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July 18, 2010

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We live in a three dimensional world, somatic, mental and spiritual. Somatic represents the physical, we seek pleasure, mental represents that of status, we seek order, structure, power and authority. The spiritual is that of meaning, we as humans seek meaning to life. I believe we can safely say that other creatures do not seek to understand their purpose, but it is a question asked by humans, indeed, I suspect we all seek purpose, may be not all for the purpose of life, but we seem to require a purpose for doing almost anything, whether work or writing to this blog. Using the spiritual terms in this context, one can see, without entering the debate about religion, that a non-religious man experiences life as a set of tasks, while a religious man experiences life as his mission.
These are simple observations, the rights and wrongs of our life beliefs may be debated by others in relation to their own life beliefs. But unless these three dimensions of life are balanced, our chances of contentment are reduced.

Deep Thort, lots of people are utterly non-religious, yet live wonderfully meaningful lives. I know many such people, am one, live with one (my wife), and am related to quite a few (my daughter and her family, along with a number of my wife's relatives).

So it clearly isn't true that, as you said, "the spiritual is that of meaning," unless "spiritual" is taken to mean something so broad that the word becomes, well, almost meaningless.

Non-religious people might call volunteering at the local food bank a "spiritual" experience. I can sort of say the same thing about riding my maxi-scooter down a twisting road on a warm summer day. But this isn't anything non-material, supernatural, or other-worldly.

You're also wrong about non-religious people experiencing life as a "set of tasks" rather than a "mission." Again, I know many non-believers in God or the supernatural who have a strong feeling of a mission in their lives. Environmentalism or political activism, for example.

Brian
You completely missed the point:
If you accept that our lives are three dimensional, as defined in my comment, then we can assign a meaning to the word "spiritual" as that aspect of our experience of life that demands purpose.This is a general definition, not a specific definition.

Based upon this definition, then your use of the word spiritual is a subset or special case, but in the general case, yes, volunteering at the local food bank is spiritual under this simple definition.

The general principle of definition holds true for the extension of the term to religion, that of a mission, so Environmentalism or Science can be seen to meet the general definition of religion.

If you limit your thinking to the narrow view, and define religion as Christianity, or whatever, then my comment will simply not make sense to you.

Apologies if I was not clear, but it seemed to me an obvious statement of fact followed by an intelligent inference

Deep Thort, you're using words in a strange way: "spiritual" = "meaning" = "religion"

I don't agree with this sort of equating, nor, I'm pretty sure, would any recognized dictionary. To say that environmentalism or scooter riding is a "religion" because it is meaningful to people makes the word lose its accepted meaning.

Why not say that religions are meaning-pursuits? That's equally valid, if "meaningful" and "religion" are taken as synonymous. This seems more accurate to me. Someone who practices Christianity, or whatever, is pursuing meaning, just as an atheist who seeks to help the poor is.

Other than that, the strange use of words, it seems that we agree. As I often say on this blog, we humans are meaning-creatures. We find meaning in our lives in a marvelous variety of ways. There is no need to believe that meaning comes from God or any form of religiosity, though many true believers do find meaning in faith.

As the lead character in a movie by the same name that my wife and I watched recently said, "Whatever works." That's the meaning behind the tag line of my blog, "Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence." Meaning is made by us humans, not any divinity.

This is why I started with defining the terms I used. If take part of my comment out of context with the other part, of course you can pick holes in it, but take my comment as a whole. Do you disagree with the three dimensions of life? Can you accept the general terms I have given to these dimensions? If so, then my conclusions are not too ridiculous. We can then better understand religious need and see how it falls into the same 'dimension' as science or environmentalism, thus leading to a better understanding of human behavour

I do have a different opinion on the self being a material thing. If you believe that there is no free will than you get philosophical problems as 'what is the first cause?'. A puzzle that our brain can not solve without some metafysics. So either you say everything is causal and accept some metafysics or god starting it all or you assume some kind of non causal principle in lets say the brain. I find it plausable to say that our thoughts are free and that is possible because the causal principle is a 'priori' to our perception. Meaning it is always there because it is in our lenzes. But our lenzes are part of our eyes and like the eye can not see itself, the principles in the lenzes do not aply to the eye (as a way of speaking). Therefore our thought are free and they interpretate what we see and they accompany new causal chains that are started all the time yet we can never see them starting. That is the trap that brain scientist often forget about. The eye can't study itself. All good old Kantian philosophy this ;)

You've overlooked an important aspect of human minds as compared to the minds of other animals. Our minds have a self-symbol with with a feedback loop, and this has deep consequences from a networking point of view.

