Saturday, 20 June 2015

Nietzsche Tells A Truth ...

 Nietzsche being both a truth-teller and depressing ...

" ... ever since there have been human beings there have also been human herds (family, groups, communities, tribes, nations, states, churches), and always very many who obey compared with the very small number of those who command - considering, that is to say, that hitherto nothing has been practised and cultivated among men better or longer than OBEDIENCE, it is fair to suppose that as a rule a need for it is by now innate as a kind of FORMAL CONSCIENCE which commands: 'Thou shalt not unconditionally do this, unconditionally not do that, in short 'Thou shalt''.

" This need seeks to be satisfied and to fill out its forms with a content: in doing so it grasps about wildly, according to the degree of its strength, impatience and tension, with little discrimination, as a crude appetite, and accepts what any commander - parent, teacher, law, class prejudice, public opinion - shouts in its ears."

From Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

21 Libertarian Propositions about the World and Individuation

1. There is an underlying reality whose true nature we cannot know.

2. We construct our world through more or less effective manipulation of signs or symbols for things.

3. The most effective form of sign and symbol manipulation is science expressed as technology (the actual manipulation of matter for proven effect) but other manipulations include arts that manipulate the signs and symbols themselves and which manipulate the minds of others.

4. Technological change and individual creativity and needs have an iterative effect on the signs and symbols inherited from generation to generation of persons through tradition. All culture is thus contingent.

5. Each person is faced with a world of signs and symbols that have not been chosen by them but have been given to them. In this sense, ‘they have not chosen their parents’. This world of given signs and symbols continues to impose values on them at every moment of their existence.

6. Each person has an underlying reality of bio-physical processes for which signs and symbols are necessary in order to function in the world.

7. Each person struggles between self-generated signs and symbols on the one hand, making use of what is given, and signs and symbols given to them in the interest of others. Each calibrates himself or herself between the two in order to function in the world.

8. Individuation is right calibration but the signs and symbols of the world are dysfunctional in this context to the degree that they are not ordered either in relation to scientific principles or not calibrated with the biological reality of the person as a mind embedded in a body and a history.

9. Signs and symbols may be very functional for society in the aggregate yet be dysfunctional in relation to nature or the individual – it is a political act to demand that signs and symbol manipulation accord with discovered nature and with individual aspiration or need.

10. A poorly calibrated society is one in which signs and symbols are not calibrated with technological and natural phenomena (i.e. are revealed or traditional religion) or with the signs and symbols of choice of free persons (i.e. are totalitarian or ideological).

11. The signs and symbols of the person are dysfunctional to the degree that they are not in alignment with the needs of the biological person in its form of consciousness at any one time.

12. In order for individuation to take place, the biological person needs to create signs and symbols that express its own reality but which are still in accord with the technological and natural reality of the world in which it inhabits.

13. A poorly calibrated person is one who either accepts the signs and symbols of a society without calibrating these with his own ‘true nature’ (‘repression’) or one whose personal signs and symbols are disconnected from natural or technological reality (’madness’).

14. A person who does not accept the signs and symbols of society but is in accord with natural or technological reality is not mad – society is mad under such conditions.

15. A society is repressive if it accords with natural or technological reality yet refuses to accept the right of persons to calibrate their own signs and symbols within that reality.

16. There is nothing universal in the process of calibration. Society is contingent and persons are contingent in space and time. Finding the universal as sign or symbol for individuation is a contradiction in terms, an abnegation and a determination by the individual to choose signs and symbols that are disconnected from underlying material realities.

17. This is not to say that there is nothing that is not ‘universal’ but whatever is universal and is not scientific is beyond the human and is unknowable - to claim to know is to promote an illusion.

18. It is a presumption to think that any mind can escape a world of contingent signs and symbols. A temporary but possibly transformative discovery of one’s own reality (but not that of the universe) is the most that transcendent strategies can achieve – such strategies may tell you nothing about the universe but a great deal about yourself.

19. All persons are equal in their right to their own construction of signs and symbols even if some are more able to do so than others. All societies are oppressive to the degree that they dictate the acceptance of signs and symbols that are not scientific facts of matter. Religion and culture are not facts of matter. They cannot be rightfully dictated.

20. The greater the number of signs and symbols in a society, the greater the choice for individuals and the more language there is available for individuation. Individuation can only take place in a free society in which religion and culture are tools for (and not the masters of) individuals.

21. The three platforms of individuation are:

• Understanding all things as contingent and not universal
• Understanding the ultimate material base to all consciousness
• Seeing individuation as a process or calibration in relations between the given and the chosen

Cultural Evasion - Sacralising Sexuality

I have suggested in previous postings that the attempt to take language and conceptualisation from a traditionalist culture (such as South Asian) into a modernised and modernising one was more likely to obfuscate than enlighten. On the other hand, I suggested that traditionalist cultures had a great deal of a practical nature to teach us about techniques for personal development. The problem here is that the West’s tendency is either to dismiss non-Western thinking entirely as non-scientific, or even dangerous if mishandled, or to turn it into a fetish by adopting the forms of a tradition but not investigate the deep meaning of the thinking involved with a philosophical eye.

The classic case study is Neo-Tantra where the use of sexual activity for personal transformation on an occasional and highly disciplined basis linked to a very traditionalist vision of society has been transformed into a sort of couple guidance therapy for confused liberal adults. These ‘followers’ persist in using Sanskrit names, about which most must have limited understanding, to act as cover and excuse for something for which there should be no cover or excuse at all – good sex between willing adults.

The sacralisation of sexuality is getting out of hand. One of the reasons for this is that sexually healthy Westerners, especially women, constantly have to make excuses in our prevailing culture for having a perfectly healthy or business-like attitude to what is often a risky (though less so today than at any time in history) but otherwise highly pleasurable, amusing and very creative activity. Having to engage in personal relations with a ‘blessed be’ or a ‘namaste’ in tow is a back-handed compliment to the dominant repressive culture. It takes open attitudes to the body and sexuality (and to transgression that harms no one) and puts them into a box that contains the libido as far away from the ‘normal’ world as is possible in a free society.

This containment process uses ritual and strange language forms in order to make a high price of entry to anyone who wants to express themselves openly but without the ritual baggage. It is self censorship with sacral sub-cultures doing the system's work for it. ‘Conventional’ culture, outside these ‘sacred’ models to which we might add Thelema and many others, then throws healthy sexuality into two challenging pots – the ‘normal’ which avoids the subject altogether and ‘swinger’ or ‘fetish’ sub-cultures where identity is sexual and little more. True sexual normality is avoided in every way possible – conventional, sacral or sub-cultural.

Those who lose themselves in ritualised separation are not to be condemned or blamed for this at all. As we have seen from the sheer effort required to expose something that was an ‘absolute wrong’ yet protected by conventional attitudes to the inconvenient truth (priestly child abuse), those with a radical or free sexuality, having seen previous waves of liberation crushed by material reality and cultural conformity, have every reason to create closed self-protective societies. In this, they are like early Reformation reformers faced with the sheer weight of Catholic cultural power. The excessive sacralisation of sexuality in mock-traditional clothing liberates in one direction only to create psychological bondage in another.

The Early Reformation analogy is a good one. The Reformers rebelled against the Church but only within some of the same assumptions about the existence of God on peculiarly Christian magical lines and men were killed over transubstantiation in a way that now seems absurd. A genuine revolution against deist obscurantism only seriously took hold in the eighteenth century and saw equal status for conventional God-worshippers and more relaxed and indifferent others (and then only in the most advanced communities in the world which still do not include those of the American backwoods) in the last fifty or so years.

