I listened to a YouTube video this week in which physicist Sean Carroll gave a talk entitled “God Is Not a Good Theory.” In his presentation, Dr. Carroll used Bayesian probabilities to compare the likelihood of God’s existence to the likelihood that we live in a multiverse—(multiverses being one naturalistic way of explaining the appearance of a statistically unlikely universe such as our own). The Bayesian procedure involves using evidence to update an a priori assessment of the likelihood a given outcome is true. So, for instance, prior to gathering evidence of any kind, we could ask ourselves, “If God were real, what type of universe would we expect to find?” We could then look to see if this is so.
I was expecting him to comment on a few elements of reality that trouble all of us—the existence of suffering, or of evil, for instance, (which I should note he did get around to eventually)—but instead he reported that the greatest strike against the argument for God’s existence is the incredibly low entropy of the early universe. The reason is that if God’s goal was to create life, as is commonly asserted, the entropy of the early universe didn’t need to be nearly as low as it was. He noted another way to think about this is to ponder the night sky, in which there are just way, way, way more galaxies than are strictly necessary for life to exist. While many parameters of our universe appear to be tuned “just right” for life, the entropy of the early universe is so far from what one would expect, it just cannot be consistent with the hypothesis of a creative God.
I find this argument a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s an interesting opening because what I want to talk about is how the universe of form is in many ways a perfect response to what I’ve described in this series as “the choice for separation.” I mentioned last time that the shift in our identification that is part and parcel to this choice is the root cause of suffering, and noted as well a few reasons why a benevolent universe would not simply dissolve the consequences of a freely made choice or overrule the choice altogether. But what I didn’t address is what benevolence did do in this story I am (re-)telling, and that is equally important.
Unity is a state of perfect communion. Communication—felt, let’s say, as the sensation of mutual identification—continuously joins each to each, each to the All, and the All to each without interruption. Knowledge of unity is immediate, pervasive, and unopposed. As I noted previously, the primordial state of being, which exists perpetually and only in the light of this knowledge, enjoys a creative power that we cannot imagine. But in the choice for separation this power was lost, along with the ubiquitous communication, or mutuality of presence, we once enjoyed with the entirety of being.
The first thing to understand is that the desire to restore what was lost is very strong. Incredibly strong. But the way back can only be a choice on our part. As I also noted before, this is a very difficult choice to make because it appears to involve the abdication of our individual sovereignty, freedom, and creative ability—in short, it appears to involve the loss of all that we are and have made ourselves to be. The image of ourselves must be released and the reality of ourselves accepted, but to make this leap we must allow a complete reframing of all that we’ve known in our separated condition. But in the meanwhile, the profound desire to restore what was lost operates through the image of ourselves, every day, in attempts to (re)construct the reality we’ve seemingly lost right in the here and now. This compulsion moves all of us.
Perversely, the deep drive to recover what was lost by recreating it in the world of form engenders profound attachments to what we produce with our lives. This makes releasing these images and desires all the more difficult. If all that we work here to build, painstakingly, one day at a time for years and years—(by which I mean our inventory of experiences, our status, our accumulation of knowledge, our memories of heroic exploits, our list of failures, our losses, our “stories,” etc.)—if all that comes apart, we experience the profound loss of “our kingdom” all over again. We are each Sisyphus in this way, trying to reconstruct in this manifest world that which can never be constructed here (but only realized through a return to the unity that was lost). (It’s important, I think, to note that a return to formlessness or an abdication of this experiential world altogether is not where this is headed, but that will have to be a future post…)
How can this strange loop be exited? If a benevolent universe could neither remove the consequences of the choice for separation, or overrule the mind(s) that made such a choice without a much greater loss, what could it do? The answer is that it could foster those conditions most appropriate for learning and safeguard forever the aspects of itself “lost” to this strange experience. And here, like physicist Sean Carroll, we could ask: what would such a universe look like?
At the risk of being tedious, I think to begin answering this question we need a picture of the primordial state of being in front of us once again. This state—the reality of unity—is eternal, unopposed, and the fulcrum of all creative power. Most importantly, this state is timeless. There is no “process” by which expressions of love and unity in this singularity are mediated. We could think of this as being akin to the magic we write about in our fairy tales, only the magic we imagine is often “used” to change things in the world of form and that is not what I’m getting at. I’m suggesting the primordial state of being is like the full power of Aladdin’s lamp, only not to make a bunch of stuff, but to communicate and share the content of who we are in endless and beautiful ways. The critical element of this “state” is that it is always instantaneous and maximal. We might imagine there is cause (will, or desire) and effect (awareness of love given and love received), but these are so indelibly joined they are more like a “mutual arising” than a sequence. They are both-at-once, together. And they are timeless.
Such an instantaneous out-picturing, or projection, of separated minds would not be ideal for learning, however. It would be quite dangerous in fact. If everything a seemingly separate mind desired or willed instantaneously came to be it would very obviously be chaotic insanity. There’s the problem of wanting different outcomes, first of all, which is the hallmark of separation: several billion all-powerful wizards painting our physical reality to pieces. But there’s also the problem of providing a means of learning, which is the most important outcome, because it is only through learning that the consequences of the choice for separation might be understood, and the means of making the choice for unity finally realized. And then there’s the problem of protecting the very selves that we are: the connection to the primordial state of being.
What we’ve been given in response to the choice for separation is not a chaotic mess wherein every seemingly independent mind has the full creative power of unity, but a world that precedes very clearly by cause and effect—a world in which the two are teased apart and placed in a sequence, or relationship, that produces time. Such a world reflects the various fractures or splits that all occurred with the choice for separation, prior to which cause and effect were unified and simultaneous. The split of cause from effect echoes the loss of unity, and produces time, which is a perfect vehicle for learning. The non-simultaneity of cause and effect enables the opportunity to deeply understand choice and consequence.
So I think this is a reason our physical reality is deterministic. It must proceed “separately” from “us” and our independent, fragmented wills to allow for stability of experience as well as the opportunity for learning. Determinism protects us from the worst psychological outcomes of the choice for separation. In a sense the choice for separation “froze” the creative power of unity and sealed the experience of separation into time. Our power in this container is largely reduced to transitory physical machinations, but it is far, far, far from the power of cause and effect. Nothing we do in time can change the true nature of our being in unity with the primordial state of being, and this allows for the experience of separation without any lasting consequences. Time is a safe container for this strange dream.
But the question remains: are we making our own choices in time, in every instant like we think? Or are our bodies and all that we know the product of material laws alone? My answer to this is that physical reality is deterministic unless acted upon by the power of unity, and that at the moment of the choice for separation all of time—the entire epoch of learning, healing, and return to unity—arose. It is like the block universe physicists discuss—all past and future co-existing in a perfectly ordered causal sequence. In this sense, there is no free will in the land of image. Everything proceeds on the basis of a fully determined cause and effect.
But this is ostensibly a universe of zombies! Consciousness is unnecessary for physical events to proceed by physical laws, so it’s a bit of an anomaly in this context. The word sealed in time can unfold quite nicely without our presence. The truly amazing thing is that we do have the ability to witness events, and it is necessary only for this: to witness and experience what is occurring. And in this, I believe, there is one choice we do have. We can choose to witness through the thought system of image, or the thought system of unity.