In other words, you've only mentioned the neuroscience side of the coin. Cognitive science is the other side.

The classic introduction is Godel, Escher, Bach and (recently) I am a Strange Loop. Required reading for human beings, in my opinion.

Oh, and self-realization almost always denotes a form of vanity.

Zen masters are content to chop wood and carry water.

Oedipus, I enjoyed "I Am a Strange Loop." Blogged about the book a few years ago:
http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2007/04/youre_a_strange.html

Yes, most interesting. I doubt that making it required reading would go over with most people. But it's a good idea.

"Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."


--How were we classified before the 'human being' term was brought about? Same for the 'spiritual' being category. It seems that what we absolutely are is either unknown or non-knowable. So, maybe we are neither human or spiritual beings having an experience, we just don't know.

That said, sure I use the human and spiritual terms all the time. However, I still don't know what I am. Don't forget, this is No big deal.

…ask him to show you a "self."


How does one go about showing a subjective experience? For example, if I claim that I'm experiencing the thought of a yellow rose, how can I show it to you?

john, exactly. You nailed it -- the key question: how does one go about showing a subjective experience?

The "self," like "God," can't be demonstrated to exist unless there is demonstrable objective evidence for it. Yet many people speak of both the "self" and "God" as if they were objective entities that exist beyond subjectivity.

If the "self" is simply what we are experiencing in consciousness (or as consciousness) at the moment, that's one thing -- just as if "God" is simply what our idea of this being is, that's one thing.

But it's a whole other thing to consider that either the "self" or "God" exist as something that can be known or realized, since this would mean that these entities exist as distinct objects of knowledge, not merely as subjectivity.

Briefly, I define reality as that which is. So subjective experiences, abstract concepts, etc., all factor into my definition of reality along with the objective and demonstrable. Something like the self or God I can say exist, although I'd qualify that statement, if need be, by saying that they can't be said or claimed to exist outside of the mind that conceives them. That doesn't make them less a part of reality, for me, because I treat concepts like gravity, space-time or certain mathematical axioms, which I also consider to exist, in a similar manner.

As you noted, the confusion or ambiguity comes into play when a term that asserts mental existence is then treated as having real existence. (Real being denoted as existing in time and space or objectively demonstrable.) But I'd point out that it is the mode of existence of a thing or concept that is being qualified as real or mental, not whether that thing or concept is or is not in fact real.

IIRC, the error comes when we extend something that has mental existence to a real particular. For example, both propositions (1) Man is a species of animal, and (2) Brian is a man, are both true. But if I combine them and draw the conclusion…

Man is a species of animal.
Brian is a man.
Therefore, Brian is a species of animal.

… the argument is valid, yet the conclusion is obviously false. A species of animal has mental existence only. I can't point to any particular thing and say "that is a species of animal." And the same error occurs when one attempts to extend the mental existence of the self to a real particular existence. That's not to say that a Cosmic Self, Univeral I or whatnot, does not exist or is not part of reality, though. I can't point to any particular thing and claim, "that is a law of gravity," yet most would cede reality consists of such a thing or effect.

Evolution suggests humans are animals, but there are many species of animal, each having unique nervous systems, brains, perceptive powers. Thus, it would seem different species have different levels of consciousness.

Of course it is difficult to establish what subjective consciousness is, since it cannot be measured (at this stage), but it seems unlikely that a sea urchin ponders its meaning or the universe.

