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The Purpose of Meditation (Conclusion added Dec 2018)

The Purpose of Meditation

          Meditation began moving westward from Asia in a serious way in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An early example that has persisted to this day is the Kriya Yoga of the now deceased ParamahansaYoganada. Kriya Yoga is rooted in the Vedanta teachings of India and specifically the yoga sutras of the sage Pantanjali that were written around 400 CE. More recently Siddha Yoga (a.k.a. Tantric Yoga) was introduced in the west by the late Swami Muktananda. Tantric Yoga has its roots in the Tantra teachings of India. As early as the 1970s, the eastern process of meditation was being westernized. The Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson transformed eastern meditation into The Relaxation Response about which he said, “We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom.” 

Eastern meditation was thus on the slippery slope that led from a phenomenological way of directly experiencing alignment with the source of all being to a medicalized, objectively validated way of managing stress and anxiety. Today it can be found under “scientific” scrutiny in universities and employed as an intervention procedure by clinicians. Western science has turned a spiritual practice into a scientifically validated health procedure and redirected its age-old wisdom from transcendence to stress management. For those who prefer dancing with shadows, I will leave you here with the sanitized version made “safe” for western peoples.

What I will now do, in a generic way, is introduce you to how I see the true purpose of eastern meditation. To begin with, let’s examine the worldview that lies at the root of meditation. In the origination stories of eastern traditions we find an explanation for the world that runs more or less along the following line. The material universe is a manifestation of a source state from which everything arises. This is often described as a primal vibration, frequency or sound. Interestingly, this has a parallel in western science by way of string theory in physics, which posits that everything in the material universe arises from vibrating stings of energy.

The source sound is often represented by the Sanskrit symbol for the sound “Om.” While everything that manifests has its own unique sound or frequency expression, at its core or root is the primal vibration of “Om.” The source state has many descriptions and names, which can include: The Ground of All Being, All That Is, The Unified Field of Consciousness, Nothingness, Emptiness, Universal Mind, God, and so on. Let’s just call it Source.

Mystics throughout the ages, including some western mystics, have taught that a direct knowing of Source is available to each and every human being. To know Source one should look for it within. First one should “tune in” to one’s own unique vibratory pattern and then follow that inward to its core expression, which will be the primordial vibration of Source. In short, the way to Know Source is to come into harmonic resonance with the Source frequency, which is within yourself. Mystics often describe resonance with Source as a merging with the absolute and a feeling unconditional love. The only other way to Know Source is to experience it indirectly through experience of the personal expression of Source by one who is in harmonic resonance with it.

Looking at meditation from this perspective suggests that the purpose of meditation is to turn within and silently listen for one’s unique connection to Source. If one has “ears to hear,” then one will begin to move into harmonic resonance with one’s underlying vibratory nature. The greater the state of resonance the purer the reflected expression of Source.

Mystics describe several states that can be thought of as changing levels of resonance. To illustrate these states two charts adapted from two different perspectives are provided. Assuming that one begins in the ego state (fictive-self) where one is identified with the body/mind, then the state prior to Self-realization is what I have called the natural mind and others have described simply as I AM. One is on the cusp and in a state of consciousness in which the dominant mode of being is presence, a state in which one has recovered the state of resonance with the natural self into which one was born. Such a shift moves one away from always using the enculturated top-down perception learned during development to the ability to employ the bottom-up perception of a young child whenever desired. In other words, you can see the world clearly as it is and unencumbered by beliefs, stories and conceptual schemes.

While meditation can be made into a complex subject, it is simplicity itself. It is not a doing but a being. It is not had by mastery but by surrender. Transformation, when it comes, takes one. It is not an achievement. Or, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith, “With waiting comes fullness.”

The essence of meditation, inclusive of its many variations, can be thought of as a doorway into presence. Or, as I sometimes say, “meditation is presence on training wheels.” It is not surprising then to find that there are teachers who de-emphasize formal meditation and advocate for immersion in presence. In other words, life becomes your meditation. Meditation isn’t something you add to your life and engage in daily at 7 am. It is not another of your activities. It is not a search for something that isn’t here. It is your way of being in the world.

