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July 22, 2008

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The basic assumption of this book just *makes sense.* As time has gone on and science has come up with plausible explanations for observed phenomena, God (in the church sense) has become more of a lazy overlay, a way of shutting up inquisitive children with an all-purpose non-answer answer.

I am looking forward to reading this book.

Dear Brian,

Since Mr. Carrier states,"...the only things we have ever proven to exist are matter, energy, space, and time" - how does he account for the (apparent) existence of "thought"?

Robert Paul Howard

Robert, the same way he'd/I'd account for "emotion" or "sensation." Thought, to Carrier, is the brain's awareness of its own activity. So it is a material/physical sensation. The fact that it feels immaterial, just like an emotion does, doesn't mean that it is less closely linked to brain chemicals and other neuro-activity.

Another argument: where is the evidence for non-material based thought? Very little, if any. Science isn't based on certainties, but on probabilities. Carrier sees the naturalistic way of looking at the world as being much more probably correct than the non-physical way, since virtually all of the evidence points in a naturalistic direction.

Dear Brian,

Ergo: for Carrier (and you) "thought" is epiphenomenal to MEST. Am I correct?

Robert Paul Howard

Robert, I don't know exactly what you mean by "epiphenomenal." Carrier's view is that thought is produced by the brain. Energy/light is produced by the sun. Same difference. Photons lack mass, yet are material. Thoughts feel ethereal, yet also are material.

Sorry, can't have it both ways. Provable is the test. Thoughts and emotions are not proven to be material. They have not even been shown to be "probably" material. Categorizing them as material is simply being a categorizer, not a proper scientist.

The religion of science requires absolute faith in the dogma that probability is "good enough" fact. "Why, cell phones themselves are proof that probability is reliable science! Surely you believe in cell phones!"

If thoughts are material, and if there is no separation among all creation, then when replacing god with nature feels unsatisfying, we have proof of a faulty hypothesis.

A question: Since thoughts and emotions are chemical/electrochemical, if I have some difficulty reconciling that, what am I denying then? What is this corpse that thinks it thinks it feels?

Carrier stated: "…For now, observe that the only things we have ever proven to exist are matter, energy, space, and time."

--Have we? Nothing could be more obviously imagined than space and time, yet people assume them to be permanent objective realities! Basic they may indeed be, but as the basis of an elaborate dimensional fiction.

Objective existence is phenomenal-appearance only. Non-objective existence is unaware of existing, and it is phenomenally incognisable.

Objective existence is figuration in mind. Non-objective existence only exists as such mind, cognising everything except what is cognising.

The past is a memory. The future is a supposition. The present is past before we can apprehend it.. because the process of perception and conception are complicated and require a lapse for their completion. The only 'present' therefore is PRESENCE and must necessarily be what we are. Such PRESENCE is inevitably outside time and must be intemporal. We never were and thus always will be.

Objective mind is self-elaboration in space-time. Non-objective mind, phenomenally void, knows neither.

By whom is this being said? By mind attempting to see itself and not succeeding. Why? As space-time it appears as void. Intemporally 'it' cannot cognise what is cognising.

That which is not extended in space can have no perceptual existence, for the concept of existing denotes and requires spatial extension.

It is not necessary to treat time independently of space, for they are not separate. Time being a spacial concept interpreted as duration.

Ultimately the concept whose demolition must result in understanding is that which is known as space-time.

The seeker is the found and the found is the seeker as soon as it is intuitively understood that there is no time. Objective existence is mythical. Non-objective existence is absolute.

These random thoughts are not intended to be literally understood or to be taken as 'facts' even if it may appear they have been presented as such. They are only the reflections of living intuitions. The intention is to stimulate the reader's own apprehension of how things are which has nothing to do with ideas and words.

Tucson--Very interesting and well written. Blame it all perhaps on our incessant need to order and organize--our peculiar method of problem solving?

Tuscon,
is there any particular quality of mind that you feel helps you to have these intuitive insights? Can you feel these truths even when your mind is firing abundant racing thoughts? Does stillness help?

Nothing in my experience tells me that time is a spatial concept interpreted as duration. I will have to take that on faith.

