Let's give Reality a great big hug!
Our Human Version
Think left and think right
and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try.
I have had a lot of creative fun over the years puzzling out answers to these ultimate questions about the nature of Reality. Surprisingly, my highly abstract puzzlements have been useful in my everyday life.
I have become much more tentative in my beliefs---resulting in much more freedom and creativity.
And, it was very important for me to realize that my conscious awareness does not create thoughts, emotions and actions. The rest of my brain takes the sensory signals from my conscious awareness and quickly flows back appropriate thoughts, emotions and actions into my awareness. That realization expanded who and what I am---and greatly increased the freedom of the flow between my conscious awareness and the rest of my mind.
Have fun exploring the high level abstractions---use the mental flexibility to increase freedom and creativity in your life.
Are we only aware of the effects of Reality?
Never Reality itself?
Kant divided Reality into phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are those aspects of Reality accessible to our sense organs processed by our brain. All other aspects of Reality---noumena---are closed to humans at our present stage of evolutionary development.
The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.
Is it really true that
ALL IS MAYA?
The Buddha is correct. Humans do not feel the rug---we feel our feet. The 72,000 or so nerve endings on the bottom of our feet send information through the spinal cord to our brain. The information is processed and we “feel” a rug.
Feel is put in quotes because there is a critical difference in the two ways the word is being used.
It is true we do not literally feel the rug---only the activation of nerve endings processed by our brain. But we do “feel” the rug in the sense that whatever is “out there” is deferentially activating those nerve endings---resulting in our awareness that we are “feeling" a rug, not concrete
Here is another example of the critical difference using sight. Fred sees a tree because whatever is “out there” has activated the rods and cones in Fred’s eyes. Whatever is “there” exists whether Fred is looking or not.
But the tree that he sees, the result of the activation of rods and cones as processed by his brain, only exists while he looks at the tree. When Fred turns his head away, that tree no longer exists.
And what happens when you look at yourself in the mirror and then turn your head away?
If you are a deep thinker, that experience will be one of the most profound moments in your life. It makes obvious the big question. What are you? And
your obvious answer. Not a clue.
I want you to understand that there are no colors in the real world. That there are no textures in the real world. There are no fragrances in the real world. There is no beauty, there is no ugliness. Nothing of the sort. Out there is a chaos of energy soup and energy fields. Literally. We take that and somewhere inside ourselves we create a world. Somewhere inside ourselves it all happens.
The external world of physics has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions.
The sparsely spread nuclei of electric force become a tangible solid; their restless agitation becomes the warmth of summer; the octave of ethereal vibrations becomes a gorgeous rainbow.
The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make the world.
We have no direct contact with anything outside the surface of our body. Whatever is “out there” activates the sensory organs---from those signals the mind constructs our marvelous world.
ALL IS MAYA
The Darwinian process pretty much guarantees there really is something “out there” we label “rug” and “tree” and “me”. Otherwise our ancestors would have died out long ago and you would not be reading this sentence. But, we can only be aware of those aspects of whatever is “there” that activate our nervous system processed by our brain.
We are curious and creative creatures and have developed mechanical devices that provide additional information about the nature of Reality. We must use metaphors to encode such information. And as always, the metaphors are based on information from our senses and brain structures.
The atom used to be pictured as particles circling a central bit of matter---like planets circling a sun. Some scientists now prefer the wave metaphor---based on natural phenomena such as the back and forth flow of the sea against the coastline.
All science is metaphor
We swim in an ocean of energy, and “swim”, “ocean”, and “energy” are all metaphors. We have no idea what they “point to”. And yes, another metaphor. And yes, I’m afraid it’s metaphors all the way down.
Metaphors encode your belief systems, your Maps of Reality. They control what you think, feel and do. Go get my book, Psychology Zen reedom, Meta-Jump and explore the ways Maps control your life, good and bad. If you don’t like what you find change the metaphors, change the Maps.
Awareness of the limitations of the human condition has been painful and useful. Humility in the presence of Reality creates a greater openness to new knowledge, and avoids the hubris Alfred warned against:
Whoever undertakes to set himself up
as a judge of Truth and Knowledge
is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Whatever Reality is,
it's not that.
I could care less about Reality.
Tried it. Didn't like it.
I'm not crazy about reality,
but it's still the only place to get a decent meal.
Is science the only source?
Is objective science the only valid source of information about the nature of Reality, or can subjective experiences also be valid?
The arguments back and forth revolve around definitions of “valid”, often implicit. Changing the definition automatically changes the answer. How do you define “valid”? Is there one correct definition, or are there many? A Christian would likely consider her experiences in church at least as valid as objective data.
Like all human dichotomies, subjective and objective do not exist in the event. They exist as words humans use to point to different aspects of the event---as interpreted by our human senses and brain.
