Wednesday, September 17, 2008

REMEMBERING JERRY

In a recent issue of Newsweek Magazine (September 22, 2008) in an article entitled "Mysteries of Memory" I found the following:

"UCLA neuroscientist Itzhak Fried and his Israeli colleagues measured neural activity in the brains of 13 study participants as they watched short video clips of shows like "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons." Afterward, while their brains were still being monitored, subjects were asked to describe whichever of the video clips came to mind. The same neurons that had fired as they watched a given clip fired again when they recalled that clip. In fact, researchers were able to predict which clip a subject was about to remember, as corresponding neurons flared up seconds ahead of actual remembering. The findings offer the first proof of a long-held assumption-that reactivation of the neurons initially involved in an experience forms the basis of human memory."

So if this is the first step toward understanding the 'mysteries of memory,' how far can we expect to go, using this method of research, toward unraveling these mysteries? Without wanting to appear like a spiritual killjoy, the purpose of this post is to try to explain the obvious limitations of this type of research.

The brain is matter. It weighs approximately three pounds and it is made up almost entirely of proteins. These proteins are organized into cells called neurons. The average human brain has approximately one hundred billion of these neurons. Neurons, like all cells, are amazingly complex, but neurons have one central function: they fire. When they fire an electric charge passes through them and that charge is transferred to another neuron through a connection called a synapse. Most neurons have approximately one to five thousand synapses, or connections, to other neurons; that means that there are roughly 100 to 500 trillion synapses in the brain and the possible number of paths that an electrical charge could follow through these various synapses is a number so huge as to be incomprehensible.


Now understand that no matter how many neurons there are and how many different paths through these neurons that a charge can take, what happens when each neuron is fired is basically the same. A charge, a measurable change in electricity, in voltage, moves through that cell. There are also some chemical changes that occur, but those seem to be relevant only as they stimulate or inhibit the firing of the neuron. Keep in mind that no matter what has been or will be discovered regarding neurons, subtle differences in chemical traces and electric charges, or the complexities of the firing patterns or the circuitousness of the routes of these paths, they will never be anything more or anything less than electrical and chemical changes.


The charge moving through pathways of neurons is commonly referred to in scientific circles as 'information.' When these neuronal pathways connect to the musculature and the electrical charges result in the contraction or release of muscles, or when they connect to the endoctrine system and result in the secretion of hormones, then the understanding of the charge as a transmitter of 'information' is clear (although the source of that information is not). But what about memory? What about thought? What about sights and sounds and tastes and touches? What about feelings? What about your entire moment to moment experience of your life? How do these electrical and chemical reactions relate to one's actual experience? As Fried and his colleagues continue to explore and tinker with these firing neurons will they eventually stumble upon Jerry and George? Will they run into microscopic electronic three dimensional and technicolor miniatures of Elaine and Kramer? Will they suddenly spy Newman and the Soup Nazi? I think we can say with confidence that they will not.


So, what is the relationship between this 'information' which is always, no matter how circuitous the path and how complex the timing of these firings, simply an electric current, and the endless variety, richness and texture of our experience? Obviously in relation to consciousness, neuronal firings are not information, in and of themselves, but they are part of a code. Perhaps that code, like computer code, consists simply of ON (high voltage) and OFF (low voltage) neurons, with each neuron functioning as a kind of brain pixel. Or, perhaps the code is also related to the timing of these firings and the location of the neurons in different areas of the brain. Again, as some scientists now think, it may be related to the electromagnetic field or cloud of energy surrounding the brain which is effected by all the firing neurons. The question is: How is that code, whatever it is, translated into the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touches and thoughts and memories of our actual experience? Where is the equipment, the apparatus, that does that amazing translation? That equipment has never been seen or detected by any scientific instrument. And science, which deals only in what is observable, will never detect that equipment. The reason that science is doomed to fail in this regard and the reason that you may consider me a spiritual killjoy (even though my message is joyous), is that the equipment that translates these patterns into experience and the experiencer of that experience is you and you are not part of the physical, observable world.


Now if that last sentence doesn't raise your materialist hackles, nothing will. But before you get too excited, just consider this idea for a moment. Your experience cannot be observed by anybody but yourself. (And what may be even more upsetting, from a materialist perspective, is that the self that is observing your experience is not observable even to itself!) You cannot be seen! Your body can be seen, yes. But what about you, that is experiencing your body, that looks out and observes the world from the vantage point of your body? You are not observable. Yet that is this very you that is the initiator and the doer of all your activities. The eye does not take in light by itself. It only lets in light when you want to look at something. It is your focus, not the eye's focus, which is based on your interest and needs, not the eyes interests and needs, that directs the eye toward where you want the eye to do it's job. The eye takes in the light waves that you directed it toward and translates them into patterns of neural firing, but the eye does not see. You see. The brain stores information coded in chemical and electrical patterns but the brain does not remember. You remember.


Let's suppose that brain research progressed beyond contemporary scientists wildest dreams. Let's suppose that they were able to 'crack' this code of consciousness in the same way that they have begun to crack the genetic code. Suppose they could look at these patterns of excitation in your brain and tell not just that you were observing something, but that you were observing something amusing. Suppose these researchers could even tell that you were watching a Seinfeld show and that they could even determine the specific episode that you were watching. Would they then be able to experience your experience? Would they then be able to think your thoughts or remember your memories? Of course not. They would still be relying solely on their own experience and memory of the Seinfeld show to make any sense of your experience of it. They would be no further along than if you had simply told them about it or written your reactions on a piece of paper. No matter how diligently researchers work; no matter how thorough their experiments, how complicated their calculations and how complex their equations, they will never get any further than the most subtle chemical or electrical interface between your body and/or brain (the physical plane) and you (the spiritual plane).


