Sunday, November 20, 2016


                                 THE FIRST DELUSION

In the fall of 2012 a group of eminent scientists and philosophers convened at a lovely hotel in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusettes.  Among them were Richard Dawkins, author of
'The God Delusion,' Daniel Dennett, author of 'Consciousness Explained,' (which his detractors nicknamed 'Consciousness Ignored'), Jerry Coyne, author of 'Why Evolution is True,' Owen Flanagan, author of 'The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World,' and Alexander Rosenberg, author of "The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.'

There was an enormous amount of common ground in the room.  These men shared and continue to share the belief that the  normal way that people see the world, as containing other people, colors, sounds, sights, sensations, good things and bad things, evil things and inspiring things; which they refer to as the 'manifest image,' is entirely illusory.  They believe that there is an 'objective reality' which consists merely of soundless, colorless moving particles. Sounds and colors, for instance, are the result of how certain vibrations are translated into electrical current and interpreted by our brains.  Our sense that colors and sounds exist in the outer world rather than the inner world of our brains as well as other qualities of objects and spaces such as being attractive or repellent, edible or inedible, scary  or safe; all of this sense of the world that we currently enjoy and allow us to survive and maneuver in a way that we can not only survive but get our needs met in the outer world; all of this ability is entirely the  result, according to the conferees,  of an extemely long line of remarkably fortuitous mutations, each one of them retained because they conferred a slight survival advantage over the genetic apparatus of the previous generations.

So at some early point on the evolutionary tree these mutationally advantaged creatures were preceded by creatures who merely perceived the 'objective reality' of colorless, meaningless particles, and perceived them where they were 'really' taking place within their skulls, as the interpretation of electrical signals received by their brains.  It was only a few of their progeny, many, many generations later, who had been the recipient of a whole series of fantastically fortuitous mutations that allowed them to sense the external world as being colorful and producing various sounds, as well as having distinct qualities;  a world in which there are objects that are  attractive or repellent,  edible or inedible, scary or safe.  Also, at some point, and also do to a long series of really remarkably fortunate mutations, the entire field of perception flipped from being inside their heads to being outside of their heads. 

Now the survival advantage that all these myriad mutations would provide is very easy to understand.  What is harder to grasp are all the tiny incremental advantages that would very gradually lead a creature from perceiving things inside their heads to outside their heads.  If there ever were  such ancient predecessors that actually experienced the world as taking place inside their heads, or even partially inside their heads, and their survival was dependent on being able to meet their needs by accurately maneuvering in the physical world outside of their heads, then that would make survival very difficult indeed!  How many of these feckless creatures could survive an existence of bunking into every object, falling off every cliff, completely incapable of finding water or food or sex partners; how many of these could still be around at the age of sexual maturity for them to replicate for countless generations until one of them was lucky enough to be the recipient of a long series of random mutations that would allow their whole perceptive field to flip outward?

Of course there is no fossil record of any creature anywhere living like that, because living like that would be utterly impossible.  Even the existence of bacteria, that preceded all other life by two billion years, depend on their accurate negotiation of their environment to locate food and water sources, to seek coolness when it gets too hot, to seek warmth when it gets too cold,  etc.   If you experienced everything as taking place inside your head, even if it really was (see post 'Location, Location, Location) so that there was no way to distinguish memories, which really are experienced as inside your head, from actual events happening in the present moment, then that would make surviving, which includes finding nourishment and safety and sex partners, and not walking off cliffs, or running into walls, but being able to maneuver skillfully and alertly in the physical universe in order to get your needs met,  well, that would make surviving very difficult indeed.  