If I hit the table I can emphasize the objective---spilled water. Or I can pay attention to the subjective---pain and hardness. My experience of an event usually has both subjective and objective elements.
At the moment I like three definitions of “valid”. The hard definition is the one the hard sciences like physics and chemistry try to use. A measurement is valid if it has a high correlation with whatever it purports to measure. For instance, the number on my bathroom scale correlates highly with other objective measurements of my weight.
I use the soft definition of “valid” in my everyday life and when doing a soft science, such as psychology and sociology. Does the content of my subjective experience correlate well with objective data? Is the letter A I see on the eye chart really a letter A on the eye chart?
My third definition of “valid” is everything I experience. The content may or may not be valid given the other two definitions but the experience itself just is---the fundamental basis of everything I am and know.
Which definition of “valid” is best depends on what you're doing. I would emphasize the hard definition when doing a hard science or repairing my car. The soft definition when doing a soft science, or driving my car. Best go experience eating Key lime pie made with real Key limes---or in the back seat with my girl friend.
The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whosoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.
Why do you have conscious awareness?
What’s it good for?
Conscious awareness is the part of your brain that monitors your body and environment. For instance you might become aware of a sudden movement over by that tree. Your brain receives and processes the information using it's logical, emotional, and associative matrices and increases or decreases your level of attention.
If it's your cat over by the tree your attention will likely increase. The words Pretty Kitty and warm feelings flow into your awareness and you walk over and pick her up.
Where did the shift to increased awareness, the words Pretty Kitty, and the warm feelings come from? And how did you coordinate all those muscles, tendons, and neural firings necessary to walk over and pick her up? I'm pretty sure you will find that all that processing was done outside your conscious awareness---you became aware of the result.
So then, what is conscious awareness good for? The rest of your mind depends upon the real time feedback provided by your conscious awareness to effectively evaluate and coordinate your activities on planet earth.
Conscious awareness also appears to serve as a re-enforcer. For instance as you lie in bed before going to sleep your mind might flow some of the events of the day into your awareness. A reasonable hypothesis is that becoming consciously aware of them flows them back to the rest of your mind strengthened---raising them higher in your mind's matrices.
I have noticed that some people feel very uncomfortable, and even upset, by the thought that they do not control what flows into their conscious awareness. Usually to them, that means they no longer control their life.
The part of your mind that flows into your conscious awareness is you, not some alien controlling your life. Since birth, you have worked hard filling your mind with an enormous amount of memories, emotions, associations, words, belief systems, etc.
When the logical, emotional, and associative matrices you have created receive information about the world from your conscious awareness they flow the most relevant thoughts, emotions, and actions right back---unbelievable fast.
You are not just your conscious awareness---you are so much more.
One of the major goals of my books is to clear the rubbish and increase the quality of the back and forth flow between your conscious awareness and the rest of your mind. Greatly increasing love and joy, creativity and adventure.
Of course you trouble makers are going to shout out:
“You haven't answered the hard question! Why does the brain need conscious awareness? Couldn't it monitor and coordinate all that stuff by itself, and probably do a better job?”
And you trouble makers are correct. I have no idea why your brain needs conscious awareness to function on our planet. The best I have been able to come up with is that we have the causality reversed. The brain does not create consciousness. The mind creates the brain to enable conscious awareness to experience the challenges, pains and pleasures of planet earth.
Consciousness, rather than being an epiphenomenon of matter, is actually the source of matter. It differentiates into space time, energy, information, and matter. Even though this view is an ancient view, an ancient world view, it is now finding some resonance amongst a few scientists.
Chopra's panpsychism is the best solution to the Hard Problem of consciousness I know. But sadly it's a solution by definition. It assumes that the real Reality behind physical matter and the real Reality behind our conscious awareness is the same. Worth a shot.
The problem is that we know nothing about those “real Realities”. The present constraints of our sensory apparatus and brain structures pretty much guarantee we may never. Well, maybe in a few thousand years we might develop enough of whatever.
In the meantime over the centuries, many, many books, careers and many, many gazillions of fun moments have been and will be devoted to the Hard Problem of mind and matter.
Conscious awareness is all we ever have. So learning more about it is valuable, even if we can't solve the hard problem.
THE PERSIAN POET AND THE BLACKFOOT INDIAN
A book of verse beneath the bough
A flask of wine, a loaf of bread
and thou beside me singing in the wilderness.
The wilderness of paradise.
Come, fill the Cup, in the fire of Spring
your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way to flutter
---and the Bird is on the Wing
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why.
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
CHIEF BIG CROWFOOT
How strange. Separated by a thousand years and many thousands of miles---their cultures immensely different. Yet, they ask the same questions. The ones I imagine humans have asked since the dawn of self awareness.
A little while and I will be gone from among you,
whither I cannot tell.
From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go.
What is life?
It is a flash of firefly in the night.
It is a breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass
and loses itself in the sunset.