainable future society instead? When we recognize the paradox as the paradox, it is not hard to decide.

The Wise and the Foolish

The bones between this body are burdensome but fair.
They hold this flesh together while it breathes air,
but balance the bargain with a fateful despair.

The bones remain after the soul has gone home
–a reminder for those who still seek,
who still inhale and must eat.

Death is the great equalizer,
and a master of deception.
It commands great fear
even while it cannot be seen.

It surrounds and permeates every moment of life,
it in fact is the very thing that sees,
and yet the foolish so seldom take notice.

Death, whatever it is,
does not concern the living,
those who try to see
and so fear what they cannot.

The living cannot see that they are already dead.
Death is a trickster to the living.
It is a mime better at you than you are.

So the living fear death.
They have no life of their own
but through this fear,
they are driven by a ghost.

The are fools, dogs, innocent idiots
endlessly chasing their own tails.
The wise, those who are already dead,
do not fear themselves.

The body is homeless
because it is born only to die.
The body has no purpose.
It simply lives, and in so doing dies.

The wise simply affirm this
and act accordingly.
Who it is that acts,
they do not ask.

The actor acts,
and that is that.
The light of death
is blinding to the foolish,

and so they turn away in shame.
There is no other side of life,
they say.

There are no eyes peering back
from the darkness beyond the light.
The unconscious is the fool’s fate.

The fool denies fate, represses fate.
But fate laughs at his jokes,
and so he becomes funny.

It cries for his sorrows,
and so he becomes sad.
Isn’t the fool a puppet?

Isn’t he the mannequin of nature,
posed to her whim?
And the wise?

Who can watch them?
Who can sway them from their stance?
The wise simply do not stand.
The wise stand, walk, sit, and swim.

The audience may applaud,
they may laugh,
they may throw tomatoes.

The wise are not swayed.
The wise are here only to die,
and so death is not an audience.

The wise are already dead,
because God has flown
right through their head.

What does liberation require?

What does liberation require? Krishnamurti would stop us before we even ask the question, as to suppose enlightenment could have a cause in time is to mistake the temporal for the eternal. But supposing we are then merely trying to describe the experience of awakening metaphorically, rather than trying to scientifically break it down into its component parts in space-time, which we should see is impossible. Enlightenment is a seeing, not that which is seen. We aim only to sit down at the piano of language and find a few chords to push that, if successful, will move those who listen just enough to see the moon is just a reflection in the puddle. Buddha said that life is not a problem to be solved or a project to be built, but a disease to be cured. But does the Buddha mean by life what the scientist means by life? Ah, but science makes no attempt to define life, it merely looks at the data and lets it speak for itself. The Buddha does not at all disagree with the scientists’ method, he only reminds them not to mistake the means for the end. Precisely because science is able to reduce life to a battle between sex and death (Vishnu and Shiva), the human being must be open to awareness (Brahma). Buddha’s definition, or rather his diagnosis of life is that its essence is suffering. To be born as an ego into the world of time and space is to die as an ego out of time and space. Your whole life as “insert name here” is a finite illusion contained within an infinite reality. But then infinity is not a container, because infinity is not just out there beyond space and time, it is right here beside us, even here inside us just as it always has been before, after, and between. Nobody pays attention to history anymore. Everyone leans to far ahead into the future that the past becomes a faded memory, something so distant that it can easily be exploited by politicians to justify anything. When we remember, we return to the past. When we deconstruct, we reach into the future. To the extent that we can deconstruct the past, we can be free. But freedom without chains is unaware of itself. Without resistance, there is no existence. Suffering is not other than bliss. But still we march blindly on into the future, endlessly repeating our past. Getting rid of karma does not mean dropping the past and leaping into the future. It means accepting the present and becoming, returning to, Tao. Spirit is present when sex and death have been recognized. The human being believes in God because it knows Spirit is present. The human being believes in the ego because it knows spirit is present. The human being finally drops belief and becomes love because it knows Spirit is present. Spirit is only absent when it is wrapped up inside the present, like a gift we cannot have until we open it. That is what sex is, a wrapped gift we can’t wait to tear open and play with. Death is an open gift we desperately try to wrap up. The Buddha says we must drop all this and stop trying to rush around wrapping up the future and tearing open the past. Simply hold the present. Know and understand that there can be nothing inside the present that you do not already have, as when you open a present, all that’s left is to wrap it back up again. After you are born of sex, all that is left is to die. If we search for or chase the present, we will always miss it. Hold the present. Come to see that giving the present can be no different from receiving the present. The present is both whole and a hole; it is holy! So what does awakening require? A metaphysical binding of time into intellectual certainty? Certainly not! Awakening requires only sleep. Awakening is not solving a problem or constructing a thought-castle. Awakening is curing a disease. Awakening is not being reborn. Awakening is being unborn.

