Sunday, October 16, 2011

Independent Being in the Common Dream

What I was talking about in Illusion Ultima was what I consider the most important moment of my intellectual life. Staring at the stars and thinking about time and perception, all this struck me like a real satori moment. From there the rest of those ideas flowed as I tried to work it out. But then I stopped; I never really developed further what I considered to be a real satori moment. It was like writers block on a deeper level. But if space and time are not real, then I need to reevaluate what an object is.

I admit, where I ended up to start isn't new territory. I feel I came at my realization from my own angle, but know I've also been influenced. I find the the empiracists fascinating, especially George Berkeley. I've been reading up on him a bit lately. He too shows that material substance doesn't exist; everything is mind. He also said that "to be is to be percieved." He distinguishes between ideas and spirits: that is, the passive "things" minds percieve, and active minds themselves.

But, influence or not, I have to wonder: are the objects around me merely ideas, "things" that disappear when I stop thinking about them? It may be true that the car is not sitting out in the driveway unless I'm looking at it, or thinking about it sitting in the driveway: when it's out of my mind, it isn't there at all as far as my reality is concerned. That car, he would say, is a passive idea with no independent existence. But how is it that others can walk by and see the same car? Something must be there, right?

Berkeley answers this with the notion that what we preceive as passive objects are ideas sent by God, a Spirit that is present "everywhere" and "always" (I am not equipped to speak without the use of space and time, thanks to our language's structure), and that is where consistency in the world originates. But what, really, is this God? Berkeley was a Catholic bishop, so he was thinking of and defending the Christian God. I take a different tack. God is, at least, the sum of everything that is. So my main disagreement with Berkeley is the notion of passive ideas. The objects around me do not need me or some convenient God to precieve them, they are "spirits" in their own right.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound? Does it exist at all? I say yes, for it is percieved by the other trees, the air, the soil, and of course the birds and squirrels and beetles. Maybe there is a dependence between things in this way, like a rainbow needing the sun, rain, and viewer all present at a specific angle to exist. But I go further and say the tree is an active perspective in itself. It has its own perceptions, of moisture, light, and chemical messages from other trees. But, I think even the rocks are active.

I consider consciousness as fundamental, the basic is-ness. This is not to say that I believe only my personal consciousness exists, that you are all my personal dream-- solipsism. I mean, it could be true. It could be that my entire experience is someone's dream, and when they wake, the universe I know will disappear; or that I am the projection of some madman sitting in a strait jacket in his padded cell, drooling on himself and having outrageous hallucinations. I guess you can never disprove solipsism. Still, it doesn't feel true.

I see the universe more as a great field of consciousness, and, here I will speak of it from the outer, objective sense for a moment. That field of consciousness has particulated, or as I call it, perspectivized. Each individual perspective is a node or a center in that field, what the physicist calls a quantum. As quanta get togehter, they self-organize and become more complex through relationship, becoming quarks, which get together in more complex ways to form electrons (actually a charged quark), protons, and neutrons, from there atoms, then molecules... and so on. Each level up of complexity is an ever greater concentration of consciousness, so the perspective gains more depth. And the point isn't just the density, but the number of connections between nodes. Otherwise rocks would be far smarter than we.

(This makes much more sense to me than it does to say that consciousness is a recent development in evolution that came out of nowhere in a non-conscious universe, somehow tacked on to human experience as a sort of epiphenomenon, not actually useful in what is a basically material world of input and output: consciousness lets us be aware of the input and output, but isn't actually involved in any of it. Bunk!)

I think what science does is brilliant, but ultimately wrongheaded. You can't stick to the objectivity, because objectivity is only an interpretation of our immediate perception. What I'm after in this line of thinking is the Zen beginner's mind, before interpretation. But as I've said before, science in its ever-present analysis can figure a lot of things out, but, in the end, if you break open a rock to see what the inside looks like, you don't. You see what the new outsides look like. And though this may seem like splitting hairs, it's true: you may find crystals "inside" that rock, but in truth there is always more inside that is hidden. Keep breaking rocks, keep dissecting brains, keep splitting the atom, but you'll never get inside to what hides within: meaning, being, consciousness, Light, God... that mysterious essence that keeps that supposedly passive vase standing there all on its own, day after day, by the window, set to burst with its own being that is barely contained behind the thinnest of surfaces.


