Search Results for: On the Nature of Evil
For this essay, I need to define two terms that I will use; i.e., God and evil. These definitions are my understanding of the terms and may have little if anything to do with how you understand the same terms. I ask you to suspend your concepts by the same names and instead attempt to employ my concepts for these names, at least, until you have read this piece and understood it as I have written it. If you succeed in doing this, you will have done all I can hope for and it is possible that true communication between two minds has occurred.
Writing a piece like this can only be done through metaphor. A metaphor can sometimes bring us very close to seeing what actually is but at other times may miss the mark. I hope the metaphors chosen will be approximations of the former type rather than the latter. So, let’s begin with “God.”
I do not find the traditional notion of God, as expressed in the Abrahamic religions, one that conveys any sense of truth. This can be illustrated by a metaphor used in scripture. “Our Father who art in heaven” says it all. First, the choice of the term “father” implies all those qualities that are often associated with human fathers. Fathers initiate our creation, fathers are providers, fathers are teachers, fathers are disciplinarians, to name a few of the characteristics of the paternal role. In short, a good father has many human functions. That all these characteristics are attributed to God can be demonstrated by references in scripture. I take this to clearly indicate that the God of the Abrahamic religions is the projection of the known onto the unknown. In other words, I consider the God spoken about above, using the “father,” metaphor is a metaphor that misses the mark.
The expression “art in heaven” suggests a father who is not present but elsewhere. Not unlike what might be said by a child becoming an adult who has gone out into the world and refers to its father, who is far away and at home in some other domicile. Here lies the theistic duality of Abrahamic religions, i.e., God and humanity, heaven and the world, spirit and matter, etc.
I shall now offer an alternative metaphor for God that may come closer to the mark. Albert Einstein once remarked that ”…the field is the only reality…” by which I understand him to be referring to the quantum field. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is fundamental and everything ultimately arises from the quantum field, of which there can be many subfields. For example, consider a particle, e.g., an electron in relation to its subfield. A particle is not, as we often assume, a small bit of material substance like a tiny pellet. Instead, quantum field theory describes an electron as a ripple in an electron field. It might help to think of the ripple as a concentrated frequency, giving its position within its field a greater density. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is nonlocal; i.e., it is outside of space/time. It has no extension in space and no duration in time. It cannot be said to be eternal because that implies time, nor can it be infinite because that implies extension in space. It just is. Thus, if we think of God as like in some ways to a quantum field, we have a root or core assumption (a.k.a. an ontological primitive) for a worldview (a.k.a. a metaphysical system).
Let us, metaphorically speaking, consider that God is something like this “field.” Let’s further imagine that God has a few other characteristics. I owe the following remarks largely to the scientist, technologist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup and his book Rationalist Spirituality. This is my understanding of his book with which he may or may not agree. Thus, God cannot be held responsible for creating an imperfect cosmos because God is imperfect. We can infer that God is imperfect from the fact that God created the cosmos. It is only because God is imperfect that there would be any reason to create a cosmos. Why would this be so? One might say that God is a formless, timeless and boundless field (a nonlocal field), has primordial awareness, has intelligence, has creativity and most importantly purpose or, if one prefers, a drive to know its potential. That is, this is God’s nature.
In this primordial state, God is only aware of being. There is nothing else to be aware of. God has consciousness but without an object. How does one explore and express one’s inherent potential when there is only primordial awareness? To me the following is the biggest leap of faith of all, but a necessary one. God realized that there had to be a medium that provided contrasts and decisions in order for experience to occur. I can only hazard a guess as to how this was realized. It might have been through something like a thought process or something like an inherent or instinctual process or something well beyond my understanding. Experience is the only likely vehicle for the expression of potential and growth in awareness of that potential. Thus, a context was needed that would make experience possible.
How did this context come to be? God, being creative, has imagination. First, let us assume that God imagined a process that could create a context. I offer here a metaphor from computer gaming. Consider an algorithm that, once started in a computing environment, begins a process of creating a world from the interaction of virtual building blocks. If you’ve every played a computer game that generated a virtual world, then you have some sense of what is being suggested. Otherwise, you’ll just have to take my word that once conceived, developed and given a suitable computing environment, it can be done. So, to borrow a concept from Kastrup, God dissociated a portion of itself into a separate subfield. Those familiar with computer technology, think of a virtual drive being created from a portion of a computer’s random access memory (RAM). In this virtual drive you can run programs that are isolated from the rest of the computer’s RAM. More primitive but along the same lines, think of creating a square foot garden in your yard.
So, in this dissociated portion of God, an algorithm was launched that began evolving a context. Thus began the creation of what we call the physical universe. Incorporated within this algorithm was the potential for life to evolve as the algorithm progressed and unfolded its intended creation. While from our perspective this process appears to be purely random and without purpose, it is clearly, in this scenario, driven by purpose but coming from a level beyond our normal ability to perceive. Another metaphor that can be applied here is from the reformulation of quantum physics by David Bohm. Let it be noted that David Bohm’s reformulation is not generally accepted by physicists because it is a “hidden variable” model. I won’t go into that here, but it still provides an interesting metaphor for our purposes.
Bohm’s model has three levels. The first he calls the “super implicate order” (SIO), the second the “implicate order” (IO) and the third the “explicate order” (EO). Think of the SIO level as analogous to the Field or God. Think of the IO as analogous to the algorithm running on the virtual drive that is generating the cosmos. Think of the EO as the unfolding physical universe being displayed on a computer display or screen of perception. Roughly speaking, in Bohm’s model the SIO contains the rule sets that constrain what is possible under certain conditions. The IO generates possibilities for explication with varying probabilities. The IO then unfolds or explicates certain possibilities into the EO. This unfolding, it is suggested, is what creates the sense of time experienced by creatures in the EO. The possibilities unfolded into the explicate order then enfold their effects back into the IO, which then affects the probabilities for possibilities to unfolded into the EO. Thus, a continuous feedback loop is created. So, in a manner of speaking, when it is said that we create our own reality this is true within the limits implied in the above. You or I may have little, if any, effect on the possibilities being unfolded from the IO, but humanity as a collective source of feedback would have a significant effect.
Returning to the output of the algorithm metaphor, one of the outputs that was necessary to fulfill its purpose was to create a context in which it was possible for experiences to be generated. To have experience, it is necessary to have contrasts. To provide a simple illustration, you can’t experience temperature if you only know hot. You would not have any basis for differentiating hot as a construct because there would be nothing to contrast it to. This takes us to what the late Niels Bohr (one of the founders of quantum physics) referred to as complementary pairs. Bohr originally introduced this concept to help explain and think about the wave/particle duality in quantum physics. Bohr latter argued that this concept could be much more broadly applied than just to physics and could extend to such fields as psychology or philosophy, e.g., male/female, life/death, pain/pleasure, etc.. One might see this same recognition being illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God recognized that Adam alone was insufficient and created Eve, thereby creating a complementary pair. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, sexual dimorphism came about long before humanity even existed. But, this story too is metaphorical and isn’t intended to relate a factual history.
As the algorithm progressed and creation unfolded, life emerged. Prior to life evolving we might say that everything was made of the “stuff” of the field. It was not until life emerged that the possibility for the awareness inherent in the field to truly become active in the physical universe. As nervous systems evolved and became more complex, their ability to express greater and greater levels of awareness (or if you prefer, consciousness) grew. The upper limit on this process is determined by the complexity of the nervous system. Since awareness is a dissociated aspect of God, it is clear that it is not possible for any nervous system to express the full capability of the consciousness of God. Thus, while God is the source of all consciousness in living entities, the complexity of nervous systems imposes limits and constraints on dissociated expression of that awareness or consciousness. One way of thinking about it is that the brain and nervous system function as a constraint on the expression and reduces it to a level appropriate for the nervous system to sustain. This implies that entities with highly complex nervous systems might have the potential to be aware of far more than they typically are. However, a deeper connection to God is not necessary for dealing with the routines and problems of daily life.
The psychologist Donald Hoffman has proposed a theory, for which he has developed some evidence, that indicates evolutionary pressures have shaped the perception of living entities to be what they are today. What the evolutionary process has done is shape perception not to see “reality” as it is, but to shape what is seen based on its functionality for survival and reproduction. Much of what might be perceptible about the true nature of reality is irrelevant to survival and reproduction and to perceive it would be counterproductive, evolutionarily speaking. In short, we’re designed by evolution to see what we need to see not everything that might possibly be seen.
Now, consider the earlier discussion of the building blocks of the cosmos; i.e., subfields in which a ripple within a field or subfield is interpreted as a particle, which of course is used to build elements and molecules. As we generally assume, there probably is a real world “out there,” meaning outside of ourselves. However, it is the case that the world in itself, as opposed to the world perceived, is a world of fields of various combinations, intensities and extents. If the world in itself is nothing more than fields, you might wonder, why can I feel it as things of substance? Why does the positive end of a magnet resist and push against the negative end of a magnet as if encountering some resisting solid? It is simply one magnetic field pushing against another magnetic field. So, it may be, when your hand pushes against a wall and is resisted by the wall this is the result of two incompatible sets of frequencies encountering one another.
Lets now, metaphorically speaking, consider another process that might help us visualize how things arise and manifest from fields. The process of organizing into patterns small particles such as sand or salt or fluids like water is called Cymatics. It is said that the apparent fluidity of the quantum field is due to ripples in the field where the ripples are photons. Suppose that the ripples in fields that produce particles that then assemble into elements and molecules are influenced to produce different particles by sound causing them to take on particular patterns much like sand on a table top does when exposed to sound of a certain frequency.
Thus, the manifest world could be thought of as a product of patterns of particles assembled by various frequencies of sound. Consider that in some creation stories it is said the first thing God brought into existence was light. That is what a photon is and it is thought to be the most fundamental product of a quantum field. Further, some eastern mystics have said that the underlying vibration of the universe is the sound produced by “OM.” Could it be that the sound frequency represented by “OM” gave rise to the first and all subsequent photons? Not a claim just a thought. Note, when producing this sound, the “M” is silent. When speaking it conversationally, the “M” is pronounced. The world may very well consist of frequency fields that are organized by sound, which includes you. And where, you might ask are these frequency fields? Possibly, in a dissociated field lying within the greatest field of them all — God (note, this is by definition panentheism).