This agreed upon way that we perceive the world around us, which they refer to as the 'manifest image,'  although ultimately illusory, is the agreement within which we all operate, including all the attendees at that conference, otherwise they could never have managed to get themselves to the Berkshires or even inside that conference room. And each species operates within their own uniquely shared agreement.  What one species defines as a food source, another species defines as a predator.  What one species defines as a sex  partner another species defines as a terrifying threat.  What is a comfortable, appealing environment for one species is a fatal environment that must be escaped from for another.  And this species specific, shared illusion, could not have evolved.  No organism, no species, could survive without such a shared illusion; the illusion that corresponds with a particular species is the birthright of each member of that species, and is an integral part of the design  of both the species and the environmental niche in which the species is born.  

"Powered by Darwin, modern science proceeds," in Dennett's phrase, "as a 'universal corrosive,' destroying illusions all the way up and all the way down, dismantling our feelings of freedom and separate selfhood, our morals and beliefs, a mother's love and a patient's prayer: All in reality are just 'molecules in motion.' "*  So these people, these molecules in motion, although they do not actually behave that way, live in their imaginations, in what they call the 'objective reality.'  Although it may be a source of professional embarrassment for them, they probably all do, to some degree, love their mothers, feel compassion for people in need, and reach for the accurately perceived door knob on their way out of conference rooms rather than trying to walk through the wall that they had just bunked into, or trying somehow to reach the doorknob located somewhere on the surface of their cerebellum.

Like members of any cult, all of these people were in total agreement about their core beliefs.  There was, however, one bone of contention, which was the reason for this conference.  Some of them thought that this materialist view should be taught in its full, relentless form; that people should know the utter meaninglessness and randomness of their existence and that every thing that they hoped for and cherished were merely delusions.  Then the masses, who may not understand the truth completely, could just accept it and discover that living a life without purpose, free will or spirituality was not as bad as they had been led to believe by superstitious people, and by superstitious they meant anyone that didn't hold the identical set of beliefs that they did.

Of course if life wasn't so bad for these conferees, it was precisely because they did not live, did not actually manage their lives, according to the tenets that they preached.  They all shared the belief in the ultimate reality of molecules, and in the supreme powers of mutation and natural selection to create all the manifest illusions that we experience around us.  They also had the deep sense of commaradarie, as all cult members do, in that they were the small group that really knew the truth and by virtue of that, they were superior to all the common, unenlightened (or should I say  'unendarkened') people around them.  They were also all professionals, making a good living writing books and doing lectures and panels discussing all this stuff.  If this truly became an age of endarkenment, as they hoped, then the  masses, those incapable of grasping the true genius of this vision, would have lost not only all the things they had previously lived for, but would not have that sense of exclusivity, commaradarie and superiority that the Berkshire group enjoyed.

The other conferees argued that even though what we are is no more than 'moist robots,' if the masses realize that there is no objective reality or free will, then that might undermine civilization.  It would be hard to imagine people taking personal responsibility to live within the civil order if they realized that civil order, responsibility and even one's own personhood were ultimately illusory.  They should be told, according to Dennett, "that the self and free will do exist, and that colors and sounds do exist, just not in the way that they think. They exist in a special way."  This uncommunicated special way, of course, was that they, ultimately, did not exist at all.   Rather like Santa Claus; if you could just convince the kids that Santa did exist and that he was coming to bring you gifts if, and only if, you were good, then you might be able to wrangle some decent behavior out of the little brats for at least the month of December and, if you were lucky, even for some of November.

                              THE SECOND DELUSION

There is another group of people that also believe that the way we perceive the world and most of the things that we hold as important to us is illusory.  I can't point to a specific conference that they attended, although they do confer, but I do know how they experience the world, and, although there are some cultural and stylistic differences among them, they experience the world in the same way. I know this because in speaking with these people or in reading what they  have written, the identical understanding emerges.

Notice that I did not say that they share the same beliefs.  Beliefs pre-date experience.  I believe I will enjoy a movie.  After I have watched the movie it makes no sense to ask me if I believe I will enjoy it.  I already had the experience.  I now know what that experience was like.  So when I am talking about this group, I am not talking about their belief system; in fact, they do not argue about belief systems among themselves; in a very real sense they have no belief systems because the way that they experience the world automatically dictates how they behave.  The golden rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, is practiced among them, not because they believe in the authority of the author of that rule, but because they realize that the other that they are doing something unto is actually themselves.