When we are perceiving the world with image at the root of our comprehension, we identify almost exclusively with the body, we imagine we are at cause, and it feels like we’re making a string of choices, but in essence we’re witnessing the deterministic unfolding of material processes (including our bodies). We perceive and feel events a certain way and we respond on the basis of the image at the root of our identity, but it doesn’t change the world’s sequence. We’re along for the ride in a sense. We glory at our triumphs and despair at our failures. We clamor about freedom, take credit for this and that, blame our losses on factors beyond ourselves, but really… we’re watching the movie from the inside. This is just how we learn. This is how we come into immediate experiential contact with the consequences of our most fundamental choices: we live them. And for this and this alone is consciousness required.
But as we move into the choice for unity—as we heal the various rifts that are co-extensive with the choice to experience separation—then something new can happen. The frozen, deterministic sequence of cause and effect is interrupted by moments of contact with unity—by the touch of time to the timeless. And then true cause enters the scene for a moment, everything recalculates, and a new track is possible. Through these moments of unity, which we all access all the time, tracks are perpetually shifting, reorganizing. The contents of time are reordered. It is through such moments of genuine freedom and access to unity that we “shorten” time and genuinely create transformation of what is. But this freedom is not that of a lone individual wielding the power of the proverbial lamp, it is immersion into the realization that what we each desire is what we all desire. It is, ironically, not making a choice at all! For choice is not freedom!
Choice, in the condition of separation, or the sequence of time, is a facsimile of freedom, a distorted rendition of what is real. It is an attempt to recreate the experience of freedom we so deeply desire, but like all the ways we try and recreate what we remember, it cannot work in the way we’re going about it! We cannot retain our root identification with the separated state and create the conditions of unity.
To summarize, the experience we are having in time and space can be understood as perfectly consistent with the response of a benevolent universe to a choice to experience the unreality of an isolated or separate state. The structure of causality, time, and determinism provides the perfect sandbox for learning while eliminating the worst outcomes of our choice. The wisdom of what has arisen remains well beyond my ability to comprehend, and this is just one man’s strange and skewed depiction of a small piece of it, but even a feeble glimpse of such a response is enough to amaze me.
Sean Carroll might ask me if I had a blank sheet of paper on which to draw any universe I could possibly imagine, and I started with only the question of what a benevolent universe would look like, is the world around us what I would draw? Because if not—if a mind that didn’t know anything about our world would draw something completely different—then maybe this whole essay is simply an effort to bend the data we have to fit some strange notions that are dear to me. But this type of question is naïve I think, because it assumes the creative heart of existence is fixed and autocratic—that it would choose to deny the very possibility of freedom and choice that make it “real” so that only pleasant utopias might come into being, populated by automatons. If we ask instead how a benevolent universe that allows freedom and choice to meaningfully exist might respond to a choice by “part” of itself to explore a question about experiencing what it is not, you may be surprised by what you imagine…
I’m amazed at your ability and desire to dive into these complex philosophical explorations Michael.
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Thanks, Brad! Appreciate it and really appreciate you slogging through such a bloated post! I had a hard time truncating this one… One thing kind of leads to another and it’s hard to draw the line… Haha. Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday.
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Some questions that have occurred to me while reading the series. I’m totally fine if you want to pick and choose which of these to answer, if any. (And apologies if these were addressed somewhere and I missed them.)
The choice you’ve been describing, of us choosing non-unity, seems resonant with the Christian idea of original sin. Would you that’s a special case of what you’re describing? Or is this just coincidence?
When would you say we made the choice against unity? Did we each make it individually at some point, or collectively in the primordial state of unity? Or, like original sin, was a decision made and we’re the ones experiencing the consequences of it? Would we, as individuals, exist without that choice?
When you say that consciousness is not required for physical events to proceed by physical laws, I’m wondering if you include our behavior in that. How would you define consciousness in this context? Are we talking about something ephiphenomenal?
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Thanks for the questions! I’ll probably get to them all in the relatively near future, but will start with your first one, the question of original sin. I think there is often a lot of truth buried in myth, but also that it can be distorted and coopted at times through structures of power in human history. So yes, I think the notion of “original sin” relates to what I’ve been describing as “the choice for separation,” but I think as well that the root knowledge here has been distorted over time by the church to manipulate things for institutional benefit.
As I tried to point out in one of the previous posts, the apparent loss of connection to unity can readily be understood as a choice made in innocence, or as not a conscious choice at all but the shift from identification with unity to the identification with a particular bodily form brought about by the overwhelming novelty and profundity of embodied experience. Nothing was done that was “wrong” per se, and nothing about the primordial state of being involves punishment or disappointment, but also, the loss of unity was profoundly difficult for those who experience(d) it, and we humans carry a dim knowledge about the nature of this loss. There is a deep ancestral guilt, in a sense, about “paradise lost” that the church is able to manipulate.
In what I’m saying here there is nothing remotely like a divinely ordained punishment that results from an “original sin.” There is no notion of hell or eternal loss or any of that. And there is nothing that can happen in the material world that can change our eternal reality. There are simply the difficult consequences of what the experience of separation entails, and the challenge to move beyond that event. While the teachings of various institutionalized Christian religions might suggest that we are eternally flawed and needing some sort of absolution from God or baptism or whatever it is, or that our fates are in the balance or something, but this is in fact the upside-down, inside-out form of what is so: despite the difficulties that have arisen in this particular vehicle of experience, a path of return to unity has always been held open, and no being will or can be excluded or left behind or denied a path back to unity.
(more to follow soon on the other ones…)
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You wrote, When you say that consciousness is not required for physical events to proceed by physical laws, I’m wondering if you include our behavior in that. How would you define consciousness in this context? Are we talking about something epiphenomenal?
My intent in that passage, which in some ways is one I’m the least certain about, was to wrap a few ideas that have stuck with me over the years into something somewhat concrete. One is that determinism is a powerful explanatory theory at work in nature when we look in an objective fashion. The second is that many spiritual teachings of various forms distinguish lower level or “body thoughts” from higher forms of consciousness. And the third is a notion in A Course of Love that in identifying with the body (to the detriment of retaining awareness of unity) we’ve essentially removed the form of awareness that is capable of learning from the scene. To say it another way, we might consider that an awareness “one step removed” from the body could learn in a way that one without any distance whatsoever would not. In short, identification with the body results in our being “ruled” by the body, unable to get a bird’s eye view of events. We’re caught in the arena, so to speak.
So I put all that together, and I consider that matter and energy function with astonishing reliability and this cannot be ignored. And so maybe it is the case that all the “events” of the material world run like clockwork in some sense. They have been wound up like a clock and off they go. And the consciousness witnessing this can observe the sorts of things that a choice for separation entails. But as this consciousness learns, and as it remembers and invites the reality of unity into this experience, then the perfect freedom that is unity, and which is outside of time and not constrained by it, affects the entire structure of time and space through the action of its will, presence, knowledge, whatever we wish to call this mysterious potency.
So, I’m not doing a good job of defining consciousness, because for instance, if an event occurs that threatens the image I have of myself—something that suggests I’m not competent at something my self-image says I am competent at—then the emotion of anger or perhaps of fright or perhaps of arrogance may surface. And this sure “feels like” consciousness. And it is at some level, of course. But I’m calling this part of the deterministic causal chain and not the form of consciousness that obtains when unity consciousness shows up on the scene. In other words, I’m saying there is in essence a pre-determined “mode of reaction” that will result in my becoming annoyed and doing whatever I do next that is all simply a deterministic process, including the feelings that go with it. And this can all happen while I’m asleep at the wheel: I get triggered, I get angry or frightened or whatever, I do what I do, and onto the next thing. I feel all of this, of course, but it hardly matters. These are “unconscious” or conditioned responses, and while they may have a valence sensation, I’m calling these integral to the chain of deterministic causal relationships that will simply go on and on down their particular track unless acted upon by unity. So there’s no need transformative conscious participation here; we just get sort of compelled to act by the “body thoughts” that drive us.