Let's go back for a moment to the beginning of this experiment. Thirteen participants were asked to watch video clips. Through various scanning devices the researchers were able to locate which neurons were firing when these clips were being watched. But why do these neurons fire in the first place? The scientific answer is that sensory neurons have a receptive field which is a space in which the presence of a stimulus will initiate or alter the firing of that neuron. Receptive fields have been identified for neurons of the auditory system, the somatosensory system and the visual system. But just as those patterns of firings that we discussed above are not really the end of the process (the process ends with your actual experience of the Seinfeld show), the stimulation of sensory neurons is not really the beginning of the process either.


The process begins when you want to hear something; when you want to touch something and when you want to look at something. This experiment really began when thirteen people decided that they wanted or were willing to watch these videos. The initial, the causal reason that those neurons lighted up was because those thirteen beings directed their attention to the Seinfeld show. Please really consider this. I am not just splitting hairs. The eyes do not see. The ears do not hear and the skin does not feel. Eyes, ears and skin are our equipment; they are the instruments we use when we want to see, hear and touch. We turn them on. They only work when we bring our attention, our focus, through our eyes, ears and skin because we want to experience something about the outside world. We focus our attention where we are interested in focussing our attention. Our desires and our focus are also not part of the physical universe. We may be able to get a sense of where someone's focus is by seeing which neurons are lighting up, but it is our interest that directs the focus that initiates the process. Interest and focus can be inferred or deduced by observing which neurons are firing and also by observations of our speech and behavior, but they cannot be observed directly with the naked eye or with any scientific equipment. Again, this is because interest, or desires, and focus, or attention, are aspects of you, of your self, and are not part of the physical universe. We direct our attention to an object or a person or a television show. That particular pattern of light is coming through our eyes because that is the object that we want to look at, or touch or listen to. This sensory equipment with its amazingly complicated system of neuronal firings is not working by itself. You are working it. It is serving you. It is the servant of your desires; and neither you nor your desires are part of the physical universe. They are unobservable and therefore never part of the equation when brain scientists or all biologists, for that matter, study the processes of the body.


To my way of thinking, the idea of studying memory without considering 'attention' is nonsensical. What we remember is a function of what we are attending to. Let's take the example of three people walking down a sidewalk in New York City. One is on his way to a jog at the local track. He looks up at the sky and notices that an ominous gray rain cloud that he saw earlier seems to have gotten darker and closer. He tries to stretch the muscles in his calves and shoulders as he walks along and wonders if he should have worn his sweatshirt. Another person, walking the same sidewalk at the same time, is someone who has lived in this neighborhood all her life. Today is her day off and she is on her way to the local coffee shop. As she saunters down the street she looks into the two Ukrainian owned shops (she is Ukrainian) and sticks her head in the doorway to say hello. The wife of one of the shop keepers (an old family friend) has recently passed away, and she notices that the shop keeper still seems to be in mourning even though he attempts a friendly greeting. A third person, a tourist, has never been to New York before. She has heard so much about this neighborhood (the East Village) and as she walks down the street taking in all the urban sights and sounds and smells, she thinks about all the poets and artists that lived here previously.


The point is that each person, walking down the same street, is having a very different experience and, of course, their subsequent memory of that street will depend on where their attention was as they walked down it. My wife is amazingly observant of her surroundings. We can visit a friend that we haven't seen in two years and she will walk into the house and say something like, "Oh, you re-upholstered your sofa. I love it." I, of course, would be hard pressed to remember that there ever was a sofa in that room, much less what the upholstery was like. On the other hand I may have a vivid memory of their cat and the distant and perfectly serene way that the cat observed us when we walked in the last time. Even when several people are attending to the same event, like the Seinfeld show, each person is watching a somewhat different episode. One person is a fan of the show and watches with enthusiasm. One person hates the show and the only reason she volunteered to be a subject in this research project was that her brother-in-law was one of the researchers. One person loves George and thinks that Kramer over acts. Another person thinks that Kramer is the best thing on the show and never takes her eyes off him when he is on camera, etc., etc., etc. Our attention goes where our interests and our desires lead us. This results in different experiences, different memories and different sets of neurons firing for each person.