Hoffman’s theory suggests, we perceive these fields as rocks, trees, birds, dogs and people. We perceive them as such because to perceive them in that way has functional value to us, evolutionarily speaking. This removes us from reality, as it is in itself, by multiple steps. First, there is the underlying frequency field – God. Next, we have the dissociated frequency field within which the cosmos is manifested. Then, we see functional representations of the fields comprising aspects of the world. Finally, we interpret the representations that we perceive. Hoffman compares this to the computer interface you see on your computer screen. What you see on the computer screen is in no way a true perception of what the icons represent. However, what you perceive is much more useful to you than the strings of computer code that the icons represent, and there is much more going on in the computer that you have no need to know and for which there are no icons.
Now, let us consider the term “evil.” I first began seriously thinking about the nature of evil a number of years ago as I read a book, Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman. This book is billed as an alternate history of philosophy, and I would qualify this by inserting the word “western” before the word “history.” I found it to be a very unsatisfying book, and after I finished reading it, I wrote a brief critique on the title page: “The problem of evil in western philosophy/theology arises from a fundamental error. The error is in construing God as a superhuman, which turns the concept of God into a caricature of divinity.” Shortly after writing this critique, I composed a post for my website titled The Nature of Evil. The current essay could be considered an update of the earlier essay linked in the previous sentence.
In some Eastern philosophies, the responsibility for evil is not attributed to God but to humanity. Specifically, to actions arising from ignorance, which is a feature of ego consciousness. The more egocentric one is, the deeper one’s ignorance and the more likely is bad behavior. You are probably wondering, ignorance of what? The answer is ignorance of one’s true nature. Given the narrative about the nature of God and the creation of the cosmos developed above, it should be clear that our consciousness is a limited explication of the very same Consciousness that characterizes God. Thus, our very being is directly related to the beingness of God. If you think of God as divine then you too are of divine origin. If you recognize this, you also understand that you share your divinity with all living entities. Everything ultimately traces back to God, I personally prefer Source Consciousness or simply Source, and thereby puts all life in a state of unity.
The general theme in some Eastern traditions is that your purpose is to develop your consciousness so that it becomes less egocentric and more integral or, as it is usually put, evolving from ignorance to enlightenment. A nondual teacher, Ruper Spira, prefers Truth, which is to experience your true nature, over enlightenment and I tend to agree with him. The psychologist and philosopher Ken Wilbur suggests that developmentally there are eight stages of cognitive functioning, each related to a different level of psychological and moral functioning. We all begin at Stage 1 and progress from there to some endpoint, which is nearly always prior to the latter stages. Nearly everyone reaches Stage 3 by the time they reach biological maturity. Stage 3 is a stage characterized as egocentric. The most common end points in the West are Stages 4 and 5, with significant minorities at Stages 3 and 6. Wilbur considers these stages to not only represent individuals but also societies. That is, he would argue that a society can be characterized as being dominated by a particular stage of thinking. The dominant stage of development in a society tends, in general, to characterize the society. One might think of all but the last of Wilbur’s stages as sub-divisions of ignorance.
One scheme from an Eastern tradition suggests 6 stages across the span from ignorance to enlightenment. The first three segments of this model are classified as ignorance to varying degrees. The latter three segments of this model are classified as enlightenment to varying degrees. In terms of Wilbur’s stages, I would put Stages 1 and 2 in the unconditioned-mind stage (first segment). I would put Wilbur’s Stages 3 through 6 in the conditioned-mind stage (second segment) and Wilbur’s Stage 7 in the I AM or authentic Self stage (third segment) or what I would call the natural-mind stage. In this Eastern model, the third stage is on the cusp of enlightenment. When one fully transcends ignorance, you are in the fourth segment (Self-realization) or experience of one’s divine nature. With transition to the fifth segment (God Consciousness), one has direct experience of God, Source or divinity. With transition to the sixth segment (Unity Consciousness), one has as full a reconciliation with God as is possible in human existence. Wilbur’s Stage 8 (Super Integral stage) appears to be part of the enlightenment segment in the Eastern scheme. He says that Stage 8 is potentially divisible into possibly four additional stages, but he doesn’t elaborate.
On the process of enlightenment, Wilbur offers a four-phase model that begins with Stepping Up, which means making a commitment to the process. Second is Cleaning Up, which means working to modify or eliminate any dysfunctional behavior and thinking. Third is Growing Up, which means working your way up through the psychological and moral stages. Fourth, is Waking Up, which, as I read him, means transitioning into the Super Integral stage (8). Logically, it seems to make sense to me to equate Wilbur’s stage 8 with enlightenment. However, there is reason to believe that he sees spiritual enlightenment as separate from the developmental process and can potentially occur at almost any stage in his model. This seems to be why he emphasizes his four-step process. He says that the stage at which you are functioning when self-transcendence occurs will significantly impact the quality of the transition and can lead to undesirable outcomes.
The importance of the concept of enlightenment can be understood by considering why the cosmos and life were created. If God is imperfect and is in the process of
perfecting its potential, then you and other living creatures, throughout the cosmos, are the tools that make the process possible. I would say that of all the experiential input God receives from the experience of living creatures, the experience of one who has made the journey from ignorance to full enlightenment or reconciliation with God should prove to be the most cherished experience. Such a journey will not often be brief and, as some eastern traditions suggest, may take multiple lifetimes to complete. Thus, we see the rationale behind the concept of reincarnation.
If in fact your consciousness is a dissociated aspect of God’s Consciousness and upon biological death your consciousness returns to God. Accepting this, the idea that your consciousness and what it has learned could be dissociated again and then expressed through a new nervous system doesn’t seem to be especially difficult to accept. If God needs experience to evolve, the higher the quality of the experience the better. The best source of high quality experience should come from the evolution of a consciousness toward reconciliation with God. Why enfold a consciousness that has completed 5% of the journey and incorporate its limited experience and then replace it with a dissociated consciousness that is beginning at zero? Continuation of the development of a dissociated consciousness will in the long run produce more high quality experiential input and increase the ratio of high to low quality input. You might ask, if everyone starts in ignorance, how is anything gained by reincarnation? I would say that everyone may start at the same point in each life but those who have made prior progress on the journey will move quickly toward their previous state of spiritual evolution where those with less experience or no previous experience or even a lot of experience from which they learned little will progress more slowly.
You might ask, if everyone is of divine origin, why is there so much suffering (evil) in the world? Given the above, I would answer that you can’t create a highly diverse experiential environment without significant contrasts. If a range of experiences are possible, some of them are by necessity going to be experienced as less desirable than others. Further, the opportunity to learn from one’s experiences is not limited to positive experiences. In fact, in some instances, one might learn more from negative experiences than from positive ones. Negative experience can also be motivational and spur one to develop further. Likewise, the negative experiences of others provides you with the opportunity to develop compassion, which then motivates you to attempt to relieve their suffering. I would also suggest that the development of compassion is a necessary step in perceiving the divinity lying at the core of others and thereby recognizing the unity that you both share through God. As this recognition of unity grows, it will likely increase in breadth and encompass a wider and wider range of those realized to share in this unity.
On a broader scale, bear in mind that all the negativity that occurs affects the probabilities of future negative possibilities being explicated into the world. We seem to be almost immune to the opportunities that are repeatedly explicated into the world, and as we continue to ignore them we increase the likelihood of similar or worse future events. To take one example, of many possible examples, how many genocides were there in the twentieth century? The UN definition of genocide covers “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group…” and does not include what are termed mass killings that may include thousands of people but were not killed with genocidal intent; e.g. some wars. By the UN definition, there have been 28 genocides in the twentieth century. Germany’s holocaust perpetrated against its Jewish people in the 1930s and 40s was one of the largest in terms of numbers of people slaughtered. It was an event that brought out a lot of “never again” sentiment. Unfortunately, there were 12 genocides in the second half of the twentieth century – all following the Jewish holocaust.
Thus, all who have eyes to see have a responsibility to affect the feedback in whatever way they can. Since the feedback is a collective effect, you can best aid it by expanding the number of people who understand this process and actively take responsibility for their personal evolution. Always remember that intellectual knowing can never replace experiential knowing – a lesson that institutionalized religion seems to have forgotten or never learned. This is why a rule-based approach to improving people has a limited effect. You may impose “good” behavior on people through threats, coercion and punishment but you don’t change people in this manner. Remove the external control and the “good” behavior will dissipate quickly because the rules haven’t changed anyone. As a poster I once saw said, “You may shut me up, but you can’t change my mind.” Personal evolution is the only thing that has an enduring effect that needs no external controls.
Finally, I remind the reader that what I’ve presented is a narrative and like all narratives it is not literally true even though some of the metaphors used are factual. The critical question is, should I accept it? I can only tell you why I accept it. I accept it because it is a more satisfying explanation than any competing narrative, because it can answer more of my questions about “reality” than any competing narrative, because it gives me more insight into how I should be in the world than competing narratives and because it provides a better foundation for purpose and meaning in my life than competing narratives. You must make those same and possibly other evaluations for yourself.
There is, in my opinion, a critical attitude that is important in the application of Ethical and Moral Principles, which includes the UUA’s seven Principles. Principles such as, treat everyone with respect and recognize their inherent worth and dignity. That critical attitude is being non-judgmental, which promotes acceptance of others. Less than full acceptance leads to rejection or mere tolerance, and results in less than optimal application of principles. Granted, tolerance is better than rejection and may be a step on the path to full acceptance, but one should be cautious about becoming too self-satisfied about having achieved mere tolerance. Below is a quote from a book written by a former journalist who spent several years living on the streets as a homeless woman, for reason I won’t go into. Of the help she received that allowed her to resume a productive life she said:
“To those who helped me, I will always be eternally grateful…However, while you stand in your place in the accepted social hierarchy of giving and receiving, looking down on those you deem worthy of helping, would you please stop to notice how you are slapping us in the face with the very hand that you have extended in your goodwill?”
I would suggest that what is implicit in this quote is the recognition by her that some of her benefactors were merely tolerant of her and tolerated her as much to enhance their own self-esteem by being seen helping her as to compassionately respond to her and her circumstances.
So, what do I mean by judgment? Judgment is based on categorical thinking. A way of thinking that classifies people and treats them as categories. I am reminded of a comment by the late David Bohm, a quantum physicist and philosopher, who said that all genuine knowledge will only be found between categories. Others, such as Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou (see also my post On Buber and Bohm), make the point that only through a relationship of acceptance of the other can you respond fully to the humanity of another person. Likewise, the philosopher Ken Wilbur, in his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, points out that our culture has a history of objectifying people and classifying them as objects characterized by the status of its.