When life becomes your meditation, you become a state of present awareness, observing your life unfold in the moment. You monitor to learn when your awareness is no longer focused on the moment, that is, when you have left a state of presence. Where can you go, you might ask? One teacher, Richard Moss, answers this question through the Mandala of Being. A mandala is often described as a circle. Think of yourself as standing inside of and in the center of a circle. When you are fully focused and centered in the circle, you are present. You are fully aware of what is right here, right now. If your focus shifts to the rear, you are focused on the past. You are engaged in memory. If your focus shifts to the front, you are focused on the future. You are engaged in imagination. If your focus shifts to the left, you are focused on your personal story. You are engaged with your identity-self or fictive- self, that is, who you think you are. If your focus shifts to the right, your are focused on narratives about the external world. You are engaged in your beliefs, opinions and concepts, that is, explanations you’ve created or adopted about the nature of things in your world.

Another teacher, Leonard Jacobson, points out in his book Journey into Now that, at root, there is only one place you can escape to from presence and that is into the mind. Memory, imagination, identity stories, beliefs, opinions and concepts are all products of the mind. He suggests that most of us, most of the time, are lost in the mind. We become deeply immersed in our memories, imagination, stories and beliefs. We are too self-absorbed to be truly conscious of our life as it unfolds in the moment. Jacobson doesn’t teach abandoning the mind but rather learning to recognize it for what it is — a tool. We use it when it is appropriate and then set it aside. Do you need to plan a trip? The mind is a great tool. Do you need to find an error in a computation? The mind is a great tool. However, we actually need this tool far less frequently than we think. We are susceptible to overusing the mind because we’ve become addicted to thinking and confuse ourselves with our thoughts.

You are not your thoughts. You are pristine awareness or as Ram Dass says, “loving awareness.” One benefit of being fully aware in the present moment is that you become an observer of thoughts arising and subsiding in your awareness. You neither cause them to arise or subside. Typically, you can and usually do focus your attention on them and begin unpacking them, which is analogous to chasing after a butterfly through a tangled forest. You usually spend endless hours lost in pursuit of elusive “butterflies” and become lost in the forest of the mind.

Jacobson simply asks that we learn to be aware of when we are lost in the mind and bring ourselves gently back to the present without self-judgment or self-criticism. For those of us strongly addicted to thinking, it may be necessary to find some way to cue ourselves periodically to monitor our thought. To reconnect with presence, Jacobson suggests that we find something in the moment to be present with to help us focus in the now. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can be a tree, a pet, a child, a spouse, a friend, the feel of bread dough being kneaded, the smell of onions being grilled, the sound of a piano playing, the feel of our body resting against a chair, the unfolding of the road before us as we drive, the feel of our breath moving in and out of our body and so on. Jacobson does not object to using meditation as long as it is focused on presence.

The program that Jacobson offers is first to return to presence any time you become aware that you have left it, other than to accomplish a task. This is continued until being present becomes habitual. The second aspect of his program is to become aware or conscious, if you prefer, of the things that, unnecessarily, pull you out of presence. Of these things, he asks that they be examined for commonalities so that patterns of “seductive” thoughts or escapes from presence can be identified, examined, understood and released. One handy clue about when you’re being seduced by your mind is when you find your thoughts cluttered with personal pronouns. The second activity is an important part of becoming anchored in the present. Once you are at home in presence, Jacobson says that the deepening process begins. The deeper into presence you settle, the greater your resonance with Source. At the deepest levels of presence one’s harmonic resonance with Source may bring you into unity with All That Is.

If you find it useful to begin with a program of meditation, there is no reason not to do this. You should go into a meditation program with the recognition that it isn’t an end in itself. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to being present for short periods of time during meditation, you should consider weaning yourself off of a formal meditation process. If you need a transition between meditation and being present in your daily life, I would suggest that you use a Buddhist meditation called rigpa, for which there is an example at the end of The Looking Glass. From a foundation in rigpa you can begin the transition to being present as frequently as possible in the course of your daily life. This is where the real action is and the sooner you can get there the better.

In conclusion, I should mention that in some traditions that employ meditation there is another goal that should be briefly discussed. This goal is to become so intensely focused on or present with an object of consciousness that one fully merges with it. This can be either an “objective object” or a “subjective object.” By objective I mean an object in the consensus environment that most everyone is aware of or could be aware of, whereas a “subjective object” is phenomenological, private or personal. The meditator becomes one with the object. Development of this level of presence leads not only to becoming one with the object but the realization that there is only one object — consciousness itself. The meditator ultimately becomes one with All That Is.

