The philosopher Ken Wilber has a model consisting of four quadrants. Wilber posits that reality as experienced by human beings can be framed holistically using his four-quadrant model. The right side of the model has two quads that relate to exteriority and is considered the home of objective things. The left side of the model also has two quads that relate to interiority and is considered the home of subjective phenomena. This post will focus on the left side of the quad. Further, I will focus on the role of narratives or stories, if you prefer, in the two left side quads.
The upper left quad is about individuals and their subjective reality or I perspectives (personal worldview), and the lower left quad is about collections of individuals or We perspectives (cultural worldviews or consensus worldviews). There exists a dynamic interplay between these two quads. While each of us develops a personal worldview (PW), this does not happen in isolation. As each individual develops and matures, s/he is exposed to the cultural worldview (CW) of parents, relatives, community members (such as teachers, religious leaders and politicians), siblings and peers (whose PW is in process like their own), and many others. Each of these adult PWs is relatively stable and maps onto the cultural worldview (CW) to one degree or another. The implied variability in this mapping is due to a variety of things but I’ll sum it under the idea of variations in personal experience.
Thus, CW provides the context in which PW develops, and PW reflects to one degree or another CW along with the impact of variable personal experiences on PW. The people that we interact with, especially during development but also as adults, provide exposure to both CWs and PWs that influence our PW and our understanding of CW. Further, narratives or stories that we are exposed to serve to represent, reinforce, dismiss and modify our worldviews and thus our conception of reality, both on a personal and cultural level.
It should be kept in mind that Wilber’s model is a cognitive developmental model. Each of us start at ground zero and then progress through different patterns of cognition. These patterns are laid down as neurological pathways in our brains. These pathways are subject to growth and restructuring until our brains mature and no longer have the neural plasticity necessary for easily restructuring neural pathways. Brain maturation usually ends between 18 and 25 years of age and so does easily accomplished neural restructuring. Interestingly, recent research suggests that psychedelic substances are able to restore neural plasticity at least for short periods of time. This may hold some promise for acquiring further cognitive development after reaching maturity.
Wilber has identified about eight different cognitive patterns most of which he associates with worldviews at both the personal and cultural level. At present he thinks that there is a state of conflict between patterns 4, 5 and 6, with 6 being a smaller cohort of individuals than either of the other two. He thinks this conflict will not be resolved until the highest pattern becomes larger than the other two. He also thinks that a full resolution will require yet a higher pattern, which will be integral in nature and will fully integrate all of the prior patterns within itself and thus become a true holon; i.e., a pattern that has transcended its predecessors and fully included them in an integration. Thus, another consideration in the development of personal worldviews is the typical level of development being achieved by individuals in a given culture. The typical level of cognitive development found in the members of a culture therefore function as a limit on the cultural worldview that can gain dominance and guide the culture.
Coming back to narratives or stories, we might ask where do cultural narratives or stories come from? They are the products of novelists, playwrites, script writers, poets, song writers, politicians, philosophers, scientists, economists, historians, theologians and so on. For example, when you read a novel there are certain cultural themes implicit in the novel. How can you know this? Because you understand the story. CW is the context for meaning in any society. If you read a novel written by an author who comes from a society that has a CW that is highly divergent from your own, you will certainly not fully understand the story that the novel is communicating, or if there is sufficient discontinuity between the writer’s CW and your own CW, you may not understand the story at all.
It should be pretty clear how the producers of stories that we consume, as entertainment, are purveyors of stories that must to a large degree reflect the CW that the producer of the story is embedded in. However, you should be able to see how this doesn’t have to be a mirror reflection but can introduce new themes, discount existing themes, relate themes in new ways and so on. You may be less clear about how people like scientists or politicians are contributing stories to the CW. Science is a producer of narratives or stories. At their broadest they are called paradigms. Within paradigms there are narratives called theories or models that tend to be limited to particular lines of investigation, e.g., physics or biology. Albert Einstein once remarked that a trap many scientists fall into is to confuse their theory or model with physical reality. Politicians also have narratives or stories that they are purveyors of that are broadly referred to as ideologies. Depending on the ideology, they will have stories described as democratic, socialist or communist among others. As you may have recognized, this post is itself being generated by Wilber’s theoretical model or narrative about reality as experienced by humanity.
There are individuals within societies that are out-of-step, to one degree or another, with the CW of a given society. A mild misalignment may be considered eccentric while a significant misalignment may be considered pathological. It should be recognized that individuals from this continuum can be the source of creative innovation or disorder to the CW. To be influential for good or ill, they probably will need to be charismatic, persuasive and have access to a public platform, e.g., political office or influential role in entertainment or high position in business or high military position. There are other sources of narrative that can be the impetus for change in CW. These might include things like climate change or a change in population dynamics or significant immigration of peoples from a different CW. None of these are necessarily either good or bad influences on the CW of the society experiencing them. It depends upon the extent of their effect and the change produced. Change is always accompanied by an increase in disorder. If it is positive change, it will result in an advantageous disordering and reordering of the society’s CW. If is negative change, it will result in destructive disorder and possible social collapse.
In my view, contemporary American society is experiencing a significant amount of disorder. The cultural worldview seems to be fracturing. Some attribute this to such things as immigration, progressive politics, alt-right politics, corporate power, global trade, skewed distribution of wealth, loss of purpose and meaning, monolithic government, or social media. You can perhaps think of some others. The very list of attributed causes and the range of groups positing them is evidence in itself of a slide into disorder. One point that I would make here is that the range of voices bemoaning various influences and their volume is probably due to social media. Social media provides a public platform that requires very little to gain access. It fosters the democratization and amplification of PWs, which can create conflict and disorder on a large scale. However, I would suggest that social media simply makes more visible discord that already exists and amplifies it, rather than being the cause of it.
How can we respond constructively to this disorder? I have no simple or pat answer to this question. One thing I am pretty sure of is that imposed order is not the solution, short of a chaotic situation. Even then it is a stop-gap measure, which doesn’t mean it can’t have significant duration. In the end, imposed order will fail, if it hasn’t been used to create a self-sustaining, participatory order. Without a self-sustaining order, the underlying disorder will soon assert itself when the imposed order fails. To illustrate this you need look no further than the ethnic conflicts that broke out in eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I am pretty sure that a negative strategy will not solve the problem. Should an autocratic politician gain power and suppress disorder, the appearance of order that follows will eventually crumble and disorder will once again gain expression. I am also of the opinion that preventing any of the various “problems” considered causes of disorder will not lead to a solution. Creating fortress America where rigid control is imposed on who gets into the country or who can sell goods in the country is unlikely to eliminate the disorder. Clamping down on social media by oppressive monitoring and suppression of free speech won’t end the problem either.
One suggestion that has been put forward that has some merit ,though it would not be easy to implement, is to create a new core narrative for the CW. This would have to be a narrative or story that is inclusive and integrated and widely acceptable within the society. The story may arise from any number of potential sources. The critical step would be for it to be adopted by and promoted by people in public leadership positions. In all likelihood, this would be politicians running for office, especially at the state and national levels. Such a group might even constitute a new political party or the transformation of an existing organization. Merely squeaking out a victory at the polls would not be sufficient endorsement of the narrative to begin the process of creating a self-sustaining order. There must be overwhelming support or a super majority for those advocating a narrative, if it is to have a chance to change the cultural context.
Do you doubt that narrative has the power to make significant changes in cultural and personal worldviews? Consider then the story of politics and governance told by John Stuart Mill. The story of economics and markets told by Adam Smith. The story of evolution and adaptation told by Charles Darwin. The story of revolution and labor told by Karl Marx. The story of physics and relativity told by Albert Einstein. Or, consider the story of race and destiny told by Adolf Hitler. Impactful narratives abound in history for those willing to see them and recognize their role in revising worldviews. Where shall the next revision come from and how will it alter the worldviews that it impacts?
This guide is a follow up on the essay Meditation, What Is It and Why Do It.
Before undertaking a meditation practice, you need to make a firm commitment to fully engage the practice and accept it as a long-term process or change in lifestyle. This is what the philosopher Ken Wilbur calls Stepping Up, which is the first step in a four step-process he recommends (see link below title).
First, you want to sit in a comfortable chair but not one so comfortable that it will lull you to sleep. Put both feet on the floor and find a comfortable position for your hands. Personally, I cup my hands one on top of the other and let them rest between my legs with wrists on the top of my thighs.
Second, you can either meditate with your eyes closed, which is probably best for beginners, or open. However, if you wish to keep your eyes open, I suggest that you pick a point of focus for your vision that is not interesting in any way, such as an area on the floor a few feet in front of you or a blank spot on the wall that you are facing.
Third, you should use diaphragmatic breathing. This means that when you breathe in, you pull the air all the way down into depths of your lungs. This will cause your stomach to expand outwards. This won’t make you look fat, and it will subside when you exhale. This is how you should breathe all the time. If you don’t, you are what is called a shallow breather, and you’re getting about half of the potential oxygen available to you on each breath. If you pay attention to the air flow in and out of your nostrils, you will note that the air is warmer on the exhale than on the inhale. This is due to the warming effect of your lungs on the air inhaled.
Fourth, you should breathe rhythmically. Try to breathe in a slow steady rhythm. The longer you meditate the slower your breath cycle should become. Breath will be explored further in Step Nine.
Fifth, you are now ready to begin. At first you should focus your attention on your breathing. As your attention moves to a bodily process and away from external events, you may begin to have spontaneous arising of mental stimuli such as thoughts, emotions or memories. Try not to bring your attention to focus on these objects of consciousness and let them follow their own path of arising and subsiding. If you do get seduced into attending to one of them, just shift your attention back to your breathing. Don’t criticize or judge yourself. Just follow your process. The same directions should be followed for any external stimulus that attracts your attention and becomes and object of consciousness.
You can either simply start and stop when you feel like you’re ready to end the session. On the other hand, you can approach your session in a more systematic way. Pick a specific amount of time that you think would be a comfortable starting point and set a timer. As you become settled into the time frame you’ve started with, expand it by five minutes or so. Continue this process until you’ve reached an optimal length for your sessions. Some teachers suggest twenty minutes, some thirty minutes and some forty-five minutes to an hour. Some recommend once per day and others twice per day. Personally, my sessions are typically not timed, run somewhere in the thirty to forty-five minute range and are usually done twice per day except on days when circumstances just won’t permit it. I would advise trying to get to twenty minutes per day sooner rather than later and lengthen your sessions or increase their frequency as you feel the need to do so.
