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August 25, 2023

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Excellent post, Brian. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what you have to say about Breer’s message, and particularly his “strategy” for living with the understanding of no-free-will internalized, at a personal level, and at a societal level as well.


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This is exactly what I’d been wondering about, in my last comment addressed to Ron yesterday.

That we have no self, that is something that Vipassana meditation does bear out. I know that first hand, basis what they teach, as well as basis what I have myself, in some degree, experienced at first hand --- well, not experienced not having a self, but experienced that our self can …drop off, so to say, if fleetingly.

But does it? Does Vipassana actually bear that out? If you ask Vipassana teachers and Vipassana “advanced” practitioners and Vipassana scholars, then the answer is an emphatic Yes. But I take that kind of assertion with a pinch of salt --- that is no different than Surat Shabd Yog teachers asserting that experiencing light and sound within is fact, that is no different than teachers of Kundalini meditation asserting that activation of the chakras, from the Muladhar up to the Anahad (and in some traditions up to the Sahasrar and beyond) is fact.

As far as theory, teacher and student alike are likely regurgitating learnt dogma. As far as practice, what all of these have experienced, what I myself have in part experienced: While the experience itself is fact, that without a shadow of doubt, but what does it actually indicate? Does it actually indicate that what is apparently experienced is actually the real thing? That, in the case of Vipassana, the experience of no-self does indicate that there’s no self? (The same question can be asked of those other traditions as well: Does the experience of sound and light actually indicate that there’s sound and light somewhere?) …Or might the explanation be more mundane? Like self-delusion maybe, the Bullshido phenomenon of experiencing what you’re expected to experience, essentially the mind playing tricks on you? Or maybe a mild form of induced psychosis? Or maybe, if not quite psychosis, then at any rate self-induced hallucination? Which is it? Does the subjective point to objective fact, or is the subjective merely that and nothing else?

That’s actually a very important question, both in terms of the specific answer itself, as well as what it indicates about us. If it is the case that Vipassana does genuinely help us realize no-self, and correctly see that there’s no self, then that’s very important in two respects: first, of course, because of what that specific answer means and indicates; but also because it would then mean that we have within us the means to properly assess, internally, solely by examining our own minds, solely by introspection, this amazing fact about ourselves, that we have no separate self. That second is no less important than the first!

So, can we really take it that Paul Breer knows what he’s talking about when he tells us that Vipassana can actually tell this about us, tell this to us authoritatively correctly inerrantly? Or is he merely echoing what Vipassana tradition teaches, and combining that with what neuroscience is starting to show us, and fallaciously conflating the two to imagine that Vipassana is indeed an inerrant pointer towards truths of this nature, and specifically towards this particular truth? That is what I was wondering, asking about, back in my last comment.

Does Paul Breer’s book speak of this, Brian? If yes, then I’d like, very much, to know what he has to say.


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That experiment? Afraid it falls flat.

I asked myself just now how “I” ended up typing this comment on here. And I got a full-on narrative, answering exactly how and why. Deeper introspection revealed deeper layers to my wanting to understand this, some of which I’ve discussed here above. But nowhere was there anything close to an authoritative understanding of no-self. On the contrary, what one saw and understood is a firmly entrenched self --- not a supernatural thing, but certainly a real thing --- sitting inside of my body and doing all of these things.

Now I agree fully with the purported end result of Breer’s experiment. That I’m not contesting, not for a minute. Apart from the intellectualizing about it, I’ve also sometimes experienced this first-hand, or at least I imagine I have; so I agree at that level as well. But, I’m saying, the experiment, as undertaken on the spur, I’m afraid it falls smack on its face. At least it did for me, when I tried it just now.

A couple of notes I jotted down some time ago which are relevant to what Breer is saying – and saves me writing some more! -

“I notice that when there is only observing, only awareness, there is no observer. The ‘I’, the ego is not there. It is only a moment after that the ‘I’ comes in, claiming the experience, that gives it the feeling of a continuous and permanent identity and securing its place in time and space. So, the reality is, ‘I’ can never experience awareness because it is only there when ‘I’ am not.”

“In fact, there is no observer either, just observing. But who or what is observing? No-one, because I can see that there is no self, no observer, just a programmed brain/body that experiences (life) are just working through.”