In western philosophy, this is similar to what Immanuel Kant meant by “knowing a thing in its self,” which he thought was not possible, and therefore, our ability to know anything was always “second hand,” so to speak. If you cannot know a thing in its self, you can only know it indirectly or by inference. To offer an analogy, suppose you were one of those rare people who have no ability to feel sensations elicited by objects. Thus, you would not, for example, be able to feel heat coming from an object and would be susceptible to having your fingers burned, though you would not feel it. In other words, you would not have any sensory awareness of heat. You could infer it by the effect that it has on your fingers, or you could infer its presence from the reading on a thermometer.

 Kant argued that we are forever like the person described above relative to the world and universe at large. We can know nothing about a thing in its self. Our knowledge is always limited to what we can gain indirectly through our senses and by inference from data gathered through instruments that extend our senses. Some of the yoga traditions of India would say that this is a mistaken conclusion on Kant’s part and that it is in fact possible to know a thing in its self under the proper circumstances. The knowledge thus gained, however, is phenomenological and not public in the same sense as scientific knowledge. If you are intrigued by this notion, I recommend that you read this free e-book, What is Science?

Sex, Sexuality and Philosophy

To follow the analysis that will be presented below, it is necessary to first briefly and broadly summarize two philosophical positions. The reader is asked to bear with me through these summaries. There are two opposed worldviews that one might take in trying to understand the nature of reality.

The first worldview is that of Western culture. Historically, this was a theological conception that saw the world as consisting of God and God’s creations, which included humanity (a dualistic view). This conception began to be challenged by naturalists, seeking to understand God’s creation, whose findings conflicted with the understanding adopted by religious authorities. The view adopted by religious leaders was not that of God; i.e., was not based in scripture, but largely borrowed from earlier Greek philosophers. However, this clash grew more intense until the “great compromise” offered by Rene Descartes. His compromise proposed that matters of the material world should be left to the naturalists (subsequently scientists) and that matters of the spiritual world should be left to theologians (also a dualistic view). The divide between science and religion grew until science largely dismissed religious views as irrelevant. This led to the evolution of a perspective that excluded anything non-material.

Scientific materialism posits a point of initiation for matter that is called “the big bang.” When a renowned physicist, who supports this model, was asked where the big bang came from, he replied that its origin was spontaneous creation from nothing. In short, it was a random event with no known cause, though once set in motion, the result is a deterministic unfolding whose final outcome was built into the point of initiation. This view assumes that everything in the universe is composed of material elements and assembled from the bottom up. Thus, everything can be understood by breaking it down into the pieces that it was assembled from and studying the relationship of the pieces to one another. This is what is called reductionism. This view assumes that everything, including life and the universe itself, arose through a random event and has no purpose and therefore no fundamental meaning. Contemporary Western culture has been strongly influenced by the materialist perspective while retaining a dualistic view of how things are structured.

Scientific materialism is the current paradigm of science with the core assumption that matter is all that exists. There are opponents to this view who root their opposition in the inability of a materialist paradigm to account for consciousness. Thus, the old dualist division persists to this day, though spirit has been largely replaced by consciousness. Some scientific materialist have attempted to resolve this problem by asserting that consciousness is an illusion. This solution has not been accepted very widely because it is at odds with personal experience. More importantly, there is considerable evidence that consciousness is a reality that must be dealt with, not the least of which is the role consciousness appears to play in the outcome of some quantum physics experiments. At root, these experiments clearly suggest that consciousness is required for matter to come into existence. In short, the collapse of a “wave of possibilities” into an outcome in the material world appears to require consciousness. In other words, consciousness is primary.

From the perspective of materialism, consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of matter. It assumes that consciousness is individually generated by aggregates of matter that have achieved a sufficient level of complexity. Implicit in this view is the idea that complex order is the source of consciousness. How consciousness could arise from the combination of elements of matter is unknown. Faced with the inability to posit any explanation, short of magic, for how consciousness might arise from complex arrangements of matter, some “materialists” have hypothesized that every particle of matter contains a degree of consciousness. Thus, it is suggested that complex arrangements of elements of matter that already contain some degree of consciousness produce conscious awareness. This hypothesis fails to explain where any degree of consciousness, no matter how insignificant, came from in the first place. It also has no explanation for how the combination of elements of consciousness containing matter results in conscious awareness. This idea is somewhat analogous to suggesting that if one takes small units of biological matter, such as bacteria, and aggregate enough of them together, a living animal will emerge from the complexity.