You still do not get much a choice in the matter across the bulk of the Islamic world or, if you accept communism as a world religion, where Communists rule. Our current revolution in sexuality is still operating on Judaeo-Christian assumptions redrafted in the forms of nature religion and traditionalism. It has still to break free and become a non-essentialist and humanist response to the scientific understanding of the merging of brain and body. Let us concentrate on just one concept that has migrated from the East to the West – Kundalini, the coiled bodily energy allegedly positioned at the base of the spine that is analogous to the source of libido in the West, unconscious and instinctive.

This energy, which some of us feel more than others, was placed in the Western brain by scientists at the beginning of the last century but is now seen to be as much operative in the flow of chemicals throughout the body as in some free-floating unconscious.  The South Asians literally embodied this force, with great imagination, as a snake or as a goddess. The force is Shakti and it comes into play when Shiva and her consort make love. We (as humans) repeat with appropriate reverence this divine coupling when we make love. It is an approach to 'spiritual experience' deliberately abandoned by the Christian priesthood.

But this is not going to be a polemic against the New Age appropriation of the idea of Kundalini or against the simplicities of Neo-Tantra. On the contrary, the arrival of every new idea has to be seen in its context – what purpose did it serve that made it attractive? The arrival of bastardised forms of South Asian thinking have proved a powerful liberating half-way house between a previous state – in which Judaeo-Christian mentality wholly disembodied libido – and a future state in which (thanks more to the slow process of scientific discovery than revelation) libido and embodiment require no special rationale but are seen as two sides of the same coin of simple human ‘being’.

One of the great questions here, because Kundalini is described in goddess and snake terms, is whether art or imagination hinders or helps true understanding. I would contend that, where there is no materialist or scientific language for what we ‘know’ from introspection or experience (but which a whole culture insists on denying), art and imagination have to come into force to avoid total dessication of the soul. But sometimes art or imagination can become neurotic, obfuscate and cause us to avoid the truths that scientific investigation reveals. So it is with sexuality and Kundalini. The reality of Kundalini is ignored in one culture (the West) but then turned into a goddess or sleeping serpent in the other (the East).

The latter is an improvement on the former but it is not ‘truth’ and it gives excessive power to priests and gurus and teachers who allegedly interpret the signs and symbols of the practice. The point being that the central lesson of Kundalini thinking is that it must be a release from signs and symbols. In a traditional society, the language of signs and symbols are less easy to escape than in a modern society precisely because we have so many of them. We have so much choice that we can be cavalier about their importance and being cavalier about signs and symbols is the first step towards rejecting them to ‘find oneself’. Simply replacing one set of signs and symbols with another – as in Neo-Tantra – misses the point.

The truths in Kundalini are perhaps best understood in terms of ‘visualisation’ – the ability to master the body through the systematic use of imagination (which involves focusing down on signs and symbols in order to eliminate them) is analogous to the rational mental modelling used to master one’s immediate social environment. The self and society are interlocked through body. The body encases the physical systems that underpin the emotion and instincts that interpret perception and make the paradigms of thought. The body is also the tool by which the mind communicates both directly and through social signs to others.

The body, in short, is central to the flow from mind to society and from society to mind. Social control of the body is a means of controlling the mind and mental command of the body liberates one from enslavement to others. Disembodied mind (especially when infected by pure reason) is useless in managing society effectively. The body in its animal state cannot have any form of meaningful consciousness, let alone a ‘spiritual’ one. The coil that is Kundalini sits at the core of the sacrum bone. This, in itself, is significant. It is where our ‘gut’ meets the ground when we sit, rested. Our feet connect to the ground, of course, but our feet connect in action and action is our working on the world, our social self.

When we think we sit - just as we lie down to sleep and lose ourselves in our unconscious dreams at the other end of the awareness spectrum. Sitting places the base of the spine close to the ground. In the visualisation, we uncoil ourselves from our base in matter, not accidentally closest to the point where we exude matter in defecation, in a series of stages up to the highest experience of being within the mind itself. The process of unravelling self from ground to mind can presuppose what that ground is (all matter is much the same at core) but cannot presuppose how the expression of self will develop though to the final state of alleged ‘pure consciousness’ which seems also to be much the same at core whoever experiences it.

The variability of imaginative meanings for Kundalini matches the variability in selves so that the libidinous truly represents only one type of mind that is of equal value to the mind whose highest method is thinking and another whose method already implies the sense of being ‘at one’ with all things as pure consciousness from the beginning. The common denominator is that the highest state of possible being is one where a person recognises themselves as integrated with matter as matter-consciousness even if some are deluded into thinking that they have become pure consciousness (as if the mind can ever actually detach itself from the body).

Does pineal gland activation have some link to the sense of heightened awareness associated with reality (confirming an intuition of Descartes)? The research is unclear but the scientific exploration of ‘spiritual states’ is still in its infancy - some of it indicates that “the practice of meditation activates neural structures involved in attention and control of the autonomic nervous system.” The physiological basis of spiritual states seems increasingly likely to be demonstrated as biochemically connected without in the least diminishing the importance and value of those states.

The self-awareness of matter-consciousness arises ultimately and only from the manipulation of matter in stages - not always through conscious mastery of the body but also (as in the tantric or shamanistic approaches) through the employment of different aspects of the body, moving stage by stage until that aspect of the body that is mind-without-social-signs-and-symbols can come into play. A combination of visualisation and the awareness of the different aspects of the body can become the means to experience the body-mind as far from its social creation as is possible. The mind is not detached from matter at all but only from the signification of the social which is presumed to be matter because it is based on matter (which is not quite the same thing).

Indeed, against all doctrine, it might be said that the final stage of awareness is as much pure matter as pure consciousness. It is not a stance that we can hold for long without a large peasantry servicing our needs or a very modern leisure economy – there were good socio-economic reasons for the turning away from sacral ideas in modernity: they become inutile, unnecessary. The full range of techniques to be desacralised are varied – meditation, breath control, physical movement, chanting. I have privileged visualisation only because this is the technique that is most conscious of the breadth of symbols that surround us and which will detach us from our own matter-mind best, not by isolating the brain into one set of symbols (such as sound or patterned image) but by developing a narrative of symbols that shift and change to reduce phenomenal noise.

All techniques may have the ultimate effect of detaching us from a world made up of signs and symbols and attuning us with our own inner matter as refined ‘consciousness’. Both alchemical analogies of moving from base lead to gold and various Gnostic formulations spring to mind. The difficulty lies when we detach a convenient tradition from the scientific basis to the process. The ‘shaktipat’ (blessing) of the Siddha-Guru may be regarded as a signal of permission to begin but there is no reason why, after a commitment arising from oneself, one might not bless oneself, give oneself permission, if you like, to exist.

Injunctions on purification and strengthening of the body might equally be seen as a discipline of detachment – a removal of distractions in order to concentrate on the job at hand and it should need no funny little rituals if the mind is aligned properly. The aim is to ‘sense’ the energy move from sacral bone to crown of the head and the metaphor of unification of the goddess with the Lord Shiva of Creation is only a metaphor of apparent unity of personal matter-consciousness. The profound illusion that the mind is one with the greater matter-consciousness of the Absolute is a physiological one but the illusion does not matter. The transformative power of the experience is what matters.