Sixth, your objective when meditating is to avoid focusing your attention on any specific external (physical) or internal (cognitive) stimulus. If you’re meditating with your eyes closed, you have temporarily controlled for one major source of external stimuli. The most likely external stimuli that might arise while your eyes are closed are sounds or odors. However, if your eyes are open this would be the most prominent source of external stimuli. There are two primary controls for attention. One is intentional, that is, you deliberately direct your attention to some stimulus or stimulus complex. This is what you are doing when you do Sensory Field Meditation (SFM). You are intentionally directing your attention to a stimulus field or complex stimulus. The second is reflex, that is, your attention is drawn to a stimulus by the emotional valence the stimulus holds for you. For example, you are meditating and a dog starts barking at something, perhaps a squirrel or a passing car. If your attention to the SF is well developed, your focus on the SF will simply include the barks as an undifferentiated stimulus within the field. If your focus is broken and your attention is drawn instead to the barking, the barking holds a strong emotional valence for you. What you need to do is calmly accept that your focus has been broken and, without self-judgment, intentionally redirect your attention back to the SF and relax. The goal should be to counter, with relaxation, your emotional reactivity to the barking. If this comes easily then no further action is needed other than working on holding your focus and not reacting.
However, this experience may contain a message. You may have just been made aware of an automatic program (AP) that needs to be addressed. While you are meditating is not the time to try to address it. However, it is good material for contemplation. What you know from the experience is 1) you have an AP that was strong enough to take control of your attention; 2) you know that barking is a trigger for activating this AP; 3) you know that the stimulus has a strong emotional valence for you, otherwise it wouldn’t take control of your attention. Upon reflection, following meditation, the reason why the barking elicited reflexive attention from you may be immediately apparent. If not, you are ready to move on to a method for discovering the reason why the barking elicited reflexive attention from you.
You have what you need to move into a formal discovery process. You have two of the components for an A-B-C analysis. There is one antecedent (A), the barking. There are two possible consequences (C): a) an emotional consequence (aggravation, anger, fear) and b) a behavioral consequence, which is reflexive attention to the antecedent (distraction, attentional refocus) [see Note below]. What you are missing is the belief (B) about the antecedent (A) that resulted in the two consequences (C). What you want to do is focus on this incomplete sequence with an emphasis on the missing component (B) through contemplation, which is very similar to meditation with one important difference. You get into a meditative state, which includes being very relaxed. Next, place your attention on the A-B-C sequence, while gently holding a question in mind; e.g., what is my subconscious belief about barking that gives it emotional valence? Just sit with it and let whatever arises come into awareness. Make a mental note about anything that arises and seems worth further consideration, especially if it elicits an emotional reaction. This can take multiple sessions to get to the relevant information. When you have one or more thoughts or images that seem relevant, you can shift your contemplation focus to those thoughts or images. Eventually, with patience, you will come to an understanding of what the B is in the sequence and probably its origins.
Hypothetically, let’s say that you discovered that, as a young child, you had a fearful encounter with an aggressive dog whose behavior included a lot of barking directed at you. From this experience you came to believe that all dogs or maybe only all barking dogs are dangerous. This belief may have been subconscious, i.e., outside of normal awareness ever since the encounter that generated it. In any case, you now have a good idea what the belief (B) is about barking (A) that results in your response(s) (C).
Sometimes this information (insight) alone will diminish the response. However, it must diminish it sufficiently that the A (antecedent) no longer results in C (consequence) while you are meditating with intentional focus on the SF. If this is not the case, you will need to do counter-conditioning exercises. This is simple enough to do with the example used above. Counter-conditioning requires that two incompatible responses are paired. The most common neutralizing response used for negative emotions is relaxation. It is nearly impossible to be both relaxed and fearful, frightened, anxious, angry, frustrated, and so on at the same time. Fortunately, you are learning a process (meditation) that can, with practice, bring about a deep state of relaxation. So, find or make a recording of one or more dogs barking. Get into a highly relaxed meditative state and activate the recording. If the recording elicits reflexive attention and you can’t easily resume your intentional attention to the SF, turn it off, get relaxed and activate the recording again. Continue until your attention can be easily redirected to the SF or reflexive attention isn’t being elicited. If you can return your attention to the SF, continue to maintain your focus on the SF, continue to relax and if possible deepen your state of relaxation all while the recording continues. Do this until you no longer have any difficulty maintaining your focus on the SF. This process can be adapted to any number of automatic programs that meditation may bring into your awareness. This process is, at least in part, what the philosopher Ken Wilbur means by Cleaning Up, which is the second step in a four-step process.
Note: Of the two types of consequences (emotional and behavioral), you may often get an emotional response without a behavioral response. Both emotional and behavioral responses can be either physical or cognitive and often exhibit both aspects. The emotional response is the motivation for a behavioral response. Sometimes the emotional response isn’t sufficient to produce a behavioral response. At other times you suppress a behavioral response because you have stronger conditioning against responding and your response to the emotional response (now an A) results in suppression (C), which may have an emotional component such as frustration. This is an overlap and potentially is information suggesting the need for an extended analysis.
You may get two types of internal or cognitive stimuli: 1) random thoughts or images that subside or fade away on their own or 2) potent thoughts or images that seduce you into unpacking them. The second type may be alerting you to an AP that needs to become the target of contemplation, using the A-B-C sequence described above.
If you have a lot of type 1 cognitive stimuli and the sheer number of them is interfering with you being able to maintain your focus on the SF (monkey mind syndrome), you need some way to reduce their frequency. I have three suggestions. You can simply begin counting your breaths as a distraction. Count an inhale as one and an exhale as two and so on. Continue until you reach ten and then start over. You can also label them. I have sometimes just labeled whatever was arising in awareness as “chatter” (a.k.a. self-talk). You can also label them as to source, such as “memory,” “my story,” “imagination,” “other story” or “commentary.” The idea is to label the event and then move back into silence to the best of your ability. If you can simply observe stimuli arise and subside, while maintaining your focus on the SF, then you don’t need to take any special measures. The stimuli will diminish in number with patience. The key thing in following this SFM practice is not getting caught up in what is arising and turning it into an object of consciousness. A silent mind isn’t easy to find and will be your greatest challenge in meditation. Do not judge yourself. Do not think of yourself as failing. Do not chastise yourself. All this does is inflate the importance of what you’re trying to diminish.
Moving up on the spiral
You will reach a point where you’ve settled into the above basic process and are comfortable with it. This does not mean that you’ve completely mastered it and achieved perfection. Just that you have reached a point where you can handle more steps. This could take as little as a few days to many weeks. If after reading steps seven and eight, you think you can do this in a single operation, go ahead and give it a try. If you find you are having problems integrating the SF into a gestalt, come back and work through steps seven and eight in a gradual and systematic way.
Seventh, in this step you begin enlarging your sensory field (SF). The SF is what is occupying your awareness. When I say “occupy your awareness,” think of cutting your fingernails. When you are doing this task, the focus of your attention is on the clippers in one hand and one of your nails on the other hand. This is what is occupying your awareness. You may be incidentally aware of other stimuli but the focus in your SF is the nail-cutting task.
Currently you have your breathing in much the same state of awareness as your clippers and nails in the example above. This may also include what your passive vision is registering, if you started out doing eyes-open meditation. It will also include cognitive stimuli arising into awareness and then subsiding. What you want to do now is include in your SF all internal bodily sensations and sensations arising from the body’s contact with objects such as the floor where your feet are resting and the chair that you are sitting in and contacting with various parts of your body. One method of scanning in these sensations is to begin with putting your attention on your feet. Hold awareness of your breathing in your SF and then bring the feet and floor into the SF. Next, slowly scan into the SF the lower legs and knees. When you have your breathing and your feet, floor, lower legs and knees together in the SF, move on up your body, slowly scanning in your upper legs, buttocks, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, shoulders, your left arm and hand, your right arm and hand, your neck, and last, your head and face. You should now just hold the expanded SF in awareness as a gestalt, with no focused attention to anything else, though you may be incidentally aware of other stimuli..
Work with the expanded SF for a while and try to keep your mind as quiet as possible. Total silence is a worthy goal but one difficult to achieve. Just try not to let your attention be seduced by mental stimuli that arise in awareness and turning them into objects of consciousness. If you don’t focus on them they will pass. To the extent that you are focused on the SF, as if it were a holistic or single stimulus instead of stray mental stimuli, you are Present. Work with this for a while until you feel like you’re doing a good but not perfect job of being Present with the SF.
Eighth, You are now ready to include the last few stimuli, other than visual, in the SF. Hold the SF in awareness and expand the SF to include all auditory stimuli, olfactory stimuli and any tastes that might be present. The SF should now have pretty much all of your sensory stimuli coalesced into a single stimulus – a gestalt. Your awareness should be as completely filled with this gestalt as possible. Think of sitting in a relaxed state and looking at a scene in nature, a painting or photo of a complex scene. You are not looking at items within the scene but at the scene itself, the gestalt of stimuli that comprise the scene. As long as you don’t allow your attention to be drawn to some individual stimulus in the gestalt, you are Present with the scene. Once you have your SF expanded as described, you may want to stay with this for weeks or months.
Ninth, when you feel like you are ready take up the ninth turn of the spiral, what you want to do is get your breathing to as slow a pace as you are comfortable with. Some experienced meditators can get down to one or two breaths per minute. Personally, I have managed two breaths per minute but feel more comfortable with three or four. However, I’m probably handicapped by all the years that I smoked. I find the best way to handle this is to first slow the pace of your breathing as much as is comfortable. You can then extend this by pausing your breathing at the end of the inhale and at the end of the exhale. If it works better for you, just pause on either the inhale or the exhale. Personally, I find it more comfortable to do this at the end of an exhale, but you may be different. Reducing the amount of oxygen entering your lungs and thereby your brain will dampen the default mode network (DMN).
Tenth, in this phase the goal will be to further reduce the random mental stimuli, e.g., memories, associated emotions, rehearsal of your story, anticipations about the future and commentary on other stories. These are a problem if they haven’t been controlled by the methods described earlier in the Sixth topic. Further, they do not include things that appear to be related to APs and need to be addressed through contemplation, as described earlier in the Sixth topic. If both these criteria are met, you might apply one or both of the following approaches to reducing them.
One thing that might help is a finding in a recent research study that found the frontoparietal network (FPN) plays an important role in the ability to purge thoughts or “clear your mind.” One of the things that the FPN is very much involved in is sustained attention. So, as you work to improve your quality of attention, you also improve your ability to clear your mind of thoughts and strengthen the FPN.
To begin, you need to create a definition that you think will encompass all of the mental stimuli that you’ve observed arising. A simple technique for “clearing your mind” that is based on the research mentioned above is to simply apply a self-instruction to the effect that “this thought is unnecessary. Forget it.”