There are many scientists, though still in a minority, who consider the current scientific paradigm, rooted in the belief that matter is primary, to be a “dead man walking.” This view is predicated upon an ever accumulating body of evidence that falsifies the paradigm’s assumptions. A noted physicist recently published a paper in a major physics journal in which he unequivocally stated that the evidence supports the view that reality is essentially mental. This doesn’t obviate the accomplishments of science under the current paradigm. It does, however, suggest that the new emerging view makes clear that the current paradigm has limits on what can be known and understood and that those limits are being reached.

The second worldview we’ll discuss is monistic idealism1 (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation), which is the view that everything exists in Consciousness2. This is one of the challenges to the current paradigm of scientific materialism. The core assumption of this view is that Consciousness is all that exists and that it is analogous to a field of energy that is inherently intelligent and creative. This view does not posit a point of origination for Consciousness. In short, it is assumed that it has always existed and is eternal. This view assumes that the universe is at root an indivisible whole in which every particle of matter is entangled with every other particle. In this view, matter is a contraction or concentration of Consciousness (energy) within the field of Consciousness. The apparent separate constituents of the universe are at root an “illusion.” This view posits that the “illusion” is created by the appearance of complementary pairs reflected within Consciousness. These pairs create contrast effects, which make possible experience. This view suggests that Consciousness created the possibility for experience for the purpose of self-examination, self-awareness and enrichment. This view implies that the universe did not arise by chance, has a purpose and a fundamental meaning.

The view of idealism is that matter is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of Consciousness. It assumes that Consciousness is a ground state or a unified and infinite field from which everything arises. Thus, everything that exists arises within Consciousness. The closest analogy to this process is probably a dream. Dreams arise in your consciousness and during the experience appear to be quite real. Thus, in a manner of speaking, monistic idealism would say that you are a “dream” character in Consciousness or in Universal Mind. For those familiar with virtual reality games, one might say that you are an “avatar” in a virtual reality3 created by Universal Mind in Consciousness (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation). Material “reality” could be thought of as being generated from a basic division of thought within Universal Mind into a complementary pair such as physical versus biological. From contrasting pairs, experience evolved ever more complex forms, which produced their own sets of complementary pairs. The biological or living forms became “receivers” for Consciousness, which was experienced as an individuated consciousness that is functionally independent from Consciousness. The more complex the life form the more “bandwidth” the “receiver” could accept. In the end, however, there is only one Consciousness (a nondual perspective). Traditionally, this view has been largely that of some Eastern traditions such as yoga. Many readers will immediately think of the Western version of Hatha Yoga with its emphasis on the body. What is referred to here are the traditions within yoga that emphasize a nondual philosophical view similar to monistic idealism and teach practices for the refinement of consciousness; i.e., mental yoga.

Now, let’s examine the implications for the above for one complementary pair that we all have some experience with — sex (male and female). Recall that complementary pairs make experience possible by the contrasts that they impose. To clarify, consider another pair associated with temperature: hot and cold. Without the contrast produced by the pair, temperature could not be experienced. It is also clear that the pair represents a range and does not represent dichotomous categories. In short, there are degrees of temperature along the continuum between the polar anchors for the complementary pair. The greater the points of difference along the continuum the richer the possibilities for experience. Without the experience of the full range of the continuum between the polar anchors for a complementary pair, one can not truly understand the unity from which the pair was derived. For those familiar with the Chinese yin and yang symbols, recall that those symbols for opposites are an abstract representation for complementary pairs. Each symbol contains a component of its opposite and both are contained within a circle representing the whole or unity of which each member of the pair is a partial reflection.