Far from not being a physical matter (as Eastern adepts insist), the final moment is the ultimate physical occurrence where we use ‘consciousness’ to describe only a state of a matter that we have not described before. It is not the world that is the illusion (except insofar as the signs and symbols of social intercourse are an illusory shell over very real matter) but our own pretensions. In gnosis, our mind is physically enabled to see things and to make connections that mere rational thought does not permit. If this is gnosis’, it is gnosis of a higher state of matter that embodies a consciousness of a more sophisticated nature, detached from phenomenal distractions. The state of being that arises – repeated in its attributes amongst people from many different cultures – is ‘gnosis’ of oneself and one’s place in the world and it tells us nothing about an Absolute which remains unknowable.

To experience this state of being and to allow oneself to wallow in its illusion is to misuse the experience. Its purpose is to re-ground us in the world, giving us a more critical understanding of the reality of the world that has been presented to us as real but is actually based on perceptions of underlying reality that are so often given to us rather than chosen by us. Similarly, despite the fears of ‘experts’ at the dangers of this sort of thinking, it is wonderfully democratic in its potential – once the priests and gurus have been put in their feudal place, modern man can make eclectic use of these techniques and others to develop a critical stance to authority and the ‘given’ without becoming lawless.

The energy derived is natural (in the original culture, Shakti is also Prakriti which is associated with the idea of nature) and as much a part of the world of science as the building of an aeroplane. The base of the experience is the formlessness of all of our past, including forgotten things that make our habits what they are. The start of the visualisation process requires an engagement with the fact of the unconscious, the deep well of rubbish that is ourselves as constructed by others. From that simple truth, the serpent uncoils, forcing its away up - unless impeded by a fearful conscious will. Even amongst the scientific papers, you can sometimes sense the fear of the rational mind at what this thinking might do to their world of signs and symbols.

The principle is also feminine for only accidental cultural reasons. It is a principle in defiance of order and the order of society is presented as a male principle. It suits the male who is an adept to see the principle as operating against his given nature which is male and it is no accident that the final stage has the principle of the feminine uncoiling and then bumping against a masculinised Absolute. This, in itself, should make us cautious about the tradition as it is promoted in the West because the energy does have libidinous and erotic aspects and does involve coupling of sorts and yet it might be considered in other ways by other minds. The sexuality involved though is 'normal' - a means to an outcome.

Nor is there anything inevitable in nature about the process. The normal mode of being in the world is actually to avoid questioning and to embed one’s self in given signs and symbols. Only a few people, often because of an edgy dissatisfaction about the given world, feel obliged to start a search for ‘meaning’ (in itself a futile search except in the performing). It requires much hard work and some risk in terms of social benefits to pursue something that may be a necessity for some (and so ‘natural’) but by no means for all. There are no intrinsic impulses in nature, only in some persons. The particular association of the sexual and spiritual, for example, is a private one (even when such practices involve groups engaged in experimentation) but all methods have in common a sense of increasing internal unification based on a ‘working’ of the libido and the body. Jung seems to have grasped this better than most in seeing the process as one, essentially, of individuation.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Frontiers 3 - Time & Reality

We have covered the probable drive to explore and quasi-colonise the solar system during the coming decades and the search for exo-planets that may, one day, in the very distant future be colonisable. It may seem odd now to consider two abstract concepts - time and reality - as possible frontiers. In practical day-to-day terms, we live in sufficient reality to serve our purposes and we experience time in a shared social setting. The frontier nature of time and reality is often, for most people, the realm at the further reaches of speculative fiction. And yet the conceptual search by physicists and cosmologists, perhaps also by imagineers in speculative fiction, is a cultural frontier of immense importance.

Einstein famously introduced the idea of a space-time that precluded any single and objective definition of simultaneity. This relativism has not yet worked its full way back through our culture as a relativism about reality itself. Yes, of course, there has been a form of widespread post-modern cultural relativism but this evades the issue. Social reality imposed by one prevailing order into which persons fitted was replaced in post-modern environments with a fragmentation that created many social fictions where there had only been one. The effect was to create a half-way house of identity politics and cultural relativism between the world of monocultures, ruling whole territories and suppressing dissent, and the reality of reality which is that individuals construct their own personal realities out of the shared reality of really existing material reality. This is now a world where the individual can believe what it is necessary for them to believe and have a structure of reality that is as unique as their fingerprint and yet one which can only be materially functional if it accords with the laws of physics that limit every social reality that has ever existed. No magical culture has fed its people through using magic alone.

The most interesting tension in this respect is between the magical thinking of human beings and material reality. The individual who is a magical thinker certainly cannot fly without the help of the technologist but vast tracts of experience can be made to fit into a magical model. While the technologists and scientists drive one frontier - the one that makes matter utile and more knowable - the magically-minded are driving another frontier - the one that can make life livable. The realities that are being squeezed between the two are those constructed out of the collapse of geographically centred dissent-resisting monocultures. The idea that monocultures can be collapsed into sets of identity without going further and seeing each individual as a self-transforming contained creator of their own reality who subverts (in time) the identity cultures as they once subverted the monocultures is the cultural frontier of our time. What we see is massive human variation emerging in ways that are not just creatively anarchic but potentially dangerous since the destructive outliers within the variation who understand technology can become murderous in their intent. They may desire to create, reversing the process moving from monocultural social reality to the realities of autonomous individuals, a culture of malignity finding and merging with like-minded malign individuals. Thus not only are socially constructed realities broken down into their components but new social constructions of reality arise out of those components, often for brief periods of time, making use of the instabilities of the current communications revolution. Nothing like this has appeared before in history.

The investigative frontier that is the scientific or philosophical investigation of time and reality (and space) has helped create this world of Heraclitean flux but the individual and bottom up social constructions involved highly volatile. In themselves they depend on belief, which may include unthinking belief in the claims of philosophers and scientists and on interpretations of what are thought to be those claims even if the scientists and philosophers have actually claimed nothing of the sort. A speculation which is logical or rational becomes detached from the original reasoning process to become a claim that becomes the basis for fear, hope, speculation, the struggle for status or resources - indeed, all those things that make us human-all-too-human. We see a lot of this in the disconnect between sober assessment of existential risk and the massive levels of apocalyptic hysteria to be found amongst the dimmer frightened rabbits who latch on to environmentalist or transhumanist movements. Rushing around like 'chicken-licken', they can make no sober assessment of either the original claim nor of the actuality of scientific method as hypothesis nor critique the use of a claim by special interests. They are, in short, at the frontier of human stupidity.

Einstein suggested that the passage of time itself is a fiction. This fictionalisation of reality is another factor that we have to take account of in describing ourselves as being at a cultural frontier as wild as the American West in its hey-day. It is our limitation, as a material creature existing as an autonomous unit within material reality, that constructs our perception of reality out of our senses and out of the structure of remembrance and of experience, created in turn out of our past sense experiences and possibly our genetics and somatics. We are stuck in a perceived reality, even as individual components, of all these social and material realities, one that is highly volatile but which we also know is uncomfortably contingent philosophically. Whatever it is we experience (Reality I) is known now not to be the reality of the external world in all its forms (Realities II, III and so on). Beyond all these realities, there is the reality of that which can never be known and which the most advanced cosmologists and physicists explore through pure number - merely creating a mathematical reality that may still have nothing to tell us about an Ultimate Reality which may not, in the end, be there at all.

