Mysticism and the epistemology of consciousness

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Canute said:
By 'mind' I mean that faculty that sees as real the mental phenomena of our human universe, the faculty that dies with the death of our brain. For our more fundamental faculty, that does not die, I'd capitalise it as 'Mind'. (Similarly I'd use 'self' and 'Self').
Very well said! We agree completely here, as far as I think I understand you. I particularly like your phrase, "that sees as real". In my view, it is a delusion to think that there is a real human universe and it is a delusion to think that there is a mind which sees it. What I think is really going on is that the human universe is a collection of Ideas in the Mind, which, when viewed through the extremely limiting porthole provided by the communication link between brain and Mind, gives the Mind the illusion that there is a mind that is somehow produced by the brain.

Your use of capitalization startled me. Just last week I thought of the same idea of capitalization to clear up a confusion which has popped up several times on PF between me and others and which always seems to get dropped without resolution. In particular, when I say something like "the essence of you is identically the same as the essence of me", people respond with something incredulous like, "Do you mean that you are me?" or "Does that make me God?" etc. To clear this up, we could use uncapitalized words like 'you', 'me', 'paul', 'her', etc. to mean the physical body/brain as in our ordinary vernacular usage, and use capitalized words like 'God', 'I', 'You', 'Him', 'Plato', etc. to mean the conscious essence of what seem to be these individuals with the realization that they are all identically the same, i.e. God=You=Me=Plato=Mind=Buddha=Athman=Brahman=... I don't know if adopting that convention will help here, but I have decided that if I ever do any serious writing on this subject, I will use it. Your use of it to distinguish between 'mind' and 'Mind' clinches my resolve.
Canute said:
By 'consciousness' I mean the usual 'what it is like,' but would include both consciousness as it appears to be to us as individuated sentient beings and also what is more fundamental (your 'CC').
Yes. Here again, we could distinguish between those two by saying that Consciousness is fundamental (my 'CC), and consciousness is the experience as reported by a body/brain, or any other individuated sentient being. But you bring up two interesting topics here.

First, I have always been a little bit uneasy with Nagel's 'what it is like'. It just seems that we could come up with a better characterization of what we mean, but it is also clear that nobody has done so yet. Taking the characterization literally, it says that consciousness is a metaphor. We are saying that We are conscious of A if and only if We know that A is like B (note I have begun to use the capitalization convention here.) This implies a couple of things. First, it implies that We are more or less familiar with B and less-so with A. The idea is that We can attend to A by comparing it with B with which We are already familiar. This comparison, presumably, reduces the previous uncertainty surrounding the notion of A and thus improves Our knowledge of A. The second thing implied is that the basic process going on here is that of "knowing". Being conscious of A is the process of coming to know more about A and this is done by making a comparison with something better known, such as B. It is this line of thinking which leads Me to choose "the ability to know" as the most fundamental faculty of Consciousness, and which I posit as the fundamental ontological entity.

The second idea you suggested here is the idea of an "individuated sentient being". I am impressed by Rosenberg's development of the Theory of Natural Individuals and I think it might be fruitful to try to connect that idea with Your notion of "individuated sentient beings". Of course, the obvious connection is that human beings should qualify as instantiations of both. But I think We can get more out of it by considering Rosenberg's structure and the notion we have been discussing here of clearly separating out the capitalized words from the uncapitalized words. Here's how I would interpret Rosenberg's theory:

I would say that 'receptivity' = 'the ability to know'. That makes sense to Me because knowing is essentially the reception of knowledge, and so the ability to know is simply receptivity. So when Rosenberg says (page 172) that "Receptivity itself acts as the causal connection. Nature needs no other ontological grounding for the causal connection", it seems He should be able to agree with Me that 'the ability to know' is ontologically fundamental. What I would suggest is that this fundamental receptivity is the only one in existence. But, instead of restricting the number of Natural Individuals to this single One, I would modify the definition of Natural Individual to include "vehicles" which can be remotely "operated" by this One. The vehicle appears to be capable of receptivity, but in fact, it merely relays the information back to the One where it is received by the only real Receptivity that exists. Effective properties could work similarly except in the opposite direction. The effective properties of any of the "Vehicular Natural Individuals" (i.e. all Natural Individuals excepting the One fundamental one) could be communicated somehow through a chain of Natural Individuals each "driving" one at the next level away from the originating One. In My view, this could completely account for causality, both physically and psychologically. As I see it, the mysterious "communication link" i keep talking about between Mind and brain is exactly what Rosenberg calls a "carrier". I think the only thing I would change about Rosenberg's analysis is to add the hypothesis that there is only a single consciousness, or sentience, in all of reality. Then, as I see it, everything else falls naturally into place.
Canute said:
This is a bit sloppy really, and not strictly in line with the Buddhist use of the words, but as I'm not yet omniscient I'm not sure what to call the more fundamental kind of consciousness, or even whether the term 'consciousness' can be applied to it without confusion. Perhaps one should just call it Reality. I've got a feeling that if we can agree on the definitions we can probably agree on most of the rest.
With the possible exception of the word 'duality', I think We now do agree on the key definitions and I think We agree on most of the rest. And I think the only way to remove the sloppiness is to revert to mathematics and develop these ideas as formal systems. You have gotten My hopes up that Spencer-Brown has already got a start on this, but I don't know enough about his work yet to be sure. I would very much like to know more about it.

Concerning the definition of 'duality', it is not really important to Me. I don't care whether people call me a dualist or not, and i don't use the term, or any connotations of it, to try to express My ideas. I feel the same way about the term 'God'. Both terms seem to have such very different meanings to different People, that unless they are carefully defined first, I think it is a mistake to use either one. So I try not to.