And for anyone interested in pursuing the question of personhood above agency or self, this is a quote of Jay Garfield whose book ‘Loosing Ourselves’ is (IMO) an excellent description of replacing the concept of self with being a person – and interestingly he also embraces the question of morality: -

“Selves, if there were such things, would be independent metaphysically real entities. Persons are constructed, or designated by our own psychological and social processes, and reflect the role that we play for each other as individuals in a collectively constituted world, a world constructed in our experience and mutual action in response to our psychological, perceptual and social natures. Persons are complex, interdependent and impermanent, constantly changing and causally enmeshed with their environments. We are persons who take ourselves to be selves; and that is the Buddhist diagnosis of the root of our psychological problems. The solution to those problems, in this view, is to be found in stopping that reification and self-grasping.”

Hi Brian
You wrote:
"The difficulty of letting go of the false notion that we humans possess free will, while the rest of the world doesn't, is that as discussed in my previous post, free will requires an independent agent. "

Free will is always relative. Some variables, some influences are indeed independent of others, but all variables exist in a deterministic world.

And it is obvious that we have relative free will. We exercise it several times a day. No one told you to get up or make coffee for yourself. And on some days, it may be a serious question as to whether to do so.

When we were addicted, or living in ignorance of certain facts, we made decisions based upon that and we were slaves to our addictions, misunderstandings and ignorance. The great Spanish philosopher, Unimuno, wrote that we are obliged to help those around us living in ignorance to become aware of the things they do not yet know.

Once we found about about other options, and pursued those, like an actor, a doctor, a dancer, developing our skills to achieve our goals, then we have relative freedom from those old constraints,

This is relative free will. It's obvious, it proves its existence all around us. We can become free of some variables, some forces, habits and addictions simply by education and practice. Of course, to become free of one thing we tie ourselves to the influence of another: new knowledge, the love of a good Teacher, the practice of new skills, the influence of good friends. And that may take us away from the negative influence of others.

We keep ourselves always focused on that goal and we ascend, are raised up by our practice, by love, by knowledge from the things that enslaves us and the influence of our new environment, both within and around us,

Of course, negative influences can also pull us down, so that knowing what is best, we are seduced into doing the opposite. And then, over time we forget what we knew and start believing that nothing can help us.

We can ascend or fall. We have a level of relative free will. But our freedom from some things is entirely due to the positive influence of other things.

This all happens within Determinism. Cause and Effect are indeed absolute. But our free will, because we can choose, is relative. We can become free to live to a higher cause and effect. We can grow our free will. So long as there is relative freedom, there is relative free will.

None of this requires any belief in the supernatural. But relative to our past, we become supernatural, in the sense that we have ascended beyond what others, bound and enslaved, insist is "natural". Beyond what they are willing to understand. But it's all natural, in truth. Knowledge is natural, to experiment and discover is natural, to ascend is natural, and so is encouraging our peers to believe so and pursue it. Human beings have the intellectual capacity for this. It's built in.

Relative Free Will. There is nothing like it. Our whole purpose to grow and to become better people is predicated upon the foundation of understanding this: We have relative free will, and options, and we can make a different choice today than we did yesterday, now knowing this, and this happens from the influence of new, higher variables that we expose ourselves to.

The argument that the mechanics of the brain prove there is no free will is a false argument for two reasons. One, there are simply more forces we don't understand yet. When the highest standard of scientific knowledge is attained, the ability to replicate a human mind accurately and completely at least in its functionality, we might be in a position to claim that we understand all that is within the human brain. But we are nowhere near that. So, the mystery both in the human brain and in what little we do know scientifically of our reality, leaves open undiscovered possibilities that we cannot make assumptions about, especially if we are claiming science as the basis of our beliefs.

Two, when you look at a photo, you can see the person in the photo, or you can look deeper and see dots. But both views are truthful.

Hi AR
You wrote:
"authoritatively correctly inerrantly"..

I'm afraid this definition of the "self" is absolute, while we are relative beings. What we can do is calm down, look at things from a second or third perspective, free our minds of current impressions and passions, clean them, and then return to the problem, get views and feedback from others, and then, look at it again and make a determination.

Because of the way memory works, though we are unconscious to it, we are actually a little different beings moment by moment. What we see or feel as "myself" is a memory reconstruction from several "recalls" and patches that happens several times a second. and what our mind regenerates, our current memories impressions and thoughts, that we use to think, to generate thoughts. It's very fluid.

The consistency we perceive is just absence of subtle memory of all this.