The next frontier, I would suggest, is the cultural unravelling of the last true determinism - mathematical determinism - and even perhaps of the magical thinking behind accepting that cause and effect are necessarily absolutely true rather than true in our reality. This does not mean that magic is real - this is most unlikely - but only that the cultural frontier that appears to be dominated by number and logic at the high point of scientific culture, one that will get us to the stars one day (perhaps), is now justifiably capable of being critical of the ultimate reality of number and logic and so offering the opportunity to challenge its claims at those points of human existence where their technical use becomes meaningless. As the scientists try to move ever deeper into existence and into the conscious mind (expressed in advanced neuroscience), so the philosophical uncovering of the impossibility of knowing very much outside our own world carves out a subversive space that undermines science's implicit suggestion of meaning other than as an efficacious way of providing the basis for doing things in the world. If we do not want or need to do things in the world, then we do not need science quite as much as we thought. Increasing numbers of people may find it useful to stop doing and start dreaming solipsistically or in cultic shared dreams (or at least with the illusion, perhaps through shared ritual, in the existence of the shared dream).

This is the challenging aspect of the case. Let us return to Einstein who is said to have said (you can never tell with these quotations): "People like us, who believe in physics [note that word 'believe'], know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion". The uncertainties of science flip the mind from the clinical atheism of traditional materialism into a form of stubborn pseudo-theology in which speculation based on the intellectual perception of reality reintroduces magical thinking by the back door - this is as contrary to the expectations of three decades ago as feminists working with faith-based groups to control sex work or Pope Francis courting another religious group, the 'scientific' environmentalists, to win his debates on stem cell research. Meanwhile those who embed themselves in the simple business of being human and constructing their reality out of the business of being human in the world, perceiving reality as something lived, tend to materialism and atheism as pragmatic realities that allow life to be better lived on a day to day basis between birth and death. The tendency of an element of the scientific community to discover naively deism, spirituality, transhumanism, eschatology, meaning and platonic wonder (all the flummery of deep anxiety) contrasts with the ordinary Joe's increasingly happy abandon of religion in favour of pleasure and experience. It is as if the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century is going into reverse in the Twenty First century at one level just as (in the developed world) the masses are finally discovering the sheer freedom of not having a priest or a magistrate breathing down their backs at another.

But one frontier is absolute. The present, which is just the remembrance of the nano-past while a finely honed somatic machine wards off threats and seeks out opportunities, cannot become the future and the past cannot be experienced but merely remembered as in the past - as a present remembrance. We live in a perpetual present where the past is simply the accumulated historic tool box of past presents and the future is a set of guesses that relies on material reality being predictable and social reality being probabilistic. The arrow of time is the sea in which we swim and there is no cultural work that can counteract this reality, no frontier at all, except speculative imaginings that paradoxically can only take place in the presents of the individuals concerned. That these speculative imaginings can now include the complexities of quantum mechanics changes nothing about the actuality of this presentism moving in one direction, even when remembering, even when in altered states. The perception is thus, once again, at odds with the material reality. We have the basis for belief starting in the very difficulty of accepting presentism as at the core of our being. Once we take our present recalling as the past and our speculations about the future as the future, we have created a past and a future and from there we have the imaginative basis for theory, ideology and religion. We are made human by our utter refusal not to invent complex realities moment from moment, building on the substrate of past experience and its predictive capacity as an evolved tool for survival.

Once we understand this, whereas making a spacecraft that can divert asteroids is a frontier, speculation about the nature of time and reality is not quite such a frontier at all. The frontier is billions of consciousnesses taking advanced and creative speculations about time and reality, incorporating them (literally insofar as the mind is embedded in the body) and constructing reality present by present in seven billion muted solipsisms embedded in a social reality that allows each component to feed off the others and feed the others in an excess of mutual vampirism. That is the frontier. We are vampires of the real, sucking the life force of the past to create the future through our presentism.

Intellectually the idea of the arrow of time as simply an emergent phenomenon arising out of a unified bloc of space time and of quantum physics strikes me as 'logical' and probably 'true' but it is irrelevant if the only thing we, as humans, can experience is presentism within the arrow, a state of being in which the arrow permits us the illusion (which is now a reality because we are constructed to convert it into a reality) of participation in the arrow of time ... which, of course, therefore exists. The experienced world may be less 'true' in one version of reality than the unified bloc but it is more 'true' in terms of what really matters. This is our own existence in the world - indeed, after all, if it has no use-value, one starts to ask why we are so engaged with constructing an understanding of the reality outside ourselves, especially when only very few humans are mathematically mentally fitted to even come close to understanding what it is they are later going to want to popularise and which the 'educated' public will take on trust with the same trust in the authority of the scientist that they once had in the authority of the priest. There is little functional difference in this trust even if we have very good reason to believe that the scientist is inherently more intellectually trustworthy than the priest. The trust, however, is relativistic and should not be accepted as absolute.

What the intellectual modelling of theoretical physics is tending towards, in terms of cultural belief, is a subtle undermining of the degree to which we can know anything for sure about or within complex systems, a move towards acceptance of the unknowability of other minds and, more debatably, one towards acceptance of the contingency of human existence and non-acceptance of any meaningful form of mental survival after termination. It also operates in favour of free will and against determinism insofar as it may be feasible that the evolved consciousness of the human being operates with a quantum unpredictable aspect. Tiny unpredictable quantum events may conceivably randomly change the things that happen in the material world of which we are part - or not! It can reasonably be argued that we are so embedded in the material world that a simpler model of cause and effect necessarily applies to us and that quantum effects would be so miniscule as to be meaningless in such lumpy creatures as ourselves. The doubt has been sown however - cultural leadership passes from the predictive assumptions of Calvinists and Hegelians to the dodgier game played by slippery Pelagians and Existentialists. This is not to say that the quantum world is not just an extension of an overall materiality in which we are all embedded but only that, whether we term things to be quantum or even spiritual, in fact they are still part of the same damn material continuum. So there we have it ... the frontier of time and reality is not to be found in the work being done to create new knowledge of time and reality but how we use these fictions to construct society and ourselves. Whatever we are in fifty years (the non-dead ones of us at least) will be partly dictated by the myths currently being created by the scientific-magicians at the farthest ends of such speculation.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Contribution of the Eastern Religions

This posting is by way of a footnote within a series of philosophical notes (covering spirituality, issues of personal identity, ontology and free will). The question has been raised in discussion elsewhere whether the influence of the Eastern religions, central to the creation or elucidation of the 'existentialist cast of mind', was any better than those religions that personalised God in promoting the ‘death instinct’ (the abnegation of our own matter-consciousness) at the expense of the affirmation of life.

My interest here is only in the Vedantic-Buddhist tradition. Nothing that is said is intended to detract from the pragmatic use-value of the tradition for persons and societies now or in the past or to make claims about its (or indeed Judaeo-Christian or Islamic) ‘truth-value’. The issue of the ‘truth’ of a religion has already been covered and is considered by us to be meaningless but often useful. For something to be useful to us does not require it to be true in any absolute sense.

Too much can be made of the East/West dichotomy. After all, in the Indian tradition, there is a Supreme God in Brahma. Some traditions within South Asian culture make this Godhead personal even if the Buddhist strain then spins off into another dimension altogether. The point is that, in the continuum from the Jewish God through Brahma to Nirvana, despite the differences that made Pope John Paul II write so negatively of the influence of Buddhist thinking on the West, all have in common the submission of ourselves to a construction of meaning out of Raw Existence that represents a cast of mind which, whether filled with Christian hope or Buddhist withdrawal, places responsibility for being what one is firmly within a shared vision of Existence that is ultimately social and not truly individual.