The continuum between the anchor points of male and female includes all sexual variation possible. For purposes of this discussion, the experiences placed under the umbrella term “transgender” (TG) will be considered. The view offered here is that gender is a socially constructed expression of sex and sexuality. While there is some limited variation in sex, there is more variation in the experienced sense of sexuality. The former is anatomical and the latter is probably due to atypical hormonal effects on a developing organism. Gender in this discussion is considered to be a social expression of sex and sexuality, which are convergent in the majority of people but divergent in a minority. Thus, gender is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, though it may come close to that in many people’s experience. By way of analogy, consider the biological experience of hunger. The body generates this experience, which is variable in its intensity. However, the body does not dictate, except in the most general way, what should be eaten to satisfy hunger. How hunger is satisfied is socially constructed. Society determines what should be considered “food.” It also creates customs around how food is prepared, when it is eaten, how it is eaten, with whom it might be eaten, and so on. Likewise, societies have socially created ways in which sex and the experience of sexuality should be expressed — gender. Generally speaking, there is usually a very tight correlation between the appearance of anatomical sex, experienced sexuality and gender.

What are the implications of the above philosophical discussion for TG?

Lets look at the implications of taking the position of materialism. For our purposes, a TG experiencer is someone who experiences some degree of male sexuality while living through a female body or experiences some degree of female sexuality while living through a male body.

Consider a TG individual who is a materialist. Such an individual has to consider his/her experience to be the result of a random and meaningless biological variation — a victim of circumstance. There are some who would argue that their experience is a deliberate choice, not the result of a random biological variation. The choice is often justified on political and or social grounds, which probably serves to give the experience contextual meaning. I don’t doubt that there may be such individuals. I think that most TG experiencers, however, feel that their experience was imposed, not chosen, and usually leaves them feeling like a victim, not an agent for social change. In fact, one could posit that taking the position that one’s experience results from a sociopolitical decision is a coping mechanism. A way of negating the feeling of being a victim and constructing some meaning from the experience. Second, scientific materialism is reductionist and therefore depends upon studying relationships between clearly defined elements, which are strictly controlled to minimize variation. The continuum of variation for sex is therefore, from a scientific perspective, a messy affair making well controlled studies of sex and sexuality only possible by focusing on the anchor points and excluding everything in between as confounding variation. It is no wonder that persons on the excluded portion of the continuum have been prone to being minimized, pathologized and criminalized. Fortunately, modern day society is not as tenacious about pathologizing and criminalizing personal expression as it has been in the past. This is not to suggest that it isn’t still a problem of significance.

Now, let’s look at the implications of taking the position of idealism.

Consider a TG individual who is an idealist and especially one who understands idealism through nondual philosophy4 rooted in some Eastern tradition or in one of the increasing number of Western expressions of nondualism. S/he does not view everything as due to blind chance. Such a person is considered to be an individuated manifestation of Consciousness. Such a consciousness is a vehicle through which Consciousness gains experience of its own potential and the unfolding of that potential. If one is a manifestation of Consciousness or of Universal Mind, then your experience is not random and one is certainly not a victim of circumstance. Usually, one’s personal condition is viewed as having its origins in a choice made by the meta-self 5 prior to individuated consciousness being expressed in material form. In short, there was an agreement to the current manifestation as a vehicle for the experience possible for that form. This is probably only one of many previous and different expressions and possibly of many more to come. Why this particular choice was made, in any specific case, lies within one’s consciousness that is outside of awareness. There are ways of accessing such material but that is beyond the scope of this essay. From this perspective one does not have to take pathologizing and criminalizing by society of one’s being as a judgment of one’s personal worth. This is not to minimize the social injustice that such judgment produces or its impacts. However, if one views oneself as a unique expression of Consciousness and takes one’s sense of personal worth from that understanding, then one has a more positive basis for one’s sense of self worth and a degree of insulation from the injustices implicit in society.

Finally, let us turn to an analysis of some possible outcomes for a TG individual. There may be outcomes not covered here, but one should be able to work them out from this illustration. Some of the following options will probably only be open to someone who subscribes to a nondual worldview or will certainly be facilitated by such a worldview. As the progression unfolds, a nondual worldview increases in importance.

First, consider an individual on the continuum in unresolved conflict. This conflict comes down to a perceived dualistic choice between the two anchor points (male/female or masculine/feminine). The conflict between the dichotomous anchor points for the continuum is driven in large part by the social narrative about the continuum. The person in conflict is strongly drawn toward the anchor point in conflict with anatomy, which is nonconforming to the social narrative. Such an individual is strongly imbued with the social narrative. The stronger the social pressures the greater the conflict. The social pressure can come from external sources policing the social narrative but will also involve one’s enculturation and internalization of the social narrative. It is probably from this type of conflict that what is often referred to as gender dysphoria arises. Clearly, minimizing susceptibility to external policing efforts will help. Equally if not more important is deconstructing the internalized policing established through enculturation. Psychotherapy, drawing on narrative psychology, can be helpful with the latter.