While the first group has come to believe what they believe based on a certain amount of research (while selectively ignoring a huge amount of other research), this second group has come to believe what they believe based on search.  Before research there is search.  These people searched within, and what they discovered was that the material world, which the first group thinks of as the one and only ultimate reality; that the material world has no ultimate reality at all.  Even the molecules that Dennet exalted are not really solid particles, but are configurations of bound forces, with nothing 'solid' in them; that the physical universe, as we perceive it, is the result of the interplay of forces, call them yin and yang, baca and fana, in and yo, Heaven and Earth, celestial and terrestrial, or by many other names.  These forces, which configure with each other, give the illusion of permanence and solidity because of the stable force fields that they create.  Ultimately, the force behind the force fields is consciousness, and consciousness, rather than being a delusional survival trick, is actually the only reality.  In other words you exist and every other being exists, and the delusional part is the way we perceive each other as separate beings.

While the first group talks about and writes books about the God delusion, the second group realizes that nothing actually exists beyond God (the Atman, the Cosmic Consciousness, Allah, Hashem, or whatever you would like to call Him/Her/It); that even the molecules that are the foundational truth of the first group are the illusion of the second group.  In fact, now that quantum physicists have discovered that particles only exist when they are being observed, it is hard to imagine particles as pre-dating the observer.  If particles are a product of consciousness, then, it seems reasonable to assume, consciousness pre-dates particles.  The same would hold true for the wave potentials that things seem to be prior to being observed.  They are wave 'potentials' for what?  For being perceived and interacted with by conscious beings, each conscious being experiencing each thing in their own unique way; and each wave potential having the capacity to be perceived and experienced in a multitude of different ways, sequentially or simultaneously, depending on which beings are perceiving and experiencing it.

How pure consciousness (consciousness not separated by unique organisms, genomes, nervous systems and cultures)  the cosmic consciousness,  Milton's "bright essence increate,"  that beginingless essence from which we all come and to which we will all return, how the world is perceived through that unfiltered consciousness, is beyond our understanding. It seems to me, though, that it would be similar to the way a gift is perceived by a parent prior to giving it to a child.  We imagine all the different ways that the child could enjoy it, and then watch as the child does enjoy it and, hopefully, falls in love with it.  We experience that with the toys and clothing and cars and allowances that we give our children.  The Infinite experiences it with the clouds and mountains and trees and bodies and minds and stars and galaxies and every thing of the natural and organic world that the Infinite provides for all living organisms.

The realization, as the first group would have it, that all is illusory except particles, and that even the observer, the experiencer of these particles and particle formations, which is you, is also illusory, leads to the deepest experience of alienation and despair.  The members of this first group avoid that despair by priding themselves not only on truly understanding what so few others have been able to grasp, and making a good living at it in the process, but they also pride themselves on coping very nicely with this utter meaninglessness, and knowing that this Herculean coping activity is something that the unwashed and uneducated masses most likely could not grapple with.  Their's is a loveless world whose only reward is a cynical superiority over everyone else who doesn't know 'reality' as they know it.

The second group is not really a group, because they understand that all boundaries, including the boundary that separates their group from everyone else; that all boundaries are illusory; that boundaries only exist when you are conscious of them.  If you have ever been in the presence of a saint, you feel the boundary between you and the saint disappear.  You feel the saint bonding with you and knowing you in a way that perhaps no one has known you before, even if you have never met the saint previously.  And this is precisely what love is, the disappearance of a boundary; the realization that you and another person, or group, or your environment, or your planet, or your galaxy, are not separate at all.  That you are of a piece, are one with the entire universe.