So in hindsight, maybe this bit I wrote about consciousness being unnecessary doesn’t work so well without the valence. Without that emotion. But in my inadequate descriptions, and to save a bit of space, I didn’t make this distinction between forms of awareness. It may be that valence and the sensation of emotions generated within and by the body are critical to causing behavior. I don’t mean to dismiss that. But at the same time, it’s all part of the chain of deterministic causality. Nothing about this form of experience generates creative transformation or moves us into new frameworks of potential. For that, one needs attention and presence of another order. And when this is awakened or accepted or stumbled upon or however it happens, then the causal chain is interrupted and new sequences may come into being or become accessible, seamless to us perhaps, but new nonetheless.
The emotional valence and such that I’ve described—the sleeping at the wheel sort of awareness—is not epiphenomenal necessarily. I think it is “what it feels like” to identify with a body. It is what happens when this mysterious thing called spirit, a differentiated and distinct extension of eternal awareness—to use a term other than consciousness, which is complicated—identifies with the body so completely as to be virtually victim to the valences it produces. The experience of these emotions is sort of overwhelming in the sense they simply are the reality this awareness inhabits.
I would note that I’ve written a lot about emotion and how it “feels” to be in a body, but all of this applies to thought as well. We can be quite sure we’re doing some very good thinking, when really it’s just a stream of mentation as deterministic as the emotional responses I described above—unless it is infused with the content of unity. And this can happen and does happen all the time. We call it inspiration, and it has a particular feeling to it. This is something I hope to get into very soon, because true inspiration, while it certainly is hallmarked by a certain sort of feeling, is not simply the feeling of passions aroused. There are subtle distinctions that I think are important to talk about because not all thoughts and feelings are the same, and there are ways of distinguishing that, when we know them, can be very helpful to our own development and transformation.
At any rate, I hope I answered the question and it wasn’t too terribly long, Mike!
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Thanks Michael. Appreciate you elaborating on your model.
Inspiration is an interesting concept. The etymology of it is curious; it means to draw in breath. In that sense, it’s very similar to “spirit” or “soul”, which also seems to have origins in referring to breathing. Of course, in ancient times it became associated with divine guidance (the Muses for the Greeks). I wonder if your version would be guidance from unity?
Along those lines, I’m wondering about the line of reasoning that leads to this framework. You mentioned a couple of books: A Course In Miracles and A Course Of Love? Is this view consolidation from that material? If so, I’m curious how they reached their conclusions. Are they taking concepts from a variety of faith traditions, maybe looking for commonalities?
In terms of consciousness, the higher forms you mention in some ways sound similar to my own hierarchy of consciousness, although mine is intended to be completely naturalistic. But the lower forms you describe as deterministic strike me as what a lot of biologists call primary consciousness, sensory consciousness, or just sentience. Whereas the higher form might be more aligned with imagination and introspection. But maybe I’m trying to hard to map this to functionality.
One last question. How pervasive would you think this higher form of consciousness is in the animal kingdom? Is it specific to humans? Would the more intelligent mammals or birds have it? What about “simpler” animals like fish or arthropods?
Just a quick note to let you know I am looking forward to responding, but have a big project at work due Friday and am burning the candle at both ends for a day or two here… so bear with me… will be back at it soon!
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Thanks Michael. No worries. I understand completely. No rush at all.
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Apologies in advance for the essays…
I wonder if your version would be guidance from unity?
In a basic sense I would say yes, Mike. It’s hard to pose these questions without embedding an “I’m here, and unity is there” sort of image, which is inaccurate in a sense. I think in the end we are able to discover the experience of being identical with unity—meaning this sense of identity is the very context of our being—while retaining the uniqueness of individual expression. So this sort of language isn’t wrong, but I think it’s incomplete. I think at some level we experience the arising of expanded presence or the sensation of points-of-contact beyond our localized “selves.”
I definitely think this occurs during creative acts, but in many ways and places and times. I think a lot of “aha” moments may involve a sense of this, particularly when it involves the prior placement of ourselves “into the unknown” by expressing the inner desire to know or comprehend that which we presently do not. Most often we likely do not give the interaction with unity credit, or we ignore it, or its subtlety escapes us because it unfolds over days, weeks, years, etc.
As an example, to your second question, A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love were received—meaning the experience of writing these works involved the sensation of thoughts arising in the awareness of the writers that the writers felt they did not personally think in the same manner as the normal stream of mentation. Such thoughts were given, and marked by a difference in tone or quality. So there is a “here” and a ”there” in this sort of receiving—a unity as well as distinction. And it is this simultaneity of unity and relationship that is one hallmark of unity.
You mentioned a couple of books: A Course In Miracles and A Course Of Love? Is this view consolidation from that material? If so, I’m curious how they reached their conclusions. Are they taking concepts from a variety of faith traditions, maybe looking for commonalities?
The views I’m writing about here draw to a substantial degree from ACIM and ACOL, as well as others I have and haven’t mentioned. There is a universality that has emerged for me across various traditions and cultures, and I find key elements are expressed in unique ways in many places. But ACIM and ACOL are probably two of my most central resources. As I noted above, they are inspired works. Neither author set out to write a book that would describe what she had already been thinking about or researching, for instance.
The receiver of ACIM was a Columbia University psychology professor named Helen Schucman. She identified the voice as that of Jesus. I don’t know much about Helen but believe at the time she was atheist in her orientation or at least not practicing actively any particular religion. But I don’t know all that much about the origin of ACIM to be honest. There’s an interesting thing which is that modern Christian religious institutions don’t acknowledge or condone the work, particularly, perhaps because it doesn’t align with some of the core dogmatic teachings they have adopted. Human institutions, for instance, are simply unnecessary in ACIM, which sets out to provide an experiential and logical framework for encountering and transcending historically-received perceptual limitations. No allegiance to a human institution or form of religious practice is relevant. And many notions historically used to compel a sort of need for the church(es) as mediators between humans and God are shown to be based on misperceptions.
I know a bit more about ACOL as I’ve developed a friendship with the writer/receiver Mari Perron over the years. She identified the voice she received as that of Jesus as well, and in many ways ACOL extends and clarifies ideas in ACIM. In particular, the first portion of ACOL contains much that relates directly to ACIM, and then ACOL goes on to material that is largely new. Neither book, though, was written as a process of analytical synthesis or an attempt to look for commonalities across faiths or cultures. They were given by unity, through the expression of unity and relationship between Jesus and the receiver in each case, to provide a means of helping humanity recognize the ways in our perceptions are incorrect, and to assist in a return to unity.
How pervasive would you think this higher form of consciousness is in the animal kingdom? Is it specific to humans? Would the more intelligent mammals or birds have it? What about “simpler” animals like fish or arthropods?