The End of the Word (preliminary remarks)

To engage in philosophy is to attempt to wake up from a dream. I had one once where I dreamt of these men’s thoughts:

I believe one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that wisdom is all cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold. The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. –But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. Once you have been turned round, you must stay turned round. Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 53)

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is something good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)

The miracles of nature. One might say: art shows us the miracle of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracle of nature. (The blossom, just opening out. What is marvelous about it?) We say: “Just look at it opening out!”
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)

The philosophical I is not the human being, nor the human body or the human soul with its psychological properties, but the metaphysical subject, the boundary (not a part) of the world. The human body, however, my body in particular, is a part of the world among others, among animals, plants, stones etc., etc. Whoever realizes this will not want to procure a pre-eminent place for his own body or for the human body. He will regard humans and animals quite naively as objects which are similar and which belong together.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (On Certainty, p. 84)

It is certain that this I (that is to say, my soul by which I am what I am) is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.
-Rene Descartes (Meditations, p. 190)

The dreams are subsiding, the ocean is breathing in and revealing the light. I’m straining to open my eyes and remember…

Reality is no longer self-evident. As a result, only fiction is real. Even a book about the death of philosophy must itself be presented as fiction, as a story told by an author who can’t be sure what has happened until it has been written. This story is mostly about words. But words are mere senseless scratches on a page without a world to give them meaning. And so this story of words is also the story of the world, of its creation and its destruction. But the world, too, is a meaningless concept until words have been mastered. Without a language, what about the world can be known? Indeed, what world could exist without the word?

Surely, nature exists. But to say that nature is contained by the world, that nature is a part of the world, is to suppose that what can be known trumps what cannot. We often speak of the mysteries of nature, as though any such thing could exist in the known world of man. We say that the nature of death remains a mystery, but even to phrase it in such a way supposes that life were not also mysterious. We suppose we know the meaning of the word “world” and from this follows all our claims to knowledge.

…I see the clock, I see the calendar, I see my desk and the world outside my window.

In the following pages, we proclaim the end of the word, and by proxy, the world. All will go on as before, though our idea of it will have changed completely.

What is the world? The world is the place where I am. But where am I? I am here, as my body. So what is the world I live with as my body?

Before we can answer that question, we must find our way toward the beginnings of a technique of inquiry. To discover the body’s relationship with the world, we should first look at its parent’s with their worlds. The mother is overwhelmed. She works to mend the sick day and night, but her children are too busy to notice. She supplies the bread, the water, the oil, the paper. But we pay her no attention even as her heart begins to skip. The father is regretful. He loves his children, but he cannot express it because his mind is overwhelmed. He knows nothing about their lives; he has lost himself in his own. The children are confused; they cannot understand their futures.

See through the lens of the family and focus your view of the world. The mother is earth, her resources exploited and her ecosystem destroyed. The father is culture, his conscience on Prozac, unable to feel, distracted by gadgetry. The children are the ones without a future, the ones with no time.

The world is on fire; my heart burns silently through the night as my mind stares blankly into darkness. I cannot think, cannot feel, can only lay and learn to die. Unable to communicate, we wage war to defend our dictionaries. Bible vs. Science, Spirit vs. Matter, America vs. The World. It ends when the pages begin to burn and the fire cannot be stopped.

For a moment, I am afraid to comprehend it all. I chase after the receding sea, calling for the surf to return. But darkness leaves too soon. The brightness of the light burns my face. I manage to squint and steal a few more drops of water…

What is going to happen, language? Speak. Reveal your secret plan.

Let it be known: You will not be able to understand each other. Everyone will become blind and forget their own names and no one will be able to sleep. The plants and animals will die. The air will run out. The volcanoes will erupt and the sky will blacken. The waves will roll over the land. Winter will turn water into ice. Everything will end, everything will be dead. The Sun will explode and nothing will remain.

I open my eyes, and they begin to speak to one another:

The Cartographer (right eye): What, would you say, is the essential difference between humanity and nature?

The Sailor (left eye): The essential difference seems to me to amount to mere words.

The Cartographer (right eye): Do you mean that we ought not to ask such a question? That it is a meaningless proposition?