  1. If a tree falls and nothing else is around, it makes a sound because the tree "itself" can hear it...unless, of course, it's deaf and the tree doctor didn't provide a hearing aid! :-)

  2. Certainly issues of consciousness are the most interesting in science and philosophy. As I understand and express it, everything is a configuration of energy (tao?), including our marvelous (if limited) sensory apparatus that allow us to "hear" the tree falling, "see" the bird flying, "taste" the salt, "feel" your loved one's skin, "smell" the rose (although smell is REALLY weird, probably the most primitive of our senses). I have always loved Carl Sagan's remark that we (through our consciousness) are the universe's way of knowing itself. And we are still engaged in that knowing; the meaning we attach to all these sensations is something else. Some Taoists, and others, try to understand or apprehend what IS apart from the sensations, basically experimenting with sensory deprivation (partly in meditation)...and they (say they) find indescribable knowledge and powers.

    Ultimately, the issues like the sound of the tree falling question, are just word games. All you can say is there is some shift in energy...the movement of yin and yang; how it is perceived by me and a tree is a sort of silly inquiry. I have different sensory apparatus than a tree (assuming it has some that could be described).

  3. Baroness, I'm pretty much in agreement with all you just said. The problem I seem to have with your replies is that I don't really know what "Tao" refers to. It's more or less a religious term, and obviously undefined. Likewise with yin and yang. I understand them as principles, but beyond that I lose any sense of meaning. "The movement of yin and yang" just means oscillations... but oscillations of what? That's what I'm after.

    Also, since so far in my ruminations it seems that we are trapped in our own perceptions, I'm interested in knowing if it's possible to know the world as it is, rather than how we perceive it.

    As for the tree koan, well, I used that because it's familiar to people. Of course the tree has senses. It senses and moves towards light, senses moisture, and the root senses gravity and thus grows down. These are called trophisms. I consider them obvious senses/perceptions, if primitive, or perhaps just very different from ours. The point was that the tree doesn't need to be perceived to exist, as it is a center of perception in itself.

    By the way, Carl Sagan is great. Have you ever read Contact? Great book. Beats the pants off the movie, too, though the special effects in the latter were cool.

  4. Tao is the underlying undefined; yin and yang are the mechanisms of its manifestations. I wouldn't actually say "oscillations" (which suggests back and forth, on and off, vibration) but it's more of a circulation of energies (qi). My teacher would say movement and change, more continuous, like waves.

    Some esoteric Taoist practice does aim to know the "ding an sich" but generally, you probably can't, certainly not by using the ordinary sense faculties.

    I do not regard this as religious, although you might see it that way. This level of Taoist thought is actually very compatible with quantum physics.

    Still, these are language games...whatever the tree "perceives" seems to me to be very primitive. Certainly it does "exist", as some manifestation of Tao, and the energies are probably the same as our own. If you could shut down your cognition, your sensory apparatus, you would probably be like a tree. I suppose that's why we say people in endless coma are in a "vegetative state." Standing like a tree is one qigong meditation practice.

    I think this is also why some people experiment with sensory deprivation. It is like returning to the womb, before we have attached meaning to any of the things we sense. No wonder infants cry when they are born.

  5. Some esoteric Taoist practice does aim to know the "ding an sich" but generally, you probably can't, certainly not by using the ordinary sense faculties.

    Exactly where I was going with that, in my own mind at least, if not on this blog. Perhaps there is a way to have immidiate experience with the world, some sort of quantum nonlocality.

    I don't think shutting down all my senses equates to sensing like a tree, nor do I feel trees have "primitive" sensations. They are just different, and as for chemical sensing, they may be quite advanced in their way. But that's beside the point.

    The sensory deprivation thing sounds interesting, tho.