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Dualistic delusions

19/08/2014

Looking back over this blog I realise I have only one thing to say. There is no real separation between the self and the rest of the universe. All distinctions between subject and object, self and other are necessarily arbitrary, inconsistent and ultimately contradictory.

This isn’t just something I ‘believe’ in the same way I believe the earth is roughly spherical or that we would be better off without the prison system. Rather it is something that has been obvious and immanent in my every waking moment since approximately 10pm on October 13, 2012. Unlike Ken Wilber I don’t dream non-dualistically. Or if I do I don’t remember it.

I still have lots of questions though. Like how to integrate my day to day behaviour with reality as I perceive it. How to live non-dualistically while still going about my tasks and interacting with my fellow human beings. I suspect if it’s possible at all it has something to do with sustaining mindfulness – at which I’m pretty lousy. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Just writing this blog requires a suspension of belief in what I know to be true. I must assume a separation between myself as the writer and you as the (hypothetical) reader in order to attempt communication I believe is neither possible nor necessary. However consistency is not a conceit I suffer from so …

Any attempt to draw a boundary between myself and everything else fails. If I believe I am my mind and my mind is purely a function of my brain then I might meet with the approval of some physicalists, neurologists and drug company reps but I must then externalise the effects the rest of the body has on my brain, that introduced substances have on my body, that my upbringing and genes have on me, that circumstances had on my parents conceiving me, etc, etc. If I think I am my beliefs then how do I disentangle myself from all the influences that led to that particular set of beliefs? If I think I’m my karma or my soul then what precisely is not my karma or my soul. No matter where I start it seems that any comprehensive ‘explanation’ of me must take in everything that has any influence on me all the way back to the Big Bang plus everything I have had an influence upon up until now and perhaps into the indefinite future. In other words, I am my entire universe. Chasing dualism just leads me to non-dualism.

That was simply a rationalisation of what I believe. It is not why I believe it. I can’t explain that in words at all because language incorporates precisely the divisions I don’t really believe in. The very notion of ‘why’ implies a separation of cause from effect that I just don’t buy. The concept of ‘I’ is just as misleading. You will find some poetry on this blog in which I make an attempt to allude to it, but I’m a lousy poet so I doubt it says anything to anyone who doesn’t already see things as do I. In fact I doubt any form of communication can do otherwise and if it does it is probably an assault on any self-perceived personal integrity the reader may possess. I have seriously upset a few people with one of my poems though so maybe I can communicate after all. If you want to violate someone with words, try writing about violation.

I could just remain silent and so avoid misrepresenting everything. Maybe that’s why  Ramana Maharshi said that silence is the ultimate reality. But silence says nothing and you already know that, don’t you? I know I do. So I guess I’ll just let my ego keep shouting to your ego that there is no ego.

I think Rene Descartes made several important errors. One was that he divided the self up into body and mind/soul then located the interface between them in the pineal gland. Subsequent research has failed to support him.

David Chalmers is a bit more careful than was Descartes. He posits that the self is divided up into the entirely deterministic physical brain-body and an independent consciousness which has no actual effect on how we behave. So his assertion cannot be refuted objectively, say by removing or neutralising a gland and observing any changes that may cause. I also find I am unable to refute it subjectively. Introspection leads me to believe that consciousness does impact my behaviour, though whether or not I was one of Chalmers’ p-zombies I would be unable to claim otherwise. At least he addresses the problem of subjective consciousness. Thinkers like Daniel Dennett and B.F. Skinner don’t even seem to have noticed its existence. Perhaps they are p-zombies.

It seems to me that if you are a dualist – if you believe that subject can be separated from object, self from other or that any other pair of opposites can exist independently and distinctly from each other – then it follows that you must believe in either determinism or free will. If you are a determinist your beliefs are of no consequence. They have been set in stone since the Big Bang and all your decisions – including decisions about what you believe – are illusory. If you believe in free will then every decision you make is a first cause which begins a new chain of cause and effect that goes on indefinitely. But how can you know which decisions are truly free and which are conditioned by the influence of others, your biology, upbringing, socio-economic status, etc unless you are able to draw a clear line between what is your self and what is not? How and where can you draw such a line?