Concerning Buddhism, because of your suggestions i have now completed two courses covering the subject. I have been fascinated by what I learned. The net of it is that I can interpret Buddhist doctrines, or sutras, to be completely in accord with My own cosmological views. On the other hand, I can identify what you might call "sloppiness" or "confusion" in each one. I learned that these same problems were identified by later Buddhist thinkers who founded new schools that fixed the problems. To my surprise, as I learned about these "fixes", I found Myself in agreement that they were an improvement on the previous notions. It is as if my own development of these ideas followed pretty much the same path that the ideas did throughout the development of Buddhism in general. At this point, I think the only disagreement, or problem, left is that of defining terms that are meaningful. And, of course, that can't ever be fixed completely because of the circularity of language. But, with one exception, I think we can come to understand and explain everything that exists. That one exception is the problem of the ultimate origin of the ultimate ontological entity. That one, I think we have to leave open.
Canute said:
You agree with George Spencer Brown then, as I've suggested earlier, who argues that the world is created by making conceptual distinctions. These distinctions may, I think, be called Ideas, or the basis of Ideas. In this view the universe becomes real by a process of ignorance and confusion, in that we forget it is really all just Ideas and mistakenly take it to be more real than that from which it emerges or emanates. (Hence Plato's argument that we have forgotten the truth and must work to rediscover it).
Yes. I agree completely. The ignorance and confusion you mention is because (lowercase) we, being so preoccupied with the noise of physicality, forget that We are really vicariously experiencing a drive in one of the bodies and that all of the physical world, bodies and all, is nothing but an elaborate structure of Ideas that We dreamed up. (Plato was right.)
Canute said:
Do you mean that mind and body arise from consciousness (CC)? If so I agree.
Yes. Indeed I do.
Canute said:
I feel the Buddhist view on these things is the correct one, but wouldn't dare attempt to expound it in any depth. When it gets to the details I'll leave it to the experts. But freewill in Buddhism is, I think, stated in metaphorical terms, accepting the will of God (CC, Allah etc), keeping in mind that God is just a convenient word and leaving it undefined here. Acting according to ordinary mind is to act as a machine, since ordinary mind is 'conditioned,' i.e. subject to the unrelenting laws of cause and effect. The personal 'freedom' so valued in materialist societies is not freedom at all in this view but slavery.
Buddhists themselves don't have a single view on these things, so We can't assume that They have the "correct" view. I think We should feel as empowered as Anyone to think these things through trying to make sense of them. After all We are Brahman. If We attribute all free will to the One consciousness, and recognize that the One acts out that free will through us, then everything makes sense. It only confuses things when we think that it is us who has free will rather than Us. I agree that "Acting according to ordinary mind is to act as a machine, since ordinary mind is 'conditioned,' i.e. subject to the unrelenting laws of cause and effect." But I maintain that acting according to Mind is to act with true free will, not simply on behalf of God but actually as God (where 'God' is defined to be CC = Allah = Brahman = reality = Consciousness).
Canute said:
The personal 'freedom' so valued in materialist societies is not freedom at all in this view but slavery.
You mentioned quite some time ago in our conversations that we might disagree on the issue of freedom. Here, I can see that we do. If what you said here is a precept of Buddhism, then i would have to say that they are wrong. In My view, the personal 'freedom' so valued in materialist societies, if exercised by Mind, is the most precious and important feature in all of reality. I would agree that the personal 'freedom' exercised by mind is not freedom at all but simply slavery to passions, chemistry, laws of physics, slings and arrows, and other ignoble determinants. When we Consciously use our Mind in order to exercise free will, we are literally doing the work of God (as I defined the term earlier) and nothing in the universe, or of reality in general, can be more noble. I think it is clear from human history, that to the extent that humans think for themselves, their condition greatly improves. I'd love to discuss this further if You still disagree.
Canute said:
I don't get that bit I'm afraid.
I think what I said went beyond the scope of this discussion, so I'll retract it. We can talk about it in a different setting if you like.
Canute said:
Not quite sure yet. It may fix it, but it may be that it cannot be fully fixed until we can agree about the concept of 'nonduality'. Only with the concept of nonduality can we overcome the problems of dualism, whether of the Cartesian or cosmological kind. (Interestingly, quantum cosmologists seem to be reaching the same conclusion, with the introduction of the 'hypothesis of duality,' but that's another discussion I suppose).

At the moment this concept plays no part in your theory, and you assume that CC is not nothing. If it is not nothing then the metaphysical questions always found in dualistic cosmologies arise, such as what is it made out of, did it arise from nothing etc. You may be avoiding Cartesian mind-body dualism, but I wonder whether you have avoided 'ontological' or cosmological dualism. The answer would depend on whether your theory is, to use a term from physics, background-dependent or background-independent. If it is one or the other then it is founded on dualism. This is the problem which has led cosmologists to toy with the idea that neither answer is correct (the 'hypothesis of duality') thus at last, in one area of research at least, coming into line with the doctrine of Buddhism and the other mystical religions.
In my view, all the discussions surrounding the notion of duality are nothing but sophism. I don't think anything can be learned or gained by precisely defining 'dualism' and then taking stands on implications of that definition. That is not to say that there aren't logical problems (which I think you might call metaphysical) with any proposal for cosmic origins. In fact, as i have consistently said, I maintain that each and every proposed explanation for the origin of reality, whether it is string theory, religious creationism, some mythical epic account, or any other philosophical, religious, fictional, mythical, whimsical, logical, or psychological account, will have exactly the same problem: whether reality had a beginning or not, and if so, how did it get started, and if not how can we explain its existence. In my case, explaining the origin and constitution of 'the ability to know' is no more problematic than explaining the origin and constitution of false vacuum, the Higgs field, the space-time continuum, the "seed" for the Big Bang, or any other ontologically fundamental entity. I think no cosmological theory can have an advantage over another in this respect. As you said, the concept of duality plays no part in My view of reality and I don't think it ever will.