The problem with logic is that if the initial premise is incorrect, then the rest is fucked, though logical.

This is the problem with using empiricism (science) to work out the big questions.

Have you ever noticed, that the initial premises of science keeps on changing? As do the answers.

Ramakrishna said, "use the mind to get rid of the mind", then rest (be still).

The Bible suggests that, first find the Kingdom and all else will be given you:- Be Still and Know that "I Am" (is) God.

All this questioning will lead to, is more questioning. Good fun, but if you want to Know, just stop:- then God Knows you!

And what is God? "That" to which you surrender. Your Ishtam Devata, Ideal, Whatever....Just not you.

:-) Russellji

Dear Brian,

Since you state that: "Carrier's view is that thought is produced by the brain....Thoughts....are material." I presume that this is your contention too.

If so, then "thought" (or "mind"/"Mind") falls within the realm of MEST (matter/energy/space/time).

If so, then how do Carrier and you account for the origin of (material) MEST?

Robert Paul Howard

Adam wrote: "is there any particular quality of mind that you feel helps you to have these intuitive insights? Can you feel these truths even when your mind is firing abundant racing thoughts? Does stillness help?"

--nothing helps or hinders. It just comes out of nowhere. However, you never know what will be a catalyst for some sort of insight that can be totally misleading, or not. Sit on a high plateau with an expansive view. That's a good start or it could be the housekeeper flipping the switch on the vacuum cleaner...the universe in an instant!

Ed Ward wrote: "Nothing in my experience tells me that time is a spatial concept interpreted as duration. I will have to take that on faith."

--Or, don't take it at all. However, it could make a good T-shirt or bumper sticker. A real chick magnet for sure... "Whoa, this dude must be deep!"

Quote for the day:

"We are conditioned to suppose that what we are is the presence of what is present, which is the absence of what is absent.

But when we perceive what we are we find that what we are is the absence of what is present, and the presence of what is absent."


Robert, I don't understand your question. Carrier considers, as I do, that the ultimate is unexplainable. We can't get outside the universe to see how it began, because we're part of it.

The universe, existence, cosmos, reality -- whatever you want to call it, it simply is. Religions approach this mystery by appealing to a God who was, is, and shall always be (a phrase I seem to remember from my Catholic days).

Carrier observes: why not keep things simpler and say the same thing about nature, evident physical reality? It simply is. Existence is a mystery. Why add something on and say "God is a mystery." Just leave ultimate mystery as ultimate mystery.

To Brian et all,

The main problem here is that I am interested in PERCEPTION, not concepts. Meaning that whether we say God or Matter, Space, Energy, Time, I don't really give a crap. What I give a crap about is the feeling of different qualities of mind and being. Because I have observed in my self different states, some of which are very different from another. I don't mean more pleasurable, I mean different, like really different. And this means understanding, which is different from knowledge, or at least factual knowledge. While I have nothing to do with Tibetan Buddhism, when the Dalai Lama talks about a secret being to "develop a warm, loving heart," this is a perceptual difference that in turn affects thought and action. Any conceptual understanding, whether the map is more or less accurate, is still a conecptual map. I think surfing in the "present moment" means using other tools....

Indeed... "the presence of what is absent"

If one tries to find Existence... it is nowhere absent, yet nowhere to be found.


Dear Brian,

I regret that you do not understand my question.

I agree with you that "the ultimate is unexplainable." But it appears (to me) that "evident physical reality" has a dimension of "thought" ("Mind") intrinsic within it (as demonstrated by its "holonic" [a la Ken Wilber] orderliness and progressivity). Perhaps this circumstance is a generally unrecognized aspect of raw "Energy" itself. Perhaps it is a further (generally unrecognized) parameter of "physical reality" itself (because not so "evident" to many). Perhaps it is the fundament upon which MEST rests.

If Carrier and you are correct, my "thought"(/effort/energy) in continuing our conversation is just the materially caused necessary result of the "ultimate mystery" pouring itself forth. If "mind/Mind" is an independent "physical" parameter (or if "Mind" is the a priori upon which, and from which, MEST comes forth), however, the same appearance would seem to be the result. The "ultimate mystery," however, might be better grasped by my suggested notion than by the mode you/Carrier have proposed. (And that is despite the fact that the "ultimate" is still "unexplainable.")