Second, consider an individual on the continuum who is only moderately drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. Such a person often will resolve to end the conflict by choosing one anchor point and suppressing the other in this dualistic dance. If the person is male bodied and the choice is to suppress the intrusive sense of femaleness, the conflict is repressed and one’s focus becomes on living through the anatomical sex. There is still potential for negative psychological effects from employing repression, but the immediate conflict has been resolved. The same analysis would hold if the person was female bodied and chose to suppress an intrusive sense of maleness.

Third, consider an individual on the continuum similar to the person in the previous analysis, except the person is strongly drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. In this case, the decision may be to suppress and modify the anatomical sex and give full expression to the intrusive sense of sexuality. This is what is often referred to a transsexualism. This is a choice that may reduce the conflict one feels between anatomical sex and an intrusive sense of sexuality, but it is fraught with many new potential conflicts. It may also entail a lifetime of pursuing adjustments trying to achieve the perfect approximation to one’s idealized self-image.

Fourth, consider an individual who is a bit more psychologically sophisticated and makes the choice not to suppress but to simply witness and thereby neutralize a choice. In the case of a female bodied person, she lives through her anatomical sex and becomes simply an unresponsive observer (witness) to the arising and subsiding of her intrusive sense of male sexuality. The converse analysis would apply to a male bodied person with an intrusive sense of female sexuality. This approach has the potential to minimize the conflict without the potential problems associated with repression. However, witnessing is a learned skill that makes this a choice only for someone aware of the skill and willing to devote the time and effort to establish it.

Fifth, consider a person who is living through a nondual narrative about his or her life. Such an individual would reject the dualistic choice posed by the anchor points of the continuum. The decision in this individual might be to unify the apparent dualistic choice presented by the continuum. The individual neither vacillates between the apparent choices, employs repression, embarks on bodily modification or sets out to utilize neutralization. In this individual the choice is to integrate the conflicting demands and give expression to a blend of both, which may be made explicit to varying degrees. This might be thought of as a non-binary life-style. Such an individual would also be largely free of or at least largely indifferent to the dualistic demands of social presentation in forms dictated by society.

Finally, there is one additional option available from the nondual perspective but one probably chosen by very few. This is to shift identification from the body/mind to fully identifying with pure awareness. Through identification with pure awareness, there is a merger of the self with the meta-self, to as great an extent that is possible, and still live in the world, transcending duality. In such a state the dualistic world of complementary pairs is transformed into a holistic understanding and perspective. A view from which the pairs creating the potential for experience are seen as mere mirror reflections within the whole. Pure awareness is characterized by neither maleness nor femaleness but rather the whole from which they are reflected into the material world.

Notes:

1.  For an excellent video presentation by a leading proponent of monistic idealism click here.

2.  Consciousness with a capital “C” is used to indicate a reference to the unified and infinite field of Consciousness or Source of all that is. The use of consciousness with a lower case “C” is used to indicate an individuated contraction of consciousness within Consciousness.

 3.  Tom Campbell’s metaphor of reality as a computer simulation

 4.  Below are links to some sources of teachings on nondualism:

The Metaphysical Writings of Bernardo Kastrup

Non-Duality Teachings of Rupert Spira

The Spiritual Enneagram with Eli Jaxon-Bear

New Dharma Yoga with Sat Shree

Living Non-Duality with Robert Wolf

Self-realization and Enlightenment with Jan Esmann

The Tantrik Yoga teachings of Hareesh Wallis

5.  Meta-self refers to that which is beyond or behind the self. This is somewhat analogous to some people’s use of the terms soul and oversoul.

 

What is the Nature of Reality?

Caveat: The following is based on my lay understanding of physics based philosophical literature that I’ve read. I am not a quantum physicist nor any other type of physicist for that matter.

          Some years ago French physicist Alain Aspect conducted a test of a proposition first formulated by John Bell in 1964 (Bell’s Theorem). Bell’s Theorem asserts that the nature of reality is local. What this means is that if you do something to x it cannot have any effect on y if the two are separated by enough distance so that even at the speed of light the effect on x could not transit the distance between x and y in the time it takes to measure y. Bell was reacting to the prediction of quantum physics that two particles (see note on particles at end) that have interacted with one another are from that point on entangled. What this means is that when something is done to one (x) it will instantly affect the other (y) and the distance between the two is of no consequence. This is what Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance.” In short, what quantum physics predicted was that at root reality is non-local. What non-local means is unbound by space-time. Thus, a confirmation of Bell’s Theorem would support locality and a refutation of it would support non-locality.