The Sailor (left eye): I may mean that, but really I mean that the difference seems to be that we speak and nature does not. We have words, and while the stars may shine serenely, the rivers rumble romantically, the birds chirp cheerfully, and the dolphins echo excitedly, all have contained in their gestures an immediately present and available meaning, a self-evident truth. Only humans can delay their meaning; only they have the ability (or desire) to exchange mere symbols in place of reality.

The Cartographer (right eye): Surely there are times when a human gesture expresses an immediate meaning, such as when a hand is waved goodbye or a middle finger is cocked in disgust. But I take it you do not mean to discount this possibility?

The Sailor (left eye): Certainly, I do not discount it. I seek to promote it! Such immediately meaningful gestures are the only remaining life in man. All else has been covered over with culture, with a fear of death. Humanity today is an aging, possibly near dead author who long ago finished its encyclopedia explaining everything and who has now fallen asleep atop its pages to dream merrily of the conceptual conquest of nature compiled therein. Humanity inherits a world created by the imaginations of an original and elite few that long ago carved theoretical paths through the dark forests of the mind, paths we continue to follow up until this day. Indeed, most humans do so with great pride and with a sense of sacred duty. Seldom has anyone mustered up the faith to think otherwise, but the few who have seen outside the cave are confronted with a new and unexpected challenge.

The Cartographer (right eye): Is the challenge one of convincing those chained within the cave that there is an outside that they have never seen?

The Sailor (left eye): On the surface, it is exactly that. But it is also more than that. It is also that the few who have seen immediately realize that they are incapable of accurately conveying the truth, beauty, and goodness of what they have been privy to experiencing on the outside in the language of the cave dwellers trapped on the inside. In order to be understood, they must speak the language of the ignorant, but to do so is already to falter.

The Cartographer (right eye): Why does the language falter in itself? It would seem at first glance that the English language were dynamic enough that it could be manipulated to convey almost every possible meaning that could be understood.

The Sailor (left eye): The problem is not so much with the language itself, but with the way it is used. The cave dwellers treat their words poorly, and they therefore derive from their use a dualistic view of what exists. It is thought that there are two kinds of propositions: true and false. All statements are examined under the assumption of this fundamental dichotomy. This separation between the real and the unreal is a by-product of the aforementioned ability and desire of humanity to make a symbol of reality so that it can exchange the former and ignore the latter. Only after this abstraction has occurred can there ever be a distinction between a true statement and a false one. When one attempts to speak about the outside of the cave, however, there are no longer true and false statements. Any talk of the outside must be heard for what it is, for its self-evident meaning.

The Cartographer (right eye): Are you suggesting that we typically use our language only in order to get something else, i.e., to prove a thing correct or incorrect? Further, are you then meaning to say that in order for the few who have seen the light to be properly understood, those in the darkness need just open up and let the light in?

The Sailor (left eye): This seems to be exactly what I would want to say. The everyday use of language is rigged from the beginning to provide only a perpetual pointing toward something more, toward what is always and inevitably absent. It is never satisfying and we could go on talking about everything and nothing for ten thousand years and never once would a worthwhile thought be uttered. When everyone speaks in order to be right, to be correct and true as opposed to false, then no one can ever agree because each person desires to go on arguing until they themselves are declared the winner and sole possessor of the truth. Such declarations, if they ever occur, are usually short lived. A new and more inclusive truth will always be discovered, and if not then some inconsistency will be pointed out in the reigning idea and its claims will be torn down, for it is better to have no truth than have my own truth be in the wrong. If the ignorant could simply open up and let the light in, I am sure that they would understand. But such an opening is made to seem laughable by caveman standards. Taking anyone’s mere words for granted is a cardinal sin.

The Cartographer (right eye): In what lies the great power you here seem to be attributing to words?

The Sailor (left eye): The secret power of words is that it is they and they alone that make humans conscious. Cave dwellers have a dual relationship with the influence of words. On the one hand, they enact a strange kind of worship toward them by viewing nature always through their lenses. Hurricanes become something we hear the meteorologist talk about on TV, a digital swirl superimposed atop a cartoonish map of the world, not something we actually experience first hand. The flooding, the lightning, the devastating wind; all of the actual event’s terrible reality becomes simply “hurricane.” When actual hurricanes really do hit, people are at a loss and feel as though reality has come crashing down all around them. What has really come crashing down is their ordered and conceptualized dictionary-like understanding of the world. The other, seemingly contradictory view of language taken by the ignorant is that it should never be mistaken for the reality. In other words, one should always be on the look out for liars, cheats, and propagandists. Humanity is therefore under the unconscious spell of its words while at the same time pretending with all its conscious might not to be.