The "ultimate" is still a "mystery" to me. But I appear to be more open than you to the notion that "reality" may rest upon "Mind" rather than upon MEST. (I did not think this way fifteen years ago.)

I rest confident that you will believe as you so choose ......... or as you are materially forced to.

Robert Paul Howard

Robert, there's no need to multiply mysteries. You're adding on a human conception, "mind is different from matter," that has no evidence for it (or at least very little, compared to the "mind is material" theory).

Your notion is an idea. Yet there's no evidence that ideas, as produced by brain activity, have an existence separate from a physical brain.

As I've noted before, have yourself anesthesized. Then note how many ideas or thoughts you have when your brain is put out of conscious commission. Your theory implies that mental activity should continue no matter what happens to the material body, since mind is "an independent physical parameter," as you put it.

I still don't understand your position. You seem to be saying that mind is physical, yet somehow of a different kind of physicality than other stuff. If so, where is the evidence for this?

Brian,
Is it you or Richard Carrier who says: “With Nature, no need for God”?

In my opinion, whoever it is has a greatly exaggerated idea of Nature or a rather deficient idea of God, or both.

You or Carrier pithily state: “Nature is infinite.” Well, that’s simply not true. If it were truth then there would be no problems of climate change, air pollution, over-population, food scarcity, species erosion, oil shortage, deforestation, etc. All those crises are due to human-centric abuse of the finite capacity of the natural world to replenish its resources. Nope, “Nature” isn’t infinite.

Or maybe we’re talking about the whole universe or Cosmos. But speculative astrophysicists have measured the mass, spatial dimensions and temporal duration of the physical universe and have calculated its content of dark matter and dark energy. Scientists know its limits, so that concept of “Nature” isn’t infinite either. Although science might be wrong, of course.

As to God: well, you quote Carrier as saying: “Given the lack of clear evidence for a god…” What sort of “God” does he have in mind? Is his kind of “God the Father” a hairy high-flying geriatric, with a skyscraper-sized penis and a scrotum like the Hindenburg, who peers down out of the clouds from time to time just to take an extraordinary interest in people’s sex lives?! If so, then Good Luck finding evidence of that sort of God!

Besides, why don’t Carrier and other “God-bashers” go for gold, I’d like to know? How come they’re prepared to settle for “evidence”? They must be sitting in the cheap seats! Other people go out into the wilderness and put their lives on the line in search of the Himalayan Yeti, your Bigfoot and our Yowie. Meanwhile, arm-chair experts sit in bars drinking beer and holding forth about “the lack of clear evidence for a (fill in the blank).” Give me a break!

What are the stay-at-home types trying to protect? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it! They’re clinging desperately to their lives as they current know them. In their heart-of-hearts they know that actually finding themselves in the presence of (fill in the blank) would radically change their current understanding of life, the universe and everything. They don’t want to risk it all by actually going to look.

Any God worth believing in must be a spiritual reality. So, anyone with serious balls will start by seeking spiritual evidence of God’s existence. The evidence they’d be seeking is found in the spirit of Nature, which is the same as the spirit of God. There’s only need for one spirit, after all.

For me, the spirit of Nature is seen in the grace of the solitary pearl that hangs suspended from the velvet neck of Night. It’s in the open-hearted love that sets fire to everything in the Day. It’s the beauty that drives the quantum engine of the Cosmos. The spirit of Nature is the spark that keeps alight the green fuse of Creation. It’s the energy that makes everything happen in the universe.

The Spirit of Nature is found in inward activity not outward dimensions. Spirit is the force that moves everything everywhere, including us. It’s the spark that keeps our body animated, our lungs breathing, our heart beating and our mind constantly thinking endless thoughts, whether we notice them or not.

We are products of spirit and we naturally look down-stream with our physical eyes. What we first notice in that outward direction are the obvious physical things in the natural world or visible Cosmos or whatever you call it.