I don’t have a good answer for this. I think that all facets of consciousness are in some way “bound” to one another, and that what I call the primordial state of being is present in all existence in some manner. I also think the “choice for separation” has manifested itself in ways that transcend our individual embodied forms of awareness, meaning that there are “conditions” that have resulted from this choice that permeate not only our thoughts but the world we perceive in toto, including the plants, animals, physical conditions, etc. In a sense we’re all “in this together” having the experience of being “separate.”
It may be clearer to say that I don’t see the human capacity for abstract or symbolic thought to be what contact with unity is. The expressions of unity that may arise through the embodied capabilities of the human organism are obviously quite different than those that may arise through a trout or a grizzly bear or a cedar tree, but unity is not by degree, or dependent upon those capabilities. The ability for human consciousness is clearly related to the constraints and capabilities of the human organism, but unity is something different than a particular mode of thought. So in a sense I think all life and indeed all matter has as its root an “identity” with the primordial state of being. And at the same time, I think the choice for separation has colored the entirety of the world’s conditions so that even other forms of life have been impacted.
But to your point, do I think deer have the possibility of “image” or “reality” at the root of their thought systems? I really don’t know, but my guess is that a form of freedom made possible by our indissoluble relationship to unity is available to all existence, and that in varying degrees different life forms may also have their versions of inspiration. I find it difficult to contemplate at some level because I am so immersed in a human-centric perceptual vehicle. For instance, was the genesis of the endosymbiotic relationship between eukraryotes and prokaryotes that led to mitochondria in the modern cell an event that occurred with localized experiential feeling(s) of any sort? Was there an inspirational “presence” that witnessed or even participated such an event? And did those early microorganisms have anything approaching a choice in this event with far-reaching implications?
I would have a very strong yes to the first two questions, and a moderate yes—lots of uncertainty—on the third. My uncertainty on the third is that I think to a very large degree we’re getting beyond what words can describe. Do I think microorganisms made choices as we humans do now? Obviously not. Do I think there was some fashion in which a localized event occurred, held by unity but not rigidly directed by it perhaps? Yes. But we don’t know how to think of such events. We don’t know how to easily imagine what it feels like to exist in unity and relationship, and to express our individual will through creative acts, AND for the expression of our individual will to be exactly what all creation desires. We can hardly imagine such a scenario. We’ve almost entirely lost awareness of these states, and so attempts to define or describe them through terms with which we are familiar are profoundly difficult and limited. So yes, all elements of creation participate in such creative acts in my opinion and unity may as a participatory presence in any event, but the manner in which localized perception occurs would vary with the embodied constraints. I think, in other words, that both a local and atemporal or timeless comprehension of all events are simultaneously valid, and that when we try to figure out how much exactly is the deer itself, as an isolated organism, and how much is the totality of being, we are simply misperceiving wholeness by splitting it into pieces once again, and asking the sort of question that may not be able to be rigorously answered.
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Thanks Michael. No worries on the essays. They clarified my understanding of how these conclusions were arrived at. What follows is largely me thinking out loud. It has some questions, but I’m fine if you choose to see any or all of them as rhetorical in nature.
I guess the question that comes to mind, with the idea of inspiration from unity, which the authors interpreted as inspiration from Jesus, is how do they know it was inspiration from some external source (or perhaps more accurately to what you’re describing, a source that transcends themselves) rather than conclusions arising out of their unconscious mind? And perhaps more importantly, how do we know it? Or can we?
I wonder if there is any discussion in ACIM or ACOL in developing our own ability to receive these kinds of inspirations. Or is this just a case where there are a lucky few able to tap into these sources of knowledge?
This reminds me of Buddhism and its emphasis on the adherent discovering conclusions on their own. It’s a stance that always made it stand out a bit for me from other religions. Although there I’ve always been leery of how long and arduous the purported process supposedly is. It seems very difficult to distinguish it from the possibility that people are convincing themselves of the answers, essentially self indoctrinating.
Parsimony’s knife seems to loom here, but I’m reminded of your points about at least some of this amounting to a choice. And even if this is a case of the writers channeling from their unconsciousness, could we interpret the information there, which ultimately is sourced from the environment, as a manifestation of unity? Or am I trying too hard to relate this to my own naturalistic framework and putting words in your mouth you wouldn’t endorse?
In your discussion about the possible prevalence of some form of experiential feelings and choices, I wonder if there’s any resonance here with pantheism and/or panpsychism. Or again, whether is this pigeonholing the view.
An unrelated question. How do you manage to keep the reply link in your comment threads without the replies indenting? Is that the theme default, or did you do something in CSS to make it happen? Just wondering.
Thanks for the questions! I’ve enjoyed reflecting on how to respond. And glad you don’t mind the extended answers…
To your question on the appearance of comment threads on this site, I don’t recall as it’s been a while since I set up the current theme of the site, but I think this was part of my reasoning for selecting the theme I have. I did do some minor customization but I think the way comments are indented (or not) was part of the basic theme I selected from WordPress. I went to check this out and of course the theme “Cocoa” is no longer available in their marketplace… so I couldn’t find out if this was a basic feature of the theme or not. My best guess is that it was.
…how do they know it was inspiration from some external source (or perhaps more accurately to what you’re describing, a source that transcends themselves) rather than conclusions arising out of their unconscious mind? And perhaps more importantly, how do we know it? Or can we?
I think this is part of a larger question about how we decide where to “give” our hearts and minds, in a sense, which I think makes sense as a post at some point in the near future. I’ve argued there is a fundamental choice here, and the difficulty is how to make it… One point is that within the framework of unity the distinction between an “external source” and one arising out of one’s “unconscious mind” is moot, in a sense. The unconscious mind could be understood as a bottomless or open-ended continuum that eventually connects with all that is, and unity as the condition in which this is accepted and felt as direct experience. Within this there can arise distinctions—the personal and localized “me” and “another” can certainly arise, but as this is all bound by unity this gets into paradox.
As well, though I’ve not had the experience Helen or Mari have had, I do think that thoughts are marked by different tones or feelings or characteristics, much as each of us are. We can hear just the snippet of a voice and recognize not only the person, but their emotional tenor and state of mind in nearly an instant. I don’t believe Helen’s or Mari’s experiences were truly auditory—meaning I don’t believe they heard a voice from outside themselves—but I think there are tonalities of thought, particularly thoughts “that are given.” I have experienced moments of particular clarity while doing creative writing—never to the extent I imagine might have occurred for Helen or Mari—but the sensation of a here and a there, as well as the sensation of mutual recognition, and this profundity or emphasis arriving instantaneously with a given thought. For me it is what we’ve already discussed as inspiration, and it’s largely “flashes” not extended encounters.
An interesting aside is the voice of Jesus fairly late in ACOL encouraged Mari to graduate from thinking of the voice she was receiving as the “external” historical figure she trusted, and to consider their unity: “I ask you not to give up your relationship with me as the man Jesus, but to accept that the man Jesus was simply a representation, in form, of Christ-consciousness. I do, however, ask you to give up your identification of the voice of this dialogue as that belonging to the man Jesus who lived two thousand years ago. To continue to identify this voice with that man is to be unable to recognize this voice as the voice of your own true consciousness—the voice of Christ-consciousness.”
Or is this just a case where there are a lucky few able to tap into these sources of knowledge?