Another technique you can apply using your definition is counting and plotting. This technique has been shown to effectively diminish a wide variety of behaviors – thought is a mental behavior – through the operation of intention and feedback.
To implement this you want to begin counting each stimulus that arises according to your definition. If it appears you haven’t included everything that you observe, then revise your definition. You can keep count using your fingers but this could become a distraction, especially once you pass a count of ten. Personally, I used a handheld counter that would silently add a count to the total each time I depressed a button on the counter. I simply cupped this in one hand during meditation and used my thumb to press the button. All sorts of counters can be bought at sporting goods stores and on sites like Amazon. Further, you should graph your count for each session. This will provide you with visual feedback on how active your DMN is being. You can use a piece of graph paper or do it in a spreadsheet, which was my choice. Do this until you’ve brought the spontaneous arising of mental stimuli down to as low a level as you can. Once you’ve sort of hit “bottom” and the count is staying pretty constant, you can probably stop this practice and only do it occasionally for monitoring purposes.
Eleventh, you are now ready to include visual stimuli in your SF. If you started out doing eyes-open meditation, you can skip this turn of the spiral, if you’ve done all of it already. First, you want to start opening your eyes during your meditation sessions. As I suggested earlier, for those who wanted to begin with their eyes open, pick an area on the floor a few feet in front of you or a blank spot on a wall to gaze at. In either case, you will also be aware of some peripheral visual stimuli, which is fine. Second, you want to bring these visual stimuli into the SF so that they too are a part of the gestalt that fills your awareness. Be careful not to get seduced by any of the stimuli represented in the field or gestalt. However, if you do find yourself drawn into focusing on some element of the field, just bring your focus back to the field or gestalt. Be gentle with yourself about slippage. Don’t concern yourself about it. Just pull yourself back toward full Presence with the field.
By this time or possibly earlier, you should find that, at least some of the time, the SF has subsided into the background and Presence with your awareness (not what you’re aware of) has come to the foreground. Some would describe this as “being aware of being aware;” others might say simply “beingness.” To reach this phase you will have to have significantly reduced or, for all practical purposes, stopped spontaneous arising of mental stimuli into awareness.
Twelfth, you can now start thinking about moving from a passive, sitting practice to a more active, moving practice. Some start doing this through a formal walking meditation. All you do in this practice is to keep your focus on the sensory field but stand up and start walking slowly about while keeping your visual focus on the ground. This is usually done on a fixed path such as a circle, square or a labyrinth. For those who have done the walking meditation for a while and feel ready to expand their practice, you might take up Tai Chi or other form of moving meditation. Remember, during movement practice, you should keep your focus on your SF, which includes your entire body, which is doing the movement.
For those who want to move on and take their practice into the world and don’t feel a need for the more formal step(s), begin doing an active meditation practice whenever an opportunity presents itself in your daily life. You can do this briefly while engaged in any type of mindless activity that doesn’t require that you have to think about what you’re doing. You can do this while washing the dishes, cutting the grass, walking or jogging. Two of my favorites are while standing in a checkout line or driving on a road that doesn’t require active driving. In the end, you want to simply bring a state of Presence into most of your day. When you do have to drop into a narrow object of consciousness mode, try to bring presence to the task just as you bring Presence to the SF that usually fills your awareness.
Upon reaching this phase, you’ve gone about as far as you can go in preparing yourself for a deeper phase. You are in the natural-mind phase. So, relax and just be. If you move into deeper phases, they will come when they come. They arrive by grace. They just take you. Many nondual teachers see three phases beyond the natural mind. They are Void Consciousness, God Consciousness and Unity Consciousness. For a little more about these, see the last question in my essay What Is Meditation and Why Meditate. This question was not covered in the oral presentation done at Mountain Light due to time constraints.
What is Meditation and Why Meditate?
If you heard or read the piece on worldviews that preceded this you may recall that at the end, a nondual perspective was discussed. Also discussed was the necessity of an experiential understanding of the underlying unity of such a worldview to fully grok it. The principle avenue for that experiential understanding was meditation. Thus, this is an elaboration on the previous piece.
I have studied and practiced meditation for about fifteen years. On the basis of that background, I think meditation can be divided into at least three categories. First, there is what I would call natural meditation. Natural meditation is not done with intent and is a relaxed state of awareness that one may fall into for any number of reasons. One example is a state that one might enter as a result of a solitary encounter with the beauty and tranquility of nature. The second category I call traditional, because it is grounded in a meditative tradition such as Buddhism or Hindu philosophies such as Vedanta or Tantra. Traditional meditation may take many forms and is always done with intent. The third category I would call medicalized. This is a form of meditation that has been adapted from a traditional meditation and employed for health reasons. An example of this type is the Benson Relaxation Response, which is a relabeled form of basic mindfulness meditation. It was first introduced by a Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, several decades ago as a technique to help reduce stress in his patients. This discussion of meditation will be based on the traditional approach.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a technique to improve the quality of your attention, which determines what you are aware of. The root meaning of the word that “attention” is derived from means “to grasp.” Thus, attention is making sensory contact with a physical stimulus or introspective contact with a mental stimulus and holding on to it. To improve attention requires that you have the self-discipline to practice the technique of meditation consistently and persistently. Meditation can also be useful for revealing the cognitive structures of mind such as ideologies or belief systems and automatic programs (APs) that use such structures to render judgments for you.
Here is an anecdote about attention. Dean Radin, head of research for IONS, had an experiment that he wanted to conduct that required participants who could maintain their focus of attention for a minimum of thirty seconds without exception. He tested a large number of volunteers to identify those who would be suitable for his experiment. He found that the vast majority of those tested could maintain a focus of attention, on average, for six seconds. He did find the subjects he needed and it may be no surprise that they were all experienced meditators.
What is the purpose of improved attention?
While there may be several ends to which enhanced attention might be directed, in meditation it is to make a state of presence more easily attained. Presence, as the late Ram Dass is noted for saying, is, “Be here now.” This means that you are focused on the present moment, not on the past, not on the future, not on your personal narratives (or stories) and not on other narratives (or stories).
Two teachers who put an emphasis on presence are Richard Moss, a former ER physician, and Leonard Jacobson, a former attorney. Moss offers his students an exercise employing a circle. He suggests thinking of yourself standing in the middle of the circle, which represents the present, the portion behind you represents the past, the portion in front of you represents the future, the portion to your left represents your personal stories and the portion to the right of you represents other stories. He says that any time you find your attention outside of the circle, bring it back to the center of the circle and the present. Jacobson similarly suggests that you should keep your focus on what’s in front of you, that is, be present with actuality. He believes that most of us most of the time are divorced from the actual and are “lost in our minds.” Both would agree that the mind is a useful tool and has an important role to play in our lives, and both would agree that we spend a great deal of time engaged with the mind when it is unnecessary.
Why is it important to be present?
To begin with it is only through being present that you can truly experience life. Life is grounded in experience not in the labyrinth of your mind. Life is a process that unfolds through your experience of what is present. When you are lost in your mind you are missing out on life.
Presence also is important to becoming non-judgmental, an attitude discussed in the post preceding this one. You may recall that being non-judgmental requires that you approach people and situations as unique and come to a determination about them through discernment grounded in what is present, not on ideologies and beliefs that create generalized categories in your mind. When you respond to someone as if they were a representative of a mental category, you are dehumaniz- ing them and treating them as an object. You can often recognize this process because the category frequently has a demeaning label.
Presence can also reveal things to you about your conditioned mind and its biases, what was called automatic programs in the previous post. Automatic programs will often be the first thing that attempt to arise and take over your response to someone or some situation. This is an excellent opportunity to take note of this automatic program, suspend it and try to identify its source. Once you know where it is coming from you will be better able to manage it rather than be managed by it.
What is the role of the brain?
The answer to this question is influenced by the work of Iain McGilchrist and Jill Taylor, both of whom are neuroscientists.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres. McGilchrist’s hypothesis about how evolutionarily the split brain came to be adopted by many life forms is related to two tasks of great importance in the past and today, especially in non-human animals. Those tasks include the need for particularized attention for seeking and obtaining food and generalized attention to monitor the larger environment for danger, such as predators. This reminds me of an illustrative story about generalized or inclusive attention. This was related by an anthropologist studying some indigenous people living in a jungle environment. The anthropologist was with a group on some sort of expedition into the jungle. When they reached a certain spot, one of the natives came and led him to a clear spot and told him they would wait here and the others would be back for them. He asked, “why do I have to wait here?” The native replied, “white men don’t know how to see.” The anthropologist asked, “see what?” The native answered, “danger.” These indigenous people clearly didn’t think much of Europeans’ right hemisphere functioning.
Briefly, the left side tends to exclusive attention. It is very good at bringing single objects of consciousness into its “grasp” and cognitively dismantling and manipulating them. This is often referred to as reductive thinking, i.e., reducing things to their apparent parts. Linear logic is then applied to understanding the relations among the parts. Understanding gained from this process has been very useful, especially in learning about many physical processes, and in the development of technology. However, this great asset provided by the left side must be overseen by the right side if good order is to be maintained in overall brain functioning.
Indeed, McGilchrist argues that from an evolutionary perspective, the right side of the brain is designed to be the master while the left side of the brain is designed to be its servant. He illustrates the importance of this relationship by discussing the effects seen in his patients with right hemisphere impairment due to strokes, trauma and disease. The effect of such impairment on the functioning of these patients, he indicates, is very similar to what he sees in his patients with schizophrenia. The effects are generally not so severe when the reverse occurs, suggesting that the right can do without the left much better than the left can do without the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere tends to inclusive attention and processes input from the left side and its own intuitive understanding through integral thinking that creates an overall synthesis. Such a synthesis weaves a picture that renders an understanding of reality that far exceeds what the left side can accomplish on its own. The right side is also generally reckoned to be the source of imagination, which is largely responsible for using the synthesis to make creative leaps.
It is also worth noting that the most common patterns of electrical activity in the brain, the so called brain waves, seem to have some association with the hemispheres. Beta activity is likely to be more often dominant when the left hemisphere is dominant. Alpha activity is likely to be more often dominant when the right hemisphere is dominant. Alpha is associated with a more relaxed and fluid state of functioning than beta. It better supports the right hemisphere’s need for a more holistic mind set. Theta is also more likely to be dominant in the right side, especially when imagination and creativity are in process. Both alpha and theta are associated with meditative states and indicate that meditation is a useful tool for relaxation, inclusive attention, a holistic mind set and Presence.