Just as much as a person's interests are shaped by their experience, a person's experience is shaped by their interests. To my mind these interests are connected to a whole set of desires, of things that you want to or need to accomplish in this life. Your desires are not part of the physical universe but they are what connect you to the physical universe, and they precede our physical bodies. We choose our birth and we do that by choosing a set of genes that will develop into the body/brain that best suits what it is that we are trying to accomplish. Being born, from this perspective, is choosing to come from an unlimited, out of time and space experience, to a single space time continuum that is connected to a particular set of genes which develops into a particular body/brain. Even the intra-uterine experience is very different for each fetus depending on the interests and desires that the fetus brings to it. So it's not so much that you are the passive victim of the genes you happenned to be born with and the particular structure of the brain that you happenned to inherit. It's that you chose your genetic inheritance to accomplish whatever it is that you wanted to or needed to accomplish in this life. The neurons of the brain are simply neutral recording devices. You record on them the experiences that you are interested in and you imbue those experiences with the emotional meaning that you want to imbue them with. There is even brain research now that shows that we actually grow more neurons in the place in our brains that is associated with a certain kind of thinking or perceiving. If you are drawn to drumming, let's say, the more you learn, the more you are able to distinguish different sounds and rhythms and qualities of drumming. You actually grow more neurons or imprint pre-existing neurons with the impressions of these separate aural experiences that enable you to draw so many distinctions. Your interest also controls the growth and direction of the axons which lead from the neuron to a synaptic connection with another neuron. These axons can be very long (in relation to the cell body of the neuron) and can connect with any other neuron in the brain. Again, it is your interest, the way that you experience your experience that is causing the growth and direction of those axons and is imprinting not only these experiences but the way you connect them with other experiences. In short, then, a great drummer is not a great drummer because he happenned to have great drumming neurons. He's a great drummer because he arrived here with a passion for self-expression which found an outlet through drumming. In the process of pursuing his passion to become a great drummer, he grew and developed the great drumming neurons and synaptical connections that he needed to realize his dream.


Some people feel, in a sense, at odds with their brains. They are trying through therapy, or some other means, to restructure the way that they think or organize their experience. So how could they have chosen that? Because the lesson they learned or are now learning which brings them to this desire for change, is the very lesson that they wanted to learn in this life-time. And with patience and guidance and perserverance they can change pathways, grow new neurons and reprogram old ones. When we first made these choices regarding the kind of things we want to experience and accomplish in this life, we were not doing it from the encumbered place that we are in now. Our judgement was much different then. We were looking at it from a perspective outside of time; of endless time. And we were not dazzled by the superficial values of any society. We ultimately want to experience and understand EVERYTHING and we come to such understanding only through the experience and understanding of the negative as well as the positive. If you are wondering what it is that you are supposed to be accomplishing in this life, just look at your life at this exact moment. What ever it is that you are doing, whatever it is that you are wondering about or struggling with, that is exactly what you are supposed to be wondering about and struggling with. If your path does not yet appear clear to you, it is not yet supposed to be clear. If you know what you want but can't seem to reach it, the frustration that you are feeling at this moment is the frustration that you are supposed to be experiencing. You are the author of your experience. And if these words that you are currently reading cause in you a paradigm shift and alter the context within which you hold your experience, then that was what was supposed to happen; and if you reject these words, or if they do not make any sense to you at this moment, then that is what is supposed to happen, too. I am just doing my best to do what I am supposed to do.


Now let's look at the memory part:


"Afterward, while their brains were still being monitored, subjects were asked to describe whichever of the video clips came to mind. The same neurons that had fired as they watched a given clip fired again when they recalled that clip." The way it is explained it seems as though these neurons just happenned to fire by themselves and then they just happenned to fire again. But that is not the memory part. The way they describe it, it seems as if there is no memory part at all. The memory part comes because they (the subjects) were asked to describe what came to mind. Memory happens when they locate that same exact spot in their brains where the coded impressions of their first experience was stored. Obviously they are locating those neurons. It's not the neurons that are locating the neurons; that doesn't make any sense. Memory is their (not their neurons) act of location. Keeping in mind that there are one hundred billion neurons, the ability to re-locate those exact neurons is pretty amazing. When you are 'trying to remember' something, you are trying to locate those coded neuronal impressions. The brain with its one hundred billion neurons is a recording device, an amazingly complex and vivid recording device, but a recording device none the less. Memory is you locating where, among those billions of neurons, you stored that impression.


So at every step of this process: the subjects focussing on the show; the subjects translating the sensory neural firings into their actual experience of the show; each subject's unique way of experiencing the show and subsequently each subject's unique memory of that show; the subject's re-locating those firing neurons and the subject's once again translating these neural impressions into their experience; through all of these, the self with it's interests and attention is front and center. In fact with every biological experiment, the self is the elephant in the room (or the laboratory). It seems that the thrust of modern biology is not only to ignore this elephant in the laboratory, this self, but the long range goal seems to be to eliminate the entire concept of the Self. (Unfortunately for them, the self is not a concept. The self is that which is entertaining the concept that the self is a concept. Whatever you succeeded in eliminating, it wouldn't be the self, because you would need your self to eliminate whatever it was that you thought you were eliminating!)


Trying to look at or describe the process of memory in purely chemical and electrical terms without including the self is like trying to describe a baseball game without including the players:


A cork and rubber ball covered in cowhide flies through the air about sixty
feet where it comes into contact with a rapidly revolving stick. The ball
bounces off the stick in many different trajectories and eventually finds its
way to a leather glove. The ball then flings itself from the glove to another
leather glove in the vicinity of a white canvas square.

All of this is true, in a way, but the entire point is missed. The ball, the bat and the bases are not playing baseball. They are the equipment that the players use. It is the players not the equipment that are actually playing the game. And exactly the same thing holds true with memory, thinking and perception. The brain and it's one hundred billion neurons and it's many trillions of synapses are the equipment that we are using when we remember, think and perceive.


