I enjoyed my 45 minute or so BlogTalkRadio conversation with medium Marcel Cairo yesterday. We were supposed to talk about Science, Spirituality, and Spinoza, which we sort of did.
The archived AfterLifeFM show is here. To hear me in my (somewhat muffled) glory, scroll down and click on one of the symbols to the right of "Dismantling Dogma." The arrow thingie fires up Windows Media Player.
Alternatively, I'll share my memory of some conversational highlights.
This is the third time Marcel and I have talked over the Internet. We've got a thing going. As a medium, Marcel obviously believes in the afterlife. Me, I'd like it a lot if I will live on after my physical death. Who wouldn't, so long as it isn't in a hellish state?
But I don't know if I will. So I float in the unknowing zone between belief and doubt, wanting to be open to the possibility of existence beyond the physical, yet having no proof that this is a reality rather than wishful thinking. To me, this is the most honest and practical way of living my life:
Accepting that until I know something, I don't know it.
So I told Marcel that every morning I spend some time meditating. My habitual pitch to the "universe" (my way of referring to the totality of what's real) goes something like this.
Hi, it's me, Brian. If there's anyone or anything hearing me, other than myself, I'd be pleased to get to know you. I have no idea who or what you may be. Jesus, Buddha-nature, Allah, Jehovah, angel, extra-terrestrial intelligence, God, Zeus, guru…I'm clueless. And ready to be surprised. Like Jodie Foster said as she was waiting to be transported somewhere, anywhere, by a mysterious force in Contact, "It's a go!"
I don't know which direction to go myself. Yesterday I said that the best I could do is surmise that ultimate reality is much more likely to be found within rather than without. Spinoza makes scientific sense when he says that there is only One Thing happening in the cosmos.
He called it God, or Nature, or Being. Three words for the same thing that can't be encapsulated by words. It's everywhere and everything. We're all a part of it. Or perhaps more accurately, we are it. Thus to look for this truth outside ourselves is to miss where it could be found.
I mentioned that it's strange (or maybe not so strange) that if there's a reality beyond the physical, it's so damn difficult to discern. You'd think that the foundation of the cosmos would be just a touch more evident. However, scientists can't put their finger on a Theory of Everything either, despite a tremendous amount of trying.
This leads me to the conclusion that a soft touch is better than a crude reaching out. My meditation now is essentially an effort to stay on a pivot point that allows me to turn in any direction. Belief. Disbelief. Faith. Doubt. Higher. Lower. East. West. Death. Life.
Last night Laurel and I had our second Night Club Two-Step class. Like Tango, the man is supposed to be the leader 100% of the time. At one point Lora, our instructor, went over to the sound system and brandished a remote control.
"See this, guys?" she said. "This is yours in dance. You get to decide the moves. Use it!" That's a challenge. An equal challenge, for the women, is to not anticipate what the lead is going to be.
Laurel and I would get into practicing a series of moves, a pattern. After a while I could feel her edging ahead of me, taking a step before I'd led it because she thought she knew what I was going to do.
Bad girl! Laurel was admonished for this when Lora took on the man's role while demonstrating a move with my wife. Lora stopped Laurel in her tracks and said, "What are you doing? I didn't lead that step."
Applying this lesson to dancing with the entire universe rather than an individual person, Spinoza taught that everything that happens is necessary. It's determined. There's nothing outside of Nature, or God, that could exercise an influence on the universe.
Thus you could say (and Spinoza does) that God/Nature always does the leading, and we the following. Einstein agreed, holding that free will is an illusion. He echoed Spinoza's view that we are aware of what we desire to do, but unaware of the causes that lead us to have that desire.
So it makes sense to strive to be a good follower, sensitively attuned to the forces acting upon us both from within and without (understanding that if the universe is indeed a unity, actually there's no without).
We become lighter on our feet, trusting that we're in the arms of a partner – God/Nature/Being, to use Spinoza's terms – that will lead us truly. Our faith is that we'll be led to do, think, feel, and perceive the right thing, even though it isn't possible for us to know ahead of time what that will be.
Such is the balance that a dancer who's a good follower has.
She returns to her center after a move is led, not anticipating what will happen next, ready for anything, sensitive to the lead that may be felt either subtly or overtly.
She floats in an zone between faith and doubt – confident that she will be led appropriately, but not knowing where or how.
Know the strength of man,
But keep a woman's care!
Be the stream of the universe!
Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more.
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.
--Tao Te Ching, chapter 28
(Here's another version of those verses, with some nice commentary.)