Great talking with You, Canute.

Paul
 
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Rade
Paul Martin said:
It's been good talking with you, Rade. I am very eager to hear where this does not make sense to you.Paul
Dear Paul Martin. I have thought about your comments, of which there were many. Here I will discuss what I think is the most important issue, why I think (not sure) we disagree at a fundamental philosophic level. If I read you correctly, you hold that "consciousness" is the ultimate metaphysical reality, whereas I hold that "existence" is of ultimate primacy. Below is why I hold this view, perhaps a little too personal. I am not on this Forum to argue, but to learn, and to share my perspective of different issues.

Why do I hold that "existence is primary ? It has to do with an experience I had at ~ 11 years old, known as the "existential moment". To this day, I am now in mid-50s, I recall that voice in my mind--i exist, I exist, I EXIST ! It happened three times over a period of ~ one year, the second event much stronger than the first. Never again. But it was such an emotional event for an 11 year old, what did it mean ? I did not "think" the event into being, I did not ask for it, I was not trying to contemplate the meaning of Reality, etc.--it just happened, out of the blue as they say--I was 11 years old, a mush head. I recall that all three event occurred in my house. What I experienced is not what you and others have talked about on this thread, the feeling that "all is one". Was it "mystical" ? I do not think so, because no process of "thinking" was involved--no attempt to "meditate".

My personal existential moment is why as an adult I disagree with Descarte--I "know" he is not correct as well as I can "know" anything--that is, I know that I do not exist because I think, I JUST EXIST, my unthinking existential moment made that fact crystal clear to me. There was no "thinking" involved in that moment--at least no conscious thinking--but clearly some part of my mind (un-conscious) was "talking" to "me" (my consciousness) because I recall that as the event was happening I was "thinking" to myself--what is this feeling all about--what does it mean ?

It is today why I hold that my "un-conscious" self has (at least for me) primacy over my "consciousness", and thus it is just mentally impossible for me to accept as a philosophy of life the axiom that "consciousness" has any sort of primacy over "me" or "existence". I would first put "existence" before consciousness, for the simple reason that it is a contradiction in terms to have a consciousness that first does not exist. Then I would put "un-consciousness" before consciousness, because it is my personal experience that the "I" of me, my "subjective self", "my consciousness", was taught a very important lesson as an 11 year old (e.g., that I EXIST) by a voiceless entity within my brain--what today I hold is my "un-conscious" self.

As an adult I read that others developed a formal philosophy around the feeling I had at 11 years old, e.g., the Existentialism of Sartre and others. But when I read their philosophy I just could not relate. True, I had a very strong feeling of "being small"--so small--but rather than despair, my existential moment transformed into an instant lightening bolt lesson to "my" consciousness. WOW I recall thinking, I EXIST, I REALLY EXIST !!-- yes, I am small, but I EXIST, I AM SOMEONE.

I Exist Paul, therefore I Think, therefore I Am.

If that is what you call "mysticism", then sign me up, I am a mystic.

Rade
 
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Rade,

I understand your position, but who was it that interpreted the unconscious thought "I Exist"? Thoughts are merely bits of brain activity. Without consciousness they are devoid of any meaning.

You have made a distinction between subconscious and conscious, but you haven't explained why one should be given primacy over the other.

You are treating your childhood experience with a kind of religious awe. There is no reason why "I Exist" should mean anything on its own. But that is what you are implying. Indeed it is as if you believe that the thing that communicated the idea to you (the subconscious) was a conscious entity in itself - though seperate and more in touch with reality (apparently) than you are.

I am interested to know, do you consider your subconscious thoughts to be a part of you or seperate from you? You seem to take contrary viewpoints.
 
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Rade said:
Why do I hold that "existence is primary ? It has to do with an experience I had at ~ 11 years old, known as the "existential moment". To this day, I am now in mid-50s, I recall that voice in my mind--i exist, I exist, I EXIST ! It happened three times over a period of ~ one year, the second event much stronger than the first. Never again. But it was such an emotional event for an 11 year old, what did it mean ? I did not "think" the event into being, I did not ask for it, I was not trying to contemplate the meaning of Reality, etc.--it just happened, out of the blue as they say--I was 11 years old, a mush head. I recall that all three event occurred in my house. What I experienced is not what you and others have talked about on this thread, the feeling that "all is one". Was it "mystical" ? I do not think so, because no process of "thinking" was involved--no attempt to "meditate".
Hi Rade.

In general, I think, non-thinking is the stated goal of meditation. If you equate "consciousness" with "thinking" (as seems to happen often around here) you're likely to misunderstand the meditators. But the thing is very difficult to speak about clearly. I think in this case, "consciousness" and "existence" may be synonymous. Your existential moment was not caused by your existence alone, but your awareness of your existence--what I'm saying is maybe it's all the same thing. I'd suggest your "unconscious self" is conscious (always), but your thinking self is not generally aware of it. When the two are one, you get that sort of existential moment.

It seems to me (and I'm new here so maybe I'm wrong) that the "mystical types" around PF are generally meditators, so non-meditative mystical experiences are not much discussed. Which kind of makes sense in a science forum: meditation is a way to repeat the experience and study it, whereas your experience seems to come out of nowhere. But I don't think your experience is any less valid, or any less mystical (well, except inasmuch as I dislike the term "mystical" in general).

I think where the disagreements emerge is when we start putting it into words--trying to talk about something that exists beyond language is always going to be problematic at best. Which is why everything I say on the topic should be taken with a grain of salt :)

But in general, I think the mystical view is that consciousness does not equal thinking. Consciousness may be capable of thinking (and saying things like "I exist!") but is not required to think, and is not defined by thinking.

Someone'll say so if they disagree, I'm sure.
 
Rade
max1975 said:
If you equate "consciousness" with "thinking" (as seems to happen often around here) you're likely to misunderstand the meditators. But the thing is very difficult to speak about clearly. I think in this case, "consciousness" and "existence" may be synonymous. Your existential moment was not caused by your existence alone, but your awareness of your existence--what I'm saying is maybe it's all the same thing. I'd suggest your "unconscious self" is conscious (always), but your thinking self is not generally aware of it. When the two are one, you get that sort of existential moment.
Help... I just do not understand anything you just said ! Consciousness cannot be equated with "thinking"...."unconscious self is conscious (always)"...the two (consciousness and unconscious) can be one... ??..none of this makes any sense to me...these statements are all contrary to logic. This is why I have made so many attempts in other threads to indicate why the Law of Identity is so important in philosophic discussion. If A = A, then it would be impossible to hold that consciousness (A) and unconscious (B) are one, or that unconscous self (A) is conscious (B)...only Hegel would hold this view (that A = non-A) and I reject Hegel. Also, how can I hold that 'my' existential moment was not caused by my existence alone :confused: ...what other type of existence (mind and body) do I have if not mine alone where "my" awareness of my existence is part of my "existence".

As to meditation and thinking, of course they are related...thus Webster... to meditate is 1. to think about; contemplate. 2. to plan; intend, purpose, v.i.--to think deeply and continuously; reflect.

I'm sorry, either definitions are important in philosophy or we just all invent our own mind games to play in, but I do appreciate your attempt to answer my post.
 
Rade
steersman said:
I understand your position, but who was it that interpreted the unconscious thought "I Exist"? Thoughts are merely bits of brain activity. Without consciousness they are devoid of any meaning.
Thank you for your questions. To answer this, clearly my conscious self interpreted what I hold was given to me by my unconscious self.

steersman said:
You have made a distinction between subconscious and conscious, but you haven't explained why one should be given primacy over the other.
It is known from research on perception that all awareness from the senses is first filtered by unconsciousness, and that unconscious activities control all autonomic physiology actions of life. e.g., when is the last time you made command for your heart to beat. Of course unconscious takes primacy as to whether or not you breath, digestion, -- let us just call it "your life as a human". Reminds me of a joke where the A--hole debated the brain as to who was more important--you can guess who won the argument when they both went on strike.

steersman said:
You are treating your childhood experience with a kind of religious awe. There is no reason why "I Exist" should mean anything on its own. But that is what you are implying. Indeed it is as if you believe that the thing that communicated the idea to you (the subconscious) was a conscious entity in itself - though seperate and more in touch with reality (apparently) than you are.
No, not religion awe--I was not in awe of anything outside me--awe of reality of my existence--a much different type of awe. Of course that I EXIST and I know it because I think should have no meaning to you--why would it--you have no idea if I exist. And no, because I hold the Law of Identity as an axiom of philosophic thinking, I would never hold as you claim that my subconscious (A) was = conscious (B), for the simple reason that A=A, not A=nonA. Is not the autonomic part of your brain more in touch with the reality of your heart beat than your consciousness ? Of course it is. "Unconscious" part of brain can "communicate" with other parts of brain and/or body.

steersman said:
I am interested to know, do you consider your subconscious thoughts to be a part of you or seperate from you? You seem to take contrary viewpoints.
I hold that the subconscious and the conscious are two separate faculties of the mind, each with there own identity, one autonomic, the second volitional--with the ability to communicate. But I hold it is a one-way flow of information--always from subconscious to consciousness--never the other direction. Thus I hold that my existential moment was initiated by my subconscious, but clearly it was grasped as a "perception" by my consciousness and thus formed into a very important "concept" for me--not for you--it was my consciousness that grasped the "moment perception" sent to it by my unconsciousness that I exist (I do not know "why" humans have an existential moment, but I think it has to do with evolutionary survival--that it may be adaptive for a human to know that "I EXIST"--I then perhaps grasp difference between object and subject, self and other, in a "mature" way, perhaps that is why the experience is mostly as a child ??--which leads to an interesting question--do Primates also have an existential moment, and how could we test this hypothesis experimentally ?)

Thank you for your comments.
 
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Rade said:
none of this makes any sense to me...these statements are all contrary to logic
Unfortunately, I believe you are correct. I assure you I'm trying to be as logical as possible, but I do maintain that the subject matter does not lend itself to logic. I'll do my best to clarify; if I fail, I'll shut up--no sense confusing you further.

Rade said:
Consciousness cannot be equated with "thinking"
This is pretty straightforward. Consciousness is awareness, thinking is the process of interpreting the things you're aware of. Consciousness is passive, thinking is active. If you could shut down your internal dialogue, your flow of thoughts, and let your brain just be silent, you would be conscious but not thinking.

"unconscious self is conscious (always)"...the two (consciousness and unconscious) can be one...
Sorry, I was not very clear here. I think I let some unnecessary panpsychism slip into my explanation.

It does comes down to a matter of identity. If the words "I am cold" occur in my mind, I can identify with them (feeling that I am thinking "I am cold") or I can not identify with them, and just look at it as a thought that happens to exist in my field of view. I am not cold, but I am aware of the sentence "I am cold."

Your use of the phrase "unconscious self" indicates to me that you are familiar with the idea that your mind is divided between the totality of your thoughts, memories, feelings, etc., and that part which you are aware of at the moment. What I mean by "Your unconscious self can be one with your conscious self" is simply that the division can go away (or be breached) so that you identify with your whole self, or at least a larger part than you normally do.

Rade said:
As to meditation and thinking, of course they are related...thus Webster... to meditate is 1. to think about; contemplate. 2. to plan; intend, purpose, v.i.--to think deeply and continuously; reflect.
They are related, but I think Webster is misleading. In the context where it typically surfaces here, meditation is about silencing thought. It is thinking of a sort(often the repitition of a mantra, for example) but its aim is to silence thinking. Don't confuse the process with the goal.

Rade said:
Also, how can I hold that 'my' existential moment was not caused by my existence alone ...what other type of existence (mind and body) do I have if not mine alone where "my" awareness of my existence is part of my "existence".
This is getting back into difficult territory. But is there anything that exists that you aren't aware of? How can you be sure?

Rade said:
I'm sorry, either definitions are important in philosophy or we just all invent our own mind games to play in
Definitions are indeed important, but they are also problematic and eventually their utility runs out. A definition is just a reference to a set of words, which require their own definitions. We reach a point where some ideas and some experiences are incommunicable, and then in a sense we are all just inventing our own mind games to play in, but it's important to know where the boundary lies, and learn the best way of getting along with those whose mind games do not match our own.

Rade said:
but I do appreciate your attempt to answer my post.
Well, I do what I can. Sorry if it's not as helpful as I hope.
 
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Of course unconscious takes primacy as to whether or not you breath, digestion, -- let us just call it "your life as a human"
But by my reckoning, my "life as a human" is not to breath or digest food. My function is to perceive and react to thoughts and sensory information.

Of course that I EXIST and I know it because I think should have no meaning to you--why would it--you have no idea if I exist.
But it does have meaning to me because I myself have found awe in that statement. It's this primacy thing I'm trying to understand.

Is not the autonomic part of your brain more in touch with the reality of your heart beat than your consciousness ? Of course it is. "Unconscious" part of brain can "communicate" with other parts of brain and/or body.
The autonomic part of my brain isn't in touch with anything. It's behaving specifically because it has evolved that way - as a natural phenomenon, like the weather. Suppose I was fitted with a pacemaker. Is the pacemaker in touch with the reality of my heart beat? My body is a machine, brain included. Without me it's about as alive as a rock.

I hold that the subconscious and the conscious are two separate faculties of the mind, each with there own identity, one autonomic, the second volitional--with the ability to communicate. But I hold it is a one-way flow of information--always from subconscious to consciousness--never the other direction.
I'm assuming you see yourself primarily as the conscious, volitional aspect of mind. But if information is travelling in a one-way direction from subconscious to conscious, how can there be room for volition? Why need you exist at all?

Much of this discussion is how we define self. Personally I see it very narrowly; a mere fragment of consciousness. What do other people think?
 
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Wow, this is an interesting discussion. The trouble is there are so many overlapping issues. I thought it might be useful to say something about meditation, since there seems some confusion about what it is. Thie following comes from a truly wonderful book by Walpola Rahula called 'What the Buddha Taught'. (Which I cannot recommend highly enough).

"It is unfortumate that hardly any other section of the Buddha's teaching is so much misunderstood as 'meditation', both by Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The moment the word 'meditation' is mentioned, one thinks of an escape from the daily activities of life; assuming a particular posture, like a statue in some cave or cell in a monastry, in some remote place cut off from society; and musing on, or being absorbed in, some kind of mystic or mysterious thought or trance. True Buddhist 'meditation' does not mean this kind of escape at all...

The word 'meditation' is a very poor substitute for the original term bhavana, which means 'culture' or 'development', i.e., mental culture or mental development... This is essentially Buddhist 'meditation', Buddhist mental culture. It is an analytical method based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, observation."

The point here is that meditation is not just sitting around. Just sitting is part of meditational practice, a crucial part, but there is far more to it than this. A skilled meditator practices meditation from the moment they arise to the moment they go to sleep. A friend of mine meditates while driving down the motorway. Meditation does not mean ceasing to think, quite the reverse. Ceasing to think is one vital part of the practice, one without which nothing else can make much sense, but meditation includes reading, thinking, acting, and in general living. So when someone says that they are a meditative practitioner this does not mean simply that they put time aside to sit and have 'mystical' experiences, if they are serious it is something they are never not doing.
 
Les Sleeth
Gold Member
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Rade said:
Help... I just do not understand anything you just said ! Consciousness cannot be equated with "thinking"... none of this makes any sense to me...these statements are all contrary to logic.
I hope you don't accept confusion as the last word but rather slow down a bit and let people try to explain what appears to be contradictory but really isn't.


Rade said:
...."unconscious self is conscious (always)"...the two (consciousness and unconscious) can be one... ?
I don't think Max1975 meant to say unconscious is conscious, but rather that incessant thinking makes one unaware of (unconscious of) another part of you that is conscious.

If you review some of the comments, you can see that an experience has been described where thinking doesn't happen. But if one doesn't think, then what is there? Does anything remain that is aware? Have you ever worked hard to climb to a high spot, and then when you get there your thinking mind is somewhat stilled by the exercise combined with the beauty of the view so that you experience a sudden sense of vastness?

This idea that consciousness is awareness of what one senses is my favorite way to define the foundation of consciousness (though not so popular among others around here because of its homuncular implications). The only thing I see missing from the definition is what I call retention. If we didn't have a way to "retain" what we experience, then we'd never be able to grow "experienced," and therefore learn.

If you break down that foundational definition you can see there are three aspects: what one senses, what is retained, and then the third aspect which is aware of that. The part that senses includes the physical senses, and I include inner sensing such as intuition and the overability to feel. Retention is what we generally think of as our memory. The third aspect, awareness of what's sensed, is what is being pointed to as what most people don't take much notice of. It is a background awareness that just waits there for input and grows evermore experienced.

What about thinking. As Max pointed out, thinking is something the foundational part of us can do. But should thinking be considered "foundational"? You can't remove any of the other three aspects listed and be conscious, but is that true of thinking? You say "I think, therefore I am," so it seems you believe thinking is necessary not only to be conscious, but to even exist. But that would mean if someone was able to stop thinking, they should become unconscious and nonexistent.

Yet the contrary is true. What happens in successful meditation is that the third aspect, the background awareness taking in and retaining what's sensed/felt, becomes prominen. Here's the big deal about that, the background part turns out to the most conscious aspect of us. In fact, it IS us. But incessant thinking takes our attention from this deepest, most foundational self so that we become so unaware if it we don't even really know our "true self." Instead we come to believe we are all the opinions, beliefs, conditionings, likes and dislikes of mentality . . . what the Buddha called the "acquired self."

Why would the background part be the most conscious? Because it is where experience is most retained. If you want to ride a bike, do you need to think about balance much, or has some part of you absorbed that knowledge and can just do it. I play racquetball, and I know I am my best not when I am constantly thinking, but when I am in the present (not my mind) and "see" what to do.

The background part is where your wisdom is, where your true identity is, where pure awareness is. Thinking doesn't give awareness, it gives thoughts. Two totally different things. Just so it's clear, I am not saying there is anything wrong with thinking. I am saying the problem is not being able to stop thinking so that one's mentality is so dominant it actually replaces the natural priority of the most foundational aspect of consciousness. That causes us not to see reality, but to see our mental representations of reality. Oneness with reality makes one conscious; oneness with mentality makes one whatever shape the mind is in.


Rade said:
As to meditation and thinking, of course they are related...thus Webster... to meditate is 1. to think about; contemplate. 2. to plan; intend, purpose, v.i.--to think deeply and continuously; reflect.
This is merely another meaning for the word meditate. To think is NOT the inner practice of mediation some of us have been talking about.
 
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Hi Rade,

Thank you for considering my comments.
Rade said:
Here I will discuss what I think is the most important issue, why I think (not sure) we disagree at a fundamental philosophic level.
I will be happy to discuss this issue.
Rade said:
Why do I hold that "existence is primary ? It has to do with an experience I had at ~ 11 years old, known as the "existential moment". . . What I experienced is not what you and others have talked about on this thread, the feeling that "all is one".
I should explain at this point that my experiences and my path to the conclusion that "all is one" are not typical. Nor, do I expect that Les, or Canute, or anyone else is any more "typical" than you or me. We are each unique. The bad news is that that uniqueness makes it difficult to find common ground for communication. The good news is that we each have some different input to contribute and we each have a lot of room to learn from everyone else.

In my case, I had the "existential moment" you describe when I was about 5 years old. I distinctly remember the exact spot, and posture, and orientation I was in at that moment (I was facing East Southeast kneeling over a petrified wood stump with my forearms resting on the stump). After that, I had three or four "religious experiences" from either being knocked unconscious, having a high fever, or in the last case, under the influence of nitrous oxide in the dentist's chair. The earliest of these experiences gave me the direct "knowledge" that there was a greater part of existence in which time ran differently and separately from ordinary earth time, and at the extreme, time was at a dead stop altogether.

The last of these experiences (the dentist's chair one) left me with the extremely vague recollection that I had been guided through several levels of reality in which I was able to "see" or "know" exactly how all of reality worked and how it all got started. I also remember that when coming out of this altered state of mind, the amount of knowledge I was able to retain from the experience was SEVERELY reduced at each level as I dropped back down to our normal physical level. It was like millions or billions of orders of magnitude of reduction, so that I was left with only a glimmer of a hint of a suggestion of a vague recollection of some of what I had previously known. Those few details of what I remembered got me started thinking about the possibility that "all is one" as I vaguely remembered knowing. Since then, I have tried to make logical sense of that hypothesis, and I have never been able to find an argument that would cause me to doubt it or to abandon that hypothesis for any other.

I don't know if that qualifies me to be a "mystic" or not. I certainly don't claim to know anything for sure. I do not meditate, even though I did go through the TM course, which I paid for with my own hard earned money, hoping that it would cure my borderline hypertension. It didn't, and I didn't find any other benefit that was worth the time I was spending meditating, so I quit doing it. (I fixed my hypertension by petting our cats more regularly and by working on fun projects.) In my view of meditation, I think that there are two basic approaches to life as suggested by Plato (or maybe someone else) and those are the active life or the contemplative life. Of course in practice we all have a mix of these two in some proportion.

But as I see it, the extreme contemplative life would be to meditate so often and so completely as to withdraw from this world to the point that your body would die. And, in my view, you would then be in that state of Nirvana, or in that timeless void, or actually be that timeless void. That would be great and I think it will be great, but I plan to postpone it until after I have experienced a little more of the active life.

I think that the way to lead an active life is to give every moment the benefit of your best conscious thought, in order to try to understand what is going on here in physical reality -- all the way from the laws of physics to the strange behavior of humans -- and to formulate your plans of action with the same deliberate thoughtfulness. (I retired from IBM so I spent 30 years seeing those "Think" signs at every turn on every wall. That might have helped condition me toward this attitude. :)) I see that job, of thoughtful action, as literally being the work of God. That is, in my view, "God" is that ability to consciously think that we use in trying to understand and alter the world. I believe that it is that very ability that is responsible not only for the evolution of human culture but for the evolution of biological organisms and the evolution of the entire physical universe as well. I think it is profoundly important.

That is probably more philosophical background on me than you wanted or needed, but I just thought it might help to let you know where I'm coming from before we get down to the root issue.
Rade said:
If I read you correctly, you hold that "consciousness" is the ultimate metaphysical reality, whereas I hold that "existence" is of ultimate primacy.
I think you are correct that this seems to lie at the heart of whatever disagreements we might have. But I think the problem is more semantic than anything else.

There are several ways of thinking about "ultimate metaphysical reality". One way is as the most basic ontological "stuff" of which everything else consists. Another is the original state of reality if it even had an origin. A third one is the fundamental premise that must be made in order to begin formulating an explanation for anything. I think our differences simply amount to different choices among these.
Rade said:
I disagree with Descarte--I "know" he is not correct as well as I can "know" anything--that is, I know that I do not exist because I think, I JUST EXIST
I agree with you here. Descartes got it backward: I exist, and then I think. But I think both you and Descartes overlook the most important question begged by his cogito: What, exactly, for Heaven's sake, do you mean by "I"? What is this thing that can think? Can thinking exist without a thinker? Or does some thinker have to exist in order to have thought? If so, what exactly is that thinker?

In our ordinary human experience and in the ordinary interpretation of things, the claim is made that the brain is the thinker and that thought cannot exist outside the brain. It is the very departure from this idea that got you to questioning how anyone can hold a contrary view and prompting me to respond.

The problem I have with this customary view is that thought would be impossible prior to biological development, and thus thought would not be involved in the early physical universe. This means that the universe would have to arise without the benefit of design, which seems to me to be a hard problem, and it means that consciousness would have to arise from matter somehow, which is the "Hard Problem" currently being discussed. If we posit consciousness as primordial, then we have identified a designer responsible for choosing the extremely improbable initial conditions for the universe, and we also have solved the problem of consciousness appearing in organisms (the one consciousness simply drives them the way we drive cars or Mars Rovers.)

So, to fix Descartes' problem, the thinker, i.e. consciousness, is primordial. So it, by hypothesis, is the first entity to exist. At some point later, i.e. "after" it has existed for some time, it can know, or realize, that it exists. I think your experience is simply a recollection (in Plato's sense) of that initial existential moment. Incidentally I think that the term 'realize' tells us a lot. I used the term above in the sense of having the knowledge suddenly "dawn on" the thinker, but it can be interpreted in the other sense as well. By realizing existence, it makes the fact real. That is, the fact of existence is really something. And I mean it is "really something" in both senses of that! What I mean is that the realization that there is a difference, or a distinction, between existing and not existing, is new knowledge which emerged in reality. This knowledge began to form the basis of an organized collection of other knowledge, which, as well as I understand it, is the basis for the foundation of physical reality as described both by George Spencer-Brown and by Dr. Dick. As Bishop Berkeley described, all of physical reality is nothing more than an extremely complex and sophisticated system of such thoughts. I think he was right in spite of his critics.

So, let's go back to the question of, What is the "ultimate metaphysical reality"? Using my previous analysis of this phrase, I would say that the most basic ontological "stuff" of which everything else consists is that ability to think, or simply consciousness. And the original state of reality assuming it even had an origin was simply the existence of that ability to think without any thoughts having yet been thunk. And finally, the fundamental premise that must be made in order to begin formulating an explanation for reality is that there is some notion of existence so we can even talk about what that consciousness was doing extremely early on. In this last sense, I'd say you are correct: "existence is primary". I think we only have semantic disagreements. Of course we may have chosen different hypotheses about what that "I" actually is.

It's been fun talking with you, Rade, but I've gone on long enough. I've got some other "fun projects" that I want to attend to.

Paul
 
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Paul

Your post deserves a detailed response but for sake of all the other things I ought to be doing I'll try to skip through it a bit superficially. We agree on many things but I'll focus on where we disagree.

Your use of capitalization startled me. Just last week I thought of the same idea of capitalization to clear up a confusion which has popped up several times on PF between me and others and which always seems to get dropped without resolution.
Capitalisation is commonly used in the mystical literature for this purpose. As you say, it avoids a lot of confusion.

God=You=Me=Plato=Mind=Buddha=Athman=Brahman=
Can't argue with that. :smile:

First, I have always been a little bit uneasy with Nagel's 'what it is like'. It just seems that we could come up with a better characterization of what we mean, but it is also clear that nobody has done so yet. Taking the characterization literally, it says that consciousness is a metaphor. We are saying that We are conscious of A if and only if We know that A is like B
This seems to be a misunderstanding. By 'what it is like' is meant A knowing what A is like, not A knowing what B is like. Of course, when we describe 'what it is like' we must use metaphors and analogies, but in immediate experience knowing what A is like is knowing what A is like, not B or C. So I'd say your definition "the ability to know" is not fundamentally different to "what it is like", since we cannot know what it is like without being able to know.

You have a much better grasp of Rosenberg than I do so I won't comment on that part of your post. I find his theory too complex to grasp. I agree with equating individuating sentient beings to natural individuals, but either I disagree with his ideas about effective and receptive properties or I haven't understood them, or both.

As I see it, the mysterious "communication link" i keep talking about between Mind and brain is exactly what Rosenberg calls a "carrier".
Makes sense. But is there a need to to posit a carrier if Mind and mind and brain are ultimately all the same thing?

With the possible exception of the word 'duality', I think We now do agree on the key definitions and I think We agree on most of the rest.
I agree. But the issue of dualism is for me so fundamental that until we resolve that one I feel our agreement will be a bit superficial. Perhaps one of us could start a thread on dualism/nondualism.

And I think the only way to remove the sloppiness is to revert to mathematics and develop these ideas as formal systems. You have gotten My hopes up that Spencer-Brown has already got a start on this, but I don't know enough about his work yet to be sure. I would very much like to know more about it.
Yes, I find it very useful to relate all this to formal mathematical systems, and in fact find it quite impossible to separate metaphysics from mathematics. I'd argue that GSB did a lot more than make a start and that he got to the end. But again, perhaps that's one for another thread.

Concerning the definition of 'duality', it is not really important to Me. I don't care whether people call me a dualist or not, and i don't use the term, or any connotations of it, to try to express My ideas. I feel the same way about the term 'God'. Both terms seem to have such very different meanings to different People, that unless they are carefully defined first, I think it is a mistake to use either one. So I try not to.
I've got a feeling we misunderstand each other when it comes to dualism. You say it is not an important issue, yet it is a vital issue for mystical writers, which suggests a significant difference in views.

Concerning Buddhism, because of your suggestions i have now completed two courses covering the subject. I have been fascinated by what I learned. The net of it is that I can interpret Buddhist doctrines, or sutras, to be completely in accord with My own cosmological views.
Was the lower case 'i' deliberate? :smile: It seems to me also that your view is nearly consistent with Buddhist doctrine. However, the concept of nonduality is so central in Buddhist cosmology that it cannot be skated over. This is something we might discuss at length sometime.

On the other hand, I can identify what you might call "sloppiness" or "confusion" in each one. I learned that these same problems were identified by later Buddhist thinkers who founded new schools that fixed the problems. To my surprise, as I learned about these "fixes", I found Myself in agreement that they were an improvement on the previous notions.
I'm not sure how you would have reached this view. Can you give examples? It's very hard to find instances of sloppiness or confusion in the sutras, and I've never heard any Budhhist suggest that there are any.

But, with one exception, I think we can come to understand and explain everything that exists. That one exception is the problem of the ultimate origin of the ultimate ontological entity. That one, I think we have to leave open.
I'm not so sure about that, but maybe.

Buddhists themselves don't have a single view on these things, so We can't assume that They have the "correct" view.
The appearance of different views is usually superficial. Do you have examples of different views on anything important.

I think We should feel as empowered as Anyone to think these things through trying to make sense of them. After all We are Brahman.
Quite agree. It's the only way to make sense of them.

If We attribute all free will to the One consciousness, and recognize that the One acts out that free will through us, then everything makes sense.
I sort of agree. However, as far as I can tell, in Buddhism and Taoism what is fundamental does not act at all.

You mentioned quite some time ago in our conversations that we might disagree on the issue of freedom. Here, I can see that we do. If what you said here is a precept of Buddhism, then i would have to say that they are wrong. In My view, the personal 'freedom' so valued in materialist societies, if exercised by Mind, is the most precious and important feature in all of reality.
OK, but you are assuming that this freedom is exercised by Mind. I'm suggesting that it's exercised by mind.

"If one thinks that his infinite Spirit does the finite work which nature does, he is a man of clouded vision and he does not see the truth."

Bhagavad Gita
Chap. 18

I think it is clear from human history, that to the extent that humans think for themselves, their condition greatly improves.
Hmm. I don't find this to be at all clear. But perhaps I'm reading the wrong meaning into the sentence.

In my view, all the discussions surrounding the notion of duality are nothing but sophism.
Great. At last we have something we can really disagree about.

I don't think anything can be learned or gained by precisely defining 'dualism' and then taking stands on implications of that definition. That is not to say that there aren't logical problems (which I think you might call metaphysical) with any proposal for cosmic origins. In fact, as i have consistently said, I maintain that each and every proposed explanation for the origin of reality, whether it is string theory, religious creationism, some mythical epic account, or any other philosophical, religious, fictional, mythical, whimsical, logical, or psychological account, will have exactly the same problem: whether reality had a beginning or not, and if so, how did it get started, and if not how can we explain its existence.
This is just the point. These problems do not arise is nondual cosmologies. Lao-Tsu, the Buddha, Spencer Brown et al, they all claim to know the truth about our origins. Indeed, knowing this is necessary as a basis for knowing anything much, according to the mystics, for to know what one is one has to know how one originates. As Lao-Tsu says, knowing the ancient beginnings is the essence of Tao.

As you said, the concept of duality plays no part in My view of reality and I don't think it ever will.
Wanna bet? You won't be able to explore Buddhism and yet avoid this issue, It is the key to everything. Buddhism is sometimes called the 'Middle Way' view. The reason for this cannot be understood without an understanding of duality and nonduality.

For example, to understand Buddhist docrine it is necessary to understand the nonduality of Samsara and Nirvana, the unity of appearances and reality. And only by understanding nonduality is it possible to see how metaphysical questions like "Did the universe have a beginning or not?" can be resolved. Crucially, the central mystical experience is one of nonduality, and it is the principle or fact of nonduality that lies at the heart of the mystical doctrine.

"If we ask definitely ‘What is Brahman?’ the answer in modern terms would be: ‘Brahman cannot be defined because it is Infinite. It is beyond thought and beyond imagination. It is nothing in the mind and nothing outside the mind, nothing past, present or future. These are only conceptions in time and space. But the nearest conception of Brahman we can have is to say that it is a state of consciousness beyond time when SAT, CIT and, ANANDA, Being and Consciousness and Joy are ONE.’ We thus have the Mandukya Upanishad that explains the paradox that Brahman is all, and Brahman is nothing, or no-thing."

Translators Introduction (xl)
The Bhagavad Gita
(Trans. Juan Macaró, Penguin, 2003 (xviii))

"When we encounter the Void, we feel that it is primordial emptiness of cosmic proportions and relevance. We become pure consciousness aware of this absolute nothingness; however, at the same time, we have a strange paradoxical sense of its essential fullness. This cosmic vacuum is also a plenum, since nothing seems to be missing in it. While it does not contain in a concrete manifest form, it seems to comprise all of existence in a potential form. In this paradoxical way, we can transcend the usual dichotomy between emptiness and form, or existence and non-existence. However, the possibility of such a resolution cannot be adequately conveyed in words; it has to be experienced to be understood."

Stanislav Grof
The Cosmic Game

I'd just add that it is my understanding that although this resolution, the nonduality of existence and non-existence, something and nothing and so forth, cannot be adequately conveyed in words it can nevertheless be discussed in terms of the principles involved. But only by getting to grips with dualism and the extent to which it infects our thinking. It seems correct to say that in GSB's mathematical model of the universe it is specifically dualism, the making of false distinctions or 'indications', that is responsible for our existence as human beings.

Thank you for the enjoyable discussion.

Canute
 

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