So, what am I saying? That all brain research is futile; that it is just the non-physical you that is doing everything, so why bother? No! Not at all! I am saying that our brains and our bodies are not us. They are our precious equipment and should be treated and studied as such. The brain and the body are the passive conductors of the ten quadrillion biological processes that enable us to experience the world through this brain and body. If we get clear on that, and that our health, our responsiveness and our sensitivity depend on the unimpeded flow of all these chemical and electrical processes, then the main thrust of our research will be on how this equipment works and what environmental factors, what foods and chemicals, and what ideas and emotional messages about the world and about ourselves, inhibit the flow of these processes and what factors enhance the flow of these processes.


But you, not biological processes but that which experiences these biological processes, are not observable, recordable or researchable. It seems that the thrust of modern research is to attempt to eliminate you, to make you explainable in chemical and electronic terms. This will never happen. The best that science will ever do is to get to the electrical or chemical interface between the physical universe and you. You will never be understood in those terms. Yes, we are seeing the electrical and chemical activity that supports our memory, our thinking and our consciousness, but we are not seeing memory, thinking or consciousness. We are at a strange point in our understanding of the world. We continue to learn more and more about the physical universe and how it operates, and in our enthusiasm we think all will one day be known and that the self and consciousness are delusions that will be dispelled as soon as we unearth the proper formula. We think of researchers in the same way we think of medical doctors, that they will eventually be able to diagnose love, consciousness and the self, to reduce these things to some kind of physical formula that will dispel any mystical notions that we may have about them. But the self has no physical bases what so ever. Whatever physical bases is found, the self is not this physical bases, but what experiences this physical bases. What we will discover, and what physicists are already further along at discovering, is that as you look more and more deeply into the world of matter it dissolves into the world of energy, and as you look more and more deeply into the world of energy it dissolves into the world of intention and as you look more and more deeply into intention you arrive at being; being which is the origin of intention, which creates energy, which creates matter.


Let's continue to investigate with great curiosity and diligence the physical universe in ways that lead us to improve our lives and enhance our experience; but let's give up this dark and depressing fantasy that research will one day explain away and eliminate the Self, the Creator and the creative mystery of life. No matter what we discover about the ways that neurons assist us, remember that we, not our neurons, remember Jerry.




Your comments are most welcome. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

YIN, YANG AND BEYONG!

The observer stands at the center of modern physics. Quantum theory has discovered that the smallest particles of matter, including electrons, photons and even atoms, behave like waves of energy when we are not observing them and behave like particles of matter when we are observing them. It seems as though the electron particle materializes from a wave or cloud of negative energy, but only when we are looking for it. Somehow the act of observation collapses a wave into a particle. The theory of relativity also puts the observer at the center of the physical equation. Einstein discovered that our perception, our experience and even our measurement of time and space are altered by the speed and position of the observer relative to what is being observed.

The actual study of this observer, one would think, would be the province of biology and evolution (the study of life and the history of life) since observers are found at the center of living beings. Oddly, though, when we leave the study of inanimate objects (physics) and move to the study of life (biology and evolution) the observer disappears as a concept or even a consideration. Since the observer cannot be observed by anyone, not even himself, he does not exist for modern evolutionary biologists and especially for their press agent, Richard Dawkins
. Can it be that one's observations have an effect both on atoms and subatomic particles and on time and space, but not on one's very own cells and genes?

Without this observer, biology and evolution become a laundry list of biological activities and traits; a fascinating list, an extraordinarily complicated list, but a list never the less. Now we can wonder who created this list, who designed all these amazing biological activities (ten quadrillion perfectly synchronized ones at every moment of a human life); and some can say, although it makes absolutely no sense to me, that all these purposeful and synchronized activities evolved accidentally from a purposeless, random and uncoordinated world. But can anyone really say that there is no one observing or even experiencing these activities? Is this really a matter of belief? Is it not the most obvious truth that I observe and experience my life? That there would be no life if there was no being to observe or experience it?


People with spiritual insight are attacked because they question some of the tenets of evolution. They are told that they are rigid, superstitious, that they have mindlessly accepted the religious dogma of their parents and cannot get past that to see the obvious truth. But to deny the existence of the being that observes and experiences our life; to reduce life to a laundry list of activities without considering who is experiencing this laundry list, is to shut yourself within a materialist bubble and within this bubble to fearfully refuse to consider your very own existence; a close-mindedness that rivals in its rigidity the most extreme excesses of religious fundamentalism.


Evolutionists and biologists have supposedly fostered within themselves a scientific curiousity. Why is that curiosity always limited to what is found at one end of a microscope and never questions who or what it is that is looking through the other end of that microscope? With each passing year the observations of physicists, and their conjectures based on these observations, are finding more and more common ground with the mystical traditions of all the great religions, while evolutionary biologists motor on and on in an ever hardening bubble of rigid materialist thinking.


One biologist who managed to burst through this bubble was Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a prominent brain scientist. She accomplished this not by an acid trip or a chance encounter with an Eastern sage, but by becoming the sudden victim of a brain hemorrhage which instantly flooded her left cerebral hemisphere with blood and made it impossible for her to continue the left brain analytical chatter that we are continually engaging in. Dr. Taylor, in her fascinating book, 'My Stroke of Insight' describes how she was plunged into an awareness of the inter-connectedness of all things and her oneness with the universe. She writes,



"Because everything around us-the air we breathe, even the materials we use to build with, are composed of spinning and vibrating atomic particles, you and I are literally swimming in a turbulent sea of electromagnetic fields. We are part of it. We are enveloped within it, and through our sensory apparatus we experience what is."