Very nice piece, Brian. You're absolutely right to say that we're missing the point to look far, far outside ourselves for meaning. But oddly, it's also a mistake to look deep, deep within ourselves. I was deeply guilty of that in my younger years. The wonder of it, I think, is that the state we seek is right inside the front door, but only barely, right in front of our noses.
Posted by: Mystic Wing | July 19, 2007 at 06:05 AM
Why would you say that we should avoid the depths of ourselves? What is there or not there that we should avoid?
Posted by: Ashwin | July 19, 2007 at 12:07 PM
Brian wrote: "This is the third time Marcel and I have talked over the Internet. We've got a thing going. As a medium, Marcel obviously believes in the afterlife. Me, I'd like it a lot if I will live on after my physical death. Who wouldn't, so long as it isn't in a hellish state?"
"But I don't know if I will. So I float in the unknowing zone between belief and doubt, wanting to be open to the possibility of existence beyond the physical, yet having no proof that this is a reality rather than wishful thinking. To me, this is the most honest and practical way of living my life:"
Comment: This is not intended to prove existence beyond the physical, it doesn't even prove it to me. It's just my experience for what it is or isn't worth.
Twilight Zone music begins.
When I was very little I used to wake up in my dreams which somehow enabled me to go around the house in awareness or mind only. I would go in the bathroom or living room and come back to look at my sleeping body on the bed. After awile I would find myself back in the body again. These experiences were very vivid and clear like a normal waking state, not dreamlike at all.
Later, as an adult, I have had similar experiences. On one occasion I was meditating and began thinking about a restaurant where I worked. Suddenly, I found my awareness at the restaurant following behind the owner as he was serving some people at a table. Later, I asked the owner about these people, who I recognized as some celebrities, and described what they were wearing, etc. He verified that my observations were accurate and that these people were indeed at the restauarant earlier wearing the clothing I described.
Again, this experience was very vivid and non-dreamlike. In fact, my senses seemed to be hightened. Sounds were exceptionally clear, colors bright and vibrant. I was aware of every detail in the room. Then, as fast as I got there, I was back in the physical body again.
I don't know if such out-of-body experiences are dependent upon the physical body, brain and nervous system. I don't know for sure what happens at death, but I suspect I will be where I always have been.. right here, right now (pronoun eliminated). Where else, what else, could there be?
Eerie music stops. Control of your computer has been returned to you.
Posted by: Tucson Bob | July 19, 2007 at 05:10 PM
It's not that the depths should be avoided; just that transcendence, or heaven, is right at our fingertips, not far off in the heavens or deep in some subterranean place.
Posted by: Mystic Wing | July 20, 2007 at 04:44 AM
Tucson Bob, interesting stories. I'm curious: is this sort of experience under your control, or does it come unbidden?
You said that you started thinking of being somewhere else while you were meditating (gee, I do that all the time, but I never actually go there).
But when you say "suddenly," that sounds like it was a surprise. Was it?
Posted by: Brian | July 20, 2007 at 10:23 AM
Mystic Wing -
Your comment makes perfect sense, but I don't think we were both talking about the same thing (i.e. I must have misinterpreted your statement). I was mostly referring to self-understanding, that is, asking questions about ourselves, our personality, wants, to find out better what we will do.
Posted by: Ashwin | July 20, 2007 at 11:52 AM
In short, these experiences are not in my control and are few and far between. As a little kid, I think I had some conscious control of waking up in a dream, but I have no memory of how I did that.
One time as an adult I was dreaming I was at a party where there was one of those multi-faceted mirrored disco globes overhead. As I was looking at it I felt a strong pressure in my forehead as the globe expanded to a huge radiant star which my awareness merged into. I then found awareness shooting at unimaginable speed through galaxies of stars, arriving at a place of unknown forms and colors, all very beautiful and radiant. As soon as I thought "I am having this experience, what's going on?" there was a sort of tension that caused my awareness to snap back to the body at a speed Einstein would have no theory for. My theory is that space and time are conceptual (hardly original), so awareness can be at any part of itself instantly. All this was very vivid and real, much more so than my everyday waking state.
There have been a number of other experiences along these lines. In every case they were not associated with any act of will on my part. They were spontaneous, totally unexpected. With the exception of the restaurant experience they did not occur in meditation or anything like that.
I am just an average Joe walking around with no unusual abilities other than being able to consistently catch grapes in my mouth when thrown very high in the air. I don't know how or why these things happen. I can say there appears to be no limit to the capabilities of awareness that are seemingly independent of the physical body. Death could be quite a ride!