Judgment employs a system of filters or beliefs, represented as cognitive constructs, that are arranged into a hierarchy or decision tree. These beliefs are acquired through Social learning. You acquire them, one might say absorb them, from your parents, siblings, extended family, peers, community and social institutions such as schools and churches. These filters or algorithms are subconscious and automatic (hereafter, APs). Practically, everyone has such APs running outside of their conscious awareness that affect their perceptions of people and situations. What you are most likely to be aware of is a mental label, emotion or impulse to act in a certain way arising into awareness. Often this is the end product of an AP with an implicit bias. What most frequently happens when a judgment or impulse arises into awareness is that you generate a rationale, to incorporate into your personal narrative, to explain the judgment or impulse. The rationale then becomes part of your idea of yourself. There is seldom any connection between the AP and the rationale for its output. The rationale is more likely to be self-deception.
Some subconscious biases or APs can be revealed through Harvard University’s Implicit Attitude Tests that are available on Harvard’s website and are free to the public. You might find it interesting and possibly useful to take some of these tests that cover such topics as sexual orientation, race and gender identity, among others.
You can also personally pursue locating your APs , first, through carefully monitoring your responses to people and situation and then, second, employing introspection to drill down and find the underlying source of your reaction. This is not always easy and will often be confounded by the camouflage that your rationale justifying their output creates. In such cases, there are other more sophisticated techniques that might be employed or you may need professional help with the task.
Not all APs are dysfunctional. For example, you have APs that are instrumental to you being able to drive an automobile safely and with hardly any conscious effort. You are more likely to find APs that support biased perceptions in those related to people, organizations and situations than among those helping with the routine tasks of getting through the day. If you find any dysfunctional APs, you should modify, replace or eliminate them. Doing this will aid your spiritual evolution, which – as will be clarified shortly – is your purpose.
The flip side of judgment is discernment. Discernment is an unbiased evaluation that is free of APs. Discernment can only be practiced by treating each encounter with people and situations as unique and worthy of individual consideration rather than as a prepackaged categorical response. Systems of judgment, while not entirely dependent upon, are supported by one’s worldview. Your worldview can, therefore, aid or hinder cleaning up maladaptive APs or even being able to recognize them.
Let us now turn to a brief discussion of four western worldviews. The first is theistic dualism. This worldview has been around for several thousand years and most of us can easily associate it with such dualities as God and Satan, good and evil, heaven and hell, saved and damned. It is not a worldview designed to promote acceptance. The second I’ll call Descartes’ Compromise. This was a compromise suggested by René Descartes in the 17th century. This suggestion was an effort to moderate religious interference in the work of naturalists (today we’d call them scientists) attempting to understand the processes underlying the physical world. Some of their work attracted potentially deadly attention from religious authorities who judged some of their findings to be heretical to church dogma. What the compromise suggested was that concern with physical processes be left to the naturalists and considered secular in nature, and concern with spiritual matters be left to theologians and priests and considered religious in nature. The compromise was an improvement on the purely theistic worldview but was still not one that fully promoted acceptance of people in all their diversity. In short, judgment is implicit in a dualistic worldview.
Descartes’ Compromise eventually morphed into secular or scientific materialism. This came about, over time, by excluding half of the compromise from the worldview, turning it into a purely materialist worldview. The materialist worldview takes as its root assumption that everything arises from matter — matter is primary. The narrative supporting this worldview posits that all matter first came into existence through what is described as the Big Bang. The late Stephen Hawking, a physicist and cosmologist, when asked by someone to explain where the Big Bang came from, replied that it was “spontaneous creation from nothing.” The Big Bang is sometimes also described as a cosmic accident. This narrative further posits that the physical universe and ultimately the life in it evolves through random processes. So, matter came into being through a cosmic accident and the stars, planets, the life planets support, solar systems, galaxies and the universe all evolved by chance or through random processes. What is denied by this worldview is that any of this had any purpose behind it. To my understanding, anything without purpose has no implicit meaning and is, in many ways, a nihilistic philosophy. Nihilism rejects all values as being baseless and offers no grounds for promoting acceptance.
The fourth western worldview that will be covered is analytic idealism, a nondual philosophy, perhaps best represented, at the current time, by scientist, technologist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup. Recently, Kastrup has taken the position of director of a foundation, The Essentia Foundation, whose goal is to promote idealism as an alternative to materialism. An organization with a similar goal is the Academy for the Advancement of a Postmaterialist Science whose membership is comprised of scientists and academics.
Kastrup’s presentation of idealism, especially Rationalist Spirituality, takes as its root assumption that Consciousness or Universal Mind is a field of Consciousness or Source Consciousness (hereafter just Source) that is infinite, eternal, intelligent and creative. It is not, however, capable of metacognition or self-reflection. Everything arises from and returns to Source. Think of a wave arising from the ocean and returning to the ocean. It is all water whatever form it takes. Therefore, everything must be unconditionally accepted by Source because to do otherwise would be to reject itself.
Kastrup suggests that the physical universe is an experience engine that is running within Source, which means Source can’t be equated with the physical universe, being much more. In Kastrup’s model, Source needs experience to evolve and realize its potential. Further, life is a carrier of Source that experiences and evolves, while also providing input for Source’s evolution. Kastrup argues that Source is an evolving phenomenon because if Source were perfect there would be no need to create an experiential universe. He argues that even if a perfect Source had created an experiential universe it would have to reflect that perfection and it is clear from our experience that his is not a perfect universe. The bottom line of this presentation on idealism means that personal evolution contributes to Universal evolution, which gives life a source of purpose and meaning.
One explanation for how experience comes about is that experience arises from complementarity. The concept of complementarity was first proposed by the late Niels Bohr, a quantum physicist and one of the founders of quantum physics. He originally introduced this concept to help understand and talk about the wave – particle duality in quantum physics. He subsequently indicated that he thought the concept had a much broader application and could even be used in such fields as psychology. See also my post Love and Hate in Human Thought.
Here is a mundane example that should be easier to follow than a discussion of the complementary pair of wave — particle. Consider the pair hot — cold, This pair can be represented on a dimension with each member of the pair anchoring an opposite pole of the dimension. It is the gradations that are made possible by this bipolar construct that makes the experience of temperature possible. If you would like to carry this illustration further, think through other complementary pairs such as male and female.
Members of a complementary pair can be thought of as partial reflections of an undivided whole. The writer Arthur Koestler referred to such wholes as holons. Each holon is both a whole and a part. It is a part of a greater holon, which in turn is a whole and a part of a greater holon. If you extrapolate this process to its logical end point, you will arrive at a holon that encompasses the entire physical universe. Such a holon can easily be thought of as a singular representation of the physical universe or a unity of physicality. However, one might go further and imagine this holon as a whole and a part that is a part of a greater holon yet, such as Source. Perhaps Source is the ultimate Holon, which exists as a part of nothing, being both infinite and eternal. You can find a fuller discussion of the concept of holons in the Ken Wilbur book linked above. You can find a fuller discussion of the unity of physicality (in physicist speak, the entanglement of all the particles in the physical universe) in my post Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations about the perspective of the quantum physicist Menas Kafatos.
In the East there are several nondual philosophies, such as Buddhism, Tantra, Taoism and Vedanta. If you have heard of Tibetan Buddhism, headed by the Dalai Lama, it is also known as Tantric Buddhism, which recognizes that it is a fusion of Buddhism and Tantra. I will try to present a brief, homogenized and probably unjust description of these traditions to the best of my understanding.
In this worldview, life is an expression of Universal Consciousness and much that was said about Consciousness earlier is also applicable to one degree or another. Human functioning in this view ranges from Ignorant to Enlightened, which in this view means ego consciousness (self) at one pole and a more purified Consciousness at the other pole (Self or authentic Self). In nondualism, our goal should be to rise above our ignorance, and realize our inherent divinity. In other words, transcend ego consciousness. This is not unheard of in the West. In the twentieth century the psychologist Abraham Maslow placed self-transcendence at the apex of his hierarchy of development. It is not unusual to see his hierarchy taught without the final step of self-transcendence, which is probably because it doesn’t fit very well into the prevailing materialist paradigm and is therefore ignored. Carl Jung, a twentieth-century psychiatrist and proponent of depth psychology, made self-transcendence the ultimate goal of psychological integration. Jung proposed that this could be achieved, though not easily, by integrating the unconscious, subconscious and ego consciousness and thereby expressing one’s higher Self.
In nondualism, bad behavior is viewed as a product of ignorance, not of evil (a link to my post The Nature of Evil). We often classify certain forms of behavior as evil but a non-dualist would say that it is simply an expression of ignorance. This does not excuse it, but the focus here is the behavior, not the person. Consequently, bad behavior requires a non-emotional response that is non-judgmental and includes respectful, dignified and just treatment of the actor. This type of response is, to a non-dualist, one that is least likely to be an overreaction resulting in a non-productive counter response and one most likely to promote the spiritual development of the one receiving it. Finally, these traditions usually see the process of moving from ignorance to enlightenment to be one that unfolds slowly and requires a great deal of time to have and to benefit from the necessary experiences. Thus, you frequently see reincarnation as a component of these traditions, since it provides the necessary time to complete spiritual evolution.
The original Unitarian and Universalist denominations came about in the 16th century and arose for Christian denominations that disagreed with some of the prevailing theology of the Christian church of the time. The Christians that became Unitarians affirmed the unitary nature of divinity and thereby rejected the theological concept of a Trinitarian divinity. They also rejected the dogma of “original sin.” The Christians that became Universalists rejected the dogma of selective salvation or reconciliation with divinity for universal reconciliation. They viewed some theological concepts such as reconciliation as being a fundamental truth that has universal application unbound by any constraint. This position is sometimes compared to the principle from the Rig Veda ( a scripture from Vedanta) that holds that “Truth is One; sages call it by various names.”
In consideration of the above, I don’t think it is a great stretch to say that Unitarian Universalism has within it the potential to become a western representative of a nondual worldview (a panentheistic view) that has theological roots rather than purely philosophical roots. Personally, I think it would be a more productive direction than it has been following, which seems to me to be attempting to establish a humanistic option within materialism. Currently, it is in the process of revising its principles and appears to be making Love as the center piece of this revision. I would suggest that this is a step in the right direction.