Returning to the left hemisphere, when beta is dominant and the left hemisphere is inattentive, a network known as the default mode network (DMN) becomes active. The DMN is thought to support and maintain the ego narrative that most of us rely upon to explain our thoughts, emotions and behavior. One way it does this is to bring into awareness various memories and emotional associations to those memories that are tied to our personal narratives, causing rehearsal of and commentary on the narratives. The DMN also brings forward into awareness similar stimuli associated with other narratives important to ego. These stimuli are processed in much the same manner and for similar purposes. New meditators often find themselves less attentive and still in a beta-dominant mode, which presents them with a hurdle. The activation of the DMN while attempting to move into a meditative state often creates a significant distraction — a state sometimes described as Monkey Mind Syndrome. This syndrome has probably thwarted the intentions of more would-be meditators than anything else. If the new meditator will relax, persist and not become judgmental about his or her difficulties, they can be overcome. Success will not only improve the quality of attention and facilitate states of Presence but can also alter brain structure and improve the brain’s neuroplasticity.
Taylor and McGilchrist both take the view that the materialistic worldview common in western thought and becoming increasingly more common worldwide leads to a left-brain fixation. The processes of the left hemisphere are praised and encouraged and generally put forward as the pinnacle of human thinking while dismissing or minimizing right hemisphere processes and functions. McGilchrist, especially, appears to be of the opinion that this fixation could very well undermine civilization and lead to its collapse. Taylor, if nothing else, is an advocate for restoring whole brain functioning as a way to heal many of our personal and societal ills.
How does meditation help you become Present?
Meditation helps you become Present in several ways. First, the deep relaxation that accompanies meditation activates the right hemisphere. Second, holistic or inclusive attention activates the right hemisphere. Finally, meditation suppresses the activity of the default mode network, which reduces left-hemisphere activation. All mental stimuli, especially language, activate the left hemisphere and bring attention to bear on specific stimuli, which become objects of consciousness. Presence and dominance of the right hemisphere make consciousness without an object possible. This means that a state of awareness can be attained in which there is no attention focused on a particular stimulus. Both music and language are auditory stimuli. Music, however, can be useful for some people during meditation if it is calm and soothing music that aids relaxation and contains no lyrics. Lyrics often draw attention to themselves in the same way that speech does and become objects of consciousness in an activated left hemisphere.
Does meditation give you psychic powers or other unusual experiences?
Patanjali, a venerated yoga teacher, from about 400 BCE, taught that if psychic phenomena appear during meditation, they should be considered as distractions and ignored. Note that there are several branches of yoga practice and this reference to yoga is not to the Westernized version of Hatha Yoga commonly practiced in the U.S.
More likely to occur are noetic events. Noetic events are often associated with the late Edgar Mitchell who, on his return trip from the moon, had an unusual and profound experience while gazing out a window at the vastness of the universe. After he was back on earth, he began researching the experience that he had and concluded that it was a noetic event. A noetic event is defined as an intuitive and implicit understanding or subjective knowing of something. Noetic events are also characterized by being ineffable or difficult to verbally and meaningfully describe to others, unless they have had some similar experience themselves. Edgar Mitchell went on to found an organization known today as IONS (Institute on Noetic Science) whose mission is to study noetic events. Noetic events can arise in both natural and traditional meditative states.
What is the best meditation technique?
There are many styles of meditation that have developed within various traditions. Which one is best for you depends what is most comfortable for you and can be the basis of a sustainable practice. I use what I call a sensory-field meditation technique that I’ve arrived at from my study and practice of meditation. I am happy to share my process with anyone who has a serious interest.
What is enlightenment?
In the piece that preceded this one, it was noted that some traditions view human functioning along a dimension that runs from ignorance to enlightenment. Ignorance is seen as being ignorant of one’s divine nature, and enlightenment is coming to know one’s divine nature directly, i.e. through experience. A contemporary nondual teacher, Rupert Spira, prefers to replace the word “Enlightenment” with the word “Truth,” which functionally still carries the same meaning as just given. However, Spira prefers it because it doesn’t have as much conceptual baggage as the term “Enlightenment.”
Here is what enlightenment won’t do for you. It won’t turn you into a zombie. It won’t render you unable to deal with the daily world, and it won’t solve all of your problems, though it may give you a different perspective on them. There is a Zen saying that I think is apropos when talking about enlightenment. It goes like this: “Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment chop wood and carry water.” Those seeking the spectacular are usually disappointed. If you’re one of those people looking for something spectacular from enlightenment, you might want to contemplate this Zen saying on a regular basis.
There is a Western connection to the idea of enlightenment through Abraham Maslow and Carl Jung. Both considered transcendence of the ego self to be important. Such a shift they found produced a shift in perspective and a broadened worldview. Both thought this shift was a shift away from the ego or self and to a more authentic Self. Maslow say the shift is the culmination of a developmental process, and Jung says it is the result of individuation or the integration of the unconscious, subconscious and ego consciousness.
Transcendence of the self, from my understanding, puts one on the cusp of enlightenment. Some traditions use a six-phase model when talking about the process of moving from ignorance to truth (enlightenment). The first phase is the unconditioned mind (infants and pre-verbal children) with no sense of self. The second phase is the conditioned mind (most everyone else), which is the phase where one is acquiring and has acquired a hierarchy of concepts and a process for processing and judging people and circumstances through those concepts. It also is the period where a lot of automatic programs are established that lead to decisions that require little thought. The third phase is often referred to as “I AM.” It is a phase in which one throws off much of the conditioning acquired during phase two. In this phase, one has acquired Presence and learned to use discernment rather than judgment. I have written about this phase calling it the natural mind.
When one transitions from the natural mind, the cusp is crossed and one enters the fourth phase, which is the first phase of enlightenment. This phase is called Self-realization. It can be described as the direct experience of one’s true nature (a manifestation of divinity). The fifth phase is often called God-consciousness and can be described as direct experience of unconditional acceptance by Source consciousness (God, if you prefer). Unconditional acceptance and Divine Love are often considered to be interchangeable. The sixth phase can be referred to as Unity-consciousness and described as the experience of being unconditional acceptance. This can also be thought of an identity with Source. Jill Taylor thinks that the right hemisphere anterior cingulate is the gateway to experience of Source.
Note: Be careful not to conflate human love with Divine Love. The former is an emotional state and the latter is a way of being. Human love is often thought to be elicited by an external stimulus, whereas Divine Love is not elicited but emitted or, if you prefer, radiated.
There is, in my opinion, a critical attitude that is important in the application of Ethical and Moral Principles, which includes the UUA’s seven Principles. Principles such as, treat everyone with respect and recognize their inherent worth and dignity. That critical attitude is being non-judgmental, which promotes acceptance of others. Less than full acceptance leads to rejection or mere tolerance, and results in less than optimal application of principles. Granted, tolerance is better than rejection and may be a step on the path to full acceptance, but one should be cautious about becoming too self-satisfied about having achieved mere tolerance. Below is a quote from a book written by a former journalist who spent several years living on the streets as a homeless woman, for reason I won’t go into. Of the help she received that allowed her to resume a productive life she said:
“To those who helped me, I will always be eternally grateful…However, while you stand in your place in the accepted social hierarchy of giving and receiving, looking down on those you deem worthy of helping, would you please stop to notice how you are slapping us in the face with the very hand that you have extended in your goodwill?”
I would suggest that what is implicit in this quote is the recognition by her that some of her benefactors were merely tolerant of her and tolerated her as much to enhance their own self-esteem by being seen helping her as to compassionately respond to her and her circumstances.
So, what do I mean by judgment? Judgment is based on categorical thinking. A way of thinking that classifies people and treats them as categories. I am reminded of a comment by the late David Bohm, a quantum physicist and philosopher, who said that all genuine knowledge will only be found between categories. Others, such as Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou (see also my post On Buber and Bohm), make the point that only through a relationship of acceptance of the other can you respond fully to the humanity of another person. Likewise, the philosopher Ken Wilbur, in his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, points out that our culture has a history of objectifying people and classifying them as objects characterized by the status of its.
Judgment employs a system of filters or beliefs, represented as cognitive constructs, that are arranged into a hierarchy or decision tree. These beliefs are acquired through Social learning. You acquire them, one might say absorb them, from your parents, siblings, extended family, peers, community and social institutions such as schools and churches. These filters or algorithms are subconscious and automatic (hereafter, APs). Practically, everyone has such APs running outside of their conscious awareness that affect their perceptions of people and situations. What you are most likely to be aware of is a mental label, emotion or impulse to act in a certain way arising into awareness. Often this is the end product of an AP with an implicit bias. What most frequently happens when a judgment or impulse arises into awareness is that you generate a rationale, to incorporate into your personal narrative, to explain the judgment or impulse. The rationale then becomes part of your idea of yourself. There is seldom any connection between the AP and the rationale for its output. The rationale is more likely to be self-deception.
Some subconscious biases or APs can be revealed through Harvard University’s Implicit Attitude Tests that are available on Harvard’s website and are free to the public. You might find it interesting and possibly useful to take some of these tests that cover such topics as sexual orientation, race and gender identity, among others.
You can also personally pursue locating your APs , first, through carefully monitoring your responses to people and situation and then, second, employing introspection to drill down and find the underlying source of your reaction. This is not always easy and will often be confounded by the camouflage that your rationale justifying their output creates. In such cases, there are other more sophisticated techniques that might be employed or you may need professional help with the task.
Not all APs are dysfunctional. For example, you have APs that are instrumental to you being able to drive an automobile safely and with hardly any conscious effort. You are more likely to find APs that support biased perceptions in those related to people, organizations and situations than among those helping with the routine tasks of getting through the day. If you find any dysfunctional APs, you should modify, replace or eliminate them. Doing this will aid your spiritual evolution, which – as will be clarified shortly – is your purpose.
The flip side of judgment is discernment. Discernment is an unbiased evaluation that is free of APs. Discernment can only be practiced by treating each encounter with people and situations as unique and worthy of individual consideration rather than as a prepackaged categorical response. Systems of judgment, while not entirely dependent upon, are supported by one’s worldview. Your worldview can, therefore, aid or hinder cleaning up maladaptive APs or even being able to recognize them.
Let us now turn to a brief discussion of four western worldviews. The first is theistic dualism. This worldview has been around for several thousand years and most of us can easily associate it with such dualities as God and Satan, good and evil, heaven and hell, saved and damned. It is not a worldview designed to promote acceptance. The second I’ll call Descartes’ Compromise. This was a compromise suggested by René Descartes in the 17th century. This suggestion was an effort to moderate religious interference in the work of naturalists (today we’d call them scientists) attempting to understand the processes underlying the physical world. Some of their work attracted potentially deadly attention from religious authorities who judged some of their findings to be heretical to church dogma. What the compromise suggested was that concern with physical processes be left to the naturalists and considered secular in nature, and concern with spiritual matters be left to theologians and priests and considered religious in nature. The compromise was an improvement on the purely theistic worldview but was still not one that fully promoted acceptance of people in all their diversity. In short, judgment is implicit in a dualistic worldview.