But our mind also has an inner spiritual eye which can look up-stream into the invisible world of consciousness. What we immediately notice in that inward direction are the ideas, memories, dreams and intentions contained in our mind.

Usually we turn back at that point and relate those inner spiritual realities to outward physical things. That’s how we ordinarily function as homo sapiens, thinking people. We make sense of the outer world of Nature and direct our actions in that world according to ideas we notice in our mind.

With a deliberate exercise of self-awareness, however, we can stay in the inner spiritual realm and look further up the stream of consciousness more towards its ultimate origin. To do that, we need to break the complicated habit of connecting thoughts in our mind to things in the world. That habit just keeps multiplying everything.

Instead, we need to develop a different and more subtle skill. That skill is thinking about ideas. Once we can comfortably think about ideas, then we can recognise how the realities of consciousness itself connect to one another. And that begins to simplify everything considerably.

What we’re ultimately looking for is the most simple comprehension of all things and lives and minds, including our own. A simplicity that includes everything (past, present and future; here, there and everywhere) yet has no parts.

Only that simple unity, in my opinion, is properly termed “God.” And it can be found by starting to see Nature as actually “blessed and alive” (Plato), rather than some kind of desecrated and spiritless accident of bits of matter in random motion, as Richard Carrier and his ilk would have us believe.

The first three Platonic Zen exercises are one way to develop the simple yet difficult skill of thinking about ideas. The forth and fifth exercises require different skills again. The exercises work best for practitioners who are sound of mind and stable in their commitment to spiritual advancement. People of unsound mind or arrested development will only find the exercise confusing and are advised against practicing them.

Nick, almost everything you say is exactly in accord with Carrier's naturalistic philosophy. So you seem to agree with him.

There's no need to posit an unseen, unknowable "God" over and above what can be directly experienced. Carrier emphasizes love, connectivity with all in existence, high moral standards -- what is generally called "spiritual."

He just grounds his way of living in actual experience, not conceptualized theology or dogma.

As regards the universe not being infinite, scientists know that the limits of the universe can never be known, so in that sense it indeed is infinite. Meaning, infinitely unknowable.

The universe expanded faster than light via the big bang. So we can never know about the vast expanse beyond the "light horizon." Plus, there's good reason to theorize that our universe is but one of countless other universes, which could well have no beginning and no end. More signs of infinity.

Carrier's point, and mine, is that we have plenty of mystery and plenty of infinity right here at hand -- in the physical universe where we live and breathe for a spell.

Where's the need to add on to that mystery via human conception and speculation?

As to looking for God, we're all doing this, Carrier included. Where would you have us look, other than in our own experience? In someone else's experience? That's what religion teaches -- to believe in some holy book or holy person, not direct experience. I reject that, as I'm sure you do also.

Carrier has searched far and wide for signs of God, as have I, and found nothing that suggests the sort of personal divinity that the monotheistic religions call "God." The signs that are evident are fully consistent with a God of Nature -- similar to Taoism, which is why I'm drawn to this non-theistic philosophy.

Nick,

You mentioned in your above comment,

"The exercises work best for practitioners who are sound of mind and stable in their commitment to spiritual advancement. People of unsound mind or arrested development will only find the exercise confusing and are advised against practicing them."

--What happens to those that are of unsound mind or arrested developemnt? Is there a way to describe the difference between 'them' and those that are of sound mind and non-arrested development?

Dear Brian,

Contrary to your statement, it appears to me that I am not "adding on" anything. I am proposing, however, that part of "all there is" ("Nature" ["the One," "ta hen"]) is referrable to as "Mind." This is ~"something"~ that pre-exists "a physical brain." While your/my "mental activity" will not "continue" when we are anesthesized (or dead), the ongoing existence of "Mind" still allows the rest of the physical world to continue in its interrelated, on-going being.

The "evidence for this" lies in the apparent fact that - when your "mind," and/or my "mind," is ended - it yet appears that: physics --> chemistry --> biology --> neurology --> brain --> sensations/ideas/concepts --> science/probable "truth" (as well, also, as fantasies/delusions/religion[s]/"all manner of unproven entities, like gods and spirits and miraculous powers").