A few closing comments on nonduality: In nondualism, being against others includes being against the self since both you and the other arise from the same Source and share the same core divinity. Thus, nonduality promotes acceptance of self and others. Because of complementarity, you can’t live in nonduality, but you can know and use it as a perspective.
Nonduality can be known both intellectually and experientially. To illustrate the difference, consider someone who knows nothing about music, including having never heard music played. Now imagine that this individual is given a workbook on musical notation and a book on musical instruments that explains what they are and their basic mechanisms for producing sound. After studying these materials, our imaginary character has a pretty good intellectual understanding of music. Now imagine that we take this person to a symphony hall and let him or her listen to a symphony play music. The individual will come out of the symphony hall with a very different understanding of music from the one s/he entered with. The person now has an experiential understanding of music to go along with an intellectual understanding. The experiential dimension could be deepened by learning to play an instrument as well. Nondual traditions place a preference for the experiential knowing over intellectual knowing, while recognizing that in most cases intellectual understanding precedes experiential understanding. Thus, one should be open to the experience of nonduality, Unity or Source. Most traditions that advocate experiential knowing promote the practice of contemplation and meditation as methods that can open you to the experience, though they will also tell you you can’t make it happen. In fact, trying to force it will do nothing more than push you further away from the experience. You don’t take it, it takes you (see my post Taken).
Next month: Meditation: What it is and why do it.
P.S. Limiting ourselves to western worldviews, some might ask which is True, Scientific Materialism or Analytic Idealism?
I would say that neither is True. Both are philosophical systems that rest upon a core assumption. In one case, the Primacy of Matter and in the other the Primacy of Consciousness. So, the question posed is pointless. Both probably contain some truth. A better question is, which one has the greatest depth and range and which has the best chance of enhancing humanity?
My answer is idealism and I offer that for several reasons:
1. If the interpretation of the double-slit experiments in quantum physics that assert that Consciousness is responsible for the collapse of the wave function are valid, and a lot of evidence supports this interpretation, then Consciousness is Primary and matter is an epiphenomenon of Consciousness. Thus, it seems likely that matter requires Consciousness to come into existence.
2. Idealism can subsume materialism similarly to how quantum physics subsumes Newtonian physics. This provides a much broader and deeper paradigm for understanding the nature of reality. The reverse, however, doesn’t expand our paradigm because it requires that human consciousness be a separate and isolated phenomenon generated by the brain rather than the brain being its receiver and moderator. This negates all the advantage to be found from looking at Consciousness as primary and there is a significant amount of evidence backing the view that Consciousness is Primary though in some quarters it is not viewed as being conclusive.
3. Even given all other things being equal, I go with idealism because it is a narrative that gives humanity purpose and meaning. This has the potential to bring humanity together in a positive way and thus make it more likely to survive and evolve and possibly to continue to contribute to Source’s evolution. The likely alternative is to become a dead end.
Consider the notions of infinity and the finite. This pair of concepts embody both a contradictory and a complementary relationship. The two concepts compliment one another in that each makes the other more understandable through their contrast. They are contradictory in that each conveys a meaning that is 180 degrees out from the other.
The finite can only exist as a reduction of the infinite. That is, the finite is a subset of the infinite. Now consider an ocean and a wave. The wave can only exist as a subset of the ocean. The finite can never subsume the infinite and a wave can never subsume an ocean.
Let’s now think about “love” and “hate.” According to many spiritual traditions, love is the underlying dynamic of the universe. It is also said by many spiritual traditions that hate arises from fear and that fear is a corruption of love. The logic of the ocean and the wave can help us frame love and hate. It is far more likely that “love” is like the infinite or like an ocean because it is easy to see that “hate” is a more contracted expression than love. Thus, it seems appropriate to think of hate as a subset of love. A subset in the sense that hate arises from a corruption of love by fear that is engendered by spiritual ignorance (see my post The Nature of Evil).
Let’s end this brief discussion with the concepts of “good” and “evil.” I would argue that, like love, good is ontologically superior to evil. Good is the value field in which evil arises just as an ocean is the field in which waves arise. Thus, we can view evil as a subset of good. The infinite, waves, love and good can be thought of as all-inclusive fields in which contradictory and complimentary factions arise. These factions serve the function of making experience possible from the possibilities opened up through the contrasts they provide. After all, you could not experience temperature in the absence of the contrast provided by hot and cold.
Note: This brief comment was stimulated by the writing of the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo.
The world we live in is driven by narratives. In earlier times they were called myths. The original meaning of “myth” was a story that, while not entirely factual, contained truth.
One of the narratives central to western civilization is scientific materialism, which takes matter to be primary, i.e., to come first. Materialism begins its narrative with infinite nothingness into which matter suddenly explodes, a.k.a. the Big Bang. The physicist Stephen Hawking was once asked how the Big Bang came to be. He replied, “Spontaneous creation from nothing.”
There is an alternative narrative in western thought that is not as well known, though perhaps it should be. I’ll call it the Great Illusion. The Great Illusion is based on the philosophy of idealism and takes consciousness to be primary, i.e., to come first. One advantage of the Great Illusion over the Big Bang is that it offers a purpose for the universe that can provide an ultimate meaning for life. To answer the question, “How did the Great Illusion come to be and what are its implications?” will now be addressed and is based in part on the book Rationalist Spirituality by philosopher Bernardo Kastrup a proponent of analytic idealism.
In the beginning, there was only timeless and unbound Consciousness imbued with intelligence, curiosity, potential and creativity. For those with a scientific frame of mind and also familiar with the work of the quantum physicist David Bohm — think of the Super Implicate Order. I will hence forth simply refer to this Primordial Consciousness as Source. Some might call it “God” who is believed to be perfect and complete. However, if God is perfect and complete, the universe God allegedly created would be static and unchanging. It is not possible to add to perfection and completeness. However, the universe is dynamic and in flux.
Source was inherently curious about its nature and its potential. However, being a unity of all that is, self-exploration was no more possible for Source than for an eye to examine itself. The best way for an eye to examine itself is with a mirror. Thus, Source set about creating a mirror capable of reflecting its potential. Using its inherent creativity, Source imagined a myriad of possibilities for this mirror and settled upon a self-evolving image (virtual reality). Through intention, Source initiated a self-evolving universe where its potential could unfold and reveal itself. And, the Great Illusion came to be. For those familiar with David Bohm’s work, setting into motion the self-evolving image can be thought of as the Implicate Order and the physical universe as what David Bohm called the Explicate Order or the unfolding of the Implicate Order.
One requirement inherent in Source’s intention was for vehicles capable of sustaining a degree of consciousness and with enough diversity to make experience possible. The vehicle that evolved were life forms. The contrast was duality, which the physicist Neils Bohr called complementarity. For example, no hot and cold then no gradient of temperature or experience of temperature. Another requirement was for a causal framework to make possible the interaction between life forms and between life forms and the physical universe. We call this framework space and time, which the physicist Albert Einstein called spacetime. Source itself is nonlocal, which means it does not exist within spacetime but rather spacetime exist within the mirror or virtual reality initiated by Source.
As the evolution of the universe progressed it began to resemble what we see today. At some point in this evolution, the conditions became ripe for the emergence of life. As life began its evolution, nervous systems were able to embody and carry a portion of Source. As life became more and more complex its capacity as a carrier for Source expanded accordingly.
Thus, individuated life forms capable of receiving and sustaining a transmission of consciousness from Source became part of the Great Illusion. The transmission received was filtered down to an appropriate degree by the relative sophistication of a life form’s nervous system. The more sophisticated the nervous system the greater the degree of consciousness received.
At some point in this evolution, the degree of consciousness received was sufficient for self-awareness to emerge. Self-awareness greatly expanded the range of experiences possible. The last known expansion was the capacity for self-reflection or meta-cognition. This latter ability allows for reflection upon abstract representations; e.g., thinking about how a past experience is relevant to a current situation or thinking about your thinking processes. The increasing variety and complexity of experience was enfolded into Source to stimulate its evolution toward completeness.
A carrier of consciousness has a degree of autonomy in its collection of experience. The more complex the nervous system the greater the autonomy. With autonomy comes choices and the more choices the greater the amount of information created for the life form and for Source. The relationship between choice and information is found in the Information Theory of Claude Shannon.
One implication of the Great Illusion is that, as a self-evolving system with autonomous actors that can make choices, the necessary richness of experience required for the evolution of Source is likely. Given that autonomy and choice exist within the Great Illusion, it is unlikely that Source would intervene in the affairs of the world. To do so would reduce the range of choice and information produced by living forms, which would diminish the experiences available to Source. Another implication is that what we call good and evil should be seen as the outcome of choices made by relatively autonomous individuals and groups. Good and evil are a complementary pair, which makes possible a range of experience between the polarities.
It also appears that there is an ongoing natural tendency for each individual consciousness to be exposed to experiences that include what it needs to acquire insight. The choices that you make influence subsequent experiences that the evolving universe will, in time, bring to you. This happens because the enfolding of information from choices, experiences and insights into Source influences the Implicate Order. This feedback affects the unfolding of possibilities into physicality or the Explicate Order. Possibilities that unfold don’t have to be useful or even positive. They simply have to provide the opportunity for insight, which in turn contributes to the evolution of the individual’s consciousness and of Source.
Choices that we make can facilitate or interfere with insight. Acts that interfere with the progress of others are likely to impede your own progress. Feedback from such choices may be experienced as pain and suffering. Feedback that is facilitative will often result in greater clarity and understanding, including at times insight. All beings, whether they know it or not, are contributing to the same universal goal, that is, to both the evolution of personal consciousness and of Source. This implies that we need to always be mindful of the choices we make in life.
The experiences of many people across time suggest that access to Source can occur. Such access occurs to varying degrees for different individuals and is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Sometimes this appears to happen without any obvious antecedents and sometimes it seems to be the product of following practices set out by various spiritual traditions as helpful.
What are the implications of the Great Illusion for death?
1. Nothing essential is lost with the death of the body/mind.
2. You are just a collection of experiences that are preserved in Source.
3. With the death of the vehicle your consciousness will be enfolded back into Source just as it was unfolded into physicality with your birth.
4. The illusion of individuality and physicality will dissolve.
5. But, no one truly dies or is lost to others Kastrup leaves us with two questions:
1. Is it possible that practices developed by various spiritual traditions can help facilitate access to Source Consciousness?