Descartes’ Compromise eventually morphed into secular or scientific materialism. This came about, over time, by excluding half of the compromise from the worldview, turning it into a purely materialist worldview. The materialist worldview takes as its root assumption that everything arises from matter — matter is primary. The narrative supporting this worldview posits that all matter first came into existence through what is described as the Big Bang. The late Stephen Hawking, a physicist and cosmologist, when asked by someone to explain where the Big Bang came from, replied that it was “spontaneous creation from nothing.” The Big Bang is sometimes also described as a cosmic accident. This narrative further posits that the physical universe and ultimately the life in it evolves through random processes. So, matter came into being through a cosmic accident and the stars, planets, the life planets support, solar systems, galaxies and the universe all evolved by chance or through random processes. What is denied by this worldview is that any of this had any purpose behind it. To my understanding, anything without purpose has no implicit meaning and is, in many ways, a nihilistic philosophy. Nihilism rejects all values as being baseless and offers no grounds for promoting acceptance.
The fourth western worldview that will be covered is analytic idealism, a nondual philosophy, perhaps best represented, at the current time, by scientist, technologist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup. Recently, Kastrup has taken the position of director of a foundation, The Essentia Foundation, whose goal is to promote idealism as an alternative to materialism. An organization with a similar goal is the Academy for the Advancement of a Postmaterialist Science whose membership is comprised of scientists and academics.
Kastrup’s presentation of idealism, especially Rationalist Spirituality, takes as its root assumption that Consciousness or Universal Mind is a field of Consciousness or Source Consciousness (hereafter just Source) that is infinite, eternal, intelligent and creative. It is not, however, capable of metacognition or self-reflection. Everything arises from and returns to Source. Think of a wave arising from the ocean and returning to the ocean. It is all water whatever form it takes. Therefore, everything must be unconditionally accepted by Source because to do otherwise would be to reject itself.
Kastrup suggests that the physical universe is an experience engine that is running within Source, which means Source can’t be equated with the physical universe, being much more. In Kastrup’s model, Source needs experience to evolve and realize its potential. Further, life is a carrier of Source that experiences and evolves, while also providing input for Source’s evolution. Kastrup argues that Source is an evolving phenomenon because if Source were perfect there would be no need to create an experiential universe. He argues that even if a perfect Source had created an experiential universe it would have to reflect that perfection and it is clear from our experience that his is not a perfect universe. The bottom line of this presentation on idealism means that personal evolution contributes to Universal evolution, which gives life a source of purpose and meaning.
One explanation for how experience comes about is that experience arises from complementarity. The concept of complementarity was first proposed by the late Niels Bohr, a quantum physicist and one of the founders of quantum physics. He originally introduced this concept to help understand and talk about the wave – particle duality in quantum physics. He subsequently indicated that he thought the concept had a much broader application and could even be used in such fields as psychology. See also my post Love and Hate in Human Thought.
Here is a mundane example that should be easier to follow than a discussion of the complementary pair of wave — particle. Consider the pair hot — cold, This pair can be represented on a dimension with each member of the pair anchoring an opposite pole of the dimension. It is the gradations that are made possible by this bipolar construct that makes the experience of temperature possible. If you would like to carry this illustration further, think through other complementary pairs such as male and female.
Members of a complementary pair can be thought of as partial reflections of an undivided whole. The writer Arthur Koestler referred to such wholes as holons. Each holon is both a whole and a part. It is a part of a greater holon, which in turn is a whole and a part of a greater holon. If you extrapolate this process to its logical end point, you will arrive at a holon that encompasses the entire physical universe. Such a holon can easily be thought of as a singular representation of the physical universe or a unity of physicality. However, one might go further and imagine this holon as a whole and a part that is a part of a greater holon yet, such as Source. Perhaps Source is the ultimate Holon, which exists as a part of nothing, being both infinite and eternal. You can find a fuller discussion of the concept of holons in the Ken Wilbur book linked above. You can find a fuller discussion of the unity of physicality (in physicist speak, the entanglement of all the particles in the physical universe) in my post Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations about the perspective of the quantum physicist Menas Kafatos.
In the East there are several nondual philosophies, such as Buddhism, Tantra, Taoism and Vedanta. If you have heard of Tibetan Buddhism, headed by the Dalai Lama, it is also known as Tantric Buddhism, which recognizes that it is a fusion of Buddhism and Tantra. I will try to present a brief, homogenized and probably unjust description of these traditions to the best of my understanding.
In this worldview, life is an expression of Universal Consciousness and much that was said about Consciousness earlier is also applicable to one degree or another. Human functioning in this view ranges from Ignorant to Enlightened, which in this view means ego consciousness (self) at one pole and a more purified Consciousness at the other pole (Self or authentic Self). In nondualism, our goal should be to rise above our ignorance, and realize our inherent divinity. In other words, transcend ego consciousness. This is not unheard of in the West. In the twentieth century the psychologist Abraham Maslow placed self-transcendence at the apex of his hierarchy of development. It is not unusual to see his hierarchy taught without the final step of self-transcendence, which is probably because it doesn’t fit very well into the prevailing materialist paradigm and is therefore ignored. Carl Jung, a twentieth-century psychiatrist and proponent of depth psychology, made self-transcendence the ultimate goal of psychological integration. Jung proposed that this could be achieved, though not easily, by integrating the unconscious, subconscious and ego consciousness and thereby expressing one’s higher Self.
In nondualism, bad behavior is viewed as a product of ignorance, not of evil (a link to my post The Nature of Evil). We often classify certain forms of behavior as evil but a non-dualist would say that it is simply an expression of ignorance. This does not excuse it, but the focus here is the behavior, not the person. Consequently, bad behavior requires a non-emotional response that is non-judgmental and includes respectful, dignified and just treatment of the actor. This type of response is, to a non-dualist, one that is least likely to be an overreaction resulting in a non-productive counter response and one most likely to promote the spiritual development of the one receiving it. Finally, these traditions usually see the process of moving from ignorance to enlightenment to be one that unfolds slowly and requires a great deal of time to have and to benefit from the necessary experiences. Thus, you frequently see reincarnation as a component of these traditions, since it provides the necessary time to complete spiritual evolution.
The original Unitarian and Universalist denominations came about in the 16th century and arose for Christian denominations that disagreed with some of the prevailing theology of the Christian church of the time. The Christians that became Unitarians affirmed the unitary nature of divinity and thereby rejected the theological concept of a Trinitarian divinity. They also rejected the dogma of “original sin.” The Christians that became Universalists rejected the dogma of selective salvation or reconciliation with divinity for universal reconciliation. They viewed some theological concepts such as reconciliation as being a fundamental truth that has universal application unbound by any constraint. This position is sometimes compared to the principle from the Rig Veda ( a scripture from Vedanta) that holds that “Truth is One; sages call it by various names.”
In consideration of the above, I don’t think it is a great stretch to say that Unitarian Universalism has within it the potential to become a western representative of a nondual worldview (a panentheistic view) that has theological roots rather than purely philosophical roots. Personally, I think it would be a more productive direction than it has been following, which seems to me to be attempting to establish a humanistic option within materialism. Currently, it is in the process of revising its principles and appears to be making Love as the center piece of this revision. I would suggest that this is a step in the right direction.
A few closing comments on nonduality: In nondualism, being against others includes being against the self since both you and the other arise from the same Source and share the same core divinity. Thus, nonduality promotes acceptance of self and others. Because of complementarity, you can’t live in nonduality, but you can know and use it as a perspective.
Nonduality can be known both intellectually and experientially. To illustrate the difference, consider someone who knows nothing about music, including having never heard music played. Now imagine that this individual is given a workbook on musical notation and a book on musical instruments that explains what they are and their basic mechanisms for producing sound. After studying these materials, our imaginary character has a pretty good intellectual understanding of music. Now imagine that we take this person to a symphony hall and let him or her listen to a symphony play music. The individual will come out of the symphony hall with a very different understanding of music from the one s/he entered with. The person now has an experiential understanding of music to go along with an intellectual understanding. The experiential dimension could be deepened by learning to play an instrument as well. Nondual traditions place a preference for the experiential knowing over intellectual knowing, while recognizing that in most cases intellectual understanding precedes experiential understanding. Thus, one should be open to the experience of nonduality, Unity or Source. Most traditions that advocate experiential knowing promote the practice of contemplation and meditation as methods that can open you to the experience, though they will also tell you you can’t make it happen. In fact, trying to force it will do nothing more than push you further away from the experience. You don’t take it, it takes you (see my post Taken).
Next month: Meditation: What it is and why do it.
P.S. Limiting ourselves to western worldviews, some might ask which is True, Scientific Materialism or Analytic Idealism?
I would say that neither is True. Both are philosophical systems that rest upon a core assumption. In one case, the Primacy of Matter and in the other the Primacy of Consciousness. So, the question posed is pointless. Both probably contain some truth. A better question is, which one has the greatest depth and range and which has the best chance of enhancing humanity?
My answer is idealism and I offer that for several reasons:
1. If the interpretation of the double-slit experiments in quantum physics that assert that Consciousness is responsible for the collapse of the wave function are valid, and a lot of evidence supports this interpretation, then Consciousness is Primary and matter is an epiphenomenon of Consciousness. Thus, it seems likely that matter requires Consciousness to come into existence.
2. Idealism can subsume materialism similarly to how quantum physics subsumes Newtonian physics. This provides a much broader and deeper paradigm for understanding the nature of reality. The reverse, however, doesn’t expand our paradigm because it requires that human consciousness be a separate and isolated phenomenon generated by the brain rather than the brain being its receiver and moderator. This negates all the advantage to be found from looking at Consciousness as primary and there is a significant amount of evidence backing the view that Consciousness is Primary though in some quarters it is not viewed as being conclusive.
3. Even given all other things being equal, I go with idealism because it is a narrative that gives humanity purpose and meaning. This has the potential to bring humanity together in a positive way and thus make it more likely to survive and evolve and possibly to continue to contribute to Source’s evolution. The likely alternative is to become a dead end.
One often hears the U.S. referred to as the richest nation in the world, but it is entirely possible that this is a delusion on the part of Americans and many foreign observers. A book titled The Millionaire Next Door illustrates the contrast between the wealthy and those who appear to be wealthy. The author reported that most of the millionaires that he interviewed were not extravagant spenders and generally had pretty pedestrian tastes. When asked by the marketing firm that had commissioned the study, on which the book was based, who the big spenders were, the author said “the guys with the big hats and no cattle.” Big hats and no cattle is a metaphor for lots of credit and debt but no wealth. The simple fact of the matter is that America creates an illusion of wealth through massive debt. The only question is when will our credit line max out and be withdrawn, plunging us into default and bankruptcy.
