Forgetting to Remember

If nothing else, this site and all the work on it, serves a very important purpose: it is a snapshot of my mind at its best and worst moments, all my best ideas and best thinking preserved, in some kind of context, a kind of a lifeline to lead me back out of the occasional blind alley. I suppose that is one of the points of having a journal in the first place. Even deeper though, I have come to think of this place as a concrete manifestation of a guiding spirit. It is odd to be able to go back and hear my own voice telling me things I ought to know, and once did, but forgot.

If human history were just a matter of us learning things once and moving on, of a painfully slow yet incremental and one way ascent into the light of understanding, things would be drastically different for all of us. But of course, they are not that way at all. We receive lessons, then forget them, then struggle bitterly to win them back again, time and time and time again, until the world around us bears enough marks of the lessons that they become burnt into the very landscape, and we simply live in the space that has been carved out, whether we have ourselves actually understood anything or not. In a very real sense, it is not people who learn, but the world. It is the lessons embedded in the world that shape our behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you understand how cars work, how electricity is generated, why slavery and child labour are immoral. Those lessons are carved into the social economic and even physical landscape. You are surrounded by cars, you use electricity and there are no slaves. Similarly, it doesn’t really matter how often you think you understand something, it isn’t until you reprogram the environment, that your actual behaviour changes in a lasting way. We are only weakly creatures of rationality, and very strongly creatures of instinct and habit. the best use of our fleeting rational faculties, of our transient willpower, is to change the world around us, to make into a manifestation of understanding. To make the world into an extended mind. Our guiding spirit.

Once you begin to see this, it is utterly clear why few positive changes get much traction, and what does happen appears often to be utterly inexplicable or orthogonal to our intentions. If all you do is think of choice and action, and the childish democratic calculus of getting everyone to think the same ideas as the only way to improve our situation, you will miss the way the manifest conditions override even the largest electorates. Millions of people protest the second iraq war before it even starts, net effect? Zero. Design a cellphone cheap enough that everyone on earth can own one? Sooner or later everyone will.

Philosophically speaking, I am closer and closer to be a thoroughgoing monist: whatever is going on here is all one thing, one fundamental substance. There is no point talking about matter and mind as separate things. In a very real sense, if you want to change enough minds, and it’s abundantly clear that is what we need to do, then it’s all about moving the right kind of material stuff around in a way that our collective extended mind has finally learned something in a way that sticks. Instead of letting ourselves get lost in mere rhetoric about justice, peace, freedom and evolution, while embedded in the material assumptions of corruption, warfare, coercion and stagnation, maybe we should struggle always to remember that justice will only be guaranteed when injustice becomes physically impossible. We should remember to ask ourselves what a manifest justice looks like, the same way we are often asked to visualise a ‘free market’.  We should remember to ask what we look like in the mirror when our lessons are written in our very flesh, and the world itself has been transformed into our guiding spirit. The ‘true will’ only matters if it strong enough, for just a moment, to move us closer to that.

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broken links I

freshening up my page today, and updating my blogroll, and realizing that the whys and wherefores of that constitute some interesting stories in and of themselves. If I mean to continue, then it helps to reflect on why some of my peers and influences don’t, can’t, or simply change. It’s good to internalise feedback and the lessons of others, and several years into the initiatory crisis that more and more looks to be mutating into an open-ended crisis transition-to-nowhere , there’s more than enough room for some tweaking of assumptions and course corrections.

More than anything, the toll taken in my little corner of the blogosphere is down to what I have come to think of as doomer fatigue. Seeing one sickening lurch into the abyss after another, from 911, to katrina, to bush’s second term, to 100$/barrel oil, to the 2008 market crash, and now the parade of helplessness and absurdity of the obama years, deepwater horizon, fukishima, endless churning chaos in the euro zone, the breaking upon the rocks of occupy, soon to give way to the Mormon yoke of Mittens Romney in the US, inevitable default of some kind in europe, and the ongoing reign of a tinpot thug with all the personality of a plastic doll in canada, PM stephen harper ( imagine bush, but even more of a blatant oil crony, and even less of an interesting target for ridicule)… but the fabric never quite rips completely, and the ongoing nervous exhaustion of hoping/wondering/fearing what’s next just burns people out from both ends and the middle. There’re sound technical reasons why the real life crisis never seems to quite match one’s intuitions about it, and sound reasons why few people ever assimilate the perspective needed for the long game. For a lot of people this genre of analysis is a kind of escapism, wish fulfilment, or ongoing bellows for rage and misanthropy, and making it your daily bread with no real outlet or catharsis is eventually toxic. It exposes some very dark and twisted things in certain personalties and even if you can keep your own demons at bay, seeing lots of others who can’t takes its own kind of toll, as does the other end of the spectrum which is blatant denial of what is going on, for lack of insight or a adequate attention span. I have had enough of people who are actually waiting on the crash of the global industrial economy and the ensuing mass starvation of 75% of the human race, just as I have had enough of picking over the gothic horror show of failed institutions pretending they can still do something, to maintain their illusion of legitimacy.

