Reality is a Reel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality is a reel.

The Limits of Language

The Limits of Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integral Spirituality

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

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

Subtle Energy and Machines

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

Epic of Gilgamesh and Apocalypse

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

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

Is the Internet integral?

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

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.