It’s a good question. Having thought about this for a long while I would say two things on this: first, the inspirations of unity come in countless forms, not all of which are as specific as this. I think this question can be a little bit like saying, “If I can run, how come I can’t run a 4-minute mile then?” And for most of us the answer is that we can run. Just not maybe to the same degree or extent as another. But if we didn’t realize we were running all the time, or at least quite often, and said “running looks like this” and only accepted as running the act of running a 4-minute mile, we might insist we know nothing about this thing called running. I think over time as our awareness of our own relationship to unity deepens we discover the uniqueness of our own “way” and of our own relationship with the Whole, and find it’s perfect and perfectly unique. And one we like.
Developing a gift like Helen’s or Mari’s is surprisingly not a solution in itself—meaning it doesn’t resolve the person from the challenges in his or her own life. It’s often a thing that I think people might aspire to, and I tend to think it’s possible for each one of us to develop a greater awareness of our relationship to unity, but I also know that in Mari’s case there was considerable devotion involved. And I think this is a common theme in other cultures as well. It’s just about impossible to manufacture this sort of devotedness. I think what some experience is a genuine calling, and that we are each called in unique ways. So it’s something like you said, not all have the same gifts or propensities in this regard, and also that there is room to increase our own faculties. But I don’t know as Helen or Mari would describe themselves as particularly “lucky.” I think there are great challenges that come from occupying this role as well… In traditional indigenous cultures, those with the greatest gifts in this vein often had very difficult lives, and lived a live of devotion and service to others. I think when we look deeply at ourselves, we’re not all ready or truly desiring of that responsibility or role.
I wonder if there’s any resonance here with pantheism and/or panpsychism.
I think for sure there are resonances, but I don’t think what I’m suggesting is wholly identical with these notions either. Philosophers are expected to make airtight logical arguments, for one thing, and there simply is paradox involved in some of this, particularly when one insists that eternity/timelessness and temporality are mutually exclusive, rather than deeply related. This paradox travels throughout our experience: how can we be truly unified and at the same time be unique individuals, for instance? The panpscyhists I think have a difficulty here and I think the notion that a lot of little consciousnesses like those of electrons “add up” or somehow “combine” is interesting, but ultimately different from what I’m describing here.
Hariod just encouraged me to listen to Philip Goff’s interview with Lex Fridman, and I while I very much enjoyed it, I don’t think Philip is saying there is a dimensionless and immaterial aspect to reality. I think this is a difficult thing for a panpsychist to suggest in the confines of rigorous argument and so there are places where the very structure of an either-or logic can be limited. It’s true that aspects of being are timeless and also true that aspects of being are present in time. It’s true that we are ultimately, at the root, extensions of the same being, and also true that we enjoy uniquely differentiated experiences. But these are difficult to wrestle with in the current logical structures we have, much as quantum mechanics presents various paradoxes.
I think the notion of a truly immaterial or dimensionless component of reality also may result in some dissonance with pantheism.
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FWIW, the WordPress Reader shows this post (and your previous one) as one paragraph. (On the website, it’s fine.) Yet, the first time I read it, there were paragraphs. Did you edit it since you first posted it? If not, then it’s purely the Reader doing bad things and maybe it’ll get better later. 🤷🏼♂️
I think you know I’m not down with your fundamental premise and won’t comment on it further. I’d echo Mike’s question about when this happened. I don’t recall making any choice involving separation.
Regarding Carroll’s analysis of God — as is true for anyone who tries to figure out a putative entity that concerns itself with the full gamut from quarks to quasars and all of time — it is necessarily through the lens of their own experience and knowledge. I think it’s presumptuous, even arrogant, to think we can understand the thinking or being of such an entity. I’ll again reference the Jewish notion that understanding God is above our paygrade. Perhaps, in His perspective, a low-entropy universe makes perfect sense. (Don’t we often start from a simple place and build on that?) Further, what’s 13 billion years to God when His universe will last trillions?
Keep in mind that, if we assume a mere one-trillion-year life to the universe, and see that as a 24-hour clock, then we’ve shown up (in all our current “glory”) before 20 minutes has elapsed. We’re at this party very early.
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Wyrd! Thanks for the note on the Reader thing. I think it must have been the Reader doing bad things because at the time of your comment I hadn’t done anything but post this piece. Since then I tried to redo the paragraph spacing to trick it, but I don’t know if it helped or not…
The choice for separation is not one we ourselves made in our present form, at least not generally. A Course in Miracles says it took place over millions of years, and another of my favorites, The Third Millennium by Ken Carey, suggests it was a gradual, and initially very subtle, process. I think there is some agreement across multiple sources about this. It’s not something we ourselves, as individualized expressions in this particular lifetime, make in the way we decide what job to take, or what to have for dinner. It’s all wrapped up in eons of inherited perceptual frameworks including in my opinion the influence of evolutionary processes associated with the development of the physical framework of our present existence. It’s not that “you” and “I” chose this, it’s that the beingness we ultimately are–the sea of being in a sense, from which all beings like “you” and “I” emerge and to which we may return–through the process of embodiment in physical form, developed a widespread and collectively shared framework of perception. It’s not something I can explain the way I can the last inning of the World Series… It’s a mythical, paradoxical “truth” but no less real for being a bit beyond our ability to process intellectually in this instant.
I’m with you in endorsing the Jewish view that God is more than we mortals can ever fathom. When I write about the primordial state of being or try to refer to the something, whatever it is, that is not as localized as “you” and “I” are, it is with such a feeling in mind. There’s no intent on my part to suggest what I’ve described as the primordial state of being, or unity, is captured in these stories to any real degree whatsoever. And yet… we can know and appreciate something is not right… That’s all.
Agreed with your thoughts on Dr. Carroll… Yes, we’re at the party early!
Thanks for reading, Wyrd!
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Yep! Both part 4 and part 5 look fine in the Reader now.
Okay, so this separation is part of the creation myth. I felt it must be, but your text seemed to suggest we somehow make this choice, so I wasn’t clear. That raises the question that, if it’s part of our creation, what can we do about it now? If it’s so ancient, why does it matter now? For that matter, what makes this separation part of “something [that] is not right”? I’m fine with it, and don’t care to join any collective consciousness until after I die. That doesn’t feel at all wrong to me.
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Some big questions here, Wyrd, and I’ll do my best here. I’m going to reorder the sequence of questions slightly.
… what makes this separation part of “something [that] is not right”?
A lot of things in our world are profoundly unsettling and (I believe) do not need to be as they are. The fact that they do not need to be as they are, and that so many of us are having a hard time with things as they are, is the indicator for me that something is awry. If this is truly as good as it gets, then nothing has gone wrong, because they could be no other way. But that’s not what I personally believe to be the case. I believe there are basic and fundamental reasons why things are so difficult and intractable, and that this choice for separation is the fundamental misperception on which our difficulties hinge. If this is correct then saying it’s “not right” is not some moral judgment, it’s just a statement that things are not working as well as they might. It’s the same way a misfiring engine is not working right.
That raises the question that, if it’s part of our creation, what can we do about it now? If it’s so ancient, why does it matter now?
The choice for separation wasn’t part of the creation of who we are as beings, and isn’t etched in stone; it is simply a choice that evolved or developed over time about how to perceive and organize our thought systems. Our choice in this matter doesn’t change who we are; it merely affects our experience. And although it’s ancient, we reconfirm it daily. It’s not like we wake up and say, “Today I’m going to harbor a thought that will contribute to Murphy’s Law.” It’s just that a very natural mode of self-perception at the current time, in my opinion, contributes to the difficulties we face collectively. As noted throughout this series, it has consequences to the world we experience. This is why, for me, it matters. Because things don’t need to be as they are. What we can do about it is choose unity instead.