The Cartographer (right eye): “Language alone makes humans conscious.” Might you say more about this?

The Sailor (left eye): The way a person speaks is not necessarily the way they think, but it is the only way they can be conscious of what they think. Human consciousness is generally thought to exist ontologically in each individual as some separate substance or quality, however what we call “consciousness” is actually nothing more than a continual dialogue that goes on throughout the entire speaking/listening/reading/writing community. The words that humans use to communicate form the vessels of conscious thought. Without the right vessel, no thought can be conveyed. The vessels themselves are not owned by any one, but are shared by all. I must, in a sense, ask permission to use each word in whatever context I wish to employ it. If my request is denied, the statement I was trying to make will not have been understood. The unconscious thoughts that occur within each individual that cannot be communicated are still present for the one experiencing them; however, for the community they amount to nothing whatsoever and are totally absent.

My conscious mind awakens finally and unifies the duality of the eyes into a single I. My vision becomes my voice, the world becomes the word. The ocean is but an echo, the darkness but a dream. It is time to go to work, time to be me.

It is going to be quite difficult for me to write this book. I have felt the need to for some time, but the reason I have never written one yet is that I find it difficult to systematize my ideas. That is because they are not my ideas. I don’t understand what most of the things I say mean. I only write them down in fits of passion and inspiration where they seem to pass through me, rather then origination within me. I cannot write intentionally. I cannot intend to be correct. I am too aware of my left hand to trust entirely my right. So don’t expect this book to make sense or follow an outline. There is no table of contents or list of characters. I don’t know what I am going to write, who it will be for, or who it will be about. I may never know. I am writing only because the words need to be heard, if not by you, then by me.

Every highway leads to Babylon. A simple midnight drive home turns into a tour of the apocalypse.

I am a philosopher in hell, a mind trapped inside a body that doesn’t belong to me. See, Descartes didn’t just create a new philosophical outlook, he invented the modern self. YOU are an invention of Rene Descartes! Welcome to Copernicus’ New World Order!

But of course, Descartes believed in God. God was one of his beliefs, one of his assumptions, an archetype still too unconscious for him to understand. Nietzsche went crazy giving birth to the beast, to the idea that man could possibly ever murder God. Most of us haven’t yet realized that God is dead. Or maybe we have, but we are afraid to admit that assuming we can know is already to give God the finger. Descartes assumed that man could have knowledge of himself, that all of the mind was conscious because God had decided to give man a soul, a complete soul!, with every outfit, ability, function, and tool to get the job of life done. He assumed that God had commanded nature to obey the mind of man, to conform to his ideas and his wishes and his beliefs. But Nietzsche saw that man was alone to face nature, and that nature would not look kindly upon our increasing stupidity and morality. We were alone to face the chaos and terror of the wild, not to mention the void nothingness of meaningless black space. But of course Descartes knew this all along. He just checked out, so to speak. He died before his body died by irreversibly amputating himself from the existing world of flesh and bone. He declared himself already a ghost, already a dead man walking. His only way of reaching the outside world was through his symbols. Through the ideas of his own mind, his letters and his words and his sentences. If he cannot be heard or read, he is silent, because his body cannot say a word. His body is worthless and unintelligent, an assembly of gears and oil that sometimes the mind can reason into intentional motion, but that usually follows the predetermined patterns of its form and nature. But Nietzsche could not commit suicide, he was determined to live, to discover what it meant to be a man without God, a superman. He could still feel his body, he was connected to the sensation of the decay of his own existence…. and yet, and yet… what did he do but write about it? And what can I do but write about it? How can either of us return to nature if all we can do is make more symbols that point towards it?

But back to the drive… I started thinking, i.e., existing, about how all the signs on the highway were written specifically for me. For my eyes, for me to read. But then I started thinking about what all those symbols meant, about what they were referring to. An idea? But what is that? Is it the memory of my prior experiences of following those particular arrows? But forget all this talk of signs, the point of this book is that the signs don’t point anywhere! There are no destinations, there are only directions. So I was driving down the highway, east, towards the ocean. My heart began to burn, and I mean that quite literally. A police motorcycle with blue LED lights on the back end spend by in the far left lane. Then it hit me. I looked at all the other cars on the road.

I said out loud, “There are so many people here…”

“So many people are going to die.”