While we agree that an individual's "ideas, as produced by brain activity, have [no]...existence separate from a physical brain," the absence of such an individual's "mental activity" does not disorder the rest of the universe when such occurs.

As I stated in the second paragraph of my 7/25/08 reply: "...it appears (to me) that 'evident physical reality' has a dimension of 'thought' ('Mind') intrinsic within it...." Thus it appears to me that "Mind" pre-exists your "mind" or my "mind." And while our individual/separate/egoic "minds" may pass away, the "Mind" which sustains ongoing order in the universe will yet continue on. (And if "Mind" does not pre-exist MEST, then it is at least on a co-related level of fundamentality with MEST - otherwise our little minds would not have come to presently exist so as to disagree with one another.)

It appears (to me) that I am "adding" nothing to "all there is." I am simply considering what constitutes the full parameters of "all there is" - going beyond MEST.

Not all (so-called) "thought" seems to be "material" in the manner you have described. Some seems to be intrinsic in the nature of ordered existence (? --> "Big Bang" --> "evolution" --> human [materially-derived] "minds").

I hope that you might now better understand.

Robert Paul Howard

Robert, I do understand you better. However, what you're positing still sounds a lot like Platonic idealism. Namely, that the laws of nature reside in some space/place separate from space, time, matter, and energy.

This may be. It also may not be. Mathematicians tend to be Platonists at heart. I've got leanings in that direction, as you also seem to. My point is that there's no evidence that this is true. It's just a philosophical position.

You say that when individual minds die, the universe goes on. Well, sure. This doesn't proves that there is a "universal mind" of some sort that keeps the universe in order. It just shows that individual minds aren't responsible for holding the universe together (thank god).

Brian,
We’re a bit alike, you and I. Have you read Herman Hesse’s “Journey to the East.”? You might see a little of yourself in the lead character. If not, then at least you’ll get a glimpse of how I see you.

The narrator is a calm and wise and gentle man in his older years. He talks, with passion and a touch of melancholy, about his much younger days when he travelled the world with a group of serious yet lively people on a spiritual quest for Enlightenment. After many adventures and much getting of wisdom, the story comes into present. That’s when the narrator laments that he cannot recall how the spiritual journey ended and what happened to his fellow travellers. Suddenly, there’s a knock at his door and in comes the old group’s manservant. They embrace happily and share tea and finally the narrator asks the question foremost on his mind. Why did the company disband?

“We didn’t disband,” the manservant replies; “we completed the journey to Enlightenment in the East and are only just returning. Your companions are waiting outside right now. I’ve been sent in to learn why you gave up the journey and left us all those years ago.”

When a new client comes for philosophical counselling all I ask is to hear the story of their life that has brought us to be having this conversation. For the next several hours they usually talk without need of encouragement. By listening I learn where they have come from, where they want to get to, and what they believe about themselves that prevents them from getting to their goal.

Our own exchange and your posts and comments have provided the basic data. It’s been an interesting exercise in philosophical triangulation to estimate your current position. You seem to agree with Marcus Aurelius and Richard Carrier, and you say that Plotinus and I are pretty close to how you see things. You also know from your own experience that subtle distinctions can be really important. For example: you’ve tried hauling garbage up a snow covered hill and I’m certain you wouldn’t say: with a Prius, no need for a Highlander Hybrid.

Some vehicles are just better for some jobs than others. It’s the same with philosophies. The best philosophy depends on who you are, where you are and where you want to be.

At the end of your excellent book on Plotinus, Return to the One, you include a lovely fable called “Stuck at Lake Partaway.” To me, the parable tells of people who have left behind where they didn’t want to be, but have not yet arrived at where they do want to be. To leave the inadequacies of old, they used mechanical vehicles of one kind or another. Now they’re resident in a caravan park at the foot of a sacred mountain. To continue up the mountain and arrive at a place of complete satisfaction that can be experienced but not described, they must use a different vehicle, a living mode of transport – their feet.

The philosophies of Aurelius and Carrier are naturalistic mechanico-materialist ways of thinking. Their secularism gets away from the inadequate assumptions and unhelpful limitations of institutional religion, that’s true. But they cannot cope with a journey up the snow-covered mountain path beyond Lake Partaway. Aurelius and Carrier, in my opinion, lack the mystical vision that only comes from commitment to the substantial reality of consciousness itself.