I’m fine with it, and don’t care to join any collective consciousness until after I die. That doesn’t feel at all wrong to me.
I have no idea what you mean when you say “collective consciousness” and I suspect my use of the term is equally opaque. It’s just the way of it. Like the Jewish notion of God, it’s not something that can really be put into words.
I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with you wanting to be who you are, here and now, in the form that you possess. That, in fact, is the entire point of the ongoing process of creation. The choice for separation is not the same as individualized expression; it is the perceptual identification with the body in a manner that precludes the experience of our relationship with the ongoing process of creation. The choice for separation actually impedes our ability to fully differentiate and express the truly unique presence that we each are, and that’s not easily explained, but I find after much reflection that it is so. A return to unity does not require dissolving back into the abstract sea of being and losing a personal life or the opportunity to individually express. It just means that identification, at the very root of who we are, is placed in unity, at which point we discover unity invented us, and desires exactly what we do.
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“It’s the same way a misfiring engine is not working right.”
Okay. Is it reality itself that isn’t right? Or is it how humans behave that isn’t right? (Are humans the engine or is reality?)
I think, to a large extent, we’re victims of our own success as a species. We’re approaching the eight-billion mark with all the resource and management problems that entails. And our technological progress has far outstripped our ethical and moral progress. (In fact, I think we’ve backslid.)
What specifically would be involved in fixing the engine? What steps should we take?
“Our choice in this matter doesn’t change who we are; it merely affects our experience.”
But I have never made any such choice, nor am I aware that it’s been presented to me. You say that it’s ancient, but you also seem to say it’s current, so I’m confused. You don’t seem to be talking about the “we’re all one people” sort of view that would better unify us. (Which, historically, seems to work until we decide we need something other people have.)
Murphy’s Law isn’t a law, of course, more an observation of probability, but to your point that I don’t wake up and decide to assert the laws of physics, that’s true, but I can wake up and directly experience and explore them. How can I directly experience and explore this “unity” idea?
I think one reason I can’t get on board with this über-consciousness idea is that it pre-supposes an ancient and very highly evolved consciousness as primal. It seems similar to macro-panpsychism — the idea that the universe is, at least in some sense, conscious and we are fragments of that. (The criticism of that view is, in fact, called the separation problem. How does a presumably unified macro-consciousness divide into also unified fragments that are us?)
What I see is consciousness evolving from very humble beginnings with us as an end result. Every bit of data we have supports this. And consciousness seems to reside in our brains; some believe it can reside in machines. Either way, a substrate is necessary, a physical implementation. Is that true of this über-consciousness or can it exist without substrate? If so, how? If not, what is the substrate?
“It just means that identification, at the very root of who we are, is placed in unity, at which point we discover unity invented us, and desires exactly what we do.”
Your description of “unity” sounds very much like descriptions of “God” to me, which is why I see this as a religion. (Ineffable, not immediately present, dependent on faith, no direct physical evidence or observations.) If “unity” invented us and has desires, it must be a self-aware entity of some kind. If it’s benevolent towards us, then that’s as good as description of “God” as any I’ve heard.
FWIW, there is a “flowchart” of questions that seem to act as a razor for one’s metaphysics. Each “yes” answer continues the chain, any “no” exits at that level.  Is there a metaphysics? (Or, is reality, in any sense, dual?)  If so, is there a self-aware meta-consciousness (something capable of saying, “I am God.”).  If so, is being aware of, and interested in, us?  If so, does this being act directly in our lives? (Or just observe.) Most common religions answer “yes” to all the above. (Believers in the virtual reality hypothesis might also.) How would you answer these?
Okay. Is it reality itself that isn’t right? Or is it how humans behave that isn’t right? (Are humans the engine or is reality?)
My engine analogy was intended to note that I’m not trying to assign a moralistic tone or element to this. There are choices and consequences, but not rewards or punishments.
Now if we view the process of creation as an engine, or vehicle, by which a formless, timeless, dimensionless reality generates images of itself in time and space, then the only thing that has gone wrong, so to speak, is that we don’t like the movie we picked. Further, we’ve become so immersed in it we’ve lost touch with the fact the movie can be changed. The power to change it is derived from unity, but because in the movie we’re watching unity doesn’t exist, and we think the only existence there is is that which occurs within the movie, we’re stuck in a sense. And when we try to change what we’re seeing in this movie without access to unity it doesn’t work because it only reinforces the choice to understand what it’s like to be without unity. So we’re trying to make things better but going about it in a way that won’t work.
What specifically would be involved in fixing the engine? What steps should we take?
The only step required is to examine and transform the basic mode of perception through which we filter and interpret the events of our lives. I cannot explain it any more concretely, but I believe there are as many different approaches to it as there are people, and that what is most helpful to one may be perfectly useless to another. I think what matters most is the authenticity and amplitude of one’s desire.
In sort of simple terms, if you said, “How could I run a mile in under X minutes?” and let’s assume X is an achievable goal but at the limits of your abilities, then your desire and willingness would be the most essential factors. What I’m describing is something much different than a challenge like this, but desire remains essential.
After that, I’d say a tangible first step is to review the principles or rules of perception that apply to the condition of unity as compared to what I’ve described as the condition of separation, and practice observing them in your own life.
But I have never made any such choice, nor am I aware that it’s been presented to me. You say that it’s ancient, but you also seem to say it’s current, so I’m confused. You don’t seem to be talking about the “we’re all one people” sort of view that would better unify us.
I don’t know what you mean by a “we’re all one people sort of view” and I’m not sure where you think I stepped off such a path either. I suspect it is when I suggested you being you in the here and now is perfectly good? But I’m not sure. I’ll just say that certain things, particularly as viewed from the perceptual mode of separation, are paradoxical. We are indeed all one in my view, even as we’re uniquely differentiated expressions of that singularity. “You” and “I” at our root are the very same beingness. We are, at our root, the identical and selfsame awareness. And that awareness has extended itself and differentiated itself into countless interwoven instantiations of itself with the perfect freedom to know and experience the particularities of each contextual movement.
The condition of separation is when the particularities resulting from the act of creative differentiation are the only conditions perceived or deemed real, and the fundamental unity of being has become inaccessible. So, yes, the act of perceiving and identifying with only the particular windows of experience and instantiation that were part of the process of creation was an ancient choice. The entirety of our physical universe can be seen as the consequence of a choice to experience unique perceptual vantages on the one reality that we are. So in that sense it is ancient. And losing touch with the indivisibility of being, and identifying profoundly with the physical forms associated with differentiation, is a condition that arose over a very long time. At this point we inherit such a view. It dominates our world conditions in ways so comprehensive we don’t realize it.
But at the same time we’re not bound to do so forever. There is nothing whatsoever preventing us from recovering the experiential awareness and firsthand knowledge of the unified reality of our being, except that our day-to-day experiences do not produce this experience. And they do not produce this experience because they are set up and organized in ways intended specifically to NOT produce this experience. Intended is a loaded word. So let’s just set that aside: they’re set up and organized in ways that simply do NOT produce this experience. That “set-up” is the condition of separation. It’s essentially all we know. The reason this is also a current choice is that we can, at any time, elect as individual beings to recover the awareness of unity by making a new choice with heartfelt desire and complete commitment. That we do not, is itself the choice to not do so. And this occurs in all of us all the time, in every moment of our present. Thus it is also a current choice.