2. Can you break away from your preconceptions and allow yourself more latitude to investigate spiritual ideas?
There is an apparent “war” of cultures in American politics. The so-called Red/Blue divide that seems unbridgeable. Red struggles to overcome Blue. Blue struggles to overcome Red. Each side believes fervently that it is the defender of “Truth.” Each side attempts to eke out a victory so that it might impose its view of truth on the nation as a whole. Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Garrett, in their recent book The Upswing, describe this struggle in a way that suggests a cycle. They describe one turn of the apparent cycle. The first leg of the current cycle began in the late 19th century when Blue began an ascendance and imposed its views on society. The cycle peaked around 1971 and began its second leg, which is where we are currently positioned. During the past 50 years, Red has been in ascendance and has been reversing Blue’s accomplishments and has been imposing its views on society. In discussing what needs to be done, the authors propose that the answer is to restore Blue’s programs to a dominant position. I think this is a mistake made by not taking into account the significant portion of the population that sides with Red. In my view, the only thing suppression will accomplish is to initiate a new cycle, which is not a solution at all. Both viewpoints need to be transcended.
On a longer-term basis, Iain McGilchrist, in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, discusses a back and forth tug-a-war between the left and right brain functions. He thinks the tug-a-war has its origins in the ancient Greeks and has been operating throughout history. He spends a considerable amount of effort to document this process. McGilchrist, a neuro-psychiatrist, discusses the underlying reason for our split brain. He says that the right brain is responsible for relating and integrating our understanding of the world. Because of its relational nature, the right brain provides a dynamic and holistic view of the world and is the source of meaning in our lives. The left brain on the other hand is responsible for separating out of our perception of the world isolated pieces, which are rendered static and then divided further into pieces for examination.
According to McGilchrist, there should be cooperation between these functions. The left brain should inform the right brain about its understanding of examined pieces of the world and then the right brain should integrate this understanding into a dynamic and holistic view of the world. In short, the left brain evolved to be a tool of the right brain, which should have the overall responsibility for our understanding of the world. McGilchrist argues that currently the left brain has gained dominance over the right brain, which evolved to be the dominant partner.
Human beings can skew the intent of evolution through their ability to form concepts and abstractions that model the world. Concepts, abstractions and models are left brain functions grounded in language. The left brain has in effect “hijacked” the functions of the right brain through the use of concepts and abstractions. Unfortunately, the left brain approach leads to fragmentation rather than the needed holistic view. Ken Wilber, discussed below, would probably agree with the essence of McGilchrist’s analysis. I think this is because Wilber argues that most of our current problems are due to an extreme emphasis on quadrant three of his model (see Table in the section about Wilber), which he thinks is dominated by scientific materialism with its emphasis on the senses of perception and an objectifying and externalizing of everything to the exclusion of humanity’s inner life and resources.
The political cycle described by Putnam and Garrett and possibly the tug-a-war described by McGilchrist seems likely to be linked to how we form identities and worldviews. Before proceeding, it is necessary to provide some background. I will attempt to describe identity formation through the lens of psychological development. I will begin by mentioning the French developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, who sequenced cognitive development into a four-tiered structure. The first tier was sensorimotor, then preoperational, then concrete operational and finally the formal operational tier. While there have been criticisms of the model and suggestions for one or more additional stages the original model, in practice, has held up robustly.
For example, the Harvard psychologist, Lawarence Kohlberg, adapted Piaget’s scheme to his study of moral reasoning. He structured moral reasoning into a three-tiered sequence. The first tier was pre-conventional, then conventional and finally post-conventional. Each tier was divided into two stages for a total of six stages. The sixth stage is often omitted from the developmental sequence. This omission occurs because its achievement is so rare that there are not enough examples of it available to study and give it a firm empirical basis (see Addendum I at the end).
Kohlberg’s developmental model for moral reasoning has been widely studied and validated in cultures around the world, including both developed and emerging societies. The structure and stages have held up across cultures. The primary differences found between cultures has been the rate of development through the stages and the stage that emerges as the dominant typical stage in any given culture.
Further, studies have confirmed a relationship between moral reasoning and behavior, though it is a complex relationship. Studies have found deficits in moral reasoning in psychopaths as compared to neurotics. Research also shows a significant difference in moral reasoning between delinquents and non-delinquent adolescents. A common finding in these studies was an association of preconventional reasoning with antisocial behavior. Development of moral reasoning has also been found to be slower and more variable in troubled children relative to typical children.
Research has also supported structured, developmental discussions of moral issues as a method for stimulating development of moral reasoning. This has been shown to be supported in programs with public school students, emotionally disturbed adolescents, college students, delinquents and prisoners. In a study to see if public school teachers could implement a moral education program, teachers successfully conducted the program and produced significant changes, which upon a two-year follow-up were either maintained or continued to progress. One caveat is that research found that moral reasoning in a natural context with real life content was lower than moral reasoning in an educational setting with hypothetical content.
The primary criticism levied against Kohlberg’s model was from a former student of Kohlberg’s, Carol Gilligan. Her criticism was not about the model structure but of the assessment content used to place individuals in the scheme. Her criticism was that the assessment material was male-centric. Her argument, which was shown to have merit, was that moral reasoning in men tends to be best assessed through issues related to rights and justice, while moral reasoning in women tends to be best assessed through issues related to care and responsibility. She would rename some of the stages in Kohlberg’s model when applied to women using names related to care and responsibility.
Here it is worth mentioning another example. A student of Kohlberg’s, Robert Selman, developed a model of social reasoning. At the end of this essay, Addendum I provides an outline of Kohlberg and Selman’s models based on material in a textbook that I wrote in 1989.
The psychologist/philosopher, Ken Wilber, suggests that about 40% of the U.S. population is at stage four and has an ethnocentric personal identity. This stage marks the transition from preoperational to concrete operational thinking. Ethnocentrists identify with others from similar backgrounds and with similar attributes. People at this stage can take a second person perspective. This stage is often described as being populated by “true believers” and conformist. They are literal thinkers that view the world through narratives (a.k.a. myths). Moral behavior is governed by internalized rules, which are rigidly held and enforced.
Wilber indicates that about 50% of the U.S. population is at stage five, which is based in thinking at the formal operations level and is associated with a worldcentric personal identity. Persons at this stage can take a third person perspective. One identifies with an integrated and unified view rooted in a concern for the wellbeing of the whole. Whereas stage four might be called an “us” stage, stage five could be called an “all of us” stage. It is an orientation that views the world as rational. Moral behavior is governed by strongly held principles or ideals. This stage did not start to take root in the west until about 300 years ago.
The third relevant stage to this discussion is stage six. This stage did not begin taking root until the middle of the twentieth century. It was first evident in the revolutionary youth movement and counterculture of the 1960s. The ability to take a fourth person perspective at this stage led to criticism of and deconstruction of third person perspectives that arose out of stage five. This stage led to an emphasis on egalitarianism, cultural relativism and multiculturalism. Wilber suggests that this group represents about 25% of the U.S. population. While the percentages for the stages discussed add up to more than 100%, it must be taken into account that due to transitions some people are double counted. The above configuration sets up a perfect situation for a clash between traditional, rational and multicultural values.
Wilber’s model is more complex than the simple and brief description above. Wilber’s full analysis is detailed and quite complex. If you’re interested in the detailed analysis, I suggest that you read it for yourself. Probably the most comprehensive presentation is his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. If you are put off by the word spiritual, I don’t think Wilber would mind if you simply substitute the term “consciousness,” where the term has a much broader meaning than merely being the opposite of unconscious. I have included a brief description of all eight stages in Wilber’s model below as Addendum Two.
Back to the “war” of political cultures. The bad news is that the research indicates that in American society, the majority of adults function at either stage four or stage five. This means that most Americans will have either a conformist attitude toward life or an individualist attitude. These two groups are supported by value systems that clash — traditional versus rational. The conformists depend upon mythologies or stories about the nature of the world, how it operates, what is necessary and so on. These narratives provide their blueprint for understanding the world, which can be a fairly simplistic such as “my country right or wrong.” The individualist depend on logic and rational analysis, which can be fairly complex such as scientific materialism, which assumes that everything arises from matter and that everything can be understood by objectifying it, isolating it, reducing it to its constituent parts and examining the relationship of the parts to one another. The important point here is that these beliefs or assumptions, if you prefer, are a product of an attained pattern of thinking. One does not change such patterns of thinking by persuasion or by coercion. One must develop or evolve beyond them.
If one thinks that they can be changed otherwise, I would ask you to consider the ethnic conflicts that erupted in eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The USSR had largely suppressed ethnic conflicts for many decades through its coercive domination of eastern Europe. However, as soon as the external inhibition was removed, the conflicts soon bubbled to the surface because the patterns of thinking of the involved populations had not evolved but had only been suppressed. They may have even regressed under authoritarian domination. On the other hand, let’s look at scientific materialism as an example of the failure of persuasion. For over a century evidence has been accumulating that scientific materialism cannot account for all the phenomena being documented. I have two large volumes in my personal library cataloging evidence that can’t be explained by scientific materialism, persuasive evidence developed through the methods advocated by science and meeting and exceeding the criteria established for judging such data. The response has largely been to ignore the data, discount the data, attack the researchers producing the data and so on. It is no wonder that it has been said that science progresses one funeral at a time. It almost seems that death is the only way to overcome the resistance to different ways of thinking.
Which brings us back to the American culture war. What we have here is a conflict grounded in various conflicting identities. The difficulty of ending this conflict is evident in the observation of the French philosopher Francis Jacques, who noted that participants in such identity-based conflicts usually see only two options. Either they can assimilate the worldview of the opponent or they can impose their world-view on the opponent. We see very little if any migration of members of the Red tribe to the Blue tribe or the converse. So, the exercise of the first option doesn’t seem very likely. What we do see are attempts to implement option two. Both tribes strive to attain the political power necessary to impose their worldview upon the other tribe. Even if one of them succeeds it will be a temporary victory. There will not have been a fundamental change in the pattern of thinking in the “suppressed,” nor will they cease seeking a way to regain the upper hand.