I appreciate that this is not what appears to be the case in Buddhism but Buddhist abnegation is embedded in tradition and tradition is, by definition, social and not individual. In this posting, I want to pinpoint two things that we must avoid in dealing with the influence of the East (in this greater context) and explore what we can learn more positively from that influence.

The first thing to avoid is the narrative of decline. In this narrative, once a commonplace in the West but superseded by an equally naive belief in progress, we have lived through successive ages in a cycle of existence that represents decline from a Golden Age. We are now, it would seem, in the Kali Yuga or final Iron Age and can merely await the final cataclysm after which, we are told to hope, humanity will return to a Golden Age (which, of course, is actually perfectly meaningless to you and me because we certainly will not live to see it unless we believe in reincarnation). The literature on apocalypse and hope is wide and includes the radical Christian apocalyptic strain that would see not merely the fall from the Garden of Eden as one book end to the narrative but the end to the age of sinfulness in an apocalypse as the other. To some radical American evangelical groups, the ‘saved’ would be translated directly to Heaven and the rest would wallow in death, pain and suffering.

Although Nietzsche adopted the myth of the eternal return for metaphysical purposes, we have suggested elsewhere that the only metaphor that captures the most credible idea of a really existing God in the creation of our world (as opposed to all other possible worlds in space-time) is that of Its ‘deliberate’ suicide (the nearest we get to a Fall) into undifferentiated matter and ‘potential-for-consciousness’ from which small sparks of matter-consciousness (ourselves) emerge after billions of years of things and processes bumping and grinding into each other in a rather wasteful but nevertheless counter-entropic way until we (and probably other intelligences) come into existence.  This is not to say that there was a conscious intelligence that kick-started the chaos from which order arises or that such an alleged intelligence has any meaning for us but only that, whatever metaphor we use, the conclusion is not one of decline and entropy alone but of increasing complexity causing intelligence and consciousness, albeit in a wasteful way with many dead-ends, and emerging in counterpoint to material entropy.

Whatever narrative might emerge to feed the social order and to allay the despair of societies with limited resources, relying on false hope to get us through the day or to sustain the power of some over others, the best narrative that fits the facts of the matter is a progressive one. This is one of the very slowly increasing intelligence and awareness of individuals (not excluding aliens on faraway planets). The conditions of the best today are significant improvements in terms of the sophistication of matter-consciousness, compared with the state of matter-consciousness (our humanity) in the past. Getting depressed about our cruelty and stupidity as Ardrey's 'risen apes' misses the point that, apes though we may be, we have actually risen considerably in the last 10,000 years or so.

This 'rising' is not the same as increasing ‘happiness’. Happiness can exist just in not being aware of not being happy - much as a well-fed animal might live in the present. The Buddhist might reinterpret this as that tranquillity that removes all the future causes of unhappiness, including those transient states of pleasure that consciousness will remember with regret or become anxious about in expectation or desire. The alleged happiness of the animal (unconscious of threat until it is eaten or dies alone shivering of fever or old age in a pile of leaves) is what underlies the myth of the Garden of Eden and the Golden Age. It is both false (insofar as animals shift themselves under the influence of primal drives from contentment to hunger and fear of depredation much as we do) and the core of that cast of mind that turns away from life – abnegation again.

The determination not to face the pain of existence and the emotions that accompany existence is what underpins faith and its constructions, a way of thought that also has as its purpose, the building up of a workable society in which pain is a given and emotions must be mastered.  There is nothing wrong with this as ‘magic’ in the sense of spells designed to hold oneself and society together but its later sophistication at the hands of philosophers and intellectuals should not be exaggerated. Religion is always built on the sand of fear and anxiety (with a leavening dash of mystic ekstasis for some).

This leads us to consider the second ‘insight’ of the East that the Golden Age is an age of ‘piety’ and of adherence to standards of law, duty and truth (the concept of ‘dharma’). The religious cultures of the West have a similar belief in divinely sanctioned right order and for similar reasons. At this point, we must not be deflected into Marxist or similar radical critiques of religion as a tool that is being used to maintain the social power of the few over the many. Such critics seem to imply that the process of submission is deliberate but the revolutionaries, from Robespierre to the personality cults of the heirs of Stalin, inevitably find that they need some religion-substitute to maintain themselves in power. The response is instinctive.

The habit of submission is intrinsic to humanity. It has been so for most people for most of human history and the obligation has probably been worn lightly and often cynically – true believers in ideas are generally a minority of humanity under normal conditions. As we see in a modern free culture, left to ourselves we tend to believe collectively in many impossible things at the same time and as individuals some of us are quite capable of shifting belief with our conditions of life. Belief is a social phenomenon and is not often a gnosis from contemplation – even if it is the latter, the result can only be communicated within given cultural language so that mystics with similar experiences can develop Judaeo-Christian or Islamic or Buddhist or Shamanistic narratives in communicating what is essentially the same human phenomenon. Such diversity argues against truth.

The religious impulse is thus towards a conservative assessment of progress (that we are in decline) and to the solidification and elaboration of tradition is part of the fear of life that we have noted elsewhere. It is not bad intrinsically but it is not ‘true’ even if these sclerotic systems are best not over-turned (as the Communists demonstrated) lightly. If the idea of the ‘kali yuga’ is best left to natural miserabilists (of which there are many) and the idea of ‘dharma’ (and their Western cognates) is best left to fearful conservatives, then what (other than the proven psychotherapeutic effects of belief) can we best learn from the East if we want to abandon the negative attitude to life.

How can we experience, without illusion, our natural will as a process constantly moving forward socially and individually until brain decay sets in or until material resources run out? How can we negotiate claims that, without narcissism, are greater than those of the society in which an individual is embedded? The existentialist cast of mind is not anti-social or optimistic (since the first is asking to be crushed and the second to have no basis in the facts of existence) but it is still individualist, radical, liberal and an affirmation of life and will against pessimism. Its social conservatism is more apparent than real – a scepticism of new forms of belief that may move us along a notch as social consciousness but which will contain all the hallmarks of traditional systems in another form. No better examples could be chosen than Marxism-Leninism in all its variants or the localised tribal religions of radical nationalism.

What religions of the East in particular can teach us is refinement of psychological method. If we strip away the dead languages and forms of religions that should have no meaning unless lived ‘in situ’, the religions of the East have not been turned to stone by the institutionalisation and excessive systematisation of belief systems under an imposed authority (Christianity) or a social model that is defensive (Judaism) or offensive (Islam) enough to suppress the possibility of an Eastern-style psychology of mind management in the face of Existence.

Although there are techniques within the West that mimic Eastern traditions, it is the East, precisely because faith has been detached from power in terms of dogma (as opposed to ritual), that has preserved either the spark of life affirmation (Tantra) or the skills required to master mind (Tantric/Shamanistic Buddhism). Understanding Eastern ideology is a guide to the underlying principles in an Eastern thinking that is not existentialist by any means (it is always wrong, almost certainly imperialist, to ‘read back’ our concerns into traditionalist cultures).