In other words, 'what is' including the shapes and solidity of objects, the contours of where one object begins and another ends, what is background and what is foreground, color and dimension, are all functions of the way that we are perceiving and constructing this field of energy. The world is an unbroken, continuous pattern of energy, of waves, if you will, and it is the way that we observe this field of waves that divides it into separate objects, foremost of which is the separation of ourselves from our surroundings.


An often used metaphor in Hinduism to deepen one's understanding of life is the image of two birds in a tree. One bird is in constant motion. It gathers twigs, builds nests, lays eggs, eats, sleeps, sings, grows and does all the things that we observe birds doing. The other bird is absolutely still. The only thing it does is WATCH. It is the observer. The first bird is referred to as the self with a small s. The second bird, the one who never changes, who doesn't even grow old and die, is referred to as the Self with a capital S.


Now we can understand this at one level which is, in itself, profound. That is that the Self is the unchanging witness of all our activity, thoughts and emotions. It is the ground of our experience. But beyond this is an even deeper understanding. That is that the Self (the witness) creates the self (the relative world of duality, of time and space, matter and energy, front and back). It is through the act of observation, using the God given instrument of our brain/body/nervous system, that the Self materializes the relative world of the self.


This brings us to an interesting question. If each of us, every living being, has a different way of experiencing and perceiving the world, what is it that is actually real? If you take away the organization imposed on the energy field by our biological equipment and take away, in the case of humans, all the ways that we have learned to define our surroundings; what is left? What is really out there?

According to modern physics, not much. Where is the soil in which to plant the flag of materialism? At first, it was in the obvious solidity of objects, as they appeared to the naked eye. Then came the idea of networks of atoms that underlie this seeming solidity. Atoms were then found to be really force fields at the center of which was a tiny nucleus and at the perimeters were infinitesimally small (even in relation to the nucleus and the distance to the nucleus) electrons. The pole that supports this flag of materialism would have to be very slender indeed! But more recently even the solidity of the nucleus, of protons and neutrons, and even the solidity of the minute electron has not withstood the scrutiny of our most advanced instrumentation. These formerly 'fundamental' pieces of matter have now themselves dissolved into force fields each with a bewildering array of particles including hadrons, leptons, bosons, fermions, mesons, baryons, quarks and anti-quarks, up and down quarks, top and bottom quarks, charm quarks, strange quarks, virtual quarks, valence quarks, gluons and sea quarks. All of these particles cannot be isolated and observed because they are supposedly embedded in force fields. Rather, they are inferred by the way in which the force field as a whole responds to various experiments.

The question is: do these particles really exist or is there nothing but force fields; in which case the flag of materialism would have no place to be planted at all? Some physicists vehemently insist that these particles do exist. The reason for their vehemence may be related to the equally vehement way that evolutionary biologists cling to the gene (a submicroscopic string of nucleic acids) as the source of the creative power that engenders all of life. By making the quark, the last remaining particle, if it is a particle, of the material world, the source of all the forces that engender the inanimate universe, they cling to a material explanation, however far-fetched, of the existence and functioning of the universe. The laboratory justification for the existence of these particles is that they have a measurable mass, give off a quantifiable amount of energy and seem to have clearly defined boundaries. But what if they were not particles, but a different kind of energy? What if there was one kind of force that moved in waves, moved out and up and dispersed, and another kind of force that moved down and in and contracted? The downward force of this second energy would create what we call mass and the inward force when it stabilized with its surroundings would create the boundaries that we ascribe to a particle.

I bring this up not because I am a scientist. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I am not a scientist. I have a very limited background and understanding of physical theories. I started writing this blog not because of discoveries that I had made or read about in my research, but because of an understanding of life that I had come to and been experiencing for several years. I arrived at this understanding with the assistance of a few very great teachers, who were not scientists or even academics. They were saints; and by saints, I don't mean that they would 'give me the shirt off their backs' or that I could 'always count on them in a pinch', or any of that sort of thing. By saints I mean that they had realized something about who they were and what life was, and the effects of that realization were clearly evident in their behavior and in the energy and love that emanated from them. Some of these men came from a Hindu tradition, some from a Sikh tradition and some from a Taoist tradition. The philosophical underpinning of all of these, however, as well as the philosophical underpinning of most great pre-industrial societies, is monistic dualism. When Swami Satchidananda (one of my teachers) was asked a question about yin and yang, he said, "Yes, yin and yang, but also BEYONG!" What he meant by this was that the relative world is governed by yin and yang, by dualism, but, more importantly, the Self lives beyond duality. And it is interesting that the Hindu tradition has emphasized the transcendence of the material world while the Taoist tradition has emphasized the understanding and balancing of the two forces of the dual world which Taoists refer to as yin and yang. Other traditions call the two forces of duality in and yo, vata and kapha, Tawa and Takpella, father heaven and mother earth, etc., but the understanding is the same.
Here are twelve laws of monistic dualism:
1. One Infinity manifests itself into complementary and antagonistic tendencies, yin and yang, in its endless change. 
2. Yin and yang are manifested continuously from the eternal movement of one infinite universe. 
3. Yin represents centrifugality. Yang represents centripetality. Yin and yang together produce energy and all phenomena. 
4. Yin attracts yang. Yang attracts yin. 
5. Yin repels yin. Yang repels yang. 
6. Yin and yang combined in varying proportions produce different phenomena.The attraction and repulsion among phenomena is proportional to the difference of the yin and yang forces. 
7. All phenomena are ephemeral, constantly changing their constitution of yin and yang forces; yin changes into yang, yang changes into yin. 
8. Nothing is solely yin or solely yang. Everything is composed of both tendencies in varying degrees. 
9.There is nothing neuter. Either yin or yang is in excess in every occurrence. 
        10. Large yin attracts small yin. Large yang attracts small    
       yang.