However, as we meditate, we can begin to see these mechanisms. Then it is clear our persona is a reconstruction, indeed, over the course of an hour, several dozen at least. And that is the changing battlefront of competing forces. Opinions? We really have to work hard to document our opinions in order to be sure we are actually holding the same opinion day by day. Normally, we have no idea our viewpoint has changed and think this is just "me". That's the way the brain works.

But what is watching? As Ron E. points out, is that anything?

It is what you see that defines the fact that we are looking from a single point of view.

But what happens when, in deep meditation, you see yourself from a different perspective? Or even deeper, you begin to see through the eyes of other people? Strangers you never knew, never met, and may never meet? Different slices of life? It locks in the notion that "I" don't exist, or more accurately, that "I" exist as the momentary running of a program whose coding is re-writing itself a little bit at a time continuously. But you can certainly surf the waves, randomly skip about from time and place to time and place. It all happens when you unloose "you" from "you".

"Hi AR
You wrote:
"authoritatively correctly inerrantly"..

I'm afraid this definition of the "self" is absolute"

-----


Hey, Spence.

What definition?

Hi AR:

You asked:
" Hey, Spence.

What definition?"

The definition of the self or any internal experience of truth as ""authoritatively correctly inerrantly" something from meditation experience that is one single ultimate truth.

To think of it, it must be filtered through the mind, a very fluid biochemical changing thing.

To experience, well, who is experiencing? At what level of consciousness? We are different beings at different levels of awareness and consciousness. You aren't the same "you" at different hours of the day.

The "You" that feels is a little different from the "you" that thinks and writes, and that, a little different from the "you" that experiences. And what that last "you" experiences is quite dependent upon what it is experiencing. Change that, raise that, and "you" are different.

As for the other "you"s, they are all derivative of that experience through the filter of mind, emotions, biochemistry, conditioning...all things that over varying periods of time are unstable.

Any deep and prolonged meditation practice brings this forth, if "you" are there to experience it...but that "you" isn't the "you" reading and processing this.

Hence the opportunity to raise awareness, raise consciousness, become relatively free and grow relative free will.


The fact that there are different levels of consciousness, different "you"s and some more independent of emotions, passions, addictions than others...the "you" that looks back in retrospect seeing things a little more objectively may not be the "you" reacting to things moment by moment.

But that higher and more independent "you" is relatively, a more independent agent.

So, expand your consciousness, raise it and find a greater agency, a greater advocate, a greater voice and a greater friend within.

"The definition of the self... as ""authoritatively correctly inerrantly" something ..."


But what definition of the self? Which definition, in what context, as presented by whom? Not sure what you're talking about, Spence.

…No answer?...


Here’s why I was persistent in asking, Spence. All of the stuff you said to me here, well, some of it I found wise, and agreed with (I mean the thing about inconstant, changing selves); and some of it nonsensical, and disagreed with (specifically that absurd relative self and determinism nonsense that you tried to carry over from the other thread); but in any case, none of it seemed to have anything at all to do with what I’d said. Which was curious, given that you worded your comments after quoting mine, and as if you were answering me. Which is why I was trying to find out where exactly you were coming from, exactly. Apologies if my persistent questioning seemed rude!

Given you responses, it’s clear you didn’t actually understand what I’d said! I could restate it again, but then I guess my original comment’s clear enough, actually. Maybe you’d like to re-read it? If after that it’s still unclear, then I’ll be happy to re-state and/or elaborate, if you like.

(Or, of course, we could talk about these other things that you speak about, instead, if you like, absolutely no issues! I find what I asked interesting, compelling even; but no reason why we must necessarily talk about that and nothing else! To be clear, though, it’ll be a whole separate discussion then, and not about the question I’d raised here.)

I suggest that it's time to move to the part of the book where Breer discloses the promised practical advantages of his philosophy. 10 essays arguing that there's no free will are probably enough.

Hi AR
It's possible I did in fact mis-understand, as that happens daily.
Here is where I got my impression which resulted in my comment:

You had written:
"But does it? Does Vipassana actually bear that out? If you ask Vipassana teachers and Vipassana “advanced” practitioners and Vipassana scholars, then the answer is an emphatic Yes. But I take that kind of assertion with a pinch of salt --- that is no different than Surat Shabd Yog teachers asserting that experiencing light and sound within is fact, that is no different than teachers of Kundalini meditation asserting that activation of the chakras, from the Muladhar up to the Anahad (and in some traditions up to the Sahasrar and beyond) is fact.