So, is there a way out of this dilemma? There may be but it isn’t a quick and easy fix. The way out is to evolve out of current patterns of conventional thinking. I mentioned research that suggested that evolution of thinking can be stimulated by educational programs. Broad-based education efforts with children is one strategy. Targeted educational programs for adolescents and adults is another strategy. The late and renowned physicist and philosopher David Bohm attempted to address this problem in his book On Dialogue. This book discusses a format for large group dialogue intended to alter patterns of thinking. His is not an educational or a persuasive approach but rather an exposure and assimilation approach. The main thing that he thinks must be overcome is thinking that one’s opinions or assumptions are necessary and therefore justify anything in their defense. He finds that sitting in a large diverse group and listening to but not challenging the freely expressed assumptions of group members will in time bring the members of the group to a level of understanding of one another and a softening of the certainty of their assumptions. Once one becomes less dogmatic about and less identified with one’s assumptions then the path toward evolution in one’s pattern of thinking becomes a possibility. It is mentioned that this careful examination of one’s assumptions can be done individually but lacks the breadth and diversity of a group process. As Bohm says, “[a] problem is insoluble as long as you keep producing it all the time by your thought.”
Ken Wilber has also suggested that on an individual level an effective strategy for changing one’s pattern of thinking is meditation. He says this because meditation is an introspective observation of the arising and dissolving of one’s thoughts. Such observation leads to a clearer understanding of the nature of thought and its influence over you. One of the principle experiential insights that meditation can produce is the recognition that at root you are not your thoughts. Another is that your core identity is non-conceptual. The operative word is experiential. This recognition is not an idea, concept or belief but an experience. You might think that skydiving would be exhilarating but until you actually have the experience it is just an idea. The meditation strategy is associated with quadrant one in Wilber’s map of human knowledge and experience shown below in a simplified format.
1. Interior-Individual-Intentional (I)
3. Exterior-Individual-Behavioral (It)
2. Interior-Collective-Culture (We)
4. Exterior-Collective-Social (Its)
Wilber suggests that part of the problem we face is an overemphasis on exteriorized products of thinking, especially objective knowledge. He doesn’t think objective knowledge is bad, just that it has been emphasized to the point of crowding out other equally important aspects of being human. His meditation strategy belongs in quadrant one, representing individual interiority. As the ancient Greek aphorism says, “Know thyself.”
Any attempt to implement programs like those mentioned above are certain to be met by resistance, especially large-scale educational programs imposed on the unwilling. Voluntary programs are more likely to be accepted. If such programs produce positive results, then more people are likely to be open to participation. Probably the easiest group program to implement would be a group dialogue program such as proposed by Bohm. These should be community-based to ensure that sufficient diversity of views are represented. Of course, the suggestion by Wilber to undertake a systematic observation of one’s own thought processes through a meditation program has only one person’s opposition to overcome – yours. Should you be interested in a solo exploration, I recommend his book Integral Mindfulness.
It appears to me that the only way to resolve the dilemma that we face is to evolve our way out of it. This may be a difficult solution and perhaps we lack the foresight and long-term perspective needed to succeed. All other tactics, even when they appear to be successful, will in the end prove to be temporary and we will find ourselves cycling through the same struggle again and again. How long this can be sustained without imploding our civilization is difficult to say but that is the probable price of failure.
If this post has stimulated your interest, I recommend you to read the books mentioned and draw your own conclusions. I also suggest that you take a look at the two addenda below, especially Addendum II.
Levels I,II, III. Stages 1, 2, 3… Models (a) Kohlberg, (b) Selman
1. a. Punishment-obedience orientation. What’s right is what avoids punitive consequences.
b. Individuals as physical entities. One socially interacts with others who have similar superficial and observable characteristics, such as sex, skin color, etc.
2. a. Instrumental-Relativist, exchange orientation. What’s right is what secures a reciprocal exchange; i.e., I’ll scratch your back, if you’ll scratch mine.
b. Individuals as intentional agents. One socially interacts with others to temporarily secure their support or assistance.
3. a. Good-boy, good-girl orientation. What’s right is what is consistent with social expectations, especially with family expectations.
b. Individuals are introspective. One employs mutual perspective taking as a strategy to further one’s self-interests in specific situations.
4. a. Authority-rules, law and order orientation. What’s right is what conforms to the rules set by authorities, especially social institutions such as religious authorities or legal authorities associated with the community in which one lives.
b. Individuals have relative stable personalities. Social interaction arises out of mutual interests and sharing with others. Relationships have duration over time based on the expectation that the other will continue to conform to one’s expectations.
5. a. Social-contract orientation. What is right is what satisfies standards examined and agreed upon by society.
b. Individuals are complex self-systems. Social interactions are recognized as involving complex and often conflicting needs met through a variety of relationships.
6. a. Universal Ethical Principles, personal conscience orientation. What is right is what is consistent with comprehensive, self-evolved and logically consistent ethical principles.
b. No parallel.
Stages of Growing Up from Ken Wilber’s AQAL Model
The following stages are based upon a large body of research by a variety of developmental researchers, such as Jean Piaget among many others. Note that developmental stages imply a progression where one must begin at the initial stage and then through developmental experience move up to the next stage in the sequence. When a move up occurs the lower stage is absorbed by the new stage rather than the previous stage being left behind. Thus, someone at a higher stage can understand where someone at a lower stage is “coming from,” so to speak. However, a person at a lower stage has little or no basis for understanding where someone at a higher stage is coming from. Further, one cannot skip stages in a developmental sequence though movement through a stage can be sped up. There is no guarantee that one will move through the entire developmental sequence. Typically, one arrives at what will be one’s final stage by late adolescence, however, there are emerging methods for stimulating development into adulthood. Keep in mind that except in transition periods, there is usually a dominant developmental stage evident in the majority of persons in a population. This does not mean that other stages aren’t present during a given period just that they are less common or in some cases even rare. Finally, note that the descriptions below are brief stage summaries and are fixed descriptions of what is a dynamic process during the developmental period.
1. Archaic (Infared) : The most fundamental stage and the least significant. One exist in a state of fusion with the environment. At this stage, when an instinctual drive arises one becomes that drive; e.g., one isn’t hungry one is hunger. Normally only seen in infants prior to individuation. It is never seen in a typical adult. It is possible for typical adults to carry fixations from this period, which means that the person is still identified with some part of this stage.
2. Magic Tribal (Magenta) : Very few adults will be found at this stage. It is the beginnings of a separate self. There is a fundamental distinction between self and other at an emotional level, but there continues to be some confusion around self and the exterior environment. This confusion gives rise to animistic thoughts in which human qualities are attributed to things in the exterior environment; e.g., Lightening strikes because it wants to kill me. Magical thinking also occurs in this stage; e.g., if I hold a wish intensely enough I will manifest what I wish for. If I pray hard enough I will be cured.
3. Magic Mythic (Red) : A person at this stage engages in preoperational thinking and has an egocentric identity. A separate self is more fully developed in this stage and this leads to a concern with security and self-protection. At this stage a power drive emerges. An exaggerated power drive often produces an inner critic that may create feelings of inferiority. For someone at this stage what they want is what is right and this justifies simply taking it. They tend to be not only egocentric but narcissistic. They are only capable of taking a first person perspective (me/mine). They are incapable of being empathetic; i.e., seeing and feeling a situation from someone else’s perspective. Joseph Stalin is often offered as an example of this stage.
4. Mythic Traditional (Amber) : This level can also be described as the conformist stage. Cognitive processing shifts from a preoperational mode to a concrete operational mode. Thinking is now capable of performing cognitive operations on things in the external world. A person at this level has developed some capacity taking a second person perspective. This marks the shift from an egocentric to ethnocentric identity. This means that such an individual can now find belongingness in groups; e.g., family, clan, tribe, nation, religion, political party, etc. Wilber indicates that about 40% of the American adult population is at this stage, which includes people not fully transitioned into it and those beginning to transition out of it. People at this stage are highly rule governed and believe in stringent enforcement of rules. They are concrete thinkers and hold unquestioned belief in cultural narratives, which are viewed literally and held as absolutely true. They are easily led to place all power and authority in a single person who is viewed as omnipotent. People in this group may become true believers in a fundamentalist religion, political movement or scientism (scientific dogma).
5. Rational Modern (Orange) : Cognitive processing shifts from a concrete operations mode to a formal operations mode. Thinking is now capable of performing cognitive operations on thought. A person at this level as developed some capacity for taking a third person perspective. They can now step back from themselves and come to a relatively objective opinion about themselves. This leads to the development of self-esteem needs and true individuality. For such an individual there can now emerge a drive for excellence, achievement and progress. Wilber indicates that about 50% of the American adult population is at this stage, which includes people not fully transitioned into it and those beginning to transition out of it. There is a shift from an ethnocentric to a worldcentric identity, which means the person is capable of taking an objective, scientific and universal perspective. This stage marks a move to an ability for greater inclusiveness; i.e., from “us” “to all of us.” Stage 5 didn’t begin to emerge in any significant degree in the west until about 300 years ago. It is viewed by Wilber to be a highly significant development. Stage 4 (Conformists) and Stage 5 (Individualists) together make up a majority of the current U.S. population and should be expected to be in direct and regular conflict.
6. Pluralistic Postmodern (Green) : With this stage there arises an ability for fourth person perspective taking, which can reflect on, analyze,, critique and deconstruct third person perspectives. People at this stage only began to show up in any numbers around the middle of the twentieth century. The emergence of the youth revolution and counterculture movement at this time marked the arrival of the first postmodern stage. The fourth person perspective of this stage led to an emphasis on relativism and multiple approaches that rejected any universals or unified views. All viewpoints are seen as local and culturally constructed. Postmodernism especially rejects any “-isms” of any type. The pluralistic view is egalitarian and sees everyone as absolutely equal and no culture is superior to any other culture. Thus the emergences of multiculturalism in the late twentieth century. Members of this stage lead with the heart and rely on feelings rather than the head and logical analysis. Another characteristic of this stage is the rejection of all hierarchies as evil. What it fails to do is differentiate between “dominator” hierarchies and “growth” hierarchies. The self-contradiction in postmodernism, of course, is that it holds and promotes its view as being superior to all others. Wilber indicates that about 25% of the U.S. population can be classified at Stage Six. While Stage 4 at 40% and Stage 5 at 50% and Stage 6 at 25% exceeds 100% bear in mind that there are people in transition and likely counted twice. Some writers on developmental stages use notation along these lines 1, 1/2, 2, 2/3, 3, etc. This sets up the perfect storm of a clash between traditional, rational and multicultural values.