There’s no true spiritual enlightenment to be found unless one is willing to go beyond the dogmas of science and religion and let go of conceptual dualities such as subjective/objective, spiritual/material.

Peter K, in my opinion, is correct when he says: “Yes I do mean that God cannot be detected by our physical senses. I would say that our minds are just as intangible as God is. I guess that’s what it takes, an intangible to consider another intangible. It will be only an aware and thoughtful mind can conceive a concept such as God.”

Just this morning I wrote to a friend about Faith and Reason, and wondered whether that schema accommodates spiritual experiences, such as ‘All converging into One.’

What I had in mind is the kind of spiritual experience that comes from thinking about mystical ideas such as the Logos of Philo (i.e. the Idea of ideas itself) or the Nous of Plotinus (i.e. the idea of one single thought that actually includes all possible thoughts).

Thinking about such ideas can lead to subtle shifts in our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Such shifts can cause radical changes in our understanding of everything. A regenerated understanding can open our mind to experience a conscious life within ourselves that is identical with the life and consciousness in all things, for everything in the universe is “blessed and alive” (Plato).

That single conscious life is called the World-Soul. It is present and aware in every individual mind, including your own. The individual mind is like a window of awareness on the world that moves in space and changes over time. The World-Soul is the motionless I/eye of transcendent spiritual self-consciousness that is ceaselessly looking out through every moving window of individual awareness simultaneously. What it sees everywhere in everything, steadily and as a whole, is itself looking back and seeing itself looking out at itself looking back (do you get the idea? It’s hard to describe).

What I call “God-realisation” is the self-consciousness of the whole Cosmos awakening in your individual mind. When that inner I/eye of the World-Soul opens in your mind, you know yourself to be (for the duration of the experience) the totality of existence and consciousness in the universe.

And, surprisingly, in that moment of self-transcendent experience, you know that’s who/what you always have been and will never cease to be! Physical life and death have got nothing to do with who/what you really are.

Brian, as I have said, the five Platonic Zen exercises direct people of sound mind and sustained commitment up that spiritual mountain to God-realisation, in my experience.

How would Carrier’s philosophy get to it, do you imagine?

Nick,

"as I have said, the five Platonic Zen exercises direct people of sound mind and sustained commitment up that spiritual mountain to God-realisation, in my experience."

--does the five Platonic Zen exercises always direct people up the spiritual mountain to God-realization? In your experience, what happens to a honest and sincere person that didn't get directed up that spiritual mountain of God-realization?

Nick, I'm all for giving up dualities, because oneness seems to be a better bet for the nature of ultimate reality than manyness.

But where do we start? Back in my school of social work days (I got a M.S.W. many moons ago) an adage was, "Start where the client is at."

Where each of us is at, is the physical world. Now, maybe there also is a spiritual world. But when we start with an idea of a spiritual world, that is putting the conceptual cart before the reality horse.

Meditation is with a physical brain, for example. Perhaps it can lead to experiencing a non-physical realm. I agree with Carrier, though, that science provides the foundation with which metaphysical exploration begins. Ignoring physical reality leads us into the realm of imagination, conceptualization, theological speculation.

Plotinus, the Greek philosopher you and I admire, had it right when he decried the Gnostics who said this world is crap, it's all illusion, etc. Plotinus said that the physical world is good; it's just not as good as the Good -- the One.

Ascent up the spiritual mountain, assuming this is possible, begins from ground level That's the only way to keep things real. Otherwise true believers make gigantic leaps of faith that only get them somewhere inside their own heads, not anywhere really real.

Dear Brian,

It appears to me that my having used a phrase like "intrinsic in the nature of ordered existence" would exclude me from the category of those who assert that "the laws of nature reside in some space/place separate from space, time, matter, and energy."

Since you don't seem to think so, it is no wonder that you simply dismiss what I have pointed out as "just a philosophical position" - and contend "that there's no evidence that this is true."

Clearly we differ.