The realization of the second group, that all things are illusory, but that you are not a thing; that you are not matter, but that 'bright essence increate,' and that every separate thing that you see is not separate but is, in essence, that same brightness, that same beginningless and endless consciousness 'increate,' leads to an experience of nothing but love.  Isn't it time that we climbed out of the Darwinian darkness and this age of material delusion and despair and entered the light?  Isn't it time that we developed the capacity to slow down the mind and see through this illusion of separation and began to treat each other with the love and respect that all the sages of the past have demanded?  Isn't it time that we realize that, not religous and culture bound dogma, but real spiritual understanding is not a delusion, not the opiate of the masses, but based on a clear understanding of the ultimate truth; that the material world is not the end all and be all, but is merely a phantom, a chimera that exists between desire and experience?

Every particle and every particular thing changes.  Your particular body, your particular genome, your particular brain and nervous system, your particular way of perceiving and experiencing the world, all these things change.  But you, in your essence, you are not a thing.  You are of a piece, you are one with that 'bright essence increate,' that beginningless and endless consciousness.  You are beyond change and beyond separation.  The first group would demolish you and elevate the particle.  The second group sees through particles and the boundaries between particles, to reveal the you which is boundless, limitless and which is also me.

Whether you agree or disagree, please let me hear from you.  Peace!

Friday, November 11, 2016


This is not a political blog, but I am having trouble focussing on anything else but our recent election, so let me write down a few thoughts about it so I can clear my mind to get back to other things.

Why were we all shocked that Donald Trump was elected?  Because we did not understand the level of despair and anger that so many people, particularly in small towns and rural areas are feeling.  Donald spoke to those feelings and promised to alleviate them, but his promises were vague and, I believe, he will not be able to fulfill them.  Not that the Democrats would have done any better.  These people are furious at establishment politics because it has done nothing for them.  The problem is that it cannot, and that is because government is now funded, is completely dependent, on the huge multinational corporations that are the real source of the problem.

There is no government, no nation, no international body, that is powerful enough, or even has the political will at the moment,  to regulate multinational corporations.  Their whole set up, where they are owned and ultimately controlled by faceless investors who make decisions with no regard to the actual people that do the work of these corporations, is something that we have gotten so used to that we take it as an inevitable fact of life; but why should it be that way?  Why are there multinational corporations?  If corporations have the same rights and freedom of speech and power and political participation as citizens, then they should be citizens, too.  Citizens of a particular country, which is the country of citizenship of their owners.  This means that if they are engaged in manufacture, that manufacturing must take place in their native country.  They can import raw materials that are not available in their native country, if they really are not available, but any manufacture, any assemblage must be done in their native country.  They cannot play one labor market off another.  They cannot discard workers who have give decades of service to these corporation, like old shoes, and move on in search of increasingly more desperate pools of labor.  They cannot play this game of switching locations with no allegiances, so that states and countries and workers are so desperate for them that they will bend over backwards and offer these corporations such absurd tax deals and be willing to work for slave wages just for a chance to survive, and so that faceless stock holders can reap huge profits and executives making decisions in offices many thousands of miles away from where the work is actually done, reap obscene salaries and benefits.

All of this is done under the guise of the insidious misnomer 'free market capitalism.'  What is free about it?  My understanding of a market is that it is made up of capital, the owners of the means of production, labor, the people that actually do the work, and consumers, the people that use and purchase the products of this work and machinery.  What is actually meant by 'free markets' is the total domination of labor and consumers by capital.  Consumers must be able to have some control of the price, quality and safety of products.  The 'invisible hand' of a free market will not help consumers if the only choices they have are similarly over priced and flawed.  

Representative government is nothing more complicated than a group of people that are elected to represent the interests of the people that elected them.  People are furious at government because they are not representing their interests, but the interests of their big money supporters.  And it is only government, only the people organized into a large enough and powerful enough group, that is capable of controlling these multi-national corporations.