Posted by: Tucson Bob | July 20, 2007 at 01:13 PM
Dear Tucson Bob,
You are not "average." Your past experiences - though not controlled or willed - are unusual. I believe they are quite exceptional among us humans. (And they give a clue as to why you have suggested to me that I ought [so to speak] "relax" into some sort of "enighttenment" [again, so to speak].) For most of us, however, such experiences never come. I don't deny the possibility of their potential occurance, but I do affirm their general rarity.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 21, 2007 at 08:43 AM
"Spinoza's view that we are aware of what we desire to do, but unaware of the causes that lead us to have that desire. "
Yes, and what caused the cause that caused the cause, etc...
spinoza is not deep here, that is a simplistic observation.
The problem people have is with "first cause". We just can't get it. There is first cause and the only place it is observable in nature is in consiousness. You absolutely can't tell what i'm going to do next, that is a consious decision of mine and is absolutely undetermined.
Einstein had free will mixed up with determinism. Einstein did not accept quantum mechanics and uncertainity, at least at first. He said god doesn't play dice w/ the universe, hence no free will. He was wrong. We have discovered that at the very basis of reality lies uncertainty. You can't predict what your gonna get. It's the essence of creativity. And uncertainty principle is equivalent to human decision.
Is first cause part of the universe ? hell yes. Is consiousness part of the universe ?
hell yes.. since these things are part of the universe, they have to be accounted for. They cannot be eternally swept under the rug or denied away.
Posted by: Cyfer | July 21, 2007 at 08:44 AM
I meant "enlightenment" when I wrote "enighttenment." My error. (Cf. Rom. 3:23.)
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 21, 2007 at 08:52 AM
Cyfer, there's a couple of problems with using quantum uncertainty as "proof" that humans have free will.
First, will is different from uncertainty. Will implies that I can choose a direction, not that I'm uncertain what direction I'll end up in. So wiser minds than mine have questioned how uncertainty at the quantum level translates into the power to exercise one's will at the human level.
Second, quantum phenomena manifest only in the realm of the very tiny. We're big. We're not quanta. Science knows that in the world of the big, determinism reigns. It may be "chaotic" determinism, where there are too many causes acting on something to know what will happen next, but that's still determinism.
So when you say that not knowing what you're going to get is evidence of free will -- that's not true. It's evidence of ignorance of what you're going to get. Something (like a whirlpool or roulette wheel) can be completely determined yet also completely unpredictable.
Posted by: Brian | July 21, 2007 at 09:51 AM
I never said uncertainity is evidence of free will. I only point one that the idea of a determined universe is wrong. Also, a single photon can set off a nuclear bomb. It's called the trigger effect. Tiny phenomena can have huge effects. A single idea can change a nation.
I say uncertainity is observed on the macro scale everyday in the form living creatures. And it's very similar to atomic uncertainity. There has to be determinacy. Will or Life needs a solid, predictable ground to work from. How would it be if your car brakes only worked some of the time ?
I don't know what you mean by ignorance of what you'll get. Of course you'll get something. But it can't be predicted no matter how much information you have. It's uncertain. That's why a lot of scientist didn't accept it or don't like it.
Without uncertainty, there would be no possiblity of freedom of will. Every body just predictable like billard balls.
Schopenhaur said the universe came from and is governed by "blind will",
To me, he's agreeing that will and first cause appear to have similarities.
No question tho, whatever freedom of choice we have, it's conditioned. I guess i believe from the facts known to date is that we have conditioned free will.
A lot of what we do is determined but, not all of it.
You won't find free will by one more exercise in infinite regression analysis. This caused this cause this etc... T
Posted by: Cyfer | July 22, 2007 at 08:13 AM
I've really enjoyed reading some of the things on this and your travel blog. You are a clear thinker and I admire your ability to express those things a lot of people have trouble articulating and also your honesty.
As I was reading this particular post, this statement struck me: "Accepting that until I know something, I don't know it."
I was just wondering if you feel this way about non-spiritual things as well? For example, a great amount of what we believe about the past (geologically) is based on assumptions and speculation. (In fact I have heard it said that there is not one absolutely solid, known FACT available regarding the theory of evolution.)
So, I'm wondering if you apply this same attitude ("accepting that until I know something, I don't know it") to those "unknowable" scientific issues as well - or do you reserve this attitude only for spiritual things?
Donna in GA
Posted by: Donna | July 22, 2007 at 02:37 PM
Donna, evolution is a scientific fact. I accept evolution as a fact (like I accept global warming, the big bang, and many other things that science knows) not because I've experienced the truth of them directly, but because science has a well-established process for separating truth from fiction.