Robert Paul Howard

Robert, I don't think we differ all that much. It's just that since you consider that mind is "intrinsic in the nature of ordered existence," I see this as being equivalent to saying "intrinsic in Nature."

So where's the need to look upon mind as something non-physical or non-related to the brain, in the absence of evidence that mind can exist without a physical body?

That's basically what I've been trying to say. Again, I think our differences are fairly subtle, that we're on the same wavelength -- as contrasted with those who believe in a whole other "spectrum" of metaphysical reality.

Dear Brian,

In response to your query, I find "the need to look upon...[M]ind as something...non-related to the brain" to lie in the fact that (as best I know) no "biology" probably existed in the first billion or so years after the "Big Bang" manifested the "material" universe (MEST) in its "evolving" trajectory toward bringing about brains (as per yours, mine, or those in other animals). Thus I find a difference between a "mind" stemming forth from neurology and (what I refer to as) "Mind" that is "'intrinsic in Nature.'"

Whether this "Mind" that seems "intrinsic in Nature" (bringing about "minds" dependent on brains) is "non-physical" or not, I do not know. It may - or may not - "exist without a physical body" (depending on whether it perhaps, pre-exists MEST, or whether it only co-exists with MEST). I'm open to the possibility of either being the case.

It appears (to me) that you are not recognizing this distinction between what I am trying to represent as "Mind" on one hand, and "mind" on the other. And it further appears to me that your representation of Carrier's viewpoint indicated that he excluded "Mind" from his foundational understanding of "Nature." Hence my questioning (and my disagreement).

Robert Paul Howard

Brian,
You say: “Ascent up the spiritual mountain, assuming this is possible, begins from ground level. That's the only way to keep things real. Otherwise true believers make gigantic leaps of faith that only get them somewhere inside their own heads, not anywhere really real.

I agree. So let’s start by tweaking that statement a bit. We agree there is a spiritual mountain with ultimate reality at the summit. There is also a spiritual journey to undertake and we are here with the opportunity to go on it. We do need to believe in the possibility of a successful ascent to ultimate reality, otherwise we’re just pretending to ourselves.

It stands to reason that a spiritual journey up a spiritual mountain must be undertaken by a spiritual person. Or, in other words, by whatever is spiritual in the person. Plotinus (“On Beauty”, 1. 6. 6) says the journey is not by feet or coach or ship. Forego all that is seen by the physical eyes, turn aside from the things of the material world. Close your eyes and look within. The spiritual vehicle for this journey is a different way of seeing. Plotinus describes that way of seeing as “a wakefulness that everyone has but few people use.” So, for rational mystics like us, the spiritual journey takes the form of thinking about ideas.

You say you’re “all for giving up dualities”. OK, here’s a reasoned description of a few ideas to think for reaching that end.

The individual mind is part of consciousness as a whole and the physical world is part of existence as a whole. Why? Because we accept that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If we don’t accept that there is more going on than what we currently know, then we’re locking ourselves into our own dualities and won’t be able to get beyond them to find any ultimate reality.

The basic duality is between the whole of consciousness and the whole of existence, not just between the parts of those wholes that are currently familiar to us. If we can’t conceive of those wholes (including the personal, inter-subjective and trans-personal levels of both consciousness and existence) then we don’t have the necessary skill level to make this steep ascent up the mountain. Why? Because our goal is an ultimate reality that transcends the basic duality in part and whole. If we can’t even get past the parts to grasp the wholes, then this is not the way to the goal beyond them all. Follow?

You say: “Meditation is with a physical brain”. There’s some truth in that claim. But I regard the meat-organ of the physical brain as more like a radio. It doesn’t generate the energy of consciousness but only receives that energy and translates it into activities of consciousness that are apparent to self-awareness, e.g. thoughts and ideas. Those inner activities can then be materialised into the physical world by words, images and actions.

