While I said in my last post that I'd be moving on from the subject of predictive processing, I'm only going to go halfway there. Because I want to explore something that stood out for me in one of the slides I shared in that post from a talk by Shamil Chandaria about "The Bayesian Brain and Meditation."
This is how I described the blue box with various terms for Non-Dual Awareness and its associated orange'ish note in my previous blog post.
Emptiness, in the Buddhist sense, is one of the spiritual notions (in the blue box) that Chandaria says are similar phenomenology (meaning, as experienced) yet with different metaphysical narratives. That's for sure. Brahman, God in Hinduism, is very different from Buddhist emptiness -- which means the interdependence of all things, none of which possess inherent existence in their own right.
Now, I'm not sure how similar the phenomenological experiences of non-dual awareness actually are. But before talking about that, here's a definition of phenomenology.
The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy is then to be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields of philosophy: ontology (the study of being or what is), epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of right and wrong action), etc.
So assuming non-dual awareness does exist, where basically there is just a unity of experience instead of (1) an experiencer and (2) something being experienced, Chandaria considers that those experiencing non-dual awareness who use terms in the blue box from various spiritual and philosophical traditions all are having pretty much the same subjective experience, even though the terms point to different metaphysical narratives or dogmas.
I like this idea.
It rings true to me, though given the inherently personal nature of subjective experience, it would be difficult to prove that a Christian who feels the presence of Jesus when she stands on top of a mountain, totally absorbed in the majestic beauty of her surroundings, is having the same non-dual experience as a Buddhist atheist who feels the emptiness or interdependence of those same surroundings.
In other words, it is when we frame a non-dual experience of unity between subject and object within a theological, philosophical, or some other system of thought that differences appear, even though the phenomenological experiences themselves may be very similar, if not identical.
I can't resist relating this to the criminal indictment of Trump that the United States Justice Department released a few days ago. Sure, it's quite a jump from non-dual awareness to serious legal charges against an ex-president, but my mind, like all minds, works in mysterious ways.
Political junkie that I am, I've been avidly following the reactions of Republican and Democratic leaders to the news of the indictment. Let's assume that they all have read the indictment, which runs 49 pages, but doesn't take very long to read given copious white space in the pages.
The indictment is akin to low-level phenomenology. It lays out some basic evidence about the case against Trump. The details and photos in the indictment are damning. Anyone who cares about national security and keeping our nation's military secrets safe should feel alarmed at what the charges against Trump are, and the evidence backing up those charges.
(This isn't all the evidence the government has. More surely will be revealed at Trump's trial.)
However, many if not most Republican leaders, including Trump himself, have been focusing on higher-level dogmas. I call them that, because there's really no facts to back them up. They're just ways of looking at the indictment that distract from the evidence presented in it by the Justice Department.
So Trump calls it a witch hunt. Other Republicans decry the weaponization of the Justice Department to go after Trump in an unfair manner. There's false claims that Biden ordered the indictment, ignoring that a special counsel was appointed to oversee the investigation into Trump's handling of secret documents, and a grand jury authorized the indictment.
Thus while there is little debate about the facts in the indictment, which are virtually indisputable, there's lots of debate about what the indictment means. Is it a valid way of holding Trump accountable for his willful retention of sensitive documents (my view), or is it a nasty way for Democrats to punish Trump because they hate him? (the view of most Republicans)
My point here is that the closer we come to raw experience and raw facts, the more agreement there should be on those low-level aspects of life. When we enter the realm of higher-level abstractions and dogmas, there is more room for disagreement.
At any rate, I like the idea that underneath all of the differences between the world's religious theologies and philosophical ways of looking at the world, there's a fundamental human unity that manifests when experience enters a state that is variously described as flow, absorption, non-duality, and such.
More simply put, a mother who can't stop gazing at the newborn she holds in her arms, so absorbed in the infant that the two of them appear to her to be one, is having the same experience as other mothers, whether they be committed Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, or atheists.