It was not until near the end of the twentieth century that it became technically possible to conduct a controlled experiment of the theorem. This experiment was done by Aspect and the results supported non-locality. This resolved a debate that had gone on for 23 years between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr (both Nobel Laureates in physics) in Bohr’s favor. Unfortunately, neither lived to see the debate resolved. The finding has been replicated and extended by subsequent experiments by other physicists much to the chagrin of many in the physics community who are committed to a local view and choose to ignore the implications of the experiments.

Recently, a physicist (Menas Kafatos) and a Philosopher of Science (Robert Nadeau) wrote a book (The Conscious Universe) explaining the debate and exploring the implications of Aspect’s experimental findings. In their view, the implication is that given the 12-14 billion year age of the universe every particle comprising the universe has had more than enough time to have interacted with every other particle. In short, every particle comprising the entire universe is entangled with every other particle. They propose that entanglement, non-locality, order and the manifestation of the physical dimension out of a wave of probabilities through measurement or observation requires that consciousness be a fundamental aspect of the universe and is a primary, not an emergent property. Thus, if conscious intent, as many experiments suggest, is required for a particle to be manifest out of a range of probable outcomes present in the quantum field then consciousness is primary and matter an emergent property.

Their interpretation of universal entanglement is that the universe is an undivided whole. This has serious consequences for both the ontological (matter is primary) and epistemological (understanding the whole from the parts – reductionism) foundations in which science has been grounded since the time of Newton. They argue that in the case of the universe the whole cannot be known from studying the parts because an indivisible whole cannot be the sum of its parts. Further, they argue that this imposes an event horizon on human scientific knowledge. There is a point beyond which analytic study of apparent parts will yield no useful results. They do think that science can play a role in expanding human knowledge just that it has an inherent limitation beyond which it cannot pass. They also suggest that for science to make much further progress it must undertake a serious examination and revision of its paradigm (reductionist materialism).

The authors also explore at some length the role of Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity, which in physics, is the tenet that a complete knowledge of phenomena on the quantum scale requires a description of both wave and particle properties. However, Bohr himself thought the principle to be more generally applicable and discussed some of the potential macro applications in such fields as biology and psychology. Kafatos and Nadeau think that many of the phenomena in the physical world and human culture can be thought of as complementary pairs such as good and evil, logic and intuition, life and death, male and female, thinking and feeling and so on. Each pair comprises a whole that defies complete understanding when examined as separate phenomena. It is advocated that more holistic approaches to the study of such phenomena are needed.

One possibility explored is that the whole might be knowable through an intuitive process referred to as “knowing by being,” which is equated with reports by mystics through the ages. They suggest that it may be possible for an individuated aspect of universal consciousness to intuitively access the source and experience the whole (The One, The Absolute, The Unified Field, God, etc.). However, the knowledge of mystics is private and subjective whereas scientific knowledge is public and objective. Each has a legitimate claim on its particular knowledge and way of knowing and both are experiential as opposed to being mere beliefs. The authors also point out that given their mutually exclusive but complimentary natures neither is capable of validating the other. They discuss the Indian system of yoga known as Kashmir Shaivism as possibly having the most to say to people from western culture about knowing by being. For a discussion of what yoga has to offer western science read the free ebook by Donald DeGracia, PhD titled What is Science?.

Andrew Truscott, at the Australian National University (ANU), ran the most recent experimental test of John Wheeler’s “delayed choice” thought experiment first proposed in 1978 (click here for video). This experimental result again confirmed Wheeler’s prediction of the outcome. There is a concrete illustration of what is going on in this experiment offered by retired NASA physicist Tom Campbell, which you can see by clicking here.  If you want a more detailed explanation click here.