7. Integral (Turquoise) : This stage has only begun to be noticed by developmental researchers in the past few decades. It is still quiet rare and probably evident in less than 5% of the population. It is a second tier stage and the major mark of this stage is a drive for wholeness. One result of this is that the Integral stage is the only stage that sees the value of all the lower stages and their necessity for the developmental process. Bearers of this stage function at next to the last step in Maslow’s needs hierarchy — self-actualization. At this stage, thinking and feeling for the first time are brought together in a tight integration. This stage’s value for wholeness and inclusiveness leads people at the integral level to look at issues and problems in large, broad contexts, such as seeing environmental problems as a biosphere problem not purely a local issue. This broad perspective leads to little sympathy for partisan politics either nationally or globally. As an established stage it is the stage with the greatest depth of all the stages to date.
8. Super Integral Stages (White) : This represents possibly as many a four additional stages that would be tier three stages. These projections are based on the assumption that the universe is inherently loving and creative otherwise evolution would never have gotten underway and produced anything new at all. These stages are thought to be driven by an increasing focus on wholeness, inclusiveness, increasing consciousness, increasing love and care and concern, which is inherently built into the universe as we know it. It is thought that persons operating at this level currently exist but are very rare and represent significantly less than 1% of the population.
“The world is an illusion” is a statement that gets tossed about in some quarters. It is my intention in this essay to share my understanding of the statement. An illusion is defined as “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.” Most people that I have talked to about the title statement take “illusion” to be equivalent to “mirage.” A mirage has no substance, function or meaning. There is a big difference between a distortion of or misleading impression of something and its total absence. I would include in the idea of illusion the revealing of an aspect or part of something rather than the whole. To take a simple example, think about what your impression might be if your first experience with a dog was only the tail. Your impression would surely result in a false or misleading perception of the actual nature of a dog. The word “world” in the title statement is probably better represented by the phrase, “your experience of and beliefs about reality.” Thus, we might translate the statement to read, “Your experience of reality provides a misleading impression,” while recognizing that “experience” begins as a perceptual phenomenon. This does not mean it has no substance, function or meaning. If someone uttering the title statement or someone hearing the title statement understands “illusion” as meaning “mirage,” I think the meaning of the statement is misunderstood. I think the original intent was to suggest that our perceived reality might seem to be true and correct but is in fact false or misleading. Hereafter, the word “illusion” is used to simply mean a distortion in our perception that results in a false or misleading impression of reality.
It is also likely that what you perceive is largely a cognitive construction. Neuroscientist Don DeGracia has pointed out that vision research shows that the visual cortex receives more input from the brain itself than from sensory input through the eyes. The eyes in turn are said to only take in about a fifth of the available sensory data. This appears to support the idea that we actually construct what we see. Persons who have been blind from birth and that medical science provides with an intact vision system still have to learn to see images that you take for granted. Some actually find the experience so confusing that they say they would prefer to be blind and wear dark glasses to block stimulus input. I will end this introduction with a quote from Albert Einstein that you might ponder, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”
In the following, I will discuss the translated title statement relative to four perspectives, where the fourth is the likely source of the title statement.
The first perspective is biological. I will briefly describe here a way of looking at perception from an evolutionary perspective. There is only one person that I am familiar with who has developed and conducted research on this evolutionary perspective. If you’re interested in the details, I recommend you read Donald Hoffman’s book, The Case Against Reality.
The research done by Hoffman and the resulting scientific theory views what we perceive as “fitness icons.” Hoffman’s research and theory suggests that evolution has shaped our perceptions to be finely tuned to those aspects of the world that have fitness implications for us as biological organisms. Fitness refers directly or indirectly to things important for survival and reproduction. One way to look at this is that anything we perceive, including our body, is an “object” in a field of energies (note, what we call matter is just concentrations of energy) that go well beyond what we can sense. Evolution has shaped our sensory organs to only recognize those characteristics of the energy field that have fitness implications for humans. Further, what we perceive in a fitness icon is a representation of its critical features for us presented in a form that is most meaningful to us. There are many aspects of our environment that don’t have fitness implications for us and to which we are essentially blind. The limited amount that we do perceive seems to us to be reality. The belief that we see reality as it is, is an illusion. It is only a particular take on a segment of the sensory field. Your personal perception of reality is not reality as it is. It just seems that way.
The second perspective is psychological. Almost all normal people have what might be called a personality, self-concept or ego with which they identify. Whatever you wish to call it, this is what most people think they are. Bill, for example, has a lot of characteristics that he would ascribe to himself, such as hardworking, fair–minded, charitable, shy, a poor public speaker, apolitical, good with animals, a victim of an abusive father, and so on. All of these things and more are woven into a personal narrative, and this narrative is based in large part on memories of past experience. This narrative gives Bill a road map that tells him where he fits in. It also provides a ready explanation for things that he thinks, feels or does. It shapes his life by determining what he believes he can and can’t do, what he expects from life and how he goes about being in the world.
The thing about personal narratives is that they are to a great extent a fiction. To begin with, the narrative is comprised of selected memories from the pool of all the memories available. These selected memories, like all memories, are subject to editing and revision. Research shows that memories are not stable though we like to think they are. Memories change over time in both subtle and dramatic ways. Even two or more people having a similar experience will create different memories of it. This is often apparent in conversations with siblings about experiences shared in the home while growing up. In the course of weaving the memories into a narrative some license is taken in order to create a cohesive story, which is believed without question. The narrative seems like who you are but it is just a psychological construct that is mentally active whenever you aren’t focused on a task. You frequently review, update, edit and reinforce this narrative to the exclusion of many other possible variations on the narrative. The psychological construct posing as you is a constructed fiction, which does have elements of truth in it. I would say it can also be thought of as an illusion because it is a distortion of your complete body of perceived experience. Usually, those experiences that have a strong emotional component are the ones selected to weave a story around. Your construed personal reality is who you believe you are. It seems like it is your true “self,” but it is an illusion in the sense that it is to some degree a distortion of your fully lived experience. I have discussed this further in a post (among others) titled The Natural Mind on my website and in Chapter Four of my ebook, Self-Agency and Beyond.
The third perspective is cultural. This is a much larger narrative than your personal narrative but a narrative nonetheless. Every culture and sub-culture has a story that explains to members who they are, what they should believe and how they should act. This narrative is embedded in history, literature, media, myths (e.g., self-reliant individualism) and other means of conveying and reinforcing the story. Cultural narratives often overlap a nation so we can, for example, talk about the American culture or the American story — albeit with sub-plots. In some cases, the culture is broader than a nation and may, for example, be tied to an ethnic group (e.g., the Kurds) spread across several countries. What seems to be true to you is but one of many stories that could be woven about your culture by making different assumptions and emphasizing different events, different people and different interpretations. In fact, for anyone who takes the trouble, it is often much easier to see the revisions, editing and modifications of a cultural narrative across historical time than to see it in one’s personal narrative. This first became apparent to me when, as an undergraduate, I took a three-term course in constitutional law. I completed this course seeing the U.S. Constitution as providing a foundation more like shifting sand than a rock solid foundation. Identification with a cultural narrative is belief in just one of many potential constructions. While it may seem to you to be correct and true, it is an illusion in the sense that it is a distortion of the total cultural experience. If you would like to explore this dimension in greater detail, I recommend Jeremy Lent’s book, The Patterning Instinct and an analysis based in neuroscience by Iain McGilchrist titled, The Master and His Emissary:The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is also not hard to find explications of alternate stories about cultures, especially from groups diminished by the prevailing story.
To summarize the first three perspectives, you have biologically imposed limitations and restrictions on what aspects of reality that you can perceive and how you construe them. You create a fictive-self as a tool for negotiating your way through life and explaining your thoughts, emotions and actions. You adopt a belief in a constructed cultural narrative in which to embed your personal narrative and try to sync the two to work together. All of these, in their own way, distort the deeper reality from which they are extracted. In short, relative to the deeper reality they are illusions. In most cases useful and also true in a superficial sense.
The fourth perspective is the really deep dive in this essay. There are a number of labels that might be used for the fourth perspective. I will call it the spiritual perspective, because that is a term commonly used these days for some of the things that will be discussed. This is a perspective recognized by many traditions, including Christian, Buddhist, Moslem and the Vedantic and Tantrik traditions in India.
When talking about religious and theistic philosophical systems, it can be said that they often have two faces. The exoteric face, which is the public face and is most visible through its churches, temples and so forth and by its practices, ceremonies and rituals. The exoteric face is most often associated with systems of belief. Then there is the esoteric face, which may be associated with monasteries, ashrams, and even ascetics and hermits. The esoteric face is most often associated with systems of practice (see the Introduction and Part II of my ebook Self-Agency and Beyond) and personal experience of gnosis (intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth). The esoteric is a side of Christianity that has largely been absent for some time, but is currently seeing something of a revival. This segment will draw on the esoteric face and the teachings of individuals referred to as sages, awakened, realized and enlightened among other labels. The presentation will be somewhat generic rather than tradition specific.
The view from this perspective asserts, on the basis of phenomenological knowing or gnosis, that the material cosmos, including all life forms, are epiphenomena that arise from a universal primordial awareness/consciousness that has no beginning nor end. I make a distinction between awareness and consciousness in the Introduction to my eBook Self-Agency and Beyond but will hereafter stay with the term consciousness. This primordial consciousness contains the material cosmos but is not limited to the material cosmos. In another essay, I describe the cosmos as like a cosmic egg, characterized by locality*, floating in a sea of primordial consciousness (characterized by non-locality*). A sea of consciousness that is inherently intelligent, creative, inquisitive and unconditionally accepting of its own being and everything that arises from it, This type of conception can be found in either a theistic version called panentheism (see Part III of my eBook SelfAgency and Beyond or one of several essays such as this one) or a philosophical version called monistic idealism (see the works of Bernardo Kastrup and in particular The Idea of the World, which is for most readers not the book of his to begin with. I suggest starting with A Rationalist Spirituality). You can find a list of most of Kastrup’s books along with an audio interview about each book on a page on my website.
This view further asserts that particularized consciousness in each biological organisms is simply a contracted kernel of primordial consciousness that in its particularized form is unaware of its roots in primordial consciousness. The material cosmos was “imagined” into being by primordial consciousness to serve as a basis for the evolution of life. Life serves as the vehicle for kernels of particularized consciousness and in a self-conscious life form that might be called personal consciousness. The purpose of particularized consciousness is to provide primordial consciousness with the opportunity to explore its own infinite potential through experience. Experience arises out of the tension that is created through complimentary pairs, such as, satiety and hunger, hot and cold, life and death, love and hate, good and evil, male and female, health and disease, and so on. Once set in motion, this system is independent and autonomous, allowing full expression of whatever it generates.