I started to cry, but don’t take this like a prophecy. I just felt it, every other car out there had a person in it, and that person’s heart was beating right then, because they were alive (just like me). But just like me, they were all going to die one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe 50 years from now. But none of them were aware of it. And there are SO MANY PEOPLE… I loved each and every one of them and I had no idea what they looked like, or sounded like (or smelt like, or tasted like). It was as though my heart was opening up and with it, each of my senses. I could feel again, with more than just my eyes. It was as though I could know with my ears, with my nose, and with my tongue! Not only that, I could know with my heart. The heart’s knowledge was that I was not alone, that there were billions of others just like me! I couldn’t sense them with my face, but I could feel them with my heart.

Others just like me! As the Mayans say: “In La’ kech,” or I am another yourself. There is only reflection, there is no separation. Your have no representations of the world in your mind, you have only reflections of it. The inside of your head is much like the outside of the world, both are full of stuff and nonsense. Sometimes some stuff pairs up with nonsense and a symbol is born. Form is assigned to substance, just like the moment of creation when God made Adam from the dust of the earth. The mind of man claims knowledge of nature by replacing it with a sign.

Duality is a dizzying game to play. For most of history, man has compared himself to God in order to understand his place. A few men along the way saw they had only themselves to judge, and fewer understood that no judge existed at all.

We are all here together. The ego in your gut does not need to die, it just needs a new master. The heart is our connection to each other, it keeps us all in rhythm. You cannot identify with your heart because all identities are ideas and all ideas are for you and you alone. You can share an idea, but you must put it into words to pass it on. And there is no telling what will happen to your words once you send them out to sea to be read by the stormy minds of others. The weather will erase random letters and a new story will be revealed. Your intention was drown the moment you set it afloat.

To understand the heart, we must see our reflection. Your eyes are the eye of God. God is a single I. God sees through your dual eyes. You see everything on the screen of a TV while God beams it out from heaven. So wake up and say hello to your fellow selves, shake their hands, and say:

“Hello God. Hello friend. Hello heart. I love you.”

Look into the eyes of God and see the world reflected back. That is you, that is God, welcome home (to where the heart is).

I exited under the familiar sign, “Hollywood Blvd.” Home sweet home. The traffic light shined red. I stopped. A shirtless old man walked the curb beside my car and held another sign, one he’d made himself. It said, “Hungry, Homeless, Need Beer.”
I felt for the quarter in my ash tray, but thought that wasn’t quite enough. The light turned green. My heart jumped as it remembered the $100 bill in my back pocket. My gut responded that that was quite too much. I drove on home. So many people are going to die…

I cannot stick a thought (a stream of consciousness)

Conceptualization has become impossible. I have thoughts, but the thinking doesn’t stick. It always slides off, becomes obsolete, without reason. One moment an idea seems to fit the real; in the next, it has been replaced by a blank stare into a broken mirror. I am lost in experience, so far outside myself that I broke through the end and began again stuck within my own core. The eye of my body sees clearly. The mind of body knows lightly. The I of my body sees, knows, and actualizes clearly, lightly, and purely. But I still cannot think. I cannot speak. I cannot find meaning, I cannot make meaning, I cannot relax. I am, and I am lost. When I do find myself, it is not long before I am, again, lost. It must be because finding myself only makes sense in terms of losing myself, because I do not understand loss until I understand gain, because I do not feel pleasure until I feel pain, because… a cause… has an effect… and I… think. And yet who, or what, am I but one of the thoughts? I am a thought… No! I am The Thought. I am the thinker of thoughts, the speller of words, the knower of facts, the creator of worlds. And yet, I also know that these worlds will be destroyed. I fear that day, I dread my death… but I am just a thought. I am a thought, but am I not the space between thoughts? Are thoughts really even objects in space? I cannot think. I cannot be unless I think. I cannot think. Concepts no longer hold. I have died in many times, many places, and many dreams. I will die tonight. I will die tomorrow. I will die for good, forever, one day, just as I will be born for good, forever, one day. I die, and I am born. I die, and I am born. I go to sleep and I wake up again. I blink, and then I stare. I think, and then I feel, and then I think, and then I feel. I can’t get my thoughts to stick, and my feelings are confused. The face of love faces the beloved, but fused to love’s backside is the face of hate, struggling to escape its fate. Love faces the beloved, Hate rejects fate. Fate is love, the union of the loop. We love to hate to love to hate… It takes darkness to show the way toward the light just as a blemish reveals beauty.

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.