"As far as theory, teacher and student alike are likely regurgitating learnt dogma. As far as practice, what all of these have experienced, what I myself have in part experienced: While the experience itself is fact, that without a shadow of doubt, but what does it actually indicate? Does it actually indicate that what is apparently experienced is actually the real thing?"

You were asking about some single "reality" to be found from meditation, and that is tantamount, or at least complementary to the concept of a fixed and existent "self".

And you then wrote:
"So, can we really take it that Paul Breer knows what he’s talking about when he tells us that Vipassana can actually tell this about us, tell this to us authoritatively correctly inerrantly? "

So, it seems to me that this notion of finding a single objectivity within is quite a similar, if not the same, argument that we have a defined identity, persona, self to be found within in meditation practice.

My point was that what you find in any diligent approach to looking within is, at least for quite a while, layers of all the things that are variable, and that the core basis of what makes up our personality is just a construction re-constructing itself all the time. Look deeper, and yes, there is the notion of the observer. If you see something then there is an observer seeing that particular perspective.

But when you see multiple perspectives in sequence, then that notion that the observer is one thing gets disproven by that experience.

So, you may indeed argue that there is no One fixed observer, but you cannot actually argue that there is no observer, since seeing from any single perspective, even multiple perspectives, having any record at all of what is observed requires an observer from that point of view.


Hi AR
You wrote:
"and disagreed with (specifically that absurd relative self and determinism nonsense that you tried to carry over from the other thread."

Nonsense is really name calling, but to be fair I think I used it first referring to your argument. Touche.

Actually, I have entirely dismantled the false argument you and others have made that theology defines free will as absolute. That is false, and I have proven it repeatedly and in enough detail, with citations from theology, enough for most anyone who is objective to acknowledge.

Alll schools of philosophy define the relative nature of our free will, and our relative enslavement, which every Philosophy (including Atheism, and ones that promote a supernatural power) promises to free us from. It's one way they sell their wares.


“Hi AR
It's possible I did in fact mis-understand, as that happens daily.
Here is where I got my impression which resulted in my comment:

You had written: …”


You misunderstood, because in quoting extensively from my comment just now (full 155 words copied, I took that to Word and checked the word count), you left out ---- God alone knows why! ---- the very first sentence where I actually start out that part of my comment from, that reads “That we have no self, that is something that Vipassana meditation does bear out.”

Which is why you ended up concluding that, as you say just now “(I was) asking about some single "reality" to be found from meditation, and that is tantamount, or at least complementary to the concept of a fixed and existent ‘self’ ”. Which is exactly the opposite of what I’d said. And which still leaves out the key part of what I asked.

I note that you still don’t actually ask me what I did mean. Clearly that interests you not at all. Clearly all you’re interested in is using my post, and, while making a spurious show of addressing it, basically using it to preach away endlessly. Fair enough, if that’s what you want, by all means carry on doing that.


----------


“Actually, I have entirely dismantled the false argument you and others have made that theology defines free will as absolute.”


You’ve deluded yourself into thinking you’ve done that, by doing in that thread exactly what you’ve done here. I’d clearly explained the whole thing to you, in full detail, even numbering out each section so you don’t miss anything out; and just like you miss out, or pretend to miss out, the key portion of my comment here that is inconvenient to fit your contortions around; likewise in that thread, you ended up blithely ignoring every portion of my comment, every numbered section, that you had no chance to even begin to formulate an answer to.

I stopped responding after that, as I’d told you I would, because there’s only so much time one is willing to waste on such rank nonsense. And no, that isn’t name calling, that’s a factual description.

Who do you think you’re fooling here? No one. Most certainly not me.

I’m afraid your endless attempts to appear knowledgeable about things you clearly have no clue about --- including when it comes to such completely inconsequential matters that should be no more than a matter of a friendly chat, like science fiction! --- hurt your credibility on matters where you might legitimately have something to show us and teach us. Like your remarkable experiences at meditation, for instance --- and not to mention your formidable erudition in matters religious and, in many cases, scientific. But given your patent insincerity in how you deal with stuff where one can clearly make out that you’re trying to simply gaslight your way out, bluff your way through: given that, one is compelled to take with a huge shaker full of salt all of those other things you say where one has no other option but to simply rely on your word.