There should be a limit set on the percentage of profit over costs.  Any one working for a corporation for two years should then, on top of their salary, start to build up some ownership of the business.  The percentage of a company owned by outside investors should never exceed the percentage of the company owned by its employees.  And a formula must be worked out so that the more employees a company hires, the smaller the percentage of ownership is allowed by the original owners.  These situations where huge companies are employing many thousands of workers who cannot support their families on full time jobs, while the owners are making more money than they can possibly spend, is simply obscene.  What is the appeal for a billionaire to become an even richer billionaire?  How much material indulgence can you possibly enjoy?  Or is it the extent of the kow towing and subservience from other people that are in desperate need of a tiny piece of your fortune to support their artistic endeavors, to be donated to their charities, to be celebrated and feted at charity balls, to convince yourself of your utter goodness and generosity, as you exploit by the tens of thousands your own workers; is this what appeals to you?

Whether our trade deals have increased or diminished our employment is hard to say.  What it has definitely done is shifted and then reshifted employment, so we are no longer secure in our jobs.  How many of us are working for employers who we feel have a personal interest in our welfare and security?  Why is that something that we no longer feel that we are entitled to or that is even possible?  It is because of these endless, faceless deals: trade deals and mergers and acquisitions and relocations.

The whole economy is so pumped up, all this wheeling and dealing and hyped up advertising campaigns, with new winners and new losers every day and constant insecurity.  And every thing is growth! growth! growth!  Wouldn't everyone be a lot happier if the emphasis was on stability and more equitable distribution?  Do we really need to live in a society where fashion demands a new wardrobe, new furnishings, new gadgets and new cars every year?  If we really knew each other we would make 'relating' more important than 'impressing' and these endless frivolous products would lose their appeal.

The real slow down in unemployment is due to automation.  These jobs are not coming back, regardless of anything that Trump says.  In fact, there is no holding back technology, so automation will be increasing.  But why should automation screw the worker?  Wasn't the original idea of automation, of technology, to make people's lives easier, not harder?  Why shouldn't that benefit extend to the worker as well as the consumer.  If one worker is creating, because of automation,  four times the product, which is creating four times the profit, than he was thirty years ago, then that worker should be making four times as much.  In fact, he is making less in actual dollar value, because as the number of manufacturing jobs has decreased, because of automation, worker's desperation for those few remaining jobs have increased.  Workers are now willing to accept much lower salaries, in terms of real wages, even though their labor is contributing much more to the profits of their company.  

Here is my suggestion:  We create two jobs where there was one.  Now we have two workers working twenty hours a week, each one making twice as much as his counterpart from thirty years earlier and working half as much.  Why can't we do this?  Why does this seem absurd?  If having rampant unemployment and barely liveable wages while a select few are drowning in obscene, frivolous wealth; if that insanity is accepted as normal, why can't a twenty hour work week with a comfortable wage, comfortable enough to support a family that has enough time and enough security to have a happy life, why can't that be the norm?  Why isn't that the result of automation and technological advances instead of this pathetically skewed distribution of wealth?

Will this destroy corporations?  Of course not.  Do the math.  The corporation is still making more profit per worker than it was before and they now have a labor force that has the economic wherewithall and the leisure time to buy the goods and enjoy the services that the corporation produces.  Even crazy old Henry Ford tripled the wages of his factory workers when he realized how much better he would do when everyone could afford a Ford.

All of this can be done.  All of this is a rational way of doing things, but it will not get done, until we realize that this is what we need; until we stop blaming our unhappiness on people that are different in some way than we are, and focus on the real source of our unhappiness, which is the stranglehold that multi-national corporations and corporate structure and power are exerting on our lives, our freedom, our opportunities and our governments.

This is not a right or left issue.  This is a common sense issue.  This should be a priority for everyone who is not in that top 1% and for decent minded people who are in that top 1%.  When we have a political party that fights for that interest  then we will be able to effect real change without the necessity of bullying or race baiting, or religion baiting, or gender or sexual preference baiting.