matt savinar, creator of the life after the oil crash website really kicked a lot of my thinking off on these subjects, but his last nerve eventually gave out under the parasitic needs of chronic doomer headcases, and now he’s made his peace and preparations, folded up shop and is evidently doing astrology, of all bloody things. He’s either lost his shit completely, or gone somewhere I cannot follow. Godspeed.

jeff wells of rigorous intuition is probably the biggest influence on my style of writing. he likes to tell a scary story, in an interesting way. Alas, he never learned the secret of magick: write your stories carefully, because they might eat you. At least have an exit hatch from your reality tunnel. wells doesn’t seem to have one, and his audience never rose to the task, sadly, and he has mostly gone under the waves. This kind of writing is like tibetan buddhism: you need to be able to bind demons and turn them into benevolent spirits. Nobody can pull you back out of that hole against your will, once you’ve gone in.

There’s an interesting kind of thing that happens when you develop a large disconnect between people’s psychic condition, and the environment they live in. I talked before about ‘the psychic apocalypse’ that has to precede the temporal one, the kind of revolution of the mind that has to take place before upheavals in the physical world take hold. I think you have increasingly large numbers of people cluing in that the, for lack of a better word, psychological moorings of our civilization have been terminally compromised. But when the outer world doesn’t reflect your inner condition, when you see this weird aimlessness and blithe accommodation to stagnation and ruin everywhere, and no sense that anything can or will or even needs to happen…this can fuck up your mind.

The flipside would be hysterical optimists, particularly of the techno variety. The thing to always remember, and I have failed to do this a number of times, is that all trends occur in a whole system. Peak oil, moore’s law, the maps of insight progress, the kabbalistic tree of life, climate ‘change’, whatever, these all are subject to various negative feedbacks, because a system could only sustain itself if runaway positive feedback loops didn’t blow the whole thing apart during its formation. A runaway train is not a system, at least not for long. Whole systems require homoeostasis, and homoeostasis requires buffers, sinks, and negative feedbacks to dampen accelerating positive feedbacks before they explode or plunge the system into chaos. This explains why we are unlikely to accelerate straight into a singularity, nor dive directly into the maw of malthusian hell as we traverse hubbert’s curve. What’s interesting to consider is how much things can actually change without triggering negative feedbacks or overwhelming the buffers altogether and flipping over into some new condition. I spent a day or two thinking that ‘the singularity’ is not likely to refer to some godlike AI tipping over the applecart of human history, but rather the point where the planet becomes essentially a telepathic hivemind stitched together out of ultracheap mobile devices and ubiquitous computers of other sorts, powered by little more than background radiowave radiation. What does a singularity of social media look like? I think we are basically living it. Pretty soon the phones will be smarter than you are, if not singly, than collectively. Think about it. That by itself, combined with the fact that these things will be running on almost no power at all, tells me that we will never see the deleted scenes from ‘The Road’. The function of information in evolutionary terms is that it makes energy expenditure more efficient and forestalls entropy. That level of ubiquitous information transfer and connectivity will be the king buffer of them all against system disruption due to resource depletion and at the same time a driver for changes we cannot really forsee from here.

basically, extreme optimism and pessimism are not adequate to the level of weirdness we are likely to see. They are ways to not grapple with the real issues at work. I have no time for that anymore.

to be continued…

New Model Monism / open thread

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.

there is no feeler / open thread

I guess I’ll try and do one of these every week. the last one filled up pretty good.

I’m settling into my new condition, whatever that may end up being. Some kind of fundamental suffering seems to be radically reduced. The thing way down the perceptual stack that drives suffering seems to now be largely absent, right in the center of the field. the habit patterns keep spinning, but now all I have to do is look, and they unwind themselves in a way that seems completely obvious and progressive in a way it didn’t used to be. Kind of like pedaling downhill instead of uphill.  I think the thing that gets overlooked a lot in insight practice is that there are usually two interconnected reference points; the ‘watcher’ and the ‘feeler’. most aspiring arahats manage to see through the watcher, and hence take a big bite out of ignorance, but the feeler is often neglected, which explains how you end up with hardcore arahats having emotional flame-outs with surprising regularity. feelings always arise and always will, but when those feelings become the property of some delusional ‘feeler’ then you get the phenomena of conditioned emotions, much the same way as when visual /auditory experience becomes the perspective of a ‘watcher’, you get pathologies associated to the witness and the separation sense and whatnot. if you have no self and no feeler, then there are no such things as emotions, either, as long as we define carefully the difference between feelings and emotions: emotions are feelings that become tied into conditioned relationships with concepts, the self and the external world.  In that light, the whole controversy of limited emotional range models and ‘affect-less’ pseudo-arahats playing with their own brainstems and amygdalae becomes a moot point: there never were any emotions to argue about in the first place. just feelings that a false self tried to make the property of a false feeler. let them rise and fall.