Anyway. Enough words wasted.

Carry on, preach away then, which is the only thing you’re here for clearly; and keep telling yourself that you’re fooling people other than yourself, if that makes you happy.

(In the unlikely event you’re sincerely interested in understanding your error in the other thread, go back and read my last comment, the one with the numbered sections. In very brief: no one is contesting that will is relative, as I’ve said throughout. That’s a complete non sequitur, when it comes to discussing determinism. The point is, it is free, the point is that God has made man free to do what he will, and therefore to hold him responsible for his freely willed choices. (Augustine's free will theodicy argument is why free will is such a big deal. And I presented that bit from the catechism to show --- to check myself first, and then to show you --- that that argument isn't merely a millennia old historical oddity, but a foundational part of present-day RCC doctrine.) That is the part that is completely incompatible with determinism. …….And there I go again, getting carried away and starting to compulsively play this asinine and completely pointless game all over again. Zip!)

Appreciative Reader, I heartily agree with your comment above. You're correct. Spence Tepper doesn't honestly engage with people he disagrees with. Because he dislikes being shown to be wrong, he goes to great lengths to twist language around to convince himself that he's right. Of course, that doesn't make him right. It just makes him feel that he is right.

We all do this to some extent, but Tepper does it to a truly annoying degree. Like you, I read many of his comments and think, "That makes no sense; it's not at all what the subject of the post he's commenting on is about."

You got it right when you said that Spence Tepper uses this approach to preach his gospel of whatever he believes in, which can be difficult to fathom. My best guess is that he's a believer in Sant Mat/RSSB with an overlay of Christianity.

Regardless, I'm torn about his comments. They are a form of trolling, since Tepper strikes me as more interested in using his comments on blog posts as a soapbox for his religious views than as a means of respectfully sharing perspective with other people. I suspect Tepper doesn't have much experience with engaging with people who challenge his ideas, since he's so defensive when this happens.

I try to remember that Tepper, like all of us, is a creature of deterministic forces. Since we all lack free will, Tepper can't be anyone other than he is, as we all are. But this doesn't mean that he should be allowed to use this blog as an avenue to continuously preach his brand of religiosity. I admire your patience in dealing with Tepper's ducking and weaving when you try to pin him down on a subject. I hope this is helping Tepper realize that his fear of admitting that's he has lost an argument is a sign of intellectual weakness, not a strength.

So you're aiding Tepper to change his ways and become a better debater. Tough job, but I'm glad you're doing it.

Hi Brian and Appreciative:
I'm sorry but I've already shown, with citations from St. Paul and the Bible, the Catechism that you yourself referred to AR, and the writings of St. Augustine: These citations claim that our free will is limited and conditioned. We need to be taught the Good News, educated, and strive for perfection to expand that free will, which only happens by God's Will, God's Grace (or you could say our conditioning).

Therefore, this "relative" free will takes place within an entirely deterministic reality.

St. Paul points out that God knew what people were going to do before they were born, and in fact He commanded it. Therefore any choice we have is within the span of relative free will of the choices we learn and understand, and our capacity to choose them.

Just admit your argument that Theology claims an absolute free will is simply wrong, or that you were ignorant of these details, and now knowing them, you are willing to amend your opinion accordingly.

Sorry to be the bearer of an inconvenient truth.

Now, just to be clear, I'm not arguing for what St. Paul and these theologians have written. I'm only arguing that their words should not be white washed falsely to support your arguments against them. If you really want to argue against them, then of course, you want to argue against what they actually said.

whether God exists or not, these theologians are, just like Atheists, arguing for an entirely deterministic reality.

My view, based in science, is that we don't know enough to draw that conclusion, whether as an Atheist or Theist.

In fact, as a Humanist, I would argue they and you are both right, in so far as your and their psychology, but also wrong, in the larger mystery of what we don't know. That the universe is not deterministic, either under the direction of a single consciousness or the laws science happens to already know, truthful as these laws are. Still, they aren't the whole story. The argument for determinism is assuming a closed system. There is no evidence for that.

And it is circular to claim that all things come under all laws whatever they are, adding new invented laws to explain every new unpredicted event, and then claiming you were right all along.

Really, what sort of argument are you really making here?
Against whom?
Advocating what?

Fighting religion? Really? It's so old it's rotted out.

But advocating possibility is inclusive.


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