         11. Extreme yin produces yang, and extreme yang 
        produces yin.
12. All physical manifestations are yang at the center, and yin at the surface.*
Physicists are searching, and to my mind somewhat desperately, to find any matter in the universe what so ever. Taoists, or monistic dualists, are convinced that there is none. Physicists have discovered four universal forces : gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force and the weak force, and they are searching for one, unifying, overarching force. Taoists believe that they found that force thousands of years ago. I am not saying to physicists that you are wrong and Taoists are right. I am saying that there may be a different way of looking at your observations and your experimental results. I am suggesting a CONVERSATION between western physicists and serious experts of monistic dualism, the understanding which has been at the center of Asian culture, science and medicine for thousands of years.
The purpose of this post is not to convert you to Taoism, but to give you a different way of looking at familiar questions. Let's look at a few of these. One of the questions that has perturbed physicists is: what keeps the electron, or what is now referred to as the electron cloud, at a distance and in an orbit around the nucleus? If the electron is negative and the nucleus is positive, and, according to the laws of electro-magnetism, they both attract each other, why shouldn't the electron cloud collapse onto the surface of the nucleus? If we look at the electron not as negative but as yin, and the nucleus not as positive but as yang, the question is answered. Yes, yin is attracted to yang, but yin is also expansive and centrifugal and yang is contractive and centripetal. The electron stays in orbit because there is a balance between the attraction of the yin electron cloud to the yang nucleus and the centrifugal force of the yin cloud which makes it want to fly out of its orbit and disperse. The yang nucleus is also in balance with it's centripetal force pulling it in and away, and it's attraction to the yin force of the electron cloud pulling it out.

Another question that physicists ponder is how do waves of energy seem to form particles upon observation and how do particles, electrons, photons, even whole atoms, seem to dissipate and function as waves at other times? If you look at a wave as a more yin form of a particle and a particle as a more yang form of a wave, then the problem becomes more understandable. With the addition of light, which is yin, which you must use to make your observation, the wave responds by becoming more yang, by contracting to make balance with this more yin environment, just like you contract and clench your muscles and become more focussed and single minded in a cold yin environment, and become more relaxed, more expanded, more circular in your thinking in a warm yang environment. In the same way, when the light is removed from the particle, it returns to being a wave.

The great thing about studying yin and yang is that it purports to explain ALL phenomena. So something that is observed can also be experienced. In this case, since our bodies are also made of atoms, we would also expect to undergo and experience this transformation of particle to wave to particle. And we do! Don't you sometimes experience your body to be a solid wall (a giant particle) behind which you are imprisoned, making any intimacy and even relationship with the people and objects outside that wall impossible? And don't you, at other times, experience your body as having no mass at all with a completely free flow of communication with others and a free flow of energy with your environment? And then it switches back again? And then it switches back, yet again?

Or let's look at spiral formations which are repetitive patterns that occur all through the animate and inanimate world. Many of us are familiar with the spirallic patterns of the shells of mollusks, the nerves of the cornea, the arms of galaxies, and the arms of hurricanes. Variations of spirals are found all through the human body. There are spiral indentations that center on the tip of every finger (fingerprints). The human fetus when curled in the womb can be looked at as a compilation of several spirals. There is the spiral starting at the shoulder and curling into the fist. There is the spiral of the spinal column curling into the brain and the esophagus curling into the intestines. From a yin/yang perspective, the spiral is a combination of a line (yang) and a circle (yin). If we look at our movements over time, everything is moving in spirals. We stand on the earth and circle around its axis. But the earth is moving forward on its orbit. So our movements, tracked over time would be spirallic; as would the movement of the moon; as would the movement of the earth as it circles the sun and follows the sun on its orbit around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Now this spirallic movement can also be experienced as well as observed. Time is yang and space is yin. When we are too yin we become too spacey. We are stuck in a pattern of circular thoughts and make no forward movement. When we are too yang, we plunge ahead too agressively to accomplish things. We are so conscious of our precious time that we experience no space in which to include other people or be responsive to their needs. The Taoist aims for balance, a healthy spiral which includes a forward momentum, not as a plunging line, but rather as a spiral, a circuitous path that includes constant adjustment depending on the needs of others.

When I had suggested above that the subatomic particles were not particles but a different form of energy that contracted rather than expanded, whose downward force is what we call mass, I was, of course, referring to the yang force. So, would these particles, these quarks, be an example of pure yang? No! One of the principles is that yang does not exist in this physical plane in a pure form. It would still be a mixture of predominantly yang with some yin. The revelation of the details of those impossibly minute force patterns within the parameters of quarks must await the development of even more sophisticated instrumentation.