The Tantric tradition in its relationship to Shiva (the destroyer) rather than Brahma (the creator) perhaps represents a recognition of what transpired after the ‘suicide of God’ to create creative chaos, in a way that makes creative transgression the formation of consciousness, just as survival within evolution requires innovation that might be as likely to be more brutal in predation as it is faster in evading predation. Brahma is not worshipped in general in India because, once creation was created, His work was done. This might be read as a dualistic acceptance of matter in decline (the pessimistic approach referred to above) or as a monistic ‘suicide’ or withdrawal as I have postulated.

Shiva represents the meeting of opposites. He contains within himself that very attribute of beyond good and evil that is central to existential ethics and to Tantra alike. Without destruction there can be no creation. The psychological truth behind this is that, in an impermanent and confusing world where we certainly do not have access to full information (more so today than in a relatively stable traditionalist society), our adaptation to existence on our terms requires the constant recalibrating of ourselves against not only other people and society but our own inherited habits and values. For example, I might be born and live a Calvinist but what happens when my conditions of existence are completely at odds with that faith? I can only go deeper into mal-adaptation and adopt a strategy of trying to bend the world to my inner need for fixity and certainty.

This, in turn, forces me to go outwards and oppress others into conformity or develop a stance of withdrawal from the world – both norms of Western and Eastern responses to change respectively. Or I can adapt my Calvinism to reality (reform) or, alternatively, ‘transgress’, even ‘break down’, in order to find new values that accord better with my nature, an admittedly painful process that might shatter other relationships because, instead of oppressing them into my world view, I am demanding that they do not oppress me into theirs.

Equally to the point, Shiva is Lord of the Dance. Dance is a process and not a thing. You cannot pick up a dance as a thing. You can only perform it or watch it. So it is with mental process. The mind is not a succession of things in the mind but a process of thought and feeling. Shiva is quintessentially the representation of the reality left behind after Brahma did his ‘thing’, his single act. Shiva is constant fluctuation and change. The Buddhist response to this fact of fluctuation and change is to try and find non-change in detachment. Most other religions try to deal with this crisis of change by fixing things in space and time through fixed rituals and dogma.

The Liberal Enlightenment is not much better in this respect – the American Constitution is a religious document, an attempt to fix political existence in political space-time. It is an argument against all written constitutions that they are essentially sclerotic in the very long run. They are religious acts. The association of Shiva with dance and fertility is also not accidental because the central source of discomfort to many people is the libido, not just sexual energy but the life force that underpins the creative and disturbing use of emotion as a tool of self development alongside or even in preference to calculation and reason.

Nor is it just a matter of procreation, the conditions of which institutionalised religions have always sought to control in some way. The sheer energetic pleasure of sexuality has been automatically relegated to the category of transgression because its libidinous energy is, alongside outbursts of violence, regarded as most dangerous to Dharma in East and West. Sexuality thus becomes repressed or ritualised. Even the modern Western penchant for neo-Tantra and fetish is no more than a liberation that is being fought on the enemy’s terms by which transgression becomes ritualised in homage to religion.

Far from being true liberation, the ‘namaste brigade’, expressing sexuality in ill-understood Sanskrit and out of traditional context, and the far more earthy and authentic native fetishists are engaged in a simulacrum of liberation designed to ghetto their desires so that the outside world will not feel threatened. They are still products of fear for all their ‘liberation’. Almost any Eastern concept of value, such as the metaphor of Shiva, needs to be re-translated into the real and actual culture of the West. The dance of more value than the temple dance to most Westerners might, in fact, by the tango – which, in its matching of erotic movement with a high discipline that is without direct sexual intent, is almost the perfect metaphor for the tamed libido. It is not, despite its origins, however, transgressive.

Alongside Shiva, we have the concept of the Great Goddess (Mahadevi) who is the feminine principle writ large. One fine principle of the East from which we could learn is the reaffirmation that men and women are, well, different because the matter part of the matter-consciousness is different regardless of social forms and conditions. Radical feminism in the West often misses the point because in its correct demand for social, economic and political equality, it attempts to turn both men and women into what they cannot be – types of consciousnesses detached from their material base. The Shiva-Mahadevi relationship expresses an erotic truth about the male-female relationship that need have no connection with the proces of dealing with the social, political and economic inequalities in the world of Dharma.

The specific energy of women (shakti) is for women to write about and define and not me but the association of Mahadevi with fertility is not some simplistic association with motherhood but a more complex sharing of feminine mastery of process (as opposed to the rationalism of things). Mahadevi is consort of Shiva, both equal principles expressed, in Tantric thought, by the power of the sexual act between them. In a later age, this can be translated to relations between any two people so that homosexuality and then more than two people as in the dance of polyamory are included but the essence of the dynamic is not procreation but creation – and not of things (necessarily a child, as Catholic intellectuals might prefer) but of processes that transform. This is not just bonking but being. The point is that Shiva is powerless without shakti – the thing is meaningless unless turned into process by a process (consciousness) working on thing-ness(matter).

We are this interrelationship of process and thing. There is perhaps no greater individual working of this than the sexual act where matter merges into pure mental process that, under the right conditions, without any concern for Dharma or what is proscribed by others, can transform the structures of the mind into new ways of thinking.  Such thinking is transgressive only to the degree that Dharma makes such acts transgressive but the art in this is to know that social definitions of transgression are of no consequence if the transgression is responsibly conducted in terms of equality of effects (between persons) and with a true, not feared understanding of consequences.

If the East gives us the creative mentality of Tantra (albeit that this needs to be removed from the Sanskrit and brought into English and de-fetishized), it also brings us ‘technique’. Thoughtful sexual congress is, of course, a technique but the merging of shamanistic and tantric elements into Tibetan Buddhism offer a range of explorations that do not depend on the visions of reality or the belief in reincarnation (Bardo) of Tibetan theocrats. Nor are we wholly dependent on Tibet for their further development – shamanistic techniques are part of the human armoury from Finland to the Amazon and from the back areas of Australasia to the reservations of the crushed American Indians.

If formal religion and the demands of Dharma have a victim, that victim is the a-moral mysticisms of the shaman even if shamans turn up in many guises hidden away in the interstices of all but the most oppressed and totalitarian of societies.  In our free liberal society, shamanic thinking is re-emerging amongst academics, urban rebels and the troubled middle classes even if neo-shamanism with its eco-political dimensions is liable to go the way of neo-Tantra and become a pale pink, tamed and convenient shadow of its real, earthy and often very dark original.

The merging of Tantric Buddhism and shamanism (almost certainly as a political compromise in the highlands of Tibet) has created a certain blind romantic regard in the fluffy liberal West for what was, essentially, an inefficient and oppressive theocracy not much better than late medieval Catholicism. Similarly, whether Kashmiri Shaivism or Tibetan Buddhism, the whole master-pupil relationship is fraught with implicit traditionalist oppression in which a young mind is not taught to explore freely and even (initially) chaotically under guidance but has their brains bent into a traditionalist order that may have no connection to their true will or needs.

The very idea of a master granting ‘permission’ to do anything is absurd even if, like the placebo effect, in Western medicine, the command and control and secrecy aspects of the system may have a role in its success. These are not paths for the free-born Westerner for any length of time and merely dabbling in a tradition is probably next to useless. However, the application of effort, even for misguided reasons, under conditions where the peasants toiled to keep a lot of idle monks in rice who had little to do but think, has resulted in an experimental laboratory of enormous sophistication for technique. This provides an opportunity for study in what these techniques can do for Western man, stripped of the religious overlay and the implicit ‘death instinct’ of Buddhism.

The West has taken up meditation with considerable beneficial effects. There is more work to be done in understanding the relationship between sound and mental states (mantras) and visualisation and ritual as transformative for some personality types (including the use of mandalas). Body movements (such as mudras) and breath control add body to perception as tools in the armoury of changing mental states to order.  Whether we want to attain the control of our autonomic system of some adepts is another matter – the question ‘why?’ is the greatest contribution of Western culture to humanity – but investigation into what amounts to control of perception in order to change mind states strikes this writer as containing the seeds of change for our ability to take command of our lives in the context of a world where we are constructed by the perceptions of others.

The detachment of Tibetan Buddhism has been criticised as an abnegation of life by me here and elsewhere but detachment (perhaps better understood in a Japanese Zen context) is a tool to the same degree as Tantric sexual transgression. There is no reason in principle why the same mind cannot make use, as tools, of both possible states of being – shamanic ecstasy and detachment at separate times and even at the same time. The height of human attainment might be those rare states in which one observes one’s own ecstasy or can be ecstatic within one’s own detachment.

In this context, the visualisation techniques in relation to Bardo may be of immense importance since they are really a sophisticated version of the shamanic journey into the underworld. The adept (in a manner not to be undertaken by amateurs) goes through a form of ‘death in the mind’ and comes alive by working back through the levels of mind until full perception is re-attained. This is analogous to the more chaotic and often lengthy process by which the ‘triggered’ existentialist recreates themselves out of the shattered remnants of old values (a minor key ‘transvaluation of values’).

The existentialist might argue that the discipline and ordering system of the Buddhist might remove from the process the value of the pain, suffering and shock of the admittedly mentally risky existentialist path. The risk is the art. The association of a ‘teacher’ or ‘psychotherapist’ may get in the way of a final resolution even if it stops some vulnerable people from topping themselves or going clinically insane. What speaks most strongly for the Tibetan way of seeing is that it pre-supposes the value of every moment of existence. It shares with the existentialist model an acute awareness of death not as something to be feared but as something that defines life.

The existentialist mind, without solace of reincarnation, merely turns this back on itself to intensify the existence of life including its engagement with the social and with the acceptance and enjoyment of the transient pleasures of life - as part of that high valuation of each moment of existence. Both traditions also understand the importance of impermanence which brings us back to a mentality that sees the world in terms of processes rather than things.

If you see the world as a collection of ‘things’, you are soon aware of entropy whereas a Heraclitean world of processes means impermanence and instability but it also means an awareness of positive changeas possibility and as actuality, a form of progression (at least in mental terms) as each mind state is succeeded by another that exists only because of the previous mind state. The Buddhist, of course, is seeking to pacify these mind states in order to achieve the tranquillity and calm that will ensure safe passage through the key days of reincarnation (Bardo) but the existentialist will be seeking to excite these mind states in order to create himself or herself.  Assuming no senile brain decay, the last state before death is one of no regret - the final state of a work of art that either leaves some legacy in the minds of others (signs and symbols) or things in the world or is simply a private viewing of the greatest work of art we will ever see - our own self.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Ontology & the Question of Free Will

Attempts to argue for the universe as either matter or consciousness are theoretically made absurd by the overwhelming argument for all things being, ultimately, one. It is neither that all matter is imbued with consciousness nor that consciousness is merely matter in another form but that consciousness and matter are just variations on the same theme of existence.

Consciousness is not merely a form of matter - all matter is imbued with the potential for consciousness by its very nature as existence. The fact that part of matter-consciousness (existence) is conscious of itself and part may not be (and the fact that that part of it which is conscious is only partially conscious of itself in its full nature as part of existence) holds no meaning other than, tautologically, to say that it is, in itself, raw existence, an unknowable simplicity from which complexity in both matter and consciousness emerges.

Since a consciousness cannot be conscious of anything other than its being a part of matter-consciousness and since an object of matter in itself represents only a part of matter-consciousness, matter-consciousness is constructed out of vast numbers of items of matter and of consciousnesses and of combinations thereof. Persons are just segments of matter-consciousness, both matter and consciousness integrally combined.

So, we, as items of matter-consciousness that have emerged out of complexity, are faced by an immense gulf not only between us and other items of emerged matter-consciousness (other persons) but between us and the unknowable raw existence that, taken as a whole, is a matter-consciousness (not only in space-time but perhaps many dimensions beyond this) of which we can know nothing.  If we are inclined to draw the conclusion that there is no gap between God and the world, we are entirely at liberty to do so but the statement means nothing because the identification of God with raw Existence merely makes God another name for that raw Existence.

How can you worship or engage with that raw Existence in which you are so embedded – God is merely yourself only immensely bigger without greater value than its sheer bigness. This is like praising a man for his size rather than his character. You may do this but it is idiotic. If raw Existence is divine because it is pure matter-consciousness, then the small bits of matter-consciousness that we call persons are no less divine insofar as they are sparks of similar material. But if we poetically call them sparks from the divine being, the abyss between these sparks, constructed over millions of years of evolution from star dust, is so great in space and time that to ask for unification with this God who is Existence is essentially to seek non-existence for this small creation and a denial of its potential role in the creation of more matter-consciousness. To turn to God or the universe at this point is tantamount to the death instinct, a determination to damn the process of creation itself.

This world is no illusion (as some Eastern philosophies might have things be) for us. The illusion lies in setting ourselves in a world in which our matter-consciousness and that of the universe are seen as not part of a world that includes both matter without consciousness and the possibility of consciousness existing without matter to anchor it. All is one but this oneness has no meaning because it represents an absolute meaning that says nothing to the parts of the whole. Our own beings are partial within the ‘one’ but are still entire as and within themselves.  This is our struggle as persons – to recognise that ultimate reality is unknowable even as we search for it and that we cannot ever know whether this ultimate reality has anything that we might conceivably understand as consciousness embedded within the gross form of matter-consciousness. In this sense, we cannot know whether there is some God as some might argue for Him. Such a God would be of such an order of difference from its human creations that its traditional function in human society must be regarded as totally meaningless.

Even the concept of unified space-time may not capture an ultimate multi-dimensional reality that may go beyond all possible current conceptions of both space and time. Being so unknowable we may speculate but, as persons, we must turn away and embed ourselves in the affirmation of our own matter-consciousness, as persons embedded amongst others like us and in a state of matter with less consciousness than ours or none (except as potential).  The knowledge of this is liberation because, once we remove an expectation of duality in the universe, we instantly realise our own absolute freedom. This is not transcendence because we cannot separate ourselves from our condition in the world but, in understanding how we are embedded in it, we can see that we do not ‘have to look over our shoulder’ or consider ourselves distanced or detached from some state of grace or purity that, if it exists, can never be comprehended or attained except in a choice for non-existence and a return to star dust and beyond.

So our life choice becomes simple and liberating – either abnegation of our own creation as independent matter-consciousness into extinction or the affirmation of our brief flowering of creation as a stepping stone to self awareness or to the creation of more matter-consciousness in the many forms given to us by our circumstances (from art to children). Abnegation and the death instinct or affirmation and the will to existence - these seem fairly clear and liberating choices in either direction. Wherein does the heart of our individual matter-consciousness lie? We cannot know raw existence and we cannot know (in any absolute sense) the matter-consciousnesses of others. We imperfectly know our own selves because we operate in our own space-time in which external matter (including matter mobilised by other consciousnesses) forces us into positions of not-knowing at every moment. We can know little and some of what we know we must suppress to survive.

The point at which we face the nearest equivalent to a raw existence that is beyond space and time is the pale simulacrum of our relations with others and of our experiential relationship with ourselves. Not knowing others is not like not knowing our instruments (like rocks and cars) and not knowing ourselves is not like not knowing others. Instruments of matter are just tools for our needs and desires so that we can choose to treat other minds as matter (instruments) or as ‘like us’ - in terms of their being subjects for investigation and creation. Our social and material conditions naturally tend to an instrumental approach to other persons – business, politics, law – but love, family, tribe can, to different proportions and degrees, be non-instrumental, although, even here, we can find a hidden instrumentality where one mind seeks to create another in their own image rather than to allow that other mind to be true to themselves.

Much of the psychic pain of humanity lies in being treated as an instrument and yet being treated openly as an instrument (as in a conventional society) is still often far preferable to the tragic condition of being treated as a hidden instrument, a creature constructed to be like a golem or shabti for the psychic service of another.  The only means of escaping from this tendency to instrumentality (much of which is required so that society, which creates the conditions for creation, can remain in operation) is to question what one wants for oneself as person and to choose either to resist being used as a tool or limit one’s own use of others as a tool only to the essential for one’s own survival. Resistance is necessary because some persons are going to see their own survival in terms of a will to social power in which treating others as instruments is seen as an aspect of their own survival – our resistance, in this sense, is never futile.

How does one learn to resist the tool-using instincts of others and make sure one uses one’s own tools at hand in a way that is effective rather than wasteful? After all, this is not a matter of morality. In practice, a better understanding of oneself is likely to limit wasteful tool-using because there will be an understanding that using persons as tools just for the sake of it is like digging holes randomly – unnecessary and unproductive labour. This mimics morality but it is not a choice that is being made for the other person in full consciousness of the other’s interest. That is another matter! The answer is that thought is less useful than experience. Experience requires challenge and experimentation in which the matter-consciousness or, rather, one’s own ‘being’ is understood to be embedded in relationships, perceptions and the matter of one’s body and of the constraints placed on that body. Challenging all these extensions of self is to challenge oneself.


Just as the matter/consciousness dichotomy does not stand up to scrutiny, neither does the free will/determinism dichotomy (any more than that of body/mind).  At the level of the absolute, there is no free will because everything is contained within itself beyond cause and effect just as it is beyond measures of space and time. But, in the state of imperfect matter/consciousness that represents our own being in the world, although in absolute terms there is no free will, in relative and sufficient terms free will is essentially true.

Free will arises as soon as the Absolute fragments. Each component of reality has its own destination and the mindless bumping of bits of matter/consciousness into each other eventually creates a consciousness within matter that starts to dictate the conditions of its own survival – moving away from threat or towards acquiring ‘more’, the eventual affirmation of its own existence. This might be termed a will to power at a stretch but it is really a will to exist, to survive, in opposition to the extinction instinct that lets oneself be bumped and grinded through reality like an object, an instrument of more conscious entities or blind chance.

Free will is thus intrinsic to non-absoluteness. A fragmented absolute creates free will through the accumulation of consciousness in matter.  It is implicit in the first differentiation of undifferentiated matter-consciousness and it continues as potential until matter-consciousness becomes undifferentiated once again (even if the logic of the situation is that there is little reason to exercise that free will if a state of non-differentiation, the death of fragmented matter-consciousness, is imminent - except perhaps as wilful defiance).

Of course, to say that the universe itself has some sort of will is as meaningless as any other pure consciousness statement about it. It has the potential for free will in theory somewhere in the evolved future but only the matter-consciousness that arises out of its potential has that free will and then only to the limited degree permitted by the various constraints created by material limitations and limitations in consciousness. The paradox of free will is that it is always potential until a will makes the potential actual. This moment of clarity, when the will chooses to be, is the point of divinisation of matter-consciousness. If it exists, divinisation succeeds existence and does not precede it in creation. It is matter for the future not a guide from the past.

The universe, by contrast, may have had the immense potential for will but nothing was in place to trigger it as an act of will until sentient creatures (here or elsewhere) were enabled to do so by the right formation of matter-consciousness. Yes, the Absolute may have had will (one definition or characteristic of God) theoretically but we can never know this nor argue that this wilfulness can have any meaning for us other than that it may have abnegated itself in the creation of the universe. Indeed, one might argue that if the Absolute/God had will of this nature then it willed itself to suicide in order, knowingly or not, to create the conditions of our existence – a rather interesting theological speculation that suggests that the death of Christ on the Cross might be a metaphor for that moment of supreme sacrifice. However, this also suggests that the universe was built on the death instinct and that our affirmation of life is little more than a paltry late attempt to reproduce that first will at the very margins of Existence. As always in these cases, speculation is useless and wasteful.

Like, say, Kashmiri Shaivism, the philosophy of Being I am upholding here is monist. Unlike it and similar schools, it is non-idealist because the fragmentation of matter-consciousness means that no subject is identical to another subject. However, their existence and free will is derivative of ultimate matter-consciousness even if they are often completely ignorant of their state. To be ignorant of one’s existence and free will is to suspend the consciousness aspect of matter-consciousness in favour of the matter aspect. Although no value judgement can be attributed to this (after all, all aspects and representation of the universe are of equal value in an absolute sense), there is a material difference in that matter-consciousness between that which is aware of itself and its power and that which is not (even if that which is not may have access to more material resource it may be of no greater utility to it than a tiger catching a goat, a means of survival but not one of becoming more than a tiger).

The existence of the trigger to the exercise of free will is a mystery. It may be taught and learned or it may come from within as genetic predisposition or by chance. In this, its appearance has all the attributes of ‘divine grace’. This is what is understood by some religious people when they observe that mere effort to achieve a state of grace (works) can be wasted and that grace is dependent on the will of God. This is a metaphor for a truth that the trigger is not to be found in all persons but arises only in some at some times - and in a way that is so mysterious that it is tempting to attribute it to an active consciousness at the level of the Absolute.

The truth in this is only metaphorical. The trigger is simply an attribute of a certain state of matter-consciousness and may not be activated at all if a matter-consciousness is stable in their existence (i.e. their matter-consciousness requires no trigger). What is true is that working too hard at thinking does not provide the trigger. The trigger comes from conditions and the way to trigger the trigger is to want not the trigger but some other change for which the trigger of the exercise of free will is the solution. This gives us a clue to the role of imagination in the creation of the trigger. The universe is constrained by logic and by the laws of cause and effect – although at the extreme quantum level, space and time offer different models, our existence as matter-consciousness is wholly bound by these rules of matter.

Imagination, like the quantum levels deep within our brain, body and universe, is less constrained. Reason permits our management of instrumentality, i.e. the use of tools including those of society, but it is imagination that can defy logic and the rules of cause and effect – as can other altered states of consciousness including ecstasy and dreams. In this, the Eastern religions were correct. The world of matter and its rules are illusory (at this Absolute level). The two illusory universes of matter and imagination, however, still manage to ‘work’ and how we can re-imagine matter through imagination provides the creative tension necessary for consciousness to develop. The will, in this context, operates within our psychologies at a level beyond both reason and imagination and it is at the juncture between these that we learn how to exercise that will freely and how to become.