Is self/other dualism the ultimate root of blame placing? The need to either find something external – a god, fate, or a convenient scapegoat such as your mother – to shift responsibility onto or, alternately, to self-flagellate with guilt by blaming yourself for everything. Both behaviours tend to reinforce the ego and thereby bolster your sense of separation from what is around you.

If you agree with Stephen Hawking regarding the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics and the chronological independence of the observer effect; or David Hume regarding the empirical nature of discernible reality; or Alan Watts regarding time and the myth of causality; or Adi Shankara regarding the identity of atman and brahman, then you may be non-dualist and know that the ‘ultimate first cause’ of everything is here and now. You and not-you. They are all the same thing. Everything is.

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13 Comments
  1. Delinquent Angel permalink

    My ol’ Teacher once said, if you can’t articulate your philosophy in
    25 words or less, it’s baggage.

    At approximately 10pm on October 13 2012, the Sun was in Libra,
    Moon in Virgo with Ascendant in Taurus. Jupiter in the sign of
    Gemini offers a line from the muse:

    Gem 17: “The head of health dissolved into the head of mentality”.

    True dinks,

    Have you read Descartes’ Bones yet?
    Any books by Prof David Tacey?

    Like

    • I got mine out in 14 words. Does that make it concise or half-baked?

      So why did you choose a line based on the position of Jupiter and not say, Mars, the Moon or the Sun?
      I also note there was a constellium in my sun sign at the time – as there was when I was born.
      Astrology is nonsense of course.

      I’ve read neither but I’m downloading Descartes Bones and will take a look. I don’t doubt Shorto’s assertion that Descartes was a bridge between Medieval and Enlightenment thinking but I’ll take a bit of convincing before I believe his work remains relevant for any but historical reasons.

      Descartes is walking down a Paris street when a scantily clad young lady approaches him. “Do you want a good time?” she asks. “I think not!”, replies the devout Catholic as he disappears in a puff of induction.

      Like

  2. Delinquent Angel permalink

    I agree. Modern natal astrology is nonsense, but it’s kinda fun
    and I like to hold myself against a good time in space.

    Well, wabi sabi, Jupiter said ‘look at moi, look at moi’ and anyone who
    has read Linda Goodman, knows that Jupiter blesses everything it touches,
    and it is ever so special when you get touched by the planet of hard
    knockers.

    On that day in October, Jupiter was opposite Eros and I like to season
    charts with a sprinkling of asteroids. Depending on your persuasion and
    preferences you can see Eros as the guy who didn’t like doing the deed
    with the lights on OR;
    one of the four loves C.S. Lewis wrote about: Storge, Philias, Eros & Agape.

    Good grief, why would the midnight ramblings of an early-16th century
    ihsomniac even be seen as having relevance. Funny about people who are
    seen as bridges though, they tend to have trolls underneath and are
    goat-crossings.

    Are you sure Descartes was a devout Catholic, sounds more like a
    Presbyterian to me?

    Like

    • Well I’m sure Descartes claimed to be a devout Catholic, but saying otherwise would have made things difficult for him in 17th Century France. Some of his contemporary critics accused him of being a closet atheist while more recent ones insist his philosophy is riddled with Catholic apologia.

      Like

      • Delinquent Angel permalink

        My bad, I had misread Descartes’ birth year as 1506 not 1596. (memo to self,
        eat more carrots)

        You are correct, one had to be conscious of one’s image in the 17th century.
        But, geez, have you had a Captain Cook at the wacky clothes they wore then?!

        How Paris ever established itself as the style & good taste capital of the world
        is what combobulates me. I digress.

        Descartes’ demise tells much about how a radical change in an established
        habitus (rising at dawn instead of sleeping past noon) can be a culture shock
        to the physical body.

        Location is everything, Descartes was at a preverbal stage of expressing
        concepts that were established and accepted in Oriental paradigms of health which
        still struggle to be received by the Western mind that is immersed in Hellenistic
        principles.