The closest the universe ever came to pure yang, according to this thinking, would be that little speck of matter whose explosion created the Big Bang. That is what happened at the end of a great universal crunch, where yang predominated. At the extremes yin becomes yang and yang becomes yin. The Big Bang began a period of universal expansion, of yin predominance. And when a point of extreme yinness is reached, we can expect a reversal, another Big Crunch, leading to another Big Bang and the cycle goes on forever. But how would we have a crunch if matter is disippating as the universe is expanding and therefore the pull of gravity is getting weaker and weaker? Don't forget that I am arguing from a yin/yang perspective, not a gravity/ thermodynamic perspective. Yes, the universe in general is expanding, but there are black holes that are vortexes of extreme yang that are pulling matter into them. Yang doesn't grow in size. It contracts and grows in strength. So as the universe, in general, becomes more dispersed, there are black holes that are becoming not bigger but more powerful. The crunch will happen when the black holes reach enough strength, enough yang intensity, to collapse into each other and then to suck back the universe.

It's fascinating, isn't it? The study of monistic dualism, or yin and yang, aims not just to study physics and chemistry and astronomy but to find ways to balance our own yin/yang forces to achieve health and peace of mind. Tai chi, acupuncture, yoga and ayurvedic medecine are all based on these same principles of the balance of opposing forces. Anyway, there are real experts out there (not me) that have dedicated themselves to understanding life and the universe from the perspective of monistic dualism just as there are physicists who have dedicated themselves to the same study from a western perspective. I have some ideas as to why they are not communicating with each other, but for whatever reason; it is, I think, a great loss to our society that they are not.

Allow me to express this using the vernacular of my good friend Tyrone. You have a group of first class contemplators and a group of first class calculators. Now the calculators are trying to do their own contemplating, but there's a problem. Something doesn't quite work. They need one set of calculations for tiny subatomic phenomena (quantum), one set of calculations for what we would call normal size and normal speed phenomena (Newtonian) and one set for giant mass and gargantuan speed phenomena (relativity). And then we have the contemplators, who are top notch contemplators but have never shown much interest or talent for calculating. They do have the good sense, however, to not even try to calculate. But if the calculators would get their framework for their calculations from the contemplators, then, I am convinced, they would wind up with one framework, and one set of calculations that would be applicable in all situations. Doesn't it make sense? If you want good calculations go to the calculators who have been calculating their whole lives. And if you want good contemplation, go to the contemplators who have been contemplating their whole lives. But the calculators are so good at it that they have become arrogant. They think that because they are first rate calculators they must be first rate contemplators as well. But, this is not true. Because they have been, for the most part, indoctrinated in a materialist philosophy, their contemplations are limited to the physical universe. When they attempt to determine cause they look at the physical or energy world for their answers and not at the intentional world that underlies these. And their contemplations are always formed by trying to reconfigure their old framework to include the baffling results from the latest experiments. Their contemplation is always backtracking to find a way of adjusting their theoretical framework to accomodate the new data. At this point the framework has been broken up into three frameworks. The contemplators, on the other hand, don't start contemplating because of troubling new data. They start with a basic curiosity about themselves, about life and the universe. And the interesting thing is that the very best contemplators in all the great societies, when you look past the metaphors and all the attempts to make their findings understandable in material or animal or human terms, so that the people of their respective cultures could get some sense of it without having had the same insights that the contemplators had experienced, then you realize that they all came to basically the same conclusions. What more scientifically validating process could you find then mystics, serious contemplators from all ages, spread over thousands of years, and from all societies, from every continent on this planet, having reached the identical conclusions?

As I write these words, physicists are initiating a series of underground experiments in Switzerland. The apparatus for these experiments is the CERN particle accelerator and has been assembled over the last twelve years. It has the capacity to hurl particles and collide them with each other at speeds and forces that were previously unimaginable. What will happen? They claim to be confident in the safety of the outcome of these experiments. But they are experiments! If they were so sure of the outcome, why have any experiment at all? The purpose of at least this initial series of experiments in Switzerland is the search for the Higgs boson particle. According to Wikipedia, "The Higgs boson, popularised as the "God Particle", is a hypothetical massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics.....An experimental observation of it would help to explain how otherwise massless elementary particles cause matter to have mass." So, just as we have God particles in evolution (genes) to which we attribute the development of consciousness, intelligence, love and the wondrous complexity of life; we now have God particles in physics (bosons and quarks) to which we attribute the mass, shape and power of all the objects of the physical universe. Isn't it odd that the same people who dogmatically reject the omnipotence and omnipresence of a spiritual God or cosmic consciousness, eagerly subscribe to the notion of omnipotent and omnipresent particles, which are (in the case of both genes and quarks) too small to ever be actually seen but can only be inferred? Yet, from the spiritual perspective, there are no particles; there are only forces. Forces create the illusion of solid particles. Particles don't explain forces; forces explain particles.