Donald Trump says he is an outsider, that his only interest is in making America great again.  He and the Republicans might be able to lure a few corporations back to the U.S. with ridiculous tax cuts so that all the tax burden will be borne by people that are least able to afford it.  And that, I believe, more than the racism, the sexism, the homophobia and Moslemphobia, is why he got elected; people are so desperate for the return of manufacturing work that they are willing to  follow the Republicans and offer the coporations anything they want to get them back and, conversely,  they fear that the Democratic attempts to raise taxes on the wealthiest and most successful corporate profits will drive more job sources away.  

What we really need to do is level the playing field, so that we don't have to be that desperate for work.  Let's end multinational corporations.  Let's have a unified tax deal for all American corporations in all states so they cannot play one against the other, and let's all share in the fruits of technology so that we not only have more convenient gadgets, but that we all have to work less for more pay, and not be divided into a labor market that is either overworked and underpaid, or not able to find work at all.



"Harvard scientists think they've pinpointed the physical source of conciousness.  This is where our awareness lives.  Scientists have struggled for millennia to understand human consciousness - the awareness of one's existence.  Despite advances in neuroscience, we still don't really know where it comes from, and how it arises.
But researchers think they may have finally figured out its physical origins, after pinpointing a network of three specific regions in the brain that appear to be crucial to consciousness.  It's a pretty huge deal for what it means to be human, and it could also help researchers find new treatments for patients in vegetative states."
Fiona McDonald 8 Nov 2016

If this research leads to the ability to resuscitate patients from vegetative comas, that's great.  Their understanding of what it is that they are uncovering, however,  is entirely backwards.  They are not discovering the 'physical source of consciousnes.'  Consciousness is not physical and does not have a physical source. We live in an ocean of consciousness.  We are, in Milton's words,  the 'bright effluence of bright essence increate.'  

Something must have had no beginning, don't you think?  Scientists thought it was particles that were beginningless until they discovered the Big Bang which must have pre-dated, if only for a millisecond, the origin of particles.  Recently we have discovered that particles, at least on the subatomic level, only exist as a function of our perception of them.  When they are not being perceived they are wave potentials.  Potentials to do what?  To materialize into arrangements of seeming particles and in whatever appearance they occur to which ever living organism happens to be perceiving them.  One human perceives a tree as his tree, because it is located in his backyard.  Another person perceives the same tree as their neighbor's tree, and another, a visitor from far away, perceives that tree as an utterly exotic specimen that she has never encountered before.  Simultaneously, several birds perceive the tree as their home, thousands of insects perceive it as their neighborhood, and countless bacteria perceive it as the entire context of their lives including their search for nutrition and their struggle with threats to their existence.  Individual organisms are different ways of perceiving and experiencing the world and the physical world is wave potentials that will appear and mean a countless number of different things simultaneously depending on which organism is perceiving them.  

If the Big Bang was not preceded by consciousness, then how do we account for all the utterly precise and inter-related laws, all the utterly precise qualities of elements of matter, without which there would be no physical universe and, ultimately, no living organisms?  To say that the brain stem, or any part of the brain stem or the cortex is the 'origin' of consciousness, is exactly like saying that the ear is the 'origin' of sound waves, the eye is the 'origin' of light waves, and the nose is the 'origin' of air.  In a functional human being as in any functional animal, their brain is connected to consciousness; they receive consciousness; life is the filtering of consciousness through a particluar body/brain/genome.  

Until scientists realize this, and they won't realize it through research, but through search, through inner contemplation and the practice of slowing down thoughts until you can experience consciousness without the contents of consciousness; until they do that, they will continue regarding their research, much of which may have wonderful salutory effects, but they will continue to view this research completely backwards.  What they are trying to pin point and what they will be tinkering with is the receiver not the generator of consciousness.