I guess the biggest thing that has come with my latest round of insights is how perfectly simple and obvious a lot of reality actually is. leading out of that, is a greater than ever puzzlement at how people seem to make the whole thing and the process of understanding it, into something needlessly complex. part of that is jargon, part of that is cultural disconnect, part of that is lack of interpretive framework, and part of it pure foundational confusion.
for instance, allow me to recourse to Uncle Noam again: I was listening to one of his talks the other day and he made a good point: when human beings talk about our own higher mental faculties, we don’t apply the same standards, or the same fundamental assumptions, as we do to studying anything else in the natural world, like birds, or trees, or rocks. As soon as you talk about consciousness, or even something like language use in higher primates ( us ), suddenly the thing diverges into metaphysics, and a lot of people assume you have to become a mystic to understand it. To me, this seems like a defense mechanism to avoid actually facing what is clear and obvious when you look directly at the nature and capabilities of human beings. Close investigation of immediate experience starts to tell you things you don’t like, so you have to create whole new categories of reality and bring them into the conversation to avoid the simplest conclusions.
I’ve been taking a philosophy of mind course this semester, and the whole thing revolves around what they call ‘the hard problem’. how is it that out of the objective facts of brain and biology, do we get subjective experience, basically? How do you account for ‘being’? The short answer is a lot of what we think of as subjectivity is an illusion, and the rest is probably understandable in terms of brain science. And yet, even though good and simple explanations exist, many people in the mind sciences/philosophy insist that we must always account for our superficial intuitions about reality. it seems like we have a self, it seems like we have subjective experience of a very unified sort, it seems like we have agency of the ordinary kind, so anything that dis confirms these things must be wrong or somehow unsatisfactory.
the notion that we should be fitting our theories to match our undisciplined intuitions about reality seems like the exact opposite of the reasons why we invented science, philosophy, and contemplation to begin with. we wanted to go beyond the face value, the superstitious, the mysterious and ineffable. But for some people, a good explanation will never be enough. makes you wonder what they were really looking for in the first place. truth? or just validation for their personal prejudices?
the enlightenment scene is rife with this sort of thing. the simple truth is not good enough, so there needs to be elaborate practices and metaphysics and mysticism in it’s place. there’s nothing wrong with being a mystic, I suppose, but that’s not really a collective human project, and it’s not really something that can or should get a lot of traction in the collective domain where better and clearer understandings exist. it would be kind of like praying for lightning, when a match will do just fine.
I don’t think it’s controversial that the basic question of enlightenment revolves around ‘dualism’. the way it is typically used in enlightenment culture is dualism of perception, or the relationship between subject and object, and collapsing the split between them.
but this is actually a fairly narrow and not always terribly useful way of approaching the problem. it is also an extremely narrow way of understanding what ‘dualism’ actually is, or what the historical philosophical dialogue around dualism actually entails. it’s a clear cut case of where veering off into mysticism confuses the issue, perhaps deliberately, when one doesn’t like the conclusions of simple reason.
If you are a ‘non-dualist’, in terms of your view on reality, that means you think there is only one fundamental substance. not subjective substance and objective substance. not matter and mind. not spirit and matter. not mind and spirit. not soul and body. not self and other. this philosophical term for the absence of dualism is ‘monism’, and I find it rather peculiar how enlightenment culture seems to go through all kinds of contortions to explain the non-dual nature of reality, when a single word will do. there may be the appearance of these many different substances, but that is a fallacy. there is only one ‘kind’ of stuff, and it presents itself in many possible ways, at least to our senses, leading to our confusion about reality. Sticking your hand in an open flame, or having sex, or listening to music are about as different as sensory experiences can get, but there is no doubt that they are fundamentally grounded in the same reality. no one should postulate a different metaphysical domain to govern music, or sex or combustion. same with our so-called ‘spiritual’ experiences. There are no existentially or metaphysically ‘other’ domains or reality. it’s all one thing.
the whole question of perception is a red herring. perception will do what it will do, but it is inevitably constrained and constructed by your foundational assumptions. and if your foundational assumption is that there are really all manner of different substances, essences, or links in the great chain of being at work here, then you have little hope of ever really getting beyond dualistic thinking.
and for those who will immediately recoil at this apparent ‘reduction’, just keep in mind that how things appear to us has very little to do with what they fundamentally are. one can scream ‘materialist reduction’ all they wish, but even a cursory familiarity with contemporary physical theory shows that matter is not quite as material as it’s cracked up to be. the one thing at work in the universe is much more complex than billiard balls, but is also much simpler than dualistic schema of multiple separate domains somehow interacting with each other across various kinds of metaphysical divide. everything you think of as mind, body, soul, spirit, matter, energy, god, man, the finite, the infinite. it’s all just one kind of thing at work, seen in different ways. you are not a soul in a body, or a mind in a brain, or any nonsense like this. you are your body. you are your brain. you are your consciousness, and they are all aspects of each other.
“Ultimate Reality” does not mean finding some abstract realm or experience to abide in. or perturbing your senses so things look somehow different. You want ultimate reality? Look at your hand. look at the wall. Look at your thoughts. it’s all the same stuff. how could it possibly be any other way? you are this, and only this. there is nothing else to be, and nowhere else to go, and nothing here to be anywhere or do anything or go anywhere else. whatever you might mean when you think of mind or soul or reality, it’s right there, in your hand, right now. Seriously.
If you start thinking ‘oh it just can’t be that simple’… yes it can, and yes it is. If you’re hooked on thinking there has to be something more complex to it, it just means you’re in thrall to some idea that reality is somehow not exactly what’s in front of you. No, of course it’s not all there is to reality, but it is reality. Seeing everything there is to see is not the point, never was the point, never will be the point. It’s seeing what is, as it is, as being fundamentally real. Thinking that there just has to be something more to it, is the exact problem. there just has to be some self that I can’t actually find, some permanent unchanging thing to rest in that I can’t actually find, some other plane of reality where the real stuff is actually happening that I cannot actually find.
The reason you can’t find it, is:
because. it. is. not. there.
this is it. this is enlightenment. the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can start to see more of what is really going on.