But the energy of consciousness itself is spiritual, not material. Why? Because if we don’t believe it’s spiritual then we automatically lock ourselves into a one-legged dualism. If we assert that the inner life of our mind is ALL just brain-states which can be satisfactorily explained in terms of nothing more than electro-chemical processes of neurophysiology, then we’ve abandoned one half of the duality we’re supposed to be trying to transcend. Looking gleefully at the remaining half and claiming it’s ultimate reality is frankly just lame. Why? Because the realm of physical objects doesn’t include the experience of first-personal subjects. Why? Because objects aren’t subjects. Follow?

You say: “oneness seems to be a better bet for the nature of ultimate reality than manyness.” There’s some truth in that dainty statement. To reveal its truth, let’s dispel any duality lurking in the phrases “the nature of ultimate reality” and “ultimate reality”.

Would you agree that the nature of ultimate reality is oneness and only oneness? If you don’t agree, then, I suggest, it’s because your notion of “oneness” conceals some duality.
If you do agree, then you won’t object to speaking of ultimate reality as ultimate unity. Why? Because oneness and unity are synonymous. Why, because they conceal no duality.

If ultimate reality is ultimate unity, then there is and can only be one ultimate reality. Why? Because the unity of ultimate reality is one and nothing but one. That means it has no parts. And without parts it has no combinations or variations or alternatives.

The one ultimate unity we’re looking for is one and nothing but one. It includes all lesser realities, yet it has no parts. Ultimate unity is a simple unity that has neither beginning nor end. It contains everything without exception, infinitely and eternally, without limit or change. Yet is has no differences within itself, nor does anything other than it really exist.

In case you think what I’m saying has lost touch with the practical world, let me just say that ultimate unity is right here, right now. You’re looking right at it, but not seeing it. It’s looking through you, over your shoulder from the back of your mind (as it were) but you’re not aware of it. It’s in everyone and everything, and everyone and everything is in it. The ultimate reality of ultimate unity is ultimately all there is. Question is: do you see it?

Let’s say the practical world is the manyness of tables beside chairs, apples in bowls, a ceiling overhead, carpet under feet, leaves on flowers, trees beneath clouds, snow covered mountains, the Sun above the horizon, and so on. That’s our ground level starting point as we see it now. The goal is to see that starting point as it is in reality, unity beyond all dualities.

How do we raise our thinking above that manyness and still keep our feet on the ground? We do so by simply taking note of our starting point, which is us thinking about the manyness of things in the practical world. Thus, our real starting point is our consciousness of things in the world. In that way we reach the realm of dualities where there are thoughts and things, subjects and objects, etc. With me so far? Where to from (t)here?

We only get an authentically objective view of the world as a whole when we have an authentically objective view of ourselves as a whole, for we are part of the whole world. If we dismiss from proper consideration things like awareness and subjectivity and ideas, then we’re not really seeing the ultimate reality of ourselves as the whole of consciousness and not really seeing the ultimate reality of the world as the whole of existence.

For that reason the journey of rational mysticism up the spiritual mountain to unity beyond all duality unavoidably requires that we make an objective study of our own subjectivity. Such a study involves developing the kind of attention to peripheral awareness that I’ve alluded to in my previous comments.

In becoming peripheral visionaries (so to speak) what we come to notice are the sub-conscious process of pre-production that are the mind’s own construction of what we perceive as the ordinary empirical or physical world. Further contemplation, as I’ve described in the Platonic Zen exercises, leads into spiritual realisation of the pre-conditions for the possibility of consciousness itself.

As I said previously: “Thinking about such ideas can lead to subtle shifts in our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Such shifts can cause radical changes in our understanding of everything. A regenerated understanding can open our mind to experience a conscious life within ourselves that is identical with the life and consciousness in all things, for everything in the universe is “blessed and alive” (Plato).

What I’m saying is not easy to understand if you aren’t very comfortable with abstract thinking. You might need to reflect on the ideas I’m describing and practice thinking them for yourself in the laboratory of your own experience, life and mind.

You’ll only get it when you’ve got it. But you’ll know when you’ve got it because then you’ll see how simple and clear and true it is. After all, there’s really no alternative. Cheers.

"What I’m saying is not easy to understand if you aren’t very comfortable with abstract thinking."

-- I'm comfortable with abstract thinking. With my abstract thinking, I can detect an abstract talker. Abstract talking pilled upon abstract talking.

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