Murphy’s Law isn’t a law, of course, more an observation of probability…
Agreed with what you wrote here. I wasn’t super clear. One thing about the condition of separation is the solution to one problem causes another. This is something we see all the time. Murphy’s Law isn’t a law, but this issue of one solution causing another problem such that in a sense we don’t ever have a true solution just an evolving litany of problems, is the condition of separation.
It is entirely possible the physical framework of this universe could function in a way where the solution to a “problem” enhances everything else also. It’s like the inside-out version of Murphy’s Law. This is what I believe the restoration of unity to the bedrock of our awareness offers. We can’t entirely or quite see it from where we stand today, so it’s a matter of faith. But I see it all the time in moments of healing. In fact, this is what healing really means in a sense: it’s the moment of discovery that there is a path that brings more to both of us. This is beyond what I’ve written about so far but I want to write about it soon…
Long and short: the condition in which every solution of which we conceive produces another problem is a temporary one that can be resolved in my opinion. This is part of what’s “not working right.”
You wrote, I think one reason I can’t get on board with this über-consciousness idea is that it pre-supposes an ancient and very highly evolved consciousness as primal… and then What I see is consciousness evolving from very humble beginnings with us as an end result. Every bit of data we have supports this. . . . Either way, a substrate is necessary, a physical implementation. Is that true of this über-consciousness or can it exist without substrate?
The awareness of embodied organisms is the story of biological evolution in a sense. No question there. I think a common mistake and one I make all the time too is to imagine the consciousness we know is what the primordial state of being is or is like. We know and experience embodied consciousness. How that actually works, I don’t think we know yet.
The primordial state of being is pure abstract awareness I believe, and there is no substrate for what it is. It is pure being. It is timeless and formless and not dependent on any physical vehicle. Physicality is ultimately a manifestation of its creative movement, and the means of this is a profound mystery, but no more profound than trying to derive conscious experience from physical matter. In truth I find this to be simply another paradox. It’s like the chicken and the egg. Materialism is trying to explain everything only with eggs. And idealism is trying to explain everything only with chickens. The “reality” we encounter does not permit for an easy teasing of these two interrelated elements apart. But it doesn’t mean they’re not both real in a sense, for what they each are.
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Sorry to leave you hanging, but I’ve been stuck trying to figure out how to respond. I find the combination of certitude and specificity juxtaposed with vagueness unpersuasive. We might be best served by leaving it at that, so I’ll just try to briefly clarify a few points…
“Now if we view the process of creation as an engine, or vehicle, by which a formless, timeless, dimensionless reality generates images of itself in time and space,”
But why would we so view it? I’m not sure I see what a “formless, timeless, dimensionless reality” could be. If it is without form, what image of itself can it generate? What gives it the ability to do anything if it is without time or dimension?
“I don’t know what you mean by a ‘we’re all one people sort of view’ and I’m not sure where you think I stepped off such a path either.”
What I was referring to is the purely social view that we’re one species currently trapped on one spaceship with limited resources, so we need to overcome our tribal natures and grow TF up. But this is not a mystical or spiritual position, just a social one, and doesn’t seem to be what you’re talking about. (Or perhaps rather, what you’re describing goes far beyond that.)
“The primordial state of being is pure abstract awareness I believe, and there is no substrate for what it is. It is pure being. It is timeless and formless and not dependent on any physical vehicle.”
You’re effectively describing the Abrahamic God, which I’ve noted before is why I see this as religion. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” I’m not seeing a lot of daylight between you and this.
Thank you for the conversation! It’s interesting to explore your beliefs, and I’m happy they work for you, but I’m sorry, they don’t resonate with me. I think you’ve found a personal truth (which is wonderful), but not a universal one.
Thanks for sharing your feedback. I think any questions you asked are meant to be rhetorical at this point.
The one item to which I would like to briefly respond is the notion of an Abrahamic God. As I’ve clarified previously I see religions as institutions and so don’t view myself as particularly religious in that sense, but in the way that I believe you understand and use the word I’m fine with being tagged as religious. I also have little issue with your suggestion I’m describing at some level the Abrahamic God, because I do believe in a creative force at work within the universe. But I want to clarify that believing in a Creator–the Great Mystery, if you will–does not mean that I sign up for all the other elements that so often seem to go with the package. Meaning: I don’t believe in hell or damnation, I don’t believe in an angry or judgmental God, I don’t believe any people are chosen over any others, I don’t believe in a God who demands worship or sacrifice, I don’t believe in a God who punishes, I don’t believe in a God who believes only men and women should marry, and I don’t believe in a God who is separate from us. I believe in a God whose presence is the content of my own being, and that while I obviously am not all of God, the wonder of God is the wonder of me, and of each one of us. I believe in a God who is present in all times, a God who loves science, a God who loves art, a God who loves space travel and growing roses and performing heart surgeries and photographing mountains and forming galaxies, a God who knows each individual being profoundly as a unique expression of who and what God is, and so yes, a personal God. I believe in a feminine God, a God of life and incarnation and intuition; a masculine God, a God of strength and logic and protection; a God of feelings and a God of thought. I didn’t get all that from my early training on the Abrahamic God, but I don’t deny that it is there.
Thank you for the conversation as well, Wyrd. I’ve enjoyed it.
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Just a final note about the original God of Abraham (the ultimate OG). They Jews don’t believe in heaven or hell, either. There is no penalty nor reward for following God’s will. “The sun shines on one and all,” is a common statement. Nor is any Jew higher or lower spiritually, each has a direct connection to, and relationship with, God. There is no hierarchy of priests or ministers. A rabbi is just a very learned person, traditionally used as a judge in social disputes because of that learning.
When most talk about “religion” they have some form of Christianity in mind, and those variants are vastly more humanly conceived than spiritually so, which is why the Jewish and Christian religions seem so different despite centering on the same core premise.
But exactly as you say, if everything we are comes from God, then obviously God is everything we are and more.
Judaism is one faith I have not read about in much detail or experienced firsthand to a large extent. I’m not entirely surprised there is some overlap between some things I’ve written and some things they may believe, but I suspect this is true of many faiths. I am, after all, a person who thinks there are elements of truth throughout. And like many large organized religions, I suspect Jewish beliefs may vary between various sects and communities. I’ve tried to focus on ideas here (in this series) rather than particular religions, as for me this is where things land–in the relationship we have with the unknown, in our movement from image to reality, in the love we hold for one another, and our desire to bring an end to needless suffering. To the extent members of religions aspire to these same things, I am aligned with them. It just doesn’t mean I necessarily go in for all the trappings that sometimes tag along…
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Another question occurred to me while walking Bentley. How does this apply (or does it) to putative alien races on other planets throughout the universe? There is some simple math that suggests we might be alone in the galaxy, if not the local group as well, but the entire universe (visible and otherwise) is a vast place. Surely we aren’t the only ones in all that space.
And speaking of Bentley, does any of this apply to animals or only to minds capable of making moral or ethical decisions?
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As I just mentioned to Mike, I’m in the chute for finishing a project at work and it’s all hands on deck for a few days here, so will get back to this very soon… please bear with me!
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I think it’s important to remember that pantheism, panentheism, deism, theism or …eisms of any kind are essentially of version of idealism be those renditions of idealism objective or subjective. This is where Helen Schucman’s ACIM and Mari Perron’s ACOL breaks down, because those schemas involve a mind of some kind, be it the mind of Jesus or any other type of entity thinking or dreaming a reality of form into existence.