There appear to me to be at least two characterisitics, which are unique (or strongest) in humans as dinstinct from other animals:
1) our level of abstract conceptual thought, to think about thinking (or metacognition). It allows us to speculate on how the universe might be, which goes beyond our limited perceptual senses.
2) our level of emotional empathy or love, which in humans is often so strong that it bypasses the strongest most primal animal instict of self-presevation (i.e. survival).

I am not sure there is evidence for a personal or a unique unchangeable eternal self in a soul-like sense, but its interesting to consider whether our selves are formed only from experience or if there is a strong inherited component, not just genetically, but somehow embdedded in the physical brain structures itself. For example, Chomsky believes all humans have an inborn language ability and Jung believed we have a common unconscious which is a repository of primordial archetypes.

Though there is a huge amount to be said for the nurture debate and the behvaiorualists, in which the mind is a blank slate to be conditioned, there is also something about our nature which is genetically inherited and appears to predispose us towards certain behaviour or to have certain abilities that make us a very distinct kind of self-aware animal.

Evolution says humans are animals, but there are many different species of animal each with their own nervous systems, varying sensory, perceptive and processing abilities.

Thus, it would seem different species have different levels of consciousness.

Of course it is difficult to establish what subjective consciousness is, since it cannot be measured (at this stage), but it seems unlikely that a sea urchin ponders its meaning or the universe.

There appear to me to be at least two characterisitics, which are unique (or strongest) in humans as dinstinct from other animals:
1) our level of abstract conceptual thought, to think about thinking (or metacognition). It allows us to speculate on how the universe might be, which goes beyond our limited perceptual senses.
2) our level of emotional empathy or love, which in humans is often so strong that it bypasses the strongest most primal animal instict of self-presevation (i.e. survival).

I am not sure there is evidence for a personal or a unique unchangeable eternal self in a soul-like sense, but its interesting to consider whether our selves are formed only from experience or if there is a strong inherited component, not just genetically and unique to each indidividual, but somehow embdedded in the physical brain structures that contribute to a raised level of consciousness in humans. For example, Chomsky believes all humans have an inborn language ability and Jung believed we have a common unconscious which is a repository of primordial archetypes.

I suppose these mystics or god-men or jesus, budha and all the other mystics, might argue that they have inherited or develoed an even greater level of consciousness, a sort of cosmic or universal consciousness, which is the next evolutionary step up from being self-aware.

It seems alot like metaphysics and speculation without much scientific evidence, but if we as humans have evoleved brains that predispose us towards certain behaviour or to have certain abilities that make us a very distinct kind of self-aware animal, perhaps we humans are starting to evolve a different (or higher) level of consciousness.


Hi George,

An interesting read that follows along with your last thought, from wiki:

The magnum opus of Bucke's career was a book that he researched and wrote over many years titled Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. It was published the year before his death in 1901, and has been continuously republished ever since. In it, Bucke described his own experience, that of contemporaries (most notably Whitman, but also unknown figures like "C.P."), and the experiences and outlook of historical figures including Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Plotinus, Muhammad, Dante, Francis Bacon, and William Blake.

Bucke developed a theory involving three stages in the development of consciousness: the simple consciousness of animals; the self-consciousness of the mass of humanity (encompassing reason, imagination, etc.); and cosmic consciousness — an emerging faculty and the next stage of human development. Among the effects of this progression, he believed he detected a lengthy historical trend in which religious conceptions and theologies had become less and less fearful.

Surprisingly, to Bucke it seemed this progression is as much evolutionary as spiritual (the work of Charles Darwin probably dominated most educated discourse in the late nineteenth century). In Cosmic Consciousness (starting with Part II, Chapter 2, Section IV) he explains how animals developed the hearing sense (noise detection) in order to survive. Noise detection evolves by including frequency measurements which we experience as tones. Further development in this area culminates in the ability to experience and enjoy music. Likewise, animals developed the sense of light detection which then progressed to black-and-white vision. Some animals (including humans) progressed further by including frequency measurements which we experience as colors, but only mankind extended this into the appreciation of visual beauty, including art. Bucke states that initially, only a small number of humans would have been able to experience music or see colors, but eventually these new traits would race through human society until only a very small number of people would not be able to hear music or experience colors.

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