Whether it is this CERN experiment or another, physicists are now unleashing such awesome powers that I feel the urgent need for them to seek out serious contemplators, and undergo some serious contemplation themselves, before they continue. Blowing up a laboratory is one thing. You say "Oops!" and all is forgiven. But who will even be around to hear anyone say "Oops!" if you blow up the planet?
Anyway, I used to think of yin and yang in the same way we think of electro-magnetic energy, that it was a quality of 'things.' Some things were positive or negative, and some things were yin and yang. It was a property of matter. Force fields were like when you put two magnetized pieces of metal near each other that are both positive or both negative. You can feel that force in the space between them but it seems to be emanating from the matter (the two pieces of metal) on either side. Western science still holds on to that idea. The atom is a force field but it emanates from the solid thing that is a proton and the solid thing that is an electron. Now that the solidity of those particles has been fractured, the idea still holds, but now we are down to force fields emanating from unobservable quarks and bosons. In other words, vast force fields emanating from impossibly tiny specks of matter. Gravity, too, is a materialist concept. It is a force that supposedly emanates from the mass of an object.
What I hadn't realized, even though I had thought about yin and yang for years, is that yin and yang, as opposed to gravity and electromagnetism, are not qualities of things. There are no things. Yin and yang are the things themselves. There is no solidity from which these forces are emanating. Matter does not generate forces. Rather, forces and the laws that govern forces generate the illusion of matter and solidity. The universe is an uninterrupted patchwork of yin and yang. Matter is yin and yang with a stronger yang component, and energy is yin and yang with a stronger yin component. Force fields do not exist between pieces of matter; they exist between forces. A solid is an impenetrable force field; gas is a penetrable force field; and liquid is a semi-penetrable force field. Atoms are not composed of solid particles, but are accumulations of energy, with yang at the center and yin at the surface, sometimes acting like waves and sometimes acting like particles. Gravity cannot be at base a function of mass. There had to be gravity, or a law similar to gravity, from the very beginning or the Big Bang would not have been possible. The law precedes mass. Mass does not create the law. The law creates mass. Gravity, then, would be a measure, not of anything solid, but of the inward force of the yang component at the center of objects; which we would experience as a downward force from the perspective of someone on the surface of the earth. Yin and yang are the four dimensional pixels whose endless combinations form the universe.

If you don't agree with me, fine. But even if you have a Western point of view, you must realize that, if there is any actual matter at all, it is absolutely minuscule, and that the vast, vast majority of what is out there is a field of forces. If you think these forces operate by the laws of gravity, electro-magnetism, the weak force and the strong force, or if you think they operate by the laws of yin and yang, these are just different names. The best names are the ones that most accurately describe the phenomena that we can observe and measure. But by whatever name you call the laws that govern these forces, what are they? They had to be here from the very beginning. If you believe the beginning was the Big Bang, there would be no Big Bang if these laws were not already in place. So, even if you believe that the Big Bang started the whole thing, it was really these laws or forces that were already in place that made the Big Bang possible. Whether we have the correct names for these laws or if future research or contemplation will yield more accurate ones, that is not the point. The point is that the physical universe was begun and is operated by forces obeying very specific laws. The question is, if these forces have no material substance, what are they, and from where did these laws that govern their operation come from?
Let me put this another way. There are forces and there are the laws that govern those forces. If we separate out the laws from the forces themselves, just what exactly are we left with? Take away the Law of Gravity from gravity, take away the Principles of Electromagnetism from electromagnetic energy, take away the Laws of Change from yin and yang, and what remains? What is the actual force that is the force of gravity? What is the force that expands yin and contracts yang? We know basically how they work, but what is the force that causes them to work? Where is it, and how can I taste it, touch it, measure or observe it; not the things that are moved and effected by it, but the force itself?

To help answer this, let's look at our human laws. Human laws create the boundaries and consistencies that make life safe and functional. Their force comes from the fact that everybody agrees to obey them. If a physicist from another planet was trying to determine exactly what the force was that was emanating from all the red traffic lights here on Earth that was powerful enough to stop hundreds of tons of moving vehicles, what could he possibly find? There is no force except the force that we earthlings agreed to give it. What is the force coming from the white line in the middle of the road that is able to push all those vehicles to the right side of the road and that, mysteriously, in England, is able to push those very same vehicles to the left side of the road? It's agreement. It's just the way that we agreed to do things. And these laws were created because someone realized that we could not function with any safety or efficiency without them. In other words, there is no force; it's just the way that it is, and it's the way that it is because we decided that that's the way that it is, or some leader decided, and we agreed to obey.

When we look out at the universe and we see a world of things, we know that the solidity of those hings is an illusion; that they are really the interplay of forces. And whether we call them gravity and electro-magnetism or yin and yang, we are just looking at the way that God or the universe decided to set it up. From a yin/yang perspective, God or the universe knew that two antagonistic but complementary and endlessly interacting forces would create the entire visible universe, so it was set up that way. Everything that we see in the observable universe is formed by and functions within the parameters of these laws of change, and that includes our bodies,brains and nervous systems; so that when we participate in the physical universe we are subject to those laws and must obey them. In short, there is no matter out there, there are just forces, and the forces are only forceful because the universe said so. So, if there is no matter out there but just forces, and if the only force behind those forces is the force that we or God decided to invest them with, then...... there's nothing out there!


If you find this news depressing, let me remind you that we are not yin and we are not yang. We are 'beyong'. We are that which experiences yin and yang. Yes, the relative world is an illusion, but it is an illusion that we have chosen to play in. And we are playing in it for the excitement, the thrill, the ups and downs of experiencing it. But what is real is us, the Self, the experiencer. The Self is beyond duality, beyond space and time, beyond yin and yang. And when we pierce through the veil of separation and experience oneness, whether with another person or animal or plant or activity or with the universe, that is a real experience. If the relative world of up and down, of front and back, of good and bad, is an illusion; the infinite world of oneness is not. Everything that emphasizes differences, hierarchies and distinctions is part of the illusion and is transient, and everything that emphasizes unity, oneness and the experience of oneness, that we call love, is true and provides a taste of the ultimate and eternal reality. Peace.

Any comments? I sincerely welcome your feedback.

*Michio Kushi, The Kushi Institute