Sure, it’s a natural conclusion to arrive at because how else does something come into being from for all practical purposes “nothing-ness”. It would have to be a mind of some kind thinking it into existence; right? The correct answer is “not necessarily”. The idea of a primordial state being a mind is too narrow and limited to capture the great mysteriousness of this fundamental reality. In agreement with Michael; at the end of the day, a material, physical universe is ultimately a manifestation of its creative movement or one could call it an emergent property. Personally, I like the rendition of a an emergent property because it can then be understood within a materialistic framework.
I do think we can do better at coming up with a vocabulary to capture this mystery other than perpetually recycling ancient religious traditions in modern packaging with unique spins on the traditional belief system that a primordial state has to be a mind of some kind. This task will require a completely new vocabulary, one that does not rely upon metaphors, analogies or schemas; and since it will be novel, it will face strong opposition from idealists and materialist alike.
One could easily characterize this primordial reality as pure potential. That’s all well and good but, there has to be something else at the center of this potential that is responsible for movement other that thought, something that is fundamental, something that never changes, a universal constant that is a part of both the reality as well as the appearance. So, those thoughts should be the jumping off point for this inquiry…….
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When I think about what we’re both trying to describe here the reality is that words break down for me. I don’t personally think that ACOL and ACIM break down to the extent you may think, because they’re pretty clear that this ultimate reality is beyond basic comprehension. But I do take your point. I was looking for a Buddhist reference this week, to a story I remembered, and came across a discussion of form and emptiness. I remember as a young person thinking this notion of emptiness could not be dismissed out of hand because it seems to be meaningful to countless millions who happened to have been born under a different star than me. And this gets not only to the universality of the reality-appearance distinction, but also to a point that may not be apparent here, which is that this notion of emptiness works really well for me as well. It is not something stale, but quite profound.
I’m not sure there is a “mind” exactly like you and I have minds, Lee. We have (I think) little to no comprehension of what it is like to know for its own sake, without our knowing riding on a bed of thinking. I’m glad I just wrote that because I’d wanted to bring language into this. It is quite difficult for us to think in our culture without using words, and this is maybe an inkling of the grandness beyond the concept of mind with which we are familiar. To truly encounter emptiness, to occupy states of awareness untethered to words, somehow that points to this I think.
That said, there is thought (dynamic awareness) and feeling and these do exist at the heart of creation I think. But I think there is a sort of knowing way beyond words and we have only the merest notion of it. In our current state we can hardly imagine the possibility of knowing a thing without reasons why–with “being” a knowing that stands immutable against the seas of time. But I do think it is real, and I think as well that we are each known by and within this.
It is a mystery, an emptiness, a fullness, and a profound reality. Certainly it is the seat of potential. I don’t know where to take it from here… I think it is right in front of us… 🙂
I am very astute when it comes to Buddhism, especially the Zen tradition. “Emptiness” is the apex of a meditative state, a state where all of the contents of mentation have been suppressed until there is only “aware-ness”. This state of awareness is quite a profound experience nevertheless, it is the Zen Buddhist practitioner’s experience. Asserting that this state of awareness is the experience of the primordial state is an overreach. It is an inference, a “projection” of one’s own experience onto a fundamental reality.
What is important as far as I’m concerned, is to avoid projecting our own experience of consciousness onto a fundamental reality. This is because a fundamental reality is a sovereign, independent third party; it is neither mind nor matter and therefore, not subject to appearance and opinion. I also realize that all of these intellectual constructions that we as individual carry around with us during our evolutionary development are artifacts of human culture; artifacts, which at the end of the day are all irrelevant. Those artifacts that tag along do not define an individual who is truly at the convergent consensus point, they are merely the remnants of intellectual baggage that will in time be discarded
As you say yourself Michael, words are a problem and an accurate vocabulary, one that reflects the true nature of reality is an ongoing, never ending process for us. So keep on trucking my friend because I really enjoy your thoughts.
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I would agree that projecting our own experience of consciousness onto a fundamental reality is not going to provide us with an accurate picture of that reality. I wasn’t trying to say as much, but I can see how it may have seemed that way.
I had to do a little reading on the notion of emptiness in Buddhism to understand your reply, and what I’ve realized is that there are a couple of meanings and we may have each been referring to different ones. There is clearly one meaning that uses the term “emptiness” to describe the meditator’s experience, and that is not the way I was trying to use it. There’s another way that uses the term “emptiness” to describe the nature of reality, I believe, often in a manner that provokes us to break through our conceptual notions of things. I think there is a Dalai Lama quote that say, “Emptiness is the true nature of things and events.” And this is also later qualified in the same article to try and avoid our “latching onto” any particular meaning of this. (There’s a good Huffington Post article on this actually! Haha.) So anyway, I was just trying to say that I agree completely things are not exactly as they seem, and that also, we can’t really put our finger completely on what truly is. This other version of emptiness seems to speak to that.
It’s for me a word that describes the sea. I can take a dip in the sea and feel an experience of it, but I don’t imagine I’ve comprehended the whole sea!
Thanks for the thoughts as always, Lee. They cause me to pause and think… which is awesome.
Yeah, to take pause and think is what this process is all about; because in order for us to be moved by the overwhelming mysteriousness of the Independent Third Party, that process requires contrast in unity with an open heart and a willingness to listen to the “still heart of persuasive reality”, and then be persuaded by that reality.
Value always comes first in that dynamic because value “is” the fundamental reality that is responsible for motion of any kind resulting in form, be it physical form or mental form. This fundamental reality is not a mind, it is value. This unity with the fundamental reality of value can best be expressed as a “one-ness” with value where we recognize something “I know not what”, only that it’s of a high or low value. For us, with sentience at the core of our physicality, we may not initially know the what of our immediate experience but, we immanently know whether it’s a high value experience or a low value experience, an experience to which we respond. It is only after this value experience rooted in sentience is mitigated that we are able to articulate the experience with the symbolism of thought expressed through language. Value moves us mentally, emotionally and physically because it is a fundamental reality.
As I stated earlier: One could easily characterize this primordial reality as pure potential. That’s all well and good but, there has to be something else at the center of this potential that is responsible for movement other that thought, something that is fundamental, something that never changes, a universal constant that is a part of both the reality as well as the appearance; and the only thing I can think of that fits this billing is value. Value is a fundamental reality that stands alone at the center of power fulfilling power, giving power its indeterminate intensity that tends, and that tendency is toward motion resulting in form.
It may be a mystery, but the beauty of that mystery is clearly a high value experience…..
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Apologies for the delay in responding here. I read this a couple of times and resonate with it. And your use of the word ‘value’ has grown on me a bit. It’s an interesting choice because it’s atypical and because it gets to something fundamental that I think we experience in unity: an intrinsic goodness or something along those lines. An intrinsic beingness or radiating existence that nothing contingent possesses but through relationship to it. And value is a great word to describe that mode of relatedness. Just like you wrote here: “This unity with the fundamental reality of value can best be expressed as a ‘one-ness’ with value where we recognize something ‘I know not what…’ ”
When we do not perceive our relatedness to this fundamental reality of value, then we do that crazy human thing of assigning an inappropriate degree of value to the temporary and the transitory, in an attempt to recreate this value that as you note–and I agree with you–is “something that never changes.”
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Lee!
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