        It is unfortunate that the whole of Descartes work has been reduced to a one-liner
        “I think therefore I am”. Rather like how Clinton will go down on infamy for his
        one-liner “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.

        BTW, you wouldn’t happen to know where I can get in touch with Carlos Castaneda?

        Like

        • BTW, you wouldn’t happen to know where I can get in touch with Carlos Castaneda?

          Try the same hell Marlo Morgan is destined for.

          Like

        • Delinquent Angel permalink

          Shoot! I don’t have security clearance for that hell. Yet.

          Like

        • It’s easy to get in. Just find a little known culture that is under pressure from colonisation, make up a whole load of nonsense about it then sell that rubbish to gullible people as ‘ancient spiritual wisdom’.

          It’s important to invent a person or group allegedly from that culture who are impossible for anyone else to find who for no particular reason go to great trouble to initiate you into sacred rites and beliefs previously kept private for centuries or millenia. Naturally you will completely understand all the subtle meanings and principles underlying that wisdom, despite having no background that could give a basis for such understanding. It’s helped by the fact that the isolated and uncorrupted master(s) that teach you speak perfect US idiomatic English.

          Like

        • Delinquent Angel permalink

          Oh….so all the trouble I went to in learning to
          babble in Sindarin and Quenya was for nothing then?

          Fruit-loops.

          Like

  3. PeterJ permalink

    Very nice article ND. One thing. Descartes was ambiguous on the unity/division of mind and body. He seems to have concluded that they are both separated and unified, which would be consistent with your view. People tend to forget this, but Descartes makes himself clear. ‘Cartesian dualism’ is really neo-Cartesian, and not quite what he proposed.

    Like

    • Thanks for your kind words, PeterJ.

      You can call me ‘cabrogal‘. Or ‘michael’.

      BTW, did you know you’re the fifth person with the same name I have communicated with since I was in kindergarten (that I can recall)?
      Makes your email address seem a bit uncanny.

      Like

  4. Living non-dualistically is impossible if you ask me. Why bother thinking about it at all when you are born with this attribute.
    And why are you against the prison system exactly ?

    Like

    • Living non-dualistically is impossible if you ask me.

      Maybe that’s true. But it seems to me that some people manage it.
      Sometimes I wonder if everyone does it and the separateness I think I see in others is just a projection of my own. It often feels like my own ego is just a reaction to the egos of others so why wouldn’t the opposite be equally true?

      Is my empiricism just a projection of my solipsism? Or should that be the other way around?

      One feeling non-dualism leaves me with is that every attempt at communication – from a baby’s cries to a politician’s lies – is just dualism working its way out so the speaker can be free of it. That’s what I meant when I wrote “we speak of that which must be un-known”. Maybe karma is never really created, only discharged. The second law of thermodynamics personified ;).

      Why bother thinking about it at all when you are born with this attribute.

      Good question. Is birth the separation from which all others derive? Or are we taught it by that woman who points at us saying “Bububububa”, then at herself saying “Mamamamama”? Maybe toddlers seem so egotistical because the ego is still a new toy and they’re testing it out.

      Maybe I just want to live non-dualistically because I remain attached to egotistic concepts like ‘sincerity’ and ‘authenticity’.
      Or maybe it’s just because it feels so good. Am I just a nirguna junkie?

      And why are you against the prison system exactly ?

      A few years back I was writing page after page trying to explain that, but I don’t know if I ever did.
      I guess it’s mostly because it’s nasty, it costs a lot and it doesn’t work.

      Of the generally stated reasons for prisons – to deter crime, to make the community safer (or feel safer), to rehabilitate offenders and to punish – the only thing they actually do is punish. As the Thatcher government white paper on the UK prison system puts it “Prisons are an expensive way to make bad people worse” – though in my experience prisoners are no more ‘bad’ than most people and probably not as bad as those who put them there.

      And how can I be free while others are locked away?
      Walls have two sides you know.

      Like

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