This is a complex perspective with many variations that all point to much the same conclusions. The paragraphs above hardly do justice to the perspective but that was not their intent. If you want to explore the fourth perspective further there are a number of reference links above. You might also read Part I of Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis for the philosophical foundation for the yoga tradition based in Tantra. You can also find additional essays on my website by employing the search engine or looking at the titles page. Finally, you might get some idea of this from the poem Conundrum that I recently wrote and that can be found on this page.
Many persons who have realized their true nature as vehicles for primordial consciousness and have opened to consciously embodying primordial consciousness have made statements such as the title statement for this essay. Their intent seems to be to convey that there is a deeper reality beneath what seems to be reality to most humans. From their perspective, what most of humanity calls reality is in fact closer to a lucid dream in primordial consciousness. This does not make it any less real or meaningful to participants in the “dream” but what the “dreamers” perceive as reality is a false or misleading perception of the deeper reality underlying it and therefore can be called an illusion. A similar statement that is associated with this perspective is that “There Is No Doer” about which I have also written an essay titled Are We Merely Divine Puppets?.
* locality and non-locality are physics terms that essentially mean within space/time and beyond space/time respectively.
The following are brief quotes loosely organized into the categories: Education, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Science and Spiritual.
An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.
[Government] education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another.
John Stuart Mill
To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society!
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.
Freedom’s only true defense is sound money…
No one ever lost money by taking a profit.
The purpose of business is not to make money but to serve its customers so well that it is profitable.
The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.
The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
In a free market without government privilege, people seeking profit are led as if by an invisible hand to create general benefits that may be unintended.
It is [an] underlying confusion between wealth and debt which has made such a tragedy of the [current] era.
If printing money made you rich, Zimbabwe would be the richest county on the planet.
…economists are most economical about ideas. They make the ones they learned in graduate school last a lifetime.
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it is just the opposite.
Words are like bullets in truth’s bandoleer, and poets are truth’s snipers.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
The supreme sloth consists in failing to long madly for immortality.
Optimism is a duty!
What do you care what other people think?
The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.
Evil is the complete absence of empathy.
The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true.
Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.
I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life, and most of it never came to pass.
History doesn’t repeat — but sometimes it rhymes.
Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith.
Preparation is temporary, regret is forever.
We are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony
Those who fear Hell follow a religious path, those who have already been there follow a spiritual path.
I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.
Your point of power is always in the present.
As long as you believe in some Truth, you do not believe in yourself.
We are not physical beings who have temporary spiritual experiences but rather spiritual beings who have temporary physical experiences.
Trying to be compassionate is like trying to be spontaneous.
Worrying is praying for something that you don’t want.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true, the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.
Skeptic: Someone who doubts everything including his own skepticism.
Pseudo-Skeptic: Someone who exercises a set of prejudgments against anything that varies from the conventionally accepted, especially in the face of data to the contrary.
Dialogue: A free flow of meaning between people in communication.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.
The recipe for perpetual ignorance is to be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.
You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.
Being free is being able to accept people for what they are.
Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.
When we use dehumanizing language, it says much more about us than the people that we’re railing against and it chips away at our soul.
Legislation… is the chief instrument of oppression.
No government can in any way expand its powers over people but to limit freedom…
If government cannot be limited, freedom is lost…
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force…It is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
The tragic flaw in political parties is that they attract politicians.
Political correctness is to religious orthodoxy as insensitivity is to heresy.
Bureaucrats are individuals adept at aggregating small solvable problems into large unsolvable problems.
A constitution is to…government, what law is to individuals.
Democrats tax and spend, Republicans borrow and spend, libertarians are frugal.
The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal.
There is nothing so bad that government can’t make it worse.
Opinion polls are a symptom of mobocracy.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Freedom is the length of the chain between your imagination and reality.
The Christian religion is not an implicit part of the American government.
A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit,
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
Those who control history have leverage on the future.
You can never be certain that something will happen until the government denies it.
The top 5% pay 59% of income taxes and the bottom 50% pay 2.7% of income taxes.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in belief that they have known something of what has been passing in their times.
The United States of America have only one permanent criminal class, members of the U.S. Congress.
Never assumes the rules are what you think they are just because they are written down, if someone else can change them.
Ideology is the science of idiots.
Watching Republicans and the Democrats bickering over the U.S. debt is like watching two drunks argue over a bar tab on the Titanic.
I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare and I dare a little more as I grow older.
American politics has clearly demonstrated that you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time.
Bipartisanship is alive and well as evidenced by the cooperative effort to bankrupt the country.
Politics is not the art of the possible. It is choosing between the unpalatable and the disastrous.
An election is the advance auction of stolen goods.
Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him; better take a closer look at the American Indian.
Libertarianism: A conspiracy to take over the government and leave you alone.
Mandatory health insurance is older people mandating that younger people pay for their health care.
Changing the politician occupying an office is analogous to changing the font on a menu.
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
America is slowly discovering that the land of the free and home of the brave has become a corporate, fascist nightmare.
There’s no question that this is a time when corporations have taken over the basic process of governing.
Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.
When masses are raised above the individual,individuals suffer en masse.
Freedom consists of the distribution of power and despotism consists in its concentration.
Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) cultures.
The political establishment — proven wrong time and time again — thinks it know what its doing.
I think that the federal government — just as an entertainment medium — is pretty good.
It is not so much what a man is that counts as it is what he ventures to make of himself.
Behavior can be understood only by identifying the goals to which it is addressed.
There is no reason to expect anyone to think better of you than you think of yourself.
Intelligence: The extent to which one can learn from experience.
Maturity: The extent to which one can learn from other people’s experience.
The true test of character is power.
Life is a task. You either cope with it or it gets you.
True personal power is not the ability to cause change but the ability to inspire
Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.
When we have knowledge, space grants us unbounded opportunity, and time presents us with infinite possibilities for change.
[People] try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds.
People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them.
Only insight can change the workings of a disordered mind.
You create your own illusion and become entangled in it.
Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
Our judgments of any person [including self], event, thing, or set of circumstances are cloaked self-judgments.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
We can well believe that we will first understand how simple the universe is when we recognize how strange it is.
Specialization is for insects.
Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Our sole responsibility is to produce something smarter than we are; any problems beyond that are not ours to solve.
The most important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
Involuntary death is a cornerstone of biological evolution, but that fact does not make it a good thing.
Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that people don’t have to experience it.
What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
If it s obvious, it s obviously wrong.
Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.
Mainstream medicine isn’t about healing but about enabling patients to continue dysfunctional life styles.
The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.
Sir James Jeans
Extraordinary breakthroughs in science always involve giving up a significant prejudice.
As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
At it’s best, it [science] is completely open and excludes nothing. It has no entrance requirements.
The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.
You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back.
There is no place in this new kind of physics both for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality.
Through modern physics materialism has transcended itself.
Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.
I refuse to commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.
All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force…we must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
Fear is a mirror reminding you of where ego is still present.
Words are unnecessary stains on silence and emptiness.
Your purpose is to be Present with as much compassion, wisdom and skillfulness as is possible.
…the intellect (consciousness) and matter are correlatives…they are in fact really one and the same thing, considered from two opposite points of view.
Enlightenment is an awareness, through direct experience, of one’s unity with All That Is.
Enlightenment is a direct experience of the superposition of all dualistic systems thereby revealing their undifferentiated origin.
God will not drive flies away from a tailless cow.
Fulani tribe saying
Your way of being in the world determines the reality you experience.
If you don’t create your own reality someone else will
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.
You can’t start the next chapter of your life, if you keep re-reading the last one.
So long as it “feels” like there are choices, its important for us to make skillful ones.
Mind cannot bring you to the direct knowledge of Self.
Ultimately, your greatest teacher is to live with an open heart.
Thought is a tool to take you to the gate. Then you must leave your tools behind.
Trust that nothing good that you offer into the universe is ever wasted.
Prayer is extroverted and seeks to humble the ego,
Meditation is introverted and seeks to transcend the ego.
Language conceals the Self.
Read a little, meditate more and think of God all the time.
The ego is like a black bug on a black rock on a moonless night.
The way we live ordinary life is [our] spiritual practice.
[Once] you experience something, you do not have to believe in it any longer. It is not a matter of belief but a matter of experience.
The trap is to believe enlightenment is an experience.
For the religious person God excites the mind; for the mystic God stops it.
Don’t believe everything you think.
Forgiveness means forgiveness of one’s self for insisting on replacing Reality with your version of it.
You must allow the world to be as the world is.
Experience is fundamentally an emotional attachment to physicality that exists to be transcended.
Ego’s resistance to Being blocks Self-realization.
Unconditional Love dissolves the attachment of ego to judgment.
Therapy attempts to modify the ego, the natural mind transcends the ego.
Presence and kindness are the tools with which we find freedom.
Awareness precedes memory, memory precedes thought, thought precedes language and language precedes narration — peel the onion.
Belief in God is the greatest obstacle to knowing God.
Religions must fail simply because mind cannot practice the truth of Being.
Don’t mistake knowledge for knowing.
If you believe in an entity that you call God, chances are God is just a character in the script you “wrote” to articulate your life.
Abide in Presence.
A change in meaning is a change in being.
Beliefs, opinions and judgments are three of the many flavors of mental chewing gum — kick the habit.
No path can take you to your true Self because you already are your true Self.
Ignorance is grounded in beliefs.
Meditation — Presence on training wheels.
Not mindfulness but mindlessness.
Compulsive thinking is cognitive avoidance of being Present.
Ego is the mask God wears while pretending to be you.
Awakening is the realization that one is merely a character in a cosmic soap opera.
Idle thoughts arising in awareness have the same status as tactile sensations, sounds, smells or images arising in awareness — endless flux.
To be Present focus attention on awareness.
You are Love’s body.
Pursuit of experience is avoidance of Presence.
Seeking enlightenment is a spiritual snipe hunt.
Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent: it teaches its lessons whether you like/dislike them or not.
ALL That Is emanates from Divine Love, Surrender to love and be one with ALL That Is.
Is this enlightenment we are promising you? As long as you are seeking it, no. When you are being it, it is done.
You cannot be the light and hold another in darkness.
Being trumps doing.
In the long run it is far more dangerous to adhere to illusion than to face what the actual fact is.