Religion doesn't. In fact, religion and mysticism emphasize that God and all things metaphysical can't be proven in the same way that material things can. Christians speak of a "personal relationship" with God; Zen Buddhists, similarly, speak of direct knowledge -- satori.
With science, though, we don't have to know things on our own. Researchers can do the knowing for us, then publish their results, and have them debated and critiqued by other scientists.
Here's a good piece on evolution from the National Academy of Sciences that I recommend to you:
"Special creationists argue that 'no one has seen evolution occur.' This misses the point about how science tests hypotheses. We don't see Earth going around the sun or the atoms that make up matter. We 'see' their consequences. Scientists infer that atoms exist and Earth revolves because they have tested predictions derived from these concepts by extensive observation and experimentation."
Scientists do indeed accept that until they know something, they don't know it. That's why I find science so compatible with my style of spirituality. Ignorance is admitted until the facts are known.
Like the linked article above points out, there are all kinds of facts supporting evolution. I've read a big thick book by Richard Dawkins, "The Ancestor's Tale," that blew me away with all the evidence presented.
Most people have no idea why evolution is considered to be an extremely well proven theory. Here's a somewhat dated piece on this subject:
Since Gould wrote what he did in 1994, molecular biology has provided more DNA/genetic evidence of evolution, some of which is described by Dawkins in his book.
Sure, science has more to learn about evolution. But there's essentially no doubt that evolution is a fact. The mechanisms of evolution still need to be better understood, though.
Posted by: Brian | July 23, 2007 at 10:52 AM
"Evolution is a scientific fact" and “science has a well established process of separating truth from fiction.” Donna if you believe these two previous statements I have a bridge I want to sell you over Brooklyn. Donna please check into how many times a scientific fact has been proven to be completely wrong. The list is almost endless.
Don’t let those like Brian tell you what is fact and fiction. The world is full of Brian’s telling us what is fact. They do this to overcome their own doubts. Doubts drive certainty.
Brian’s statement sounds a bit like the preachers I see on TV that hold up their black books and state, "every word in this book is truth" and the truths I teach are the only way to heaven.
Certainty without realization is based in beliefs and makes intellectual beliefs and religious beliefs two sides of the same coin.
Posted by: researcherseeker | July 27, 2007 at 12:58 AM
researcherseeker, if you can show that evolution hasn't occurred, a Nobel prize awaits you. I wish you wouldn't keep your knowledge under wraps, but rather publish your findings and astound the world.
Forgive my thinly veiled sarcasm, but I don't have much patience with those who put down the scientific method, and the results of that method, but don't put forth an alternative.
Science isn't founded on "intellectual beliefs," like you said. It's founded on careful observation of reality, and theories that tie together those observations in a coherent fashion.
I'm not into intellectualization. I'm into reality. Your comment strikes me as astoundingly intellectual and conceptual, because it just reflects your ideas about reality, not actual evidence.
Posted by: Brian | July 27, 2007 at 09:27 AM
The veil of materialism, scientism, and yes even intellectualism is not thinly veiled like your sarcasm. The veil of materialism, scientism, intellectualism as with all ism’s can be as densely veiled as any religious teachings. A synonym for sarcasm is cynicism and cynicism is the thickest of veils.
My intent was not to put down the scientific method but the results of any method conducted by humans often has more to do with beliefs and existing paradigms than reality. Let history be your teacher here.
Compare Lorie’s and Tao’s comments on your topic of 50 proofs there is no god. Surely one can see both Lorie’s and Tao’s comments are steeped in beliefs that often lend themselves to condemnations against those that do not believe as they do.
My point was and is that when people resort to cynicism and condemnations when others differ from their cherished beliefs this is a sign of doubt not certainty. Certainty has its home in realization not beliefs. Realization is an extremely rare phenomenon.
I think my bias is against the widely accepted concept of the word fact, which most people believe that fact is an absolute truth. If we consider fact as a provisional probability then maybe the comment evolution is fact would be more acceptable to me as a valid comment.
Something to consider: “careful observation of reality” reality like truth is often in the eyes of the beholder or beholders. Again let history be your teacher here.
Posted by: researcher seeker | July 27, 2007 at 11:34 AM
Thanks for your comments.
You stated, "Realization is an extremely rare phenomenon."
Could you describe one of those rare events?
Posted by: Roger | July 27, 2007 at 12:03 PM
"Certainty has its home in realization not beliefs"
Yes! And one moment of realization is worth a thousand years of belief.
Posted by: mysti | July 29, 2007 at 10:14 PM
Dear Brian et al.,
I realize that RSSB is a "cult"/"religion" - no matter what its adherents might believe.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 30, 2007 at 12:12 PM