it really is completely obvious. all you have to do is quit distracting yourself with things that aren’t there.

The Eternal Mountain / Open Thread

 

Well, the baptists are closing up their forum for good, and I’ve invited the gaggle of enlightened satanists to hang out here while Alan and Duncan prepare to set up a new forum ( under a new remit) elsewhere. They may or may not deign to squat here, but in any event, it can’t hurt to get some people talking again, so I figure I’ll drop an open thread to see who’s still hanging around. I’ve never actually done a roll call of my audience, so by all means just give a small peep if that’s all you’re inclined to do, but feel free to talk rubbish to your heart’s content.

Just to kick off, my insight practice seems to have reached something resembling a conclusion today. perhaps it was all the debate and contemplation of complex issues over on open enlightenment and the ‘head, or maybe it was the philosophy of mind and logic classes, or maybe it was just good karma and sheer stubbornness. In any case, it’s all done, or very close to it. as long as I stay fairly relaxed and don’t chase after it too hard, I have this perfect centerless awareness thing going on, which is pretty cool. Once I burn off some residual habit patterns of dualistic perception, the thing should settle in for good, and not a moment too soon. the bliss of selfless fundamental unity is kind of like that old joke about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. it feels so good when you stop being ignorant.

It’s too bad my own lineage takes a slightly harder line on what constitutes enlightenment than Dharma Dan Ingram. By his standard, I would probably be an arahat now, or again, very close to it. But by the old theravada, pali canon, 10 hindrances way of thinking, I am merely a wretched once-returner until I fully extinguish lust, aversion, conceit, ignorance, restlessness and worry and attachment to the worlds of form and formlessness. But I have never complained over having further mountains to climb. That is what makes us human. To me full enlightenment has always been a three legged stool of insight, concentration and conduct. It would be opportunistic of me to throw that standard away at such a convenient moment.

magickal record 09-06-09

I have this almost continuous sensation now, like everything is this huge knot, constantly constricting, and constricting and trying to close down ever tighter on absolutely nothing.

It even spills over into my dreams, in slightly absurd forms. Like trying to fill in a blank on a test form, and finding that nothing feels quite right, and that empty space is just so disturbing, and nothing can quite fill it. Or playing starcraft in my dreams and wanting to create that perfect formation, and yet that same sense of dis-ease, of absence that cannot be resolved.

and every so often, I snap out of it, and it’s just the play of sensations again. I am none of this, none of this… nobody home.

I try not too think too much about some of the neurological implications of all this on the enterprise of enlightenment. I mean, here we are trying to attain to the absolute, or ultimate reality, and we’re just encountering exactly what you’d expect, if you really thought about what a sentient mind that could only experience itself in terms of sensory impulses in the nervous system would be like. It’s as if you could create a perfect, real-time recreation of a human being in some kind of computer system, and that software hologram was perfect right down to all the subjective phenomena. but it’s not real. it’s a simulacra. and that’s what we are. we are simulacra of ourselves, created within ourselves, and taking it as the real. how very baudrillard. anything we know, or think we know, about ‘reality’ is just more stuff floating around in the nervous system, and it always will be. including all this ‘god’ stuff. and short of death, there’s no way of truly knowing one way or another.

don’t worry, it’s not a crisis of spiritual conviction or anything. sensations are just as much spirit as anything else. even if it’s all just noise on the wiring of our bodies, then so be it. another mountain to climb. people who are in it for ‘the goal’ are just tourists. nothing ever really ends.

it’s a very fractal thing: the more you do, the more you see, and the more you see, the more there is to do. I guess that’s why every true master I’ve ever met considered themselves a begginer. you will always have all your work still ahead of you, even if no one else can see it. you kind of have to make your peace with that at some point, no matter what your personal everest happens to be. if it’s really worth doing, it’s worth doing forever. comfort, conclusion, ‘success’, ownership, status, identity…? throw them on the fire. they mean nothing. and throw yourself on the fire while you’re at it. burning forever is the only way to go.