So how much debt do we owe? Recent reports put the U.S. government (USG) debt at 31 trillion dollars. One-third of that has been accumulated since 2008 and most of that since the COVID pandemic that began in 2019. Each year we average a 2-trillion dollar budget deficit, which means we spend an additional 2 trillion dollars that we don’t have. We pay out 965 million dollars a day in interest on the USG debt, which adds up to 349 billion dollars per year — assuming interest rates don’t go up, which are currently rising and adding to the size of the outlay for interest payments. To USG debt, add business debt estimated to be 19.5 trillion dollars and household debt put at 18.6 trillion dollars for a grand total of 69 trillion dollars. This does not include under funded future obligations to programs like Social Security and Medicare.
So, just how might one get a perspective on a number like a trillion. Here are some comparison that might help:
One million seconds is about 11 days ago.
One billion seconds ago was 1988.
One trillion seconds ago was 30,000 BC.
A trillion square miles would cover the surface of 5,000 planet Earths.
Suppose you had a job that paid you $1 per second, or $3,600 per hour.
That amounts to $86,400 per day and about $32 million per year.
With that job, it would take you nearly 31,700 years to earn a trillion dollars.
For someone earning $50,000 a year, it would take more than 20 million years to earn a trillion dollars – assuming they didn’t spend any of it and it wasn’t taxed.
A trillion is a staggering number by itself. Just think about multiplying it by 31 or, worse yet, the combined debt of 69 trillion dollars owed by the three sectors mentioned above.
Some pundits dismiss the USG debt on the grounds that the USG can create all the money that it wants. I’ll come back to this. First, I just want to point out that even were this claim literally true, it would not be true of businesses and households. The problem with creating massive amounts of money is that one risks creating an inflationary depression similar to the one experienced by Germany (a.k.a., the Weimar Republic) following the first World War. The Great Depression in the U.S. in the 1930s was a deflationary depression. In an inflationary depression, money becomes progressively less and less valuable. In short, its purchasing power is decimated. There is a lot of money around but it won’t buy much of anything. In deflationary depression, money is in short supply and therefore its value rises. In short, its purchasing power is enhanced. The problem is that while money will buy a great deal, there is very little money to be had. All of this is very complicated to explain and I’ll spare you the details, but I suggest interested readers make a study of the phenomena themselves.
The greatest risk at present, in my opinion, would be for the USD to lose its status as the reserve currency. The reason that the USG has been able to go so deeply into debt is because the U.S. Dollar (USD) is the currency of international trade. This creates a high demand for dollars, as everyone needs dollars to settle accounts for goods exchanged between countries. There is a considerable amount of unhappiness with this arrangement. Many countries are concerned by the massive debt build up in the U.S. and fear that it will undermine the USD and create instability in trading settlements. Such fears lead to anxiety about holding large USD reserves. Others are unhappy with the USD being the reserve currency of the world because the U.S. often uses its currency as a way to coerce other nations to dance to its tune. All in all, there are a number of countries both anxious about and tired of this arrangement. There are discussions going on among some of the discontents about how to replace the USD and put the U.S. in its place, financially speaking.
Should an alternative come about, and I think that it eventually will, the demand for the USD will collapse. When that collapse occurs, the ability of the USG to create money will be seriously compromised, because there will be few parties interested in buying U.S. bonds, which is how the USG borrows capital to finance its deficits and debt. If that happens, the USG will be faced with either meeting its obligations by “printing” large sums of money, which will create an imbalance between the amount of USDs in circulation relative to goods to be bought, producing a rapid rise in the price for those goods. In short, the purchasing power of the USD will be significantly diminished, creating an inflationary depression. The indebted will be able to pay off their debts for pennies on the dollar and thereby bankrupt the creditors who financed their loans. One result of this will be to dry up credit. Since businesses and households already are heavily dependent on credit, it will be a disaster for them. Economic chaos will ensue.
On the other hand, the USG could simply default on its obligations either in full or part, which is the equivalent of declaring bankruptcy. That will cause massive loses to those who are owed payments either for obligations such as pensions or investments such as USG bonds. This will cause a cascade of bankruptcies ripping through the economy. The result will be to destroy massive amounts of “virtual” money and thereby significantly reducing the availability of money to lend out to people and businesses that need to buy things but don’t have sufficient cash reserves to effect the transactions. While such an event will cause the price of things to fall significantly, as prices will be drastically cut in an attempt to attract any buyers who have scarce money to spend. The country will essentially hold a going-out-of-business sale and there will be economic chaos. If you happen to be one of the lucky few who have “cash” reserves, it will be a buyer’s market for virtually anything you might want to buy.
Caveat: If it makes you feel any better, I am not an economist, and you will not have much trouble finding “expert economists” or “financial authorities” who will assure you that this is nonsense and that my reasoning is faulty. I grant you that I may have presented a gross description that is lacking in the finer details, but I think it is still largely on target. Also, consider how many of these folks are likely to confirm any of this even if they know it to be true. I suggest that it is past time to adopt the Boy Scouts’ motto: “Be Prepared.” When a collapse will occur is difficult to predict. I could begin next week or it may be many years before the reckoning arrives.
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.
There is an apparent “war” of cultures in American politics. The so-called Red/Blue divide that seems unbridgeable. Red struggles to overcome Blue. Blue struggles to overcome Red. Each side believes fervently that it is the defender of “Truth.” Each side attempts to eke out a victory so that it might impose its view of truth on the nation as a whole. Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Garrett, in their recent book The Upswing, describe this struggle in a way that suggests a cycle. They describe one turn of the apparent cycle. The first leg of the current cycle began in the late 19th century when Blue began an ascendance and imposed its views on society. The cycle peaked around 1971 and began its second leg, which is where we are currently positioned. During the past 50 years, Red has been in ascendance and has been reversing Blue’s accomplishments and has been imposing its views on society. In discussing what needs to be done, the authors propose that the answer is to restore Blue’s programs to a dominant position. I think this is a mistake made by not taking into account the significant portion of the population that sides with Red. In my view, the only thing suppression will accomplish is to initiate a new cycle, which is not a solution at all. Both viewpoints need to be transcended.
On a longer-term basis, Iain McGilchrist, in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, discusses a back and forth tug-a-war between the left and right brain functions. He thinks the tug-a-war has its origins in the ancient Greeks and has been operating throughout history. He spends a considerable amount of effort to document this process. McGilchrist, a neuro-psychiatrist, discusses the underlying reason for our split brain. He says that the right brain is responsible for relating and integrating our understanding of the world. Because of its relational nature, the right brain provides a dynamic and holistic view of the world and is the source of meaning in our lives. The left brain on the other hand is responsible for separating out of our perception of the world isolated pieces, which are rendered static and then divided further into pieces for examination.
According to McGilchrist, there should be cooperation between these functions. The left brain should inform the right brain about its understanding of examined pieces of the world and then the right brain should integrate this understanding into a dynamic and holistic view of the world. In short, the left brain evolved to be a tool of the right brain, which should have the overall responsibility for our understanding of the world. McGilchrist argues that currently the left brain has gained dominance over the right brain, which evolved to be the dominant partner.
Human beings can skew the intent of evolution through their ability to form concepts and abstractions that model the world. Concepts, abstractions and models are left brain functions grounded in language. The left brain has in effect “hijacked” the functions of the right brain through the use of concepts and abstractions. Unfortunately, the left brain approach leads to fragmentation rather than the needed holistic view. Ken Wilber, discussed below, would probably agree with the essence of McGilchrist’s analysis. I think this is because Wilber argues that most of our current problems are due to an extreme emphasis on quadrant three of his model (see Table in the section about Wilber), which he thinks is dominated by scientific materialism with its emphasis on the senses of perception and an objectifying and externalizing of everything to the exclusion of humanity’s inner life and resources.
The political cycle described by Putnam and Garrett and possibly the tug-a-war described by McGilchrist seems likely to be linked to how we form identities and worldviews. Before proceeding, it is necessary to provide some background. I will attempt to describe identity formation through the lens of psychological development. I will begin by mentioning the French developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, who sequenced cognitive development into a four-tiered structure. The first tier was sensorimotor, then preoperational, then concrete operational and finally the formal operational tier. While there have been criticisms of the model and suggestions for one or more additional stages the original model, in practice, has held up robustly.
For example, the Harvard psychologist, Lawarence Kohlberg, adapted Piaget’s scheme to his study of moral reasoning. He structured moral reasoning into a three-tiered sequence. The first tier was pre-conventional, then conventional and finally post-conventional. Each tier was divided into two stages for a total of six stages. The sixth stage is often omitted from the developmental sequence. This omission occurs because its achievement is so rare that there are not enough examples of it available to study and give it a firm empirical basis (see Addendum I at the end).
Kohlberg’s developmental model for moral reasoning has been widely studied and validated in cultures around the world, including both developed and emerging societies. The structure and stages have held up across cultures. The primary differences found between cultures has been the rate of development through the stages and the stage that emerges as the dominant typical stage in any given culture.
Further, studies have confirmed a relationship between moral reasoning and behavior, though it is a complex relationship. Studies have found deficits in moral reasoning in psychopaths as compared to neurotics. Research also shows a significant difference in moral reasoning between delinquents and non-delinquent adolescents. A common finding in these studies was an association of preconventional reasoning with antisocial behavior. Development of moral reasoning has also been found to be slower and more variable in troubled children relative to typical children.
Research has also supported structured, developmental discussions of moral issues as a method for stimulating development of moral reasoning. This has been shown to be supported in programs with public school students, emotionally disturbed adolescents, college students, delinquents and prisoners. In a study to see if public school teachers could implement a moral education program, teachers successfully conducted the program and produced significant changes, which upon a two-year follow-up were either maintained or continued to progress. One caveat is that research found that moral reasoning in a natural context with real life content was lower than moral reasoning in an educational setting with hypothetical content.
The primary criticism levied against Kohlberg’s model was from a former student of Kohlberg’s, Carol Gilligan. Her criticism was not about the model structure but of the assessment content used to place individuals in the scheme. Her criticism was that the assessment material was male-centric. Her argument, which was shown to have merit, was that moral reasoning in men tends to be best assessed through issues related to rights and justice, while moral reasoning in women tends to be best assessed through issues related to care and responsibility. She would rename some of the stages in Kohlberg’s model when applied to women using names related to care and responsibility.
Here it is worth mentioning another example. A student of Kohlberg’s, Robert Selman, developed a model of social reasoning. At the end of this essay, Addendum I provides an outline of Kohlberg and Selman’s models based on material in a textbook that I wrote in 1989.
The psychologist/philosopher, Ken Wilber, suggests that about 40% of the U.S. population is at stage four and has an ethnocentric personal identity. This stage marks the transition from preoperational to concrete operational thinking. Ethnocentrists identify with others from similar backgrounds and with similar attributes. People at this stage can take a second person perspective. This stage is often described as being populated by “true believers” and conformist. They are literal thinkers that view the world through narratives (a.k.a. myths). Moral behavior is governed by internalized rules, which are rigidly held and enforced.
Wilber indicates that about 50% of the U.S. population is at stage five, which is based in thinking at the formal operations level and is associated with a worldcentric personal identity. Persons at this stage can take a third person perspective. One identifies with an integrated and unified view rooted in a concern for the wellbeing of the whole. Whereas stage four might be called an “us” stage, stage five could be called an “all of us” stage. It is an orientation that views the world as rational. Moral behavior is governed by strongly held principles or ideals. This stage did not start to take root in the west until about 300 years ago.
The third relevant stage to this discussion is stage six. This stage did not begin taking root until the middle of the twentieth century. It was first evident in the revolutionary youth movement and counterculture of the 1960s. The ability to take a fourth person perspective at this stage led to criticism of and deconstruction of third person perspectives that arose out of stage five. This stage led to an emphasis on egalitarianism, cultural relativism and multiculturalism. Wilber suggests that this group represents about 25% of the U.S. population. While the percentages for the stages discussed add up to more than 100%, it must be taken into account that due to transitions some people are double counted. The above configuration sets up a perfect situation for a clash between traditional, rational and multicultural values.
Wilber’s model is more complex than the simple and brief description above. Wilber’s full analysis is detailed and quite complex. If you’re interested in the detailed analysis, I suggest that you read it for yourself. Probably the most comprehensive presentation is his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. If you are put off by the word spiritual, I don’t think Wilber would mind if you simply substitute the term “consciousness,” where the term has a much broader meaning than merely being the opposite of unconscious. I have included a brief description of all eight stages in Wilber’s model below as Addendum Two.
Back to the “war” of political cultures. The bad news is that the research indicates that in American society, the majority of adults function at either stage four or stage five. This means that most Americans will have either a conformist attitude toward life or an individualist attitude. These two groups are supported by value systems that clash — traditional versus rational. The conformists depend upon mythologies or stories about the nature of the world, how it operates, what is necessary and so on. These narratives provide their blueprint for understanding the world, which can be a fairly simplistic such as “my country right or wrong.” The individualist depend on logic and rational analysis, which can be fairly complex such as scientific materialism, which assumes that everything arises from matter and that everything can be understood by objectifying it, isolating it, reducing it to its constituent parts and examining the relationship of the parts to one another. The important point here is that these beliefs or assumptions, if you prefer, are a product of an attained pattern of thinking. One does not change such patterns of thinking by persuasion or by coercion. One must develop or evolve beyond them.
If one thinks that they can be changed otherwise, I would ask you to consider the ethnic conflicts that erupted in eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The USSR had largely suppressed ethnic conflicts for many decades through its coercive domination of eastern Europe. However, as soon as the external inhibition was removed, the conflicts soon bubbled to the surface because the patterns of thinking of the involved populations had not evolved but had only been suppressed. They may have even regressed under authoritarian domination. On the other hand, let’s look at scientific materialism as an example of the failure of persuasion. For over a century evidence has been accumulating that scientific materialism cannot account for all the phenomena being documented. I have two large volumes in my personal library cataloging evidence that can’t be explained by scientific materialism, persuasive evidence developed through the methods advocated by science and meeting and exceeding the criteria established for judging such data. The response has largely been to ignore the data, discount the data, attack the researchers producing the data and so on. It is no wonder that it has been said that science progresses one funeral at a time. It almost seems that death is the only way to overcome the resistance to different ways of thinking.
Which brings us back to the American culture war. What we have here is a conflict grounded in various conflicting identities. The difficulty of ending this conflict is evident in the observation of the French philosopher Francis Jacques, who noted that participants in such identity-based conflicts usually see only two options. Either they can assimilate the worldview of the opponent or they can impose their world-view on the opponent. We see very little if any migration of members of the Red tribe to the Blue tribe or the converse. So, the exercise of the first option doesn’t seem very likely. What we do see are attempts to implement option two. Both tribes strive to attain the political power necessary to impose their worldview upon the other tribe. Even if one of them succeeds it will be a temporary victory. There will not have been a fundamental change in the pattern of thinking in the “suppressed,” nor will they cease seeking a way to regain the upper hand.
So, is there a way out of this dilemma? There may be but it isn’t a quick and easy fix. The way out is to evolve out of current patterns of conventional thinking. I mentioned research that suggested that evolution of thinking can be stimulated by educational programs. Broad-based education efforts with children is one strategy. Targeted educational programs for adolescents and adults is another strategy. The late and renowned physicist and philosopher David Bohm attempted to address this problem in his book On Dialogue. This book discusses a format for large group dialogue intended to alter patterns of thinking. His is not an educational or a persuasive approach but rather an exposure and assimilation approach. The main thing that he thinks must be overcome is thinking that one’s opinions or assumptions are necessary and therefore justify anything in their defense. He finds that sitting in a large diverse group and listening to but not challenging the freely expressed assumptions of group members will in time bring the members of the group to a level of understanding of one another and a softening of the certainty of their assumptions. Once one becomes less dogmatic about and less identified with one’s assumptions then the path toward evolution in one’s pattern of thinking becomes a possibility. It is mentioned that this careful examination of one’s assumptions can be done individually but lacks the breadth and diversity of a group process. As Bohm says, “[a] problem is insoluble as long as you keep producing it all the time by your thought.”
Ken Wilber has also suggested that on an individual level an effective strategy for changing one’s pattern of thinking is meditation. He says this because meditation is an introspective observation of the arising and dissolving of one’s thoughts. Such observation leads to a clearer understanding of the nature of thought and its influence over you. One of the principle experiential insights that meditation can produce is the recognition that at root you are not your thoughts. Another is that your core identity is non-conceptual. The operative word is experiential. This recognition is not an idea, concept or belief but an experience. You might think that skydiving would be exhilarating but until you actually have the experience it is just an idea. The meditation strategy is associated with quadrant one in Wilber’s map of human knowledge and experience shown below in a simplified format.
1. Interior-Individual-Intentional (I)
3. Exterior-Individual-Behavioral (It)
2. Interior-Collective-Culture (We)
4. Exterior-Collective-Social (Its)
Wilber suggests that part of the problem we face is an overemphasis on exteriorized products of thinking, especially objective knowledge. He doesn’t think objective knowledge is bad, just that it has been emphasized to the point of crowding out other equally important aspects of being human. His meditation strategy belongs in quadrant one, representing individual interiority. As the ancient Greek aphorism says, “Know thyself.”
Any attempt to implement programs like those mentioned above are certain to be met by resistance, especially large-scale educational programs imposed on the unwilling. Voluntary programs are more likely to be accepted. If such programs produce positive results, then more people are likely to be open to participation. Probably the easiest group program to implement would be a group dialogue program such as proposed by Bohm. These should be community-based to ensure that sufficient diversity of views are represented. Of course, the suggestion by Wilber to undertake a systematic observation of one’s own thought processes through a meditation program has only one person’s opposition to overcome – yours. Should you be interested in a solo exploration, I recommend his book Integral Mindfulness.
It appears to me that the only way to resolve the dilemma that we face is to evolve our way out of it. This may be a difficult solution and perhaps we lack the foresight and long-term perspective needed to succeed. All other tactics, even when they appear to be successful, will in the end prove to be temporary and we will find ourselves cycling through the same struggle again and again. How long this can be sustained without imploding our civilization is difficult to say but that is the probable price of failure.
If this post has stimulated your interest, I recommend you to read the books mentioned and draw your own conclusions. I also suggest that you take a look at the two addenda below, especially Addendum II.
Levels I,II, III. Stages 1, 2, 3… Models (a) Kohlberg, (b) Selman
1. a. Punishment-obedience orientation. What’s right is what avoids punitive consequences.
b. Individuals as physical entities. One socially interacts with others who have similar superficial and observable characteristics, such as sex, skin color, etc.
2. a. Instrumental-Relativist, exchange orientation. What’s right is what secures a reciprocal exchange; i.e., I’ll scratch your back, if you’ll scratch mine.
b. Individuals as intentional agents. One socially interacts with others to temporarily secure their support or assistance.
3. a. Good-boy, good-girl orientation. What’s right is what is consistent with social expectations, especially with family expectations.
b. Individuals are introspective. One employs mutual perspective taking as a strategy to further one’s self-interests in specific situations.
4. a. Authority-rules, law and order orientation. What’s right is what conforms to the rules set by authorities, especially social institutions such as religious authorities or legal authorities associated with the community in which one lives.
b. Individuals have relative stable personalities. Social interaction arises out of mutual interests and sharing with others. Relationships have duration over time based on the expectation that the other will continue to conform to one’s expectations.
5. a. Social-contract orientation. What is right is what satisfies standards examined and agreed upon by society.
b. Individuals are complex self-systems. Social interactions are recognized as involving complex and often conflicting needs met through a variety of relationships.
6. a. Universal Ethical Principles, personal conscience orientation. What is right is what is consistent with comprehensive, self-evolved and logically consistent ethical principles.
b. No parallel.
Stages of Growing Up from Ken Wilber’s AQAL Model
The following stages are based upon a large body of research by a variety of developmental researchers, such as Jean Piaget among many others. Note that developmental stages imply a progression where one must begin at the initial stage and then through developmental experience move up to the next stage in the sequence. When a move up occurs the lower stage is absorbed by the new stage rather than the previous stage being left behind. Thus, someone at a higher stage can understand where someone at a lower stage is “coming from,” so to speak. However, a person at a lower stage has little or no basis for understanding where someone at a higher stage is coming from. Further, one cannot skip stages in a developmental sequence though movement through a stage can be sped up. There is no guarantee that one will move through the entire developmental sequence. Typically, one arrives at what will be one’s final stage by late adolescence, however, there are emerging methods for stimulating development into adulthood. Keep in mind that except in transition periods, there is usually a dominant developmental stage evident in the majority of persons in a population. This does not mean that other stages aren’t present during a given period just that they are less common or in some cases even rare. Finally, note that the descriptions below are brief stage summaries and are fixed descriptions of what is a dynamic process during the developmental period.
1. Archaic (Infared) : The most fundamental stage and the least significant. One exist in a state of fusion with the environment. At this stage, when an instinctual drive arises one becomes that drive; e.g., one isn’t hungry one is hunger. Normally only seen in infants prior to individuation. It is never seen in a typical adult. It is possible for typical adults to carry fixations from this period, which means that the person is still identified with some part of this stage.
2. Magic Tribal (Magenta) : Very few adults will be found at this stage. It is the beginnings of a separate self. There is a fundamental distinction between self and other at an emotional level, but there continues to be some confusion around self and the exterior environment. This confusion gives rise to animistic thoughts in which human qualities are attributed to things in the exterior environment; e.g., Lightening strikes because it wants to kill me. Magical thinking also occurs in this stage; e.g., if I hold a wish intensely enough I will manifest what I wish for. If I pray hard enough I will be cured.
3. Magic Mythic (Red) : A person at this stage engages in preoperational thinking and has an egocentric identity. A separate self is more fully developed in this stage and this leads to a concern with security and self-protection. At this stage a power drive emerges. An exaggerated power drive often produces an inner critic that may create feelings of inferiority. For someone at this stage what they want is what is right and this justifies simply taking it. They tend to be not only egocentric but narcissistic. They are only capable of taking a first person perspective (me/mine). They are incapable of being empathetic; i.e., seeing and feeling a situation from someone else’s perspective. Joseph Stalin is often offered as an example of this stage.
4. Mythic Traditional (Amber) : This level can also be described as the conformist stage. Cognitive processing shifts from a preoperational mode to a concrete operational mode. Thinking is now capable of performing cognitive operations on things in the external world. A person at this level has developed some capacity taking a second person perspective. This marks the shift from an egocentric to ethnocentric identity. This means that such an individual can now find belongingness in groups; e.g., family, clan, tribe, nation, religion, political party, etc. Wilber indicates that about 40% of the American adult population is at this stage, which includes people not fully transitioned into it and those beginning to transition out of it. People at this stage are highly rule governed and believe in stringent enforcement of rules. They are concrete thinkers and hold unquestioned belief in cultural narratives, which are viewed literally and held as absolutely true. They are easily led to place all power and authority in a single person who is viewed as omnipotent. People in this group may become true believers in a fundamentalist religion, political movement or scientism (scientific dogma).
5. Rational Modern (Orange) : Cognitive processing shifts from a concrete operations mode to a formal operations mode. Thinking is now capable of performing cognitive operations on thought. A person at this level as developed some capacity for taking a third person perspective. They can now step back from themselves and come to a relatively objective opinion about themselves. This leads to the development of self-esteem needs and true individuality. For such an individual there can now emerge a drive for excellence, achievement and progress. Wilber indicates that about 50% of the American adult population is at this stage, which includes people not fully transitioned into it and those beginning to transition out of it. There is a shift from an ethnocentric to a worldcentric identity, which means the person is capable of taking an objective, scientific and universal perspective. This stage marks a move to an ability for greater inclusiveness; i.e., from “us” “to all of us.” Stage 5 didn’t begin to emerge in any significant degree in the west until about 300 years ago. It is viewed by Wilber to be a highly significant development. Stage 4 (Conformists) and Stage 5 (Individualists) together make up a majority of the current U.S. population and should be expected to be in direct and regular conflict.
6. Pluralistic Postmodern (Green) : With this stage there arises an ability for fourth person perspective taking, which can reflect on, analyze,, critique and deconstruct third person perspectives. People at this stage only began to show up in any numbers around the middle of the twentieth century. The emergence of the youth revolution and counterculture movement at this time marked the arrival of the first postmodern stage. The fourth person perspective of this stage led to an emphasis on relativism and multiple approaches that rejected any universals or unified views. All viewpoints are seen as local and culturally constructed. Postmodernism especially rejects any “-isms” of any type. The pluralistic view is egalitarian and sees everyone as absolutely equal and no culture is superior to any other culture. Thus the emergences of multiculturalism in the late twentieth century. Members of this stage lead with the heart and rely on feelings rather than the head and logical analysis. Another characteristic of this stage is the rejection of all hierarchies as evil. What it fails to do is differentiate between “dominator” hierarchies and “growth” hierarchies. The self-contradiction in postmodernism, of course, is that it holds and promotes its view as being superior to all others. Wilber indicates that about 25% of the U.S. population can be classified at Stage Six. While Stage 4 at 40% and Stage 5 at 50% and Stage 6 at 25% exceeds 100% bear in mind that there are people in transition and likely counted twice. Some writers on developmental stages use notation along these lines 1, 1/2, 2, 2/3, 3, etc. This sets up the perfect storm of a clash between traditional, rational and multicultural values.
7. Integral (Turquoise) : This stage has only begun to be noticed by developmental researchers in the past few decades. It is still quiet rare and probably evident in less than 5% of the population. It is a second tier stage and the major mark of this stage is a drive for wholeness. One result of this is that the Integral stage is the only stage that sees the value of all the lower stages and their necessity for the developmental process. Bearers of this stage function at next to the last step in Maslow’s needs hierarchy — self-actualization. At this stage, thinking and feeling for the first time are brought together in a tight integration. This stage’s value for wholeness and inclusiveness leads people at the integral level to look at issues and problems in large, broad contexts, such as seeing environmental problems as a biosphere problem not purely a local issue. This broad perspective leads to little sympathy for partisan politics either nationally or globally. As an established stage it is the stage with the greatest depth of all the stages to date.
8. Super Integral Stages (White) : This represents possibly as many a four additional stages that would be tier three stages. These projections are based on the assumption that the universe is inherently loving and creative otherwise evolution would never have gotten underway and produced anything new at all. These stages are thought to be driven by an increasing focus on wholeness, inclusiveness, increasing consciousness, increasing love and care and concern, which is inherently built into the universe as we know it. It is thought that persons operating at this level currently exist but are very rare and represent significantly less than 1% of the population.
The 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/
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.
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.
Recently, I heard a claim that there were only two authentic expressions of sex, i.e., the natural binary of male and female. The speaker argued that this binary and only this binary is natural and therefore authentic. As I considered this claim, my thoughts went back to the early history of life on this planet when sex evolved as a reproductive strategy. Biological evolution, as a process, produced two reproductively distinct sexes. The strategy has endured because it improved the odds of successful reproduction of any species using it. Sexes exist for a biologically functional purpose and only for that reason. Remove the biological advantages from sexual reproduction and sexes never would have evolved. This means in its most fundamental sense male and female reflect reproductive sexes. The majority of individuals are male or female in the reproductive meaning of the two categories. Any fundamental differences between the two reproductive sexes, whether in anatomy, physiology, affect, cognition or behavior appear of necessity to be tied to reproductive functions. This seems to be what the speaker mentioned above had in mind. In another piece on this site, I have argued that male and female represent a complimentary pair that anchor the points at either end of a spectrum lying between the pair. The speaker denied as authentic the spectrum and thus anyone representing it.
Evolution is not an invariant process and a minority of births result in atypical outcomes related to sex, as well as other characteristics. Some atypical sex related outcomes are more easily identified than others. There are variations in anatomical outcomes such as in the structure of the genitalia. There are also physiological variations such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which result in a genetically XY individual who appears female but has no internal female reproductive organs. There also appear to be a range of atypical sex related outcomes, possibly due to physiological processes, that aren’t well understood. For example, there are likely atypical outcomes due to hormone exposure during development that is hypothesized to occur at the wrong time or persist for too long or too brief of a period or to involve the wrong hormone altogether. These are usually only identifiable through overt behavior and/or reports of covert psychological states such as thoughts, feelings and behavioral impulses arising in awareness and becoming objects of consciousness, which may or may not be overtly acted upon. Thus, in addition to anatomical variations, there can be outcomes resulting in variations in sexual orientation, sense of sexuality and gender identity or even a lack of one or more of these. These atypical variations can be manifest in various combinations and to varying degrees and will be stronger and more intense in some individuals than in others. I would say that any variation that is a product of nature is natural and any claim that it is unnatural is a false claim.
If you take the variations above, which arguably have a basis in biology and then insert them into the psycho-social context represented by culture, a whole new layer of considerations emerge. Culture represents a range of interpretative narratives about human nature and the role of people in the institutions and practices of society. These include such things as religion, politics, medicine and psychology among others. During development, we all begin to build up a narrative about how we fit into this many-faceted cultural matrix. For example, many would call this personal narrative ego or self. How we define our fit into this matrix or allow it to be defined for us can have far ranging implications. It is my assertion that it is a human right for each individual to define for themselves their relationship to the cultural matrix in which they live. That said, understand that there are components within the matrix that resist such a right in many of the variations within a population. Deniers of human rights tend to have rigid personalities and a need for certainty even if they are certainly wrong. Such people could be said to be lost in their mind.
What I mean by the mind is that scaffold of mental constructs that go by names such as ideas, concepts, beliefs and facts that are usually revealed in our use of language. Our experiences are encoded through images and words and are therefore linked to the scaffold. The development of the cultural mind is supported by the experiences of the body in the physical world. Experience is a critical contributor to the development of the cultural mind. Complimentary pairs, like male and female or good and evil, exist because they make experience possible through the tensions produced by the contrast between the end points – if no contrasts, then no experience. You can’t have the experience of temperature without the binary of hot and cold.
The cultural mind, in my view, might be thought of as a cognitive structure existing within memory and is active in awareness most of the time. By way of illustration, imagine a large grassy field (awareness) with a complex set of “monkey bars” (cultural mind) set up on part of it. Most of us spend most of our time “playing” on the monkey bars and are largely oblivious to the field (awareness). When an experience occurs, we usually interpret it through the structures comprising the cultural mind. This is what is known as top-down perception. Looking at an experience from the perspective of the field and excluding the monkey bars is called bottom up perception and is typical of young children and awakened adults. This is the perspective of the natural mind.
I would suggest that the self that resides in the cultural mind is a personal myth and is a story woven from memories, which are selective and ever changing. This self can never be authentic in any foundational sense. Authenticity in a person is, in my view, to be found only in the beingness from which awareness arises, not in the cultural mind. Thus, to legitimately characterize someone as authentic is to speak of them as an expression of that underlying beingness, a state that precedes mind and body. A state that resides in the source of awareness, which is Primordial Awareness or Universal Mind. The authentic Self shines through some individuals’ way of being in the world and is hidden by others’ way of being in the world. It is not that one has it and another lacks it, for both have it. It is just evident in one and not the other. Let us seek communion with our authentic Self and then let it shine into the world to be seen by all who have eyes with which to see it.
Caveat: The following is based on my lay understanding of physics-based literature that I’ve read. I am not a quantum physicist nor any other type of physicist for that matter.