As I understand it, the traditional double slit experiment observes that when atoms are directed at a panel with two slits the atoms produce an interference pattern on a sheet of film behind the panel. Think about dropping several pebbles close together into a pool of still water. Each pebble produces a ripple pattern and because they are close together the ripples interfere with one another forming a more complex pattern. This is called an interference pattern. In the experiment, the only way that this pattern could be produced would be if the atoms went through both slits in a wave form rather than a particle form. If the atoms had been in a particle form they would have produced two separate and similar patterns on the film that indicate no interference took place. If you repeat the experiment with detectors setup to identify which atoms go through each of the slits as they pass through the respective slits, what you get is a particle format on the film behind the panel. The implication being that observing and knowing which atoms pass through each slit causes the wave form to collapse into a particle form. If you redo the experiment and take away the detectors, you once again get a pattern on the film indicating interference and thus the atoms must have gone through the slits as waves.

Wheeler’s thought experiment asked what would happen if you did not use a detector until after the atoms had passed through the slits and were about to hit the film. In short, the atoms had already passed through the slits and based on the prior experiments should be in a wave form. Thus, the decision to measure and determine the state of the atoms was delayed until after they had passed through the slits. Passing through the slits in a wave form is the only explanation for the interference pattern observed when the state of the atoms has not been assessed at the slit. If no measurement has been taken at the slits, the expected pattern is an interference pattern. However, if the measurement is taken just before the atoms hit the film, you get a particle pattern on the film, which implies that the atoms did not pass through the slits as waves but as particles. In short, the measurement just before the atoms hit the film appears to retroactively affect the atoms prior to their passing through the slits. Think of jumping off of a high dive into a swimming pool. Once you jump, you cannot reverse the action and return to the diving board but the experiment seems to imply that at the quantum level this is possible. The lead researcher, Truscott, in the ANU experiment said about the result, “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it.”

The results have also been described as retroactive causation. What this is intended to convey is that the effect of the delayed choice measurement actually went backward in time and changed the state of the atoms before they passed through the slits. However, given the earlier experiment discussed that confirmed reality at the quantum level to be non-local (not bound by space-time) it may be unnecessary to invoke “time travel” to explain the results. Campbell has argued that a better explanation of the obtained results is the one that Wheeler himself proposed. According to Campbell, Wheeler thought that an atom is actually neither a wave or a particle though potentially both. It is an information packet. Campbell suggests that measurement is tantamount to a query of the information packet, which provides a data stream defining one of the potential outcomes available in the information. In this scenario the critical variable is not where the query is made (at the slits or at the film) but that it was made. In short, the slits only appear to cause the outcome. The real cause is whether there is a query made or not. When you know does not matter so much as that you know. Wheeler thought reality was at root constructed from information. Campbell agrees and suggests that what we actually experience is a self-evolving, virtual reality (click here for a video explanation). Campbell is not the first to suggest this possibility. Three physicists published a paper in 2012 proposing that the universe appears to have characteristics similar to a computer simulation (click here for their paper abstract).

What we’ve seen in the above experiments are confirmations of two thought experiments that finally got put to an empirical test. One suggests that all of reality is a singular whole and the other that this whole could very well be nothing more nor less than a massive database used to virtually manifest what we think of as the universe. The underlying nature of reality is truly mysterious.

End Note: It has been said that physicists have retained from the 19th century the use of the label “particle” for particular phenomena even though they know better. Think of an atom, which is generally thought to be a critical building block of the physical world. Our generic atom consists of an electromagnetic field populated with various “particles” such as protons, neutrons and electrons. What are these “particles” in an atom? We lay people are inclined to think of them as very small bits of matter; however, they are actually “excited states” of the field. Think of the ocean with waves arising from the surface. The wave is still the same water that the ocean is comprised of just in a different state. One might even say an excited state compared to the underlying ocean.

It has been suggested that one think of an atom as a field one hundred yards across with a green pea in the center of the field (to represent the nucleus) and a BB at the outer edge of the field (to represent an electron). This leaves a lot of room or unexcited area. Someone calculated that if you took a human being and removed everything except the “particles” in each atom comprising that individual and then repeated the process with every person on the planet one could fit the human race inside the volume of a sugar cube. So, how is it that things composed of “matter” comprised of these atoms appear to be so dense? Why can’t you easily stick your hand through a wall? The answer seems to be something similar to opposing lines of force associated with the vibratory quality of the excited states within atoms. By way of analogy, think about attempting to push the opposite poles of two magnets together. Anyone who has attempted this has observed a considerable resistance for no apparent reason.

See also: Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations