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I am a retired academic, comfortable and content. I live with my wife (Shirley) in a semi-rural area about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. I have two adult sons and two grandsons. I took up exploration of the spiritual side of life as my retirement activity because of some noetic experiences that I had earlier in my life. I have been meditating regularly since 2010. I've done retreats based in Theravada Buddhism, Tantrik Yoga and Kriya Yoga. I have read a good bit of spiritual literature written, for the most part, by current practitioners and teachers.

The Several Selves

I think the course of personal identity moves across four, basic developmental domains, though not everyone explicates and integrates all four domains. The four domains are sensory, physical, mental and spiritual. In keeping with the present focus, let’s refer to them as the sensory self, physical self, mental self and spiritual self. In the following I will set out a hypothetical description of how this development unfolds.

The development of selves is largely a process dependent upon differentiation. A new born infant initially identifies with its sensory field and has a sensory self. With time and experience, a process that differentiates the self from the sensory field begins. This starts with differentiating various aspects of the sensory field from one another and assigning them the status of being separate “things.” For example, think of a bird and its song. At first, the bird and its song are part of the generalized, unified sensory field. With experience, an infant begins to recognize the bird as the source of the song and to consider the two as an integrated whole that attention turns the bird into an object of consciousness. Once captured as an object of consciousness, the bird and its song become abstracted through visual and auditory representation. With that comes the ability to recall a memory that encodes the bird symbolically. This memory allows the bird to be isolated, explored and manipulated symbolically as an object in consciousness. This cognitive possession of the bird and its song differentiates it from the self and make it a separate object within awareness.

This process of differentiation goes on until a clear sense of two categories develops: self and other. By “other” is meant things that have become differentiated as separate “things.” The next step is begun with the question, who is this self that is aware of all these other things, which can be turned into objects of consciousness? At this time, the thing that garners the most attention in awareness is the physical body. The physical body not only has been differentiated from the sensory field but has also been recognized as the seat of a great many subjective experiences. It experiences emotional reactions, thoughts and feelings along with auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile sensations, among others. All this appears to be localized in the physical body. Under these conditions, it is very easy to identify oneself with the body. Hence, we have the physical self. The former sensory self has been transcended but the transition from sensory to physical self integrates the sensory self into the physical self.

The real fireworks begin with transcending the physical self and arriving at the mental self. With the beginning of the mental self a significant change in perception takes place. Up until this point, perception has been largely a bottom up process, which means that perception is relatively unhindered by filters. As language skills grow and experience is reconstructed with visual and linguistic symbols, a shift away from a focus on the physical body begins and is accompanied by a change of focus to mental activity. Not only are memories encoded but are also interpreted. Memories are assigned meanings and so begins the creation of a personal past. Perception now begins to shift toward a top down process, which means that perception comes to be a process subject to filtering. We also learn that we can describe and interpret imaginal outcomes thereby conjuring up a future. The narrative approach to life has begun in earnest. Our mental self becomes absorbed with the content of our mind.

With this mental focus, our narratives and their meanings begin to organize themselves into an hierarchy of beliefs about ourselves and our lives. Along with the mental self, ego arrives on the scene. Our identity has now transcended the physical self. The physical self, along with the sensory self integrated into it, has been incorporated into the newly developed mental self. The first stage of the mental self could be described as egocentric. We are consumed with ourselves; with our self narrative. We narrowly perceive the world through a first person perspective.

As we gain experience, develop cognitively and become more sophisticated in our thinking, our narratives grow more complex and our perspective broadens into a second person perspective. This new stage in the mental self could be described as ethnocentric. We now include in our identities others who belong to groups in which we are embedded. Our identity now includes our family and family friends. It may include others similar to us who, for example, are members of our religion and attend services with us. It will grow to include “outsiders,” known to us, who share our beliefs and other characteristics such as ethnicity, language, dress, food habits and so on. For some of us, development becomes arrested at this stage due to a constrained range of experiences. A constraint on our range of experience results in a lack of opportunity for new cognitive growth. Often, the constraint is imposed by our narratives and the beliefs about the world that they impose on our perceptions and the meaning we attribute to them. Things such as racism are usually grounded in an ethnocentric identity.

If we do continue in our development, the next stage in the evolution of the mental self could be described as sociocentric. We now have acquired the ability to take a third person perspective. We can identify with a much larger social group than in the past. Our expanded narratives gives us a social perspective that is much broader than our previous provincial identity. We can now bring into our identity persons who differ from us in significant ways because we share a broader membership with them. For example, if we strongly identify with our nationality, we can incorporate people who may have significant differences from ourselves into our identity because they too are American or French or Chinese and so on. It is likely that the upper developmental limit for most people is a sociocentric perspective. People that we might describe as nationalists are probably operating from this level of identity.

A small number of people who continue to develop will transition to a worldcentric perspective. The final step in the development of the mental self. They now identify with a context that exceeds the boundaries of nation states. Such individuals become “citizens” of the world and identify with humanity in its many variations. All the previous self identities and narratives related to those identities have been incorporated into and subsumed by the new broader identity. These are people who advocate for just treatment of all living things, of a more holistic approach to the health of the planet and sustainable styles of living. Many of us would consider this the pinnacle of human cognitive development, which it may be in a sense.

Yet, there remains, at least, one more development related to self or identity. This transformation goes by various names but in the first paragraph it was called the spiritual self. Transcendence of the mental self to the spiritual self could be described as arriving at a Kosmocentric perspective. This is a relatively rare occurrence and you probably have never met such a person. One reason that it is so rare is because almost everyone becomes deeply entangled in their ever more complex personal narratives or more simply stated in their mental self. As one spiritual teacher put it, we are “lost in our minds.” The mental self lives through symbolic representations of the past and for imagined futures and gives little attention to the present. What goes unrecognized is that recall of narratives about the past are about things that no longer exist, if they ever did, and that narratives about the future are about things that may never come to pass. The only reality that one can truly grasp is the one that is fleetingly present in the moment. One likely distinction between the earlier selves and the spiritual self is that the former are largely governed by processes associated with the left hemisphere in the brain and the latter in the right hemisphere. It is the difference between a particularlized and a holistic grasp on our experienced reality.

I ask that you contemplate the following questions carefully. Are you really the stories (narratives) that you tell about yourself? Do these narratives feel love or anger? Can your narratives think about things? Who is it that knows your subjective experience? Who is editing and telling these stories that you live by? It is certainly not the narratives that you associate with your name; e.g., Bill Smith or Mary Jones, doing all these things. So, who is doing it? If you like, you can read a poem that I wrote that also addresses this issue here or read a more complete list of questions here.

It would appear that you have a subtle self that is the observer of all that you are. It is not your sensory field though it is aware of the sensory field. It is not your physical body though it is aware of the physical body. It is not your mental activity though it is aware of your mental activity. It is your uncluttered ever present conscious awareness. The spiritual self has always been present but your attention has been elsewhere. You’ve lived much of your life consumed by distractions. If you can identify with the spiritual self you will have a unique perspective that still has access to all the prior selves that you’ve grown through, if they will still serve you, but you will not be entangled in them.

One person, the late Franklin Merrell-Wolff, who connected with his spiritual self and became present with his pristine conscious awareness described living through the spiritual self as the “high indifference.” What he meant by this phrase was that he seldom needed to interpret his experience through narratives. He seldom found beliefs that gave meaning to those narratives useful. Thus, he found little use for judgment and was open to and accepting of life as it passed through him. He found that he was emotionally disengaged from most events taking place around him. The people involved in those events were entangled in stories that often competed with one another for the status of “truth.” This does not mean that he did not engage the world. What it means is that he engaged the world through discernment free of any narrative generated prescription about how he should engage it.

He found that being fully present in the world required little attention to the world of the mind that consumed those around him. Giving little attention to the mentally constructed world gave him a clearer view of what was important and when he acted he was more likely to have an effect on something that mattered. The late Abraham Maslow, a developmental psychologist, described the pinnacle of his developmental pyramid as self transcendence. It is a rising above the mental self and all that went before it. It is an experience and there is no formula for creating a transcendent experience. It is an internal journey following a pathless path. It is awakening to one’s true nature and being released from ignorance.

 

Infinite Universe

I recall that even as a child the visible universe challenged me. I looked in awe and wonder at the night sky in its immensity. I asked myself what could contain it? To my young mind there was no knowledge of extension beyond sight or of the concept of infinity. But bring forth that knowledge and the impossibility of the universe only expands. I am still in awe and wonder at the very thought of an infinite universe.

If someone asked me what can contain the infinite universe, the only possible answer that comes to mind is consciousness. I learned that as a philosophical system this answer is based in idealism. As a theological system, the answer is based in panentheism. I will try to explain.

To begin, no explication of systems such as these can be had without first offering the root assumption that the narrative is built upon. I lay down as my root or core assumption the assertion that the “infinite” universe arises from primordial consciousness or, perhaps better still, source consciousness. If the universe is “infinite,” then source consciousness must be at least if not more inclusive than the “infinite” universe. To clarify, I use the term “infinite” with quotation marks to indicate my uncertainty about what the word means. It is, I think, beyond the keen of the human mind and certainly beyond mine.

The implication of the above root assumption is that our reality arises within consciousness. I will borrow an analogy, from Bernardo Kastrup, based upon dissociative identity disorder (DID), a.k.a. multiple personality disorder. Hopefully, this analogy will illustrate my impression of an idealist reality. The description will not adhere rigidly to descriptions of clinical DID. That said, imagine that you are a person with (DID). In this condition you may have multiple identities. Each identity is distinguished from the others and each is playing a different role and controlling conscious awareness with a different flavor, at different times and under different circumstances. Now imagine that the person with DID when asleep relaxes the barriers separating the identities from one another, and when s/he dreams, all the identities have a character in the dream.

The context in which the dream unfolds is common to each identity. However, each identity has a different perspective on the content and a different system of beliefs, values and goals, to varying degrees, from the other identities. Thus, each has a personal reality that includes a version of the common content and that has been processed through his/her beliefs, values and goals. Each identity has a dream character that plays out its role in the dream. Each dream character interacts with the common content as do the other dream characters and each dream character is part of the common content. In short, the dream we imagine is much like a fully functioning reality though more constrained in scope.

Now, take the above description and apply it analogously to the everyday reality that you experience. Your reality, like a dream, has common content that is drawn on by everyone. Subgroups, to varying degrees, may draw on specialized content common to the subgroup. The common content has evolved from necessity through the creativity and intention of consciousnesses grappling with need or desire. In other words, content evolves, and the more it is employed, the stronger it becomes. At first, in a manner of speaking, as an experiment, then a habit and finally a virtual addiction, which gives it a strong presence within the common content. It is a form that began as a thought and evolved into something with much greater actuality. It has become deeply embedded in memory and at times this memory is an object of consciousness. As an object of consciousness it becomes subject to manipulations that we often call thinking.

We also perceive thought forms as “real” objects outside of ourselves – think fork, cup, shovel, etc. You perceive many characteristic of a thought form that may include representations that have color, smell, texture, density weight and extension in space. These thought forms comprise your reality. You assume that they exist outside of you, but do they? What do you know of things that exist outside of you? Nothing. You have no experience with anything that exists outside of you because everything you know is confined within your consciousness or, if you prefer, awareness. Others may agree with you about the “external” characteristics of forms, but they share common content with you and are just as confined within their consciousness as you are in yours. Your assumed reality “out there” is completely inaccessible to you. It is just an idea, belief or an assumption. Enter deep sleep or die and the world ceases to exist for you because it is no longer an object of consciousness.

Earlier, I suggested that new thought forms arise through creativity and intention. However, all thought forms reside within source consciousness. We, as characters playing out an evolving narrative within source consciousness, absorb new thoughts from source consciousness. How accessible those thoughts are depends on the degree to which a person can relax the barriers separating one’s embodied consciousness from source consciousness. Relax the barriers and a question posed, with genuine desire and need for an answer will find an answer emerging from source consciousness. This is why answers often come in the form of dreams. That is, our barriers are more relaxed during sleep and dreaming. We call asking such questions and answers to them creativity or insight.

So, whatever one perceives becomes an object of consciousness and cannot be shown to exist anywhere else other than in awareness. Try to specify one thing that you can prove exists outside of your consciousness. If you think about it, you will realize that you can’t use agreement by others as proof because everything they “know” exists within their consciousness. Know also that your “body” is a thought form that exists as an object of your own consciousness, which is an extension of source consciousness. You live in a matrix of thought forms that, upon being perceived by you, can become objects of consciousness. Once you are aware of these forms they may also become memories.

You have no way of knowing the actual nature of a thought form. Your perception of it gives it characteristics consistent with your perspective, but it could exhibit very different characteristics if perceived from a different perspective. You are not an objective entity performing on a stage, independent of you, that you construe as external reality. However, you contribute to the creation of both yourself and the reality in which you perform.

In short, you and your perspective on reality are simply a strand in the carpet of source consciousness. You exist to make experience possible for source consciousness. You are an experience collector for source consciousness gathering experience from a unique perspective. It is through such experience that source consciousness comes to know its own potential and to evolve in ways that maximize that potential. The greater your realization of the nature of your reality and that of others, the greater is the evolution of your consciousness and your contribution to the maximization of source consciousness’ potential.

That is your purpose for being. To the extent that you fulfill that purpose, your life is a meaningful contribution to source consciousness. To the extent that you are ignorant of the nature of your reality and that of others, the more prone to error you are and the less growth enhancing are your contributions.

Love and Hate in Human Thought

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.

Precept versus Practice

Christianity purports to hold love as a value and through precepts such as “love one another” attempts to make it an essential aspect of a religious life. However, the evidence for its practice by Christians is sparse, at least in my experience. Even Christians who seem to exemplify the precept often report something different. For example, the “saint” Mother Theresa has often been offered as an example of Christian compassion and love. On the other hand, I’ve read that she denied this and attributed her behavior to a sense of duty. In short, she seemed to be saying that she acted according to a behavioral form, that is, she acted according what she thought she should do not from how she experienced the world around her and how she felt toward that world.

What is missing here is the lack of practices that develop the ability to be love in the sense that Jesus meant and contemporary spiritual teachers mean. To hold love as a value and advocate for it is simply not enough. Without specific practices designed to actualize love in one’s way of being, love as a value is an empty shell, and a precept such as “love one another” is meaningless. Thus, the result is someone who acts according to an idea or belief about what love should look like but does so not out of love but out of duty or some other motivation.

By way of a concrete analogy, consider a military recruit on a rifle range where marksmanship is valued. The recruit is given the instruction to aim true and shoot straight (precept). Unless this recruit arrives already adept in the use of a rifle, he or she will be largely clue less about how to implement the instruction. What the recruit needs is a practice that develops the skills necessary to aim true and shoot straight. This requires someone skilled in the practice to teach it to the recruit who in turn then engages the practice until the desired level of skill is achieved. Such a practice may have multiple components, such as, body position, breath control. sighting, adjustment for wind, trigger compression and extinguishing reflexive actions; e.g., closing the eyes when firing.

I would suggest that what Jesus and many other spiritual teachers mean by love is grounded in an ability to moderate the ego-self in which its needs and wants are primary and other people’s needs and wants are secondary or even irrelevant. It is only when one has learned to stand aside from the ego-self and its inherent self-centered- ness that it is possible to be love and to engage the world from love. Some spiritual traditions have practices that help one learn how to stand aside from the ego-self. They also have practices that target specific problems that need to be overcome, such as negative feelings toward someone in particular that make it difficult to stand aside from the ego-self that harbors those feelings.

To my knowledge, Christianity has no such practices. Or, perhaps I should say, it has had individuals who developed such practices but they were suppressed and prevented from becoming a part of the religion. In many cases, the person who developed the practices and exhibited their effects was isolated or declared a heretic and in some cases put to death. In contemporary times there has been some effort to introduce the practice of meditation into Christianity through the Centering Prayer movement. One of the earliest advocates was Fa William Johnston who went to Japan to proselytize and took up Zen as a way to better understand the culture. He got more than he expected (Christian Zen, 1971).

 

The Great Illusion

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?

On Buber and Bohm

Note: Buber uses all caps for his relational words, which can at times be confusing. I have, for clarity, used lower case when the meaning of the relational words have different implications from the words when upper case is used.

In his book I and Thou, Martin Buber discusses two core relational words, one or the other of which dominates our way of being in the world. These relational words are “i”-“it”and I-Thou (You). As I understand him, the former separates and fragments while the latter relates and unifies. The creation of an “it” requires making the person, event, process, etc., isolated, abstracted and conceptualized. Buber suggests that You is the spiritual or authentic Self that precedes any development of a self (me) or ego (“i”). Thus, when one has an I-You relationship, it is a dynamic, living and authentic relationship. The authentic Self that lies behind ego enters into a relationship with another Self. Thus, an I-You relationship is at root a spiritual or authentic relationship that unifies rather than divides. On the other hand, an “i” cannot have an I-You relationship with an academic or scientific subject, a social institution or organization or technological devices — only with people and probably some other living organisms. You can, however, also have an “i”-“it” relationship with people, animals and things where the “i” represents the egoic self (me) and “it” represents an objectified thing. An “i”-“it” (me-thing) relationship renders people as objects and therefore is suitable to use as a means to an end. Buber argues that the foundations of modernity are found in “i”-“it” relationships. He advocates that we must learn to live and grow as authentic human beings by living through I-You or I-Thou relationships.

The physicist and philosopher David Bohm reached similar conclusions and offered in his book On Dialogue a method to facilitate relationships grounded in understanding others, which I think Buber would recognize as I-You relationships. Bohm’s method, as I understand it, is normally done with a limited but diverse group but can also be done between two individuals or even as a method for self examination. A brief description of his group method involves several basic components. First, as diverse a group as possible should be assembled. Second, the group members should commit to meet on a regular schedule and to see the process through. Third, members of the group are asked to share with the group anything about their beliefs, attitudes, thoughts or other subjective attributes that they wish. I was reminded of the Quaker practice in which members of their leaderless congregations sit in silence until someone feels moved to speak, stands and says their piece and then sits down. Here is the crux of the process. Fourth, other members may ask clarifying questions or restate in their own words what they understood to have been said, for confirmation or elaboration. Fifth, under no circumstances is anyone allowed to deny, challenge, argue, judge or in any way, including tone of voice, rebut what someone says. If one holds a different view relative to something said, he or she can simply state that view but in no way frame it as an argument against what the other person said. All comments are offered as simple declarative statements, e.g., I am uncomfortable around LGBTQ people. I believe in a personal God. I believe in socialism. I prefer to associate with people from my own ethnic background, and so on.

What Bohm found happens in such groups is that over time they come to develop a group pattern of thought. This pattern is grounded in an understanding of what sorts of beliefs, attitudes and thinking are held by the group as a whole. The members come to understand one another and form a cohesive group. Once there is cohesion, it becomes possible to have non-conflictual, meaningful relationships and authentic dialogue between members of the group. In short, You-You relationships.

On Nonduality

To be clear about this topic, understand that nonduality is a concept represented by a word. The concept is not the experience. No matter how much effort you put into thinking about and analyzing the concept, you will never touch its essence. It is like trying to tell someone who has never eaten an orange what the experience of eating an orange is like. Description can never replace experience. What I will try to do here is use a metaphor to perhaps paint a somewhat more communicative word picture of nonduality. In the end, though, if one really wants to know nonduality directly, one must eat the orange, so to speak. I’ll end this with a quote from a Zen Master when asked about nonduality, who said, “Not two, not one.” I would suggest that his intent was to convey that both are numerical concepts.

The metaphor I will use is that of an orchestra, which will represent the entirety of all physically manifest reality. As the orchestra begins playing, the harmony of all the instruments creates music. The members of the orchestra are individuals and their instruments are separate objects. The relative relationships between these musicians, their instruments and their output represent duality or the world of separate things. The music, which is the single harmonious integration of all the separate contributions into a singular whole, represents nonduality. However, this is an idealized metaphor, so let’s back it up.

Imagine that this orchestra consists of 1000 people, of which you are one, each with a musical instrument. The level of musical competence of the players ranges from novice to expert. Some can read music and some can’t. Now imagine that his group sets out to play a symphony. Also, add into this image the lack of a musical director. In this scenario all of the players begin playing their instruments. A few know the symphony, some can read music and have sheet music for guidance, and most of the group neither know the symphony nor can read music. The effort begins, but the output is not nearly as pleasing as in the initial description above. Nevertheless, the relative relationships between these musicians and their instruments’ output represent duality or the world of separate, relative things. The sound output is still the product of all the separate pieces representing a singular whole or nonduality. This is probably somewhat more like the way of the world. A somewhat chaotic state that is slowly organizing itself into greater and greater coherence, albeit with both forward and backward steps.

Now as a participant in this process, ask yourself what you should do to facilitate the evolution of coherence and the production of a recognizable symphony, allowing that a perfect rendition of the symphony is unlikely. You have at least two options: 1) You could listen carefully and identify the players who are contributing the greatest amount of disorder into the effort and go take away their instruments and eject them from the orchestra. Considering that there likely would be resistance to this, you might find other members who see the situation the same way that you do and organize them into a cadre of music police. 2) You could ignore the disharmony and attempt to narrow your focus down on the members who are producing the best musical output and follow their lead. In this case, you are both attempting to contribute to coherence by coming into harmony with the output of the better players and contributing to coherence by serving as an example to the players in need of guidance. Perhaps you can think of other options but you get the general idea.

The point is you can either become absorbed in the inharmonious output of some of the individual players and contribute little or nothing, or you can focus on a strand of harmony running like a smooth eddy in a turbulent stream and strengthen it. In short, come into harmony with the dynamic process that is the evolving whole or focus on the separate pieces.

This brings up the issue of “evil,” which is a relative concept. What you think is evil may not be viewed as evil by someone else. Perhaps there is a definition of “evil” that could be universally agreed to, but I’m not sure what it is. The closest that I can come up with is “actions arising from ignorance brought about by a highly egocentric view of one’s life circumstance.” However, one can still recognize that ignorance is also masking the divinity that lies within the “evil” doer. This does not mean that you can’t act in self-defense or defend others. The advantage that arises from recognizing ignorance as merely a mask for dormant divinity is that if one is compelled to respond, the response will be no more than is necessary and will not be fueled by strong emotions such as anger, hate, revulsion, etc. I have an entire essay devoted to this view on my website, so I won’t expand on it any further here.

Let’s look at the idea of evil relative to the orchestra metaphor. Think of the incoherent players as “ignorant” and their disharmonious output as “evil.” You can get angry with these players and decide they need to be stopped and ejected from the orchestra, which will no doubt be resisted and could lead to actions on your part that might be viewed as “evil” by some of the other players. You could also recognize these players as simply ignorant of the musical ability that they have dormant within themselves and try to be a model for them or even offer them guidance. What the experience of nonduality brings is a perspective that sees all the players connected through the divinity that resides within them whether they are aware of it or not. Each and every one of the players is an implicit strand within the holistic, dynamic process that emerges as the symphony.

I hope that this was useful but do keep in mind that it is just an imperfect pointer for nonduality, which is only truly known through a transcendent experience, never through concepts and ideas. Peel the orange and eat.

 

Salvation Will Not Be Found in Politics — Updated 03/14/21

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.

                        Internal                                                                 External

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.

 

Addendum I

Levels I,II, III.              Stages 1, 2, 3…               Models (a) Kohlberg, (b) Selman

I.              Pre-conventional

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.

 II.          Conventional

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.

 III.          Post-conventional

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.

Addendum II

Stages of Growing Up from Ken Wilber’s AQAL Model

Introduction

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.

On the Nature of Food

The assumptions that this essay rests upon are related to my world view or ontology. I have discussed this at some length in earlier essays, so this will be fairly brief. There are two ontological assumptions that currently contend with one another. One basic assumption is that matter is primary and all else arises from it. The other contending assumption is that consciousness is primary and all else arises from it. Briefly, I take the meaning of the word consciousness to be closely related to awareness of the subjective impressions, feelings and thoughts that arise from experiences. There are other positions that fall between the two assumptions above. They also, in my opinion, represent a pair of contradictory assumptions. I know of  no empirical way of deciding between these two positions. Therefore, to chose is to take a leap of faith. I chose to make the assumption that consciousness is primary. I chose to make this assumption because it provides a wider range of possibilities in understanding and explaining the phenomena encountered in the world. It is perfectly capable of accounting for all the material phenomena embraced by materialism while leaving room for non-material phenomena.

 In my view, living organisms are the vehicle through which consciousness is expressed. I subscribe to the hypothesis that consciousness is a fundamental and universal aspect of our reality. Thus, living organisms don’t generate consciousness; they receive it just as a TV receives a signal and then expresses it through images and sound. No one watching a program would think that the TV is generating the program. The different expressions of consciousness through organisms is in part determined by the complexity of the organism and the complexity of the consciousness that its nervous system can sustain.

This now brings us to the question of food. By implication, the above says that any living organism that you consume is, to some degree, a vehicle for universal consciousness and therefore has some capacity for subjective experience. We humans belong to Phylum Chordata and the Class Mammalia. Thus, one can consider all mammals to have a closer biological relationship to one another than to organisms falling into other classes. Generally speaking, mammals are complex organisms that one would expect to express a significant quality of consciousness though variable within the class. This isn’t to argue that there might not be a similar quality of consciousness expressed in members of some other classes. However, as mammals we have a sense of the quality of our own consciousness and therefore some basis for supposing that other members of our class possess a quality of consciousness not unlike our own, though of less complexity. This is not a precise way of thinking about comparative qualities of consciousness but provides some footing for considering comparative qualities among members of the Class Mammalia.

Thus, as a first cut, one might consider eliminating mammals (e.g., cattle, pigs, lambs, etc.) from one’s elective diet. The basis is that mammals probably have a subjective quality of experience such that using them as food animals causes an unacceptable level of suffering. The next cut would come with another member of the same Phylum (Chordata) as mammals, which is the class Aves (birds), e.g., chickens, ducks, turkeys, etc. The third cut takes us to the class Osteichthyes (fish), e.g., trout, bass, salmon, etc. There are other classes within the Phylum Chordata but these examples should be sufficient to get across the idea. It is more difficult to make a decision about classes other than that for mammals in our phylum. Whether one decides to draw the line at mammals, birds or fish is a personal decision.

Of course, regardless of where one draws the line on meat animals, the use of animal products such as eggs and milk products seems entirely acceptable, on the grounds used in this essay, as long as the animals contributing these products are treated well. There no doubt will be readers who would not exclude any class of animal from their diet. For these individuals, especially, I would offer the advice given by a North American shaman. Whenever one consumes food of any type, you should express your gratitude to the source of the food for its sacrifice. Further, that all living things should be treated with respect and spared as much suffering as possible.

Even if one continues to consume mammals, one should consider carefully the source of the food, how it was raised and how it was slaughtered. Most meat animals today are reared under poor conditions, including a diet that is not natural to them, including hormones to stimulate growth, antibiotics to ward off the risk of infections that result from the rearing conditions and brutal processes for slaughtering the animals (illustrated in this movie). All of this has a potential impact on the health of the individual who consumes the food so produced. We are all familiar with the adage, you are what you eat.

If you want to explore the range of life on this planet, I would suggest that you might find this website of interest: https://www.earthlife.net/

 

Bohm, Pribram and the Holographic Model

David Bohm was an exceptionally creative physicist who developed a radical reinterpretation (or theory) of quantum physics. His position on theories is that they are explanatory narratives, which in earlier times might have been called myths. Originally, a myth was a story that conveyed a truth that was too difficult or complex to describe in ordinary language. Today myth has taken on the connotation of a fanciful story with no implicit truth, which is not the sense in which myth is being used here. Bohm thinks that one problem prevalent in science today is the confusion of theory with reality. His one-time colleague Albert Einstein agreed and often reminded scientists that theories were only models of or approximations of reality, not descriptions of reality itself. Bohm says that theories can lead to hypotheses that can be tested and determined to have validity and are accepted tentatively. A theory can never be proven, only determined to be more or less useful in generating hypotheses and in helping one understand the phenomena they address.

Traditional science, according to Bohm, sees phenomena in the universe as either ordered or random, which is challenged by Bohm’s theory.

The principal components of David Bohm’s theory:

I.              Holomovement: A quantum field (QF), which is nonlocal and a unified an integrated whole imbued with consciousness, intelligence and meaning.

A.              Super Implicate Order: Super quantum potential (infinite) is the source of the field of quantum potential (Q) that gives rise to the Implicate Order.

B.              Generative Order: Q serves as the carrier of information that determines the characteristics of each particle, relates every particle to every other particle and imbues the QF with order.

C.              Implicate Order arises from quantum potential (Q) and is the source of creativity and material forms.

                  a.      Formative Order – a blueprint for the material order.

                  b.      Material Order – the unfolding of the blueprint as wave forms that are perceived as the physical universe. The wave forms are enfolded back into the Implicate Order carrying modifications to their information content that adjusts the blueprint.

D.              Explicate Order: Three-dimensional reality, which is a derivative of a multidimensional reality. The  particles comprising matter in the Explicate Order are energy that can be thought of as condensed or “frozen” light.

 For more detail see my essay: Bohm’s Reformulation of Quantum Physics

Bohm says that everything has order but some states of order can only be seen from a higher perspective (implicate order). This is known as hidden order because it is not manifested but enfolded in the implicate order. By way of analogy, Bohm describes a vessel containing glycerine and a small glob of ink. The glycerine in the vessel can be rotated with a crank. When the glycerine is spun the glob of ink spreads out until it is no longer visible (enfolded). When the spin is reversed the glob of ink will reconstitute itself into a visible glob (unfolded). Here is an illustration using the same principle to mix and separate colors.

Bohm uses holographic photography as a metaphor for the nature of reality. He says that there is a striking similarity between a hologram and his principle of wholeness, which he talks about as the quantum field or as the holomovement. When simply inspected with the eye, a hologram looks random and disordered. However, project a laser light through the interference pattern that comprises the hologram, and you get the projection of a 3-D image or order. The order can be unfolded from any piece of the holographic image because the enfolded pattern is distributed throughout the film. Bohm describes the holomovement as being like a dynamic hologram. You can see a rough approximation of the difference by looking at a static holographic image and then watch a virtual performance by holographic projection.
The physical universe or explicate order is a partial unfolding of the whole order enfolded into the implicate order. Living entities can experience the explicate order because they have a nervous system capable of unfolding the projected energy forms or wave forms into apparent material forms or images of material manifestations. (See this book: The Case Against Reality by Donald Hoffman or see a video presentation here by clicking on An Interface Theory of Reality here.

Bohm says that because the universe is a projection of a holomovement, it is ultimately meaningless to view the universe as composed of parts. A part is just an aspect of the holomovement that we have given a name. Thus, separate “things” are just mental abstractions for our convenience. He argues that in the long run, there is a limit to the usefulness of fragmenting the world in this way and could put us on a path toward extinction, if not understood and put in its proper place.

Viewing the universe as a holomovement doesn’t mean that aspects of the the holomovement can’t have unique properties. Consider whirlpools in a stream. Each whirlpool has unique properties such as structure, size, speed of spin, duration and so on. However, the whirlpool is still nothing more or less than water. (see this book: Why Material Reality is Baloney by Bernardo Kastrup or see a video presentation by clicking on Monistic Idealism here).

Bohm rejects the idea that particles (concentrations of energy) don’t exist until they are observed. He says this idea is another instance of fragmenting aspects of the holomovement into separate phenomena. It is saying that one separate thing (consciousness) interacts with another separate thing (particle). Bohm suggests that any relationship (formative cause) between these aspects (physical and mental) of the holomovement lies enfolded in the implicate order. He also thinks that dividing the universe into living and non-living things, when looked at from the level of the implicate order, is also meaningless.

It appears, however, that these apparent distinctions aren’t entirely meaningless at the explicate level. Differences between things appear to be necessary for experience in physical reality. Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum physics and the originator of the concept of complementary pairs, suggested these pairs apply beyond the field of quantum physics. At the implicate level, the pair is in a state of unity but at the explicate level the unity is represented in the form of two aspects. For example, consider the pair hot and cold. If this complementary pair didn’t exist, then the experience of temperatures would not be possible because there would be no range for its expression. The same could be said for many such pairs, including male and female, enlightenment and ignorance, etc. Apparently, diversity is necessary for experience. Absent experience, what would be the point of material reality?

Finally, Bohm says we view ourselves as physical entities moving through what we perceive as space. However, we are actually more like a blur of interference patterns enfolded throughout the universe. In a nutshell, Bohm is trying to move physics from a rigid, mechanical model to a dynamic, organic model.

Karl Pribram was a neuroscientist who studied memory and in particular was interested in where memory is stored. He had become frustrated in his attempts to understand this when he learned of holograms. He took the hologram as a possible model of how the brain stored memory. He proposed that memory was a holographic pattern distributed or enfolded across the brain rather than stored in a specific location. As he studied the holographic model, he became aware of and was influenced by Bohm’s work.

Pribram proposed that what is unfolded is a vast symphony of vibrating wave forms that he calls a frequency domain, which he equates with the interference patterns that unfolded from the implicate order and from which we create our experience of the universe. He sees the brain as a hologram enfolded into a holographic universe. This gives the brain the ability to perceptually represent the wave forms into what we perceive as material objects. He also suggests that our experience of the material world is analogous to the phantom limb phenomenon; i.e, a perceptual illusion experienced as material reality.

Even Pribram’s idea that we are a holographic mind/brain interpreting a holographic universe is just another mental abstraction. Once again we are attempting to take two aspects of the holomovement and create two separate “things” that ultimately cannot be separated.

We are not looking at a hologram. We are an aspect of a hologram. The observer is the observed.

“When you see the world you see God. There is no seeing God apart from the world. Beyond the world to see God is to be God.” Nisargadatta Maharaj

This essay is based in part on sections of the book The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot.

David Center

Aesthetic Perception and Beauty Culture

Reading The Evolution of Beauty, a book by ornithologist Richard Prum, brought to mind some speculative thoughts arising out of Prum’s thesis, which are discussed below.

If females have employed aesthetic selection (AS) as an evolutionary tactic to remold males with the objective of increasing female sexual autonomy and thereby improving their reproductive outcomes, as Prum argues, it would appear to be necessary for evolution to also produce a refinement of aesthetic perception (AP) as a trait in females. By definition, the Greek root of the word “aesthetic” means “of sense perception.” One meaning of the word when used as an adjective is “concern with appearance.” Thus, it seems that the term can be used to convey the idea of “concern with perceived appearance.” I think this is probably a pretty good guess as to what Darwin meant in his use of aesthetic selection, and Prum seems to accept Darwin’s position on the matter. Once this trait is well established, strengthened and elaborated, it would probably generalize to concern with perceived appearance for other activities that were not involved in the original evolutionary purpose for AS.

I think the term “beauty,” as it is being used here, essentially means attention to appearance. In the case of AS, this concern is for how physically dominant, aggressive and asocial a potential mate appears and selection against those traits in mates. Following this type of selection bias, one would expect a shift in male appearance and behavior toward the female end of the spectrum, which appears to have occurred in the human lineage. The successful application of AS by females, as an evolutionary strategy, I think would strengthen attention to perceived appearance and in turn produce greater aesthetic perceptual skill. The improved perceptual skill would then result in finer discrimination of physical and social attributes.

I posit that in humans AP, grounded in a strong concern for physical appearance, generalized from mate choice to include concern for the appearance of oneself. A trait having a biological basis, however, does not rule out the potential effects of social values and culture on the expression of concern with appearance. Strong repressive patriarchal cultures  allow little or no expression along these lines. More open liberal cultures allow for much more freedom of expression. Even in more open cultures, social values and practical considerations could influence women to voluntarily moderate their self-directed concern for appearance. When expression of AP is moderated, I suspect the concern with appearance might be found to more strongly influence the attention given to living contexts; i.e., physical spaces. I think that as the physical and social differences between men and women narrow, including social roles such as occupations, it could easily lead to more emphasis on drawing distinctions between the appearance of the sexes. If women have already evolved a strong concern for appearance, one response might be to use female beauty culture to accentuate differences. 

I hypothesize that the generalization of AP played an important part in the social evolution of a feminine beauty culture as a means of establishing a distinct gender identity. If such is the case, this would entail women using their person as a “canvas” for the expression of beauty motivated by the AP trait.

Further, the beauty motif in feminine culture seems to be related to a range of expressions involving things like fashion in clothing, colorful and tactile sensitive fabrics, make-up, adornment, styling of hair and gracefully patterned movement and mannerisms. Expression of the AP trait also may extend to presentations involving the context in which a woman lives.

There is likely to be a range of variation in the strength of a trait like AP. What one would expect is a distribution that follows the pattern of many other traits. The trait will be quite strong in a small portion of the population, moderate in strength in the majority of the population. and weak in a small portion of the population. There is also likely a social imitation factor in the adoption of components in beauty culture by those in whom the trait is relatively weak. Thus, social imitation might make the biologically based trait appear more dominant than it is in actuality. The strength and expression of the trait may also vary with changes in social preferences and economics, among other factors.

It seems likely that the trait may have migrated to males to some extent. One would expect it to be largely absent in many, generally weaker in those males who have acquired it and normally distributed in those males who have the trait as is the case for other traits. Suppression of the trait seems likely in males due to the implicit need to sharpen the contrast in appearance between men and women through the expression of gender identity.

Most explanations that I’ve read or heard about beauty culture is that it is tied to the notion of sexual signaling. In short, women’s self presentation is for men and intended to attract their attention. Note that the sources of most such explanations that I am aware of seem to have come from men. I don’t doubt that women do, at times, employ their manner of  presentation to appeal to men. However, I think this an insufficient motivation to explain the extent of beauty culture. On the other hand, I have often heard women object to the sexual attraction interpretation of their presentation. They often say they don’t “dress” for men that they “dress” for other women. I’ve also heard it said that the behavior is motivated by a sense of personal satisfaction derived from expressing oneself beautifully. In light of the AP trait, explanations like these seem to me to make sense. Who else to better appreciate the explication of a trait than others who posses the same trait? Who else but someone possessing a trait would find intrinsic reward through expressing it?

I was born and reared as a male in a male-dominant culture, so perhaps my speculations are off the mark. They do, at least, seem reasonable to me from my perspective. Women may have a very different take on the beauty culture. I know of some who see it as arising out of male oppression. That is, a set of behaviors imposed on them by men for their own purposes. I think there may be some truth to this, for example, in the case of sexually explicit styles of dress. However, beauty culture goes well beyond sexually explicit dress, and I don’t think it can be adequately explained solely by a dominant patriarchal culture. Prum’s discussion of aesthetic selection based in aesthetic perception seems to have explanatory merit.

 

David Center

The World Is An Illusion ?

“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, fairminded, 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.

finis

David Center